Keyboard Geniuses

You Don't Know Jack

Make With The Funny

Highlights from the week’s comment threads.

By Matt Gerardi • July 6, 2012

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

Dragonborn Of All Trades
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dawnguard

In his review, Drew Toal noted that Dawnguard, the new expansion pack for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, lets players add either vampire lord or vampire hunter to your character’s already sprawling résumé. Doyourealize likewise lamented the emergence of Skyrim’s “everyone can be everything” approach:

I don’t know if this a cliche (or even fanboy) argument, but the first Elder Scrolls game I played was Morrowind. I had to start it five times over the course of a couple years to finally get somewhere in the game, and thus, appreciate it fully. When I finally did begin to love it, I wandered for hours, completing quests and learning the ins and outs, before I practically stumbled onto the story and had an “Oh, that’s what I’m doing” moment. But I didn’t need that moment, at least not yet. The world gave my charismatic thief plenty to do without it.

And that’s what I was, a charismatic thief. I could talk anyone into doing anything for me, pickpocket them after I picked their lock, and sneak around their backs as they guarded entrances. I could not, however, run up to a group of enemies and expect to survive. I had to pick them off one by one.

Oblivion and Skyrim lost that, I think, and all the additions, meant to make the game more mainstream, took something away from the sense that the world existed with or without you there. Now, the world levels with you, and you can go to any store when your level is high enough, and get the most powerful armor. In Morrowind, I had to wait to almost the end game before I could pick up glass armor (which I stole right in front of the shopkeeper’s eyes, thank you very much). Now, anyone can pick a lock, persuade someone, and, as Drew points out, join any guild.

I’m all for “Invisible Walls”. If I’m not supposed to go there yet, put some creature in my way I have no chance of defeating until much later. If one house is feuding with another, don’t let me be the champion of both. Make me feel like my character’s different from everyone else’s.

It must be a tough call for developers. Surely they want to impart a unique experience on each player, but when you spend millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours crafting something, perhaps the desire to have that content seen wins over. 

The Other Side
Dragon Age: Origins - "The Darkspawn Chronicles"

In an On The Level column this week, Drew Toal also broke down Dragon Age: Origins’ “The Darkspawn Chronicles,” an add-on to the original game that gives players control of the bad guys during the final battle and pits them against the characters they’ve grown to love. Caspiancomic provided some more games that include an interesting take on the “play as the bad guys” scenario:

Getting to see the other side of the story is always kind of a treat in these sorts of games. Off the top of my head, New Game Plus mode in Nier allows you (the player, not the characters) to understand the guttural gibberish of the Shades, the amorphous clouds of darkness that your party slaughters by the thousands throughout the game. Contrary to the opinion of the characters, the Shades are actually sentient and articulate, and your party inflicts some truly ghastly horrors against them without even realizing it. Chilling stuff.

Also, this wouldn’t be a comment from caspiancomic without mentioning Suikoden. In pretty much all of the games [in the Suikoden series], there’s right and wrong to be found on both sides of the story’s driving conflict (although less so as the series goes on), but Suikoden III really takes the cake in this category. (Spoilery, I guess? This game is like 10 years old) You play the game from the perspective of multiple characters, and if you fulfill the usual bonus objective of the series (recruiting all 108 Stars of Destiny), you unlock an extra viewpoint—that of the game’s main antagonist. It isn’t a full replay of the game from the villain’s perspective, but you get a pretty good sense of who the villain is, why he made the decisions he did, and how he struggles with his choices.

Who’s This Jack Guy, Anyway?
Steve Heinrich, You Don't Know Jack head writer

Our interview series with icons of video game humor continued this week with Steve Heinrich, the head of the You Don’t Know Jack series. In the comments, Girard shared a great story about one of game’s unique reactions to player choices:  

We should start a thread about moments that most surprised and delighted us in these games. I can think of two. In the very first game, I was playing through with a friend I had played with several times before. Suddenly, one question became a “fiber-optic field trip,” a type we’d never encountered previously, where the host calls someone at their home and they come up with a question. While the conceit was funny in itself, was made it memorable was that it came out of nowhere, and afterward we NEVER had a fiber-optic field trip again. It made us feel like we had encountered something truly unique and rare—perhaps even secret—in the game.

The other surprise is a bit funnier. One New Year’s Eve, when playing The Ride, a particularly vulgar friend typed their name as “Fuck.” The host chastised us for our aggressive coarseness, decided we weren’t mature enough to play the game, and the game auto-quitted. We chuckled, and double-clicked the icon to start it up again. We were met with a black screen, and the host telling us, “Nice try, but I’m sure you haven’t learned your lesson yet,” and the game immediately quit again. We had to wait a solid five minutes, then tried again, and we were allowed to play, with a gentle reminder to leave the “funny business” to the host.

These games were so well-designed in terms of surprising you and reacting to your choices and actions in often unexpected ways. Through ingenuity and charisma, they created an interactive space and character a million times more convincing than the most sophisticated AI scientists have managed to develop.

