Interviews

Stacking: Why are funny games so rare?

Interview: Double Fine's Tim Schafer and Lee Petty on making us laugh...

You know that cliché about famous funny men; about how 'off stage' they're all dark, introverted and brooding individuals? How, in a not uncommon twist of irony, when they talk about what they do, they're really, really serious?

That doesn't really go for Double Fine. Sat in front of art lead Lee Petty and main man Tim Schafer, CVG makes it our mission to understand the key ingredients of a genuinely amusing game - something few have tried, and even fewer have pulled off.

We want to know secrets of interactive jocular timing; the key rules that 'comedy' games developers must abide by.

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It's something the pair - collectively responsible for Brutal Legend and charming Russian Doll adventure Stacking, which is out on PSN and XBLA this week - certainly know a thing or two about.

Yet for much of our time together, they seem less interested in imparting pearls of wisdom, and much more keen on cracking wise. HD remakes, interplanetary action titles and software merchandising are all spoofed off the cuff; whilst, naturally, farting dominates entire sections of conversation.

In doing so, of course, they offer us Double Fine's key philosophy on a plate: At the end of the day, they're usually more interested in making you - and each other - giggle than taking anything too seriously for too long...

Is this more of a classic Double Fine game than Costume Quest? More the sort of game Tim Schafer fans will expect?

LP: We always like to confound expectations. Stacking is a game where a lot of the things that we're really emphasised in our early adventure titles have been brought back - but in a new way. It doesn't feel like we're just going back and using an old formula.

We took some of the things we loved about adventure games, but we knew we didn't just want to make a retro throwback. We didn't want to make, you know, just a special edition of an existing game that has exactly the same approach.

TS: [Smirking and obviously referring to modern re-releases of his LucasArts titles] Not that there's anything wrong with that.

LP: Not that there's anything wrong with that.

TS: Well the one wrong thing with that being that I'm not getting any royalties. I think gamers hate that too. "Ah, Tim's not getting rich off me." Drives them crazy. I think it really bugs them.

LP: Perhaps they should just send you a cheque directly. That seems fair.

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TS: Yeah, or just buy a load of T-shirts from our shop.

LP: That's right. Pirate the game, buy T-shirts. I think that's our over-riding message. [Laughs].

There's definitely influence from the past, then - but what's new in the game?

LP: The premise is something new, the idea of the Russian dolls. I didn't realise how important that was to begin with - that the characters are the actual 'verbs' in the game. Instead of having verbs on the screen you click on, you just walk up to them and jump inside them and walk around. It's a weird combination of the old inventory and verb system we used to use and this simple new idea. It was almost easier to implement in some ways.

We wanted to take some of the experience and pace from [classic Double Fine games] and put it into Stacking. It's about pace, it's about going through the game at your own speed and spend time enjoying the characters in the world. You're not being railroaded from a QuickTime event to a Hollywood action moment. That's strangely very unusual these days.

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