Recently, I was invited by Xbox Canada to partake in a Q&A session with the team at Double Fine, the studio behind the Psychonauts 2, an upcoming third-person platforming video game. I, along with other journalists, learned more about the game ahead of its global launch on August 25. As part of the experience, I was able to speak with and ask questions to Studio Head Tim Schafer, Art Director Lisette Titre-Montgomery, and Senior Systems Designer Lauren Scott.
Stay tuned to the Best Buy Blog for my initial impressions on an early preview of Psychonauts 2 along with a video of the first 30 minutes of the game.
Psychonauts 2 Q&A with Double Fine
Q: The Psychonauts IP has always felt like it could transcend games. Is that a space that has ever been discussed at double fine?
A: (Tim Schaffer) Various people over time have brought that idea to us. Hollywood has come calling a few times but it has never worked out for one reason or another. We put a lot of work into making our characters and worlds feel real and make them real deep, so I do think they are expandable anywhere. However, I do feel that they are most natural in games.
Q: You’ve said before that you have ideas for larger story arcs for characters from the first and Psychonauts 2 starts right where the first game ended. Have you ever envisioned going back to make a prequel, or was a sequel always in the cards?
A: (TS) I had ideas for both but the sequel is really exciting to me because I wanted to show the headquarters for the Psychonauts. Raz has always dreamed about working for the Psychonauts. Not just going to their summer camp but to be in the centre of the action. And, that is why I wanted to tell this story.
Q: How hard was it to get the whole gang together? And, how important was it that you had the same voice actors as you did for Psychonauts in Psychonauts 2?
A: (TS) We were really lucky to get all the voices for our characters to return. They help it feel like the first game and their voices sound incredible. They jumped right back into character and helped the game feel right.
Fan favourite and new powers in Psychonauts 2
Q: One of the newer powers in the game is the mental connection. It is one of the most ingenious ways I’ve seen a grapple hook type item be implemented in a game. How did the idea for this come about?
A: (TS) We wanted to bring back all the favourite powers. So, a lot of the ones from the first game are there. When we were adding new powers we were thinking about what areas these previous powers cover and what they didn’t cover. Traversal was one of the ones we wanted to cover.
Certainly levitation helps you get up high, but there is something special about a grapple hook. And, there is something special about these nodes. They are ideas and you are connecting these ideas together and causing changes in people’s minds. The grapple hook seemed to fit the theme of the world we were in and lead to a lot of fun, fast kinetic navigation.
Traversal and combat
(Lauren Scott): It opened up a really nice design space for us for both traversal and combat. We got to think of some cool ways for the base power to work to be able to pull smaller enemies to you and grapple yourself to the bigger enemies. There are ways that the grapple hook can be upgraded and customize the power such as adding on an extra melee attack at the end or make it brute enemies instead of grappling to them. For exploration, there is the progression step of having some nodes that you can’t connect to at first and needing to upgrade and become more powerful to get everywhere in the game, including special secret areas.
(Lisette Titre-Montgomery): I would say from an art standpoint, mental connections are a really good example of how we needed to think about conceptually what the power was. And, what physical representation would work for something that is loose as an idea. We really wanted to see what we could do so that players could understand what they were interacting with. At first we did some explorations with mental taffy and some weird concepts that never really stuck. Once we knew we wanted them to be ideas and the ideas were going to be distinct words and that they would tie into the narrative of the character, the designs started to fall into place.
In-game experiences and features
Q: Are there any features or in-game experiences that the team is particularly proud of?
A: (LS) There is a ton of stuff. However, in general the design team is really proud that we started with an amazing core in Psychonauts with amazing powers, collectibles and all kinds of goodies. We loved that we were able to take that and expand on it in almost every vector. For example, for exploration collectibles we brought back iconic ones that everyone knows and loves like psi challenge markers and figments.
We added on a couple more to make sure we covered all the areas of Raz’s growth. For example, we added in these little guys called half-a-minds that if you get two of them together they smack together and create a new brain. We also included this item called pins, you can buy and equip pins and they allow you to further customize what your powers can do. Pins are usually quirky and have some drawbacks. For example we have a pin called glass cannon that increases your damage output but also increases the damage that is done to you.
We also expanded on combat a ton. In particular the number of enemies we have. We added a whole cast of new enemies of all shapes, sizes and difficulty levels. I believe we have created a pretty dynamic combat experience filled with different combinations of enemies that create different experiences and challenges. You’ll have to think about what powers you are using and how you are going to tackle the challenge. I could probably go on and on and on.
Mental health conditions portrayed in the game
Q: The notice at the beginning of the game mentions a lot of serious mental health conditions are being tackled in Psychonauts 2. Did you work with mental health professionals or research those conditions so that these depictions can be authentic?
A: (TS) We did both our own research and research aided by the resources given to us by Microsoft. Near the end, we tested with actual clinicians and professionals. They were able to tell us where we got it right and where we needed to improve things. The game doesn’t present itself as a psychiatric textbook or anything like that, it’s still a game. However, it is very respectful to the people who are playing it.
Xbox Game Pass
Q: Having joined the Xbox Game Studios family and knowing Psychonauts 2 would be landing on Xbox Game Pass, did the design or scope of the game change at all?
A: (TS) The question when we joined Xbox was “What would you do with Psychonauts if you were not as constrained by resources as you are now as an indie studio?”. Joining the Xbox Game Studios family helped us finish the game right. We finished the game with all the polish and features we wanted. And, we took a little bit of extra time to make sure it is good enough for the players.
And being on Game Pass, I think Psychonauts 2 is already the perfect game for Game Pass. It’s an unusual and quirky game. It might be a risky purchase for someone in a store who is thinking about spending $60. On Game Pass, there is so much less risk and it is so easy to just try it. I think it will reach a lot more people because of that.
Q: Recently it was announced that Psychonauts 2 would have an invincibility toggle so that everyone can enjoy the game. Can you talk about this a bit more as to why this decision was made?
A: (TS) It’s nothing new that we want our games to be playable and enjoyable by everybody. We’ve done this previously with difficulty modes and accessibility features to make our games playable by anybody regardless of disability or any sort of ability. It’s not new but people are talking a lot more about it today and I think it’s good. I don’t think it’s as controversial as it appears to be on twitter. It’s actually a very straightforward thing to make your game approachable by everybody.
(LS) In addition to invincibility mode we have a ton of other features that should make the game more approachable by more people. This includes control support, UI, legibility and colour blindness support.
Ideas that didn’t make the final cut
Q: In the 15 years since the original Psychonauts released, there must have been a lot of ideas floated for a potential sequel. Can you tell us about any ideas that didn’t make the cut?
A: (TS) We definitely did editing when we were making this game and kept all the ideas we thought were best. We have never been a studio that is very restrained as far as putting things into the game that we care about. Every idea that we thought was really great we managed to make it work and include it in the game. A lot of the things we edited out, looking back on it, we are glad we did.
Q: Is there any concern for new players about to jump into the game without having played the first one?
A: (TS) We kept new players in mind when developing the game. The things you need to know to understand what is going on are all spelled out in the game. So, you could really start by playing Psychonauts 2 and then go back and play the first game on Game Pass.
Psychonauts 2 launches August 25
Psychonauts 2 is almost here! The game launches August 25, 2021 on Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows, Xbox Cloud Gaming, PlayStation 4 and PS5 (with backwards compatibility).
Pre-orders for Psychonauts 2 are coming soon to Best Buy Canada
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