If there’s one gaming company who changed your life, which one would it be? Most people would scream “NINTENDO!” or “SEGA!” and leave it at that. I’m one of those kids — I got an NES console on my third birthday, and I still remember unwrapping the box and the feeling of heart racing excitement that came with it. I didn’t know what this box did, but it felt special. And once my family opened it up and hooked it to the TV, I knew I was right. It WAS special. I remember the day my mom beat Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. I remember when I watched her play Spelunker until she was plunged into total darkness and played the game in Blackout Mode. This woman was my hero!
In 1988, I was five years old, and a game called Maniac Mansion was given to me; you see, I was a strange kid, obsessed with the weird and the paranormal. Like a miniature Lydia Deetz, I never really fit in. When adults would sweetly ask me, “And what do YOU want to be when you grow up, Ashley?”, my response was always the same, and always energetic:
I wasn’t exactly status quo. Fortunately, my family encouraged this behavior, even though it resulted in some awkward moments with aforementioned adults. Anyway, back to Maniac Mansion.
If you haven’t played it, it’s a game where you must rally your friends to rescue Dave’s girlfriend Sandy, who’s been kidnapped and taken deep into the bowels of a huge mansion where a bunch of bizarre denizens reside. There’s a tentacle, a meteor, a doctor, his nurse, their son Ed, and Ed’s hamster. You’d choose three people to go inside with, and there were alternate endings. There were also dead ends, which were insanely frustrating, and a crazy amount of awesome cut scenes and great dialogue. It was the first game I played that I really connected with. Dave and his misfit pals really hit me in some way I couldn’t describe. I played Maniac Mansion over and over again. Shit, I’d still play it if I could on my current TV. The first time I put Ed’s hamster in a microwave… well, I knew I’d found some kindred spirits of some kind. I knew the people who made it must have been like me in a way.
The reason I mention this is because of Ron Gilbert (@grumpygamer), who co-created Maniac Mansion. He then went on to create Monkey Island with Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman, which is considered by a lot of gamers to be a masterpiece (as was its sequel). All of these titles were done under the Lucasfilm Games banner, but many of these dudes work for Double Fine now. Let’s jump forward a bit.
In 1998, I considered myself a pretty serious gamer. Between that and playing volleyball, there was nothing else I accomplished in my free time. I’d played a lot of adventure games since then, like Leisure Suit Larry and Les Manly In: The Search For the King. But nothing, NOTHING captured my heart like Grim Fandango. Everything about it was magic: the art, the story, and the writing. You could feel the joy pouring out of the people who made that game. I became a member of the cult of Tim Schafer. Two years later, he founded Double Fine Studios.
Five years passed since Double Fine’s inception, and a little game called Psychonauts was released on Xbox. Once again, the magic of this game captured my heart in ways I never thought possible. Raz and the crazy crew at the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp were inspired, heartbreaking, and funny as hell. There’s not a level I don’t love in Psychonauts; from Basic Braining to the Meat Circus, it’s a perfect game in my mind and my heart. And since I was a full adult, I actually took a message away from the game, too:
It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, or how successful it is. Just do what you love, and let your joy come through, whether it’s on the page, the screen, or anywhere else.
I got to meet Tim at PAX East last year. He was promoting Trenched, one of his many great XBLA games. I was afraid to meet him, to be honest. I was scared he wouldn’t be as magical as his games. But you know what? Tim Schafer is the living embodiment of Double Fine. This man (and I guarantee you everyone else working there) has so much joy and so much pride in their company, it’s infectious. The guy is genuinely happy to make silly games with a heart of gold and put them out there, regardless of whether or not a publisher wants to invest. It doesn’t matter. It can be small and mighty, but the message still remains.
So why this post? Obviously, if you follow the games industry, you’ll know it’s inspired by Double Fine’s Kickstarter project to create another point-and-click adventure for us. When I saw it last night, I was so excited that a medium existed to fund them. Finally, so many of us could give back to a group of people who’ve given us so much happiness over the years. And this morning, when I saw they’d already exceeded their goal of $400,000 in less than 12 hours (they’re around $600K now), I cried a little bit.
Because I knew that this story, the one I just wrote, was one a lot of other people had, too.
Congrats, Double Fine. You are worth every penny, and more. I hope you raise $10M so you can make this adventure game and many, many more incredible games with that heart I know and love so much. Thank you for giving me these treasured memories.