Schafer along with the folks at Double Fine have always made the most perfect whimsical worlds for our pleasure. Psychonauts delivered a world inside the minds of many, populated with a visual quirk and a stark style of writing that made is a superb dashing adventure through a dreamworld full to the brim of humour. It was sad then that alike Brutal Legend it suffered in only one category: the game part. Brutal Legend is undoubtedly Schafer’s best writing and a distilled work of vision, it’s often a striking title of just how funny the writing is, how passionate the people are behind it and how it embodies everything that the creators set out to do.
It’s sad then that neither title, or any title up until Stacking have ever got the game part right. On their own they’re great titles but they’re not great video-games. It’s a shame too, Double Fine make the finest of game worlds. It’s odd seeing grime and grit everywhere with the realism turned up to eleven, then seeing the juxtaposition between a title like Call of Duty and Brutal Legend pop up. Schafer’s worlds are somewhat childish in tone, but always beautiful and crammed with little quirks. The gameplay itself always suffers for some reason, with Psychonauts having sticky platforming and Brutal Legend being an RTS stuck in an adventure game stuck in a hack and slash title.
It’s not that the make bad games, it’s that Double Fine have never made a real game. Their worlds often stand high above how you actually interact with the worlds, which has always struck me as odd given the high praise that Schafer gets for his ‘storytelling’. In every game so far he’s told stories either through cut-scenes or other non-interactive means. I always felt I was just advancing a plot rather than being intertwined the grand scheme of things. To put it bluntly, Schafer makes beautiful things whereas everybody else makes pretty things to play with.
If Team Ico and Schafer met in a bar and things got kinda heavy then I imagine their lovechild would be the greatest game ever created. Team Ico already make beautiful worlds but push the aesthetics of interactivity amongst anyone else. The power to make you feel dreaded guilt is not done through visual cues but interactive cues, in Shadow of the Colossus, whereas such a thing would be proposed through visual means in one of Schafer’s titles. If the lovechild grew up and stuffs then its name would be Stacking or something of that ilk.
Stacking is one of the finest and brilliant puzzle titles to ever come out of the industry. As I said in my Screenjabber review, it’s a beautiful world that’s (for the first Double Fine time) supported by a means of interactivity on the same level as said world. I feel that I’m inside this world, rather than viewing it from the outside, and sometimes it becomes almost a metaphor within the game. I’m going inside bigger and bigger dolls, in link with the fact I’m being drawn into this Schafertastic experience. It’s honestly never happened to me before, a Double Fine game that lures me in not through visuals but through interactivity.
There are flaws, I’ll give it that, but other than that (as you can read in my review) it’s a flawless title. Double Fine haven’t just made a video-game, they’ve made a damn good one at that. My only concern is that Schafer will go back to his old ways with Costume Quest and Brutal Legend and feel it unnecessary to make these changes to his game design philosophy. My critique isn’t of Stacking itself but of the people behind it. Stacking is a brilliant title and if it’s an indicator of what to expect of Double Fine, then they will rightfully take their place amongst Team Ico of offering both a visually immersive world along with an interactive immersive one. You don’t see a lot of interactive means of drawing the player in nowadays, that’s perhaps what is lacking from us becoming an ‘artful’ medium.
Stacking suffers from small little issues such as impeding the player’s movement because he’s a goddamn wooden doll. That’s fine, easily fixed with a few tweaks. The overall design of letting the player replay the puzzles without the need of going through menus or starting the game again is absolutely brilliant. It’s so simple and something I’ve wanted to see not through puzzle games, but every game, since puzzle games often allow for just one set means of accomplishing each puzzle. Stacking is different in offering multiple ways. This in link with the ‘replay’ feature might force designers to incorporate a less linear means of game design. Linear isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong, it allows for 100% focus but in some genres it’s nice to see some freedom.
I look forward to Schafer’s next downloadable title, it’s sure to be interesting and if it’s anything like Stacking then I’m perfectly sure that this new philosophy will infect Double Fine forever. They deserve it.