Anybody who visits the blog regularly will know how attached I am to the Monkey Island series. The original was the first game I played on my Amiga 500 as a kid in the early 1990s and this was the title that sealed my fate as an adventure fan and wannabe-pirate lover.
It was therefore with some excitement that I learned Tim Schafer, one of the designers of the franchise, would be giving a developer session at 2018’s Rezzed event. I knew my blogging partner-in-crime Ben would be hyped about this too; when we first met in person around five years ago, he launched into an enthusiastic in-depth discussion on why Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle are some of the finest games ever made.
We made our way over to the room in the Tobacco Dock an hour before Schafer was due to appear on stage and eagerly took our place at the front of the queue. We had the pleasure of bumping into Luke from Hundstrasse while we were waiting and sneakily edged him into the queue with us, before quickly heading down to the first row of the hall once the doors were opened (thank you to the lovely EGX staff who made this happen for us!).
As Eurogamer editor Oli Welsh asked questions about his career, it became obvious that Schafer was the sort of guy who had plenty of experience along with great sense of humour: you’d love to take him to your local pub for a chat about his favourite video games over a pint or two. He gave some good advice for aspiring developers on how to handle crunch and avoid the mistakes usually made by people trying to break into the industry.
When discussing his design process, Schafer picked up on the concept of ‘free writing’: “I use a pen and a notebook, and you just have to write for a certain amount of time – it can be two minutes or an hour – and you just can’t stop writing. That’s the only rule. So even if you’re just writing one word over and over, you have to keep writing. It’s a strange thing where putting your mind in that position makes ideas come out.”
Later Levels (@LaterLevels) April 13, 2018
He continued: “I think it’s a similar thing to when you’re creatively stuck and then you go to lunch with somebody, and you’re telling them how you’re stuck. As you’re talking, you start to solve the problem out loud; they never say another word but you’re like ‘Thanks, I fixed it, that’s great!’. Sometimes it’s just the act of going verbal with your thoughts, it opens doors and it’s a weird phenomenon but it’s helpful.”
Schafer then went on to explain where this process came from: “I learned it in seventh-grade English class. It was just like, we had to write for two minutes and I just did it. At first you’re like ‘This is dumb, why am I writing, I’m hungry, I really have to go to the bathroom’ – then all of a sudden, poof! Some weird idea comes out, then you get excited and you start writing, and you’re turning the pages because you just designed an entire game.”
So on his advice (that everybody should try it because ‘it’s really cheap’) I’d like to propose a short experiment for anybody reading this who’s willing to give it a go. All you need is a timer, your keyboard and an active imagination. Simply set your stopwatch for two minutes, click into the comments box at the end of this post, write whatever comes into your head and don’t stop typing until the time is up.
Will the WordPress community be able to come up with a groundbreaking idea for an awesome new video game that we can pitch to Schafer and Double Fine Productions? I’m looking forward to seeing what everybody’s free writing experiment produces. Even if it ends up being only thoughts on hunger or needing to go to the loo – hey, existing games have been developed on lesser concepts than that.
Let’s end this post on a high point with a bit of inspiration for the rest of the day. In the words of the great man himself: “Do what you have to do, whatever it takes.”
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.