Should you include humorous sidequests in a serious game?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Batman19, Apr 10, 2018.

  1. Batman19

    Batman19 Quest-giver Member

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    Hey, all! I've got a quick question that I was hoping to hear some of your opinions on. If you are playing an RPG where the main scenario has a dark tone, such as FFVI, and the sidequests in the game are mostly humorous, would you appreciate the optional, temporary breaks from the somber mood, or do you think the juxtaposition between dark tone and sidequests meant to elicit hearty chuckles would be too jarring and distract from the main scenario?
     
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  2. FralKritic

    FralKritic Villager Member

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    Hey Batman19! How are you doing? This is a great question.
    I feel that when playing a dark/sad game, it is nice to have some high points, where you can release some of that sad energy. I noticed some games, will use the protagonist childhood as an area for this, but there are some other ways. But in the end, I feel like it's important to keep the player from dropping into a depression, especially if the story is well developed enough to pull the player in. But on the same token, I know some who get annoyed when the story gets interrupted too much for a nonrelevant side quest. In the development process, I feel it's important to make sure your cuts are smooth enough to almost miss :D @Batman19
     
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  3. Dreadshadow

    Dreadshadow Lv 38 Tech Magician Moderator

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    In FF7 there are main quests that are humorous. Usually humor comes before a very dark moment to boost the feeling of the situation by the sudden difference. Not to mention Ultros (FF6).
     
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  4. shadefoundry

    shadefoundry Is Sinistar Veteran

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    Honestly? I think its a good thing for a game to have some humorous elements, regardless of how dark it is. There's so many games that don't and end up coming off as if they take themselves way too seriously, and when you have a scenario where there's like space knights in mechs brawling on the moon and you play it entirely straight, something's gone horribly wrong imho.

    Edit: Then again what do I know, my current project is composed entirely of puns and connecting material that sets up more puns.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2018
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  5. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    Real life is not "gritty". Even "gritty" isn't "gritty". Humor exists because terrible and horrible things exist. Humor was invented and works because things are serious and dark and sometimes terrible.

    I'm of the opinion that humor should be about everything. Anything can be funny. Nothing is off limits.

    With that being said... Yes, of course a "dark and gritty" game can have moments of levity. It SHOULD have moments of levity. Feeling one thing the whole time you play a game wears you out. It wears on you as a human being. It's called "running the well dry". See, people can only care about something for so long. And the longer they deal with caring about it, the less care there is to have for it.

    You can see this all the time in Social Media. Something outrageous and terrible happens. Everyone is at their prime of emotional depth for it at the beginning. What happens a week later? Nobody cares anymore. Why? Because it's just a single emotion, pounded into the ground, until you cease caring about it.

    So, your game should seek to mix and match emotions you want your audience to feel. It helps them care about your work longer. You will "run the well dry" if you just hit one note... over and over and over again.

    Let's look at Mass Effect Andromeda for a moment. Your main character. They are always "calm and collected" as well as, "make a joke or a light-hearted comment all the time". They are one note. A note that doesn't resonate with players in the game, because some genuinely terrible things happen. Your father dies, and your main character doesn't sound broken up about it at all. They sound like they don't care at all. People yell at your main character and all your character says is "sorry" and doesn't yell back at them. This is an example of what happens on a smaller scale with just hammering a single note all day long.

    So, yes, add some funny sidequests in your world. Even if it's GrimDark. Heck, maybe you just run across a crazy person, and it might be sad that they're crazy, but they're a genuinely funny person with a nonsensical quest that you humor because... hey, the character is entertaining.

    I've done this in D&D campaigns and it gets the players more invested in the world. I have a "GrimDark" world where everyone is out to get one over on each other. The land is full of brigands and thieves and very few "legitimate" businesses or people. You can only temporarily trust people. But, I have a Gnomish wizard who has a Fairy Dragon friend. He thinks he's an Ancient Red Dragon and proclaims it often. He also demands "tribute" all the time. He likes baked goods, sweets, bread, and whatever passes as "currency" or just shiny things. If you give him tribute, he proclaims you as one of his minions and just refers to you as "minion" from then on. He talks in a child-like voice. Lots of simple words. Simple concepts. He's uncomplicated. He also talks fast when he's really excited.

    In a world where everyone is actively trying to harm the PC's, they latched on this inconsequential NPC that had no purpose except to be "vaguely annoying" when I created them. My PC's find him to be the best part of Game Night now. They may go on a tough quest to slay spiders and work for unscrupulous people... But, then, they come back to the wizard and her Dragon, spend their coin on treats for him, give him tribute, and just talk to him. Smiles adorn my players faces when they deal with him. They get their fill of the "comedy" and "levity" he provides, and then they're off to do more things for morally reprehensible people.

    But, that's just what you do. It's a break from the "seriousness". It's something they can care about on the side, maybe. A breath of fresh air. A reminder that not the whole world sucks. Just the parts of it you have to interact with.

