Currently scheduled for release later this year on almost every gaming platform known to humankind, The Simpsons Game promises to be more faithful to the source material (and more fun) than any Simpsons game that has come before it. We recently had a chance to play through a sizeable chunk of the game, and while that time certainly answered most of the questions that we had about it, it also raised a handful of new ones. To get those answered, we went to executive producer Scot Amos, who, as you'll see, was happy to respond to our questions about all kinds of stuff.
GameSpot: How closely have you worked with Matt Groening and the writers who work on the TV show?
Scot Amos: Intimately! From the start, this was a brainchild of the writers and creators of the show to do something epic and new within the Simpsons franchise. The core story concept comes directly from that team. No one wanted a "Simpsons meets latest genre name" game--everyone wanted something that fully displayed the Simpsons universe, was true to the fans of the show, and was, in its own right, a great new game. Matt and the writers had continuous feedback on the game's content, from look and feel to puzzles and playfield; it's been an amazing partnership.
GS: In terms of game design, what came first: the levels or the jokes? In other words, did you build the levels in The Simpsons Game around concepts discussed during the writing process, or did you tailor your plot/jokes/dialogue to the levels that were already there?
SA: Since we had the core concept of the Simpsons being self-aware that they are inside a video game, we had a plethora of material to choose from to start parodying the game industry. All level designs would start with a high-concept of how it will fit into the overall story; then details would be refined with the writers on which characters should be in there, what are the main points for gameplay purposes, and what are the key story points that need [to be] conveyed. Then the writers were given dialogue spec sheets for how many lines of story or chatter we needed in the game, and they'd work with the design team to fit it all in. Many of the visual gags were similarly worked out in concept art, then we'd build a space and look for ways to cram more pieces into it like signage, posters, symbolic statues from other games, etc.
GS: You've said that a large number of the characters in the game were created specifically for the game. Did the show's creators have input into those characters or were they made entirely by the game's artists?
SA: Everything created for the game was always worked out with all of the creative partners. At one time the game team was adamant about having zombies come alive from the graveyard in Act 2--when Kang and Kodos invade. The writers said, "No, dolphins are the new zombies," and in a stroke changed a simple zombie knockoff into Day of the Dolphin! In general, once the story and episode set was worked out, we'd go back and forth with concept art and discussing story references to come up with all of the right characters to put into this crazy world.
GS: The Simpsons Game, like the show, is littered with pop-culture references. Any favorites or particularly obscure ones that you'd like to tell us about?
SA: God of the Wharf: Hot Chowder is glorious--we put in a special camera just to show off that billboard in Day of the Dolphin. There are some interesting ones hidden within Big Super Happy Fun Fun, like the dog statue with a key in its mouth and a familiar-looking shield on its back. I'm sure hardcore gamers will love all the in-jokes tucked in there for them. Likewise, hardcore Simpsons fans will understand why Gummi Homer has Gummi-de-Milos to ingest as his favorite food in later levels.
GS: Were there any movies and/or game references or perhaps entire episodes that you were hoping to work into The Simpsons Game but which didn't make the cut?
SA: Oh yeah, we started with at least twice as many episodes as we ended up shipping with; our eyes were very much bigger than our stomachs! But after crafting a few of them as prototype levels and playing them, we started to get a sense of scope and scale, and focused the team down to what we feel is the right number of unique episodes to tell the story and let us flex all of the cool mechanics. However, some of the episode designs are still golden and may make a future appearance in future versions or even add-ons.
GS: A fair amount of the content in The Simpsons Game appears to reference specific episodes of the show. Do you worry that players who aren't fans might feel excluded by in-jokes at all?
SA: Not at all. The show references are truly funny, and if you're a serious Simpsons fan you will definitely get something that others won't. But because the source material is so rich and funny to begin with, even people new to The Simpsons will be caught up in the comedy of it all and enjoy it with fresh eyes.
GS: Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and to a lesser extent Maggie are all playable and have very different arsenals of moves. Were any other playable characters ever considered and, if so, what might their special moves have been?
SA: There was an early discussion about letting players choose anyone to play with or swap between other secondary characters for unique episodes. In the end, making a game with five distinctly playable characters with all different powers was a monumental task, so we pulled back to focus on making the family feel great for this first one.
GS: Having Comic Book Guy point out gaming clichés in The Simpsons Game is an especially nice touch. Do you worry that the joke of including so many of them in the gameplay might backfire, though?
SA: Best. Feature. Ever.
GS: The Simpsons has a ton of background material behind it. What sort of unlockable features can completists look forward to when they finish the core game?
SA: By finding every collectible, players unlock infinite power, which lets you perform each character's special moves an unlimited amount of times without ever collecting or needing to recharge. But truly, we wanted the fun to be in finding all of the collectibles themselves buried throughout the game. By finishing the game, you'll also be able to put on all the different costumes the characters change through in each episode.
GS: Given the popularity of downloadable content for games nowadays, do you have any plans to add to The Simpsons Game in future, with episodic content perhaps?
SA: We've absolutely built this capability into the game for possible future add-on episodes and even new costumes for the characters. It'll be a matter of identifying the right types of episodes that highlight the fun mechanics and the right topical material ripe for parody that The Simpsons is known for at a given launch time.
GS: Where do you see room for improvement or additions in the inevitable sequel?
SA: Getting this first one to be a living version of The Simpsons--full of the funny, the look, and the feel that hardcore and casual fans know and love--has been the first piece in a foundation we can build on for the future. There are also innovations in game mechanics, technologies, ways to interact with playfields, et cetera, that we'll definitely be looking at going forwards. But we also want to get player reactions as early as possible on this first one and find out what they love (or don't love) about how we approached this version so we can use that in our planning for any Simpsons games we may be privileged to be a part of in the future.
GS: Thanks for your time.