Cheese talks to: Tasha Harris (as a part of the Double Fine Game Club)

This weekend, for the Double Fine Game Club (a community run weekly event where we play through and discuss what we do and don't like about a game - sort of like a book club, but for games), we began our playthrough/discussion of a second Double Fine title, Costume Quest.

As a part of this, I had the pleasure of conducting a live interview with Tasha Harris on behalf of Game Club, relaying questions from listeners in IRC about the game and Tasha's history (much as I did with Ron Gilbert when we played through The Cave)

For anybody who finds the stream archive of the interview less accessible/searchable/quoteable, I've made this transcript (complete with time indexes). Enjoy!

00:26 Hi, and Welcome to the Double Fine Game Club's first session of Costume Quest!

My name is Cheese, and this week we'll be starting with something different, a live chat with Tasha Harris, who was project lead on Costume Quest and its DLC, Grubbins on Ice.

I'll be relaying questions from the #DFAdventure IRC channel on, so hop in and join the discussion!

We also have Gabe Miller, Anna Kipnis and Mark Hamer joining us in IRC, so be sure to say give them a very warm welcome.

00:50 Hello Tasha, how're you going?

Very good! How's it going with you?

Oh, not too bad. Just messing up intros and stuff[1] - that's how it goes.


01:01 So, congratulations on your expanding family.

Oh, thanks very much. It's an adventure!

I imagine it is! Does it compare to any of the adventures that you've worked on with Double Fine?

[laugh] Umm, it is... well, in some ways, because it's both awesome and very stressful! [laugh]

I can imagine it'd be fairly intense. An adventure of a lifetime I'd imagine.

Yeah, and now I feel like, at some point I have to make another Costume Quest expansion or something so that I can put his name in it.

[At this point we had a technical issue with the stream page causing an echo on Tasha's computer]

02:46 So, yeah. Tell us a little bit about your history both inside and outside the gaming industry.

Well, I started as an animator. I went to school for animation at CalArts, and I studied traditional 2D animation there. It was kind of before 3D animation had really become a big thing - so, I'm old [laugh] - but I think Toy Story 1 had just come out. A lot of animators at that time didn't really want to work on computers because they were afraid of umm, well not afraid, but they just didn't want to stop drawing or they were concerned that they would have to stop drawing if they were working on a computer.

So, from school I got an internship at Pixar and went back to school for another year after the internship and after that, I got offered a job animating on A Bug's Life, so I dropped out of college to go do that. That doesn't mean you should all drop out of college!


But at the time I felt like it was a really good opportunity that I shouldn't pass up. I ended up working at Pixar for 9 years and after that, I felt - oh, while I was there I worked on the films, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monster's Inc., Finding Nemo and Cars, and also the short film For The Birds - and after a while a kind of felt like, I don't know, I felt like I was kind of getting into an artistic rutt. I think because that was the only place I had worked at outside of coming out of college - and also, I always really loved games, so always in the back of my mind I would be thinking "Oh, I'd love to try working on games someday." And I happened to meet Tim through some other friends who worked at Pixar. We all went skiing together sometime.


So, from there, I got a tour of Double Fine and I think it took me a while to actually end up thinking of leaving, because Pixar is a really hard place to leave. It's a good place to work. And yeah, since it was the only place I'd worked, it was kind of scary to leave. But at the same time, I felt like it was something I had always wanted to try and I was really excited about it and Double Fine just seemed like the perfect company because they really - something I really like about Double Fine as opposed to some of the other game companies is that they really put a high value on art in their games. A lot of other companies kind of see - it seems like they see the animation as kind of a secondary thing, which I kind of, you know, I understand that because of course you want the gameplay be good, but at Double Fine they really want the gameplay to be good and the visual style to look good as well, and the animation to be good. And they don't use any motion capture, at least when I was there. I don't know if they do now, but probably not! [laugh]

[Anna Kipnis confirmed in IRC: "NEVER, no mocap"]

And so, as an animator, I like that as well. I ended up ended up working at Double Fine for 5 and a half years and started on Brütal Legend. At first I was an animator on Brütal Legend while I learned the ins and outs of making a game. There's a lot of technical things that are a little bit different about making a game as opposed to a movie. so it took me a little while to ramp up on that. And also, I'd never used Maya - well, I'd taught myself Maya at home, but I'd never used Maya in a work environment, so I had a little bit of ramping up to do there, but eventually I became the lead animator on Brütal Legend. After that, we were going to go on to Brütal Legend 2, but that ended up getting cancelled, so umm, you guys probably know the history of Amnesia Fortnight.


