Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: 2012 – The Year of the Martian Bear

Good morning everyone, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. One of the concepts behind the creation of this weekly feature was not just to host a column-style musing on goings-on within the gaming scene, but to occasionally pause for reflection on more significant events. This week has been defined by one particular event, and if you missed it, then I’m happy to break it to you: Double Fine Productions are so hot right now.

Even their logo is fun!
This week marks the approximative year anniversary of Stacking, Double Fine’s wholly bizarre puzzle Matroshka doll arcade title. Since February 9, the release date of Stacking, Double Fine Productions have released Iron Brigade (formerly Trenched), Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster, Happy Action Theater, and most recently a DLC pack for Iron Brigade, titled 'Rise of the Martian Bear'. They are now in the midst of developing (working title) Double Fine Adventure, courtesy of their now bloated coffers thanks to a rip-roaring success via Kickstarter. You can read more about that story here and here. Further, outside of that frankly relentless product release cycle, they have even weathered a court case in Europe which led to Trenched changing its name to Iron Brigade.

Iron Brigade crosses 50s sci-fi with The Great War.
I find this sort of thing riveting. It is great to watch a company do well, particularly when they’re renowned for such a left-of-field approach as Double Fine are. If you take a look at the games above that they have released over the last year, one thing strikes me hardest: variety. This is not a studio that is churning out shooters at a rate of one per quarter, these are drastically different game approaches. Iron Brigade is a wave-based military shooter, Stacking is perhaps best described as a puzzle platformer, Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster is a sickly-sweet game that makes you wish you had kids so that you could show it to them, and then Happy Action Theater is a refreshing take on the Kinect, throwing a set of shallow, throwaway games together and not billing them as anything more than they are: a chance to have, in quick succession, moments of silly, stupid fun.

This is guy you want to be your boss.
Shall I go there? I suppose I shall. I think Double Fine Productions can be defined by the word ‘fun’. In an industry that is taking itself ever-more seriously, it is great to see a bunch of folks just be dumb and be great at it. Intelligent inanity: you heard it here first. This is no slight against the team at all, I genuinely think they are excellent at what they do, and congratulate them on taking the concept of fun and turning it into a functional, and now highly successful, business model. Like many companies, their ethos and approach is embodied in their leader: Tim Schafer. It comes as little surprise that a company that so excel at making people enjoy themselves would be headed by a guy so unhinged as Tim. What has always marked him out to be is that is uncharacteristically charismatic. This industry can often suffer from companies and people that are at best socially-awkward. Tim and the rest of Double Fine eschew that notion, bringing laughs and smiles wherever they go. Did I mention they are fun? They make things fun.

Have a great Sunday, folks.

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