Why Can't Comedy Games be Funny to Play?

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In case anyone laughed at the silly made-up non-sequitur that was "putting the spaghetti on the mummy" in the article... no, that really happened.

You had to flush the spaghetti down the time-travelling toilet to get it to the right era, and the player in that era has to use the spaghetti on the mummy, and then they have to use the fork to make a decent hairstyle.

How else was that mummy going to win the beauty contest?

...Day of the Tentacle was a damn good game.

I really found Postal 2 funny, I imagine in large part that I had never played a game quite like it before. Or since now that I'm thinking about it.

On one hand there was the concept that despite certain militant censors you could reasonably go through the game following the rules of everyday society, never hurt anyone, and still win. On the other hand was the utter surreality of the world the game took place in. It was very much like our world, but different in a few fundamental ways and offering numerous freedoms, such as peeing on people and in their mouths, that made it really interesting and funny to explore.

Pat Hulse:

Undomesticated Equine:
I am surprised that Psychonauts were not mentioned in the article. I replayed it few weeks ago (thanks steam trading cards for making me start a new game). And the i think that game play and story are exceptionally well combined and almost everything is funny the dialogs, character reacting to the stuff you do and the level design and art is just superb.

I was surprised it wasn't mentioned either since Yahtzee was the one who made me injure myself for not having played it all those years ago. For shame.

Seconded. Thirded!*

Speaking of threes, on the topic of repetition killing jokes the Rule of Three ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_three_(writing) ) is a pretty well known technique wherein things that come in threes are inheriently funnier. I'd never noticed it too much myself until a friend told me. When I asked for an example he sort of shrugged and said, "Every Simpson's episode ever"... and he was right. It's not just them, of course - I started seeing it on every weekly sit-com I watched.

It extends well beyond comedy, too. Those in marketing may be able to put the name of a famous copy writer to this, too. He was kind of the guy who started the, "Thursday! Thursday! Thursday!" style of repetition in radio ads**, and had some explanation for what each iteration was doing differently in the mind of a listener. Something along the lines of "attention, consideration, memorization", though I'm paraphrasing very badly. Point being I think you can have repetition as long as it's doing something different each time, though that difference can be pretty subtle.

I think one of the disadvantages videogames have is that humor needs to be spontaneous, or have the appearance of spontaneity. Watching tv / movies / plays we suspend our disbelief to accept that the actors are acting spontaneously but the humor has the benefit of being polished and prepared. In a game where the player has agency I think there must be a definite challenge to inserting humor*** without letting them know they've walked onto a scripted event.

Another odd note of humor which I don't think has been mentioned yet : Lemmings, specifically blowing them all up. I haven't played it in ages but there was something in the catharsis of watching them each grab their tiny heads in turn before vaporizing in a puff of pixels which was definitely funny regardless of the number of times you did it.

* And also, ow - but I played it, man, why'd you hurt meee?!

** first with radio ads, not the trebling. "Veni, Vidi, Vici" has a couple years on him

*** fer instance. ;)

Pilotwings on the SNES or N64 is hilarious. I defy anyone not to laugh themselves silly after watching their character plummet to their doom in a skydiving mission or screaming with terror after being launched from a cannon. Priceless!

In fact, AVGN and Mike released a video documenting their exploits on a play-through just today!!

Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rL2XPPVcI8A

The contrast drawn in the actual Deadpool video review between the spectacle of Metal Gear Rising and the comparatively average gameplay of Deadpool may have hit on a great idea. Combining the bombast of a Platinum game, Metal Gear Rising, Bayonetta, what have you, with a propensity toward openly comedic writing may just be the proverbial 'two great tastes that taste great together'.

