Tomb Raider EP10: uʍop-ǝpısd∩ ƃuıƃuɐH

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jul 10, 2013

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 118 comments

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It’s hard for me to judge Tomb Raider too harshly with regards to tone, because I’m guilty of the same thing. In The Witch Watch I set out to make comedy adventure like the Let’s Plays I do, and right away it drifted into standard adventure. Progress is slow on my next book because I made the same mistake: I tried to play it all for laughs and ended up drifting towards a more serious tone.

Tone is the one thing you don’t want to get wrong, because it sets up the expectations of the audience. Indiana Jones can do things that John Mcclane* can’t, and John Mcclane can do things that Lt. Horatio Caine would never get away with, and Lt. Caine does stuff that would seem ridiculous if attempted by Andy Taylor. The tone of the story sets up how much fidelity to real-world logic we should expect to see, and it also sets up what sorts of divergences we will tolerate. Andy Taylor can disarm and subsequently redeem a gunman with nothing more than an earnest smile and some folk storytelling. Indy can take abuse that would kill earnest Andy ten times over. We accept these worlds on their own terms, as long as they stick to their tone.

* John Mcclane in the first Die Hard movie. The character has suffered from power creep since then.

I think this is a big part of what went wrong with the end of Mass Effect 3: The first game set up a Star Trek tone, and the audience rebelled when the third game became Starship Troopers. People that played ME3 first didn’t have those same expectations. Tonal dissonance is also a big problem for the Fable series, where you have this storybook world and plot inhabited by Sin City style grimdark murdering sadists, like a couple of Game of Throne villains running around inside the world of The Princess Bride. It just doesn’t work.

Almost all of my gripes with Tomb Raider trace back to this tonal problem. It’s a shame, and it’s something I hope the get right in the inevitable sequel. Also, I can’t help but wonder which tone will win out. Will the next game feel like Jack London or Frank Miller? Or will it split the difference?


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118 thoughts on “Tomb Raider EP10: uʍop-ǝpısd∩ ƃuıƃuɐH

  1. newdarkcloud says:

    I had a similar problem when writing my text LP of Dishonored.

    I initially tried to go for a deadpan, comedic Corvo Attano, but I grew more and more into serious drama as the series went on.

    1. rofltehcat says:

      I wonder… why is starting out with a more funny tone and then getting darker such a problem? After all it often represents the development of the characters and plot, right?
      Most characters are pretty innocent at first but have to fight harder and harder the further the plot progresses.

      I understand that the beginning sets the tone the reader may expect but why limit yourself to this? Of course doing the same thing as other authors is easier… after all they gotta do something right to be successful. But I guess when you’re writing a novel designed to simply entertain you’d stick to that formula whereas for a pure art piece you’d probably start out in a circus and eventually you’d end up in the darkest hell hole possible.

      1. Michael says:

        Yeah, you’re actually talking about something slightly different. You’re describing character arcs, and you’re absolutely right: those are a normal healthy part of any story.

        What Shamus is talking about is where you take the fundamental nature of your setting and twist it. It would be like using Middle Earth (from Lord of the Rings), and half way through your epic fantasy story, you twist it to be about superheroes. There are ways to do that, but you can’t simply shift gears without throwing a few warning signs to the reader, preferably upfront.

        What NewDarkCloud is talking about… is somewhere in between. I didn’t read his LP, but I’m guessing he didn’t fundamentally alter the story as he was going forward, just his approach to it. Given that he’s working with an LP, and off a script (effectively), that’s probably a reasonable character arc. Though, sitting here, I’m having a hard time justifying Corvo as a deadpan snarker at the beginning of Dishonored… but that’s me.

        Also, the things an author is doing right usually boil down to: effective self promotion, and a modicum of professionalism, when querying. Note that being a good writer doesn’t make the list. It’s nice if they can actually spell, and string sentences together coherently, but the sad fact is, neither are really job requirements. Actually being able to tell a good story? Yeah, that’s sitting out in the “nice to have” column.

        1. The Rocketeer says:

          A story may do both at once, however; Gundam ZZ did, though certainly unintentionally.

          I thought it lent the series a bit of much-needed thematic depth, although a larger part of me accepts that I’m reading way too much into the byproducts of a directorial trainwreck.

      2. bloodsquirrel says:

        The thing about tone is that your whole work *shouldn’t* be completely uniform in tone. Uniform in tone is boring; your work needs a bit of variation to keep things feeling like they’re moving. A story with a dark tone needs some light spots to not feel oppressive. A story with a light tone needs a few heavier moments to not feel insubstantial. Think about the first scenes in the shire from the LotR movies; they’re powerful in their own way because of how they give context to the darkness that the characters eventually face.

        Keeping the audience entertained and making them fall in love with your characters using comedy while you set up the pieces for drama as your story reaches its climax is a very common choice. It fits well with the proper rising action that dramatic stories are supposed to have. It’s really only a bad thing when it’s handled poorly; most often when a continuing story winds up just dragging on and on with darkness, completely losing the lighter moments which made it charming in the first place.

        But tonal variation is something that has to be done with purpose and deliberation. You have to make sure you don’t go too far off in one direction. You have to get the timing right. You have to know when two tones are simply incompatible. You need to know the difference between juxtaposing two different feelings and having them interfere with each other. Tomb Raider’s problem is that its character arc has a different tone that its main plot and environment, and they’re thrown together without consideration.

        1. False Prophet says:

          When the SW crew is talking about inconsistency in tone, what I think they mean is consistency in narrative expectations. E.g., if you want your audience to feel tension and pathos when your protagonist suffers a small puncture wound that could easily be a matter of life and death in reality, you undercut its effectiveness if you also regularly show the same protagonist surviving falls of 30 feet or more without significant injury or strain from the puncture wound.

      3. newdarkcloud says:

        It was a problem for me initially because I didn’t want to have it come out like another overly-dramatic pile of fan-fiction drivel.

        Although now that I’ve read it, I’m okay with the results. I still think I write like crap, but it’s not like people expected anything else anyway and I’ve no intention to profit off of it. It’s purely a vanity project at this point.

  2. Syal says:

    I say they’ll split it down the middle; It’ll be grimdark (or whatever people are calling this nowadays), but tombs will have a far bigger role to play in the actual story, and every time Lara Croft goes into a tomb she becomes the Tomb Raider and the tone changes back to Indiana Jones.

  3. Ofermod says:

    Wait… so Josh just took a trait that improves his ability to fall long distances without taking damage? But I thought he hated the Icarus Landing System!

    Next thing you know, he’ll be taking one that allows you to gain health from eating fallen enemies.

  4. MrGuy says:

    So, the minute we LOSE Mumbles we suddenly start talking Batman?

    I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Why does that surprise you?Mumbles hates batman.Thats why they never talk about him when she is around.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        That’s a good point, it seems like every time the crew tries to talk about Batman while Mumbles is around, she gets really mad. It’s okay if she’s not a fan, but I enjoy hearing from people who know the lore inside and out.