In a follow-up, Cliffy73 reasoned that this sensation of the game reacting to your choices is behind much of the Jack games’ appeal:

The genius of the game, as Jellyvision well knows, is all the effort put in to making it seem like you were dealing with real people, reacting like people would. I fell in love with the game when the software store I worked at in ’95 first got the demo, but I remember being astounded later, playing a later version, when it asked a question based on a wrong answer I’d given a few minutes earlier.

Perhaps not the greatest technical challenge, but a brilliant insight by the developers. Whenever my family and I played Trivial Pursuit, we always saw connections between answers from round to round and made fun of the people who didn’t pick up on them. Having the game do it suddenly humanized it in a way that you couldn’t ignore.

Elsewhere in the comments, AHyperkineticLagomorph chimed in on a conversation about games that use comedy to keep themselves from being too self-serious, providing some examples of titles that do it well: 

I agree that games need to lighten up quite a bit. To me, taking your game, or anything really, with total dire, straight-faced seriousness is a total crime. Metal Gear Solid is the perfect example of a game that has a serious message but isn’t afraid to point out just how absolutely silly all that serious can be. From Solid Snake pointing out he has “unlimited ammo” in Sons Of Liberty to the Colonel telling you that Meryl’s codec frequency is on the back of the [game’s physical] box, a little meta humor can go a long way.

Another of my favorite “humor” games is No One Lives Forever.  You have your required terrorist organization holding the world hostage, biological weapons, and loads of action scenes that you could take straight out of any action flick. It also has a psychedelic ’60s color scheme, guards in bright jumpsuits talking about everything from sex to criminal psychology, and laugh out loud jokes hidden in documents all throughout the world. Today the game has dated graphics and while the gameplay is still great, most of what it does has been done better elsewhere, but the tone, the humor still stands the test of time.

Over at Kotaku, editor Kate Cox commented that perhaps Facebook, the latest home of You Don’t Know Jack, is just the thing comedy games need to thrive. 

In some ways, [Facebook is] the perfect venue for comedy games. Facebook is terrible for telling stories in games, but the ability to update on the fly keeps humor fresh and current. Old jokes can disappear before they get stale, and new ones can be added while they’re still funny. And being on Facebook, in the middle of your stream of everyone’s daily lives and up-to-the-minute updates, changes to stay on top of the day’s or week’s news feel organic and well-placed.

That does it for another week in The Gameological Society. Thanks for reading and, of course, commenting.

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396 Responses to “Make With The Funny”

  1. Effigy_Power says:

    Maybe it’s the age of achievement points, but somehow I want to be mentioned more, for all the non-existent value this has.
    “I need to find the last 400 drug packets in order to get that achievement!”
    “I need to impress comment cat with some more witty banter!”
    Yupp. The same. And I am feverishly chasing both.

    • Staggering Stew Bum says:

      I’m still not decided whether the achievement age is a good thing or a bad thing. Achievement hunting has made me waste countless hours slogging through a lot of crappy games I would otherwise have given up on hours earlier in order to get the trophies. Yet on the other hand it’s also made me try out harder difficulties in games I love in order to get all of the trophies, which has often given me a warm fuzzy feeling on completion.

      I occasionally have moments of clarity where I realise I’m wasting hours in games finding the equivalent ‘400 drug packets’ as you put it, and resolve from now on to just play stuff I enjoy. But I often relapse. While tracking down 160-odd wanted posters in Mafia 2 a few weeks back (even though I didn’t particularly like the game but had gone that far and wanted the platinum to justify my wasted hours) I had another sobering moment that I was wasting my life.

      Will I be on my deathbed and care that I killed every goddamn pigeon in GTAIV? Was getting 100% in LA Noire the most pointless achievement in the world? (Yes. It was.) Then again to put this into perspective I spend the rest of my waking hours in an office  doing equally pointless repetitive tasks, and they sure as hell don’t give me trophies for it. I would definitely be working harder if I frequently got that wonderful DING! sound and a notification in the top right hand corner of my vision. It’s like crack.

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

        The whole idea of sort of adding “achievements” to daily life to promote morale is a thing. It’s called Gamification, if you’re not familiar with it.

        If you ARE familiar with it, well, I get a trophy if I inform at least 100 people about something they already know about in a week.

    • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

      I’m kind of split on achievements. When done well they can add replay value. I like the ones that add a little extra challenge like limiting to certain weapons. I hate it when you get one for just starting the game. I got an achievement for Gears of War 3 because I had played Gears of War 2 multiplayer, in essence “Earning” the achievement before the game even went gold.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Yeah, I go back on forth about achievements. On the one hand, they seem like a way to twist players’ arms into performing menial tasks they would otherwise ignore, like collecting tchotchkes or performing an absurdly difficult task on the highest difficulty, but on the other hand, they can serve as sly clues about stuff in the game you may otherwise have missed. If not for perusing the Trophies for Journey, I wouldn’t even have known to look for a hidden desert flower, and I definitely wasn’t going to stumble over it of my own accord.

