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Fonzie of the Week #9: Tim Schafer

October 13th, 2009 1 comment
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Tim SchaferPardon me while I let my inner video game nerd out, but if you grew up (as I did) playing adventure games, then you should already know why Tim Schafer is as cool as they come. And even if you don’t know who he is, you still owe him a debt of gratitude, because the odds are that your favorite video game designer does. For his outstanding contributions to the art of video game design as a storytelling medium, I’m pleased to name Tim Schafer as Fonzie of the Week. And since I lazily skipped naming a Fonzie for the last two weeks (sorry!), let’s just go ahead and make him a triple Fonzie – yep, he’s just that cool. (Note to self: remember to invent a saucy definition for “Triple Fonzie” on Urban Dictionary. Oh, the possibilities!)

Had this blog existed anytime in the last 20 or so years, I would still be able to call Schafer “Fonzie,” because he’s been crafting genre-expanding games since 1990. But he’s specifically this week’s Fonzie because he’s releasing his newest game, Brütal Legend, today. (That’s also why this post was published on a Tuesday instead of last Friday…that and the aforementioned laziness.) I tried the game’s demo last night, and it was a terrific experience that leaves me really excited to see how the final product plays. The demo exhibited all the trademark humor Mr. Schafer’s games are known for, and like previous Schafer titles Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, Brütal Legend takes a theme – in this case, heavy metal culture and art – and lovingly takes it to hilarious extremes. With Full Throttle the theme was biker culture, with Grim Fandango it was film noir and the Mexican Dia De Los Muertos, and with Brütal Legend the story and characters revolve around the golden era of heavy metal (hence the umlaut) – which as the game suggests, seems to have ended:

“You ever feel like you should’ve been born earlier? Like when the music was real?”

“Like the seventies?”

“Earlier. Like…the early seventies.”

In addition to the games I’ve already mentioned, Mr. Schafer has played key roles in the development of a number of classic adventure games, from the NES port of the iconic Maniac Mansion (the NES port was my first foray into the classic LucasArts canon of games) to helming its superior sequel Day of the Tentacle. He co-wrote the recently revived (via Xbox Live Arcade and iPhone) Secret of Monkey Island. He was also the creator of the critically acclaimed Psychonauts, which I ashamedly admit I’ve never played. I should note that that game is available as a direct download for Xbox360 owners, but since I prefer to buy games on physical media, I’ll have to wait until somebody puts it up for trade on SwapTree. Just last fall I replayed Full Throttle on my PSP using the open-source ScummVM, and that game – like all of Mr. Schafer’s games – is still as clever, challenging, and just plain fun as ever. And unlike other games that rely heavily on technological advances or controversial elements to distinguish themselves (I’m looking at you, Doom), Mr. Schafer’s games age remarkably well. An evil mutant tentacle bent on world domination will always be funny. Or at least it will if Tim Schafer writes it.

As alluded to at the beginning of this post, I personally see Mr. Schafer as more of a storyteller than anything else; video games are his medium of choice, but I believe he’d be a master storyteller regardless of his profession. Had he never used a computer, he’d still be inventing wonderful tales through more traditional means – or at the very least, doing a terrific job of entertaining his friends at the bar.

I’ve played a lot of video games, and while blasting aliens can be fun and all, the games I really remember are the ones that tell a good story, make me laugh, and force me to use my brain instead of (or at least in addition to) my trigger finger. I believe that video games present a new and largely untapped frontier for the art of storytelling. I further believe that Tim Schafer is a trailblazer who has made a career out of exploring that frontier. He’s super cool, and definitely has earned the right to be Fonzie of the Week. You should buy his games. Brütal Legend is in stores now, but many of his older games won’t be found in stores. Do yourself a favor and track them down online. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

One last thing: Just to clarify, Tim Schafer (who created Brütal Legend) is a master storyteller who is now officially certified cool. Electronic Arts (who published Brütal Legend) is a corporate behemoth that is publicly traded on the NASDAQ. Corporate behemoths are not generally considered cool enough to be Fonzie of the Week, but a free copy of Brütal Legend might help. A little bribery is good for the soul, EA. What’s one free game compared to the awesomeness of an obscure blog likening you to a 70’s TV icon? You know what to do, EA. I look forward to receiving your package in the mail.

  1. August 4th, 2015 at 04:58 | #1

    The youre really talented .

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