In Jazzpunk, pressing a button can set off a cascade of sight gags and absurd dialogue. (Necrophone Games)
You're a secret agent tasked with infiltrating the Russian Embassy. Your director urges you to sit down for your mission briefing — right onto a whoopee cushion. The timetable at the embassy includes "Communist plotting," "vodka & biscuits" and a "potato-sack race."
Later, as you walk across a bridge and pass a nondescript citizen, you inadvertently throw him over the side and into traffic below. He utters the Wilhelm Scream on the way down.
This is the strange and unpredictable world of Jazzpunk, a cyberpunk comedy adventure game by Toronto-based Luis Hernandez and Jess Brouse, collectively known as Necrophone Games.
After preview versions made a splash at events such as the Independent Games Festival in California and Gamercamp in Toronto, Jazzpunk is officially set for release on PC and Mac today.
Hernandez and Brouse's goal was to create a game with comedy at its core, rather than a game that simply featured a few gags or some witty dialogue.
"With a lot of comedy games, there's a disembodied voice that's basically telling jokes at you," explains Hernandez.
Instead, in Jazzpunk, players walk into situations where pressing a button can set off a cascade of sight gags and absurd dialogue. You uncover jokes as a result of your own actions.
"The interaction and the joke are sort of tied to each other. The player ends up revealing the thing to themselves, at their own pace," explains Hernandez.
Keeping jokes under wraps
Jazzpunk's game creators struggled with how much to reveal in trailers and previews. (Necrophone Games)
Most of the Jazzpunk trailers haven't shown much from the game. We know that we'll play a spy who finds himself in strange situations, but Hernandez says he struggled with revealing what else players will find.
"The core value of the game is the surprise of the jokes. So people always like to ask me, 'What's your favourite joke in the game?' and it's like, 'Well, I don't want to ruin my favourite joke in the game.'"
With that in mind, the Necrophone duo chose to write jokes for the trailers that don't give away too much of what actually happens in-game. It's less of an actual preview than an attempt to offer the audience a taste of their humour, Hernandez says.
In one trailer, for instance, an actor fills his attaché case with a rubber lobster, a Slinky and a banana before hooking himself into a Johnny Mnemonic-like virtual reality machine. In another, Jazzpunk characters act out the opening theme from Thunderbirds, the '60s-era spy-adventure show featuring marionettes.
A different look and sound
Jokes aside, one of the first things you'll notice about Jazzpunk is its striking and minimalist visual style.
It forgoes the hyper-realistic landscapes of games like Grand Theft Auto 5 in favour of blocky geometric shapes and a garish, saturated colour palette. Characters resemble wooden board-game pieces instead of realistic humans.
As well, in stark contrast to the sweeping orchestral scores of AAA games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Jazzpunk takes as visual and musical inspiration the "hot, 1960s jazz sound" of Tito Puente, says Hernandez.
The creators married that upbeat jazz vibe with humour reminiscent of MAD Magazine and the Naked Gun films in hopes that they've created something that breaks new ground in video games.
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