I have a commitment problem. I have a habit of commenting on articles, but hardly ever spending time posting on a forum. To give you an idea, the most I ever talked about video games with other people was on a Jurassic Park forum. Yep.
I keep telling myself that I don’t need to post on a forum, yet somehow a lot of my comments turn into elaborate rants. I’ve lost track of how many times I deviated from a simple commentary into paragraphs of whatever theory I had tucked away in the back of my mind. Thing is, I actually enjoy deviating into an elaborate text mid-commentary.
But I can break up articles with pictures!
You’d think this would make it easier to write random articles/blog posts here and there. I could just sit in my chair, grab a bunch of Oreo knockoffs (bitch, please — Oreos are knockoffs), and improvise a text about the wonders of Typing of the Dead. Thing is, I’m more comfortable writing those unnecessarily lengthy comments than actually committing myself to create a proper article. “That takes time! And preparation! And planning!” I say to myself sometimes, unaware that I’m writing a comment good enough to expand and turn into a nice little opinion piece.
Basically, I need to get better at letting these things happen naturally. Similarly, nobody likes a forced joke. Eh, the headline is clear enough.
Is it Jazzpunk?
You may have heard of this “comedic game” by the name of Jazzpunk, and how this little Adult Swim/Necrophone Games title is considered by some folks as one of the funniest video games around, and how it is wonderfully filled to the brim with non-sequiturs and delightfully weird jokes.
It is indeed a fine game.
However, it doesn’t quite grab me the way it should. The non-sequitur nature of the jokes common to nonsense movies like The Naked Gun and Airplane is there. Whatever reaction I receive from NPCs is definitely as funny and unpredictable as they come, but it still feels like something’s off.
Jazzpunk has a vague definition of objective that has more to do with finding and “executing” jokes than actually seeking any kind of goal while receiving the jokes on the side, like Saints Row IV. That’s a franchise of fun and games. In the other corner, Jazzpunk is a first-person exploration game in the vein of Gone Home.
Don’t get me wrong, you should absolutely play Jazzpunk. It is very, very funny, and despite this entire rant of mine, I still think it’s a massive step forward for comedy scripts in video games. But in my opinion, a big portion of the end product (not the whole game, then) seems to present itself more as gallery than an actual game world with naturally occurring funny stuff. To put it in more familiar terms, it’s like being in an adventure game and feeling like you have to click every corner of a room to hear every joke Guybrush as in store for you. It’s funny, sure, but it also feels like a slight annoyance that hinders your progress, even if the sole objective in Jazzpunk is to just look at more funny things.
The jokes in Jazzpunk aren’t forced at all, but the way in which you go around triggering them for most of your adventure might be. Generally, adventure games or first-person exploration games work because you’re invested in investigating your surroundings. At the very least, you’re always concerned with figuring out just what the hell is going on or how this next piece of information is going to help you. In Jazzpunk, there’s barely a mystery. You’re just there to fill a mental checklist of places and jokes.
Basically, while the gameplay mirrors that of an exploration game, the incentive isn’t quite as strong. It’s an Easter egg hunt — a funny one, but still.
Or is it just video games in general?
Leslie Nielsen’s influence has been a subtle part of video game DNA over the years. Every time an NPC, an event, or the rules of a game world “break” and glitch out, something magical happens.
A comedy sketch is born.
And the best part is that the game world and its inhabitants are none the wiser. This is why I still boot up Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas every once in a while and just leave the game running for a few minutes. The AI in GTA is flimsy, and it will easily break the illusion of an autonomous city if you just stop and look at it for more than a few seconds.
Say Policeman Jack is driving his car around town upon hearing shots in his vicinity, decides to get out, and makes a stand against gang violence. Should someone then accidentally run him over with a car, his nearby partner Policeman Joe will have no problem picking up the slack — by continuing to drive around with Jack’s car, maybe even running over his remains again, leaving a trail of blood on the sidewalk for good measure. For Joe, it was just a Tuesday.
This is the kind of mayhem-plus-complacency that has always made video games inherently funny, in the same way only movies like Naked Gun or Airplane could. It doesn’t matter how insane things get in Game Land, the NPCs will be unphased. Have you played Fallout 3? People talk to you even if you hang out with the headless corpse of a Sheriff.
You set out to create something autonomous, and before you know it — BLAM! — chaos theory.
Getting comedy right in video games is hard! The humour isn’t so much the issue here (although Game Land could use a lot less irony and a lot more funny scripts like Jazzpunk), so much as how you make the player interact with it. Sure, you can make the player “read a joke” from a dialog tree or send him on a Easter egg hunt, but comedy should be more unpredictable and less of a fetch quest.
How would you approach comedy in a video game? How would you surprise the player and make him feel like part of the joke? How would you like your pancakes?