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Why Video Games Are Having a Harder Time With Humor 202

Kotaku is running an opinion piece discussing why video games are having a harder time being funny as they've shifted away from text-driven adventures and toward graphics-intensive environments. "As technology improved, things began to get more serious. With the rise of 3D technology a strong focus was put on making games look good, delivering a more realistic — and often darker — experience to the player. Cartoonish comedic games became more of a novelty than the norm. Few titles, such as Rare's Conker's Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64, fully embraced humor." The article also talks about how the trend could soon reverse itself. LucasArts' Dave Grossman said, "As the games get smarter and start paying attention to more things about what the player is actually doing, using that ability not just to create challenges but to create humorous moments will be pretty cool. Eventually I expect to be out of a job over that."
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Why Video Games Are Having a Harder Time With Humor

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  • by Ash.D.Giles ( 1278606 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @02:15AM (#28658013)
    Team Fortress 2 has been a great demonstration of how an amazing graphics engine can be used in a less-realistic way, but the high-quality graphics still do a good job supporting the gameplay. Maybe more of this will come soon? And perhaps the artists in game development studios will get more of a chance to be... well... artistic as a result.
    • by boshi ( 612264 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @02:53AM (#28658155) Homepage
      This is well demonstrated in Penny Arcade's series of games "On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness". The artistic quality of the game improved my enjoyment of it far more than the high polygon counts of modern shooters and other such games.

      I think that with the success of games like this and the latest Paper Mario games we are finally starting to see that it's the story and artwork that we are paying for, the technology is secondary. I hope the future holds more games with a strong story focus like these and Silicon Knights' Eternal Darkness.
    • by RsG ( 809189 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @02:55AM (#28658159)

      I'd say Portal was also fairly funny, even if the memes it sprouted have started to wear out their welcome.

      And I can think of dozens of RPGs, old and recent, that had their funny moments. Though in those cases they tended to be serious games with the occasional comic relief.

      I think TFA is expecting games that are purely comedic, i.e. in the same vein as Monkey Island, and those never were that common. All the classic games that fit that bill are either adventure games, which don't get made anymore, or aimed mainly at a young audience. Pure comedy written for adults (and no, that doesn't mean "mature" in the sense of inappropriate for kids) is a niche that's largely empty, but what we have instead in abundance is non-comedic games that don't take themselves too seriously.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Rutefoot ( 1338385 )
        That's because Valve hires comedy writers to its staff, such as Chet from Portal of Evil and Old Man Muray, Erik Wolpaw from Old Man Murray and Jay Pinkerton from Cracked and National Lampoons
    • by nmb3000 ( 741169 ) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @03:19AM (#28658261) Journal

      One thing I love about playing TF2 is the humor in the dialog. As somebody mentions below, it has the potential to get repetitive, but I've never really noticed it happen (I'm focused on the gameplay). I think a big key to the success they've had at this is that they really do seem to get the timing right and the characters are just very funny -- both stereotypically and originally. It isn't one-liners dropped left and right with no reason, but rather in response to what's going on around you.

      For example: the Heavy's maniac laugh (and matching face) after unleashing a couple hundred rounds of ammo, things characters say in response to other player actions such as the heavy teleporting ("Engineer is credit to team!"), a medic healing people and their replies, the Engineer dominating people with the sentry ("Take it like a man sonny"), the scout smacking the Heavy ("Eat it fatty!"), and of course all the great taunts ("Kaa-Boooom!"). Heck, almost everything the Heavy says cracks me up -- it all just meshes and "feels" right.

      TF2 isn't perfect, but it definitely does a lot of things right, including humor.

      • by BakaHoushi ( 786009 ) <Goss,Sean&gmail,com> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @07:04AM (#28658915) Homepage

        Both TF2 and L4D both do one thing right by Valve: They don't overuse one-liners. For any given circumstance, there are probably a half-dozen possible phrases per character or class. Rather than have them say a line everytime, they randomize it and it works well. For example, in TF2 if you've just dominated an opponent, there's a number of standard lines per class ("You just got freakin' dominated, knucklehead, all right, let's do this") to a number of class specific taunts depending on your class and the class you just killed ("That was a mercy killing, you live in a, uh, uh, CAMPER VAN." "You ain't so smart with your brains OUTSIDE your head, now, are you?") meaning you rarely ever hear the same taunts twice, at least within any reasonable amount of time.

