Video Games Should Be Funnier, Says Tim Schafer

Tim Schafer addressed a packed crowd at the NYU Game centre Thursday night, sharing his thoughts on the current state of the gaming industry and answering fan questions with his trademark wit and charm.

"It's not that stressful to get a whole bunch of money all of a sudden," Schafter said, responding to a question about the pressure that may grow out of the need to please the 87,139 backers who helped fund his next game. "It's kind of relaxing."

Some two hundred students and fans came out to see the legendary designer speak about his work on games like Psychonauts and The Secret of Monkey Island. Schafer also discussed the nature of adventure games, his personal favourite titles and the importance of doing the one thing that many developers fail to do -- making people laugh.

Schafer didn't give any specifics on his $US3.3 million point-and-click adventure game, though he did assure the crowd that it will be in 2D (because it's cheaper). He promised that it would be true to the nature of adventure games, as nostalgic Kickstarter backers might demand. But it will also have new ideas, he added -- because "people like to be surprised".

And -- like all of Schafer-helmed studio Double Fine's projects -- the upcoming crowdfunded adventure game will aim to be funny.

If you go and ask a game development team why they're not making funny games, Schafer said, half-joking, they'd say it's because nobody's made one that sold very much. "Comedy's really scary," he said. But it's also really necessary.

"If the game is not funny, you're missing something," he said, telling the crowd how he used comedy as a tool to solve problems in The Secret of Monkey Island. While working as a programmer/writer at developer Lucasfilm, Schafer was tasked with writing the scene where protagonist Guybrush Threepwood and Governor Elaine Marley meet on the beach and fall in love. In five lines.

"You can't write a serious scene that has a pirate and a governor fall in love in five lines," Schafer said. "Humour is a tool to cover up the fact that this is not a solvable problem."

So he wrote the scene as if it were a joke, peppering the dialogue with terms like "honey pumpkin" and "plunder bunny". Without that humour, it wouldn't have worked. But by playing it up to absurd proportions, Schafer was able to throw logic under the rug and leave players laughing instead of scratching their heads.

"If you don't have anything funny to say about a situation, the player will realise something's fake," Schafer said, bringing up the oft-cited pot-smashing of Zelda games, in which you can destroy and steal from peoples' homes with reckless abandon. When those townspeople don't react, the illusion is broken. Suddenly you realise that you're playing a video game.

Speaking at the NYU Game centre in Manhattan last night, Tim Schafer showed off a prototype for a cancelled Double Fine game that used emotions like anger and fear as puzzle-solving tools.

Maybe that's why Schafer has fallen in love with what he calls "wacky Japanese games" -- titles like Katamari Damacy, LocoRoco and Okami. Even when they're melodramatic, those types of games still never seem to take themselves too seriously. And they're atmospheric, Schafer points out. They're packed with emotions.

"Those things that the King of All Cosmos says are just so crazy," Schafer said, referring to the planet-sized Katamari character.

Last year, Schafer and his team developed a prototype for a narrative-heavy game that was quite literally driven by emotions. Instead of using verbs or commands to solve puzzles in the Kinect-controlled adventure game, players would use gestures to manipulate characters' feelings, forcing them into emotions like fear, anger, and love. The publisher backed out after the final prototype, so we'll probably never see that game, Schafer said.

One fan asked Schafer what he thought of the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy. Though the designer said he hasn't paid much attention for fear of spoilers -- he still hasn't even beaten Mass Effect 2 -- he mused that he "always winds up defending the author" in situations like this.

"Games aren't made by an autonomous robot," Schafer said, "they're made by people. And those people have a point of view on the world and that's interesting. Connecting with those people is what makes art art for me."


Comments

    If anything, games need to be more serious (or at least some of them). Wheres the ''Dog day afternoon'' or ''Godfather'' of the gaming industry??
    What we need is some well crafted experiences that dont make a mockery out of everything.

      I agree on that point, but when a game gets serious it stops being 'fun' and starts being 'entertaining'. I think that Schafer has always gone for fun, which I feel is something more games should aim to be - Or more specifically, more games aimed at adults. I think that there is a place for serious games and a place for comedic games, but there's way too much hovering in the middle.

    The problem is, you need funny people to put comedy in games. If you have them, you end up with Psychonauts or Portal. If you don't, you end up with Duke Nukem Forever.

    Play Metro 2033 Kr3isen

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