Double Fine’s Lee Petty Talks Game Dev Philosophies, Crunch, And More

During our current Psychonauts 2 cover story interviews, we had the prospect to speak one-on-one with Double Fine artist Lee Petty. A sport developer for greater than 20 years now, Petty’s profession has taken him from triple-A studios like Crystal Dynamics all the best way to, after all, the smaller groups of Double Fine. During his tenure on the latter, he is served as artwork director on Brütal Legend, lead the event of RAD and Stacking, and customarily had a hand within the artwork and writing of many different video games. 

Our chat with Petty, nonetheless, reached far past his years at Double Fine, protecting his ideas on open-world sport design, the worth proposition of video video games, and the sport business’s points with crunch. Petty had lots to say about a number of matters, all of which you’ll be able to watch within the video above and/or learn within the transcript under. 

For extra Psychonauts 2 protection, ensure to test our cover story hub, see an unique have a look at one of many game’s new powers, and skim our interview with one of many psychological well being specialists consulting on the sport. 

Game Informer: Were you doing video games earlier than you have been at Double Fine? 

Lee Petty: Yeah, yeah. I labored at a variety of studios earlier than Double Fine and in addition ran my very own studio, or co-ran a studio for a pair years. Immediately earlier than becoming a member of Double Fine, I’d labored at Crystal Dynamics for about 5 years, which was bought twice whereas I used to be was there. So, yeah. It [wound] up being Square proper on the finish of my time there. Square Enix.

GI: It looks as if Double Fine’s a fairly distinctive house to me. You go from, like, main your personal mission to immediately you are serving to out anyone else on their mission. Is that course of onerous? Or is it form of good to be like, “Oh, now I’m not in charge. That’s actually kind of relaxing.”

LP: I imply, it’s kind of of each. I believe it is like anything. I like all the time staying very hands-on. So even if you’re a lead at Double Fine, you are just about nonetheless doing fulltime manufacturing work, in addition to being a lead and a supervisor. So it is difficult to stability all that load appropriately. But I get pleasure from it. I really feel like the very best leads I’ve labored with are individuals who nonetheless maintain their palms soiled within the manufacturing on a regular basis; they’ve the very best understanding of what you are doing and may provide extra poignant recommendation and steerage. So I try to be like that. I additionally actually get pleasure from numerous various things. I get pleasure from, you already know, artwork and artwork course, however I additionally actually get pleasure from sport design and writing and different issues. And lighting is likely one of the issues that I do a number of on the video games I work on. So you already know, it form of made sense for me to assist out once they wanted assistance on that. Ultimately, we’re a small studio so individuals transfer round lots. One of the benefits to typically having a number of tasks is that they are in barely completely different phases of growth and then you definitely get additional assist at first or finish. Even although I did not work lots on them, I helped out lots with Happy Action Theater and Costume Quest 2 and all these different video games I’ve gone and spent a while on as effectively.

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GI: From your private historical past inside Double Fine, the way you first bought began directing tasks, was it simply that first Amnesia Fortnight or have been you approached to direct tasks? How did that entire factor work out?

LP: Well, you already know, on Brütal Legend, I used to be the director, and we had a really flat construction on the artwork staff. We had a lead animator, and there [were] possibly 13 animators on that mission. There was a number of animators on that mission. But I used to be the artwork director, and so principally each artist reported to me [laughs]. So it is like 22 direct studies, you already know? And so I used to be doing a number of excessive stage course and serving to lots [to] coordinate issues. And so I believe Tim, what he advised me on the time is he wished to see how I might do main a mission. And I had all the time been pitching him on the aspect on varied concepts. I used to be concerned with engaged on a mission that was smaller in measurement, each by way of the sport and the staff, that was form of in that 12 to 14 particular person staff member measurement, which is what Stacking was. And so I form of was all the time pitching him concepts. And when Amnesia Fortnight got here round, I form of had a pitch prepared for him, and lobbied to get that carried out. I simply form of went from there.

GI: You talked about you wished to work with groups round 12 to 14 individuals. Is that your most popular staff measurement? Do you want smaller groups? What makes that form of a bunch particular?

