By Nathan Grayson on February 19th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.
Brutal Legend is coming to PC! With shiny, PC-only bells and whistles, no less. Be still, my barbed-wire-wrapped, blood-and-oil-coughing heart. Its arrival comes at a bit of an odd time, though, given that it’s been more than three years since Tim Schafer’s metal epic knee-slid into living rooms, spraying fireworks and Judas Priest references every which way. But perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. After all, the Double Fine of today and the Double Fine of yester-three-years-ago are very different companies. Back then, EA called the shots, and that ultimately resulted in a canceled Brutal Legend sequel. But now Schafer and co make their own destiny, and as it turns out, that could well involve more guitar axes, tree-necked headbangers, and Jack Blacks. But how many, exactly? That depends on a number of factors.
“I would love to [add more to Brutal Legend on PC],” Schafer told RPS as part of a recent interview. “It’s actually been fun to continue work on it. I mean, we have a wishlist from when we made this version. But since we are a small developer publishing it ourselves, we have to go with the best version we can make and then hope it’s successful so we can add more.”
Which is to be expected, given that Brutal Legend’s initial release was hobbled by dwindling publisher support and what Schafer fully admits was a “messaging problem” about its fusion of hack ‘n’ slash action and RTS. It was never quite able to ascend into the post-release Valhalla of endless(ly updated) battle that most modern games call home. Now, though, it has a very promising second chance, and that’s gotten Schafer’s gears churning.
“There’s a whole list of smaller ones to things like entire playable factions we didn’t get into the first game,” he explained. “Stuff like that. Depending on how much money we make, we can keep going with that.”
“I would love to do alternate gameplay modes in multiplayer. I’d like to bring in Lionwhyte as a playable faction. I’d like to bring in [another faction that was originally meant to be part of Brutal Legend’s story]. There are some tweaks I’d like to do to give you more feedback about what your units are doing.”
And that whole “messaging problem”? Well, while Schafer thinks the best way to solve it is simply to start fresh, he’s not opposed to giving everyone what they thought they were getting in the first place. But, if that vision comes to fruition, it’ll be because he did it on his own terms.
“When people realized it was an RTS, they wanted to control it like StarCraft,” he chuckled. “But that wouldn’t be the optimal way to play it. If you controlled it like StarCraft, the balance and AI wouldn’t have worked. I tried to explain after it came out that it wasn’t meant to play like that, but if you ever try to tell people they’re playing something wrong, you just sound like a jerk.”
“But I think if we did [more traditional RTS-style controls], a fun way to approach it would be an extra mode. An advanced sort of feature we could add to the game later if it’s a big hit and we want to keep supporting it. We could do a version that’s like that.”
The next couple of tidbits he mentioned, however, were easily the most telling. First, the bad news: odds are, Brutal Legend on PC won’t see any new single-player content. Much as Schafer loves that universe and the characters that inhabit it, they don’t exactly come cheap.
“I think [mostly multiplayer stuff] is the most plausible to me,” he admitted. “Because single-player requires content, which means reengaging all the voice actors – which is something that was a lot easier for EA to pay for. Also, reengaging music licensing. I’d love to do that too, but I think that would involve more funding than we have cash on hand to do.”
Make no mistake, however: Double Fine still very much wants to make a Brutal Legend 2. But, as with Psychonauts 2, it’s a matter of waiting for the planets to align on a scale that even prog rock album covers couldn’t dream up. Then again, this is Double Fine we’re talking about. The same Double Fine that kicked off gaming’s obsession with Kickstarter and recently managed to sell a game jam. Crazier things have happened.
“I mean, it’s been longer since Psychonauts and we wouldn’t have to do any music licensing,” Schafer pointed out. “So we could probably afford to do it more if we got some funding. I feel like a Brutal sequel would cost twice as much as Psychonauts. It’s easier to imagine Double Fine doing a sequel to Psychonauts. But for creative reasons, there’s no preference of one over the other.”
And money’s certainly a problem, but it’s not by any means unsolvable. While nothing’s set in stone, Schafer’s not opposed to breaking outside of the box with Brutal Legend on PC – and maybe even making a few extra bucks off it.
“We don’t have anything like [free-to-play] or in-app purchases or anything like that, but I wonder how players would react to that. Like, what if we put in a little flag you could wear on your back that said, ‘We want Brutal Legend 2!’ And then, if we sold enough, we could make Brutal Legend 2. I think we’d have to sell a lot of flags,” he laughed.
Ultimately, though, Double Fine’s not out to cash in with this one. Schafer and co know that PC gamers, especially, are extremely wary of sudden, hungry advances, and they have no intention of rewarding patience with cold cynicism. Technical director Nathan Martz interjected:
“I started in the industry when people were like, ‘PC gaming is dead! Consoles are the future.’ And for people who stuck around through that time, they felt really abandoned. They felt like publishers and developers didn’t care. So I think a lot of that frustration and anger comes from this feeling of ‘I cared about this thing when you didn’t. And now you’re trying to take advantage of it. Do you actually even care?’ So we want to show people that we do care. We’re bound by the laws of physics and finance, so we can only do so many things. But we really, really want to respect the platform as much as those people do.”
Well, fine then. It had better be a really, really damn cool flag.
Keep your Internet tuned to RPS for the full Brutal Legend interview soon, wherein we discuss everything from the entire process of making the game, to working with aged rockstars, to what exactly a Brutal Legend sequel would look like, to so, so much Iron Maiden.