Double Fine's Tim Schafer was the guest of honor last evening at New York University's Game Center, joining Zynga New York's creative director (and NYU professor) Frank Lantz for an "Inside the Gamer's Studio" conversation. Schafer, however, brought more than just good conversation. He showed off two separate versions of a prototyped game that Double Fine ended up shelving. The prototype,
In the first video (seen above), rudimentary concepts for the game are introduced. Two convicts sit in a prison cell, a shiv on the floor between them. The player character isn't one of the two convicts, or even the shiv, but instead a possessed amulet that's using its power of influence to guide the actions of those around it (inanimate objects included). As it turns out, one of the two convicts has said amulet in his hand when the prototype kicks off.
The two emotions that the amulet can produce – love and hate – are represented by blue and red cursors on-screen, each mapped to one of your hands. With just two emotions, a handful of set pieces to interact with, and a Kinect, a variety of potential outcomes with varying levels of hilarity ensued.
*Double Fine senior gameplay programmer Anna Kipnis explained the name via Twitter. "We name prototypes after Chinatown bars at DF (running out of bars now)," Kipnis said, in reference to San Francisco's Chinatown. "Psychonauts was Li Po. Brütal Legend was my favorite bar in Chinatown, Buddha Bar." So there's that! This is "Specs."
The "Specs" prototype wasn't produced during one of Double Fine's notorious "Amnesia Fortnight" game jams (said jams birthed Once Upon a Monster, Iron Brigade, and a variety of other recent Double Fine hits), but was instead created for an unnamed publisher who actually came to Double Fine with the idea. "We did a prototype for a publisher, and it was like an assignment," Schafer said. "About a year ago, a publisher came to us with an idea. Like, not an idea for the game, but just a type of game that they were interested in trying. And I usually say 'That's crazy, that's nuts,' but we thought about it some more and thought that maybe we could trust something like that."
Schafer said that it was "around the time Heavy Rain came out [Feb. 2010]," and "a lot of people were very excited about interactive narratives and branching storylines," which, to him, was what he had already been doing.
"I never thought of doing a game like Heavy Rain, because it just looks really hard. I like to do easier things than that. But I started thinking about the idea of a game with a story that changes with player interaction and I have been doing a lot of stuff like that," he told attendees. What resulted was a comical take on an adventure game – per Schafer's M.O. – albeit controlled via Microsoft's Kinect.
A later prototype (seen above) shows how that concept expanded in the long run, adding a variety of other gestures for other emotions, not to mention some hilarious placeholder voice acting from Tim and other Double Fine staffers. He also noted last evening that the prototype will never see the light of day, as the publisher eventually soured on the concept and it got put to the side.