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From Geek to Geekle: Presenting on Humor

Dexter Woltman

By Dexter Woltman

I always considered myself a geek—frequently opting to showcase my Star Wars or LEGO collections over fitting in with my peers. So, when a company named Geekle reached out to Brunette Games to present at an upcoming event, I knew I had to say yes. Over the week of August 31st, Geekle hosted an online Game Development Global Summit. Experts in game design came together to give valuable insight into the industry.

I had the honor of taking part in the Global Summit. At Brunette Games, I developed a growing expertise in writing humor for the casual game market. I decided to share these skills with the world by presenting how humor can bridge a player's investment in the game they're playing. The official abstract of my presentation:

At Brunette Games, we’ve always believed in three pillars of game storytelling: conflict, mystery, and connection. While there are various forms of connection, one of its cores is the emotional investment players form with the characters and story in a game. One way to bridge this connection is through the use of humor. This talk includes:

- How humor is essential to certain genres.
- How to write effective humor.
- How to use humor to bridge the pillars of storytelling.

To see my presentation for yourself, check out the YouTube link below!

 


Meet the Team, Part 2: Our 5 Writer / Designers

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When Jenna says we’re writers, what she really means is we’re laptop jockeys!

Our core team consists of five people with the experience, skill, and training to both write and design games, whether that means coming up with the plan for each game scene's environmental art, designing a game narrative arc across several seasons, devising new characters, or writing character dialogue, tutorial messages, and other in-game text. We straddle the lines between creative and analytical as we draft hilarious jokes while designing a choice-based matrix or a statistics system. All of us have or are working toward degrees in writing or the humanities, three of the five hold master's degrees, and two of those are specifically in writing. We hope you like our stories.

Jenna Faulkner (above) is a welcome new face to the writing team at Brunette Games. With extensive experience in tutoring, flash fiction, literary journals, and news copy, Jenna joins us with a wide array of writing skills, not to mention a Master of Fine Arts in Writing. In her recent time here, she’s already taken the reins on hot titles such as client G5’s Homicide Squad: New York Stories and Crime Mysteries: Find Objects, as well as several unannounced games. When Jenna’s not breathing new life into Brunette Games, she’s breathing it into the natural world with her plants. While violets, cacti, and kalanchoe are her favorites, she’s hoping to dig her green thumb into a tree someday!

Fun Fact: Jenna once brought an African violet back to life after it had been completely dead for over a month. It's now her longest-living plant, at six years old.

What Jenna Loves About Writing and Designing Games

Being able to work on a project from the beginning of its development and fleshing it out completely in terms of character and plot can be really rewarding. Oh, and commas! There’s nothing I love more than transforming a sentence with a singular comma. That piece of punctuation can save lives!

Read Jenna Faulkner's bio.

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Amanda captures a year of working and studying through Zoom!

A rising star, Amanda VanNierop joined Brunette Games exactly one year ago and manages an often near-full-time workload while simultaneously attending Saint Louis University. She’s already racked up impressive credits on Disney Frozen Adventures, Crime Mysteries: Find Objects, Homicide Squad: New York Stories, Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story, and more. Outside of hitting the books or writing for your favorite games, Amanda swings blades in the Saint Louis University fencing team. Trained in four weapons - the foil, épée, sabre, and small sword - Amanda is an avid fencer. When she’s not stabbing people for fun, she’s usually reading, writing, or watching movies.

Fun Fact: Amanda took a gap year after graduating high school to live in Germany as an au pair. Not only did she save money for school, but she got to see the sights traveling through Europe.

What Amanda Loves About Writing and Designing Games

My favorite thing about writing is creating a voice, both as an author and for your characters. When it comes to writing for mobile games, I love the process of seeing a story come to life. Every time we work on a pitch for a client, there's a possibility we're creating the next Matchington Mansion or Lily's Garden - and I find that possibility to be such an exciting part of the process.

Read Amanda VanNierop's bio.

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Dexter faces the workday with his personal assistant.