LP: I believe what it does is it means that you’ve much less administration overhead. And inherently, everybody has slightly bit extra consciousness of what is going on on within the mission, and slightly extra artistic stake in all the things happening. I believe individuals nonetheless have major roles, however on a staff that measurement, everybody’s gonna need to have a secondary position. And some individuals have tertiary roles or pursuits as effectively. And I like that. That turns into too difficult on a big mission, I believe, to do this solely. I imply, clearly, we attempt to some extent to maintain issues flat right here and collaborative, after all, however it’s tremendous difficult. Then you simply have a complete staff of producers who’re documenting the collaboration and speaking the collaboration, versus individuals simply collaborating. So, I like that facet. 

And I want on the whole video games have been smaller; I do not need to play a 40, 60, 80 hour sport, usually talking. Maybe you’ve got room in your life for one or two of these, however I like – issues that have an effect on me do not need to be enormous. I play some video games as service, as everybody else does, which can be perpetual video games, however I additionally like having an impactful 4 hour expertise. And I do suppose that a number of the tenants of sport design – and possibly some issues I do not look after about sport design manipulating participant habits – are a results of lengthy video games [that] maintain attempting to maintain individuals engaged because the rising price of content material [increases]. And then they’re like, ‘But we have now to maintain them up for 80 hours. So here is a grindy secondary missions that nobody provides two shits about, however they’re within the sport.’

GI: Do you’ve got any perception into why the business leans in the direction of making larger video games?

LP: I believe it is a actually advanced query and reply. I believe there’s a number of elements that funnel into that over time. Once Nintendo resurrected the business, they principally turned it right into a youngsters’s toy, which principally turned critiques for 15 years into worth propositions for fogeys shopping for their child stuff for Christmas. When it is simply being seen by way of that lens, it is all about worth, and it is all about surfacing labor. I imply, most likely half the world nonetheless thinks trendy artwork trendy artwork is a rip-off, and so they have a look at one thing that is 100 years outdated and go, “But I could’ve done that.” They do not actually get it, proper? So, a number of it is about surfacing labor, like craft, and making individuals be like, “Yeah!” So I believe a part of it’s that, that worth proposition as a toy. And that is clearly modified a bit. Part of it was competing for shelf house, proper? Loads of these items got here from a historical past that is not actually there anymore. 

Double Fine Productions/2 Player Productions

Lee Petty

But I believe then what occurred is the price of growth has skyrocketed, as a result of the price of creating content material, since video games are married to technological advance, usually talking, has gone up, and in the event you alter for inflation, the quantity we’re promoting video games for has gone down. So what do you do? You try to discover methods to cope with that. So yeah, some individuals outsource, or most individuals do in some proportion. You get gamers to maintain participating and returning to the content material so to promote them different issues. I imply, there’s a number of these elements all piling in. 

I do really feel like a breath of contemporary air occurred when downloadable or digital content material for video games type of, like, balanced issues out a bit as a result of smaller experiences grew to become potential once more. There have been different worth factors apart from a field retail sport. And so in the event you promote one thing for $15 or $10, the expectations are naturally [adjusted]. Or not less than they have been [laughs]. Nowadays, individuals count on a triple-A sport for $15, however there was a variety of years there the place individuals may form of alter {that a} bit. That was nice. 

I imply, there’s simply so many causes for it, I believe. Things get established within the business and it form of simply modifications gamers’ expectations. Movies have been by no means 20 hours lengthy. They got here out of a historical past of performs, and performs weren’t 20 hours lengthy. Other than, I assume, something Wagner could have written. That’s probably not a play [laughs]. But I assume in the event you have a look at Netflix and the sequence they placed on, individuals binge watch that a number of instances, these sequence, and that is 12 hours of content material, it isn’t two hours. And so, I do not know the way that is mixing issues up for individuals both these days, by way of what individuals count on even in that media. 

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GI: Over the final 10 years it really feel’s like, Double Fine’s actually pushed to fight crunch. Speaking out of your perspective, what has that journey been like? And why do you are feeling that crunch is a tough factor to fight as an organization? 

