Sunday, June 10, 2012

LOLCRPGS

"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."


Sigh.
 
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?



62 comments:

  1. After reading your great article about Wizardry V I have to say it is one of the funniest crpgs.
    And for Nessie water monster... you will meet her in Wizardry 8 :D

    Lord Hienmitey

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  2. I don't mind Nessie that much. When I encountered some water dragon monsters in Phantasy Star going by that name, I connected a plittle more with the game because it went along with the long lost mythology theme. I'm not sure how Nessie is in Wiz5, though.

    As for the other goofy stuff, it's a personal prefference issue. Me, I just would try to keep my real-world logic seperate from the game's reality.

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  3. You may have David W. Bradley to blame for the silliness. According to Wikipedia, he took over the development of the Wizardry series after the fourth game. He also is responsible for my biggest waste of money, Dungeon Lords, which was released on Steam a few years ago. Marketed as a successor to Dungeon Keeper, it really paid homage to Theme Park, but in a horrible, half-assed way.

    So basically, David Bradley is responsible for your ills.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Divine Divinity and Divinity II both have some funny moments, but they may border a bit on goofiness for you.

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  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oj5j06IgmIQ
    Are you talking about this Dungeon Lords?
    This is Bradley's game, it was never on Steam.

    Lord Hienmitey.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn, my mistake. The Steam game is simply DUNGEONS. Yes, in caps.

      I still blame David Bradley, though now for no reason.

      Delete
    2. Sure Bradley has strange humour, I will never forget the dwarf in Wizards & Warriors scratching his head and blabbering about delicious rat pie.

      Thelonius P. Loon, Master of Time and Prophet Extraordinaire.

      Delete
    3. Terry Pratchett shout out there.

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    4. Wizards & Warriors... or Wizardry? By the way, I loved the old short-lived TV show that had the name of the former. :)

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    5. When Bradley left Sir-Tech (the maker of Wizardry) he made a company (Heuristic Park) and a Wizardry-like game: Wizards and Warriors.
      Of course he couldn't use the Wizardry name.

      Lord Hienmitey

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    6. Oh, interesting. I learned me something today. Thanks for the info.

      Delete
    7. Just don't actually PLAY "Wizards and Warriors". It was terrible....

      Delete
  6. If they count as RPGs, both Star Control 2 and Alpha Protocol.

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  7. The Elder Scrolls games make me smile at odd moments. Besides the Skyrim encounter you described, there's Crassius Curio in Morrowind, the necrophiliac Dunmer in Oblivion...

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  8. Most of the death in Nethack.
    Especially when you know how well geared, and how much cautiousness was put into the unfortunate character.

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  9. In Might and Magic 3 in Castle Whiteshield there's a jester who is telling jokes which fit perfectly into the game.

    In Icewind Dale when freeing a captured child you can start an argument about who has the stronger dad, the invented super abilities get really hilarious.

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  10. If one has played a few adventure games and RPGs, and one can enjoy a parody, then The Bard's Tale from 2004 is well worth ones time.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bard's_Tale_(2004_video_game)

    Though, if one intends to play the game, do not read too much of that page. Quite a bit of information that might spoil the first encounter of the humour.

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    Replies
    1. Hear hear, on that iteration of the Bard's Tale. The game itself dragged on. A bit, but wanting to hear the next song, or see the next absurdly chewed up corpse of the "chosen one" did keep me going through it.

      For me, though, it's all about chatting with Morte in Planescape: Torment.

      Delete
  11. Since no one has mentioned it yet, this is the funniest scene in any RPG ever, from Jade Empire. It helps that Sir Roderick Ponce Von Fontlebottom the Magnificent Bastard is voiced by John Cleese.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2B62XcbEFA

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    Replies
    1. I remember that. That's a good one. It touches the edge of absurdity, but it works well within the context of the game, and there's a fun little quest associated with him.

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  12. Next RPG I find a humorous scene in, I'll be sure to post about it here. Nothing in particular comes to mind, but Quest for Glory had a lot of humor if I remember correctly.

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  13. PetrusOctavianusJune 11, 2012 at 1:24 AM

    The Spemin in the Starflight games always cracked me up.

    There was much silliness in Might and Magic 2, but unlike for example the Gold Box games I don't treat the M&M games as "serious role
    playing simulations".
    I actually thought it was funny when you encounter som peasants and one of your party members belches, and the peasants go mad when they detect the smell of Roast Peasant.