The game that I made for Amnesia Fortnight, it was just a prototype of Costume Quest[2] - it was really just kind of a simple version of it, but that was one of the ones that Tim wanted to start pitching to other studios. This is kind of turning into a long story [laugh]

That's alright! It's good stuff!

Alright, so it ended up getting signed by THQ... R.I.P. THQ [laugh]


So, that was pretty amazing, because, you know, going into Double Fine, I had never imagined that I would be actually leading a project, so that was a big learning curve as well - going from animating to leading. Let's see... after Costume Quest was over, we did the DLC and then I worked on a few miscellaneous projects at Double Fine, finishing up the Sesame Street game and... what was Brad's game called?

Iron Brigaide, or Trenched, depending on what point it was.

I did animation on Iron Brigaide and then some animation for some prototypes that we were doing, and at that time I was just feeling really burned out from Costume Quest. Like, on Costume Quest I was working probably 7 days a week, just non stop thinking about it. Like, even when I wasn't at work, I was either working on it or thinking about it, so I just felt really burned out mentally and not really sure if I wanted to go back to just animating again or, lead another project, or what I wanted to do. And at the same time, I was thinking about maybe starting a family, so there's a lot of things that kind of went into my decision. And I ended up leaving Double Fine and going back to Pixar and now my position at Pixar is, umm... I'm... it's kinda hard to describe, but my job title is Lead Franchise Artist, and I'm basically like the representative for animation into all the side projects that Pixar does that support their films. So, marketing stuff, toys, video games, apps, posters, things like that. One thing I like about it is that it has a lot of diversity. My days are never the same and I also still get to work on games a little bit - not directly, but I do review a lot of the animation for all the Pixar video games and things like that.

So, that's about it. I guess that's about it.

That's OK! I might ask some questions from the chat now.

11:50 Anna Kipnis (DFAnna) asks, "What's your favourite costume from Costume Quest and are there any which didn't make it into the game that you would like to see?"

Oh, yeah! There are a lot of costumes that didn't make it in! Originally, the list was like 25 costumes, I think, that I wanted to get in, but we had to make the whole game in 9 months, so it ended up getting scoped down a lot, unfortunately. We didn't get to put in a lot of costumes that we wanted to put in.

Let's see, my favourite costume... well, I really like the unicorn because it's based off of a costume my mum made for me and my sister. When we were kids, [laugh] she made us unicorn costumes.

Oh, nice.

Let's see... I'm trying to remember all the costumes now. Probably one of the random ones like umm... The Statue of Liberty!


Because, I don't know, I just think it's funny that you play as a giant Statue of Liberty. That doesn't really happen in many games.

And... oh yeah, costumes that didn't make it. One that I really wanted to get in there but didn't, I don't know, maybe for a future expansion or something, was the hippy costume


What sort of abilities would that have had?

Umm, well yeah, there were some ideas about summoning in a Volkswagon van...


Or you know, mesmerising enemies with some sort of psychedelic umm... music [laugh] So yeah, that was one I wanted to get in there, but it never really... [laugh]

14:14That's great! The_Mad_Pirate asks, "Did meeting Mr. Purcell in Pixar influence your choice of getting into game animation?"

No, but it was awesome to meet him and be friends with him! I mean, I've loved games since I was a little kid, so I don't think that meeting him really influenced it, but I was kind of star struck meeting him, of course, because I loved Sam & Max and loved that game. I asked him to draw me a picture of Sam & Max, so it's hanging in my office at work! [laugh]

That's great!

Yeah, he is super nice and his office is really cool too. He got it decorated with all weird, weird stuff. But yeah, he's a cool guy.

15:18 Fireflower asks, "What happened to the costumes after the quest?"

Umm, what happened to them? So, like what did the kids do with them?

Yeah, I guess so. He's left now. He's not in chat anymore - he had to disappear.

Well, hopefully they use them to, you know, solve problems for people around the neighbourhood! [laugh] That's what I imagine that they'd do. They probably keep them a big box and, you know, pull them out if anyone needs help.



16:00 Permafry_42 asks, "What are some of the games and other media that inspired you to make costume quest? In particular did Earthbound or the Mother series have any influence on the game's design and premise?"

