Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Why Can't Comedy Games be Funny to Play?

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 16 Jul 2013 12:00
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Sometimes I say things straight from my heart that I need to go back and examine more closely from a more analytical perspective. Like a conservative politician blurting out how much he loves the cock. In my Deadpool review, I said that for all the wacky dialogue and silly stuff going in the cutscenes, it's not married terribly well with the gameplay, which is utterly standard hack-and-slash in utterly standard environments. But I had to ask myself - what kind of gameplay WOULD suit a comedy action game?

My position is always that I like story and gameplay to be in a comfortable marriage, 'cos if it ends up being all about the story then it might as well just be a film, and if it's all gameplay then the story is a waste of time. So if the story aspect (or context, rather) is comedic in tone, then the gameplay should weave into that. For a number of reasons comedy and gameplay are destined to have a difficult marriage, with lots of shouting and thrown ornaments from the mantlepiece.

The problem arises with repetition. Repetition is death for comedy, and for most action games - especially these days - repetition is all they've got to pad out the run-time. So even if a game does offer silly takedown animations, or a suite of comedy one-liners for the characters to spout, or has someone wielding as a weapon a giant ball and chain composed of several interlocking elderly women in flowery dresses, that's only funny the first couple of times. The moment it's worked into organic gameplay and we're watching the same silly takedown animations roll out (inevitably for way too sodding long) over and over again, then the comedy content is so much dead weight.

One thing that might help is to lighten one's touch a bit. Try to create an organic environment for comedy situations, rather than endlessly repeating the same scripted gags. This is the approach demonstrated in games like Serious Sam. The cannonball weapon never does anything besides fire a massive fuck-off black ball that annihilates anything in the way, but each time you use it will be on a new cluster of enemies who all explode and hurtle away in a new pattern each time, and that's sort of all you need.

But that goes back to what I said in the Deadpool review - over-the-top ironic violence might be funny, but it's not witty. It's low-brow. And I don't want funny games to limit themselves to it when the medium could well serve the entire comedy spectrum. Portal was witty. And I had to ask myself, writing this column: does Portal's gameplay reflect its comedic nature? On reflection, yes, it does. Because the essence of the comedy is in the characters being various kinds of insane, and stepping into one wall only to materialize on the other side of a completely different wall is also pretty insane. All comedy is subversive, and this is subverting the laws of physics. Also, the clean, stark environments complement nicely the deadpan delivery of the jokes. So Portal's still fine. Phew.

Maybe that's the answer: Short games can be witty. Or, more accurately, a game remains witty as long as its exactly as long as it can be without repeating any of the funny bits. So, there's your answer, comedy action game makers: just create enough one-liners and silly animations to attach to every copy-pasted combat encounter in the entire game with no repeats. Hop to it.

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