During his keynote at today's GCDC event in Leipzig, Double Fine founder and Psychonauts
creator Tim Schafer discussed "the pain of creativity in life", with a heartfelt presentation explaining just how and why ideas can burst forth to make games.
Schafer started with the barest premise of all: "If you are a writer, the first thing you see in the morning is a blank page." He then compared creativity to, of all things, a golden goose living in your head: "The goose likes to eat ideas. You feed the goose by experiencing, living your life. Reading books, going to a party where you don't know anybody, climb a mountain, it all feeds the goose."
Echoing recent comments by designers such as Warren Spector that wider life experience is vital to being able to create good games, Schafer suggested: "If you dont feed your goose, the [idea!] eggs will get smaller and smaller."
So how can you be more creative, he asked? The designer ran down a few possibilities - you can wear the hat of an explorer and feel free to experiment, you can wear the hat of an artist, or that of an judge, or that of a warrior, and go out and fight for your ideas.
Continuing the free-ranging talk, Schafer asked who the enemy is, quipping "not the publishers!" He suggested, rather, that mediocrity, laziness, and fear were the broad-ranging things to watch out for.
Schafer then addressed how Double Fine, currently working on an unannounced title for Sierra Entertainment, goes about birthing its ideas. He noted happily: "Sometimes, talking about Simpsons leads to a idea we can use in our game", mentioning that the staffers have brainstorm sessions every afternoon, where they can talk about everything they want to.
More than anything, though, the Grim Fandango
designer recommends wider life experience and stretching your boundaries to give you wider ideas to include - noting: "I took a writing class. It wasn't a great class...But it turned out great. I had to write stories every week."
Obviously, it's not all wine and roses, as Schafer noted ruefully: "Bad things do happen. When you're creative you're kind of exposing yourself to mocking... There's no protection about it." But, he qualified: "It's all about what you feel - that you've done a good job."
He also commented pointedly on the 'developer vs. publisher' divide, advocating that designers not demonize their funders, and noting: "Publishers have all the money. It's your job to fight for your idea and convince them. Never say something like 'Aw, they don't have any taste...'"
But on the other hand, the art inherent in the game does and can overwhelm the copies sold, suggests Schafer, who suggested: "The most important thing about Psychonauts
is not the sales numbers" - citing a total of 400,000 copies of the $15 million-to-develop game sold.
In summing up, the designer had some strong conclusions: "It's an illusion that people don't want creativity", "Creative people need to be more fighters", "The enemy is not that big and scary", "We are the unholy terrible giants in the game industry", and even more bombastically: "We have machine guns full of ideas, rocket launchers full with passion."
His ending salvo was fierce and terrible, and definitely entertaining: "Go forth! Burn them alive! We are the hope and the future of the games industry."