Tim Schafer – Double Fine interview - page 2

Ingmar: Full Throttle was the first project at LucasArts you worked on as a project leader. How difficult was it to convince them of the concept? I mean, it was quite different from all the other adventure games the company created before.

Tim: It was, and I almost got fired! (laughs) You know, Dave and I had done Day of the Tentacle, so they asked us: “what do you want to do next?”, and we would both work on our separate ideas, and then they said, “why don’t you pitch us five games each?”, as if that would make it better. So, "give us five games, including a pitch for a Monkey Island sequel, and a pitch for a Day of the Tentacle sequel.” I wrote an idea for a Monkey Island game, wrote an idea for a Day of the Tentacle sequel, and then I wrote a pitch for a spy game, a Day of the Dead game, and a biker game. Me and Dave both pitched five games, and I remember they read those, and they pulled us in their office and were like, “you guys! We don’t even know what to say! Do you want to do any of them?!” The fact that we pitched so many made them feel like we weren’t passionate about any of them – even though that’s what they asked us to do.

They calculated how much money we got paid to make these documents. They were like, “we paid you this much to make these documents! Go back, you have one week, pitch us one game!” I was like, “I’m gonna get fired” because they were really mad, so I just went back and thought to myself, “which one do I really want to make?” And it was the biker game, so I wrote a deeper look into it that kind of explained what my thinking was.

Full Throttle's Vulture Rock, classic and remastered versions (click image to enlarge)

Ingmar: How did you come up with the concept in the first place?

Tim: It was a story I wanted to tell because I had talked to a friend who hung out with bikers in Alaska. It sounded like this amazing alternative fantasy world, you know, because at LucasArts we didn’t want to do straight fantasy; we always wanted to do alternative fantasy world stuff, like pirates. But also, back in the day, whenever a new LucasArts adventure game came out, it never felt like they were selling very well. We were always comparing ourselves to King’s Quest, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and we were just trying to break a hundred thousand copies. (laughs) Also, people had all these problems with adventure games, like, “I hate being stuck,” “I hate the interface,” and so on, so we were always trying to streamline the games and take out the things that were frustrating.

You know, I love Bernard Bernoulli and Guybrush, but I was like, “we make fun of those characters so much, that you’re kind of making fun of yourself when you play those games.” Maybe people who like to make fun of themselves like those games, but maybe some people prefer the fantasy of being cooler and stronger than they really are, and Ben is that character. I was thinking this could be more popular, and it was, so I feel like that actually turned out to be true. It may not have been because Ben was so tough, I don’t know. It was definitely a creative impulse to make the game, but there was also kind of a thinking about how to reach more people.

Ingmar: Since Full Throttle sold more than one million copies, I’m wondering where all those new players came from. Could this to some degree be related to the success of games like Doom, as the action elements of Full Throttle also appealed to their audience?

Explosions in HD!

Tim: Where did they come from? That’s an interesting question! Maybe it was because it looked like an action game, and had explosions on the box. You know, I don’t want to lay this all on Full Throttle. We had this legacy at LucasArts for a while, so maybe it was that more people had played Monkey Island since then, more people had played Day of the Tentacle. Each game was selling a little more than the one before. Each game was building on the success of the previous games, so Full Throttle had a lot of advantages. I guess things kind of exploded for Doom and stuff, but shooters had not completely taken over the market yet as they would after Quake, Unreal, and all that.

Ingmar: You mentioned that Sierra was selling a lot more copies of the King’s Quest series than LucasArts did with their previous adventure games. I grew up in Germany, and as you probably know, the LucasArts games were a lot more popular over here, so that situation might feel kind of surreal to some German adventure game players.

Tim: (laughs) Maybe that’s because they [Sierra] didn’t have the great translations of Boris Schneider-Johne [translator of several LucasArts adventures and Ron Gilbert’s Thimbleweed Park].

Ingmar: Actually, Sierra started offering German translations years after LucasArts started doing it, so who knows, maybe that’s an important part of the reason.  

Tim: That may have been the Lucasfilm influence, because Lucasfilm was an international company already. Another thing that’s strange is, I’ve heard an interview with Roberta [Williams] where she talked about how she was always conscious of the fact that LucasArts games got better reviews than the King’s Quest games even though King’s Quest sold a lot more. So… it’s like we were both envious of each other’s success in a different way.  

Ingmar: I didn’t even mean to bring up the whole LucasArts vs. Sierra story, as you probably got asked about that a lot in the past. Turns out this is just too interesting not to discuss it, though.

Unnamed Sierra competitor

Tim: You know, I like talking about it. I think it’s a symptom of the fact that we didn’t have the internet back then. Nowadays, I’d be Facebook friends with those guys, and we’d all be making fun of each other on Twitter. Back then, we just didn’t talk at all, except for a couple of people that knew the Coles. There was a little back-and-forth, so the Coles came to the ranch to play softball, and they beat us. (laughs) They put it in the Sierra newsletter, but didn’t even mention the name LucasArts, just “Sierra beats competitor in softball”, and we were like, “oh my god, guys!”

I got to know Lori Cole a little at GDC last year; we were on a panel together. They were much more aware of our games than we realized. We thought that we had this competition going on, and they weren’t even aware of it, but they were much more aware than we thought! They kind of saw us as taking over. Lori was like, “we were on top for a long time, but after Monkey Island things started to shift, and Lucas took over.” They had a completely reverse idea of that competition than we had, which is that we were always up against them, and they were winning. I mean, they definitely won the sales war. We’re winning the remasters war, though! (laughs)

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Mr Underhill Mr Underhill
Apr 9, 2017

Tim is my hero.

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