      • by TypoNAM ( 695420 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @07:24AM (#28658955)

        I absolutely love Team Fortress 2 for having the game voice responses and taunts this way. I laughed so hard when I as a Scout killed a sniper and my character shouted "It was a mercy killin', ya live in a... camper van!". The spy's response is equally funny "[laughs maniacally] You live in a van! [laughs again]".

        I definitely agree with you on the Heavy. He can't seem to say anything that isn't humorous at all. For example somebody as a Heavy was sitting in Red team's hay room in ctf_2fort map and randomly hitting the Negative voice commands over and over. He so happened to say this in order right before I knifed him in the back as a spy: "Oh this is bad! Oh nooooo!".

        I couldn't stop laughing for a while after that.

      • Armed and Dangerous had fantastic dialog as well ... and a Land Shark gun.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by VGPowerlord ( 621254 )

        Since the Scout update, each class has been getting new, class-specific domination and revenge messages. Almost all of them are funny.

        Here are some of my favorite Scout and Spy domination messages:
        "Hey, here's something you can invent next time: ducking!" -- Scout dominating Engineer (quote #1 of 6)
        "Don't bring a wrench to a gun fight!" -- Scout dominating Engineer (quote #3 of 6)
        "$400,00 to fire that gun, huh? Yeah, money well spent!" -- Scout dominating Heavy (quote #3 of 10)
        "I. Eat. Your. Sandwiches!

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @02:19AM (#28658029) Journal
    Because video games by nature are repetitive, and when you've heard the same joke for the thirteenth time, especially when you are trying to beat the same level and keep dying, it just makes you want to throw your controller through the monitor.

    Of course some games are funny (Super Paper Mario had some great jokes), and even Smash Brothers Brawl made me laugh a few times. It's just something you have to be careful about.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Because video games by nature are repetitive, and when you've heard the same joke for the thirteenth time, especially when you are trying to beat the same level and keep dying, it just makes you want to throw your controller through the monitor.

      Makes me wonder why the +5 Funny chair throwing jokes haven't resulted in more broken monitors.

      • Hey, when you put it that way, I'll bet Ballmer reads slashdot!! Look, it makes sense because he's always throwing these.....oh.......
      • by rts008 ( 812749 )

        ...the thirteenth time, especially when you are trying to beat the same level and keep dying,...

        Bad aim, and not learning/adapting with experience maybe?
        Or maybe the number '13' really is unlucky!!!!
        Or, thrown chairs only hit office tables? [wikipedia.org]

        [From the wiki link above]

        Mark Lucovsky has stated that Steve Ballmer, on being informed that Lucovsky was about to leave Microsoft for Google, picked up a chair and threw it across the room, hitting a table in his office.

        [citation needed]

      • Because Microsoft bought chair-proof monitors.


      • by mcrbids ( 148650 )

        Makes me wonder why the +5 Funny chair throwing jokes haven't resulted in more broken monitors.

        Some people take their frustrations out on their monitors. I, on the other hand, like throwing chairs!


      • Because when he's using a computer, Ballmer is SITTING on his chair, so he can't throw it. Duh! Fail physics much?

    • by Triv ( 181010 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @03:04AM (#28658191) Journal
      Well, Max Payne was funny, and I don't remember it being particularly repetitive. Seems to me, what video game designers need to do is focus more on the storytelling and less on animating individual strands of hair.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rts008 ( 812749 )

        Seems to me, what video game designers need to do is focus more on the storytelling and less on animating individual strands of hair.

        No kidding!

        What I want in a game:
        1. Immersion-does the plot/premise pull you in and get you involved?
        2. Is the premise of the game interesting? (hint: think 'bus driving game' that you piloted a bus across a vast stretch of 'nothing'...in real time!)
        3. The need to engage my brain, not my 'twitchy fingers'.
        4. Functional UI. Fix the UI bugs before release, and gameplay/artwork bugfixes as patches as ready. (no matter how 'awesome' the gameplay is, what good is it if you cannot interact with it as intended?)

        • X-Com - ruiner of many days.

          The sad part is that I was never any good... but I kept trying (and failing) anyways.

          I'm with you on fallout.

          You know you can buy Fallout, Fallout2, and Fallout Tactics for like $6 each? gog.com has em up, with a whole shitload of other classics. (and no drm!)

    • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @03:09AM (#28658207)

      Because video games by nature are repetitive, and when you've heard the same joke for the thirteenth time, especially when you are trying to beat the same level and keep dying, it just makes you want to throw your controller through the monitor.

      It doesn't really seem to me like that's a huge obstacle in too many settings. If there is ANY cutscene you have to view multiple times, or any dialogue to repeat a level after dying, that's annoying even if it isn't a joke. Jokes would also be old if you had an NPC say it too many times, like every time you walked by, but again, that's almost anything. GTA for example has some funny lines from pedestrians ("Baby fat- I just never lost it") that got old after a few hours, but so did the non-jokes, like "Hey CJ, what up?"

      Repetitiveness isn't unique to games, there are just a -few- more situations in which repetitiveness can be a problem, and you can avoid those situations easily, you know what parts are going to be repeated.

      A few times the repetitiveness has been actually pretty funny. I'm thinking of one example in Fallout 3

      ***minor spoilers***

      In one of the vaults, all the residents are clones of "Gary." They know only one word: Gary. They say it gleefully as they run at you to kill you. They say "Gary???" when they lose track of you. They say "Gaaaaaarrrryyyy!!!!" in pain as they die (when you don't blow off their heads with a shotgun.) Not laugh out loud funny, but it was a good little dark comedy situation.

      I think the real reason there's not much humor in games is because videogames are really a pretty new medium. Decent plots, dialogues, and humor in videogames are more common than they were a few years ago, but the writing in your average blockbuster movie is still high above the dialogue in your average big release game. To that end, Grossman says "To make a game so funny with so many comic alternatives, that would be like writing three hit movies. The scripts are impossibly long. That would be a considerable investment."

      Plus I think we gamers LET them get away with it because we don't have the same level of expectations for dialogue that we do for movies. Yet.

    • You could go back even further. Relying more on ridiculous premises and puns were games like Earthworm Jim and Battletoads. It's games like that which gave me my unique sense of humor which is all the rage with the fly honeys.
      • Oh, my, Earthworm Jim. You've just given me the best idea of what to get a small child for their birthday: thank you very much for reminding me of that show.
    • I kind of wonder what games the writer played. Overlord was hilarious, and I assume Overlord 2 (which came out recently) is equally entertaining. I think the only conclusion he's drawn is "when you don't play funny games, games aren't funny."

  • secret to humor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by baby_robots ( 990618 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @02:21AM (#28658035)

    Do you want to know what the secret to humor is timing.

    Games have trouble with timing if the player is in control, and not the comedian.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      The monkey island games made their humor by having the player make choices, and then interrupting their control to tell the punchline to their setup. By making sure the player was only ever presented the option of telling setups or punchlines, the jokes come thick and fast. The actual art leant itself to comic action and the whole game was interspersed with non-controllable cutscenes, something the industry is desperately back-pedalling from except when they want to tell the next part of their "EPIC STORY!!

    • YES! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kklein ( 900361 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @03:18AM (#28658249)

      I have no mod points, else I would heap them upon you.

      I used to be an actor (theatre major), mostly doing comedies. Having had to deliver funny lines many times to audiences, I can tell you that the difference between a funny line and an embarrassing line are tiny, tiny differences in timing. People have good comedic timing (mine is pretty good) have an innate sense for when something is at peak funniness. It definitely has to have something to do with the speed at which people think, and the things that they will think, after the joke is set up. There is a moment during that process where the "interrupt request" of another line delivered will either knock the process out of whack or confirm what it was already beginning to predict was going to happen. This is why humor can be so hard to translate--it assumes a shared schema of the way the world works, so that one can assume that the listener is going to make the same connections as you.

      Anyway, as you say, that all goes to hell when the user is in control.

      Also, now that they're on Xbox Live, I encourage you to go back and play the Monkey Island games that seemed so funny when you were 12. They aren't.

      • Re:YES! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by captjc ( 453680 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @03:52AM (#28658359)

        I am in my early twenties. I recently replayed the Monkey Island games and Sam and Max Hit the Road not even a year ago. They were still as funny as I remember, actually even more so only because I got the jokes that I easily missed when I was 10 when I played them the first time.

      • I would have modded you funny....

        But seriously, you make a great point. Most of the funny games out there - the ones where humor is part and parcel of the game, as opposed to a novelty - implement their humor in cut scenes or scripted movements where the player isn't really in control. It may only be for a few seconds, but until the joke is told, the player watches the humor unfold instead of participating in it.

