The idea for Psychonauts originally started life in developer Tim Schafer’s previous project, Full Throttle, during his time at Lucasarts.
As detailed in Retro Gamer issue 228, Psychonauts developer and head of Double Fine Tim Schafer originally had the idea for the 3D platformer whilst working on his biker adventure game. According to Schafer: "I studied dreams in college, and thinking about how people represent emotional states in abstract imagery and metaphors, especially in their sleep, was always interesting to me."
Fast forward to when Schafer was working on the 1995 Lucasarts title, the studio head adds: "In Full Throttle, I wanted to have this interactive peyote trip where Ben would take peyote in the desert and then wander through his own mind." As fans of the game will already know, this idea didn’t actually make its way into the final game, as Schafer explains: "[It] didn’t really seem to fit within Full Throttle."
This wasn’t the end of Schafer’s concept though, as he also tried to utilize the idea of exploring somebody’s subconscious in an unreleased Lucasarts spy game, where the developer played with the idea of meditation and gaining information via visions.
According to Schafer: "I was pitching that around to people and later someone was like, 'Hey, what about that game where you go into other people’s minds?', and I was like, 'Oh no, you go into your own mind. But wait a second… that’s better!' So, I just started ruminating on that for years."
As we now know, this went on to become the 2005 psychedelic platformer Psychonauts, and more than a decade later, Psychonauts 2 - which was released in August 2021. "It came from brainstorming over all the great psychic powers that people fantasize about having, and how you could make puzzles out of that," Schafer reveals in the interview.
You can read the full story of how Psychonauts and its sequel Psychonauts 2 came to be in issue 228 of Retro Gamer - which you can pick up here.