Death-spanks the Comedy Genre

In video games on July 21, 2010 at 1:56 am

Previously, in Danger Brian I wrote about how top down and 2D games stood out for me at this years E3. I also wrote that an important element missing in video games is comedy. One of those featured games was a quirky little title called Deathspank. Well, it just came out last week and it’s pretty good. Also, featured last week was a Gamasutra interview of Deathspank creator Ron Gilbert and Eurogamer interviewed the Robin Williams of the video game industry, Brutal Legend and Psychonauts creator, Tim Schafer. Both Gilbert and Schafer work in a niche video game genre (They make comedies) so interviews with them tend to be very funny but insightful.

Here’s what Schafer had to say about comedy games:

Eurogamer: Why is comedy in games untapped?

Tim Schafer: The industry is imitative. A lot of people are chasing the last thing that was a big hit. What we need is a big hit comedy game. As soon as we have one, everybody will follow, of course.

This is both sad and true coming from Tim Schafer. He’s created the industry’s most successful comedies – and they haven’t been that successful. Psychonauts is well known for it’s critical success. It was considered of the best titles released in 2006. Eurogamer awarded it their best game of the year and it continues to be discussed as one of the industries most creative titles. However, Psychonauts was a commercial flop selling under a million copies at retail. Brutal Legend didn’t garner the same level of critical success but commercially it was more successful. It sold $1,138,735.00 according the vgchartz, hardly the kind of success people expected. After all, Brutal Legend featured Jack Black’s likeness and voice as lead character Eddie Riggs and it was backed by big game company EA.

But, there is hope for the comedy genre. According to both Gilbert and Schafer the download space might be better suited for the type of games they want to make and that’s where Deathspank comes in. When Chris Remo comments about the lack of robust and original titles in the digital download space Gilbert say’s, “I’m really hoping this is kind of the future of downloads, and that we can get some really good, interesting games in the download space” [Gamasutra].

Schafer had more to say:

Tim Schafer:  When you risk $30 million on something, publishers want to mitigate their risk. If anything is in your game that might alienate a single customer, they have to take it out. That’s something that’s really hard to work with.

It’s interesting to see what will happen, because now we talk about it like it’s a different type of game. At an awards show there will be the best downloadable category. In the future that’s going to be more of the norm .

There has been a lot of debate about video games being viable entertainment. Roger Ebert recently consented in his debate that video games can never be art (He didn’t admit they were though he did agree that he would never know enough about video games to have a credible opinion) but he did chin check the industry’s intelligentsia. Analysts are heavily debating it’s economic sustainability given the gradual dip in sales. And, people continue to criticize the production of derivative knock off’s of 80’s action movies, and Star Wars or Lord of the Rings look a likes, most notably Heather Chaplin at a conference in San Francisco last year (great stuff by the way).

If the game industry wants to be culturally relevant, and both economically and creatively sustainable one of it’s challenges is to grow it’s genre’s. I think comedy is wide open and it’s encouraging to hear that Schafer’s Double Fine studio is taking advantage of the download market to spit out four new comedic titles. Gilbert may not have announced his next game but the potential turn of events for comedy titles and quality digital download games just got off to a great start with Deathspank. The voice acting was hit or miss but the writing is hilarious! It’s a fun title with plenty of action, it’s easy to pick up and play and it’s well worth the $15.00 price tag. I look forward to seeing what’s next from this genre.

Stay tuned for the next 2D games this summer with the EA published Shank (they also published Deathspank) and the Ubisoft published Scott Pilgrim vs The World dropping in August.


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