“Why so SERIOUS?” – The Joker, The Dark Knight
Humor is a very serious business. I say that because I’m not very good at it, yet somehow managed to make a living at it for several years. Quest for Glory is known as a “humorous adventure game” series and we worked hard at keeping it that way. As frustrating as adventure games can be, we decided that it was better to have people laugh with us than scream at us.
Humor isn’t just for “funny” games and stories. Quest for Glory has a serious plot – the inexperienced Hero overcoming all odds to save the world. But along the way, there are many humorous moments and occasional outright silliness. Those moments lighten the mood, making the next dramatic bit all the more powerful.
So, how do you make a pun fun? We’ll show you how it’s done.
The idea of a running gag is to have a short joke that keeps showing up in different contexts. Ideally, it gets a little crazier each time and ends in a “payoff” punch line. Warner Brothers cartoons were famous for this. Airplane had a character say, “I guess I picked a bad time to give up smoking.” Not at all funny by itself, but by the time they got to “… a bad time to stop sniffing glue,” “… a bad time to start guiding space shuttles,” and so on, the accumulated ridiculousness became hilarious.
We didn’t have too many running jokes in Quest for Glory, but there was a walking one – the Awful Waffle Walker of Tarna. Marc Hudgins, a QG3 animator (and later lead artist on QG4), animated a walking waffle just for fun. He showed it to us and we ended up integrating it into the game. You kill it, you eat it.
The one-upmanship of Erasmus and Fenris might count as a running gag – Erasmus would start to tell a joke, Fenris would top it, Erasmus would try to recover, and Fenris would end with a zinger. It was enough to make anyone gag.
Quest for Glory got a lot of mileage out of anachronistic references to other sources. We used the Marx Brothers in QG2, Young Frankenstein in QG4, and dozens of other pop culture references. At one point Erasmus tells the Hero, “I can say no more,” and Fenris responds, “Please say no more.” That’s from the Beatles movie, “Hard Day’s Night.”
How abstruse were the in-jokes? I think we can safely say that nobody got all of them. Looking back at the Hero Magazine included with QG4, we had an article called, The Hero as an Artform by Fish Crawdad, “Ze Greatest Hero in Ze World” That’s a reference to Chris Crawford, who used to (jokingly, we think) call himself, “ze greatest game designer in ze world.” Chris, in turn, used “ze” to make fun of the fake French accents beloved by self-appointed “auteurs” in the film industry. Or how about the “Elderbury Pie” you bring Baba Yaga in QG4? Did you know that “Erna’s Elderberry House” is the fanciest restaurant in Oakhurst? I didn’t think so.
Other references in that magazine (and QG4) include “October Derleth” (August Derleth), “H.P. Craftlove” (H.P. Lovecraft), the mad monk Amon Tillado (“The Cask of Amontillado”, by Edgar Allen Poe), “Carl Atlas” (Charles Atlas, the body builder, who used to advertise on the back cover of comic books), and “Mister Mannerly” (Miss Manners, the newspaper advice columnist).
Monty Python was a favorite source – for example, the Dead Parrot Inn is only funny if you’ve seen their dead parrot sketch. Vorpal bunnies were feared monsters in QG4. To get to Erasmus’s house in QG1, you first had to get by a gargoyle who asks you “Questions Three.”
There were even references to other Sierra games. Every Quest for Glory features a moose head somewhere. This was a long-standing Sierra tradition used in King’s Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and other games. In Mordavia, the moose has fangs.
Certain Sounds are Silly
An aardvark and an emu check into a hotel in Azusa. Whatever happens to them, we know it’s going to be funny. Quest for Glory 1 featured the Antwerp, one of the strangest monsters in gamedom. Basically they just bounced up and down, but it they landed on you, it was crushing. If you hit one with a dagger, it split into multiple baby Antwerps.
It could have been worse. We could have set the entire game in Cucamonga.
Rhyme and Pun-ishment
“Doctor, my funny bone hurts.” “Well, it’s clear… You need an a-pun-dectomy!”
It’s been said that the pun is the lowest form of humor. They say that as though it’s a bad thing. But we need high humor and low. Most puns (excepting certain shaggy dog stories and Feghoots) have the virtue of being over very quickly. A pun can be fun if you tell it and run.
A pun is really just a specialized form of word play. Other forms can be excessive alliteration, using alternate meanings of words, having a character use language you wouldn’t expect, and many others.
The Gnomes in Quest for Glory are known for their sense of humor – and particularly their puns. In the first game, you eventually learn that dark wizard of the brigands is actually Yorick, a gnome jester who makes you cross a crazy room in order to talk to him.
In Shapeir, when you first go into the magic shop, you are greeted with, “Welcome to my little shop of wonders. Wonder what shop this is? It’s magic of course. I am Keapon Laffin, proprietor. You must be Nobil Caws. Proud to know you Mister Caws.” He spoke in riddles and rhyme all of the time. He was obviously a pun-dit of pun-demonium.
In Shadows of Darkness, you meet the Gnome comedian, Punny Bones. This unfunny Gnome can’t tell a joke from a straight line since the time he told the joke so bad that it made Baba Yaga curse. You get to help poor Punny regain his punchlines by bringing him a Good Humor Bar in QG4. Yes, we raised the bar for humor there.
And a Gnome named Anne runs the “Gnome Anne’s Land” Inn in Silmaria in QG5. Her food is world renowned – The lobsters there are so fresh, you have to slap their faces. And salad dressing? Her tomatoes wear tuxedos and her lettuce wears lace.
Some of the most effective puns are accidental. Just remember – When no pun intended, then no pun ish meant.
The Funny Pictures
We love comics because a good illustration can often make something funnier than mere words. Frank and Ernest is a personal favorite. The characters and settings are so wacky, the words just seem funnier. Besides, Bob Thaves comes up with a lot of fun puns.
The original EGA Hero’s Quest used a very cartoony style – How realistic can you get in 320×200, 16-color graphics anyway? That set the tone for the game. The entire “bouncing Antwerp” bit came from a Jeff Crowe illustration. Similarly, the cartoony appearance of Erasmus and Fenris in the first game goes right along with their bantering dialogue.
The detailed room backgrounds were filled with knick-knacks and in-jokes. At Keapon’s magic shop, you will see stuffed antwerps, the Starship Enterprise, and x-ray goggles. The goggles were ‘a veil-able’ when you needed them.
And then there were the opening cartoons… The first game opens with the Hero chasing after a small Saurus, then running away from a much larger Saurus. In the second game, your flying carpet almost gets hit by the Starship Enterprise.
Seek Serious Silliness
Did you know that April is National Humor Month in the U.S.? That gives us license to carry a pun. That’s an awesome responsibility! Have you told a bloke a joke today? Made a llama laugh or a gorilla giggle? If not you – then zoo?
With the Glory days behind us, it’s once again time for us all to light the lantern of laughter and kindle the candle of kookiness. We must seek out new lines and new pun-tifications. We’ll boldly joke where Gnome Anne has punned before.
Punny Bones, Fenrus, and Erasmus’s images were from QG4, created originally by Tim Loucks.