"Traditional" games writing is hard. But writing comedy for games is even harder, reckons Chuck Jordan, lead writer on Telltale Games' Sam and Max: Season Two
"There's been a lot of discussion recently about how to apply traditional narratives to an interactive medium," he told Gamasutra in an interview
. "With comedy, you can take all of those concerns and multiply them by 10."
The inherent interactivity of video games is what makes comedy difficult, he adds. With a comedic adventure game like Sam and Max
, there are practical hurdles that a writer of comedy must face often.
He explains, "[The player] can hear your punch line before the set-up. He can skip the set-up of a joke altogether," Jordan says. "He can hear 10 jokes over the course of a minute, or he can go off and wander around between each one. And the entire time, he's not just passively waiting to hear the next joke; he's actively looking for the solution to some problem."
These jokes, punchlines, and snarky comments are often interpreted as hints to puzzles, a normal reaction for someone playing an adventure game, even though they're intended to simply be comedic gags with no relationship to progression in a game.
"It's in Sam and Max's character to suggest the most ridiculous and/or violent solution to a problem, so we'll have cases where Max says he needs an iron maiden or a sample of the Ebola virus," Jordan says.
He continues, "And in every playtest, there's at least one player who gets frustrated trying to find an iron maiden or a sample of the Ebola virus. It's perfectly natural for the player -- he's looking for answers, after all -- and the real solutions are sometimes just as weird as the throwaway gags."
Studios like Telltale have found a comedic voice that's relatively unique in the games industry, but writing -- particularly dialogue -- has plenty of room for improvement, Jordan says. "There's still this idea of 'good enough for video games' that we all just kind of accept, and it usually comes across sounding stilted and overly expository, instead of sounding like the way real people talk."
For more from Jordan, as well as Overlord
's Rhianna Pratchett and Leisure Suit Larry
's Al Lowe, read the full Gamasutra feature
on making humor in games work.