A game that comes to mind is Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, a game that was what Duke Nukem Forever only wished it could be. Admittedly not the best game, with a broken cover system, but the game was hilarious, and was even reflected in the gameplay, with them in on the joke. The protagonist, a washed up shooter protagonist, will occasionally comment about how the shooting used to be easier when it was all on the same plane, or how the enemies look slightly different. There's even the spoof section that was made for kids, where all the weapons are replaced with super soakers. It's mechanics might have been sticky and clunky, but they were still funny juxtaposed alongside the game making fun of the progression of shooters. Here, have a sample:

I really loved the MDK games. They were very funny. On my first play through of MDK, I was scoping an alien Orc looking guy when he spotted me. He flipt me the bird and then started shooting.

Quite interesting
I like the metric of comedic value
Maybe do a FPS style mechanic where the most immediate rout to the goal is also the least funny (or a lower form of comedy)
longer parts have slower more refined whit.
so if you die doing the whit run you can burn through on the family guy run
Because lower rent comedy is more repetitively funny and is funny at a fast pase
might be fun

Bulletstorm is a game with writing about as subtle as a size 300 boot to the face, but the whole game is like that: humor comes from the Skill Shots,and most of them range from useful, to awesome, to pointlessly excessive, but most can earn a chuckle or two.

Gore can be humorous. Didn't Yahtzee once say that Dead Space 2's gore was too over the top to take seriously?

Comedy doesn't need to be married to gameplay to make a great comedy game, but it shouldn't be limited to dialogue, either. Far too often, the world itself is straightforward in an otherwise humorous game. Pepper the world with amusingly-named shops, L4D-style graffiti conversations, GTA talk radio... In the funniest games, the comedy is coming from all sides, not just the player character.

P.S. Thanks

P.P.S. JRPGs would make for great comedy, if any franchise outside of Mario would ever bother trying.

In addition to mentioned Psychonauts and Conker, I'd like to add Roguelike games.

Binding of Isaac, Dwarf Fortress and FTL have lots of different situation that almost never repeat. And they can be fun cause of all the stupid deaths, strange combinations of items, ridiculous situations. Such things as Boatmurdered proves it.

Britishfan:
Damn, somebody said Portal 2 before I could.

If repetition kills comedy, why are catch phases such as "Listen very carefully, I will say this only once" and "Don't panic, Mr Manwearing!!" Still raising laughs after all these years? I can't answer either, just a thought.

Interesting question. I think it's because repetition can give the audience a false sense of familiarity. A lot of humour uses the surprise element, so by using repetition the audience can be caught off-guard. It seems familiar but if used in a different context it can become a new joke.

"How many X does it take to change a lightbulb?". If the answer is simply a number it wouldn't be funny. Instead the repetetive joke depends on subverting the expectations of the audience and do something different.

-

Yahtzee is on to an interesting subject. I think most games that accomplish funny gameplay does so partly unintentionally. Maybe it's a matter of having enough variation in animation and physics that funny situations sometimes emerge on their own. The GTA games can sometimes create funny situations because there are so many diverse ways to get hurt, a variation of slapstick humour basically.

I found the gameplay in the campaign of "Space Marine" funny sometimes. The orks look hilarious when they get mangled in a hundred different ways, the variation is probably a big part of it. Maybe brawling gameplay is easier to make funny than shooting.

Death animations is a another important element. A victim has to do more than getting hurt, it has to get hurt in a funny way. It sounds very brutal and cynical, but humour often is.

Wizard Suicide Simulator (known in some coutnries as Magicka) is a perfect example of the comedy of the story not being congruous with the gameplay (because it's just silly throwaway gags and references) but the gameplay itself is also pure comedy (of a Wizard Suicide via Hilarious and Exteremly Varied Usually Magick Assisted Methods) so it all kinda works out.
And the gameplay is REALLY good. Like, EXTRA good.

lacktheknack:
In case anyone laughed at the silly made-up non-sequitur that was "putting the spaghetti on the mummy" in the article... no, that really happened.

You had to flush the spaghetti down the time-travelling toilet to get it to the right era, and the player in that era has to use the spaghetti on the mummy, and then they have to use the fork to make a decent hairstyle.