    You need that in any game. A moment to catch your breath. To engage in a different emotion for a little bit. Just so you don't run your well dry.
     
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  6. Batman19

    Batman19 Quest-giver Member

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    These are some absolutely FANTASTIC responses, thank you so much guys! I, too, thought that it was a good idea to have even a temporary release from the seriousness of grim games, but your responses have really highlighted that importance in ways I would never have thought of. (Tai_MT, that is one of the most well thought-out responses to a question I've ever read, THANK YOU!)

    At any point, though, do you think it's possible to go too overboard with the levity and get to a point where it just becomes annoying and distracting? Because that would definitely be a concern in a game that you're supposed to be invested in for X amount of hours.
     
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  7. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    It's the same concept. Too much of one emotion "runs the well dry". You need to mix it up a bit. You can have sidequests for comedy and levity, but too many and you lose your tone of "GrimDark" or you burn out players on those emotions instead of the original ones.

    Moderation in all things.

    I'll use a small snippet of my game as an example. It's a "GrimDark" kind of thing where bad things happen because people just make bad choices. But, there are moments amongst the party members where they attach levity and humor. One such moment is the "mentor" character ribbing my protagonist for always wanting to "find a real Dragon to slay" when "they haven't been alive for quite some time, they're extinct, and every time you think it might be a Dragon, we go marching off in a hurry to find it. Last time, it was wind blowing through a cave that sounded like a roar and we fell in a pool of sludge that the smell didn't leave for two weeks". It's a moment of levity. A quest to find a Dragon to slay. The mentor always tags along despite constantly protesting and bringing logic into our main character's fantasy.

    But, I add other moments of levity as well. I have a joke weapon titled simply, "Walken Stick". Each time you strike with it, it sounds like a cowbell. The description of it is, "Weapon of choice". It's difficult to find and can be missed, but I suspect anyone who is a fan of Christopher Walken will get the joke immediately. This is for the player and not for the characters. A moment to go, "ahhhhh.... hahhhhhhh... I get the lame joke".

    Even further, I sometimes just have funny things that can happen if certain events happen. You can take on a Quest to get the "Queens' Clothes", which is royal attire for a girl claiming to be a Queen and her stuff was stolen. You can get it back and equip it on your Mage. It's VERY powerful stuff. You can then tell her, "Nope, we didn't find it". But, if you have it equipped when you say that, she will call you out on your lie to your face. "Uhm. You do know that you're WEARING it, right? Do you really think that I'm so stupid that I wouldn't recognize my own clothes being wore by you?"

    But, these are moments. They're in moderation. The game isn't about these moments. These moments highlight the rest of the game, play into the rest of the game. They help tell the story and inform you of who the characters are. Or, they're just amusing little side things you might notice, because hey, this world is a little strange too.

    But, you need to practice moderation. Even in a primarily comedy driven game, you can "run the well dry" quite quickly. Jokes that don't land feel annoying to a person who is looking to laugh. Just balance things out. Use different emotions to create "breaks". Don't use the same emotions for every single break. If you do, you'll be running more than one well dry at the same time. Maybe after this moment of GrimDark, you've got one of heartwarming. Maybe after this next section of GrimDark, you've got an amusing joke scene. Maybe after the boss rofl-stomped your whole party as per direction of the story, you've got a moment of hope and self-reflection.

    But, moderation is pretty much the key to holding the audience's attention when it comes to emotional reactions.
     
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  8. XIIIthHarbinger

    XIIIthHarbinger Part Time Super Villain Veteran

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    I remember reading a certain anecdote by Roger Corman about humor in movies.

    Essentially, he screened a horror film that he hadn't intended to be funny, & while he was watching his audience, watch his film; they reached a certain point in the film that was intended to invoke horror, & instead the audience jumped & then laughed. He said that at that point he realized the audience was going to find something to laugh at whether he intended them to or not; so from that point on he made his films with scenes intended to invoke humor.

    Fundamentally, humor is the breaking of tension. The longer your narrative is, the greater the potential tension, & the higher probability that your audience will seek a break from that tension. Even if it's something that normally wouldn't be funny.

    It's rather akin to how police officers, EMTs, firemen, correctional officers, & soldiers tend to have rather morbid & twisted senses of humor. Because the psychological tension of dealing with those experiences, eventually causes them to distort such events to an extent that they can be made light of.

    This kind of warping honestly should be reflected in your characters as well, if you are creating a "grimdark" world, unless you are intending to portray them as profoundly psychologically disturbed. & can even serve as a method for the player to explore the world's character's psychology.
     
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  9. CosBlade

    CosBlade Veteran Veteran

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    I definitely agree that you *need* humor to contrast a grim game. That doesn't mean you need to go full wacky and over the top with it, but humor exists right alongside the darkness in our real world. Friends will crack jokes among themselves to ease a tense situation. Funny things will still happen in the midst of a difficult situation.

