If dying is easy, and comedy is hard… what is comedy about dying? You can put comedy into your game dialog, or through your design, but enough generalities. In honor of Damion Schubert, who wrote about putting comedy in games, today I’ll explore how to successfully integrate comedy into combat itself without resorting to dialog.
Combat animations if well done can add lots of opportunities for humor. Here are just a few examples.
- Combat abilities — When specializing your character in an RPG or mastering moves in a fighting game, you often choose the path that will give you the most power. All else being equal, however, you may also choose on which you think is funniest. For example, in Virtua Fighter (I believe), I enjoyed playing Drunken Master because it was funny watching him weave in and out while he tried to fight.
- Combat effects — You’ve just knocked your opponent into next week. Why not get some laughs out of it as well? I played a game where every time I defeated someone, I got a humorous line about how he died. I can’t think of any humorous effects in animation that I’ve seen of late, besides out-and-out turning people into sheep! Can you think of something?
Animations alone do not make a good combat. The systems themselves can offer humor by repetition and unpredictability.
- Unpredictability – In 2nd edition Dungeons & Dragons, I believe, there was a system called Wild Magic. If you used Wild Magic, or cast spells in a Wild Magic zone, you might have had to endure unpredictable consequences. You might accidentally cast a different spell, or you might suddenly summon, a la Hitchhiker’s Guide, a giant whale. Humor definitely ensued, although it could be frustrating for some players. Used judiciously, unpredictability in the game system can add humor to the game.
- Repetition – Repetition is a comedy technique, and since combat is so oft-repeated, actions that seem regular at first might become humorous the 3rd or 5th time you do it. Unfortunately, this can backfire when you go on the 100th Kill Ten Rats quest. To avoid banality, take advantage of the repetition of an ability at lower levels, then have a more powerful, humorous version appear at higher levels as a “callback.”
- Rarity – Rarity can combine with the above two techniques to create tension and comic release. For example, in the pen and paper game Rolemaster, if you critically hit someone or critically fumble, you must then refer to the critical hit charts. When we played D&D, we would still use the Rolemaster critical hit charts because they were funny. We were always holding out for the rare one, #69: “You hit the opponent in the groin area. All are stunned for two rounds in sympathy.” Loved that!
Especially in multi-player combat, the social group can amp the comedy. If a player’s avatar does something humorous during a critical fumble or when particularly pwned, fellow players will laugh, or at least go “Ouch!” in sympathy. I remember watching two people over LAN playing HEXEN, when one of them turned the other into a chicken. The “chicken” was trying to play it off as no big deal, but all his avatar could do was run away and cluck like a chicken the whole time!
Again, this post only scratches the surface of the opportunities for humor in games, especially combat. Have you come across any great examples of humor in games?