The Amnesia Fortnight sessions at Double Fine have been a sort of open secret at Tim Schafer's Double Fine development studios. People can point to what's come out of those brainstorming marathons, in the form of Iron Brigade, Costume Quest and Stacking. And the folks at Double Fine have made the latest Amnesia Fortnight public, letting folks play prototypes and vote on the game concepts they like.
But why the change? "You know, I come from a long background of secrecy working at LucasArts. At Lucasfilm, there's obviously an important level of security there because of all the crazy Star Wars fans," Schafer told me this week. "I just kind of inherited that. It's pretty prevalent in the game industry to hoard your information and keep the doors locked so that you can surprise everybody with it, "Hey, we've been working on this crazy game for five years and now we're going to blitz everything for three months."
"You hoard your information; you keep everything really secret. You embargo everything," Schafer continued. "And then we had this experience with Kickstarter. The Kickstarter itself was great, as far as the money and the month that we were on this big spectacular ride. But the actual process of making the Double Fine Adventure game — with Two Player Productions filming it and us posting concept art to the forums like we promised we would — was very scary at first."
Schafer explained that there was a fear that all the goodwill could curdle. "Because it was like, ‘Oh, what if people just hate this?' They don't know what a mock-up looks like or an animatic. They'll say, "That looks ugly." Games look ugly while they're being made. Games are not fun to play while they're being made."
"A lot of the times, the writing is stupid [on a first pass]," the designer elaborated. "The performance is terrible. Not to mention the bugs and stuff. There are all these things about game production that are best not seen by people. And so we said this is scary but we decided to do this, so let's do it." But, instead of derision, Schafer says they found even more good feelings. "People are more empathetic and more bought-in, and feel more engaged with the project when you let them in."
It's not all hugs and high-fives, though. "There are some people who say jerky things," Schafer offered. "But for the most part people are like, ‘Wow. I never really understood how games were made before. And I never realised that you guys had to have a meeting about what to cut from the game because of the resources that you're limited to with the budget.' It's been really interesting for us."
"We showed in-progress concept art. Some people liked it. Some people didn't. And some people liked this. But we found in general, in the end, it was OK [to be open]. And in fact, it was better. And. in fact, I love it. I love having this back and forth with our community. And this whole last year of doing this Kickstarter project has in general made me much more transparent, and it's prompted us to have this wide open portal between us and our community."
I realised I wish I had been doing this all along. And so when it came time to do a new Amnesia Fortnight, we just started kind of applying this new way of doing things to where, ‘How can we make this public? How can we let people in on this process?'"
Moving this Amnesia Fortnight also lets fan decide what gets made, too. So, if the game pitch you like actually gets made, it's another thing you can thank Kickstarter for, in a roundabout way.