      • Also, now that they're on Xbox Live, I encourage you to go back and play the Monkey Island games that seemed so funny when you were 12. They aren't.

        Heh, I was recently looking at some YouTube walkthrough videos of MI and indeed what made me laugh back then isn't anymore... Nevertheless, for their day they were hilarious and pretty good entertainment for lots of teenagers.

      • I think games are a medium where they can be more amusing kind of humor, the stuff that makes you smile, not laugh out loud kind of humor. A game can have a generally humorous premise and setting and such and it'll work well. You can also have some comic relief and such. However trying to do it as an overall comedy, designed to make people laugh, I just don't think will work because, as you say, timing.

        The timing thing got me thinking of an odd, but relevant example from back in high school: We had some sil

        • At a certain part in the song there was a significant jump in pitch between two notes. For some reason, it occurred to me not to play it straight out, but to delay for a small fraction of a second before sweeping in to the higher note. That just killed people. I did the same bit for other friends in band and every time, it was that delay that sold it and got them cracking up.

          It's an opera... 'Magic Flute'? Okay, we each hum a section of an aria, and the others have to guess which character is singing. It's really good, 'cos, you can, like, throw each other off the scent! Once, Dave - my Dave - he sang The Birdcatcher's Song in the GERMAN translation, and it was hilarious! We all, like, totally fell about!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Hatta ( 162192 ) *

        Also, now that they're on Xbox Live, I encourage you to go back and play the Monkey Island games that seemed so funny when you were 12. They aren't.

        Hmm, they still seem funny when I play them on ScummVM.

      • Definitely. As the old saying goes "dying is easy, comedy is hard". I think the real reason there are hardly any video games focusing directly on humor is the sheer difficulty of doing humor. Just having some comic relief, or some funny lines peppered throughout your game isn't really comedy. There are a few games that have attempted this. Whiplash [wikipedia.org] was one of the few games that tried to do pure-play humor gaming, and it succeeded in being very funny, but didn't succeed so well as a game (exceedingly lo

    • the secret to humor is timing.

      Games have trouble with timing if the player is in control, and not the comedian.

      Then you maneuver the player into setting up the gag. Give him something to say or do that seems perfectly logical.

      But leads him on in a descent into madness.

      One of Keaton's best - certainly his most dangerous - sight gags simply has him standing in front of a wall that collapses during a storm.

      To be saved by a cut-out for a window.

  • by Jethro ( 14165 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @02:22AM (#28658037) Homepage

    I just played The Simpsons Game which, granted, is 2 years old, but it's still a PS3 game and has fairly decent graphics, and it was pretty funny at times. Sure, it's no Monkey Island, but hey.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 11, 2009 @02:27AM (#28658053)

    Dave Grossman left LucasArts back in 1994 -- and he's been with Telltale Games since 2005. TFA points out that he's working on Telltale's new Tales of Monkey Island series.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hyk ( 1229078 )
      After playing the first episode of Tales of Monkey Island, I can recommend it; both for its puzzles and comedy.
  • The 4th Wall (Score:2, Interesting)

    Video games can be funny, but they have to employ different kinds of humor. For example, the guys at Black Ilse have gotten me to laugh multiple times while playing Planescape Torment and Fallout 2. Fallout 2 was hands down the funniest game I have ever played, but mostly because of the utterly absurd things you could do and the continual breaking of the 4th wall, which is critical for humor in games. I think one of the major reasons why games arent funny is because developers take themselves too serious

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      I think you have hit on the key to humour in games - it needs to involve the player.

      Monkey Island's jokes were often in response to something you did. The player catapulting rocks around, repeatedly escaping from the cannibal's hut, asking silly questions, it's all the more funny because you get to generate the some of the humour yourself.

    • Fallout 2 was hands down the funniest game I have ever played, but mostly because of the utterly absurd things you could do and the continual breaking of the 4th wall, which is critical for humor in games.

      Don't ask Gizmo to 'speak louder/clearer into your pocket'.[paraphrase]
      That devolves into a 'sticky situation' quickly!