L: Yeah. You know, I believe crunch has been talked lots about within the business, simply at giant, for some time now. Obviously it is dangerous for everybody, however I additionally suppose the problem in speaking about it’s simply that crunch has no definition. Are you an organization that defines crunch as somebody’s labored 42 hours this week? Or is it extra endemic? Is it one thing that occurs for 3 months in a row? Or is it one thing that individuals plan on? I do really feel that after I labored at different firms – and I’m not going to call any names – I do really feel like there have been instances the place the tradition and the elemental planning for a sport was constructed round making individuals work 60 to 80 hours every week for months on finish, and that was constructed into the schedule. That was extraordinarily prevalent within the business. It nonetheless is. It’s much less prevalent and now it will get hidden and lied about in varied methods. That’s horrible. That’s a horrible price to a human being. I do not forget that my first 5 years within the business, after I was at my fifth yr within the business, I bear in mind trying round and – I do not know if it was a GDC survey or some survey I learn and it confirmed stage of expertise individuals had within the business. There was, like, an enormous dropping off level the place everybody virtually give up the business at 5 years, as a result of everybody was simply burnt out. And so there was virtually nobody within the business who had 5 to fifteen years of expertise. It was like, everybody was both underneath 5 or over 15 as a result of they’d been round for a very long time and so they have been most likely in a higher-level place. Of course it did not say why, it was a survey, and I used to be like, “Well, I know one of those contributing factors was [crunch].” 


It’s uncontrolled. I believe Double Fine, as I perceive it, had a very dangerous time with it on Psychonauts. I did not work on Psychonauts, so I can not converse to that intimately. Since that point, individuals have all the time been aware about it in administration and attempt to do an excellent job at it. It’s not all the time potential to completely management it or assure it is all the time 40 hours it doesn’t matter what. I believe, you already know, like everybody else, we’re nonetheless determining that excellent stability. But Tim has – Tim and others – have made it a high precedence. I see it much more now on Psychonauts 2 than I ever have earlier than. And a part of that’s, you already know, we have had an enormous concentrate on extra variety hiring during the last couple years – and which means various [across] all completely different spectrums, whether or not it’s age, gender, race, what have you ever. And I believe that signifies that individuals have a number of completely different concerns at dwelling. Part of respecting that and embracing that variety is to just remember to’re permitting time for that. So I really feel nice about that motion, and I really feel like there’s all the time enchancment that may be carried out. 

I do not know what is going on to occur within the business on the whole, as a result of I see it being talked lots about at different firms. But I do know lots of people within the business. Having labored in it for 25 years, I do know a number of what’s being stated is not true. It’s possibly technically true, however there are methods that it will get hidden, proper? Maybe you solely have 20 full time employees, however there’s really 1000 those who labored on it, and the opposite 980 individuals who aren’t your full time employees all crunched. Right? There’s all kinds of issues that occur that I really feel are disingenuous. But total, I might say there’s been an enchancment within the business within the final, I do not know, 5, eight years? At least from the place it was within the early aughts, for positive. 

GI: I’m curious what you are feeling is Double Fine’s nice power as an organization? 

L: I believe – that is an ideal query. It’s onerous to have perspective on that, to some extent, having been there so lengthy. I believe by way of a shopper going through factor, you already know, there’s inner for individuals who work there and possibly extra outward going through. I believe our biggest power can also be our largest problem from a shopper standpoint, which is we wish to strive a number of various things. I do suppose we have labored in a number of completely different genres on a number of various kinds of video games, and I do discover that in the event you’re an individual who likes that, in the event you like possibly a number of the core sensibilities that we have now however wish to play numerous various things, I believe that is a very huge power. That can translate to be individuals internally get[ting] to try to develop lots, versus being locked in a single style or one position for his or her total profession. But that is additionally tremendous difficult, as a result of often individuals who make high tier video games in a given style, it is like, their fifth time making that very same actual sport, and their engines and workflows and individuals are actually hyper-tuned in the direction of that. I believe there’s possibly a stage of, like, we’ll simply name it mechanical precision you get from that that possibly we’re by no means gonna hit head on. 

But I used to be enthusiastic about this query lots when Microsoft bought us. This shouldn’t be something official they’ve ever stated to me, however I used to be enthusiastic about, like, “How do we fit in with the Microsoft family in that regard?” And you already know, with one thing like Game Pass, it is a platform, and there is a number of completely different choices there. You know, we’re by no means gonna be, like, the Forza developer or the Halo developer, however I do suppose we are able to reliably produce completely different experiences – we have carried out it – on a frequent [basis] which can be pleasant and good and weird. And so, it turns into one thing distinctive that may be put to that platform, that I believe total, if you have a look at the broad spectrum, you already know you are going to get one thing slightly completely different coming from us, and fairly persistently delivered at a top quality stage. So, I believe that is most likely our biggest power, is that we are able to do this. 

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