I think I finally know what I want to do with my life. Not my career, but what I do for a mid-life crisis. I want to be Tim Schafer. On the Psychonauts credit sheet, Tim Schafer is listed as “Creative Director.” The creative genius behind such classic story-games as Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, Tim Schafer and his crack team at Double Fine Productions this year released Psychonauts, a story-based platform game.
Psychonauts is set at the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, in a world where some people have developed psychic abilities, including telekinesis and telepathy. People with these powers are outcasts, treated as though there’s something wrong with them, just for having powers that they never even asked for.
Our hero Razputin, or “Raz” for short, is a boy who decides he doesn’t want to live in this world anymore. So he runs away from home to train to be an international psychic secret agent, in other words, a psychonaut. Of course, the staff at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp can’t train Raz without his parents’ permission. Therefore, they contact his parents to bring him home.
But it will take a few days for his parents to get there. And in the meantime, the camp councillors notice Raz’s astounding psychic talents. And Raz is all too anxious to prove himself by completing in those couple of days the entire course and becoming a psychonaut. Normally, we wouldn’t even think this to be possible. But as it turns out, Raz is special. Throughout his crash-course training, Raz learns more about the human psyche, and even about himself, than he probably counted on.
Psychonauts is a traditional 3-D platform game, available for Windows, the X-Box, and Playstation 2.
In most platform games, the story is not integral to the game. It has obviously been glommed onto the side like some huge wart, some fake back-story that’s supposed to increase our interest in the game. In Psychonauts, the story is part of the game, so much so that sometimes I forgot that I was playing a game. Talk about suspension of disbelief, eh?
Game structure is traditional for platform games, with several increasingly difficult levels followed by a “boss” level. But the story is so tightly integrated into the gameplay, I didn’t even notice this traditional structure until after I had played through it. I was simply playing through the story.
As the story— er, gameplay progresses, Raz increases his Psi rating, earning him more and greater powers. He also collects merit badges, through which he gains further skills. But earning these skills never becomes laborious, as in some platform games, because even learning the skills is tightly integrated into the storyline. Many of the things Raz does happen inside the mind, and Psychonauts uses this fact to its best advantage. These things are done as if in a dream. Raz can enter the dream and exit the dream almost at will. Raz will begin working through a level, only to determine that he needs additional skills in order to complete that level. At that point, he can go off and earn those skills. Never did I have to learn skills merely for the sake of learning them. Always there is an imminent need for learning the skills.
This makes Psychonauts an appropriate game, not only for experienced platform gamers, but for beginners as well.
The Psychonauts web page is at www.psychonauts.com.