      Usually those that are stumped by other media references while playing FO2, have been asked to 'turn in their geek card' more than once on /. (getting 'Dogmeat' to join your party at the special encounter...Who is Dogmeat?)
      (hint: leave all NPC's at some town, then head for/around Navarro with either no armor, or with the 'Bridge Keeper's Robe' as armor. When you encounter the tavern...SAVE

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by X0563511 ( 793323 )

      You're kidding right? There's humor all over the place in Fallout 3. Most of it is passive - you have to be observant and notice. "Hey, whats that over there? Oh my..."

      For instance, a dead Protectron sitting on a toilet. In the bowl, is a pile of scrap metal. It hardly jumps out at you, but if you are paying attention you will notice subtle things like that.

    • An don't forget Outcast, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outcast_(video_game) [wikipedia.org]. The outtakes alone were some of the funniest video game I ever saw, all available over at Youtube.
    • I think one of the major reasons why games arent funny is because developers take themselves too seriously (witness the travesty that was oblivion with guns).

      There were several places in Fallout 3 that made me laugh out loud. Notably, the fate of the Megaton technician woman after Megaton gets nuked-- that was hilarious. I think you've devoted so much of your psyche to hating the Fallout 3, it's made you blind to the things they actually did really well.

  • Not dead entirely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Z80xxc! ( 1111479 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @02:39AM (#28658099)
    While I'd agree that humor in games is decreasing, it's definitely not dead entirely. Take, for instance, Portal. The only narration in the game is from GLaDOS (other than the turrets, but they're funny too: "hey! hey! put me down!" they yell in their funny voices). Every-other line is a wisecrack or snarky comment, and the whole thing is simultaneously hilarious and darkly sinister. I'd say humor in games is quite alive over at Valve, where there is certainly no lack of graphics and exciting physics... "in the layman's terms, speedy thing go in, speedy thing come out."
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by illaqueate ( 416118 )

      I'd guess it's declining because of common gameplay elements. Games with lots of exploration and dialogue are relatively rare these days. Most gameplay is a series of physical actions, usually punching, kicking, shooting, destroying but also jumping, climbing, racing. In those types of games either the developers have to (a) fit the comedy in non interactive cut scenes (Ratchet & Clank, Psychonauts), (b) have a running commentary from one or more of the characters (e.g. Duke Nukem) including a radio/dis

    • In Half-Life 2: Episode Two, there were more than a couple times were I cracked a smile or outright laughed. Valve has a great way with keeping you amused.

      "If you pull this off, Freeman, I might just forgive you for that incident back in Black Mesa," says Dr. Magnussun to the player. "I think you know the one, involving a certain microwave and casserole."
  • The Genre (Score:3, Informative)

    by fatp ( 1171151 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @02:51AM (#28658147) Journal
    Nowadays most games are either RTS and FPS. The most important factor is speed. Gamers simply don't have the time to admire any humor.
    • I just read that and the word "microcosm" flung itself to the front of my mind. It's probably the wrong word, but still; what a tragic reflection of our modern lives. We don't have time to laugh.
    • Nowadays most games are either RTS and FPS. The most important factor is speed. Gamers simply don't have the time to admire any humor.

      Depends. Now, you take some of the older 3D Realms FPS games like Duke Nuke, Shadow Warrior and Blood, and you'll see that speed and comedy are indeed compatible.

  • If these people think technology has the solution for humor, then they are really taking the problem too seriously!

    • by jerep ( 794296 )

      Or the game is trying to be more serious than it needs to be. Why is it that during the NES and SNES days good games were easy to come by, they had the worst graphics yet the best gameplay experiences. Today it seems most of the budget goes to impress the gamer to get them hooked on their pathetic excuse of a game.

  • If I'm flying a flight simulator the last thing I need is some poor attempt at humour interupting at the expense of the 3D graphics. The fun comes out of improving your skills at the task. However for an adventure - by which I mean any game with a storyline and plot - well placed and well done humour will keep my interest. So it does depend on the game.

    I'd say given the failure and attrition rate, the gaming industry are getting it wrong and that they need to listen to what their user wants. Humour in the r

  • Overlord 1 & 2 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by edcheevy ( 1160545 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @03:12AM (#28658221)
    No love for the minions?
  • by Dr. Hellno ( 1159307 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @03:40AM (#28658321)
    I can't think of a single game for the 360 that made me laugh out loud. Last game to do that was Psychonauts.
  • by Arainach ( 906420 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @03:53AM (#28658361)

    I attribute this mostly to the changes in the industry. It went from a dynamic environment with a wide arrangement of companies, including small shops who put personal touches (such as humor) in games to its current form.

