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Why Video Games Are Having a Harder Time With Humor

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the moo-moomoo-moo-moomoomoo-mooooooo dept.

Games 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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202 comments

How appropriate (1, Redundant)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658005)

You fight like a dairy farmer.

Re:How appropriate (5, Insightful)

hyk (1229078) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658145)

You've mixed the lines. It's:

Insult: You fight like a dairy farmer!
Retort: How appropriate, you fight like a cow.

Re:How appropriate (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658189)

It sure is funny now that you've explained it to us.

Re:How appropriate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658337)

On what world is correcting a quote the same as explaining a joke?

Re:How appropriate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658391)

The world that we came from, obviously!

Re:How appropriate (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28659075)

It's well known that all AC's come from uranus.

Maybe TF2 for inspiration? (3, Informative)

Ash.D.Giles (1278606) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Maybe TF2 for inspiration? (5, Interesting)

boshi (612264) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658155)

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.

Re:Maybe TF2 for inspiration? (4, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Maybe TF2 for inspiration? (3, Interesting)

nmb3000 (741169) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658261)

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.

Re:Maybe TF2 for inspiration? (3, Informative)

BakaHoushi (786009) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658915)

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.

Re:Maybe TF2 for inspiration? (4, Funny)

TypoNAM (695420) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Maybe TF2 for inspiration? (1)

beowulfcluster (603942) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658287)

World of Warcraft has been pretty succesful for a game with graphics that are more cartoony than realistic as well.

Re:Maybe TF2 for inspiration? (1)

Ash.D.Giles (1278606) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658677)

Sure, there are lots of games that aren't cutting edge graphics and are still great games. I'm not trying to trot out that old point. The interesting thing I found with TF2 was that it *was* graphically impressive. It took the progress that had been made in graphics and aimed it in a different direction to the realism that every other game had sought. And that visual tone carried through into the gameplay. It sought to provide a light-hearted (comic even) environment in which to play that same old CTF mechanic.

I have a reason..... (4, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658029)

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:I have a reason..... (2, Insightful)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658071)

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.

Re:I have a reason..... (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658175)

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

Re:I have a reason..... (1)

rts008 (812749) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658453)

...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]

Re:I have a reason..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658083)

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.

Good point. With graphics, most people would accept seeing the same thing over. With narration/jokes/etc, I doubt they will.

Moreover, games just don't appear to be desirable for writers to work on. Seems that they would rather work in an environment where their writing has a much more central role to the experience they are providing (ie, movies, television, books, etc).

Re:I have a reason..... (1)

Kaeso (1275972) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658137)

Of course some games are funny (Super Paper Mario had some great jokes), and even Smash Brothers Brawl made me laugh a few times.

I can't help but notice that the game you single out for being funny is not a game that seeks to "deliver a more realistic experience to the player" with detailed 3D graphics; in many ways it is in fact a "text-driven adventure."

Re:I have a reason..... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658141)

Kotaku are just upset because of how unlikable they are. It says so here in their personnel file: Unlikable. Liked by no one. A bitter, unlikable loner site whose passing shall not be mourned. 'Shall not be mourned.' That's exactly what it says. Very formal. Very official. It also says they were adopted. So that's funny, too.

Re:I have a reason..... (1)

Yeef (978352) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658233)

Portal was indeed an amusing game. I haven't played Eat Lead (and probably never will) but from the videos I've seen it looks pretty funny as well (the gameplay doesn't look very good though).

Re:I have a reason..... (3, Insightful)

Triv (181010) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658191)

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:I have a reason..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658491)

Oh goodness, i remember spending quite a few hours trying to get through the second "trippy" zone. Couldn't make that jump for the life of me, and that was after getting through the maze. You must have some "mad skill" as they say.

Re:I have a reason..... (2, Interesting)

rts008 (812749) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658551)

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?)
5. A playable Demo, available as a download. I want to see if it is worth my $$$!

Nice graphics are...well, nice. But not essential to the enjoyment of the game.

I recall many hours spent with:
Flanker Su-27 SCE
Tom Clancy's SSN
Front Mission 3 (for Playstation 1, ran on my PC with Connectix's Virtual Game Station emulator for Win98)
Fallout 1 & 2 (currently playing Fallout 2...AGAIN!... in WINE on my Kubuntu box on another desktop)
Excom

Graphics were the least of my concerns while playing the above games.
And humour abounds in the Fallout series, but it can be subtle and obscure at times. (I've heard that it continues with Fallout 3!)

Although I have no experience with either of the games, Mario***, and Zelda*** also come to mind here.

Individual hairs moving is great from a technology standpoint, and eventually will be demanded, but...focus on this stuff at the detriment of why the game exists/is in-production now seems silly.
It seems like a 'foot shooting festival'.

*disclaimer: I am a customer for your games if I can run them in *nix, otherwise I can be dismissed as a customer of yours!*

Re:I have a reason..... (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658699)

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!)

Re:I have a reason..... (3, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:I have a reason..... (1)

Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658209)

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.

Re:I have a reason..... (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#28659055)

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.

