On Tuesday afternoon, I finally finished watching “Double Fine Adventure,” the 20-part documentary series on YouTube that chronicles the San Francisco-based game development studio Double Fine Productions as it makes a brand-new video game from start to finish.
“Double Fine Adventure” is a rare behind-the-scenes look at how a single video game was produced: the critically-acclaimed point-and-click adventure from 2015 called “Broken Age,” which is available to buy on PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Android, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation 4.
It’s incredible to watch all the effort that went into the production of “Broken Age,” but I personally loved getting to know all the people behind the project. You meet all the key players: the directors, managers, producers, writers, game designers, artists, musicians, programmers, and yes, even those poor souls charged with finding and fixing all the game’s bugs. I loved getting to know all of these people through their work and their on-camera interviews, which provided excellent context and colour. By the time the documentary was over, it felt like I was saying goodbye to a group of friends.
If you’ve never heard of Double Fine, the studio was founded in 2000 by LucasArts veteran Tim Schafer, one of the most beloved figures in the video game industry. He’s written and designed some of the biggest cult-classic games over the last three decades, including two of the beloved “Monkey Island” games for PC, as well as “Grim Fandango,” “Brütal Legend,” and “Psychonauts,” which is easily my favourite video game of all time (and it’s getting a sequel!).
Five years ago, in February 2012, Double Fine took a novel idea to the Kickstarter community: Schafer and his team wanted to make a classic point-and-click adventure game, in the same vein as the popular “Monkey Island” games that Schafer helped build at Lucasarts in the 1990s. Through Kickstarter, they asked fans to help back the project, setting a target goal of $400,000 to help fund development of the game. That money would also cover the costs of a documentary series, which was Double Fine’s way of being transparent with backers about the status of the game’s development.
Double Fine couldn’t have predicted what would happen next: “Double Fine Adventure” raised over $3.45 million from over 87,000 backers to become the biggest crowdfunded video game at that time. But while “Broken Age” wasn’t the monumental commercial success the company hoped for, the project helped establish Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms as viable alternatives to having publishers or venture capitalists bankroll video game projects.
Now, I wouldn’t advise watching the whole documentary in one sitting — the 20 videos that comprise the “Double Fine Adventure” documentary span around 743 minutes in total, which is over 12 hours — but getting to know these people and seeing them manage the many challenges associated with creating a video game is downright fascinating. And it’s great that Double Fine and 2 Player Productions, the video production company behind the documentary, didn’t sugarcoat anything: Mistakes and setbacks are given equal treatment to progress and good news.
You really don’t need to know anything about video games to enjoy watching these professionals in their element; it’s educational as well as entertaining. (It also helps that Schafer is such a big personality, watching him work and collaborate with others is a joy unto itself.)
And so, even if you’ve never heard of Double Fine Productions before reading this article, or if you don’t care about video games, put all of that aside: “Double Fine Adventure” is one of the best documentary series I’ve ever seen, and it’s absolutely worth your time. You can watch it over your lunch breaks over the course of a few months, like I did, or binge-watch it all at home or on your computer. It’s free to watch on YouTube, though you’ll get even more content if you purchase the gorgeous-looking DVD box set for $30.