When Psychonauts 2 released in the Summer of 2021, it completely blew me away. A cartoony game about a kid-slash-psychic-agent going into people’s minds to sort out their bagge was every bit as good as its predecessor which came out 15 years prior. In fact, narratively speaking, it was better: underneath its wacky surface hid a very adult, nuanced story about how everyone has the potential to be a hero and a villain and the same time, depending on who is telling the story.
I think I played the game to completion three times since that Summer, and I’m looking forward to starting my fourth playthrough sometime this year. So color me surprised when – out of nowhere! – Psychonauts developer Double Fine released a TWENTY-TWO HOUR documentary detailing the six years of development this gem has gone through. Yes, you read that right, it’s twenty two hours long. And I watched it all.
I’m going to be completely honest: This is riveting TV. Double Fine, if you are unaware, is the studio lead by Tim Schaefer, one of gaming’s rockstars. The studio is independent and quirky, and the thing they are trying to create is so ambitious it almost tears them apart. In fact, if not for some crazy bad luck turning into lucky breaks, neither Psychonauts 2 nor Double Fine would exist this very day. The interviews are open and honest – finally, a documentary shows artists at work instead of suggesting everyone working in a creative profession is just loafing around.
Psychodyssey ist not just an amazing look behind the scenes of a triple-A video game, it’s also a deep dive into creative processes involved into making any piece of media. As someone who co-lead a team of writers, I have often said the things these leads say. People working on this game break the way I’ve seen writers break. But they also have the feeling they’re building something truly incredible the way we do.
Over the course of these 22 hours I watched way too fast, I wrote down a lot of quotes by Tim Schaefer, because I truly admire the way he leads his team and I wished I were one tenth the leader he is. But even with Tim, you notice he’s fighting a losing battle. Even he can’t keep everyone happy and get great output at the same time. The discussion on crunch culture (i.e. mandatory night shits to get the damn game out the door) in the final third of the documentary is vicious, but in the end, it is completely true: There is no way to completely protect people from theirselves.
Anyway, check it out. And check out Psychonauts 2. It’s an amazing game made by amazing people.