How to write a genuinely funny videogame

TR: One thing that you are very well known for is for injecting humour into your games. Why don't we see more 'funny' videogames? Sometimes if developers attempt humour in a game and it doesn't quite work...

TS: It's terrible! And I've been in that position many times myself. If we write what we think is a funny piece of dialogue – it is very often not at all funny the third time you hear it. Whereas in a movie – if you see the movie Airplane, for example – every single individual joke in the movie may not be that funny, but you just know that there will be another good one along in fifteen seconds or so to replace the last one. But in a game you might be stuck, if you don't know how to get through a certain area or you're fighting a boss you just cannot beat – and he might have these taunt lines that he's giving you every time he beats you. Which may be funny the first time he yells at you, but after you've died fifteen times you find it is in NO WAY funny. So you have to be really careful.

TR: One of the big selling points of Brutal Legend is its amazing soundtrack. I cannot think of any other game – aside from your Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands – that comes close.

TS: And we have more than those guys.

Eddie's trusty blade

VICTORY IS MINE: Eddie and his trusty blade

TR: But you mentioned earlier that there were always more tunes that you wanted to include – does this mean we might see a sequel? Is that the plan?

TS: Well I think it would be cool. We haven't figured out yet if we are going to do it or not, but there is also a lot more of the story to tell, too. So hopefully we'll get that chance.

TR: There are loads of lovely effects in the game and it has a very distinctive art style, inspired by classic metal album covers.

TS: Yeah, we have a lot of interesting full-screen post-effects and motion blur that we are pretty proud of. And I think, actually, just the sky in our game is really beautiful – our tech artists and our special effects artists have developed a system whereby there is a day-night cycle in the game. As you drive around the world the sun is moving through the sky, and you can look up and see it moving through the sky. As it sets, the stars come out. And every night it is different, so one night you might see a meteor shower and the next night you might see aurora borealis – yet the next day it might be a little cloudy or foggy.

Looking up at the sky in the game is constantly cool and surprising to me and I've worked on the game for years. The fact that it is dynamic, but also looks like a Frank Frazetta painting – the great artist who did a lot of Conan covers and so on – so being able to capture the style of that and successfully marrying it with the dynamic technology is a great combination.

Many of the scenes in brutal legend are based on classic album cover art

THE SKY AT NIGHT: Many of the scenes in Brutal Legend are based on classic album cover art

TR: There is a huge open world in the game – in the region of 64 kilometre-squared – how long is it going to take to play through the game, on average.

TS: Well, probably around 20 hours in total. Or more if you want to go deeper into the game and play every side mission there is. Some of the songs on the soundtrack for example – you don't actually hear until you find them – so if you really get into finding all of the tunes and get into finding all the other extra stuff in the game then you can maybe play the game for anything up to 30 or 40 hours.

TR: Heavy metal seems to go in and out of fashion – but it is always there, in the background.

TS: Yeah, it seems like every generation discovers it again for themselves. The themes reflect what it is like to be an adolescent – feelings of alienation, feeling that you don't fit in, feeling like you are somehow a lot 'darker' than the rest of the world - the world looks so cheerful and sunny and you are left there thinking "why am I having all of these dark thoughts!" Heavy metal speaks directly to that.

It's also pretty scary. And when you're a kid the world around you and school and so on is pretty scary, too. So it is nice to have something of your own that's scary!

And then as an adult you just like it for all of those great musicians.

TR: But beyond that, Brutal Legend is surely going to appeal to a wider audience than just heavy metal fans, particularly with Jack Black as the lead character.

TS: Yeah, because even if you are not playing it because you are a fan of the music, it just becomes a really cool background for the action in the game and the gameplay and the awesome humour of Jack Black.

(Tim Shafer's Brutal Legend – featuring the voice-acting of Jack Black, Lemmy, Ozzy and loads more metal legends - is published this coming 'Rocktober' by Electronic Arts).

Adam Hartley