|"Bouh se souvient!... mort, le nain, a mort!" There is no language in which Minsc isn't funny.|
Different people find humor in different things. I like it most when it grows out of situation and character. I like it slightly less in the case of outright parody, but I can appreciate it: witness my positive review of Ultima IV, Part 2. I like it least of all--hate it, in fact--when it's just absurdity. I can't watch more than five minutes of Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura, early Steve Martin, or unscripted Robin Williams. And they don't pretend to be doing anything but making comedies. It gets worse when such absurdity is plugged into otherwise-straight films or plots.
Wizardry V is full of absurdity. Goofiness. And it is beneath the game. The book of lore supposes to tell a serious story of a kingdom in crisis, but it tosses you in a dungeon full of adventure-game-style inventory puzzles in which nearly every NPC and encounter is a CRPG equivalent of a child's knock-knock joke. So far, I've encountered:
- The "Duck of Sparks": a sentient duck with a yen for a rubber version of himself
- The self-same "rubber ducky," which for some reason allows my characters to swim without fear of drowning
- The "Mad Stomper": a giant cursed with a case of athlete's foot
- A nightclub named "Manfretti's," encountered on the fourth level of a monster-filled dungeon
- A best whose primary characteristic is that it goes "Hurkle! Hurkle!"
- A priest who follows a god called "La-La"
- Another priest named Lord Hienmitey
- A talking kettle that takes my gold in exchange for hints
- A water monster named "Nessie"
- "Thelonius P. Loon, Master of Time and Prophet Extraordinaire."
You've seen me complain about this before, partiucularly in Might & Magic II, which abandoned the previous game's limited realism for NPCs named "Hari Kari" and "Thund R" and had encounters with goofy characters like the Gourmet and the group of lower-class residents upset that you'd eaten "roast peasant." Ultima II had those dumb in-jokes, pop-culture references, and one-line NPCs. Maybe the developers are trying to instill the game with a sense of whimsy, but to me it suggests that they didn't have courage in the integrity of their game worlds. If you're trying to set an immersive story in an original fantasy world, walk-ons from Carrot Top do not enhance enjoyment.
|I have no idea what Richard Garriott was making fun of here; just that it was stupid.|
There are plenty of analogues in film. Probably my favorite comedy moment comes from a little-known Glenn Ford-Marlon Brando film called The Teahouse of the August Moon. Post-WWII Army Captain Fisby (Glen Ford) is feebly trying to explain to his superior how he's been helping a Okinawan village rebuild by forming a cooperative.
Captain Fisby: "Everybody in the village, they're all partners. Don't you see? You know, share and share alike--"
Colonel Purdy: "THAT'S COMMUNISM!"
If that doesn't sound very funny, well, it shouldn't, because you have to know the characters from their previous scenes to fully get the joke. Most of the humor in good comedies like Frasier, Scrubs, and Arrested Development are based on character; if you tried to describe these moments to someone unfamiliar with the personalities, the jokes would fall flat.
Complete parodies can also be funny if you're in the right mood. Airplane!, Mel Brooks films, and Robot Chicken are just full of outright gags, and they're funny because that's what you expect. The "plot," if it even has one, is just a thin excuse for the gags.
But then we have goofiness: Madea ruining every scene in the otherwise-serious Diary of a Mad Black Woman; Chris Tucker's character in The Fifth Element; any comedy that requires a male protagonist to dress as a female. When limited, I suppose it's inoffensive. The singing bush in Three Amigos doesn't bother me because it's over quickly and makes a funny joke about fanciful landmark names. Larry, Darryl, and Darryl's appearance in Baldur's Gate is silly but inconsequential. But when a CRPG (or film) is just relentless in its goofiness, I want to shut it off.
I didn't get a chance to do much playing in the past week, so I thought it would be fun to talk about authentically funny moments in CRPGs. The genre doesn't often lend itself to laugh-out-loud comedy, and yet I can remember a few moments in which the developers were in rare form:
1. The dialogue of HK-47 in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The homicidal droid insists on calling humans "meatbags," although he refers to you as "master"--except when he slips.
2. Minsc's dialogue in Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II, particularly the latter. This is a perfect example of humor that grows from characterization. What might otherwise just be "goofy" becomes funny and endearing when you learn Minsc's story, alignment, and approach to life. ("Eh? He is like a bad penny, this one. An armored, deep-voiced penny of most sinister evil!")
3. Many of the throw-away "scenes" in Skyrim, including one that includes a bed, a copy of The Lusty Argonian Maid, and a potion of fortify one-handed.
4. Several moments in Icewind Dale II in which the NPCs poke fun at conventions of CRPGs. One character wonders why you're carrying around a dead cat, and you say something like, "I was kind of hoping it would be the solution to someone's problem and I could learn from the experience. I guess not this time."
|Icewind Dale II makes fun of hauling around "quest items."|
5. Smith the Horse providing me with the password INFINITY in Ultima V, instead of the previous game, in which it would have actually helped.
What do you think are the funniest moments in CRPGs?