What did you take away from Psychonauts that might affect how you approach the sequel?
I think in the first game I approached it like an adventure game, where I worked on the story and the environments first. We were working on the protagonist at the same time, and by the time his movement came online it broke all of our levels. Ed Fries saw some of the struggles we were having nailing the gameplay and said, “When I visit developers in America, they always have these big, beautiful environments first and then they work on the central character; but when I go to Japan, they always build the character first and build out from that.” So for Psychonauts 2, the first person I need is an animator, so we can get Raz working and then build a world that’s fun for him.
Are you aiming for a similar scale?
Yeah, I believe we have 11 levels and two hubs in the first game, and we’re going to shoot for that. It might change here or there, but the idea is to make it a true sequel. We’re more experienced now, and we’re also using Unreal, so we don’t have to write an engine from scratch. We can focus on building the world.
If Ed Fries hadn’t left, do you think you wouldd have ended up publishing with Microsoft? If so, would things have turned out differently?
I think we would’ve published with them, but I don’t know if the game would’ve been as good, because we would’ve continued on that spiral of chasing focus groups and publisher feedback approval. Sometimes you need a nice, quiet environment to listen to the game because I feel games tell you what they want to be if you play them. They tell you [adopts conspiratorial whisper], “I want to be bigger; I want some more mechanics.” I think you need to have a little peace to hear the game talking.