    Recently I replayed Ultima Underworld and I chuckled at one of the seers saying to the Avatar: "No sane person ventures there any longer, least of all myself. Wilt thou run an errand there for me?".

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  14. PetrusOctavianusJune 11, 2012 at 1:47 AM

    And how could I forget the lol moment in The Bard's Tale when my invincible party returned to Skara Brae after killing a legion of Berserkers, headed for the Review Board and kicked in the wrong door only to "meet death itself in the form of 1 Hobbit".

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    Replies
    1. Unintentional humor, but humor nonetheless.

      Delete
    2. Unintentional humor is often the best. I liked that example.

      Delete
  15. I laughed at loud at Garrus and Tali's 'reunion' conversation as you wander around the Citadel in Mass Effect 2. Actually a lot of bioware games have actually-funny moments, not just funny-for-a-game. DA2's idle intra-party banter is often hilarious.

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    Replies
    1. I found it transcribed online:

      Garrus Vakarian: Do you ever miss those talks we had on the elevators?
      Tali'Zorah: No.
      Garrus Vakarian: Come on. Remember how we'd always ask you about life on the flotilla? It was an opportunity to share!
      Tali'Zorah: This conversation is over.
      Garrus Vakarian: Tell me again about your immune system.
      Tali'Zorah: I have a shotgun.
      Garrus Vakarian: Mmmmaybe we'll talk later.

      As you say, it works better when you know the characters.

      Delete
    2. Also if you know about the long elevator rides from the first Mass Effect that served as loading screens

      Delete
  16. The entire game of Anachronox. Like, for example the dialogue where your character is "borrowing" the sock from a hobo. And of course virtually all dialogues involving your robot PAL-18, voiced by developer Tom Hall.

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    Replies
    1. Agreed. The game just had a lot of great humourous moments and dialogue.

      Delete
  17. Emergent (hate that word) stuff is pretty funny. I remember in Daggerfall, my buddy used to sleep in the shops like a bum, wake up when the shopkeeper is asleep, and then steal everything from the shop. I don't know if this is a bug or what he was doing, but that was hilarious.

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  18. Two come to mind, both from Ultima IV (though different versions of the game).

    In the PC version of Jhelom there's Lady Donna, a five foot pregnant shepherdess. She can't stand sheep and when you ask about her pregnancy she inquires if you're the father. Replying no gives her great relief, but if you say yes then she wonders what her husband will say.

    On the NES there's Bob the Beggar from Britain. He's suffering from Bubonic plague *notices Avatar is stepping away* Leprosy and asks the player if he could give some money. Upon getting a few coins he's thrilled because now he can get treatment for his terminal leg rot!

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  19. I like the moment in Morrowind when you hear a scream and a guy crashes out of the sky right in front of you. Then you find the Potion of Icarian Flight on his corpse.

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    Replies
    1. Many years later... Seconded! And it still makes me giggle every time I replay the game.

      Delete
  20. Robert Woodhead is one of the original creators of Wizardry. At the time, he was often vocal of of the waste of money and time invested into copy-protection that will always end up being cracked.

    There were quite a bit of gaming personalities and his OS employees in Ultima 2.

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  21. There are several funny moments in Dragon Age: Origins, mostly involving Oghren. Where he was talking with Alistair about "polishing his weapon" was one of the few times I actually have laughed out loud at a video game.

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    Replies
    1. I really enjoyed a lot of the background banter between characters in Dragon Age. Any time I was wandering around and one of them started to talk, I'd stop moving and settle in until the conversation was over. Honestly, those little bits of humor probably did more than anything else to encourage me to keep rotating the characters in and out (you've got roughly 8 to choose from, but can only have three active at once) to see what combinations would generate interesting lines. That's a good bit of design when a little throwaway fun prevents stasis in the gameplay.

      Delete
  22. I must respectfully disagree with you with regards to absurdity. Absurdity can be among the funniest there is. It needs to be well done though. The absurdiness needs to come from the context rather than being completely out of the blue. If not well done absurd humour comes across as random strange quotes instead of being funny. Monty Python is the prime example of absurd that is hilarious.

    Funny in CRPG:s HK-47 in Kotor 1 & 2 (especially the latter). That Cleese character in Jade Empire is midly funny. When things go wrong in Dwarf Fortress there are usually funny moments. Otherwise I must say most CRPG:s are rather unfunny even when they try to be funny. And no, Minsc is not amusing in the least. Just irritating.

