Psychonauts 2: If we imagine it, they will build it

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Okay they won’t. But they should.

Psyhonauts 2 as a project has been considered a number of times in the media, these past few years. Most interestingly perhaps, when Notch tweeted Tim Schaefer about wanting to finance it. In the end he backed out because the proposed budget figure of 18 million dollars surprised him. Well, Notch, 18 million dollars is less than 2% of that 1 billion dollars of Microsoft money you got last year. Surely, now you can make good on your promise?

More realistically, Psychonauts 2 might simply get made because Double Fine is in desperate need of a hit after a series of half baked projects, burned fans and so-so reviews. While the original was a commercial failure – partly due to publishing worries – chances are that it’s current ‘cult’ following would ensure better press this time around. That is if they can find those millions of dollars from another tech billionaire nostalgic for old times.

But if we leave all such practical considerations to one side, what would a Psychonauts 2 actually be about? Whom would it feature? What would it play like?

Here’s some wild and rampant speculation while we wait.

Protagonist: No more Raz

The name of the game is Psychonauts, the name of a secret organization. The game is not “Raz’ Zany Summer Adventure in Other People’s Minds”. I think Psychonauts 2 would leave Raz behind and find a new protagonist. Why? Raz’ adventures were as I’ve said previously, a coming of age story, not a wacky farce, as some reviewers would have you believe. A wacky farce can repeat itself with each installment: Would you believe it – the exact same thing happened next summer with another rogue camp counsellor? And Raz saved the day again again? Oh, that Raz.

But since Razputin is no longer the Raz he was when he arrived at Whispering Rock, that won’t work. What about Razputin at a later stage in his life? Mmmnyah. Raz was a precocious but loveable pre-teen. Do we really need to know what he would be like as a teenager? Do we want to? What is he supposed to do? Rebel against crusty old Cruller & Co.? Turn to the dark side? Go all angsty and X-Men-y on us? I don’t think so. I really don’t hope so.

Of course, without disclosing too much, it’s safe to say that the original Psychonauts ended very much on a sequel-baiting note. Wouldn’t it be obvious just to pick it up from there? Maybe the plot will, but even so I don’t think Raz would be the protagonist of such a continuation for the reasons below.

If not Raz, who?

Psychonauts was critisized by Anita Sarkeesian for damselling Lili and Tim Schaefer agreed with the criticism. And here you also have a problem with continuing the franchise where the original left off: *SPOILER WARNING* Lili is left behind while Raz heads off with the grownups to rescue… Lili’s father. Really? Even when the story should put her center stage, it seemingly leaves her behind.

I’d say odds are that a Psychonauts 2 would feature a female or non-cisgender protagonist. Maybe Lili, a young Milla or someone from a new generation of Psychonauts. If the story continues from where the original left off, my bets would be on a switch in perspective: Rather than following Razputin onboard the Psychonauts jet, we stay behind, fuming, with Lili, eventually having to sort things out ourselves as Lili while the official rescue team gets themselves into trouble. In order to draw on nostalgia for the old game, I would expect, okay hope for, lots of cameos from old campers.

There is also another option that might beckon. One of the fortes of the original was a strong group of characters. It’s Psychonauts, plural. If the focus is on diversity, the player could control more than one characters, either as an RPGish band or switching between them, Day of the Tentacle-style. Which would also make for an obvious multiplayer experience.

Still kids?

Short answer: Yes. The Psychonauts are a grown-up organization that happens to run a summer camp for kids. There’s no reason a sequel couldn’t follow grown-up adventures like those Raz and Lili have read about in Psychonauts Adventure Comics (even though that is still adults as seen though a kid’s prism of the world). Still, Psychonauts was as much about the tone of childhood as about mind tricks. It was lighthearted and fun. Even issues like bullying got resolved in a fun and carefree manner when Russian wrestler boy and bear baiter Mikhail provides resident cry-baby Maloof with mobster-like protection from bullies Bobby and Benny. Darker undertones do increase as the game progresses with the occasional dip into pitch black (see: The backroom of Vodello’s mind or Milka’s comment about Drano on Clem’s campster.me – Double Fine’s friendster spoof – profile). Even so, shedding the kiddie factor would make for a very different game.

Consider this: If you didn’t know about Psychonauts and somebody pitched a game about entering people’s unconscious minds to you, I suspect your mind would quickly go somewhere dark and/or sticky. At least mine would. The only way Double Fine avoid that is by having pre-teen kids as main characters. That way they can leave out all matters of sexuality without the game feeling weirdly neutered. The closest we come to this sort of thing is Edgar’s story of high school romance and infatuation. And as Raz himself comments, it’s kinda weird for a ten-year old feeling like he’s back in high school. So the story centers on athletic competition (which makes perfect sense in a ten-year old’s universe) more than the ickyness of high school hormones and repressed sexuality (which mostly doesn’t, see Freaks & Geeks).

Mechanics: Spoon bending!

This is the trickiest part. Psychonauts had it’s ten years anniversary a few months back. If they make a sequel now, they kind of have to come up with some new mecahnics as well as a new story. Just doing a more-of-the-same offering would be a little weak. But here’s the challenge: In Psychonauts every mechanic takes it’s name and inspiration from some wellknown kind of mind manipulation: Levitation, clairvoyance, telekinesis, etc. I’m sure they can come up with new ones but the basic and known ones are already taken. They could also change how they are translated into platforming tools. That could work well if the game takes place in another timeperiod as a prequel/sequel. And then they could always just make Inception The Game. I’m sure it would be better than the movie.

That is assuming of course that it would still be a 3D platformer at heart.

And assuming that Psychonauts 2 will one day be a real thing and not just the result of one too many confusion grenades.

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