Futurama Mobile Game Will Have Show's Trademark Humor, Writers Say
"Good news, everyone!"
Video games aren't uncharted territory for Futurama, but next week, the series created by Simpsons' Matt Groening takes another shot with its first mobile game, Futurama: Game of Drones. A free-to-play match-four puzzle game, Game of Drones goes in a very different direction than 2003 PS2/Xbox game.
One area that Fox Digital Entertainment and developer Wooga are focusing on is story. Given it's a mobile game, you might be surprised to learn that something of an all-star team has been assembled to flesh out the game's narrative.
Patric Verrone, who worked on Futurama as a producer and writer since the show started in 1999, is part of the writing team. He's joined by Dave Grossman (Secret of Monkey Island, The Wolf Among Us), and Jonathon Myers (Game of Thrones: Ascent), as well as Futurama writer Eddy Webb.
In the game, much like the TV show, you'll embark on an intergalactic journey with the rest of the Planet Express crew, including Professor Farnsworth, Fry, Bender, and Leela. Your task? To fight a "desperately imbalanced trade war against longtime shipping rival MomCo."
We recent spoke with the game's writing team, as well as product lead Sascha Hartmann, about Game of Drones' story and more. In our interview, the writers explain that Game of Drones will retain the show's trademark off-beat humor and social commentary, which is even evident in their cheeky responses, especially those from Verrone. The interview also touches on how Game of Drones will appeal to both fans of the series (there will be Bender porn jokes) and newcomers alike. Our full interview follows below.
Game of Drones arrives February 25 for iOS and Android devices.
Mobile games aren't typically known for their stories, especially in the "matching" genre. What are your goals, broadly speaking, for the story you want to tell here?
Dave Grossman: Naturally, entertaining the audience is high on the list, but more than that we want to entertain in a way that makes this story a worthy companion to the rest of the Futurama canon. That means working hard on the characters and the humor to make sure it all feels right. Social commentary is also key, poking fun at big companies and other elements of society that could use a little poking. Futurama has always used a lot of parody and satire, and we're more than happy to have an opportunity to add more. The one peculiar additional goal we have that the writers of the TV show did not is to bring meaning to the play of the game, wrapping the mechanics up into the Futurama universe to connect everything together. I imagine early humans inventing stories to explain natural phenomena like stars and earthquakes in a way that they could relate to, and I think that our job as game writers is not so different.
Patric Verrone: We're hoping to make the story something that fans of Futurama will recognize and players who don't know the show won't break their thumbs trying to click past.
How does narrative factor into the game specifically?
Sascha Hartmann: Narrative has been the deciding factor behind a lot of decisions we've made in development, it’s influenced a lot of things in the game that might not be immediately evident to the player. The world maps would be a good example. The area of the Futurama universe the player travels to next is driven by the story, as well as which character we'd like to focus on with the player--so that's an obvious aspect where it has had a big effect and is dictated by the writers and the narrative.
We also know that a large part of our audience is going to know and love Futurama and we wanted to make sure every aspect of the game reflected this and allowed those players to get a little deeper into the story. We’ve built a fake social network inside the game called Twitcher, where characters from the show send short messages back and forth to each other. It's a nice little feature for fans who've missed the show’s humor.
How did you get involved with the project?
DG: One day Jon said, "Hey, you want to work on a Futurama game with me?" and I said, "Absolutely!"
Eddy Webb: One day Jon said, "Hey, we need help on a Futurama game!" and I said "Sounds good!"
Jonathon Myers: I was introduced to Sascha through a mutual writer friend in the industry when Wooga was looking for someone to take on part-time writing duties for Futurama. Dave Grossman had recently joined our company Earplay, and upon reviewing the scope of the narrative design and writing we proposed that the two of us would handle it together. As Patric got involved we were able to establish a virtual writer's room of sorts, something I had set up with Game of Thrones Ascent.
Eddy Webb joined Earplay shortly after that, and when I needed to spend more time on Earplay matters it was a natural fit to slide him into the mix to make up for my reduced time. We work together every day, but our Futurama time as a writer's room totals up to be the equivalent of a single part-time writer. It's a unique way of looking at game writing, but I think the results of a collaborative approach are far superior to having one writer. We've all had prior experiences in which that works best, so we all agree that it's an ideal situation.
Futurama fans will no doubt be happy to learn that you, Patric, are on-board here for the Futurama game; what’s the experience been like working on the game vs. TV show?