    It is a bit strange that there are no(?) good comedy CRPG:s, when there have been a few good ones in other genres such as Evil genius, No one lives forever and of course all of the classical adventure games.

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    Replies
    1. Minsc has never irritated me. I find him to be pretty darn funny.

      Delete
    2. Minsc was irritating me in BG2 too. But Minsc and I were never good friends, I had to kill him in Baldur's Gate 1 :(
      I never understood how he was able to reappear in BG2 :)

      Lord Hienmitey

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    3. Yes, Minsc is terribly annoying. At first I can usually manage a weak smile, but he always manages to irritate me if I keep him around for any length of time.

      I've laughed at moments in various RPGs but most elude me now. I do recall being amused by conversations with various NPC companions in Baldur's Gate 2 where there were options like, "Aren't you dead?" and then the NPC giving uncomfortable answers. I also thought the whole Edwina thing was amusing.

      Delete
    4. I find pretty much everything Minsc says to be absolutely hilarious... 'Buttkicking for goodness!', "Evil 'round every corner. Careful not to step in any.", "Full plate - and packing steel!", "A den of stinking evil. Cover your nose Boo! We will leave no crevice untouched!"

      Delete
  23. Ultima Underworld 1 - I've always thought some of those accents in the intro were pretty funny.

    Alternate Reality:The Dungeon - Carrying a monster corpse into the Retreat displays the message "You are welcome here but thy deceased friend is not! Please have it wait outside!"

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  24. Even though I latched onto another nomination earlier, I will make some more in-depth nominations here:

    Star Control 2 - some really sharp writing among the various aliens, notably the Orz (whose language is imperfectly translated, which has the weird result of being both character-based/situational AND absurd), the VUX (to whom we as a species are intolerably ugly), and the Pkunk (the New Age prophets of the cosmos). I mean, almost anyone but the main villains in Star Control 2 could be easily nominated. Outstanding humor throughout the game.

    If it counts as CRPG, the Quest for Glory series has some really great moments. My personal favorites are in the first game, when you can practice your lockpicking skill by typing "pick nose" - although if your skill level is too low, you'll kill yourself (!!)... and also most of the dialog with Baba Yaga's talking skull. Or, for that matter, Erasmus and Fenrus.

    Wizardry 7 and 8 have some wryly funny moments, especially 8 - mostly in the form of the random vocalizations made by your party, whose personalities you choose at the outset. For example, 7 of your 8 characters are killed in a battle, the remaining character might say, spontaneously, "Guys? ... Guys? Where did you go?" or perhaps "I don't like the way this is looking." etc.

    I remember Neverwinter Nights having some witty moments. Same with Mass Effect 2.

    If it's a CRPG, Neuromancer has some really funny moments, like how the religion of the bleak computer-oriented future is based around Pong - the root of all computer games, from which all other interactions spring.

    Dwarf Fortress does have some hilarious fail moments, but they are usually based on absurdity - "Warthog stabs Anathril through the Upper Jaw. Anathril is annoyed!" or things like that.

    I'm sure there are many more which will come to me the instant I hit "publish" ...

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    Replies
    1. I'll put in another vote for Star Control 2, but I can't elaborate on Joseph's description without spoilers.

      Delete
  25. I did my own search, and found you can look forward to Anachronox.


    Here are some console games I can think of:

    Okage: Shadow King has this character called the Shadow King, but he gets attached to some kid. He must prove how evil he is and reclaim his throne. Commence comedy of errors.

    Lunar: Silver Star Story has a few moments, but there's one where the party needs to find something called a dragon diamond. Upon asking the dragon for one, he wonders out loud why anyone would want it as it comes from his sh... Here's the intro song for a taste.

    Thousand Arms almost feels like satire, and continuously breaks the fourth wall with lines like "Welcome to Boyzby. If you ask me again, I'll say exactly the same thing, funny huh?" and "How come my line doesn't have a voice-over? Does that mean we're extras? This sucks."

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  26. I think the key is that you can't break immersion while doing it. Larry, Darryl and Daryl were funny to me, even though I'd never heard of the TV show. Minsc was hilarious, and didn't reference anything outside of the game.

