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Column: Abbott's Habit

COLUMN: Abbott's Habit: Blood, and Steel, and Bacon

July 28, 2010 12:00 PM |

[Abbott's Habit is a monthly GameSetWatch column by writer and Brainy Gamer blog author Michael Abbott. This month, he looks at DeathSpank and the evolving role of comedy in games.]

All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl. --Charlie Chaplin

I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different. --Kurt Vonnegut

Hothead and Ron Gilbert's DeathSpank has me thinking about humor in games and the challenge of creating an integrated design for comedy. As I've noted previously on my blog, fully-realized comedy is a system. It can't be delivered on a separate channel or stirred into a recipe to add spice. Comedy is a self-contained unified aesthetic. A game that wants to be a comedy must be a game directed through a comic vision that defines the whole project.

As a comedic game, DeathSpank advances the ball down the field in some creative ways, and I'll discuss those in a moment. But I also think DeathSpank exemplifies the conundrum faced by video games that try to be funny. We can illustrate that tension with two apparently contradictory claims:

Claim 1: Video games are well-suited to making us laugh. Like a well-crafted game, a successful comedy is highly technical, based on a set of clearly-defined rules, and carefully engineered to trigger a calculated response. It relies on the precise execution of a final build, fine-tuned through iteration and feedback.

Comedy, as Henri Bergson observes in his seminal "Theory of Laughter," is "something mechanical encrusted on the living." One could easily apply the same phrase to describe games. Game developers understand how to build complex systems for interactive communication, and that's exactly what a successful comedy is. Comedy is aimed at the intellect, and gamers are smart. We can do this!

COLUMN: Abbott's Habit: Play Ball

March 25, 2010 12:00 AM |

[Abbott's Habit is a monthly GameSetWatch column by writer and Brainy Gamer blog writer Michael Abbott. This month, he wonders what kind of realism sports sims like MLB 10: The Show represent.]

Back in 1985, Don Daglow and Eddie Dombrower conducted a series of interviews with Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, widely considered one of the great baseball minds of his era. They wanted to understand Weaver's managerial philosophy and decision-making process in a variety of baseball strategy scenarios.

What they learned formed the basis for the AI in Earl Weaver Baseball (1987), one of the seminal computer baseball sims and an early cornerstone title for what would later become EA Sports.

Earl Weaver Baseball was the first game to allow players to quickly sim through an entire season. It was the first to depict real-world stadiums and adjust its outcomes to account for their dimensions. It was the first to include both arcade and manager modes, offering players a choice between controlling the on-field action directly, or calling the shots from the dugout. And it was among the first graphical sims to rely heavily on stats, both real-world player data and game-generated stats for the player to digest.