The Past and Future of Psychonauts 2

Until about, oh, early last week, Psychonauts 2 seemed like an idea—or maybe a wish—that would never become a video game.

But then the man who made millions making Minecraft, Markus "Notch" Persson, offered, over Twitter, to "make Psychonauts 2 happen."

Tim Schafer, whose Double Fine Productions made the first beloved Psychonauts game told Notch he'd be into it, but it was going to be expensive.

"I was like, 'I don't think you can make [it] for a million dollars.' The original game was, I think, $13 million, I think you have to match the original game."

"As soon as I mentioned the amount of money he said, 'Yeah, I can do that.'"

Imagine if other rich people—say, any game publisher in the business in the last half-decade—had been as ready to make this game happen.

Tim Schafer has pitched Psychonauts 2 to big video game companies. He has pitched the sequel to a game that was canceled, revived and then earned raves when it finally came out in 2005. But no publisher ever bit. They thought it was too creative or too obscure.

The failures frustrated Schafer, because Psychonauts, an adventure about a boy who can enter the minds of other colorful people and explore their thought-landscapes, wasn't supposed to be one-and-done.

"We had a lot of plot elements that were backstory in that [first] game that we planned on revisiting in the future and tying it back in," Schafer told me last week. "We had a longer story arc planned for those characters."

This is how he'd pitch the sequel to big game publishers: He'd show a 2010 fan trailer called Inceptionauts that mashed up the movie Inception and the first Psychonauts. "It's better than any trailer we ever had for the game," Schafer said. He says it even helped him remember how much he'd liked Psychonauts, which he had taken a break from thinking about after it came out. "It reminded me how much I like it," he said, adding that "I'd like to thank that fan for making the video. I used it to try to fund Psychonauts 2."

Schafer may have talked plot and setting to his potential Psychonauts 2 backers, but he demured from telling me how the new game would relate to the first, other than to tease that "I have ideas to take them to a more international setting."

He did, however, definitely talk to publisher suits about sales. "My pitch also involved how the game sold something like 400,000 copies initially. It wasn't enough for us to make money. But since then, through Steam and Good Old Games and all the places it's been, it's gotten in the hands of a lot of people." He recalls one day when a $2 Steam sale pushed Psychonauts even ahead of Call of Duty for revenue for that day. That, he remembers, was a good day.

None of this turned Psychonauts 2 into a real project scheduled to become a game you or I could play.

Then, on February 7, Notch Tweeted.

Schafer woke up to text messages from friends telling him to check Twitter. He thought he was being sued. No, the opposite. Someone wanted to give him money.

Soon, Notch and Schafer were talking.

"He said he had no idea it would get picked up like this. He said, 'Sorry for putting you on the spot, I didn't realize it would go so big.'

"I feel like I was being proposed to on the jumbotron at the baseball game."

Schafer sounds like he wants to say yes, but negotiations between him and Notch remain private. (Notch and his team at Mojang didn't respond to requests for comment for this story.)

The man who oversaw the making of Psychonauts simply wants to work with the man who made Minecraft. "He's been pretty successful. And, when you look into it, it's a really inspiring story. He's just a regular guy. He didn't do anything sleazy to get it. He just made it himself, distributed it himself, it's a great story. I think we have a lot to learn from him, so I'd like to do something with him.

"And I'd like to make Psychonauts 2."