XBLA Primer: Double Fine Productions
XBLA Primer is an on-going feature in which we delve into the history of a given developer, catalog their XBLA releases, and look at why they make great games.
Way back in the 1980’s, a game designer named Tim Schafer started to make a name for himself at LucasArts. Working on and later leading development on cult classics such as Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, Mr. Schafer quickly garnered a reputation around the industry as one of the most creative minds in the business. At the turn of the century, Schafer left LucasArts and started his own development studio which came to be known as Double Fine Productions.
Double Fine blew out of the gates with a platformer named Psychonauts, a game that literally put you inside the minds of others. You can only imagine the crazy things you’d find in the depths of people’s minds. Next up, Double Fine released Brutal Legend, an action/real-time strategy hybrid centered around the fantasy world of heavy metal. While both Psychonauts and Brutal Legend were received very well by critics and gamers alike, neither game managed to create the bucket loads of cash that publishers now look for.
After beginning development on a sequel to Brutal Legend, Electronic Arts (the game’s publisher) broke the news that they had decided to cease funding the game. Stopped dead in their tracks and unsure of where to go, Double Fine rapidly changed direction. Already having a reputation for creativity and endless amounts of ideas, Tim Schafer and company turned to the coming digital download revolution. It was here that Double Fine would hit their stride and find the much deserved success they sought.
Double Fine’s first XBLA release was the Halloween themed action-RPG Costume Quest. Inspired by classics such as Earthbound and The Legend of Zelda, Costume Quest puts players in the shoes of children on the night of Halloween. The game takes a simple turn-based gameplay formula and sprinkles it with classic Double Fine charm. Humor, great writing, an instantly recognizable art style and a memorable soundtrack all combined to make one of the best RPG’s available on XBLA. Costume Quest seriously changed the way its players thought of Halloween. A few months after its release, Double Fine released the Grubbins on Ice add-on, supplementing the experience.
Double Fine’s puzzle based action game Stacking was released early in 2011 and quickly became known as one of XBLA’s most unique titles. And that’s saying a lot. Set in the world of a diorama, players take control of Charlie Blackmore, one of those little Russian wooden dolls that stack inside each other. You know what we’re talking about. Anyway, Charlie’s family suddenly disappears and he takes it upon himself to find out exactly what’s going on and save the day. The ensuing tale shows us how the smallest of us all can sometimes be the bravest and take on evils of any magnitude. On the gameplay side, players must solve puzzles by “stacking” inside other dolls/people in the world. It may sound confusing at first but in actuality it’s one of the most clever puzzle mechanics every conceived. As per usual with Double Fine games, Stacking is filled with fantastic writing, humor and an extremely unique art style. If you’ve ever enjoyed a puzzle based game, Stacking is an absolute must buy. Double Fine went on to release The Lost Hobo King add-on for Stacking giving players craving more of the doll-popping action they demanded.
Skipping over a long story about titles, lawsuits, and board games, Double Fine’s second release of 2011 is now known as Iron Brigade. Representing Double Fine’s own take on tower defense, Iron Brigade puts players in control of a fully customizable mech and lets them loose to shoot everything that moves. With a World War I influence pumping through its veins, Iron Brigade quickly became a fan favorite with its blend of action, customization, and you guessed it; humor. Since its launch, Double Fine has rolled out a free survival mode for the game and intends to launch the upcoming Rise of the Martian Bear DLC in 2012 which will add new missions and loot to mix. There’s more Iron Brigade on the way and that’s only a good thing as far as we’re concerned.
Double Fine recently released the Kinect enabled Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster onto the retail world, a game that’s so charming it’s making grown men want to play with cookie monster and elmo again. Utilizing the lessons learned from working on Sesame Street, Double Fine is hard at work on their next XBLA title called Happy Action Theater which is essentially a collection of Kinect enabled mini-games aimed at creating fun for the whole family. Beyond that we’ve got the Rise of the Martian Bear DLC for Iron Brigade to look forward to, as well as a new game from Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer’s old partner in crime from their days at LucasArts.
If goes without saying that the folks at Double Fine Productions are some of the most talented and creative minds in the industry. They pour their heart and soul into every game they produce and it shows. Over the past few years Double Fine has touched everything from tower defense, to role-playing to puzzle games . They’ve been everywhere from inside your mind, to Sesame Street, to the land of the heavy metal Gods. No matter what lies ahead for Double Fine Productions, you can be sure it’s something to be excited about. The digital download market has been very kind to Double Fine. We are confident that Double Fine will continue to be kind to it in return, to Xbox Live Arcade and to its fans.