A Serious Discussion About Comedy in Video Games

I was lucky enough to grow up a gamer during the NES era. I say lucky not just because, as a child, the NES was this mythical monolith of unlimited entertainment potential, but because I’ve been lucky to see video games evolve from the big bang moment that was Nintendo’s first console. In that time, what’s impressed me most evolution-wise isn’t the technological advancements the industry has enjoyed, but the artistic ones.

Writing quality would probably be the biggest improvement. Recently, I started playing “The Witcher 2,” and I’m finding it to be a watershed moment in video game storytelling. Sure, some of the dialog is groan-worthy, but the overall tale, and the brilliant way in which the game weaves it, is simply astounding. While it may be a beacon of writing quality in games, it’s far from the only port in the harbor. Games like “Braid,” “Bioshock,” and “Heavy Rain,” to name a few, have all gone far and beyond to prove that at their best, the stories of video games can bring out all of the same emotions as the stories in books, films and theater.

Except for humor.

Of course, I’ve laughed while playing games before, but it’s rarely been because of a specific joke made. Instead, by their general nature, video games are just light-hearted entertainment sources. Hell, the mascot of the entire industry might just be an underdeveloped Italian plumber with a hatred of reptiles, incredible jumping abilities, and a hard-on for elitist blondes. So for an artform that isn’t supposed to take itself too serious by its very nature, why is good, pure comedy so hard to come by?

Let me backtrack a little bit from that statement. I know that funny video games exist. I also know that comedy is perhaps the most subjective form of entertainment there is. What makes one person’s sides split causes another’s lips to droop. But still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t works of comedy in other mediums that are generally considered to be undisputed comedy classics. Like “Caddyshack” or “Ghostbusters” or “This is Spinal Tap.” What is gaming’s equivalent? Well, type “funniest video games of all time into Google” and the consensus answer would seem to be “Conker’s Bad Fur Day.” I’ve covered Conker before, but just as a refresher, “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” is simply the raunchiest, most parody-filled, brute force comedy video game ever made.

And it’s not that funny. Well, I mean it is, but at best it’s a decent episode of “South Park,” without any of the clever context. “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” was a machine gun of jokes that figured if it fired enough rounds, one of them would hit just about everyone that played it. Even worse, it aimed that gun square at the stereotype that gamers are only 14 year old virgins, and made its name from it. And yet, to this day when people reference it, they use the words “Adult Humor.”

The King of Video Game Comedy?

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How’s Portal 2 treating you?

Portal 2.

I know I don’t write much about games other than League of Legends or Minecraft, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t on my radar. I kept up with the development of Portal 2 for a while, but once I heard about the length of the game I lost interest. A pair of six hour campaigns is hardly enough to get me to spend $50 on a new game.

There are, of course, custom maps, and I’m curious to see how quickly custom map development will take off. I really loved the first Portal, and I can imagine how fun it would be to keep up with the best custom maps from the community. That’s something I’m willing to pass on for the time being, though. Portal really strikes me as a $20 game that will end up being supported by the community.

Did you snag Valve’s latest on release day? How’s it treating you? Find any cake?


Xbox LIVE Summer of Arcade Review: Limbo


Though it might seem a bit ballsy to lead off this year’s Summer of Arcade event with a game of such humble origins, “Limbo” is sure to become an instant favorite thanks to its resemblance to past XBLA titles like “Braid” and “Portal.” The 2D puzzle platformer doesn’t have much of a story, however, other than that you play a young boy who is searching for his sister in Limbo. At least, that’s what appears to be going on based on the title and the creepy surroundings that the bright-eyed boy awakes to, but even that’s a guess at best. All you need to know is that “Limbo” features striking visuals and an array of addictive puzzles wrapped in a minimalistic package of black-and-white silhouettes, an effectively non-existent soundtrack, and a two-button control scheme.

The gameplay may be simplistic (A jumps and B performs actions like pushing, pulling and activating switches), but it doesn’t make the actual puzzles any less difficult. In fact, they only get harder as you progress, and while many are challenging, some are downright impossible unless you’re willing to think outside the box. It can certainly be frustrating at times, but it’s only that much more rewarding when you do finally complete them. Playdead Studios has also done an incredible job of keeping the level design fresh and innovative, and although I missed the more immediate danger that came with the giant spiders and “Lord of the Flies”-like tribe of children from the earlier stages, the introduction of gravity in later puzzles really takes things to the next level. It’s just a shame there’s such little payoff in the end, because while the ambiguity of the story adds to the game’s eerie atmosphere, “Limbo” had the potential to be so much more.

Want more Summer of Arcade? Be sure to come back every Wednesday through August 18th for a first-hand look at Microsoft’s newest XBLA exclusive. Next week: hop into your powerboat time machines with the long-awaited sequel to Midway Games’ arcade racer, “Hydro Thunder.”


Portal 2 will release on Mac

Portal screenshot.As if the news of Steam coming to Macs weren’t enough, fanboys can rejoice today for more great news from Valve. As the latest issue of Game Informer confirms, Portal 2 is coming and it’s coming to Macs.

The PAL Game Network has scans of the cover story from Game Informer, which shows the basic info about the game – developer, release window, platforms, etc. There isn’t much more information, other than the fact that the game will be incredible. If you haven’t played the original Portal just go buy the Orange Box. It’s easily one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played, no lie (the cake on the other hand…). And it all started as a trial.

Luckily for us, Portal 2 will be a full-length game, set to release this fall.


Portal gets an update

Portal t-shirt.Portal caught an update on Steam earlier this week, giving the game an extended ending and teasing some details from the previously announced sequel. Well, it wasn’t officially announced but it was definitely confirmed.

Hidden in the update were all sorts of little clues, the type that keep forum rats busy slaving over cryptic messages to find ASCII art. A lot of the “clues” were actually little jokes from the series, but some of the messages led to ASCII images and several messages from the founder of Aperture, Cave Johnson.

The Steam forums are burning the midnight oil to figure out the meaning behind the messages. I’ll give you a hint, guys – Valve will tell us more soon. Until then you’re going to be looking at a bunch of ambiguous clues pretending you can make sense of them.


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