What’s in a name? As game writers, we are often called upon to title and name all sorts of things — quests, items, design docs . When it comes to the game title, however, marketing and executives play a huge hand in finalizing the name, and sometimes you can tell. I’ve uncovered a few trends in game titles that work and others… well, not so much.
The most memorable game titles have a bit of the funny in them. How could you forget a game called Space Bunnies Must Die or Destroy All Humans? Simple is better; Aqua Teen Hunger Force Zombie Ninja Pro-Am passes funny to reach “Enough already!”
Unfortunately, funny titles generally only work for funny games. If they had named Halo ZOMG When Will They Stop Sending Me Into These Effed Up Situations? instead, something tells me it would not have sold quite so well.
Fortunately, games with a more serious tone can get away with a bit of humor when there’s a pun in the title. King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human stands as a great example of a pun in an otherwise dramatic title. Max Payne, a game with a dark and serious tone, offers a tip of the hat to the hardcore gamer with promises of, well, causing max pain.
Funny and punny titles often work if they have a bit of the literal in them. Literal titles do the best job of telling the players exactly what they’re in for. You will never find yourself asking what the game is about. Great examples include Command & Conquer, SimCity, and the like. Literal titles don’t have to be that on the nose: Warcraft underlines the point of the game without spelling it out too much. World of Warcraft is similarly clear — it’s set in the virtual world of Warcraft, roger that!
The importance with literal titles is that they should, in fact, be literal. Sims Carnival sounds like it should be a literal title, but no, it is neither Sims, nor a carnival. Another literal title that had a bit too dull of a name? Adventure.
Evocative titles bring to mind the mood, spirit, or setting of the game. Fallout, Defcon, and Eternal Darkness fall into this category and evoke the urgency and darkness of these games and sometimes quite literally the situation. I personally like Burning Crusade which is both evocative and literal within the game’s fiction.
Unfortunately, attempts at evocative titles often yield the worst results. Beyond the Beyond and Infinite Undiscovery are prime examples. What exactly is infinite undiscovery? Sounds like a quest for missing socks. One game that never shipped was at one point called Dead Unity. Take home message? If you’re having trouble coming up with a name, avoid the evocative title!
Following genre conventions
Occasionally game titles hit the mark by following the conventions of their literary genre, such as science fiction, fantasy, etc. Day of the Tentacle as well as Sins of the Solar Empire both bring to mind 50′s sci fi and horror movies. Wrath of the Lich King hearkens back to Return of the Jedi or The Wrath of Khan. Unfortunately, the sci fi genre conventions and sequel hell can lead to terribly long titles such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II The Sith Lords.
BA: aka the Best Acronyms
Unlike media such as television, games are usually developed with the hardcore fans in mind. That means eventually every title will become an acronym to economize typing or speaking, and unfortunately not every title will benefit from the abbreviation. Days of our Lives becomes DOOL, which makes it seem like a really cool demon. A lot of DS games took advantage of this with titles such as Dawn of Sorrow and Deadly Silence. Sometimes acronyms get the benefits of a funny title: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed becomes STFU and Masters of Orion becomes MoO.
Try to shovel your title into a cool-sounding acronym, however, and it will just end up seeming lame. The best acronym ever? WoW for World of Warcraft, but note how the title is quite literal and grew organically from the game.
Next week I’ll post a top 10 list of best and worse game titles, so comment now with your favorite and least favorite game titles. And, don’t be shy, share your own best and worst titles for games you’ve developed or conceived.
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