Oh yeah, definitely! I mean, that's one of my favourite games of all time, and you know, that definitely influenced the choice of having a mall level, because that was one of the things I loved about Earthbound. One of the things I loved about it was the modern setting. you didn't really see a lot of - well, you still don't see a lot of RPGs with a modern setting, and so I just think that's really fun to play with because, you know, it's not a typical kind of fantasy that's used in a game. I think it makes the characters very relatable because you can see yourself and your friends like that when you were growing up.

And yeah, so Earthbound was definitely one of the influences.

17:57 Is not having voice something that you would like to change, or do you sort of feel comfortable with the presentation it's got?

Umm... Hmm, I don't know! I'm kind of torn on that one because I kind of like the retro style of it that doesn't have voice, just because the games I grew up with didn't have voice, and you just read the text. I mean, I do wish that in the original version that we had had where you can press A to continue instead of the text just advancing on its own. That was a limitation of our tech. When we brought out the patch later, we enabled, like where you can pause the dialogue, which I think helps. Because, I think it makes it easier for a little kid to play it. I definitely want it to be accessible for a kid, so yeah, in that sense, voice acting probably would have helped, but hmmm... I don't know, it was just really, really expensive to get voice acting, so I don't know. In some ways, I think the money could probably be better spent elsewhere, but yeah.

19:28 Anna from Double Fine (DFAnna) asks again, "If you could get voice acting for Costume Quest, is there a celebrity that you think would be a match for Wren?"

Oh man, I've never really thought about that!


Hmm... I don't know. I mean, I think if I did get voice actors for Costume Quest, it would be nice to have actual kids voices, because another one of the influences was the Peanuts Holiday Specials. I grew up watching those, and I really love how they have actual kids doing the voices instead of the adults trying to do kids voices. I think it just makes it sound more authentic.


Though I don't know if I'd even want a celebrity to do the voices, I think maybe just getting real kids.


Not that there's not kid celebrities, but you know.


20:30 Mimness asks, "Are you dressing up for Halloween this year?"

Umm... I am... and I'm trying to put together a Miss Piggy costume...


Because my baby is going as Kermit, and my fiancee is going as a cowboy, which doesn't really go, but that's what he wanted to be, so... [laugh]

He could be a green cowboy.

[laugh] Yeah.

21:04 GameClubFan_745152 asks, "What are your favorite holiday themed video games and movies?"

Hmm... have there been a lot of other holiday themed video games? [laugh]

Not that I can think of.

Umm... I'm trying to think. If somebody could suggest one, that would be good, because I can't think of one. Movies I like... Groundhog Day... I guess that's a holiday right? Groundhog Day, I like A Chrismas Story - that's a good old one.

I love that.

Elf, I think is funny. Let's see... the Peanuts special like I said. That's not a movie, but you know. I like The Nightmare Before Christmas. I can't think of if there's any other Halloween ones... I don't know. It seems like there's been more Christmas stuff than Halloween stuff I guess. I don't like scary movies at all, so that rules out a lot of Halloween stuff [laugh]

22:30 So, what are some of your favourite games?

Well, I've already mentioned Earthbound. I like a lot of RPGs. Umm, I loved the Suikoden series, some of the Final Fantasies - I liked Final Fantasy 6. I liked, let's see, a recent game... well, right now I'm playing the Mario & Luigi RPG and I'm really enjoying that one on 3DS. Let's see... For some reason I'm blanking [laugh] All the Zelda games.


I'm playing a lot of smaller games lately, I guess.

What sort of stuff are you playing at the moment?

Right now, just the Mario & Luigi game.

Just the Mario one? Yeah.

Since the baby was born, I really haven't gotten to play as many video games.

That's understandable

But yeah, I would like to play that game, Gone Home. I've read some good reviews on that and it sounds interesting, but I'm not sure if my Mac is powerful enough. I might have to install it on my work computer, but... [laugh]

I think we're going to plan to play that at some stage later in the year for Game Club as well, which should be good.

Yeah, it seems interesting.

24:24 Yeah, so Costume Quest was released for iOS devices earlier this week. When you were working on the game, did you sort of imagine that people would be playing it on their phones someday?

Hmm... I mean, I didn't design the game with that in mind, but I think we always thought it would be really good for a touch screen, and especially because that seems to be the device of choice for kids nowadays - the iPad. So, I always really thought it would be cool if it came out on an iPad. More kids would play it and it's just more accessible, and that was something I really wanted from the beginning. Something that's accessible to everyone, and I think that was something where my Pixar background kind of influenced Costume Quest in that I didn't want to make a game that was just for kids. I didn't want to make a game that was, you know, dumbed down, but something that could appeal to a wide audience.