        1. Blovski says:

          @Batman discussion –

          That whole para-fascism, vigilantism vs. corruptibility etc. etc. is much of the point of the Dark Knight Returns or whatever it’s called relaunch by Frank Miller. You can kind of put Batman in that scenario but only if you actually recognise it.

          1. The Rocketeer says:

            Batman’s character is very much about that simplicity, though. He exists to cut Gordian knots, in a setting where the complex and inefficient system has failed. He simply takes the simplest and most direct course of action, to the audience’s satisfaction, and any objection to his methods are answered by, “He just does,” or “He just can.” Batman can only exist in a simple world.

            So of course applying any reasoning of our own very complex world to Batman is inherently deconstructionist. It isn’t particularly clever, though; expeditious certitude is Batman’s chief superpower, and objecting to it is less a mental or ethical exercise and more like pointing out that Superman shouldn’t be able to fly, or that the X-Men’s chief powers would all be ‘cancer.’ Despite this ethical whitewashing existing in most comics, for Batman it’s less an unspoken concession to the setting and more the object of it.

            But because it’s so core to the character, and because the character is so fundamentally twisted by its loss, Batman was the fattest target once disillusionment and ennui became chic among the kind of people that look for deep ethical treatises in superhero comics.

            Do note that this is the opinion of someone who neither knows much about Batman nor cares very much for him, so if you think I am entirely off-base there are favorable odds you’re right.

  5. ehlijen says:

    I didn’t actually find it all that dissonant. At least no more than movies like Rambo 2. The ‘wounded so bad that it needs to be bandaged WITH FIRE’ segment is just another attempt to showcase how badass the main character is.

    This wasn’t written particularly well, that’s true. It’s like half the game happened out of order. But I think just putting all the pieces back in their right place could have made it a good pulp classic without major changes to the actual content.

    My hopes for the sequel (apart from dinosaurs) is that they keep it mostly the same but without the ‘Lara learns the night is dark and full of QTE’ bit at the start. But most importantly they need to keep Lara being a decent person who fights because she has to, rather than the entitled, wild life murdering adrenaline junkie that she’d turned into in previous games.

    1. MrGuy says:

      I think it would have worked a lot better for me if she’d gotten the “rebar through the midsection” in or near this segment, rather than have walked around since the opening credits with that wound and been unaffected by it. Maybe have it happen when she does the crazy “zipline down the radio tower on a 70 degree angle” stunt.

      There’s no gorram reason why they needed her to walk around half the game with that wound, then only have it become an issue here.

      1. ehlijen says:

        As I said, the order is all mixed up. We needed to have seen some of the crew before the chaotic bit on the beach in the beginning, Lara needs to figure out what Mathias wants with Sam before she convinces Reyes to take the boat inland, the rebar needed to happen just before this and Roth’s sacrifice speech needed to be closer to the Endurance bit.

        Gameplay wise, they spread things out nicely. But I got the impression that they wrote the story in chunks and they arranged them to fit the gameplay.

        1. Neruz says:

          I think they were going for the whole ‘adrenaline lets you ignore wounds, for a time’ thing that actually happens in reality but the time span between the wound and the adrenaline wearing off is just way too long.

          1. ehlijen says:

            Yeah, that does happen. But scripted rest sequences don’t work in between.

            They’d have been better of just saying ‘yeah she finds some meds and bandages in Sam’s pack and that’s why she’s fine till a branch stabs her again in the same place’. But there was no such med finding that we saw. Even when she gets the bandages for Roth’s leg she doesn’t see to her own wound on screen after bandaging him. It would have been easy to throw something like that in an call that chapter ‘reopened wound’, but they didn’t because they planned more for game element order than story segment order. (Which isn’t bad as such, a fun game with a meh story begs more replaying that a tedious one with a good story, usually. But you can’t then make a big deal about the story being important if you don’t treat it as important.)

  6. MrGuy says:

    Also, not a single “that wound caused…the max pain” pun? Who are you, and where have you hidden Rutskarn’s body?

    1. Michael says:

      Max Payne causes English majors to go into a fault protect mode. I’ve seen it before. It’s a miracle mentioning Frank Miller after that didn’t push him into a full on psychotic break. :p

  7. anaphysik says:

    Tomb Raider’s the opposite, of course. It set out shooting for a ‘THIS IS SRSBSNS U GUYZ’ tone and then almost immediately broke down into ludicrous monkey hopping.

    1. Tim Charters says:

      I don’t think you’re supposed to be bunny hopping everywhere. At least, I didn’t. Josh is only doing that because the developers happened to make jumping around faster than running.

      But, yeah, it does make the game look a lot sillier. Especially when they put that flashing screen effect every time you jump in an attempt to sell the idea that “Lara’s actually hurt right now!”

      1. Fleaman says:

        Note to game developers: If you include in your game a technique that A) moves the character forward as fast as or faster than normal walking speed, B) does not have a cooldown timer, and C) delivers more stimulation than holding an analog stick as far as it will go in one direction until the end of time, then you should be prepared for this technique to be the default mode of transportation for every player of your game.

        See also: Rolling everywhere in Zelda; Alucard’s moonwalking problem.

        1. Trix2000 says:

          To be fair, the method Josh is using is kinda exploiting the interaction between two different movements to remove the normal delay that follows dodging. On the surface, each movement seems reasonable individually – it’s just that using one immediately at the tail end of dodging apparently removes the movement penalty dodging had to prevent just spamming it for speed.

          It’s not an obvious thing (I didn’t know it worked at all until I saw Josh doing it) but it does seem like something the developers should have seen happening and corrected somehow.

  8. River Birch says:

    The only reason why Laura shrugs off bullets…is because she has Projectile Resisitance, like, REALLY high projectile resisitance, but NOTHING in Stab resisitance.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Funnily enough, The Last of Us also has an almost identical stabbing incident, except that the ensuing incapacitation lasts for WEEKS, at least.

      It’s hard to resist making fun of it. It’s a game where the combat is fairly brutal and getting killed is way easier than for Lara to get killed. But still, even with a good player the dude gets bullet wounds on a regular basis, but falling damage with stabby bits thrown in is too much…

  9. @9:27, Chris utters the most despair-filled and depressed vocalization of the word “four” I’ve ever heard. Not even when the number was followed by the phrase, “The Quest For Peace” has it sounded like something really awful is being recalled, probably against the speaker’s will.

  10. Regarding Rutskarn’s comments on Batman and who he chooses to target, the following has a similar view on Batman (warning, contains at least one f-bomb and the whiff of politics) from the British comedy quiz show, “Have I Got News For You.”

    You only need the first minute or so.

    1. gyfrmabrd says:

      It’s also basically the idea behind Watchmen…

      1. It’s pretty much every superhero. It’s like, we accept that [Hero] can unleash everything short of murder (and sometimes even that’s allowed) against anyone who commits some kind of physical property crime or assault. Things that are far more intangible don’t get a fist to the face, even if they’re far “worse” in terms of dollars or physical harm.