    The industry is now filled with corporate supergiants. 99% or so of the market is locked up in companies such as SquareEnixEidos, BlizzardActivisionSierra, EA, etc. Just as in the rest of the software industry, this transition to giant corporate machines brought a mix of benefits and losses. With the focus on efficiency and professionalism, some things (easter eggs in software, humor in games) are lost.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 4D6963 ( 933028 )

      Big studio games are going the same way as big studio movies now. Some game are now just as much games as they are movies. Huge budgets, huge production teams, the same type of writers for the story as in Hollywood movies, and the same kind of voice actors too. Just look at CoD:WaW, it's all a big blockbuster movie with a big linear story that's only waiting for you to do what you're expected to do for it to proceed.

      When I was a kid I went to the Futuroscope park and saw a movie where you could choose the

    • by mishehu ( 712452 )
      And to think that the Sierra adventure games of old (Space Quest, King's Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and others) were full of humor, and look at what happened to Sierra after mergers. I'd say that it's harder to have real humor (instead of just insults/taunts) in FPS games, and certainly not in RTS games... I can also see it being quite a bit harder even still to add humor into an MMO, because the game is now more dependent on unpredictable human beings. And it seems that most games these days are FPS, RT
    • Easter eggs are one thing, but I see no reason why a corporate super-giant couldn't hire a couple of comedy writers. It's not like people don't appreciate a good bit of comedy.

  • I feel smarter, stronger, MORE AGGRESSIVE. I feel like I could... Like I could... Like I could...


    I miss "The Day of the Tentacle"...

    I guess it is easier to define a destructive algorithm than a joke generator because if jokes were predictible, they eventually would become pointless.

    I was about to write I also miss "The Incredible Toon Machine" but... hey! Isn't it "Little Big Planet" a reincarnation?
  • My view (Score:4, Insightful)

    by V50 ( 248015 ) * on Saturday July 11, 2009 @04:37AM (#28658481) Journal

    There are funny games out there (Portal, Paper Mario, Mario & Luigi, Simpsons Games), they just aren't a majority. The same way there are funny TV shows and movies, but they also aren't a majority. Although, I will say that it appear that humorous games make up a smaller percent than TV or Movies, it's still the case that it's just sort of a sub-genre.

    That being said, one reason, I feel, is that game genres are based on gameplay, not content. People shop for RPGs and FPSs, not comedy games and drama games.

    Additionally, many games, like gamers, tend to take themself too seriously. Some of the funniest moments I've had in gaming are when the joke is directed at the gamer ("I go on message boards and complain about games I've never played!" from Super Paper Mario), or when they really unexpectedly break the fourth wall (Ocelot's "And don't you dare use auto-fire, or I'll know!" from MGS).

    Judging by the video game message boards, a lot of gamers take themself really, really seriously, (the type that go on message boards and complain about games they've never played) and wouldn't appreciate having fun poked at them, or the fourth wall broken.

    Either way, I don't see it as a problem. There are humorous games out there, they just aren't a majority. Like every other medium. :)

  • Two mistakes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MemoryDragon ( 544441 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @04:40AM (#28658487)

    a) The humor has not become less, it is still there and the genres which had it still have it in the same amount. Look at the myriad of adventure games released in the last 2 years and about 30% of them have been on the comical side, while the other genres occasionally have a humorous game. Same situation as ever!

    b) Grossman does not work at Lucasarts (I think he used to work there) he works at Telltale Games and they just do exactly that, comical adventure games!

  • Wider audience? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by phorm ( 591458 )

    I wonder if part of the issue is not with games themselves, but with the audience. Previously, there was a certain demographic to a gamer that you had a good chance of hitting. Games like "Space Quest" were full of little inside bloopers, etc, taking aim at popular geek culture like Star Wars, Star Trek, computer jokes in general, etc.

    Now that the demographic is broader, a lot of players simply wouldn't get the joke. I think that when the market was smaller, there were also less watchers. Now you have to wa

    • A larger audience doesn't make a difference for books, music or movies. It shouldn't matter for games if they'd have decent writers.
  • WarioWare? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @05:06AM (#28658557) Homepage Journal

    There is a lot of talk about repetitiveness, but as I was thinking about funny games the WarioWare series came to mind.