Leisure Suit Larry made me laught every time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658259)

in my pants ;)

Re:I have a reason..... (0, Redundant)

feepness (543479) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658519)

Because video games by nature are repetitive, and when you've heard the same joke for the thirteenth time,

In soviet Russia, joke gets tired of you!

secret to humor (5, Insightful)

baby_robots (990618) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:secret to humor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658177)

There is a joke here, right? I've never posted anything to slashdot but i'm sure the sentence "Do you want to know what the secret to humor is timing." is a joke. Read it. I laughed, idk. Insightful maybe, but funny, definately.

Re:secret to humor (1)

anthony.vo (1581427) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658195)

Who wants to hear the same jokes over and over anyways?

Re:secret to humor (1)

Quothz (683368) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658265)

Who wants to hear the same jokes over and over anyways?

Well, Kingdom of Loathing players.

You ask this question... on slashdot?!? (1)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658685)

In Soviet Russia... overlords... Natalie Portman... hot grits... like a ferrari... fixed that for you...

Most really good comedies withstand repeat viewings or even improve over time. Lots of stuff... I was going to reel it off but it's pretty much all by Zucker Abrahams Zucker, Mel Brooks, Mike Judge or Mike Meyers.

Re:secret to humor (2, Insightful)

BobisOnlyBob (1438553) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658199)

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!!!". Books have their epics, light romances, comedies and everything - games only seem to have "epics" and "casual puzzling/arcading" nowadays. The lack of alternatives is worrying.

Some modern games which can play comedy well are the Ace Attorney games on the DS. Now THEY know how to tell a joke, even if it is in the middle of a muder trial. But again, even they use the "Choose an option: game takes control" path. A lack of dynamics.

YES! (4, Insightful)

kklein (900361) | more than 4 years ago | (#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! (4, Insightful)

captjc (453680) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:YES! (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658891)

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.

Re: Monkey Island (1)

Kensai7 (1005287) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658929)

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.

Ya (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658991)

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 silly song we were playing in band and one part of it just really sounded like a drinking song. This lead to various chatter about drunken trombone playing (I was a trombone player) and to me proceeding to play the part in a goofy, drunken fashion (slurring notes, staggering about, etc). This was met with general amusement by those watching but what sold it, what turned it from something amusing to making everyone busting out laughing was a small matter of timing. 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 seemed real interesting to me at the time and in retrospect that such a small thing could be so funny. Somehow adding a delay there just conjured up the proper image of a drunk in people's heads and sold the bit. Wouldn't have worked arbitrarily either, just delaying a random note wouldn't have done it, nor would have an excessive delay. For some reason, a small delay right in that point sold the funny to most people.

Thus I think you are quite right, true comedy isn't the sort of thing that can be delivered well in an interactive format. You can have an amusing game, and you can have comedic moments in a game (in cutscenes mainly) but you can't really have a game that is effectively a whole comedy because timing is so important.

Re:secret to humor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658587)

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

Dude. If you're going to ask me to guess, you need to give some time to answer. You need to practice your timing.

Re:secret to humor (0, Troll)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658881)

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

Control of what? In any comedy club, every patron is in control of themselves, their conversation, their focus, their interest, etc. The comedian is in control of the comedy (s)he's performing, and some other things, but not all. If there's a game where the player is in control of EVERYTHING and it can still be called a game, I'd love to see it.

Re:secret to humor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658965)

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.

Of course the Comedian isn't in control. Adrian Veidt threw him through a window. He died when he hit the pavement.

I'm not much of a gamer, but... (3, Interesting)

Jethro (14165) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658037)

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.

Whatta ya mean not funny? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658045)

Your mom must be a knob goblin because she helped me reach Orc Chasm.

Hilarity ensues.

Grossman's with Telltale, not LucasArts! (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Grossman's with Telltale, not LucasArts! (3, Informative)

hyk (1229078) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658153)

After playing the first episode of Tales of Monkey Island, I can recommend it; both for its puzzles and comedy.

The 4th Wall (2, Interesting)

hyperion2010 (1587241) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658059)

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 seriously (witness the travesty that was oblivion with guns).

Re:The 4th Wall (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658609)

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 Humour (1)

rts008 (812749) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658663)

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 GAME!!!!, then worry about armor, NPC's, and "Charisma' to get Dogmeat to join your party.

Offtopic, BTW:

I found it interesting that Ron Perlman served as 'voice actor' as the narrator in FO1, FO2, and FO3.
I'll have to dig out my FO:BoS disc and see if Ron is the narrator for that as well.

Re:The 4th Wall (2, Informative)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658727)

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.

Re:The 4th Wall (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28659053)

My favorite funny moment in Fallout 3 : Fallout 3, a very special door [youtube.com]

Probably isn't as funny not in context of finding this after wandering the wasteland for hours.

Not dead entirely (4, Insightful)

Z80xxc! (1111479) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Not dead entirely (2, Interesting)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658323)

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/disembodied variant (Portal) (c) parody/slapstick in the visuals/action (e.g. God Hand)

The great humor based games were adventure games that rely on dialogue/environmental exploration. Recent games that do have dialogue/exploration tend to follow the western RPG formula of the faceless hero and/or have poor writing, an issue with games in general that hinders dialogue, story, character development in addition to humor. From what I've read Fallout 3 had a lot of quest dialogue written by developers which isn't going to be up to the standard of the dialogue choices in earlier games written by professional writers.