        That is, Lex Luthor will get punched in the face if he robs a bank or shoots a death ray at someone. He will not get punched in the face if he rigs the stock market, dumps chemicals in a third world country, or causes the collapse of a city’s economy.

        It’s all “street crime” but with a difference in scale, pretty much.

        1. Daimbert says:

          For the most part, though, for the street crime cases the punch is used to stop them or the crime and bring them in, whereas in the latter cases exposing the problem is enough to get them arrested and they usually go quietly. For most heroes, the punch isn’t punishment or justice, so the amount of harm doesn’t really come into it.

          1. I’d say it’s all the justice that’ll happen if the hero is the only witness to the crime. Any lawyer worth their salt will say the word “vigilante” followed by “chain of evidence” and that’s it for the charges.

  11. X2-Eliah says:

    Perhaps the full Mass Effect line goes like so:
    ME1 = Star Trek, with focus on the world and overarching nemesis story (SAAAAREEEENNN!);
    ME2 = Star Wars, with a lot more insular scope and focus on character interplay with a typical “go to x and save everything” sideline for background. Universe gets trope-ized for familiarity’s sake (space station of ne’er-do-wells, frex);
    ME3 = Starship Troopers, with ground-based combat being used to defeat everything and their grandmothers, a lot of macho/military echoes and a multiplayer directly feeding on that (granted, a rather great multiplayer as far as multiplayer shooters go).

    Hmmm. Not sure if that works, tbh.

    Maybe like so:
    ME1 = Star Trek: Wrath of Khan. Because Saren basically is like Khan, or as close as it gets. If Khan had overlords.
    ME2 = Star Trek: The One With The Space Whales – because it was next to irrelevant to anything and palm inducingly embarrasing with regard to the main antagonists (TIM/SpaceWhale).
    ME3 = Star Trek: The Reboot Without Subtitle – because gunplay shootsthem guns guns repeat of nemesis theme (except with reapers/harbinger).
    ME3 ending, starting from the “floor segment lights up, lifts Shepard up into ceiling”: Star Trek fanfic of Picard/Kirk/Uhura/Spock (yes, all of them and yes, full meaning of slash in fanfics) on account of how little sense it made.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      But the whale one was fun,and the reboot wasnt that infuriating(despite being damn stupid).

      Also I dont like comparing me3 with starship troopers,because that movie was dense with satire.

      1. Michael says:

        My perspective was, it took a good decade before people started catching on with Starship Troopers. Heinlein apparently got it immediately and went ballistic, but I don’t remember reading much on it’s subtexts until about… 2008.

        Sorry, I’m mostly just spot checking my recollections here, and seeing if anyone else remembers it the same way.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          I remember getting the subtext but feeling like I was the only one. And like I wasn’t sure whether even the director had got it (I’m still not), since nobody else I talked to afterwards had noticed anything (or was willing to agree there could have been a subtext). => I think at the time the movie had mostly the inverse effect on people that it should have had.

          1. Michael says:

            Given that the book is arguing the values of a fascist state, and that the film is brutally subverting those themes. Also, given that (as a child) Verhoeven lived under Nazi rule during The Second World War. I don’t see how he could have possibly missed it.

            I’ll grant, Verhoeven is a bit hard to gauge, he has a reputation for social satire, but he plays his satire so damn straight, it’s really hard to be sure. I’m inclined to say, it’s deliberate, though.

            I’ll admit, I didn’t get it at the time, but as I recall, I wrote it off initially as another random action film and ignored it until some late night TNT airing, and still missed the subtext because I had no idea who the director was.

            1. Zak McKracken says:

              Oh dear! Not having read the book and with no idea about the director (or Heinlein as an author), I guessed that the original book was probably the contra-fascist one and Verhoeven had just not got the subtext or made it not obvious enough at least.
              At least the last bit I still hold, although I hate spelling out subtexts too clearly, but judging by most of a number of people’s reaction, they saw it as just another slightly fascistoid space-action movie. Some groaned at it, some really loved it for that.

          2. Daemian Lucifer says:

            You werent the only one.And frankly,I was surprised back then that so few people got it,because those tv segments were pretty god damn telling.

      2. Alex says:

        “Also I dont like comparing me3 with starship troopers,because that movie was dense with satire.”

        Starship Troopers wasn’t satire, it was slander. Verhoeven’s a goddamn idiot who could only win his argument against a strawman of his own creation.

        1. bloodsquirrel says:

          I saw the movie before reading the book, and the book comes off more like a brutal deconstruction of the movie than the other way around.

          One of my favorite parts was the recruiter; the book shows him without his augmetics first and shows it making Rico nervous. Later, Rico sees the guy walking around with his augmetics, talks to him, and finds out that they sent him there specifically because they wanted people to see what they were signing up for.

          The movie version strips all of that away and just has us gawk at the guy with no legs.

          Or there’s the scene in the book where someone asks why they have Troopers when they could just nuke everything. They explain that the Troopers are there for measured response, and ask if you would housebreak a puppy by breaking its neck.

          The movie version? “Durr, if you stab the guy in the hand, he can’t push a button to launch a nuke at you!”

          Yeah, Verhoeven doesn’t do satire. He does blood and guts, and sometimes flings some of those guts toward political or social issues, but the man doesn’t have anything worthwhile to actually say about them. The two big movies that made his name are basically just stock cyberpunk dystopias that he has characters run around shooting people in.

        2. False Prophet says:

          It was an effective satire of fascism and a imperialist state ruled by a military junta. (The culture was so jingoistic, you saw academics resorting to physical attacks during a public debate.)

          It was not an effective satire of the book. Not that the book can’t be legitimately criticized or satirized. It just wasn’t.

      3. X2-Eliah says:

        Yeah. The starship troopers bit was the one that felt like not working out.

  12. Tim Charters says:

    The upgraded assault rifle is actually, I’ve heard, an StG 44. Which did exist during WWII. But they were only produced in large numbers late in the war by Germany, so the likelihood of any of those ending up on a remote, top-secret Japanese research outpost is…not good.

    Really, if they wanted to have a rifle for Lara to use, they should have just had it be a modern hunting/assault rifle that happened to be onboard one of the ships or planes that got wrecked on the island. That, at least, wouldn’t be any more implausible that 90% of other things in the game.

    Also more generally, Lara shouldn’t pick up pieces of guns in random locations and assemble them at a campfire. Instead, she should just find better guns intact in a place where it would make some sort of sense to find them. Duct-taping two magazines together so they can be quickly flipped around to reload is perfectly plausible. Finding/assembling a flash guard isn’t, but I’m willing to go with it. Finding 3 pieces of a gun in a cave, an underground tomb, and a garbage pile, then putting them together with few tools and having it work perfectly is just silly.

    Really, all of the better gun pickups should have been done like the hunting bow that Jona gave Lara.

    1. Tizzy says:

      The way I figured, when you find “gun parts”, it means that you found a complete gun which is only partly in working order. After you found a few of the same model (reasonable since the military guys would be bringing crates of the stuff), you eventually have enough working parts to make it work.