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  27. PetrusOctavianusJune 12, 2012 at 5:50 AM

    I find Minsc rather overrated and I think he's funny only in small doses.
    Personally I found the delightfully demented little munchkins Tiax, Quayle and Jan Jansen more amusing.
    Jan is one of my favourite characters in BG2 since he's neutral and can fit in just about any party, he's the most useful of the thieves and he's the most amusing character IMO. When having Imoen or Nalia in the party I always long for one of Jan's amusing anecdotes involving one of his countless relatives and turnips.

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  28. Giauz

    I especially liked a line from Final Fantasy 6 Advance during which your noble thi- I mean treasure hunter- warns our young protagonist, Terra :

    Locke: "Before I leave, I must warn you of a lecherous young king who shall remain nameless.........
    The guy moves in like a hawk!"

    Cue everyone busting Edward out.

    Also, if you rejoin your samurai in The World of Ruin and open the chest beside his bed, he has one book to compensate for his complete fear of operating mechinery and another titled 'Bushido in Bed.'

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  29. Giauz

    I especially liked a line from Final Fantasy 6 Advance during which your noble thi- I mean treasure hunter- warns our young protagonist, Terra :

    Locke: "Before I leave, I must warn you of a lecherous young king who shall remain nameless.........
    The guy moves in like a hawk!"

    Cue everyone busting Edward out.

    Also, if you rejoin your samurai in The World of Ruin and open the chest beside his bed, he has one book to compensate for his complete fear of operating mechinery and another titled 'Bushido in Bed.'

    ReplyDelete
  30. Early humorous RPG: Keef the Thief. Too busy right now to look it up, but I remember such bon monts as the light spell being flicus biccus.

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  31. The writing in StarFlight amazed me with its humor - and audacity.

    While the delightful, cringing Spemin have been mentioned, the prize must go to the Gaturzoid: fundamentalist space-octopi who regard all air-breathing life forms as religious abominations fit for destruction.

    During one encounter, one of them explains to you, the hunam (heh) captain, why you are unclean and should be killed.

    He (it?) delivers a sermon of hilarious, incomprehensible pseudo-liturgy with scripture quotes about Flshgrglgrlglible "begating" Blublburbleblir and so forth, the whole thing sounding like someone reciting the Lord's Prayer underwater in Pig Latin.

    I know these are overused terms, but this truly was "edgy" and "dark" 1n 1986-7.

    With TSR Bowdlerizing D&D for its 2nd Edition release and the PMRC slapping warning labels on just about any record which didn't have "Disney Presents..." on it, we had StarFlight's writers scoring a between-the-eyes shot against religious extremism and dogmatic intolerance in the figure of this tentacled Torquemada.

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  32. On an unrelated note, Yahtzee explains some of the problems with having no scaling levels (Much hated by most people on this blog) in an open world game (Much loved by most people on this blog); www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/5932-Dragons-Dogma

    Oh yeah, NSFW language, and cartoon images.

    ReplyDelete
  33. "Your head pounds as an overbearing aura of lunacy washes over you. The world shifts... no, no, nothing is wrong at all. You should go about your business."

    Dungeon Master Narration - D&D Online

    Announced as the walls seem to begin to melt.

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  34. I remember a scene from BG2 where another party of low-level adventurers meet your (then) end-game party, and openly discuss among themselves if they should attack you. Then they do, and combat takes about a single round of you winning. Then *they* reload the game.

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    Replies
    1. Ha! I had forgotten about that. That is a pretty good one. There are a lot of other jokes about L1 adventurers in that encounter. As they head off to complete your mission, the mage says, "Wait! I have to memorize 'magic missile!'"

      Delete
  35. I rather like the tombstones in fable. They are silly, but I think t hey mesh well with the game. I think you would find them too goofy though.

    Fallout 2 also had some good ones, like the unluckiest man in the world.

    Morte in Planescape: Torment, like his lithany of curses, and when he gets his magical teeth.

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  36. I like the humor in Planescape: Torment like

    - The solution of the "I will only leave this inn if you bring me my fork"- sidequest.
    - During his (seemingly useless) quests to become a mage TNO comments in the quest journal, that all those guys in Sigil are not crazy, they must be doing business for Mebbeth, just like he is.
    - Nordom telling a story
    - The description of your eye in the inventory (at least in the german version) says something like: "This is your eye. It has seen better times."

    ...

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  37. For me one of the funniest moments ever was when, after a little prompting and because I asked the right questions, I got Mordin Solus to sing a filk of "The Major-General's Song". (Mass Effect 2.) And: "Geth do not infiltrate."

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