Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy very funny. A fun game! Not so much – not really. Notoriously, the game goes a little too hard when it comes to comedy. A quick look at Duke Nukem, later Borderlands games, and even the Activision-backed Deadpool game bears this out. Games that really manage to smirk from players are often full of sarcasm, mocking other games and making fun of old formulas for mechanics and storytelling (looking at you here, Conker).
So, what does it take to make a really fun game – and an action game -? Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy launched in 2021 and quickly became known for its excellent writing. Our own Alex Donaldson even said in the title of his review that it was one of the best-written games of the year. Even if you try, you can’t avoid the quality of writing in Eidos Montreal’s Marvel debut; it’s at the heart of the experience. So how did Senior Narrative Director Mary DeMarle and her team do it? Well, first of all, they came in without any comedy experience.
“When we first got the project, I thought it was a little bit difficult to reset our mindset,” DeMarre told me. “For me, especially ‘Oh, do you want me to write comedy?!’ It’s really scary to me. I do have a sense of humor, but my sense of humor tends to be a little shady…when you’re in When watching ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ or something – it’s super light – I’m like ‘oh my god”.
DeMarle told me she often complained to creative director Jean-Francois Dugas about the comedic aspect of it. She told me that she often complained to a lot of people about it. “Know, when you’re making a game, it’s a long process, and you hear these jokes over and over again…you often get into situations where it’s funny the first time you hear it, but not the 15th time. It was terrifying.”
So she set about building a team; a lean team of writers, all sitting in the writer’s room, bouncing off each other. From DeMarle’s account, the writing lessons for “Guardians of the Galaxy” sound like the way you hear the classic comedy show work. This could easily be a Simpsons or Frazier setup.
“When comedy comes from characters, it’s as if you’re not trying to make a one-liner—you just want to be completely true to those characters, and that’s where comedy comes from,” DeMarre explained. “Once we realised that, we realised the power of the team – one guy would make a joke and then the others would say ‘no, no, no!’ – and it all builds from there.”
DeMarle explained that she’s amazed at how writers no longer know who’s joking when something is developed, spread, and collectively made funnier. “They’re like ‘Isn’t that your joke?’ and then ‘No, it’s yours! “. At one point, I actually had to look at our filesystem and say ‘no, no, it’s you [Ethan Petty], you wrote that line! He was like ‘Oh, I did it? [laughter]”.
DeMarle goes on to explain that one of the most important lessons she’s learned after working in the industry for 20 years is how to collaborate properly. For her, managing a team of writers and filtering their submissions and making sure everything works when unified, collaboration is key to making sure everything goes according to plan.
“On this project, when it started, I wanted to make sure we did script reading,” she explained. “So, one of the things with Eidos is, on Friday at 4.30pm, they open the beer fridge and everyone can relax. I said ‘Okay, we’re going to have a meeting at 4:30pm, book two hours, and then we Sit in a room together and drink beer and we’re going to read the script’. But the key part is that if you write the script, you can’t read it – you have to sit there and listen to your part being read. Really great The thing is — the beer and everything, and the fun script — it creates a relaxed vibe that really breaks down the barriers in the room. It really makes everyone trust each other.”
That trust has proven to be very important when you’re dealing with a game like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. Sure, on the surface, it’s about a group of misfit space pirates starting a space rock opera around the universe, battling sci-fi baddies and saving the universe…but in reality, it’s a game with surprisingly dark edges. The story revolves around the core pillars of trauma, grief, loss (Demal’s dark side is about looking up), and the constant contrast between the family of choice and the family of the abuser, the family that was killed, or the family that was stolen from you Really knocked those key points home.
“Writing — like all creative processes — can make you very vulnerable, and a lot of times you don’t want to share things or let people see what you’ve created,” DeMarre continued. “But we learned very quickly that sharing with the team makes the team stronger. When we figured that out, everything took off from there; it really made everyone trust each other. We would read these scripts, Everyone would pick a character, and then when we started dubbing, the actors started coming in and recording stuff – if they were on Friday, we would invite them into the room and they would come in and they would actually read these first scripts for us part. Drink beer.”
This fragility and collaborative spirit brings the team to Keeper’s Secret: For this game, the comedy doesn’t come from the constant, constant one-liners and one-liners, but from the characters themselves – from their place in the world, The way they see things, and the way they interact with each other.
“In real life, I’ve been in situations where I’m just saying things based on what I’m really saying and everyone starts laughing…I’m like, ‘What? Why is this funny? It’s because it’s serious to me The things that are really interesting to other people, and their life experiences. So it’s what these characters are about who they really are and the mix between them that makes the whole thing so interesting.”
This comedy/tragic combination is important to DeMarle. In fact, I think that’s what makes Guardians of the Galaxy so interesting. For every moment of real laughter, there’s an emotional (probably raccoon-sized) gut waiting around the corner. And, by contrast, just when you think the game has been addicted to the blues for too long, you ask Groot to do something silly, cute (or both) to cheer you up.
“I like to deal with heavy emotions,” says DeMarre — who also worked on Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, for what it’s worth. “I like to get into the truth of emotions, into the truth of things, and to be vulnerable. I like to see that in the movies I watch, I like to see it in the books, I like to see it in all things I personally think some of the best things I’ve ever seen are stories where they make you laugh, and then, boom, they suddenly undercut it. You’re like ‘oh wow’. Or the other way around, you’re in this heavy scene It’s like ‘Oh my god! I’m going to start crying’ and then — bang — this comedy helps you vent. The interaction of the two is very important.”
Perhaps that’s why Guardians of the Galaxy is so successful—why it’s a fan favorite for its humor and an awards show darling for its overall narrative. Maybe that’s why I keep recommending it to all my non-gaming friends if they like Hollywood-level production with all the ups and downs you’d expect from a better Marvel movie production. Maybe that’s why this game will stay in players’ hearts for a long time as a classic, even outside of Marvel’s licensing.
With Guardians of the Galaxy, the team at DeMarle and Eidos Montreal have not only made a decent licensed game — an unimaginable feat in itself, once upon a time — they’ve also managed to create a comedy writing masterclass; we all Valuable lessons can be learned from this, both in games and in narrative mediums outside of games.