      I’m not saying that this is the idea that the game sells. It’s just what I had to come up with to avoid being yanked out of the story every time I saw those words on the screen.

      Of course, that doesn’t justify the transfer of upgrades, but that’s just a gaming convention: if the upgrades did not transfer, the player would lack a real incentive to upgrade in the first place.

      Along the same line of thought, the whole concept of “I’ve got a bunch of parts, some poached off animals and various rusting bits and pieces found in crates: I can use those to improve my bow or my shotgun, it doesn’t matter which” is definitely for the sake of convenience. It would be pretty pointless to try to get the player to swallow anything more restrictive.

      1. anaphysik says:

        Also, it’s not well-communicated in-game, but you keep these broken guns in your extradimensional puncture wound.

    2. Michael says:

      Honestly, the one that drives me nuts isn’t the AR upgrade path. It’s the pistol and shotgun paths. Suddenly out of nowhere, three random parts for a Desert Eagle and a SPAS-12? O.o

      Though, given the similarities between the early AK family and the STG44, AND the hideous amount of crap you tack onto your weapon, proper identification in this came can get unreasonably difficult.

    3. Paul Spooner says:

      Agreed. I could easily believe Laura cobbling together a zip gun, but not a semi-auto that looks like it was assembled in a factory, let alone a fully automatic weapon. Those things are not easy to make, even with all the right tools.

      Of course they didn’t put this in because it makes sense. The most straightforward explaination for why they included the upgrade-stuff-with-garbage mechanic is that it’s another way to reward the player through game-play. Unfortunately, as you point out, there’s quite a bit of disconnect between the mechanics themselves and the theme layer that is applied over it. Its not really a narrative problem so much as a game-world disconnect. As with the wound, there’s a certain level of internal consistency to the world that is repeatedly built up and then offended.

  13. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    I agree that tone is really hard to hit. I tend to think planning can alleviate some of this. If you know that the end climax is going to be dramatic, you can tamp down the humor when it gets out of hand (drama needs comedy occassionally, if only for the contrast).

    Other potential problems: characters can get away from you, scenes can get away from you, and sometimes you hit exactly the tone you want -but it doesn’t communicate well.

    It can be really hard to tone down a funny character -writers like the jokes so much they just want to get them in. It can be really hard to cut away from a dramatic character -writers want to show and explore so much of the character. Same with a scene -it may be a great scene, but it doesn’t advance the story. (I’ve heard Directors Commentaries on movies that talk about this all the time.)

    And in the case of not communicating tone, I think Paul Verhoeven hit exactly the tone he was looking for in Starship Troopers -he was trying to show the foolishness of the over-serious fascist. The tonal clash was the point. The audience, however, caught the clash but not the meaning.

    1. bvdemier says:

      I never thought Starship Troopers was satire. Verhoeven is many things, including a great director, but subtle he is not.
      Paul Verhoeven and satire are two things that are difficult to mix. The man is just old enough to remember the Dutch winter of 44-45.
      In most of his work you can see his disdain for fascism.

      Heinlein used the idea of an interstellar bugwar to point out his ideas( communism sucks, detente is stupid, the death penalty). But Verhoeven basicly did the same thing( fascism is stupid). The fun seems to come form the fact that you are only allowed to like either the book or the movie.

      1. Alex says:

        “The fun seems to come form the fact that you are only allowed to like either the book or the movie.”

        No, you’re only allowed to like the book. The movie, with a single exception, is bad. Making a bad movie ironically is still making a bad movie.

      2. Hieronymus says:

        I liked both the novel and the film (just the first one), though I liked them for completely different reasons.

      3. Humanoid says:

        So where does Showgirls fit into this theory?

        1. bvdemier says:

          Showgirls is a comedy

          Seriously showgirls is just Verhoeven attempt to make an American version of Turk’s Fruit(Turkish Delight), and completely failing at it.

          Showgirls becomes hilarious for me for the same reason Starship Troopers the movie is hilarious: seeing a director who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word subtle trying to make a movie, but letting his own fetishes and issues take front place.

      4. bloodsquirrel says:

        Personally, I think Verhoeven just has a fetish for violence that he tries to pawn off as inch-deep “satire”.

  14. Tim Charters says:

    Re: What do they eat.

    If you search around the shantytown, you can find a few pens with pigs and chickens in them. Of course, that isn’t nearly enough to justify supporting a population of this size. But hey, at least one person on the level design team thought about this at some point.

    1. X2-Eliah says:

      Going by the rule of New Vegas (one tiny farm is 100% enough to settle all and any arguments about this), those chicken & pig coops are perfectly sufficient :)

      Plus, this island has fairly decent vegetation (enough to let deer and wolves survive, apparently), so that, too, contributes to human diet.

      1. ehlijen says:

        Don’t forget the Eskii Vulgaris, the common eski. It grows seemingly everywhere, from dank caves to cliff sides and offers it’s delicious fruit in a handy, temperature controled box shaped shell.

    2. Tizzy says:

      Given how tough to kill these pigs are, I’m willing to bet pork is not on the menu very often.

    3. The real sign that you’ve been somewhere awhile and are really settling in is the use of tires as decoration in your sewage canals.

      I’m thinking the only thing missing is a trailer park at this point. I figure soldiers from WWII would’ve been running out of military hardware and using Airstream trailers as landing craft or something.

  15. The Rocketeer says:

    The thing I wonder about for the next Tomb Raider is where they are going to go with the character, if anywhere.

    What worries me is that origin stories for established characters are the easiest kind of stories you could hope to tell: a character is one way, then trauma, then Batman. BAM. And Tomb Raider could barely pull even this off due to the hamhanded moodswings of the tone, and the fact that this arc they thought they needed to reboot the series for ends about a third of the way through the narrative with little of merit left to carry it.

    But anyway, forget that. Tomb Raider was a good game, I liked it, I think most people here liked it. By the end, they’ve got the Lara they wanted. She can jump and climb, she knows her world history, and she can unblinkingly gun down men and wild animals with a silver pistol in each hand. Classic! Great. Where to next?

    I mean, there isn’t much point in dwelling on what’s going on inside Lara’s head or where she came from if they are, from here on out, just going to be making games with the same Lara everyone has always known since the 90’s, with no further evolution or exploration. Maybe they just wanted to baptize Lara into the modern Uncharted-style games that she had helped usher in in the first place, and thought this was a good way to do it. But they made a big deal before this game came out about really getting into the character, like that meant something to them and like it should mean something to the audience, too.

    But now that they’ve evolved this classic, archetypal Lara Croft they wanted so badly, what are they going to do with it? Anything? If the classic Lara is too precious a commodity to tamper with- and I don’t believe that, at all- why would they have courted an audience that would miss the absence of such development? If they don’t think that kind of development is important to the character, why did they waste everybody’s time with it in this title?

