Sometimes an idea is more important than chewing your food. It was the Spring of 2015, and my buddy Julian Spillane and I sat at a Mexican restaurant in Queens. We had recently begun to collaborate on what has now become Use Your Words. As I chomped an embarrassingly large bite of a carnitas taco, a lightbulb appeared above my head. “Hey… what if our tagline was… a game for funny people and their unfunny friends?” My mouth lost some cilantro that day, but Use Your Words gained a philosophical cornerstone.
One of my favorite game genres growing up was the sparse “write your own comedy” party game genre. I loved Quip It!, The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Game, and Balderdash because they gave me and my friends a platform to write jokes and make each other laugh. And while I enjoyed more popular card-based party games, I always wished I could just write my own answer rather than waiting for the right card. Once I learned that you could control a console game with your smartphone, I started piecing together my idea for the ultimate party game. The basic concept was simple: The game presents a setup for a joke, and players get points for writing the best punchline.
But as Julian and I threw back margaritas and bounced ideas around over tacos that day, neither of us realized how many steps would be involved in actually pulling off a game not just for funny people, but also “their unfunny friends.” In testing our early prototype, we noticed that many players got anxious once they found out they had to be funny. They would assure us they weren’t funny and ask if they could watch instead of playing. They would repeat after every round, “You guys know I’m not funny, right?” I’ve been a class clown since I could talk, so avoiding any chance to get a laugh is antithetical to my entire being. But again, we were making a game for funny people and their unfunny friends. So, we had to experiment.
Our first big change was the timer. We thought that giving players 60 seconds per answer would give the game a nice manic pace; instead, it flustered players and locked up the funny part of their brains. Strangely, when we increased the amount of time players had, they were done in less time and with less fuss. We began to figure out that psychology was just as important to Use Your Words as our code and our art. The timer fix taught us that sometimes just the illusion of ease can actually make interactive comedy easier simply by relaxing the player. But how could we use that same idea to help players who were too nervous to even try? Answer: We convinced them that they didn’t have to.
Our house answer/house decoy system makes Use Your Words seem like a hybrid between a “write your own comedy” game and a “use one of our cards to be funny” game. Technically, a player could use one of our pre-written answers in every round. But just like when we extended the timer, this feature sneakily creates the illusion of ease. Given the escape hatch of using a “house decoy,” the self-proclaimed “unfunnies” saw the fun their fellow players were having with inside jokes and topical humor, and invariably jumped in with their own answers. We reinforced that by maintaining a cutthroat policy with our prompts. We noticed that certain prompts immediately delighted players and got their brains going, while others stumped players and led to lackluster jokes. So, if a prompt flopped twice, we would cut it no matter how much we liked it.
Eventually we realized that we were writing a comedy show that just happened to be an interactive game. If our material didn’t lead to laughs, we cut it. We did work behind the scenes to put the audience in a laughing mood and keep them there. And we added countless features to make writing your own jokes seem like the easiest, most seamless process in the world. It’s been two years since my taco-spewing eureka moment, and I’m as excited as ever to invite you to try our game–whether you’re a funny person or one of their unfunny friends!
Use Your Words is available now on Xbox One. Be sure to follow them on Twitter for further game updates, and keep it locked to Xbox Wire for news on this and many other [email protected] games coming soon to Xbox One and Windows 10.