PV: TV writing is very collaborative with all the writers working for hours in the same crowded conference room. The collaboration here has been great, too, but we're all in different locations and we do more of the writing in our bathrobes.
Are you catering to existing Futurama fans or trying to reach new people--or both--with this game?
SH: Our mantra throughout development has always been, 'If in doubt, always go with the fans'. However, I think it would be fair to say that if you've never watched an episode of Futurama before, this is a game you can enjoy. We've even had user tests with people who have expressed that kind of sentiment. But a nice example from early on in development was a choice about which character to use for the game's opening sections. Initially we thought Nibbler would be a good choice to attract a new audience, and the kind of audience match games usually see. But instead we went with Fry and Bender who we thought fans would respond to more and be excited about using as their character.
For veteran fans of the series, can they expect nods to past episodes or other in-jokes?
JM: Absolutely! It wouldn't be Futurama without the references.
DG: Good news, everyone! In-jokes, characters, and history from the TV show infest this game like a pack of owls.
EW: While we love our easter eggs like Bender loves porn, at the same time we wanted to make sure this was funny on its own as well. So, veteran fans will find lots to giggle over, but casual fans or people who have never really watched the show before will also have plenty to laugh about.
PV: We tried to put in some obscure but recognizable characters and locations. We mostly tried to make the game faithful to the original show--like remembering that Leela only has one eye.
Bender has been shown front and center in the teaser art you’ve put out so far for the game; what role will he play in the game?
PV: He played a big role in designing the teaser art.
DG: Bender is the obnoxious reprobate, as always, saying a lot of harsh but funny things and avoiding actual work as much as possible. He begins getting us into trouble almost immediately with some shady business deals. The game has a wide cast of characters including all of the Planet Express crew and other major figures from the TV show, as well as some quite minor characters that we just found appealing. As with the show, Fry, Bender, and Leela are at the center of things and get the most screen time, though plenty of other characters get their moment in the sun--figuratively, in most cases.
The Futurama TV show's brand of humor is somewhat unique. Were you aiming to recapture that same humor or were you aiming for something else with this iteration?
PV: We're trying for a smart, cutting brand of humor like when we point out that the word "unique" can't take a modifier like "somewhat." (Ed. note: ouch)
JM: The intention was always to recapture the same tone, humor, and characters as before, but in a new storyline that is presented in the form of a game. Patric and the original writers crafted a living, breathing world with its own conventions, voices, and style, so that's always the best place to start as game writers adapting a property. We immersed ourselves in the source material of both the show and the comics. We're also very fortunate to be co-writing with Patric, who also acts as a guide for accuracy and authenticity. We've been really proud to hear that fans and players are responding to that effort positively. We're huge fans as well, so it's important to us that a Futurama game contains the unique humor of the show.
EW: Absolutely. While the structure and needs for writing for a mobile game and writing for a television show are very different, we’ve always been conscious of writing in ways that are heavily evocative of the original material. Some jokes have to be reworked to fit within the restrictions of the app stores, or to translate well to an international audience, but Patric is always there to make sure that everything feels authentic.
Which locations from the Futurama universe will be depicted in the game?
PV: We wanted to spend time in the usual places - Earth... Outer Space... Points in between. Anywhere there was blackjack and hookers.
DG: This is a story that travels from place to place a lot, so there's been ample opportunity to take it to our favorite locations. My own faves include Mars Vegas, Omicron Persei 8, and Robot Hell, but I'm sure every member of the team would have a different list.
EW: Mars Vegas is pretty high on my list as well, but I also love the far-flung places like DOOP headquarters and Zoidberg's home planet of Decapod 10.
It's been stated that the game will follow the Planet Express crew as they fight an "imbalanced trade war" against Mom Co.. What other specifics can you share regarding narrative beats in the story?
DG: Although Mom is the primary adversary, the characters spend more time dealing with the consequences of their own actions and shortcomings. As in so many Futurama stories, they are their own worst enemies, and by the end of chapter 2 they already have much more to worry about than the conflict with MomCorp, which is barely beginning.
EW: Because we're working in an arc, we're able to build on past mistakes and make references back to earlier material. The trade war offers a great frame to keep the story focused, but there will be plenty of beats that come from the antics of the characters themselves, and the fallout from their previous actions.
PV: The only other specific is, that you need to play the game to find out the other specifics!