    And if they’re going to try and keep Lara a human, evolving character, where are they planning to take her next? As stated, we’ve seen these guys’ writing chops, and I’m not too impressed by them. So if they squeaked by with a C+ on the easiest kind of character development you could turn your hand to, how much hope should we hold that they can fiddle with an iconic character in an interesting, meaningful way now that they can do so in any direction or fashion they could think of? Lara’s just about out of close friends to kill off or turn evil, where’s the drama going to come from? (My money is on a love interest who, of course, gets killed by the villain after they grow close.)

    This is all just speculation, harrumphing, and pushing the air around, though. I’ll just have to wait and see like everyone else, but I am certainly interested in what they might come up with.

    1. ehlijen says:

      Honestly, I’m hoping that they put Tomb Raider aside for a bit and reboot/remake Jurassic Park: Trespasser instead.

      Jumping/climbing puzzles on an island full of dinosaurs and ancient temples done by these guys? Could be good. They did that part better here than the Lara Croft story, anyway.

    2. anaphysik says:

      Yep, definitely betting on your side here. Although maybe if people keep praising their malfunctioning story, they’ll feel obligated to include more than a non-story in their follow-ups? Does that count as a victory? Nope.

    3. Tizzy says:

      Even with the nonsensical story frustrating me no end, I have to make a confession. I enjoyed the gameplay tremendously, QTE’s excepted, sure… … but I also really LIKED this new Lara, much more than I ever cared for her before. I played other TR games with pleasure, without ever connecting with the old character at all.

      So I do hope that they don’t neglect the character work in the unavoidable sequel.

    4. Shamus says:

      Chris has made a guess (which seems likely to me) that the next game will have Lara working out some sort of Daddy Issues. They alluded to her father many times in this game, and they set him up as a kind of reckless, head-in-the-clouds sort of dreamer. It seems plausible to me that the next game will feature this in some way. Maybe he left a mystery for her. Maybe he’s still alive. Maybe we’ll get flashbacks where the pre-Endurance Lara clashed with her dad, and now she’s kind of become him.

      1. Tim Charters says:

        I’ve heard that in the final cutscene, the papers that Lara is looking over as she rides away on the boat are her father’s notes or something (don’t ask me how she got ahold of them at that point). So yeah, that does seem really likely.

      2. The Rocketeer says:

        I think that’s a neat idea, actually. I can’t resist thinking of Loren Croft as some sort of jovial, absent-minded professor type, while still being a cavalier badass just like his daughter.

        Yet I can’t resist pointing out that that would mean they killed so many of her acquaintances off for drama, they had to start bringing people back to life!

      3. X2-Eliah says:

        Daddy Croft IS Nathan Drake. Oh c’mon, you know it is true.

        Therefore, we can also extrapolate that TIM DRAKE is the sibling of Lara Croft (at least via father side). Therefore, Lara Croft IS Batgirl.

  16. Weimer says:

    I simply love the visual glitches because it looks like Ms. Superman here has dropped some LSD to make herself forget the pain of her existence.

    Now I wish that more games had a LSD button which would throw random visual effects at the screen whenever the player wants.

    1. Michael says:

      Well, Human Revolution had a mescaline button whenever my old graphics card got over about 90c… That was cool, for a few seconds.

    2. The Rocketeer says:

      I like the idea that Lara is nuuuuuuuuts and most of the game is just a fever hallucination from getting impaled by a rusty spike and wading through stagnant water.

      The actuality is that she’s been in a heap the whole time babbling about superqueens and hobo cults like a dog chasing squirrels in its sleep, while Reyes and Jona(h?) try and keep her hydrated waiting for rescue.

      1. Tim Charters says:

        That still has the question of who grabbed Lara on the beach, took her into a murder-cave and lashed her upside down in a giant bag? Unless everything except the first 20 seconds was a dream/hallucination.

        1. Michael says:

          Or, you know, there was one or two mad hobos of doom, driven insane by being stranded on the island, and she extrapolated her crazy empire of weirdness from them.

      2. ehlijen says:

        While Sam goes on a machine gun rampage through the doomsday cult that guards the radio tower?

  17. Vect says:

    I remember reading a thing from Anthony Burch, the guy who wrote Borderlands 2, on Tonal Difference. Might be worth checking out.

    1. anaphysik says:

      Note that what Burch is talking about there is a /proper/ application of tonal shifts: within people’s reactions to their world. It’s not so much a matter of tonal shifts as it is a matter of tonal complexity – real people aren’t one-note, and real people react to real events in complex (and often instantaneously contradictory (frex: grieving as you then laughing at )) manners. You really only see single tones expressed when there’s a strong cultural expectation for there to be one (e.g. “nobody’s allowed to make jokes at funerals”) – and that’s only what’s *expressed*, not actually *felt*.

      Tomb Raider is not like that. This isn’t a matter of complex personalities, or cultural values. Tomb Raider suffers from tonally-inconsistent /physics/. Do wounds cripple you because people are fragile and the world is harsh? Or can you hop around like a coked-up monkey not two seconds after falling 50 feet and making an ‘umph’ sound? Tomb Raider can’t decide, and flipflops between the two extremes – and this is a REALLY critical part – *without ever making a point about the juxtaposition of those two extremes*. (For example, you could contrast physics if you had a material world and spirit world or somesuch (e.g.: ‘chi is real’); or you could contrast culture with physics, like with the following example paradigms: ‘people are tough, but this culture views some people as fragile anyway’ GEE, I WONDER WHAT KIND OF CULTURAL PARADIGM THAT WOULD REPRESENT or ‘all people are fragile, but this culture values willingly charging into danger regardless.’)

      But no, Tomb Raider isn’t concerned with highlighting the inherent consequences to having a world (oh, like our real one, for example) where one type of interaction is deadly and another type of interaction isn’t.

      And so Tomb Raider’s world ends up not behaving consistently, and without any thought for why it might be (or seem) inconsistent. Why? Because it’s not a world – it’s just whatever the writer/level designer/etc wants it to be for the current cutscene/jumping puzzle/combat sequence/whatever. It has no character to itself; it is *purely* a tool.

      tl;dr: Burch piece is pretty solid, Tomb Raider drools, sometimes I type too much

      1. Michael says:

        Part of Tomb Raider’s problem is that it’s a Frankenstory. I mean, who wrote it? We have Rhianna Pratchett’s name on it, but… the game was in and out of development hell for years. At one point it was a survival horror game, at another it was a throwback action game, I think there was a stealth action phase at one point, a hardcore survival game, and now this.

        The game feels schizophrenic because it is. Pratchett wasn’t brought in to craft a story, she was (probably) handed a chunk of random locations, cardboard standup characters, weapons, and game themes and told, “make a story out of this.”

        So we’re left with gameplay elements that are from a hardcore survival game, where wound management is important, mixed with regenerating health from a third person, cover based shooter, mixed with fall damage from a forgiving platformer, mixed with ammo capacities from a survival horror/stealth action game. None of it works together because it’s four or five different games, awkwardly bolted together.

        To it’s credit, it all works together to create an enjoyable experience… no, wait, scratch that, it all works in spite of itself to create an enjoyable experience. But it’s anything but cohesive. And when the cutscenes happen, we’re told a story from the hardcore survival game, and everyone starts scratching their head and complaining about sewer water.

