Tim Schafer says Tolkien’s to blame for ‘Psychonauts 2’’s nightmarish teeth doors

Excerpts from our profile with the Double Fine don

When you have an interview with a games industry legend like Tim Schafer, there are naturally going to be some parts of the transcript that end up on the cutting room floor. With Psychonauts 2 finally out in the wild, we thought we’d share a few of our favourite excerpts that didn’t make the profile, now that fans have been able to get their hands on the game.

For example, one of the first things on the agenda was teeth zippers. Specifically, who I needed to invoice for therapy after experiencing the dental doors in my preview of Psychonauts 2’s first level, Loboto’s Labyrinth.

“You know, we put a warning up about that,” Schafer said. “I don’t know if you noticed; we try to give you a heads up that if you have any issues with seeing teeth, gratuitous teeth, that you might not want to….” Before the LucasArts legend can finish his thought, a cat’s tail obscures his webcam.

“But um… my cat, oh, uh, am I still on the call?” Schafer says as the feline flops on his keyboard. With some reassurance, he continues: “The dental… let’s say it’s a homage to Lord of the Rings and the Mouth of Sauron, maybe that’s where it came from. I just want to shift some of the blame, so yeah, you know, it’s Tolkien’s fault.”

A gifted psychic, protagonist Razputin Aquato must use his Telekinesis power to rip open a column of teeth, and you can hear each canine crackling as the zipper falls. I asked how Double Fine recorded foley for such a noise. “Our sound team is very dedicated to bringing everything to life, no matter how disturbing,” Schafer says sarcastically. “I find the open nerve holes worse; you know the little sockets?”

In the next mission, Hollis’ Hot Streak, Raz uses platforming to forge Mental Connections, regrettably warping the risk tolerance of an ex-doctor and turning the hospital in her headspace into a casino. “The fun part is when you get two concepts that don’t really go together like hospital and casino, because they just create more weird things that you don’t even think about when you initially have the idea,” Schafer said.

The level’s fluctuating premise allows Psychonauts 2 to thoughtfully comment on for-profit healthcare, gambling addiction and the stigma around asking for help. Understandably, it was tricky for Double Fine to keep a lid on these levels when they were designing the unfathomable infinity of the subconscious.

Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2. Credit: Double Fine Productions

“It’s really important to me to limit it, because once we came up with the hospital casino, people do keep coming up with ideas, like “what if there was a computer theme here too,” and you have to stop because you start to drift around in this endless world of ideas,” Schafer explained. “You have to stick with those two because if we just keep coming back to it, we can strengthen that theme and push it through to the player … ok, you’re out, you’re out of the room now,” Schafer isn’t kicking me from the Teams call for my line of questioning, he’s just picking up his cat.

“Sorry… Why do you want to be so disruptive!” he asks his pet as a door locks out of shot. “No more cats, all gone; what were we talking about?” Schafer says. I ask him what his mental world might look like if Raz was exploring it. “There’d be a lot of cats in it and a lot of paranoia about cats destroying my interviews and property,” he says.

Schafer also talked about the premise behind Cassie’s Collection, one of the later levels in the game which introduces the Mental Projection power. This allows Raz to summon a mini version of himself to fight enemies and solve puzzles. “I was reading Carl Jung and his theory about archetypes I think is a really useful way to think about, you know, we’ve all been through transitions in our life where it felt almost like a different version of ourselves took over, because of what we needed to do, you know, we graduate school, we grow up or something and a different you takes over,” Schafer said. “And that appears a lot in Cassie’s level, just that thought that I’ve always believed that we’re multiple people inside our heads, you hear these voices sometimes conflicting, like which you is gonna win this battle?”

Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2. Credit: Double Fine Productions

Later in the interview, we also talked about going from Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp to The Motherlobe in Psychonauts 2, and writing open-world hubs. “I always wanted to go [to the Motherlobe] because I always imagined it to be this ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ like really high tech, super-secret agents flying and levitating around,” Schafer said. In Psychonauts you could wander around and chat with all of Raz’s fellow campers but in the sequel, The Motherlobe’s many halls are full of grumbling admin workers and gifted agents with stories to tell.

“Camp kids and admin workers were treated very similarly,” Schafer said. “I think they got the same treatment, they all have little grudges, and they have crushes, and they have a lot of secrets, and as you just wander around listening to them there are plotlines about a label maker and stuff that you can kind of pick up and trace through.”

According to Schafer, The Motherlobe’s NPCs started off as background characters, much like how the camp kids were simply a drawing from the art team before they were realised and added to the original Psychonauts. “I was like, well, I might as well figure out who they are,” Schafer said.

Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2. Credit: Double Fine Productions

The original Psychonauts is 16 years old now, meaning that people who played it as kids may be coming back to the series as adults, which is something that Schafer was conscious of. “I feel like I was the advocate for the Psychonauts 1 player in Psychonauts 2,” Schafer said. “There’s some deep lore stuff in there, and I was like “Look, we got to make sure this thing matches this other thing in the first game or people are gonna feel like you don’t care about them,” you know?”

Psychonauts 2 stays very true to the source material but swaps out a few old mechanics. The Confusion Grenade and the Dowsing Rod are replaced by new features like Mental Connections and the Thought Tuner.

And if you were wondering about a certain sapient turtle from the original Psychonauts, I did ask if Mr Pokeylope is still kicking around in the world of Psychonauts, after noticing he made a quick cameo in the preview. “He’s not dead!” Schafer said, “I’ll say that… he’s not dead.”

Psychonauts 2 is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S and PC.


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