25:39 Can you tell us a little bit about Tasha's Game. Was that fun to work on?


Well, I didn't actually do that much on that game. I contributed some art for it, but that was mostly our web programmer at the time, Klint Honeychurch. He was the one who came up with the gameplay idea and got my art in there and everything. It was kinda a happy surprise for me to see the little thing he was working on. I was like, "Oh my god, this is really funny!"

It was fun to work on, but I really didn't do that much, so it's all Klint.

26:28 That's cool. Have you gotten any feedback from players in regard to being able to play as their preferred gender without any significant impact on the gameplay?

Yeah! I mean, I think a lot of people appreciated that. Originally, Wren was just going to be the main character. We weren't going to have the choice at the beginning. But, you know, when we started taking it around publishers, pitching the game, some publishers umm... didn't like the idea of having just a female protagonist.


[laugh] A little unfortunate, but I also didn't want to have just a male protagonist. Like I said, I wanted it to appeal to a wide audience of both boys and girls, so I thought, you know, "The Pokemon games allow you to choose if you're going to be a boy or a girl character, so why don't we do that?" And so, that was kind of our solution for that. So it was making Wren into twins.

I think it was a good move. I really like the opportunity to just pick and use that to either project or take away some identity from the character in that way.

Yeah! Yeah, I'm actually glad that we have the boy character in there as well now because, yeah, if boys play it and want to relate to the main character more, maybe they'll prefer to be a boy character, so yeah, I'm glad that it ended up that way.

28:24I'm off. Permafry_42 asks if you're going to play Pokemon X or Y?

[laugh] I'm not sure, I mean I just started hearing the discussion about that on Twitter, but I don't know. Is one of them better than the other one?

I have no idea.

Which one should I play? [laugh]

Let's see what people have to say.

[The lag in the stream may have been a bit long for people to comment before we moved on]

28:56 Mary Kate Clark (fightclubdoll) says that she loved that gender didn't matter and that that was especially awesome in Costume Quest.

Oh yeah. Actually, to go back to that a little bit, it was actually really important to me that both genders wear all the costumes.

Yeah, that was something that somebody else mentioned earlier as well.

Yeah! Because I was a tomboy growing up, and you know, I wanted to be - my mum made unicorn costumes for us, so I wanted to be a unicorn, but next year I wanted to be Darth Vader, so umm...

Were you?



But my parents wouldn't buy my a Darth Vader costume, so it was kind of this cobbled together, crappy looking Darth Vader [laugh] that didn't really look like Darth Vader, but [laugh] it worked. I don't know, I just feel like, you know, when kids pretend, they shouldn't be limited by any of that stuff. So yeah, I thought it would be good if the boy could dress up as the Statue of Liberty or the girl can be the knight, so that was definitely an important design choice.

30:24 Yeah, that's great. So, we might wrap up the interview portion of the session today. Was there anything else you wanted to say?

Umm, just thanks for playing and I really, really appreciate all the love that the game has gotten from the fans, and even now, three years later, people are still tweeting me and saying how much they like the game or that their kids played it or something, and it just really means a lot. It's definitely still in my mind and I still would love to expand the series at some point, and I know a lot of the people at Double Fine also want to, so, I don't know. We'll see what happens!

We'll keep our fingers crossed!

OK, good!

After the interview, Tasha rejoined us in IRC to continue chatting and reminiscing about Costume Quest. IRC logs and links to the game and interview streams can be found in the first post of this thread on the Double Fine Forums.

A note from cheese

A note from Cheese

Thanks for reading!

I'd like to extend a huge thank you to Tasha for giving up a couple of hours to spend with us, as well as the other Double Fine team members who joined in, and of course Chris Remo and Greg Rice for helping us reach them all.

As always, my Game Club coordinator cohort Syd deserves special mention, as does Mimness for assisting me with pulling questions from the chat. And thanks also to Permafry, who hosted the Skype call for this interview and handled the following game stream.

[1] My first take at the introduction was less than successful.

[2] The Amnesia Fortnight prototype for Costume Quest is included as a bonus in the Amnesia Fortnight 2012 bundle, which can be purchased from the Double Fine Action Shop.

You can keep track of Game Club stuff on the Double Fine Action Forums, via @dfgameclub on Twitter, and by hanging around the Double Fine Game Club web page around 9:00pm UTC on Saturdays.

This interview was conducted as a part of the Double Fine Game Club's first session of Costume Quest on the 13th of October 2013.