Laughter is the Best Medicine

Tim Schafer on Humor in Videogames | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios

[MUSIC PLAYING] We have a guest this week. We have Tim Schafer,
the amazing creator of “Psychonauts,” of “Grim
Fandango,” of “Broken Age.” And he’s here to talk to us
a little bit about comedy. So this will be funny, whether– Oh, man, that’s
a lot of pressure. I know. It’s guaranteed. Only in the game. It’s in the contract. Only the games are funny. [CHUCKLES] Tim, what, um, for you when
you’re coming up with comedy– is that like an explicit
part of the process, or does it happen by accident? Or– It feels like it happens by
accident, in that mostly we hang out with funny
people at work. Every work is, like, funny. Is there a test to be funny
to get into Double Fine? Maybe. Not explicitly, but in
the interview process. So someone who’s,
like, really like– if they don’t
laugh at our jokes. Right. That’s– they
must not be funny. Right. That’s a good test. And you brainstorm for puzzles. Or when you’re designing a
game, you brainstorm together. And it’s usually a
time when– maybe it’s because you’re locked in one
room for a long period of time with the lack of oxygen
and low on snack food. You tend to just laugh a lot,
and that I think that humor just gets into the games a lot. So how do you know
if something that’s a joke that’s created in this
very small, airless environment is actually gonna be
funny for everybody else. You don’t. Sometimes 2 o’clock
in the morning, you’re like– you
come up with an idea and just– oh, everyone’s
laughing so hard, and you put it in the game. And then you’re play-testing it. You’re waiting for
the joke to come out. And then no one laughs
at all, and you’re like, that’s just
a terrible joke. Why did that seem so funny? Oh, we were up till
4:00 in the morning. That’s right, that’s right. There’s an infinite number
of interactions the player can have with one of your games. And so you as a designer, if
you want to tell a joke, like, your space of working with
is really, really big. How do you prepare or
decide which things– like, oh, this would be good for me
to interject as a game designer and tell a joke versus,
like, the system’s not going to react in that case. Yeah, I mean, you really just
have a chart of everything that’s possible. And you know
everything that could be in the plays inventory. And you’re working
on a specific room. There’s a tree, and the
police officer in a car, and a hole in the ground. You’re like, OK, for the police
officer, here’s the things. We got eight things
in inventory, and you’re going
to use each one. And what can I write for each
one of those interactions? So it’s just a– it’s
systematic, though? Yeah. Do you, like, actually–
you have a real– like a tree that
you guys have built, and you test every single–
make sure you’ve covered every– Yeah, the testers have to go
through and test each one too. Oh, my gosh. I mean, you don’t– I don’t
write something great for each one, trust me. Like, if you’re– Do you do all the writing? Do you write everything? It depends on each–
yeah, this game, yeah. Other games, you know, get help. You’re like–
like Aaron Sorkin. Uh– He writes everything. Someways like Aaron Sorkin. Just kidding. [LAUGHTER] We have a lot of young game
designers that watch the show. And I was curious what advice
you might have for them about how they can
find their funny bone. Oh, man. Um, I would say– I mean,
the advice we used to give was so different
in the old days, because it used to be about
getting a job in the game industry. Right. And nowadays, it’s like it’s
not about how to get a job. It’s just, you can
make games yourself. Everyone can just do it. They can download
Unity or GameMaker or Constructor– something
that just lets you make a game. You can learn to do it yourself. You don’t need a
programmer [INAUDIBLE]. Right. I just make something and
share it with other people on– with your
friends on YouTube. And the biggest lesson
I ever learned in comedy was to just not be afraid of
things that sound stupid, which sounds strange. Like, working on
“Monkey Island,” I was writing this dialogue. And I wanted to make– you
can distract these villagers. And I was thinking, look behind
you, a three-headed monkey. And I thought, that’s so stupid. Obviously Ron
Gilbert, the guy who was making the game–
he was the leader. He’s going to come
upstairs, and he’s going to tell me, take that line out. But I’ll just
write this for now, ’cause I can’t think of how
else to distract this cannibal. And he came up. And he’s like– I was like,
I’m gonna take the line out. He goes, no, no,
let’s leave that. In fact, let’s have
one of the artists paint a three-headed
monkey behind you. And I was like, really? That’s so stupid. Monkeys don’t have three heads. Right? Because I’m just
overthinking the whole thing. Monkeys are always funny. And then I forgot the “monkeys
are always funny” rule. And also, the viewer
just doesn’t care. The viewer’s not thinking
about whether monkeys have three heads or not. They just want to
be entertained. So that ideas that
seem too stupid are often the funniest ones. And you just can’t– you just–
you got to learn to not censor yourself so much. I mean, don’t do anything
that’ll get you arrested or kicked out and your parents
take your computer away or anything like that. But just don’t worry about
being too ridiculous and stupid. Thanks so much, Tim. I appreciate you coming by. And if you want to check
out more of Tim’s games, you can check out the
Double Fine website. They’re available on Steam. And we’ll link to some of
them in the description. And you should absolutely
play “Broken Age.” It’s great. Thanks, Tim. Thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING]

