20th Century Fox may have initially been skeptical of Family Guy's prospects, going so far as to cancel the unabashedly crude cartoon in 2001. However, the production company has changed its tune considerably in the here and now. Today, Fox officially announced its Web-browser-based, free-to-play title Family Guy Online, saying that the 3D title is targeted to enter open beta this year.
Comic-Con 2011 will act as a coming-out of sorts for Family Guy Online, even if its official website has been active since mid-June. However, gamers can expect a good deal more content on that website today, as Fox and developer Roadhouse Interactive have set live Family Guy Online's character creator to promote the title.
The real question, though, is what does Family Guy Online have for fans of the show?
"It's just a great way to extend the television show and allow users to engage with each other in a community in a game product that is being developed really in association with the show," Gary Rosenfeld, senior vice president of new media for Fox Consumer Product, told GameSpot in an interview. That collaboration includes help from two senior writers on the show: Alex Carter and Andrew Goldberg.
The experience begins with character creation, and Roadhouse Interactive cofounder and chief creative officer Ian Verchere told GameSpot that players will have a wealth of customization options. Verchere also noted that rather than having players assume the identity of, say, Peter Griffin, they will be able to select from four character-class archetypes that typify the different attributes of the dysfunctional family.
Fox and Roadhouse aren't entirely ready to talk about Family Guy Online's actual gameplay, but Verchere indicated that it will have elements akin to the role-playing game genre. Those mechanics include character progression and experience points. The game has both single-player and multiplayer options.
"We're not just sticking Family Guy into Champions Online or making Dungeons and Quahog or whatever," he explained. "In the same way that the show riffs on popular culture and on TV, [we've been thinking about] an intelligent way to bring Family Guy online. At its heart, you are going to earn experience and progress through the game. There are familiar structures that gamers will be able to relate to and engage with, but it is going to feel like Family Guy."
"When you come into the game and create the character, you can literally create billions of different characters," he continued. "When you go into the game, you're not going to play as you would in a console game as, say, Peter Griffin. But when you build your own character, it makes sense from a game mechanic perspective to associate with the positive and/or negative aspects of what each of the Griffins represent. If you look at how you would map out an attribute table, Peter is obviously big and slow and tanklike, and Stewie is small and ranged attack. OK, there, I said 'ranged attack.'"
Of course, Family Guy Online will come heavily laden with personalities from the show--some 150 in total. "Once the user gets into the game, the user will interact with show characters," Rosenfeld said. "The show characters act as guides. They will send the user off on adventures that allow [them] to advance through the game. "
Rosenfeld also expressed optimism over Family Guy Online's ability to react to current and popular culture trends. In other words, the game will be an open-ended experience where players will be afforded new and culturally relevant quests.
"The idea behind the project, or the thing that's most exciting about it, is that we will be able to react to certain elements that the show can't react to because of the production timeline," he said. "So for instance things going on in pop culture that we might want to riff on, we'll be able to react to as a result of how we set this up. Building it in Unity, we've got the flexibility to update content, add new content, pretty quick turnarounds in regular intervals."
Family Guy Online will be free-to-play, where virtual currency and in-game goods rule the day. Rosenfeld explained that the game will include microtransactions, and the studio will likely also make use of ad and sponsorship components as well as other premium content.
Rosenfeld also briefly addressed the Family Guy game that is in development at Activision, saying that Family Guy Online exists entirely apart from that project. "We want to make sure there is a Family Guy experience for fans on all the different platforms," he said. Rosenfeld declined to comment on whether that game is still on for this year.
Fox and Roadhouse plan to have a significant presence at Comic-Con this week. In addition to having Family Guy Online's character creator up and running on the show floor, Quahog mayor (and seminal Batman actor) Adam West will be on hand to sign exclusive posters for the game. Comic-Con attendees who create a character at the show will also earn an exclusive in-game item.
Check out GameSpot's coverage of Comic-Con 2011 for more on Family Guy Online and other games from the show.