        1. Tizzy says:

          Well, I have no idea how game developments really works in practice, and how it worked for this particular one, but one thing that appears to me unavoidable is that gameplay mechanics and story are done by different people at different times.

          Mechanics can be fine-tuned until pretty much the last minute, and they probably are to polish the gameplay. But I imagine that small changes also drastically affect the spirit of the game (e.g. how deadly the world is, or how important scavenging is). On the other hand, the story and visual aspects, so most of the atmosphere, must surely be locked in much earlier.

          So unless the team has a very specific gameplan and sticks to it rabidly, it looks to me like a certain schizophrenia between story and gameplay is just par for the course.

          Now, the order may work differently on other games. Watching some previews released by the Dishonnored team, before the game even came out I had the definite impression that the whole thing was built around the game mechanics and levels and multiple approaches, with the story coming at the end. Having played the game only confirms that impression.

          1. Michael says:

            Yeah, that’s the way it works in normally. Build the game, then write the story for it. Which, at best, results in some pretty horrible storytelling.

            Tomb Raider’s a bit unusual in that the game itself is an amalgam of previous, vastly different, game concepts. Usually when this happens we end up with a completely incoherent mess.

  18. BitFever says:

    Speaking of mass effects ending can we have a new rule for realistic science fiction narratives, It is now considered cheating to end your story with a deus ex machina moment. The only exception to this rule is deus ex, those games can have a free pass for obviuse reasons :P

    1. Michael says:

      Honestly, the issue is: writing in games is bad. I mean, really bad. Mass Effect is a great microcosm of how it can go wrong. It’s not a trilogy (in any traditional sense of the term beyond, “oh, there’s three of them now.”), the characters get dragged around doing random things for plot, the deus ex machina elements that are all over the place. The incoherent use of characters…

      And these are the people that got held up by the industry as the best writing it had to offer. On top of that, most gamers don’t know what is and isn’t good writing. It goes beyond simple issues of taste, I mean as a whole most gamers have gotten completely turned around on what is or isn’t good.

      One quick example was watching the very same people who praised Mass Effect 2, turning around and trashing Crysis 2 as terrible. Thing is, Crysis 2 at least elevated itself to the level of bad summer action film. Not good, but over Mass Effect 2? Ironically, they also turned on Dragon Age 2, which, while bad, actually had some of the best dialog writing I’ve seen in a game.

      1. Tizzy says:

        To be fair: the typical game writer must have exactly the same level of control over the finished product as the typical Hollywood script writer (none whatsoever), and the job is actually significantly harder since even the most linear of games are less linear than a movie.

        Frankly, it’s a wonder that there is any good writing in games. (Of course, I’m from that generation who grew up with games that had no writers at all… and I’m not going back ever!).

        1. Michael says:

          Usually with games and writers, usually there’s two patterns. Either the writer is part of the dev team from the beginning, or they’re brought in after the fact to knit the game together into a single story.

          If it’s the former, then the writer is usually a member of the development staff and not actually a trained writer. There are a few rare cases where you either have a good writer on the dev team, or the dev team hires a professional writer at this stage.

          Or the writer is brought in and told, “make a story out of this”, after the game is basically done. Most of the time when there’s an actual name in a game’s writing credits, this is what happened.

          Pratchett was either brought in after most of the game was completed, or at some point during it’s iteration as a gritty survival story.

      2. False Prophet says:

        Well, Bioware often gets criticized for using the same dozen character archetypes in all their games. But that’s probably 9-10 more stock character types than 90% of other games out there, plus those archetypes are a bit deeper and far more varied than your run-of-the-mill bro-shooter or God of War wannabe. And like you said, they have their dialogue writing pretty down-pat at this point. So while players of oldschool RPGs may decry the dumbing-down of Bioware writing over the years, to someone used to the likes of Kratos and Marcus Fenix, Mass Effect 2 must come across as Shakespeare done by Olivier.

        1. Michael says:

          Not really. Bioware’s writing is pretty terrible, DA2 was an oddball outlier for dialog… and pretty much nothing else. It’s also an anomaly, I haven’t seen comparable dialog from anything else they’ve done.

          Thing is, today, Bioware’s bubble has burst. A few years ago, they were widely praised, and I don’t just mean by fans, a lot of gaming sites were lining up to say how awesome Bioware’s writing was in their articles.

          Used to be, gaming sites would claim that Knights of the Old Republic was the single best piece of Star Wars writing out there (sometimes including the original trilogy). There were also the fans out there, rallying around them, but between ME3 and DA2, most of those have come to their senses.

      3. Astor says:

        Well, the ME games have decent writing when it comes to dialogue. Even in ME3 I found good snippets of dialogue, character interplay, witticisms… so your point in DA2 is valid for the ME games too as far as I’m concerned!

        Now the overall plot, starting in ME2, is just plain unbelievable…

        1. Michael says:

          At some point, Bioware shifted over to using “the room” system for writing. And, on the whole, their dialog and some elements of their material did improve. Unfortunately, this happened at the same time that people like Casey Hudson still had enough authority to declare chunks of material by executive fiat… and we got the Starchild…

          1. anaphysik says:

            “”the room” system for writing”

            You’ll have to explain that one. You mean writing in an effective ‘room’ (physical or not) of other writers to discuss ideas and specifics with, to induce a natural peer-review quality to the final work?

            Or do you mean writing reminiscent of The Room ;P

            1. Michael says:

              Yeah, sorry, “the room” is a technique from TV writing, where you just cram a bunch of writers in a room, and have them spitball until something interesting comes out. It doesn’t need to be a physical room, though it often is.

              Bioware keeps claiming it’s a peer review system, which makes it sound a hell of a lot more impressive than it actually is.

  19. Hieronymus says:

    “like a couple of Game of Throne villains running around inside the world of The Princess Bride.”

    To be completely fair, the wedding in The Princess Bride was interrupted prematurely.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      Hey, another Lohengrin fan!

      I was delighted for that week or so when everyone seemed to be into opera, now they’ve all gone back to that lousy TV show again. ;p

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Huh,I never knew there were traps here.

    1. Michael says:

      I knew about the one in the church… the one before the chopper was new to me, though.

  21. Tony Kebell says:

    Is anyone else happy with Shamus for Mercifully linking to John Mcclane, Lt. Horatio Caine and Andy Taylors, wiki pages rather than their TV Tropes pages?

  22. Tony Kebell says:

    Did anyone else notice that last week was ‘Mumbles Week’, can we make it an annual thing?

    Like Shark Week.

    1. Ardis Meade says:

      Weekly would be better.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        You’re right, weekly sharks would be fantastic.

  23. Tony Kebell says:

    Oh, by the way, the wound in MP3 that is, ‘sprsrs’, is a sniper shot, with a .50 cal rifle, the fact that Maxs’ arm is still attached is miraculous.
    So yeah, I bought the hole, ‘never been hit my a .50 cal before’ / ‘this one is different’ thing and it was interesting for the whole 2/3 minutes where you’re defenseless.