    I guess to put it briefly, make sure that you work with some natural humor if your intent is to make a somber game. Steer away from comic relief that is unbelievable in the world you're building, but allow your humor to exist naturally, and your audience will thank you for it.

    The game I'm developing I would describe as "somber", not really dark or gritty, but it's a group of adventurers trying to make the most out of a desperate situation. They get pressed into assisting a militia in killing some enemy soldiers in exchange for their own safety, and they've never fought a battle before (they're sailors.) Already, this paints a "somber" picture, in that it's a violent and less than ideal situation.

    The humor is injected into the dialog of the party members after one of them fibs and claims they've been in skirmishes (in order to get the militia to see them as valuable.) Once they're alone, their exchange is:

    J: "What do you mean 'skirmishes'? We've been in bar fights!"
    W: "And they were bloody savage. You remember that bloke who's nose I broke?"
    J: "This is different - we've never killed anybody. These men are soldiers!"
    W: "You've fought whales! Whales are huge!"

    This, coupled with some emotive face graphics, makes for a funny exchange that feels natural between friends, without breaking the atmosphere of the overall scene.

    That's just an example though. I personally think 2D RPGs that take themselves too seriously wind up being accidentally funny because they're trying so hard to be dramatic. IMO you get the best experience when you allow your light and dark to exist in harmony.
     
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  10. Mystic_Enigma

    Mystic_Enigma Mystery in the making! Veteran

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    I think I have to disagree with everyone else. As someone who's enterprising to be as upbeat and lighthearted as possible, I feel like quirky humor in a darkly-toned game, while can amuse, (And Vice-Versa in my case.) usually kind of grants a "What the heck is this??" kind of reaction for me. Then again, it's something that works when done right.

    But what do I know? I'm just a slouch who's too easily triggered...
     
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  11. BigWhoop

    BigWhoop Whoop Big Member

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    I think the key point here, to me, is that they are sidequests. I would make it clear that they are optional, clear that they are more lighthearted, and not pressure the player into doing them if they don't want to. Then the player can ignore them if they aren't in a mood for them, and then return if they are feeling in the mood for something funny. And it might help if they aren't 100% laughs, if there are reminders that the world is grimdark or what have you.

    As an example of my last point, I don't know what kind of world you're making so this might not work exactly, but the quest can start off sadly (like some little girl's favorite doll got stolen by a gang of rough-and-tumble thieves), but then become funny later (the thieves needed the doll to complete their secret tea party, which the party interrupts, incredulous at the sight, then the thieves become awkward and a fight occurs), and tap into other emotions, like bittersweetness (the thieves played with that doll a lot as kids, but they were bullied and stopped, and were able to enjoy it one last time) or just heartwarming (the thieves apologize to the girl, who wants to become friends with them if they promise to stop stealing dolls, showing the kindness and innocence of children).
     
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  12. Wavelength

    Wavelength The Indictables Veteran

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    Generally people define a "serious game" by its narrative or perhaps by its setting, but when we get into something like sidequests (or item descriptions, for that matter), we're really working on the tone of the game more than the narrative.

    So it comes down to what you, as the designer, feel the game's tone should be. I don't think there's a universal right answer between "doubling down" with a tone that matches the narrative, or "rounding out" your game with a tone that contrasts with it.
    • Tales of Symphonia matches a rather dark, thoughtful plot and setting with a light, carefree tone. The emphasis is more on exploration and character interaction. Neither the characters nor the player feel the full weight of what's happening around them, and it actually works beautifully. Persona 4 pulls this off beautifully as well, despite a bit of mood whiplash.
      • Examples outside video gaming: Harry Potter (the novels, not the games nor movies), Naruto (until Shippuden), Teen Titans (not including Teen Titans: Go), Happy Gilmore
    • Fortune Summoners pulls the inverse and presents a very light, trivial plot (the main character just wants to make friends and use magic) into played completely seriously, with the drama turned up to 11. It's not really tongue-in-cheek; you'd actually be convinced that the girl's life will fall apart if she can't find her favorite snack to take on the class' field trip. I could make the argument that Tony Hawk's Underground does the same.
      • Examples outside video gaming: Fruits Basket, Doug
    • Disgaea is a good example of a game whose plot, setting, and tone all line up in the light, humorous, zany side. The whole "fight for the underworld" kicks off when the protagonist sleeps a few decades too long (and is woken up using a litany of deadly weapons), and along the way you get bombastic would-be heroes, lay-back anthropomorphic penguin minions, and blackmail using implied dick pics.
      • Examples outside video gaming: The Simpsons (don't bother watching anything from after 2002, though), South Park, The Waterboy, most comedy anime
    • While I haven't played it myself, I get the sense that Shadow of the Colossus might be the pinnacle of matching a serious, somber setting and plot with an equally serious tone. The plot and setting are meant to create a sense of isolation and even desperation, and the tone of the game - with open spaces, little interaction, and even less humor - are great for reinforcing that.
      • Examples outside video gaming: NANA (anime), Schindler's List
     
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