Thursday, April 1, 2010

I've got nothing



I'm always torn about April Fool's Day.

I appreciate when someone does a great April Fool's prank (like today's Google changing their name to Topeka) and love reading about them, but I felt like I've never come up with something epic... or even good... for an April Fool's joke. Usually they just come off as cruel.

Conversely, my 8 year old daughter is fascinated by the concept. In the first hour after I woke up, she tried to "April Fool" me three times. Once by telling me that the stove was broken. (To which I replied "What are you doing using the stove?"), the second time that she didn't love me (there's that cruel streak) and third that there was a big spider in the bathroom. That last one was pretty good because she had drawn a picture of a spider and set it on the toilet. Maybe she can teach me a thing or two.



Anything's better than resorting to Rick Rolling

This brings me to thinking about April Fool's jokes in gaming. We've had Christmas Games...



...Halloween Games...



...even Groundhog's day is represented...



...but April Fool's day is woefully under-represented.



I guess the closest thing to an April Fools prank shows up in Metal Gear Solid's Psycho Mantis Boss fight where the character reads your memory card and spouts off all of the titles you've played. Then he uses his psychic powers to "move" your game controller (actually activating the controller's actuator.)



But MGS is an amateur compared to the pranking in Eternal Darkness. As the game's heroes lose their sanity, the game tries to convince you that your character's head has popped off, the video has gone black, the volume has turned off, the game has crashed or deleted your save files. Fantastic, especially if you don't know it's coming. It's especially impressive because this type of pranking requires dedication and planning throughout the entire game design. Which must be why you just don't see it that often in games.

Here are a few things I've realized about putting pranks in games:

1) The player can't see it coming. The fun of pranking comes from the surprise/shock of the prank. It's like a scare but going for the laugh rather than the scare. Although often the two go hand-in-hand. (as Eternal Darkness went for)

2) The prank has to make sense within the context of the game. The MGS and ED pranks made sense because they were tied to the game's hardware. If you go too "out-there" it's just going to feel completely random and confuse the player.

3) Gamers are really good about keeping secrets. Player's did a great job not spoiling the ending to Bio-Shock or Portal or Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter. They want others to get pranked/surprised just like they did.

Eternal Darkness came out in 2002. I think it's time for another good "prank the player" game. I wonder who will step up to the plate?

As for my own April Fool's prank, I guess I'll have to come up with something good for next year. Happy April Fool's Day!

8 comments:

Bullingdon said...

Batman: Arkham Asylum has a very Eternal Darkness-y prank as well, tied in to the established "insanity" mechanic built up around your interactions with Scarecrow. I won't go into the details, but I got a real kick out of it.

Paul Kankiewicz said...

I have always loved the Blizzard April Fools jokes. While they're often (Or never) in game jokes, they're always quite comical. This is a link of a good one from this year - Blizzard Matchmaking System:

http://us.battle.net/matchmaking/index.html

Here's a link to a list of some old April Fools Jokes (My favorite was the Terra-Tron XD):

http://kotaku.com/5194059/blizzards-april-fools-day-spectacular

Paul

Hunty said...

I was coming here to mention Arkham Asylum's ED-style prank, but Bullingdon beat me to it!

Scott Rogers said...

@ Bullingdon,

I'd say the Batman: Arkham Asylum "prank" is more of a story-telling technique than trying to trick the player.

That said, it was very well done.

Bullingdon said...

@scott

Really? I would characterize the one key instance as a prank -- in my book it's every bit as much of a "prank" as the tricks in ED.

Hard to have this discussion without spoilers, but I wasn't referring to the general "insanity" mechanic used several times in advance of (or part of) "Scarecrow levels" (where "Batman" is hallucinating) but rather the one instance of it that is used in a VERY "meta" way, right out of the ED "hardware malfunction" playbook.

Probably just semantics at this point, since in both games the "pranks" do serve a direct story-telling purpose, but I was surprised you didn't agree. What's the key difference for you?

Scott Rogers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Rogers said...

@Bullingdon,

I think it has to do with context. Knowing that Scarecrow is a character that uses halluncinogens against Batman, I didn't view the hallucinations to be against the player but rather against the character. Where the pranks in ED and MGS are clearly against the player - they break the fourth wall rather than just keeping it in context like the Batman scenario.

Cap'n Heine said...

In my first playthrough of Eternal Darkness, when I knew I was about done and was excited to finish the game, the game faded out and a message that basically said "To Be Continued in Eternal Darkness 2" appeared. I was so angry until the game faded out again and I realized it was another insanity effect. Then I couldn't stop laughing.