Dexter Woltman is a passionate writer whose history with Brunette Games began in 2018, when Lisa contracted with him after he attended her game design classes at Webster University. In his three years with the company, he's racked up an impressive list of credits on 15 titles and counting, bringing a fresh perspective to our work in casual games. His secret is he often holds his mother in mind as a representative player when writing and designing for the female 30+ audience. He's also a huge personal fan of Betty White, and her off-beat sensibility influences his comedic writing a great deal.

A representational face for the studio, Dexter attends a variety of events and conferences - or at least he did, pre-COVID-19. When he isn’t working on various hit titles such as Sweet Escapes, Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story, or Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, he’s nerding it up in Dungeons & Dragons and rewatching all the greatest superhero films for the fourth time… this year.

Fun Fact: Dexter used to host storied week-long games of tag. Players had Nerf blasters, and if they got tagged, they became a zombie! If the narrative and characters he made for the game weren’t goofy enough, the costumes sure were.

What Dexter Loves About Writing and Designing Games

You get to challenge yourself with a variety of themes, storylines, audiences, and genres. When you can take an engaging world and make it your own, you know you’ve done a good job. To top it off, humor is my specialty, and never has a field given me so many opportunities to capitalize on dad jokes and puns.

Read Dexter Woltman's bio.

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Anthony has words with his guru and muse.

Anthony Valterra brought to Brunette Games decades of experience across tabletop, publishing, and brand management - to name a few! That makes Anthony Brunette Games’ go-to man for bringing in new and exciting work, as well as frequently pitching in as a writer and creative consultant on our game projects and coordinating the VO team. He has designed and written for G5's Survivors: The Quest, Redemption Games' Sweet Escapes, and Jam City's Wild Things: Animal Adventures, Vineyard Valley, Disney Frozen Adventures, as well as several unannounced titles. He also consulted on Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story, for Uken/Mighty Kingdom.

He earned a degree in religious studies many moons ago, but Anthony is still fascinated by the variety of religious experiences in the world - both sacred and secular. He holds a deep fondness for traditional board, RPG, and card games.

Fun Fact: Anthony once owned a Black Lotus Magic™ card and sold it for $50. He thought it was a ridiculous price and figured he was selling it at the top of the market. Recently, the Black Lotus card was priced for $166,100 at auction!

What Anthony Loves About Writing and Designing Games

I love creating events, characters, and places. I like trying to say something through the story. Writing is the best way for human beings to communicate across vast periods of time.

Read Anthony Valterra's bio.

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Lisa lives the fantasy through artwork commissioned by a Magic: The Gathering illustrator. And now you can see, she used to be a literal brunette!

Lisa Brunette is Brunette Games’ owner and founder. She's effectively our CEO, though she doesn't use that title, and she not only steers the company's strategic mission but manages client relationships and directs the core creative team as well. Lisa's also actively involved in writing and designing herself, with recent work on several unannounced titles and for Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story, Disney Frozen Adventures, Pride & Prejudice Solitaire, Tiles & Tales, and more.

Having designed and written narratives for multiple chart-topping games such as Matchington Mansion and Lily’s Garden, she leads the charge with 13 years' experience in games and 15 years prior in authorship and journalism. Even now, she can’t seem to turn off the need to write non-fiction outside of her daily work creating fictional worlds. Her side outlet is the lifestyle blog Cat in the Flock. That writing often dovetails with our work at Brunette Games, in the areas of gardening and home decorating.

Lisa also has an exciting background with Anthony Valterra. Though she is the owner of Brunette Games and Anthony is an employee, the two are legally married, turning our studio into a real mom-and-pop shop! They make it work, trust me.

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Lisa and Anthony—the king and queen of games!

Fun Fact: Lisa’s first job in the game industry was writing dialogue for a fashion journalist character in the Nintendo DS game Style Savvy. Tiffany was from the South and liked to call the player “sweet tea.” If the journalist character wasn’t coincidence enough, Lisa had also previously launched a fashion lifestyle section for the Seattle website Crosscut.com.

What Lisa Loves About Writing and Designing Games

It’s the perfect mesh of creative and analytical. You’re not just writing a story; you’re writing a story that supports the joy and challenge of playing a game. How to integrate narrative and gameplay is the question that most inspires both my writing and game design. For me, the two are inseparable.

Read Lisa Brunette's bio.

We hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into the lives of our team of writer/designers. We look forward to more exciting new releases in 2021!