    It's repetitive and you're doing the same type of stuff over and over, but it's still a very amusing game. And it does have a lot of humor in there and even some laugh out loud moments.

  • by thetoadwarrior ( 1268702 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @05:08AM (#28658561) Homepage
    Humour requires good writers. Publishers and developers rarely pay for good writers.

    Anything cartoonish or artistic is more expensive. It requires imagination, more artistic talent and, it's harder to recycle stylised assets where as a realistic human, tree, building, etc will look the same in all games.

    Between western developers complete lack of imagination and the shitty business model for video games, asking for humour within gaming is a lost cause.
    • by hackerjoe ( 159094 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @06:12AM (#28658791)

      Speaking as someone in the industry...

      Nobody but the cheapest developers recycle assets. Slight differences in pipeline, technology, art direction, etc. conspire to make it not happen even if you're trying to share assets between projects.

      Also, decent writers will work for peanuts. One or two narrative designers who are being paid as much as a mid-level designer make little difference to the bottom line on a team of 50-200 developers. Getting everyone to agree on who the good writer is, well, that's harder... getting a substantial team of designers who all have different senses of humour to form some kind of consensus and maintain a shared, consistent vision with the writer, that's nigh impossible.

      • by Hatta ( 162192 ) *

        getting a substantial team of designers who all have different senses of humour to form some kind of consensus and maintain a shared, consistent vision with the writer, that's nigh impossible.

        Why is Hollywood so much better at it?

        • Why is Hollywood so much better at it?

          If I had to guess, I'd say probably fewer people in the critical path -- a couple actors, a writer, and a director, rather than a producer and team of 5-20 designers (including lead and narrative) -- and the fact that you're generally producing less hours of content with a film, so each hour can be more polished, and that you live and die on story and humour, rather than gameplay.

          But I'm not in film, and although I've been in games for a while and know a bit about how

        • by cyxxon ( 773198 )
          Hollywood is better at this? Most of the movies of the last decade were just unfunny, mostly for being over the top. I cringed in my seat when I watched the last Transformers movie because of the really bad, unfunny jokes. Good action, good effects, but humor? Not in the big mainstream movies...
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dutch Gun ( 899105 )

          Why is Hollywood so much better at it?

          Hollywood has, in theory at least if not in practice, the concept of a job - the director - who is responsible for the final vision of the product, and generally has the authority to carry out this vision.

          Western-style game development, in many studios I've worked at at least, has no such equivalent. The lead game designer is often no more than the head of a single department among the four main disciplines of game development (programming, art, design, and audio). Very often, *producers* are actually in

  • There were tons and tons of gags through the whole game, but who can forget The Great Mighty Poo [youtube.com] the coolest video game boss ever?

  • I think the guys at Insomniac Games do a really good job of mixing humor with action. Ratchet and Clank is 1 of my all time favorite series on the Playstation.
  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted@slashdot ... minus physicist> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @06:08AM (#28658779)

    As we know, realism is what you use, to show the world on the outside of our minds.
    But humor happens on the inside. The side that is usually described trough abstract things.

    So what we need, are more abstract games. Which A am saying for a long time.
    Look at how successful Kongregate.com is. (Called the YouTube of Flash games.)
    Many if not most of their games are pretty abstract. Which forces developers, to come up with a good basic gameplay mechanic. You can't just hide your incompetence and lack of humor with pretty graphics and realistic worlds. Because Flash is too slow to allow it.

    Of course, a good game also has beautiful aesthetics, a good story, and innovative technology. Additionally to the best mechanics.
    Then even great humor is no problem at all.

    In my opinion, the best place for such games, is the Wii. Because of the added controller technology. And because it also is a bit weak on the graphics side.
    I bet a game with a crazy but self-confident humor like the Monty Python's one, combined with a specific artistic style that does not require big graphics, and a good set of mechanics behind it, would sell like crazy. Add a story to it that drags people with it, and you got your place in history books, reviving the whole genre of funny games.

    In my opinion, there are no excuses. There is just the laziness of adding the newest graphics to sequel 5000 of a series or very similar games, and expecting to get a good game out of it. :)

  • So many funny games! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by YourExperiment ( 1081089 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @06:28AM (#28658829)

    There have been masses of funny games since the days of text adventures. Duke Nukem, Max Payne, Grand Theft Auto, Fallout, Portal, Team Fortress. If the article is right, and creating humour in modern games really is harder than it was in the old days, then the designers must be doing a damn good job.

