Why Jazzpunk Matters
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Out of all the genres that games have dipped their toes in over the years, none has been more difficult to translate to the medium than comedy. Developers can pull off action, drama, and horror with style and grace, but comedy is a tricky thing. Telltale and Double Fine have come close several times over, but still miss the mark in certain respects. The best you can get out of most titles is a smile on your face. Laughing out loud is hard to pull off in games, and Jazzpunk may be the first to pull off that Herculean task.

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This is because of two factors: comedy is highly subjective, compared to other genres, and a lot of what makes comedy work is the concept of unexpected results. The bait and switch is where most comedians and comedy in general gets you; the set-up makes you think the train of thought is going in one direction, and then the punch line rips the carpet out from under you. This is hard to pull off in games because they are, by nature, interactive, meaning that jokes can't go further than dialog delivery. A character joking with you, or pulling a prank would mean generating additional code and programming just for the sake of acting that joke out. What this leaves us with are the Bard's Tales and Matt Hazards of the world--games that are only as funny as the writers themselves. Which means... not very.

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Jazzpunk stands in a class on its own because the entire experience is about pulling the rug out from under you. There is a slapstick Monty Python-esque quality to the game which allows for unexpected sight gags, and nonsensical world interactions. It's in this presentation that Jazzpunk shows just how flawlessly and effortlessly the set-up/punch line format can work in games when done properly. It also helps that each area of the game is set up like a micro-sandbox, allowing you to explore as much or as little of the humor as you wish. Its storytelling and punch lines that conform to you and your play style, as opposed to the traditional model of forcing the player to sit through eye-roll-inducing one-liner after one-liner.

There is much to be learned from Jazzpunk, and I sincerely hope that studios and publishers will stand up and take notice. With games growing by leaps and bounds as they have been over the past couple of years, it’s time that comedy gets the treatment it deserves. Go play Jazzpunk if you're looking for a good laugh.

Mike Murphy
Mike Murphy
@chibi_mike

Contributing Writer
Date: 02/20/2014

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