Posted: 19 Aug 2022
Digging for the ghosts of Psychonauts' past.
I may have kind of accidentally went on a spree of collecting and (roughly) dating a whole bunch of Psychonauts pre-release materials.
This started because I was trying to get higher quality images for a different post and in doing so I wanted to find the best quality version of the E3 2002 trailer that I could.
This started because I was trying to get higher quality images for a different post, and in doing so I wanted to find the best quality version of the E3 2002 trailer that I could.
See, while there is plenty of stuff out there, a lot of it has been watermarked, or collected from different sources which means that some of it is either of quality that isn’t great for preservation or not possible to properly assign a date to.
For example, mixnmojo (which is a great site, don’t get me wrong!) has this great gallery of tons of Psychonauts images with a lot of them being pre-release with interesting stuff to see.
And it is great that they’ve got this collection, but some of them have been watermarked by sites such as GameSpot and all of them are presented without much context about their source or what date they might correspond to, which was information I wanted to find.
So how did this start? Well when looking for the trailer I figured a good way to try and go about finding it would be to try and track down other media from the same period.
So I started with this. The Psychonauts fan wikia has this image of Raz fighting some Censors with the same weird design that can be seen in the trailer.
I have already checked the site responsible for the watermark in the past but any useful info there is long gone. I did, however, find that this exact image is floating around in a bunch of different places unmarked which suggested to me that it came from a press kit.
Sure enough after some additional research I found this. The “Xbox E3 2002 Media DVD”. I wasted no time in grabbing it. https://archive.org/details/XboxE32002MediaDVD
Given that it’s a DVD, I was kind of expecting some videos or something. It’s actually a bunch of files with a fairly simple web interface to help you navigate and browse them. It’s… nothing if not charming.
Sure enough, right there under Psychonauts in the “Microsoft Game Studios” section is 2 links. One of which ““downloads”” a fact sheet document (that’s technically already on my PC).
And the other takes us to THIS index. Now this is the good stuff. I’m… just gonna browse this folder directly instead of using Firefox.
Starting with the obvious, yep, the screenshot I was digging for is here as “Psychonauts05.bmp”, dated May 2nd, 2002.
Alongside 5 others! I won’t post them all but here’s my favourites. Check out that old camp! Check out that old health display! And those old PSI effects!
As said before, these screenshots have been posted elsewhere and mirrored and so on but it’s great to know where they come from, have the original BMPs and have a definitive date to label them with. But there’s still more on this disk.
“PsychonautsLogo.psd” is a basic PSD of the game’s old logo. It’s neat to see, at least. The background can be toggled in the PSD but that’s about it.
But what about “DART_PRINT.zip”? Well, inside that there are 3 files. All the same image in different formats - TIF, JPG and PSD.
Hey wait, this looks familiar!
@GameHistoryOrg has posted this render before! As well as that old logo! I suppose they must’ve gotten their copies from this same disc. Which makes sense, considering it was uploaded to archive.org by Simon Carless.
Again, great to have the original sources. In fact, this PSD is far more interesting as it actually has better layers so you can toggle the different elements! Here’s a version with just the background, and a version with just Raz.
I probably wouldn’t mind actually having this as a poster…
Anyway, while this was a great diversion, I didn’t find the trailer here. HOWEVER. Alongside the E3 2002 media DVD I also found out that Official Xbox Magazine’s demo disc 10 apparently included the trailer on it, so that’s my next stop.
Aaaand sure enough, right there under a section titled “Xbox at E3” was the E3 2002 trailer for Psychonauts! But when I went into the files to pull the video, my excitement turned to frustration.
For starters, I knew it’d still be a compressed video and wouldn’t be super ultra omega HD or whatever, so I wasn’t really bothered by the fact it’s a Bink file, but when I opened the file… I had no idea what I was looking at here. The video was… stacked, in some weird way?
After discussing the matter with @Bek0ha they figured out that this is a bit of a strange method of storing an interlaced video. You can merge the top and bottom halves in order to get a full interlaced frame.
And so, they wrote a tool to take all the frames of the bink and then combine every one into a full size interlaced image.
Those frames can then be combined back into a video to finally produce the 720x480 interlaced trailer, which can then also optionally be de-interlaced as with any other interlaced media.
So, here’s the result. As far as I know, the OXM demo disc is the highest quality the trailer was ever publicly released in so unless it turns out someone somehow has something better, this might be the best we can do.
You can view and download the original interlaced version (as well as the pre-youtube deinterlaced version and original Bink) here.
Although… I didn’t really stop there. It took a lot of time to figure out what’s going on with the original video file for the trailer and then to put it together, so I continued hunting for any other morsels of information out there.
That “fact sheet” from the E3 DVD for example, was there anything there? Well, not a ton since it’s just a marketing writeup, but still interesting. Most of it is fairly generic and still applicable to the final game.