 


Punchline: How to Use Humor to Bridge Player Connection

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Sam always has something to say in RollerCoaster Tycoon Story

By Dexter Woltman

Who doesn’t love a good joke? Here at Brunette Games, we’ve always believed in three pillars of game storytelling: conflict, mystery, and connection. While there are various forms of connection, one of its cores is the emotional investment players form with the characters and story in a game. One way to bridge this connection is through the use of humor. 

In the casual mobile game market, humor is essential to storytelling. It sparks an authentic connection between the medium of entertainment and the audience. Earlier this year, I wrote about Scoops, the comedic sensation in Redemption Games’ hit title, Sweet Escapes. While Scoops has been a long-time fan-favorite, the key for me is pushing Scoops beyond the traditional comedic relief role by using his humor to bring conflict, mystery, and connection to the narrative.

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Scoops is the comedic sensation of Sweet Escapes

Comedic characters aren’t just there to make audiences laugh. They can cater to the storyline and world of a game, as well as the goals of the developer. When done right, humor lassos in a player’s retention just as Scoops does in Sweet Escapes. Since mobile games are often played in short bursts, a good joke is key to making that time memorable. However, writing effective humor is no easy task. Not only does a writer have to continuously produce high-quality punchlines that are certain to land, but the execution has to be flawless, or else the scene will flop.

So how do you write a good joke? Prepare to open Pandora’s Box. The first step is to establish what genre of comedy caters to your target demographic. Brunette Games has worked across a variety of titles, each with their own unique brand of humor. In Matchington Mansion and Sweet Escapes, characters’ lighthearted quirks are on full display. Solitaire: Farm & Family finds its jokes grounded in more down-to-earth storylines, and RollerCoaster Tycoon Story puts eccentrics on center stage. Vineyard Valley is more raunchy and in-line with shows like Friends, and Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff capitalizes on abrupt antics. Each of these titles has its own audience, making it important to realize what kind of people play your game.

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Working Squirrel has an idea for Lois in Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff

The next step is execution. It’s not enough to have an idea. As John Cleese says, “It’s not that an idea is funny. It is that an idea done exactly right is funny.” If a joke feels forced, audiences may simply roll their eyes or ignore it. To form a true connection between players and a game, the humor has to flow naturally.

And what if the jokes just aren’t coming to you? There are two ways to assist with writer’s block. The first is character compatibility. If two or more characters are in a scene and the humor isn’t coming through, you may be using the wrong characters. The best jokes blossom through genuine chemistry, whether it’s positive or negative. If two characters aren’t compatible, you may consider opting for a stronger pairing. This is especially true in titles like Sweet Escapes or Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, where there’s a whole town of differing personalities. Some match-ups work perfectly, and others simply don’t. There’s a reason the hit show How I Met Your Mother produced a full episode on why main characters Robin and Marshall don’t pair together.

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Joy and Duncan have great chemistry in Sweet Escapes

The other way to help is by finding inspiration through real references. By comparing your character to a comedic source you’re familiar with, you’re laying out your own groundwork. For example, actress Betty White has such a strong personality. We used her antics as inspiration for the scene-stealing grandmother in Solitaire: Farm & Family. This isn't copying or stealing a character, but rather using them as inspiration for your own unique vision. Then, once you’ve had experience establishing engaging characters, you can work to create your own brand of humor with someone new, much as we did with Aggy in Sweet Escapes.

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Aggy is the new character introduced in the second season of Sweet Escapes

The key to a good joke is the element of surprise. Humor isn’t just about finding a punchline, it’s doing the unexpected. Audiences laugh because the joke doesn’t fit the norm of the conversation. With Scoops or Aggy, it’s nearly impossible to predict what either of them will say next, and that’s what makes them so funny. So, when you’re brainstorming ways to punch-up your joke, consider how you can make it even more unexpected.

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Meemee says the unexpected in Wild Things

When it comes to connecting players through humor, it’s not just about making the right joke. It’s about building a world that caters to its comedy. Even when writing for already-established IPs and worlds—as we do for Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff—you can still find a way to make their established humor your own by expanding your creativity to new audiences. Once the humor flows naturally, so will audiences’ connection.