How else was that mummy going to win the beauty contest?

...Day of the Tentacle was a damn good game.

There is something weird going on with adventure games and comedy. It works very well, but I have no idea why it is. Maybe it's the process of being told part of a joke, and slowly having to unravel it yourself.

Are jokes more funny if the punchline takes a while to get? Normally if we don't get the punchline we would forget about the joke. But in an adventure game the joke can be told slowly.

I can't tell (because I didn't read all the comments) But has anyone said Ratchet and Clank yet?

There's a gun that makes enemies dance! How is that not comedy gold?

Saints Row, obviously.

That's... all I can think of at the time.

I think its hard to point out exactly what part of GodHand makes the comedy in the game so organic and enjoyable. If you break it down, you have:
-A highly customizable fighting system where the player is given full control of their combos
-Ridiculous and borderline offensive characters lifted from all sorts of material like Westerns, Horror or Samurai Drama
-High difficulty level that demands precision and practice.
-Rockin sound design that borrows heavily from the early days of console games
-Simple environments with very limited interactivity
None of these things by themselves are what make GodHand funny, as far as I can tell. It's the expert way in which they are combined that allows the game to make me smile and laugh every time I play it.

Also, it's been said before in the thread, but the original Paper Mario and the sequel, The Thousand Year Door, are great when it comes to marrying comedic writing with comedic gameplay in what is a repetition heavy genre (the JRPG).

Yahtzee, I know you didn't like Borderlands 2, but I think you should check out the lead writer's GDC talk on designing comedy in video games. He touches on games where comedy is a central component then goes into making a game that isn't primarily comedy-centric (shooters or Diablo-likes, which Borderlands is both) have some comedy injected into it.

If you like really British and really crude humour, I'd recommend Hector: Badge of Carnage. If it's not your thing, it might get stale on you fast, but I laughed my ass off throughout most of it :P

Bostur:

lacktheknack:
In case anyone laughed at the silly made-up non-sequitur that was "putting the spaghetti on the mummy" in the article... no, that really happened.

You had to flush the spaghetti down the time-travelling toilet to get it to the right era, and the player in that era has to use the spaghetti on the mummy, and then they have to use the fork to make a decent hairstyle.

How else was that mummy going to win the beauty contest?

...Day of the Tentacle was a damn good game.

There is something weird going on with adventure games and comedy. It works very well, but I have no idea why it is. Maybe it's the process of being told part of a joke, and slowly having to unravel it yourself.

Are jokes more funny if the punchline takes a while to get? Normally if we don't get the punchline we would forget about the joke. But in an adventure game the joke can be told slowly.

If it's an absurdist joke (which adventure games often revel in), then the humour and intrigue comes from the space between the set up and the payoff.

For example, if I explained WHY the mummy needs to win the beauty contest, the joke would end. As is, you're probably pretty curious as to what possible payoff a mummy winning a beauty contest would have, and it's a funny idea. When you play the game, they design it so that even as you're playing, you're not sure WHY you're trying to win the beauty contest with a mummy (unless you guessed the answer to a different puzzle), but goddamit, you're got a mummy in an Elvis jacket, some wet spaghetti, false teeth and some roller skates, so you are going to win that contest, dammit!

It's a specific joke type that only really works in adventure games, because other games would be thought of as being "too slow" if they took the time needed to pull one off.

Another good example is Sam and Max (old and new, but especially old).

Personally I believe that Deadpool game should not of been a hack&slash game. When reading his comics, the majority of the time is that Deadpool does his jokes and a small portion may be dedicated to fighting sequence. At most, deadpool should of been an adventure/exploration game. With some fighting sequences to showcase his agility. With the game being focused on adventure/exploration than hack n' slash, we can see deadpool tinker with the 4th wall constantly. Which is why we all enjoyed deadpool when he wasn't fighting clone wave number 34.