    • Merve says:

      Find the last 400 drug packets, eh? Drug Hunt should be a real game where you play as a sniffer dog.

  2. doyourealize says:

    I know this is a feature to display user comments and I love that you guys read all of our banter and respond. It’s nice to feel a little important at times. However, I would like to point out that, when speaking about the differences between Morrowind and Skyrim, you left out this part of my response: “Maybe the changes Bethesda made to the franchise were the right choices to continue the brand…” I don’t want to seem like I’m nitpicking, but I also don’t want it to sound like I’m pissing all over Bethesda, a company whose games I really enjoy. Matt points out that choices like this must be tough on developers, and I just want to say that I agree.

    Hope this doesn’t get me banned for life from Comment Cat recognition.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       Only burned at the stake.

    • John Teti says:

      I excerpt the comments for this column, and the only reason I edited that part out is that it never occurred to me that your comment wouldn’t be perceived as even-handed. I didn’t see you as pissing all over Bethesda by any stretch, just making an intelligent point about a particular aspect of the Elder Scrolls’ games’ design. In any case, I do apologize for causing you a bit of distress over the edit.

  3. caspiancomic says:

    Phew! Comment Cat didn’t buy what I was selling for like two whole weeks there. I was starting to get anxious.

    Seriously though, sometimes I think Gameological, John Teti, and all my fellow commenters are my mom in disguise trying to make me feel like my inane prattle is in some way insightful or interesting. And it’s working!

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Did I ever tell you you’re special? Yes, you are! Yes, you are!

      *jangles keys*

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      He’s on to me! I mean, uh… us…

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

      I know what you mean. This is my first encounter with Comment Cat and, for the first time in my life, I feel like I know true power.

    • Cliffy73 says:

      I wouldn’t know what that sort of anticipation is like.  Comment Cat quoted my very first post on this site up there. You know, in case you’re keeping score.

  4. Mr. Glitch says:

    Hi everybody, Mr. Glitch here with another classic game review.

    The Space Shooter has its roots in early arcade games like Xevious and Scramble, but the 16-bit home console era is where the genre really shined. The late 80s & early 90s saw the release of such classics as Blazing Lasers on Turbografx-16 and Super R-TYPE on SNES, as well as MUSHA and the Thunder Force games on Genesis. The last of that venerable series was Thunder Force IV, which was released in the US as Lightening Force. And yes, that is how they spelled “Lightening.”

    Spelling gaffes aside, Lightening Force is one of the best space shooters available for the Genesis. Released by Technosoft in 1992, Lightening Force pits you and your lone space ship against the entire forces of Supergalactic Evil. That’s all standard shmup fare, but Lightening Force adds a lot of new features into the mix. There are loads of power-ups, including weapons, shields, 1-ups and a couple of satellites that orbit your ship, effectively tripling your firepower while absorbing enemy bullets. When a new weapon is collected, it’s stored instead of simply replacing the existing one. You can cycle through these weapons with the press of a button, selecting the best one to use at the moment. Some shoot in several directions at once, some slide along surfaces and some home in on enemies. You’ll need this versatility, because bad guys will come at you from all directions, often pitching you into the seventh level of Bullet Hell. When you die, you lose whatever weapon you were using at the moment, but you retain the others. This is a huge improvement over shmups that leave you nearly defenseless until more power-ups can be collected. You can also control the speed of your space ship’s movements in four increments; handy when you want to zip across the screen one minute and ever-so-gingerly squeeze between asteroids the next.

    In term of difficulty, Lightening Force is vert challenging but never cruel. You get three lives and limited continues, but extra lives come pretty frequently. At the beginning of the game, you can pick the order in which you play through the first four levels; handy if you get stuck on a particular level or if you want to stockpile weapons for later levels.  Speaking of which, Lightening Force packs a lot of variety into its level designs. Early in the game, you skim across the surface of an alien ocean picking smaller enemies off before descending to its depths to engage the boss. In a later lever, you must carefully maneuver through a formation of giant space ships which themselves are engaged in battle with an unseen adversary. At times, Lightening Force really makes you feel like you’re a part of a much larger conflict.  There are space levels, desert levels, ice and lava levels. All shooter staples, to be sure, but they’re well represented in Lightening Force. There’s usually a lot of action going on at once too, which can sometimes cause the game to chug–Lightening Force’s only flaw, really.

    The music in Lightening Force is stellar. It’s a high-energy mix of hard rock and synth tracks that perfectly complements the frenetic action on screen. 

    Lightening Force’s absence on the Virtual Console or any other modern system is nothing short of a travesty. However, it sold well when it was released and it’s not in high demand these days, so a copy from eBay might set you back a sawbuck. If you love old-school space shooters and you still have a Genesis, it’s well worth  the money.

    Thanks for reading my review! Next week, I dig through a stack of my old Amiga games and try to find some that still work!

    • blue_lander says:

      Thunder Force IV wasn’t the last game in the series, Thunder Force V was released for the PS2 in Japan a few years ago.