  24. Kevin says:

    I wouldn’t sell Prince Humperdinck and Count Tyrone Rugen short. Kidnapping, torture, attempted murder and starting wars for political gain? If they had more screen time, they would show up as quite bad men. Polite, perhaps, but bad. I’d even say Game of Thrones bad.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I don’t know about this “Game of Thrones” thing you all keep bringing up, but Princess Bride has a certain chivalry about it. Whether we’re talking the book or the movie (which are surprisingly similar), everyone conforms to the general style and flair of the “storybook for grownups” world they inhabit. Yes, Rugen and Humperdinck are objectively bad people, but they are bad in a very specific way. They kill and torture, but they don’t betray. In fact, no one in the Princess Bride displays any signs of treachery. Sure they lie and decieve, but no one pretends to be friendly when they are really harboring evil intent. In this respect it is a world even more free of illusion and deceit than the real world. I’d guess that treachery runs deep in the “Game of Thrones” badguys (and goodguys as well?), and thus would feel out of place in the world of Princess Bride.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        Game of Thrones: Middle-Earth, inhabited by the cast of Dragon Age.

        No, I don’t get it either.

        1. Michael says:

          For that analogy to work, wouldn’t Dragon Age need competent villains?

          1. The Rocketeer says:

            If your definition of competence includes not just getting killed along with everyone else, then no.

            1. Michael says:

              If I’m being honest, Dragon Age always felt like a feel good version of Warhammer Fantasy. You have the fade… er, warp, providing magic, the chaos… er, fade tainted critters wandering around in swarms… elves are getting screwed over by the empire, dwarves are dealing with hordes of chaos, the inquisition is… or, uh, the templars are hunting mages… though I guess the templars are a little less psychotic than inquisitors… most of the time…

              So, saying Game of Thrones characters in Middle Earth does feel a bit off to me. For one thing, Magic is just damn rare in LotR, it’s ecologically destructive in GoT, and it corrupts it’s users in WH/DA… GoT and LotR are mostly low magic settings with a few exceptions. Dragon Age is plugged to the gills with magic, and Warhammer isn’t actually that far behind. Hell, both WH and DA have the whole “screw up, and your mage gets possessed by a demon/daemon” bit. GoT doesn’t even start to have an equivalent so far as I know. I’m honestly not sure, since I haven’t actually gotten around to reading the GoT novels.

  25. Well whud’ya know? Turns out upside down English looks like every eastern European language I’ve ever seen. Haven’t even hit play yet and I’ve learned something new from this episode. Thanks spoiler warning!

  26. Tim Charters says:

    With regards to getting injured in cutscenes vs. getting shot in gameplay:

    I’ve read that Brothers of Arms: Hell’s Highway did the regenerating health thing, complete with red screen overlays, but presented it as a “dodging meter.” If you got out of cover, enemy fire would draw a bead on you and the probability that you would be hit (though I suspect it was actually a behind-the-scenes health meter instead of actual probability) would increase until finally you were shot by one bullet and got killed instantly.

    I think more games should do that. It is still pretty unrealistic (instantly-incapacitating bullet wounds are surprisingly rare in real life), but it is a bit more realistic than existing health systems. And it is a pretty good match for action movies where all the bad guys have attended the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy and any actual gunshot wound more serious than a graze is either instant death, instant incapacitation that leaves just enough time for a dying speech, or a moderate inconvenience, depending on character importance.

    And most importantly for the purposes of this discussion, it provides a clear distinction between getting shot in gameplay and getting shot in a cutscene. You get might get shot at a lot in gameplay, but you only actually got shot in that one cutscene. All the other guys missed.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, the game play wouldn’t have to change very much, and you’d get a much more believable result. Reminds me of this article:

    2. Tizzy says:

      But then you still have to explain why your health/cover/whatever meter is regenerating more or less slowly rather than just filling back up instantly.

    3. Astor says:

      How did the game present that? Was a tutorial pop-up explaining the what it means when the screen goes red?

      Also, now that I think about it, this is what The Walking Dead does lol!

      1. Tim Charters says:

        I haven’t played the game myself, but I assume it was something like that near the start of the game. But I’ve also read that if the screen got too red, your squadmates would shout at you to get back in cover before you got shot. And occasionally after you got back in cover with a low health/dodge meter, they would say something about how lucky you were that you weren’t hit.

    4. Trix2000 says:

      I’m wondering if you could further improve such a system by mixing it with a semi-conventional health bar too. Only said health bar is small, so you only take a couple hits (more than one, but not much more) and it doesn’t regenerate (this is starting to sound a bit like shields/health paradigm though). Even better if taking any damage to health reduced your combat effectiveness, such as blurring vision or slowing you down.

      As for the ‘dodge bar’, it would make more sense for it to regenerate fast in cover. Not instantly, since they still know you’re there and are liable to shoot at where you dropped, but as time passes they won’t as easily know where you are to get that advantage. Things like running could temporarily reduce the bar by a set amount (so less likely for a short time, but it’ll still go up the longer you’re exposed). Oh, and there’s also room for different weapons having different ‘damages’ – a sniper would likely be more accurate and thus hit your dodge harder, whereas a submachine gun would not affect dodge much but more often.

      Of course, if you bring up explosives and melee weapons… maybe have them hit health directly? Would make them much more dangerous threats, but I’m not sure how that should be balanced.

      …I think that got away from me there.

      1. Tim Charters says:

        Melee weapons can be dodged. It is in fact usually easier to dodge them than bullets. So they’d just act the same as guns.

        As for explosives, I’d have them hit both your dodge and health bar, with each having its own attenuation radius. So if you’re far away from where an artillery shell lands, you’re just overwhelmed by the noise and maybe knocked around a bit, making it harder for you to pay attention and move, and thus easier for enemies to pick you off. If it’s close to you, you get hurt and possibly killed.

        Same thing with falling damage. If you fall 5-10 feet, you might lose your footing for a bit and have to recover. If you fall 20 feet, you’ll get health damage plus probably lose all your dodge bar because you got hurt in the fall and have to recover from the pain before you can get moving again.

        The difference between them and guns is that the dodge and health damage would be independent of each other. Having a full dodge bar won’t help you if you’re standing on top of a grenade when it goes off. But having a low dodge meter wouldn’t make you get hurt by an explosion that’s too far away to damage your health, either.

        If you didn’t have static health, then it would be the same, except with the health damage radius/falling distance replaced by an instant kill radius/falling distance.

        And yes, in practice, this would work very much like a static health, regenerating shield system. Just like Brothers in Arms works just like a regenerating health system. The difference is in the presentation.

  27. Daimbert says:

    Huh. Well, I didn’t go through the development process and so I don’t really know what might have been going on earlier, but in the final product of “The Witch Watch” I thought that the tone was quite consistent for what it ended up as: a light adventure book. Consistency of tone was definitely not its problem. But I think it’s a good springboard for some talk about tone overall, which might help with the current book (and I apologize for what is likely to be a long discussion).