Conker and Portal were not really hack n' slash focus. To occupy the possible quiet time, that is when the witty part of the game came in.

I wonder what blurting out a love of cock would do to Tony Abbott's election chances...

Anyway...

Comedy could become more prevalent in non-shooters. The portal gun in Portal was a stroke of genius in that it allowed puzzle solving and exploration with a device conventionally used for putting bullets into bodies. If other games are to avoid turning into Portal clones then the gun-based gameplay may have to go. Earlier point-and-click games are good but I'm not sure audiences have the patience for them. Comedy could be (and was) the solution to that impatience.

I'm a bit confused. Is this a Yahtzee article thread? His post isn't first for me. ._o

Anyways, to contribute with something: The Bard's Tale works pretty well. It's a simple hack 'n' slash game with tons of humor. I haven't gotten very far yet, but it's really funny and all the comedy so far has been in cutscenes, so you're never missing anything. I wish there were more games like it.

It's currently on sale on Steam. Believe the price was 2.50 euro when I bought it, and you get the earlier Bard's Tale triolgy as well(though I don't know anything about them).

Psychonauts was fun.
It hardly repeated itself, because to hear all the great one-liners you had to stop and listen, and it was always worth it.
And Raz didn't talk during combat.
AND the game has a lot of variety, more than I've seen in any game in fact. It's like in that fake Duke Nuken ZP, you start as the average summer camp kid, and half the game later you're uncovering global conspiracies and play board games against Napoleon.

Piorn:
Psychonauts was fun.
It hardly repeated itself, because to hear all the great one-liners you had to stop and listen, and it was always worth it.
And Raz didn't talk during combat.
AND the game has a lot of variety, more than I've seen in any game in fact. It's like in that fake Duke Nuken ZP, you start as the average summer camp kid, and half the game later you're uncovering global conspiracies and play board games against Napoleon.

my main issue from psychonauts aside from the collectibles sometimes being very iffy to reach, is that it's really easy to miss all of the funny one time gags of the dialogue if you don't slow down instead of blowing through all of the tutorial zones, plus most of the summer camp jokes are location, context, and timeline sensitive, so you basically have to either know beforehand where they are, or spend an hour wandering around trying to trigger them, and then accidentally skip part of it because you thought it would repeat, but then it doesn't

due to the game's forced ingame timespan of one day, it also doesn't allow enough character development to the point where you'd actually get half of the jokes being made in the last half of the game unless you really hunted down every detail

I found the human cannonball target shooting in Pilotwings 64 hilarious.

Worms Armageddon was probably one of the only games to make me laugh without scripted jokes. The lines were scripted, but the physics on many of the weirder weapons was so wonky you could never tell when you'd set off a chain reaction of exploding barrels/mines/worms/whatever. Also there was enough variety in the lines and voices that you wouldn't get too many repeats, and when you did get sick of Soul Man you could just switch to Rabbi or Sportscaster or Smooth Babe. Maybe they were on to something when they decided to put over 100 voice selections in that game.

Paper Mario Thousand Year Door wasn't quite that funny but these two taken together suggest that randomness is indeed a key component of making a combat-focused game funny. People in the audience would throw items or rocks at you. Stagelights and stage props would occasionally drop or a Dayzee would put the audience to sleep. Allowing 'combat breakdowns' on both enemies and PC (allowing both to lose arms, legs, weapon, head, etc.) and applying random strange conditions (shrink and giant affect character voices in the Smash Bros. games, to amusing affect) to each battle comes to mind, but like the cool sprayer in TTYD that can get frustrating.

Sneakers, like "Thief", might be a possible game environment for comedy games. You sneak on people, you are eavesdropping and sometime Garrett made a funny comment about the situation he was sneaking around or eavesdropping onto. I remember Benny as well and Benny was a comedic gold, just like that guy in "Thief 3" who tried to impersonate Garrett. Such game would require quite a bit of work but no more than "Portal", I believe, in writing, and while giving random guards funny lines and dialogs might not work because of repetition, talks that only occurs once and/or even tied to exploration might work well.

