How Tim Schafer made Double Fine a creative hotbed

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In 1997, John Romero was driving around the US handing out blank cheques to some of the country’s greatest game designers. To Tom Hall, his old Doom comrade, he gave penthouse space in Dallas to make the brilliant JRPG Anachronox. For Warren Spector, he funded an office full of immersive sim nerds in Austin who went on to create Deus Ex. And in San Francisco, he approached Tim Schafer to make a point-and-click adventure under the auspices of Ion Storm.

Schafer, however, wasn’t ready to leave LucasArts, the company that had given him access to Skywalker Ranch, and to his mentor, Monkey Island’s Ron Gilbert. He turned Romero down. It’s a decision that might have suggested a lack of entrepreneurial spirit; that Schafer was ‘just’ a designer and writer, not a studio head. No shame in that. In the fullness of time, however, he would go on to reshape the business of games more than once with his own company, Double Fine.

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

At LucasArts, Schafer’s games were distinguished by their worldbuilding. Though he couldn’t quite match Gilbert for puzzle design—his mentor’s thematically satisfying solutions would prove to be the best of the point-and-click genre—Schafer’s brain was wired to splice his unusual influences in creative ways. An overheard story in an Alaskan biker bar led to Full Throttle, which swapped the adventure genre’s weedy protagonists for a straight-ahead brawler. Grim Fandango blended film noir with Día de Muertos, hot rod culture, and underworld bureaucracy—a heady mix in a game intended for the mainstream.

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