    Before I begin, to look at how to write clear comedy you might want to read Robert Asprin’s Myth series or Dan McGirt’s first one or two Jason Cosmo books, if you haven’t already. Both get more serious later on, but they do an excellent job of simple light parody.

    You started from what would be called a “high-concept” (and thanks to SF Debris for driving that into my head) which was, essentially: What would happen if you tried to raise someone from the dead and got the wrong person? The problem with high-concepts is that they generally can be used for almost any type of story. For this one, you could range from a completely comedic idea — they’re raising someone from the dead so that they can find their keys, a la Xykon from OotS — to the sort of light adventure that you had to a complete drama, such as them trying to raise their beloved family member, getting the wrong person, having no way to getting their family member back without killing the person they raised, and then examining the moral issues around all of that. So, with that, if you are going to pick a tone, it’s not going to be the concept that drives that. You may have thought the concept was more humourous than dramatic, but as I said with it being that high-concept not everyone will see that immediately.

    So, to do that, you need to determine and set your tone through protagonists, antagonists, and plot.

    For a completely humourous story, you need to have at least one straight person, or the one sane person who is at least mostly normal. But you also need main protagonists that are, well, ridiculous and simply humourous. In “The Witch Watch”, both Gilbert and Alice struck me as being “straight persons” — too serious and normal to drive the humour. And since neither of them could drive the humour, and the protagonist workload was mostly them, it would be very difficult to make the work.

    Now, you CAN do humour with serious characters, but you have to rely on quirks to make that work out. For example, in one scene in Star Trek: TNG, Picard is asking if anyone ever played with ships in bottles, and is saying it to Worf and Data. Worf replies “I did not play with toys”, and Data comments “I was never a boy”. And this is hilarious — at least to me — despite the fact that those specific facts about them are played out dramatically and are serious character traits for them. The issue with trying to play off of that is that it works better when we know and like the characters; starting out that way runs into issues of being inconsistent with the characters.

    But another example from Star Trek is “The Trouble with Tribbles”. Kirk plays the straight man in the entire episode, the person that strange and annoying things happen to. He does it excellently, and even gets his lines in: when the annoying station head says that he’s taking the mission too lightly, Kirk replies “I take this mission quite seriously; it’s you I take lightly”. You have the one sane protagonist, and everyone else is acting incredibly oddly in a funny way, and it really works.

    Which feeds into the second thing: antagonists. The main antagonists have to be funny. The tribbles are probably the main antagonists in that episode, and you simply can’t take them seriously. The section chief is annoying, and we laugh at Kirk insulting him. The trader is a joke and is only there for a laugh. And so on. But a better contrasting example of this is to look at the character of Siegfried in “Get Smart”. In the TV series, he is a delightfully goofy and yet menacing villain, because they make him such. He constantly can go from angrily berating his henchmen to calling up his secretary and saying “Helga, darling, would you mind terribly ringing up Control headquarters? Thank you, darling”. And one of his funniest scenes is when he’s talking and puts his fists down on the table to make a point … and puts one of them into a pitcher of water. He reacts angrily, and you think it is about it being where he would put his fist into it … but then he says that it should be over on the other side (right where his other fist was). And sure enough, he does it again and puts the other fist in the water. He’s quirky in a funny way that means that while you take him seriously as an antagonist, you don’t take him as a serious character. He’s a fun and funny character, who happens to be a brutal and menacing villain at the same time.

    Compare to Siegfried in the movie, who is NOT a fun character. He’s mean and brutal. Any humour from him is just him being brutal to others, and never at his expense. He isn’t fun, and so isn’t funny, and so to me doesn’t make for a good funny movie villain. He can be ignored, but he doesn’t make the work like Siegfried did.

    Which leads to the last one: the plot. As outlined above, the high-concept can devolve into many plots, from the utterly ridiculous to the very dramatic and even moralistic. If you’re going for humour, obviously you want to go as ridiculous as possible. Barring that, you want to go as cliched as possible, so that you can parody the cliches. No matter what, it has to support the tone you are looking for. So, you don’t want a simple “Save the world” plot. If you go for that — and Get Smart and Star Trek did in the examples I give — you need to have the plot be as ridiculous as possible. So you save the quadrant — from small, cute, cuddly creatures that are going to eat all of the grain. Or the U.S. from an invasion — by the Indians (“But India is a neutralist state!” “Not those Indians … American Indians”). And so on.

    When you can put all of this together, you get great humour and works that, it seems to me, are far easier to write for laughs because it’s just impossible to take the characters or the plot seriously. If you don’t manage all of this, then you end up with either light adventure/drama or dark drama with funny moments. And, to be honest, there’s nothing wrong with those either. “The Witch Watch” came across as, indeed, light adventure/drama, and was good enough at that so that tone, at least, was not its main problem.

    So if you tend to naturally produce that sort of story, then there’s nothing wrong with focusing on that and doing that sort of story the best you can.

    1. Cinebeast says:

      I love long comments like these, and I love discussing storytelling. Well said, Daimbert.

      1. Sleepyfoo says:

        I enjoyed the long comment as well, but when I got to your reply, I had forgotten the posters name. So I read your “well said, Daimbert” as “well said, dangnabit”.

        I’m not sure how that happened.

        Anyway, I agree with Daimbert, the tonal composition informs the flavor of the story. All silliness and light tone gets you comedy, all dark and grim gets you grimdark/angst. A mix gets you basically everything depending on the ratios.

        That said, spend too long early on in silliness and anything dark that comes after feels wrong, and out of place. Moodwhiplash can be just as problematic, though sometimes sudden shifts can be appropriate.

        To bring us back to Tomb Raider, it suffers from mood whiplash. Unfortunately, it shifts every time you go from gameplay to a cutscene, and then again when you go back. Except this specific time, ironically. They kept some of the injury permanence they seem to want in cutscene land into the gameplay arena. So this segment of Cutscene, gameplay, cutscene didn’t have the violent shifts that the rest of the game seems to.

        1. Daimbert says:

          Which might well be a problem. Mood whiplash can actually be used effectively, if it’s done well and consistently. I’ve never played Tomb Raider, and so can’t say how it’s done there, but you can look at works, for example, that do a past-present-past-present type of thing. They break up the narrative flow, but if it’s done well and the work makes it clear that this is what’s happening to the reader, it can be very effective.

          And now imagine them suddenly stopping that. The reader/viewer is now dragged out of the work because their expectations are broken. This feels dramatic, I guess I can call it. Expectations are broken, it’s different, and so you immediately are called to either pay more attention or, if it’s dramatic enough, it breaks suspension of disbelief and you are left remembering that you’re just reading a book or watching a movie or playing a game. The latter’s always bad, while the former can be useful if you use that to, in fact, highlight something important to make it worth paying attention to.

          So if a mood whiplash is done well and consistently, then it can be interesting … but then stopping it is a problem if you just stop doing it and don’t give any real payoff when you stop it (ie it just fades out instead of going out with a bang).

  28. Jakale says:

    So, I think the only reasonable explanation for Lara’s disease free body is that she’s got alligator blood.

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