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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!

 


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.


The Brunette Games Writers' Room

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One of the distinguishing features of working with Brunette Games is that you're not trusting your precious game story to some isolated, solitary freelancer but rather a team of highly trained professionals who work together to deliver narrative design and writing that consistently out-performs other games on the market.

Two of us on the team came to game design from backgrounds in traditional publishing. The convention in book publishing and journalism is for all writing to go through a series of checks and balances before it's ever put out to the public for consumption. The process looks like this:

  1. The writer, sometimes working in a team with other writers and editors, outlines the concept for the work.
  2. A developmental editor provides feedback to the writer on the overall theme, setting, story arc, characters, and the structure of the work.
  3. The writer goes through the draft stage, writing and then revising, with the feedback of the developmental editor.
  4. Once the writing content is pretty well locked down, it still gets two more passes. The first is from a copyeditor, who tinkers with sentence structure and might punch up lines for more humor or drama or both.
  5. Finally, the work gets a final proofreading pass to clear away any typos or errors in grammar and style.

Game writing has not traditionally received anywhere near this much scrutiny, and that's part of why the writing in games has often had a bad rap. The other reason is that game text has often been written by game designers, artists, programmers, and others who usually have zero training as writers.

At Brunette Games, we apply the standards of traditional publishing to our game projects. Whether one of us writes a scene or we draft the scene as co-writers, the text also receives several rounds of feedback and review. What goes to the client is a highly polished product. No one's text gets to the client without review.

Borrowing heavily from TV and film, we work as a "writers' room." We discuss and try out characterizations, scenarios, and dialogue, tapping the team brain. We conduct what's known in Hollywood as a "table read," each of us taking a character and reading out the script aloud to listen, critique, make adjustments, and finely hone the text.

We're also experienced specialists in both writing as a professional skill and specifically game writing and design as that unique practice combining the right-brain creativity of fictional world creation and the left-brain activity of integrating that world with the primary mission of gameplay.

When Lisa Brunette entered the game industry more than a decade ago, she brought an editorial acumen honed as a journalist, published fiction writer, and professor of writing to all the games she's touched. But she also approached every game as a player first, crafting her stories in service to the game. She believes this is why she's had so many successful games to her credit, and that same spirit is why the Brunette Games team continues to rack up successes.