I find going on murder sprees in Saints Row: The Third is funny but maybe I'm twisted.

Evil Smurf:
I find going on murder sprees funny in Saints Row: The Third but maybe I'm twisted.

Yeah; he had asked

"..what other comedy games, besides Portal, possess raw gameplay and challenge mechanics that could be interpreted as reflecting the context and tone of the humour?"

And the Saint's Row games were the best example I could think of.

It is lowbrow humor, but I still think one of the funniest moments I've ever seen in a game were in Saint's Row 2 when the one lieutenant sketches out this whole detailed plan for how he's going to rob the casino, clearly based on the movie Ocean's 11; he has the floor-plan all stretched out, and he starts going through the whole plan. Then the protagonist says something like "Why don't we just walk in the front door and just kill everyone and then take the money instead?" And you do.

It says something about the personality of the protagonist in the game that that made perfect sense.

It wasn't the gameplay in Psychonauts which was funny but the situations and ideas which came up. For example the bureaucracy level (don't know what else to call it) was great comedy when you stop to think about it, but playing it wasn't what made you laugh.

I think the gameplay needs to be physical comedy, Chaplin and so on. I remember games like Earthworm Jim being loved and laughed at back when I was in school. I didn't play them and don't think I would have enjoyed it that much (fart jokes, bodily fluids etc) but it still qualifies as physical comedy.

Surgeon Simulator anyone? After all the entire games is basically a big joke about simulators.

For what it's worth, the Halo series has a few witty moments. Very subtle ones that you have to look for, mind, but Bungie do have quite an interesting sense of humour on that front. I'm thinking the descriptions in the multiplayer settings in CE; the doomsayer grunt in Halo 3, the occasional one-liners you find here and there. It's sparse, but it's well married to the story, even thought it's irrelevant to the gameplay and far from a central mechanic.

Fiairflair:
I wonder what blurting out a love of cock would do to Tony Abbott's election chances...

It would do wonders for it, I think. It would go down in history as being the greatest election campaign in history.

Borderlands and BL2 are funny on a gameplay basis as well as a storytelling basis, simply because some of the story is told through gameplay rather than just written on an in-came wall or stated in dialogue somewhere. This is with the basic combat mechanics being fairly vanilla FPS stuff.

So it's possible to do comedy games in an action/shooter/etc format, it just comes back to the issue of the developer needing to control the pacing and it being hard to do that without forcing a player (which in turn kills the comedy).

amaranth_dru:
Sandbox and physics are a large open-end for humor. I had a demo of Unreal Tournament 2k4 and we didn't have internet for a while. My roomates and I would take turns in the single demo level devoid of bots leaping into an instakill pit that had bars throughout it. The game we played was to see how spectacular a death we could before the respawn timer kicked in. We even had a Tony Hawk-ish style where we named certain "moves" and attributed a points system to it.
But the unintended consequence was the humor factor. Each death seemed to be funnier than the last. Watching the character bounce from pole to pole, only to hang from one then slide down slowly seemed to be the epitome of humor.
Its little things like that, the unforseen consequences (HL3 confirmed) that make games funny to play.

This 100% this ^^

I can't count the amount of times a serious session of ArmA series has turned into nothing but laughter after some random rocket hits a player from out of nowhere and sends him flying off into the distance, usually from one of the recoiless rifle technicals that we nick named "rocket snipers" for good reason. They always find a way to get you....
Or ofcourse running around a corner to see a tank, freaking out and running back where you come from, seein an enemy then running back to the tank's side again (forgetting about the tank in the heat of the moment) and pissing yourself laughing apon your demise to the main gun of said tank with a comment along the line of "oh right the tank"

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