59 thoughts on “Tim Schafer on Humor in Videogames | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios

  1. Awesome, you got Shafer in your show. I recently got Psychonauts, and I'm looking forward to playing it so much > u <

  2. Shaymin you looked nervous. Relax. He's a great dude.

    The framing was a little awkward, I feel like having the camera move backwards just a little bit would have significantly improved the whole thing. Not sure if the studio would have allowed for that, of course, but as it was it did feel weird. It probably didn't help that you are quite a big larger than Tim Schafer.

    I'm not sure if the focus on funniness was all too great. With somebody like him you could probably talk pretty much anything gaming.

  3. ok but let's get real. I'm amazed that he mentioned Psychonauts, which is in my opinion the greatest game out of Double Fine so far (and it's coincidentally my favorite game of all time), and it's this immensely overlooked game. I hope the viewers check it out for themselves after watching this because it is a once-in-a-lifetime game that anyone can love.

  4. Never seen Jamin Warren's side profile till now. Always seen head on or angled. That is all I walked away with from this… 3:

  5. saw the thumbnail, no way he got tim schafer for this. open video. HOLY SHIT he got tim schafer to do this! flip out. admire tim like an idiot while watching. kinda awkward video standing so close together and having just such a short time to talk about stuff. ending felt rushed. but then again tim fucking schafer was there! if there is more, please show us more. more tim. awesome though. you got tim! i'm so jelly

  6. I'm still waiting for a second Brutal Legend. Don't get me wrong new titles are what keeps the gaming industry alive, but there was so much potential for a second Brutal Legend.

  7. Next episode request: "What is Pay to Win." At what point is a game P2W? Is it any time you pay to overcome an in-game channeling? Or is it only if you can pay to get the best end-game gear?

  8. "the Milkman conspiracy" was literally one of the most brilliantly funny things I have ever seen. Sadly the only way to really get the absurdity of that bit is to play that whole 3 hour bit in one sitting, from getting to the island to the end of that guy's story. 
    Saying it is pythonesque, is an insult. That said it truly is aslo like a monty python skit. 

  9. I actually want to design a little 2D top down game and I wanted it to add humor and there were a lot of things that I thought were funny but I didn't write it down because I thought they were kinda stupid jokes, so thanks for that advice.

  10. This was pretty cool. If you could swing more interview with people in the industry, not even just renown designers I don't think I'd be the only one interested. Especially if you could manage to discuss an issue/idea with them. It's always nice to get other perspectives and ones from those who are involved in game development would be very interesting.

  11. Tycho, tycho, tycho…

    Wasn't that an evil AI from the Marathon game series by Bungie? Because there's no way you're wearing a shirt from that. Nobody even seems to acknowledge that those games even happened any more.

  12. Which Tim Schafer game is your favorite (i am asking because i am interested and might find out about some new ones).
    Mine has to be "Day Of The Tentacles" though the first 2 "Monkey Island" games follow closely.

  13. Tim Schafer died after making Green fandango. I don't know who this guy is but, his humor in all his games after the fore mentioned, sucks donkey ass.

  14. "I'm selling these fine leather jackets!" My most favourite line from Money Island and one of the funniest, and I still don't know why. Whenever I hear it I laugh!

    Also the scene between Manny and Carla and the metal detector in Grim Fandango is the best. "Bye, Carla!" "Drop dead!!" I laugh every time.

  15. Hey Tim love your games never played any but I've heard their good your still a terrible person who can't do math such as
    40 + 1 + 1 = 50 or
    3mil = half a game
    Also why don't the voices of minorities and women not matter to you have you even talked to them?

  16. Oh man, speaking as a High School student looking at potential writing careers in the industry, it's practically my DREAM to work with THE Tim Schafer.

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