    Oh, and I couldn't let an article about humour in games go by without mentioning Rom Check Fail [farbs.org]. No-one who loves MAME or old arcade classics could fail to find it amusing!

  • by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @06:39AM (#28658859)

    Humor, at its most basic level, is simply the end result of doing something other than what you set your audience up to expect. However, humor is also highly subjective. Because of this, you either have to adapt to your audience's tastes or you have to cater to a very small group of like-minded people. This means producing a large-scale interactive experience based on humor is extremely difficult to pull-off. As a result, the "humor" that ends up in such products usually ends up either watered down for a broad audience or made so abrasive that it only appeals to children (or anyone else) who enjoys "fart" jokes.

    At this point, the best anyone has come up with are complicated dialog trees that involve input from the user to meet the user's approximate tastes.

    Fortunately, this could change once technologies, like Microsoft's Project Natal, arrive on the scene. This will give programmers a way to gauge a user's reaction to something on-screen and then immediately adapt to it to help push the envelope further into the desired direction.

  • At least part of the reason for the decline in humor is that there has been a shift in focus from quality writing to things like 3d modeling, game physics, and texture work. That's my opinion, anyway.

    In the old days, you didn't have the advantage of high resolution models and fancy special effects to bowl over your audience. You had to wow your audience with great writing. I think many developers have forgotten this.

  • eh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ae1294 ( 1547521 )

    I remember paying a game called NOX that was pretty funny. It's a RPG where the guy gets his TV stolen for no reason at the beginning.

  • The only games I can think of with really good humour are anything in the Paper Mario series, and Portal. I'm sure there must be more, but nothing else springs to mind.
  • The lack of comedy in games isn't confined to games. Most mass media that's intended to be funny really isn't. I can count on one hand the number of funny sitcoms on TV (in the US, I don't watch much foreign language TV.) You could do something similar with comedy movies, or the light moments in otherwise serious movies. It's a general failure to which games are also susceptible. I agree with some of the assessments from others in the thread, too, especially about timing being key.

    However, I would like

  • Space Quest 3, Leisure Suit Larry, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max, Katamari Damacy, Psychonauts, Ratchet & Clank, Super Mario RPG, these games have lots of humor in a wide variety of ways. Humor's always been there and done right, it's just that not a lot of people bother since they're trying to provide a visceral experience and not one that is simply just entertaining. It depends on the type of game you want, but you can definitely find it.
  • Ghostbusters (Score:3, Insightful)

    by introspekt.i ( 1233118 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @10:48AM (#28659995)
    I got plenty of laughs out of the new ghostbusters games. It was all what the other (NPC) characters were saying. Dialog will always be a key to humor.
  • No One Lives Forever was hilarious! A great first person shooter in it's own right, the dialog was really funny. It was a parody of spy movies of the 60's and had very amusing dialog between enemy thugs that you'd be sneaking up upon. I recall a lengthy dialog on the psychology of beer and criminality as well as one on faulty space station construction (after numerous accidents they "spaced" the design engineer"), not to mention the danger of "excessive simian casualties".

  • by BitwizeGHC ( 145393 ) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @01:53PM (#28661633) Homepage

    Humor in games seems only a problem with Western franchises, where being gritty and gory is almost a requirement. Anyone who's played a few Japanese games -- Katamari Damacy, any of the Mario RPG series, for instance -- will see that they've become quite facile with humor in a game context.

    In Gokujou Parodius there is a point in the high-speed highway level where a "falling rocks" type road sign will appear, and moments later rocks will tumble out of the sky to crush your ship. Then a "deer crossing" type of sign will appear and you have to dodge the hail of falling deer. After that a sign with just an exclamation point appears, and I bet you can guess what happens next.

    Three massive exclamation points tumble out of the sky.

    It was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen in a video game, and I laughed so hard I was completely thrown off.

  • I've always enjoyed Sierra's Space Quest series. No other game series I can think of had "taste" and "smell" as valid commands. "This rough area tastes strangely like blood. Oh, that is blood. You've shredded your tongue. Your mother should've warned you about licking strange areas." Gary Owens was a great narrator.

    For a more subtle brand of humour, Sierra's Quest for Glory series was great. The subject matter was often serious, but the developers threw in plenty of awful puns and simply bizarre non-sequitu

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