On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658111)

The two episodes of the Penny Arcade games have been quite humorous - enough even to get my significant other involved. Though sadly games like these are only rarities, and certainly the humour may only appeal to certain senses.

Re:On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658179)

Yeah, I think the problem is most people who call themselves "gamers" don't have a sense of humor.

timing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658129)

The problem is timing. For most jokes to be funny they require timing and to be seen or heard. This means when the joke occurs the player must be looking in the right direction, at the right time without feeling forced. Also (more importantly) the jokes have to actually be funny. A few games have pulled this off quite well. Most recently Ghostbusters.

The Genre (3, Informative)

fatp (1171151) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658147)

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.

Re:The Genre (1)

Dr. Hellno (1159307) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658279)

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.

Re:The Genre (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658909)

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.

Technology doesn't make things funny. (1)

v(*_*)vvvv (233078) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658187)

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

Re:Technology doesn't make things funny. (1)

jerep (794296) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658761)

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.

Depends on the game (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658193)

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 right context makes the game more fun. That is the only reason to play any game. It's fun. If it's not, it'll tank.

Anachronox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658225)

Hands down the funniest video game ever made. Not just "video game funny", but truly funny. It's amazing how they managed to blend dead serious and even emotionally touching scenes with fantastic humour.

Serious Sam (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658237)

Running into the boss room and seeing this very ugly, gorgon monster thing and Sam says "Oh my, what's my ex-wife doing here?!" is still one the of funniest lines I've heard in a game.

I have to admit (2)

Dr. Hellno (1159307) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Because the Industry is no longer Funny (3, Insightful)

Arainach (906420) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Because the Industry is no longer Funny (2, Interesting)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658525)

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 unfolding by voting on the branching of the story. Big budget video games these days tend to be the same way, except that instead of voting you have to destroy 3 tanks and advance to a checkpoint. And more often than not you have little control on the outcome of the story, you just try it again until you succeed.

I feel smarter, stronger, MORE AGGRESSIVE. (2, Interesting)

roger_pasky (1429241) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658369)

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

CONQUER THE WORLD!!!


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?

Re:I feel smarter, stronger, MORE AGGRESSIVE. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658379)

"Take on the world!"
*lightning strike*

Wow, at least get it right.

Re:I feel smarter, stronger, MORE AGGRESSIVE. (1)

roger_pasky (1429241) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658565)

You are right!!! 16 years is a loooong period to remember every single word, but 19 out of 21 wasn't that bad.

A secondary effect about lack of funny games is alzheimer increase levels ;-)

Let them come back. They could be better than "Brain Training"

Humor == Risk (1)

bmecoli (963615) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658383)

Humor is subjective. Some people will find a joke hilarious, some will find it offensive, and others won't even get the joke. Modern games today have extremely huge budgets compared to games of old, and publishers see humor based games as a risk. In this case humor falls under the same umbrella as innovation. Publishers can't afford a humor based game that only a small amount of gamers will find funny, or even worse, drive most of them away.

Re:Humor == Risk (2, Insightful)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658555)

When you make something like a video game, music or a movie for a very wide audience you have to aim for the lowest common denominator. Humour and the lowest common denominator of very wide audiences doesn't mix well. That's why huge Hollywood comedies are to comedy as easy listening/pop is to music, and why they feature subtle comedians such as Adam Sandler or Martin Lawrence.

Conkers Bad Fur Day (1)

Skythe (921438) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658385)

Rare did a pretty good job with this. The fact that I looked at the title of the RSS feed and automatically associated the story with Conkers Bad Fur Day before reading the summary attests to that fact.

I actually showed my friend a few videos from it on youtube last week, and he said "why did I never play this game"?
Just a real shame Nintendo let MS buy Rare, they may have pumped out some pretty awesome titles if they were still developing for them.

My view (3, Insightful)

V50 (248015) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658481)

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 (4, Interesting)

MemoryDragon (544441) | more than 4 years ago | (#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? (2, Insightful)

phorm (591458) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658505)

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 watch out for PR squads of doom, who are ready to have you tarred and feathered for things like the "hot coffee" incident, etc.

Face it. Games aren't (just) for geeks anymore. Sure, certain games may still have that target, but overall the market has been saturated by "big corporate players" in the production end, and "soccer moms and dads" in the consumer end.

Re:Wider audience? (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658573)

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? (2, Interesting)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658557)

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.

Humour is too expensive (3, Insightful)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658561)

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.

Re:Humour is too expensive (4, Interesting)

hackerjoe (159094) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28658563)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suydUkhCWkM

Ratchet and Clank (1)

Huntr (951770) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658693)

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.

Yes, it *is* because of realism. (2, Insightful)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#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! (2, Interesting)

YourExperiment (1081089) | more than 4 years ago | (#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!

It's actually pretty simple... (2, Interesting)

Bones3D_mac (324952) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Shift in focus... (1)

dr_wheel (671305) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658873)

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 (1, Insightful)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#28658947)

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.

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