How to write a genuinely funny videogame

Double Twist president Tim Shafer - a man who knows how to make genuinely LOL-able videogames...
Double Twist president Tim Shafer - a man who knows how to make genuinely LOL-able videogames...

Tim Schafer is a master of that all-too-rare art amongst videogame developers – in that he writes and creates genuinely laugh-out-loud funny videogames.

Any gamer worth her or his salt will realise this and a quick scan of Shafer's CV shows that he is the comedy gaming genius behind such modern-day classics as LucasArts' The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, as well as the more recent Psychonauts for Majesco.

Many older gamers increasingly decry the lack of genuinely LOL-able videogames that make it into production these days. So what is Schafer's secret? Does he even have one? Or does he just love laughing, gaming and classic heavy rock? (Not necessarily in that order!)

TechRadar was treated to a brief play session of Schafer's latest videogame comedy gem (and ode to Heavy Metal) Brutal Legend (UK release date 17 of 'Rocktober' on all good gaming formats). In the game the player takes control of the (Jack Black-voiced) roadie character Eddie Riggs, who finds himself launched into another dimension. A fantasy world inspired by classic rock album covers and hilarious teen metal fantasies, that is going to appeal to both the hardened metalhead and the casual Spinal Tap fan alike.

We managed to grab 10 minutes one-to-one chat with the developer at a recent EA preview event to find out more about his latest project.

Jack black's character in brutal legend is sure to appeal to a wide audience

EDDIE RIGGS: Jack Black's character in Brutal Legend is sure to appeal to a wide audience

TechRadar: How does the process of scriptwriting for a game differ from traditional scriptwriting for stage and screen? You suggested earlier when demo'ing the game that it was more of a collaborative process, working closely with the voice-acting talent.

Tim Schafer: Yeah, it is different in that what you write might not work, because you might write this dialogue and then players get confused by it – and then you have to rewrite the dialogue to make sure that things are not just funny and exciting, but also clear and understandable.

In a movie, for example, there may be a scene that you might not fully understand. Imagine if you saw a David Lynch movie – there may well be some scenes in there that you might not fully get. But the movie keeps going. It's linear. But imagine if you were watching a David Lynch movie and until you fully understood each scene you couldn't move on to the next!

So it is a little different in that way, in that players can get stuck or they can get held up. So you have to do a lot more engineering of the dialogue, to ensure that the dialogue functions as it should and explains itself clearly to the player.

Some of the vehicles in brutal legend are 'pure metal'

AWESOME RIDE, DUDE! Some of the vehicles in Brutal Legend are 'pure metal'

TR: You have Hollywood A-listers and metal legends as the talent in Brutal Legend, such as Jack Black and Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy… How do you make sure to get them fired up and into the project, in order to get more out of them?

TS: Well, like with Jack, he has over three thousand lines of dialogue in the game. He knew a lot about how games work and he knew intuitively – with very little explanation from me – how to read each line to make it make sense, what to stress and so on.

Guys like Lemmy. Well, he actually plays games too! I went round to his house and he was playing [Nintendo classic] Starfox: Assault on his GameCube.

You can tell the gamers. But I don't think Ozzy has ever played a videogame or has any interest in gaming. But I would just explain to him about his character, about what his character was feeling at a particular moment… And he could read the dialogue just fine.

Take out the massive metal spiders tentacles

DIE! METAL SCUM! Take out the massive metal spiders tentacles

Adam Hartley