Who Is Tim Schafer?
After growing up in Sonoma, California, Tim Schafer went on to study computer science at UC Berkeley. Upon graduating, he began working as an assistant designer and programmer for the George Lucas-founded video game publisher Lucasfilm Games (now known as LucasArts). While at LucasArts, Schafer worked on several projects between 1990 and 1998 including, "The Secret of Monkey Island," "Day of the Tentacle," "Full Throttle," and "Grim Fandango." In 2000, he founded his own video game development company, Double Fine Productions, where he currently serves as studio creative director and writer. Among Schafer's awards is an October 2006 BAFTA Best Screenplay video game award for his 2005 game "Psychonauts." He currently resides in San Francisco with his artist and illustrator wife Rachael and their young daughter.
Early Life and College
Born in Sonoma, California, on July 26, 1967, Schafer was the youngest of five children born to parents Gwendolyn and Dr. John Schafer. When he was 12 years old, Schafer remembers his father bringing home a copy of "Adventure" for the Atari 2600, which he has said inspired his later career. “I didn’t read the manual at all,” he once said in an interview. “I was like, What’s happening? I’m a square? There was an arrow and there is a horned cup and a castle and a duck is attacking me. I just remember how confused I felt, but also excited as well as confused.”
Schafer went on to study computer science at UC Berkeley, he says, "mostly because I knew how to program, so I figured I could handle it." While at college, his interest veered more towards creative writing and has said he "wanted to be like Kurt Vonnegut." He admired the Slaughterhouse-Five author's ability to work a day job as a General Electric engineer and make extra cash writing short stories at night.
After completing internships in database programming, he began putting those skills to use working on projects for police and fire departments as well as at Atari and Hewlett Packard. He remained on the hunt for a job working with computers but claims all of his applications were turned down and that he's always held on to all of those rejection letters.
While browsing job listings at UC Berkeley's Career Service Center, he spotted a posting from Lucasfilm Games (later LucasArts), which was founded by Star Wars and Indiana Jones creator George Lucas. After being hired as an assistant designer and programmer at Skywalker Ranch, located 40 miles north of San Francisco, his first project involved testing the 1989 video action game adaptation of the Steven Spielberg-directed film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The following year, Schafer got his first opportunity to act as a co-writer, programmer, and assistant designer on "The Secret of Monkey Island," which was initially published on floppy diskettes before being remade for CD-ROM in 1992.
With "The Secret of Monkey Island," Schafer made his mark on innovating video games by using his creative writing skills to carefully pen a script that elevated the concept of storytelling and humor in the medium. “The fact that something as mainstream and ridiculous as comedy is a niche in the game market is telling,” he once explained. “I’ve always wanted to bring in people with well-developed emotional lives to come and play games, and broaden it, because life is broad.”
His first game as project leader was 1995's "Full Throttle," which went on to sell a million copies in five years. When developing the graphic adventure game, Schafer studied screenwriting to learn how to structure a story in multiple acts. He employed those same techniques in 1998's "Grim Fandango," which he has said was “very heavily inspired by film noir." The adventure game would be his last project at LucasArts.
Double Fine Productions
After departing LucasArts, Schafer founded video game development company Double Fine Productions in July 2000. He's said he named his new studio, located in San Francisco’s South of Market district, after a sign on the Golden Gate Bridge that once read, "Slow to 45 mph – Double Fine Zone." On his company's website, he further explained the decision: "I ingeniously selected the name Double Fine so that when people drove over the bridge they would see the name "Double Fine" and think, not just that we had purchased ad space on what must be the most expensive billboard in California, but that we owned the city and all of San Francisco had been declared to be a "Double Fine Zone."
Double Fine released its award-winning first title, "Psychonauts," in 2005 and was able to publish versions, not just for computers, but also for Xbox and Playstation 2 — something Schafer hadn't been able to do in the past. The studio's next big undertaking was 2009's action-adventure real-time strategy game "Brütal Legend." Actor Jack Black starred in its cinematic opening as a record store customer in an actual film clip shot in Los Angeles.
Following the big-budget "Brütal Legend," Double Fine has switched gears to smaller games, including 2010's "Costume Quest," 2011's "Stacking," and 2012's "Kinect Party." The company has also since released several crowdfunded titles including 2014's "Broken Age."
Double Fine created the Double Fine Presents umbrella under which small independent developers have been able publish their games since 2014.
As of 2018, another crowdfunded title, "Psychonauts 2," is in development and has amassed more than $3.8 million in pre-orders and pledges on community game publishing website Fig.
Awards and Honors
"Psychonauts" won the Game Critics Award for Best Original Game at the E3 trade show of 2002. At the 2006 Game Developers Choice Awards, Schafer also won a Best Writing award for "Psychonauts" as well as the prize for Best New Studio. The same year, he also received a BAFTA video game Best Screenplay award for "Psychonauts."
Schafer received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2018. He was also given a BAFTA Fellowship as "a true pioneer of game design, who has pushed the boundaries of the medium through his extraordinary talents" at 2018's British Academy Games Awards.
Schafer lives in San Francisco with his artist and illustrator wife Rachael and their young daughter, who he's credited with inspiring his creativity. "She likes to play little choose-your-own-adventure games when we go out to restaurants," he told The Guardian. "While we’re waiting for our food to come, I’ll take her on imaginary dungeon crawls: I’ll say, 'Okay, you’re in a cave, and in one direction you can hear a growling noise and in another you can hear dripping water – where do you go?' She got really into them and wanted to do them for me – and hers were so much more creative than mine. Mine are all dungeons and dragons and ghosts, but in hers anything could happen!"
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