For years I’ve been dreaming of a Left 4 Dead mod that features the cast of Frasier. Trapped between safe houses in an abandoned hospital, Niles caves someone’s head in with a hardback copy of the ICD-9 codes, as Marty jams a door shut with his walking stick. Daphne – who’s a little bit psychic – correctly predicts the arrival of a Jockey through a broken window while Frasier is lost in a panic, circling wildly and raging about his next trip to La Cigare Volant.
It would work, I think. A set-piece at the KACL studios, where zombie-Roz traps them all in the sound booth as Gil Chesterton – possibly not zombie-Gil-Chesterton – lights the place on fire. A frantic last-minute rescue mission back to the apartment to save Marty’s armchair. Niles is wiping his new machine gun with a handkerchief because who knows who had it before him? Eddie sniffs out a cache of grenades. “Need a med-kit!” yells Daphne. I’m listening.
But is this the only way to take the greatness of Frasier and spin it into a video game? Is it even the best way? Let’s go to a new caller.
One of the things that has always surprised me about Frasier comes down to the idea of character function. In films and TV, where time is at a premium, you tend not to have a lot of redundancy. In terms of characters, this means they have to be distinct, and they have to fulfil distinct roles. Look at Cheers, in fact, and you’ll see a good example of this. Sam is the womaniser, Diane is the moral heart of the show, and Woody is a goofball. But then look at Frasier and something quickly becomes apparent. Fretful, pompous, pedantic, over-educated and slightly out of touch with modern life, Frasier and Niles are both fulfilling very similar functions.
I have pondered this for a while – mostly while watching Frasier. Frasier himself came from Cheers, where he was a special character, an extreme stereotype of the over-thinking psychiatrist whose own life is a terrible mess. To make him the actual star of a sitcom, he had to move slightly – just slightly – to the centre ground. The producers did this by in effect creating a more extreme stereotype, his brother Niles. Compared to Niles – and only compared to Niles – Frasier is more of a natural lead.
What this also gives Frasier, though, is a glorious set-up in which you have something of a rarity: two central characters who are very, very similar. Which means they can create a kind of echo chamber. Lots of Frasier episodes are essentially the same plot: Frasier is worried about something and Niles amplifies his worry, and then Frasier amplifies that, and then Niles comes up with a foolish solution, which Frasier makes even more foolish. It turns out that having two characters who are almost identical is actually a brilliant idea for a sitcom after all. Character function be damned, as Frasier might say, tossing back a sherry.
Anyway: I think this would also be an interesting foundation for a game. A narrative adventure game. We switch between controlling Frasier and Niles. Both have similar skills, but there are areas where they are different. Niles is a touch more obsessed with cleanliness, Frasier is more desperate for a date. Niles is a Jungian, and Frasier is a Freudian. An adventure where you make progress by using each character’s skills in the areas where they do not overlap – finding the places where Frasier and Niles complement one another rather than simply doubling up – would be a fascinating prospect. Sort of a puzzle game, sort of a narrative comedy version of Head over Heels. Scrambled egg all over our faces.