Got humor? Tips on putting comedy in games

Earlier this week I wrote about how to use dialog to bring comedy to games, but in general, dialog should be the last resort when creating a game. Today, comedy meets narrative design as I explore a few ways to put comedy in the game without saying a word.

It’s in the premise
Comedy is more than a punchline; the best comedy grows naturally from the situation. Take the movie “Blades of Glory” (no really, please). The movie, featuring two male pairs figure skaters, has such an odd premise, it can’t help but be a comedy. It naturally suggests comic moments — who gets to be the girl? How does the world react?

Now take a real game example: Katamari Damacy. Your mission is to roll up the world. Okay, that’s odd, and it begins to suggest comic moments. Do you pick up trash? What about living things? I don’t know about you, but I love it when you’re first able to roll up a cat (Reow!) and then finally people!

Maybe you don’t want an out-and-out comedy, however. Maybe you just want comic moments in an otherwise serious game. You can use the comic premise on a smaller level. Sande often suggests the “Quest for the Ham Sandwich.” It’s a stand-in for a quest that ultimately calls the player to complete a silly goal. Players often favor the funny or odd quests in WoW, for example, like the goblins in the Salt Flats. Even without formal questing, strange items with humorous uses can add to your game. While making an entire game about a ham sandwich may not be your speed, you can easily throw one of these quests in. Just don’t have it come out of left field.

Comedy also stems from surprise, or a twist that differs from your expectations. Surprise can play out in dialog, in surprisingly funny quests, items with funny uses, but also in the world around you. As in Katamari Damacy, rolling up the people is only half the fun. On top of that, they wiggle their arms once they’re in your ball. You constantly run into strange items that you happily roll up. How about putting surprise into an entire level. After fighting supervillains in a sewer, you must now find the ultimate gadget of destruction — in your little sister’s room!

Keep your promises
In all of these examples, the humor will entertain the player if and only if it has been set-up in advance. Imagine you’re playing Metal Gear Solid. You feel tough, gritty. You clear a level, and you step into a new area: Candy Cane land! The walls are made of gingerbread, the rafters hang with candy canes, and fun little dollops of icing abound. You might laugh, but most likely you would think, “What crack were the developers on?”

You make a contract with the player in the first few minutes or hours of gameplay. This contract usually involves the genre, but it also involves the tone. If Metal Gear Solid starts out hard-core, then turns out to be a giant Quest for a Ham Sandwich, the player will feel betrayed, not entertained. In general, you can start funny and become more serious, like we saw in the BUFFY series, but it’s a harder sell to start serious and end up funny. Do you agree?

A strong premise, a dose of surprise, and a good deal of set-up will help put comedy in your games, but again, this only scratches the surface of what games and comedy can do. So, in honor of Damion who started this thread, come back next week to see how to put comedy into arguably the most important system in many games: the combat system. Be there!

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Published in: on August 14, 2008 at 2:23 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] hard… what is comedy about dying? You can put comedy into your game dialog, or through your design, but enough generalities. In honor of Damion Schubert, who wrote about putting comedy in games, […]

  2. […] text. Dialog can solve some problems, add flavor, and show character, but it’s not a panacea. Thursday I’ll explore how to put comedy in games without saying hardly a word, and then I’ll focus on comedy in combat! Subscribe for more […]

  3. Nice post! I like the bit about the contract with the player… I think that humor is a risk. Players love it when it works, but if a joke falls flat, it’s a heavy black mark, much worse than if the humor were never attempted. And perhaps that’s why so many games are so dire and ultimately boring. (You can only sound the same note so many times before it loses its timbre.)

    looking forward to the humor-in-combat post!

  4. The comic combat post generated a lot of discussion. I added the link to it in this post, so you should be able to get there.


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