The fantasy genre—books, movies, games—has a tendency to lean toward grim seriousness. Drizzt is a one of a kind drow fighting his way to the surface. Frodo is trusted to carry the fate of the world into a literal hellscape. And Ned Stark is taking a harmless business trip down south to help an old friend.
We love fantasy, and we’re big fans of all of these serious books and games in the genre, but we also think fantasy has a lighter side worth exploring. Terry Pratchett and Monty Python showed us this was possible, but there are still relatively few light-hearted, self-aware fantasy games out there, so we decided to take our weird idea for a lane-pusher turned action-strategy series CastleStorm down this path.
Here’s what we didn’t realize at first: Choosing a humorous fantasy theme directly impacted our design choices on several fronts. Here are some of our favorites:
1. Destroying a castle doesn’t have to feel like conquering Helm’s Deep. What if it felt like Angry Birds instead? In CastleStorm II, crushing an enemy’s castle is as satisfying as it should be, but the destruction is comical and over the top.
2. The catapulter is one buff guy who can only say the word “Catapult.” If we aren’t bound by the vague laws of fantasy realism, then why can’t a single unit carry all of the wood and ammo he needs and have a catapult on his back? (Editor’s Note: This is not an official stance on the ongoing trebuchet vs. catapult controversy)
3. Characters can have more extreme and diverse personalities. If the game isn’t beholden to a serious tone, we can exaggerate the way characters behave and how they express themselves in-game without those touches feeling out of place. A big goofy sword swing would feel wrong in a Lord of the Rings game, but in CastleStorm II we can go all out.
4. The world can tell a different kind of story. When a game doesn’t take itself so seriously, designers have more freedom to be outlandish. Would it be funny if our devil character played a guitar? Yes? Do it. How about if our vampire sorceress is a bit punk rock and is totally over being a responsible army leader? Sure. A fantasy game can still be deep and challenging and have characters that give you a laugh.
As I mentioned before, there are some incredible fantasy games, books, and movies that have also taken this approach, and a love for those games doesn’t devalue the impact and entertainment of a serious fantasy game. It’s all good fun.
What are some of your favorite not-so-serious entries in the fantasy genre? I’d love to hear your recommendations and add them to my must-play or must-read list.