Home Video Hovel: Double Fine Adventure, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Video game documentaries are a dime a dozen this days. Quite often they are about people in their 40’s trying to reclaim their high scores from arcade games they were good at as a kid (The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters; Man vs. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler). Double Fine Adventure mixes things up by focusing on what happens when well respected game developer Double Fine decides to fund a game through Kickstarter. We watch the zaniness ensue through its 724 minute (!) runtime spread across 20 episodes.
The game’s called Broken Age and it’s an adventure game, a genre that hasn’t been super popular since the 1990s. These are games where you move a character from room to room talking to people while gathering and using items to solve puzzles and progress the narrative. Its writer and designer, Tim Schafer, is a veteran of the genre who got started with LucasArts, working on such classics as Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, and the first two Monkey Island games.
Broken Age’s Kickstarter was launched in February 2012 with a funding goal of $400,000 with a planned release date of October 2012. Instead, it raised over $3 million, took three years to develop, and required another round of fundraising to complete. This documentary was originally a Kickstarter backer exclusive for those that contributed $30 or more to Broken Age’s fundraising campaign. It was later released in a lower resolution for free on YouTube.
Much like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Project Greenlight series, Double Fine Adventure benefits from its massive length and dedication to detail. You see every aspect of game production from the writing to the art, voice-acting, and marketing. One of the most impressive things here is how it doesn’t shy from problems faced during production of Broken Age. An employee works herself sick and has to take a few weeks off to recover during a critical point late in the project. When a publisher decides not to fund a bigger budget game Double Fine has in the works, several employees have to be laid off, putting the whole company into crunch time. A review gets published ahead of the embargo date because the reviewer invested in the Kickstarter campaign and feels its their prerogative to do so; other websites follow suit with their “early” reviews, which causes a panic back at Double Fine.
It’s not all dark moments for the team. Extended voice-over recording sessions in LA feature fun banter with such actors as Jack Black (The Neverending Story III) and Jennifer Hale (Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time). The entire team gets giddy when they smash their Kickstarter record. An intern gets a chance to storyboard cinematics of the game that get a great reaction from his idol, designer Tim Schafer.
On this generous Blu-ray release from 2 Player Productions, the video has been remastered and color corrected in 1080p. The video quality is pretty good overall, although the smartphone footage can be mixed at times. Dialogue comes through clear, and the editing of the whole series is nice and snappy. Although the original videos blurred whiteboards to not spoil the game’s story, this version unblurs them, adding much needed context to many scenes. Each episode has two exclusive commentaries (one from Double Fine staff, and the other from 2 Player Productions staff), a gaggle of bonus features, and a smattering of deleted scenes. Three of the included discs are the documentary itself, while the fourth is a data DVD containing the game Broken Age in Linux, Mac, and PC formats along with the game’s soundtrack and an artwork gallery. The discs are packaged in slim fold-out packaging that houses the discs in individual sleeves adorned with cute artwork of Double Fine staff.
There’s no lack of content in this Blu-ray set of Double Fine Adventure. If you like seeing how the sausage is made from both the artistic and business ends, it’s a great watch. Retro gamers in particular will get a kick from all the bonus features, especially the longer chats with the team brainstorming ideas for Broken Age’s puzzles and plot. An extended scene explaining the usefulness of mock reviews to the game design process is especially enlightening. This is a great documentary series, and all the bonus features make it well worth a purchase. Double Fine Adventure is available for purchase on Blu-ray from Fangamer.