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Elijah Wood, Tim Schafer talk creation, production, and legacy of 'Broken Age'

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Broken Age

Broken Age released in full only a few weeks ago—its first part debuted early last year—but the Double Fine adventure game cemented its place in gaming history long before players had their hands on it.

Originally pitched in a Kickstarter as the studio’s attempt to harken back to its adventure game roots, Broken Age began as a Kickstarter campaign that was one of the most successful products on the fundraising website and remains as one of its most prominent success stories.

Now that Broken Age is out in full, though, its creator, Double Fine’s Tim Schafer, one of the minds behind classic Double Fine and LucasArts adventure games like Full Throttle and the Monkey Island series, hopes the game is looked back on for more than how it came to be.

“I hope that the way it was made is not what’s remembered,” Schafer said. “I like to think that people are touched by the story or affected in some way.”

And that story—grounded in the classic adventure gameplay of character interactions, the act of exploring every nook and cranny of a location for secrets and solving (sometimes quite difficult) puzzles is a beautiful one. What starts with the striking image of dual protagonists Shay (Elijah Wood) and Vella (Masasa Moyo) expands into an insightful picture of the relationships between children and their parents, as well as the environments in which those kids grow up. 

“I wanted to do a specific story about coming of age, and growing up, and taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions,” Schafer said.

And Broken Age’s story offers a series of great twists that explore how those actions and relationships can evolve over time. 

It’s best not to spoil where the story goes in its two halves, but the gorgeous visuals ground Shay’s space-set story and Vella’s earthbound tale in a style that reflects those themes.

“[Shay is] this character, that when we find him, he’s stuck in a rut of repetition,” Wood said of his role. “And it becomes more about curiosity and exploration and bravery” as the game’s second half flips the main characters’ situations.

And beyond Shay and Vella, Broken Age rounds out its huge cast with a number of hilarious side characters, some of whom benefitted from the game’s development being split.

“We learned what people liked, didn’t like,” Schafer said of having both parts of the game release separately. “We could expand on characters they liked. You never intend for a knife to be one of your main characters.”

Schafer is referring to the talking silverware aboard Shay’s spaceship, and in a game where even the cutlery has personality, almost every character has a moment to shine. That’s in large part thanks to the voice cast, who worked closely with Schafer and producer Khris Brown. Among the cast are venerated voice actors like Jennifer Hale, Double Fine returning actors like Jack Black, and, of course, Elijah Wood, who came to the game in a particularly strange way. And EW was part of it.

“I always remember back when I started the company, 2000, 2001,” Schafer explained. “There was an Entertainment Weekly article about Elijah Wood and it asked him questions.” Among them was what his favorite video game, and he answered with one of Schafer’s games: Secret of Monkey Island.

“I was like what, that’s awesome. I worked on that game,” Schafer said. He kept that in mind, and when he saw Wood tweet about the game’s Kickstarter, he decided to reach out and ask if he’d like to contribute.

“This person, whose games gave me a great deal of enjoyment in my teens and someone I really looked up it in that world, to contact me was an honor and very exciting,” Wood said of the discussion. Schafer’s take is slightly different, but just as indicative of the excitement both held for the then embryonic project.

“I sent him a direct message and said ‘Thank you so much,’ and ‘You wouldn’t maybe want to do a small cameo or star in an entire half of the game would you,” Schafer said.

Wood of course said yes, and Wood’s love of adventure games and Schafer’s expertise making them combined to create an ideal main character.

“You can tell when you play the game he knows how the jokes are supposed to work and the context,” Schafer said. “He brings a lot of warmth to the role.”

And speaking of the jokes, Schafer is known for imbuing his games with some of the funniest scripts in gaming. Wood understood how to make those jokes lands so well because he knew how to play adventure games—and how to expect other players would attempt to play this one.

“There’s always some sort of vocal response to what you click on whether or not you can use it,” Wood explained. “Oftentimes the funniest dialogue in the games are when you can’t use an object with another object and the reason the character comes up for why you can’t use those things. And so, there would be pages of dialogue that were just responsive to objects.”

Broken Age is filled with those possibilities, both of combining items and characters to solve some of the game’s puzzles, and of general hilarity when a character experiments combining certain objects. Schafer promised an authentic adventure game, and he delivered. Broken Age can be tough, but every puzzle has an answer, as many hours as it may take you to find some of the more obscure solutions. But even for some of the frustration Broken Age might cause, it’s filled with so much sheer creativity, memorable characters, and satisfaction in solving those puzzles that it succeeds in evoking the games that brought Schafer to such beloved status for Wood and so many other players. 

Broken Age may not break the mold in its design, but Schafer says that wasn’t the intent. Instead, he wanted to create a memorable experience that evoked nostalgia for those older games while taking into consideration what modern adventure outings had accomplished.

More than that, it changed the way consumers interacted with game developers as well as their understanding of that development process. Along with the game, an extensive and fascinating documentary was produced detailing nearly every facet of the game’s progression. (Seriously, if you have even a minor interest in games, watch one, two, or all of the segments of the engrossing documentary.)

“We have these backers who have been with us for three years, watching our every move,” Schafer explained. “They sent us a really nice message, a video message of all of them talking about how they felt watching us do it. It makes it really clear what a connection you have with people when you do an open, transparent project like we were doing.”

Schafer’s desire for the the game to be remembered for its world and characters could be fulfilled. But Broken Age will likely be, and already is, remembered for how it enlightened its fans—and the gaming community at large—to how intriguing, frustrating, and altogether rewarding creating a game can be.

Broken Age is now available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android devices.