This paragraph describing Raz’s powers mentions teleportation and “prophecy”. Needless to say neither of those are things in the final game. Could prophecy be referring to clairvoyance in some way?
Also slightly notable here is the usage of “fire-starting” instead of “pyrokinesis”, since it seems pyrokinesis in the final game was known as “firestarting” for a pretty long time in development and internally.
The plot synopsis makes a really weird mention of Raz finding out about the kidnapping stuff “While working on his merit badge in levitation”, which is really oddly specific and not really true in the final game.
Not much of note in this document besides that though. Continuing on. I decided another good place to dig around would be the aforementioned mixnmojo gallery for the game, as I hadn’t seen some of the images before.
For example, these ones show an early iteration of Waterloo World. While the fact they’re early shots is immediately obvious by the old TK hand, what stood out to me was that Fred is on the board.
That’s not the case in the final game but we have early documents that outline a different version of the level. The cow in the first shot is likely part of the tutorial, which was apparently not active circa October 2002.
So hunting I went for the source of these screenshots. My search eventually led me to another site also compiling images of the game, except this one specified that these images came from Double Fine’s website.
A quick trip to the internet archive and sure enough, we’ve found them, right there on the February 2004 snapshot of the “products” page, alongside various others which I was quick to grab.
These were apparently added around Feb. 2nd, 2004 according to the blog, though given that it’s early 2004, many of these shots most likely date from various points around 2003. On a semi-related note, it’s great to see how little Double Fine’s sense of humour when it comes to social media has changed.
That’s 27 more images saved and dated. Apparently that early TK hand lasted quite longer into development than I realised.
Unfortunately, my string of good luck seemed to end there. I’ve been digging around looking for various other shots from mixnmojo’s gallery but alas, no luck.
This shot for example. It shows a bunch of the early merit badge icons and the early thought bubble UI, but it’s got a GameSpot watermark. There are lower quality versions of this image with no watermark out there, but I have no idea where it might come from.
Obviously I did check GameSpot’s page for Psychonauts in the web archive and… I’m really not sure I want to talk about what I saw. I mean, I did figure out that this image and other similar ones probably date from around 2003 but…
GameSpot had videos and trailers and stuff from that period. It had ~8 second direct feed GAMEPLAY FOOTAGE FROM E3 2002 AND EVEN AN INTERVIEW WITH TIM SCHAFER.
But NONE OF THAT WAS ARCHIVED BECAUSE IT WAS LOCKED BEHIND A SIGNUP WALL.
I have a lot of appreciation for site design from that era, for nostalgia reasons mainly, but I absolutely despite this kind of thing.
Because someone at GameSpot in 2002 decided to lock these videos behind registration they are probably now gone forever and they probably even purged them from their archives or whatever when they updated the site.
That isn’t even to mention the stuff that was also locked behind a paywall. I’ve tried contacting them about old content before in relation to a different game. Didn’t get a response.
I’m really upset that stuff gets lost because of this kind of thing. Worst part is that some links kinda got archived and you can even see the filenames but because of the way the downloads worked they never got crawled.
If those “click here” links actually worked it might’ve all worked out but nope, they just try to take you to the signup page which is just insanity. Why trick the user into thinking they can download a file and THEN ask them to sign up on THIS PAGE??
Grumble grumble etc. etc. I guess it’s hard to be super angry at the decisions that were made about a website 18 years ago, but I am still mad that GameSpot did not carry this content forward. This stuff should ideally still be on their site today, but it’s not.
Maybe at some point I can be a nuisance and bother other people who are quite good at this whole preservation thing and see if there’s any copies of some of these videos still out there.
Back to the screenshots - since these shots are around elsewhere I can only assume they’re from some kind of ~2003 but I can’t find anything about that. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough.
I was able to find one last thing from Double Fine’s old site though - they at one point linked to an E3 montage video that was hosted by the Team Xbox website which thankfully was saved.
It’s a low quality WMV file but in it, nestled between Turok: Evolution and Kakuto Chojin, are about 6-8 seconds of Psychonauts gameplay footage clips from 2002. I’ve isolated that section of the video for your convenience.
It’s not much, but still, it’s something new (well, not new, but you get the idea). Just 3 seconds in you get to see a glimpse of the old charged PSI blast.
There’s an early iteration of camp at 4 seconds, an old AoE firestarting attack at 6 seconds, old health metre and Raz being screamed at by a green attack vine at 8 seconds aaand a short shot of part of the lungfish fight at the end.
Again, nothing groundbreaking, but it’s nice to just finally see some new footage from this version of the game. I still hope we see more some day, or a build.
Some day I might make a post going through the 2002 trailer shot by shot and combining what’s there with other info we’ve discovered to put together more of the puzzle. That could be fun.
Though for now this post that has literally nothing to do with reversing the game and is entirely just me rambling about trying to preserve some ancient media for this game is done.
Psychonauts, associated logos, branding and game assets are copyright Double Fine Productions and Xbox Game Studios.