The pure genius of Double Fine

· by Steve · Read in about 4 min · (746 Words)

I tell you, a game hasn’t made me laugh this hard for longer than I can remember - Psychonauts is simply pure genius. I’m not going to get too specific in case you play it yourself (and by God, you should), because some of the comedy impact is in the surprise factor, but it’s just so laugh-out-loud funny. It pains me that so few people seem to have bought it in the US, so all I can say is that if you appreciate great writing, superb imagination and being confronted by something so utterly bonkers that it makes you chuckle for several days afterward just thinking about it, you must buy this game now. There’s more creativity and character in one level of this game than most titles have in their entirety, expansion packs and all. The early levels are inventive enough, I particularly like the way the mental worlds reflect each character so well, but having just finished exploring the mind of a weird underwater beast I can tell they’re keeping some of their best stuff for later, because this level was just totally off it’s conkers. So absurd and oozing character I’m grinning just thinking about it. I can tell this is one of those games I’ll be remembering for some time to come.

It really puts other titles in the shade. Comedy is so undervalued these days in games - where are the next generation games with lines like the Secret of Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle, or the off-the-wall nature of Giants? I guess good writing just doesn’t sell as well as ever more realistic ways to shoot people in the face, or drive a sports car really fast - perhaps a result of the games market (and games developers) being dominated by 20-something males too oversaturated with testosterone to appreciate anything more refined. And yet, which ones will you remember and reminisce about in years to come? In 10 years time, is anyone really going to remember Call of Duty 2? I know I won’t - it’s a fun game and all, and quite pretty, but there’s nothing to remember it by, really - I’ll have largely forgotten about it in a year. These games, and most others being produced these days, blend into one another because there really isn’t much to separate them - an odd incremental feature here and there really isn’t enough to make them memorable - they’re risk-averse clones and as such will just sink into the annalls of history with barely a ripple. A game can stand out based on its tech (e.g. Doom) but you have to step up a pretty big notch for that to be enough. In practice it’s surely a lot more realistic for a game to be standout based on its content, and writing (comedic or otherwise) is one such way. I often wonder why more effort isn’t put into that aspect - it must be much cheaper to invest in one good writer than in an army of artists.

Human beings are hard-wired to love good stories well told. Whether it’s the incredibly atmospheric telling of the System Shock 2 backstory through crew recordings, or the continuous treasure trove of comedy that is Psychonauts and all those LucasArts adventures of yore, those things stick in our memory and make them classics. The fact that games like Psychonauts don’t sell well and that most of the game buying public (and publishers and developers) is too busy with “Even More Realistic Combat 3 - The Spurtening” is a sad, sad reflection of how blind the market has become to true talent. An equivalent in the literary world would be if both readers and publishers overlooked all great literature and focussed solely on glossy magazines (Soldier of Fortune, Top Gear and Playboy most likely).

Please, buy Psychonauts and have a laugh instead of following the same old routines. You might find a part of your gamer brain wakes up from a long sleep.

(and yes, you haven’t seen me in the OGRE forums for over 24 hours now - get over it 😉 I haven’t looked at my mail in the same time period either - unheard of for me. You can blame this game - the frequent belly laughs have turned out to be the perfect cure for my elevated stress levels recently, I’ll be back when I no longer feel like tearing the heads off people so often 😀