Who doesn't like The Simpsons? All right, apart from you over there, you must be very interesting at dinner parties. Everyone likes The Simpsons and that explains why Electronic Arts is making a videogame set in Springfield.
Of course, just because a game has got The Simpsons in it doesn't mean it'll be any good. Look at The Simpsons: Hit and Run. However, having The Simpsons in it does mean a game is more likely to sell a million billion copies and top the charts for what feels like decades. Look at The Simpsons: Hit and Run.
That's what Greg Rizzer did, and he didn't particularly like what he saw. Rizzer is the lead designer on the new title and a long time fan of the Simpsons TV show, but not the games. "I've bought almost every Simpsons game that's come out and it's been disappointment after disappointment," he says. "Hit and Run was a decent game. I didn't think it was an awful game. But it wasn't a proper Simpsons game."
Having been given the chance to work on his very own Simpsons game, Rizzer made a conscious decision not to create another lazy Crazy Taxi clone. The new Simpsons tie-in is an action platformer complete with lots of running and jumping, exploring and collecting, switch pulling and wooden crate smashing. "There are always exploding barrels near bad guys," adds Rizzer. "And you can't swim until the sequel."
Big in Japan
But doesn't that mean they've just made another platform action game? Well, yes, but the twist is The Simpsons is a game about videogames. It sets out to reference, parody and celebrate the good and the bad. To illustrate this Rizzer shows the cutscene preceding Big Super Happy Fun Fun, a level which pays homage to Japanese videogames.
Lisa is running round in Pokémon-style baseball cap and shorts. She's accompanied by Homer, who's in Final Fantasy getup complete with Studio Line hair. Best of all is Milhouse, looming over them as the King of All Cosmos. Despite their outfits they're all in character. "Okay, I'm in a stupid Japanese game, but I'm not eating sushi," says Homer. "Unless it's covered in chocolate and there's no sushi in it."
This cutscene also illustrates one of the best things about the game: it looks just like the cartoon. That's probably because they were hand-drawn by your actual Gracie Films, which produces the TV show. "It was an amazing effort," says Rizzer. "The visuals of this are beyond anything any Simpsons game has done. I'm sure the fans will be very pleased with the level of detail."
Now we've moved on to the Neverquest level, where Homer is dressed as Link and Marge sports a pointy hat and ears. ("You're one sexy milf!" "The word is elf, Homer.") Other characters make an appearance, including Patty and Selma (as a two-headed dragon), Moe (as an orc called Morc, wearing rainbow braces in a reference only fans of rubbish old telly will get) and the Flanders kids ("Rod and Todd as hobbits just wrote itself, really," says Rizzer).
Having a ball
Now Rizzer's demoing the game's drop-in, drop-out co-op mode. The screen is split vertically and one player controls Homer, who's tasked with taking out Patty and Selma by blowing himself up into Homer Ball and repeatedly rolling into them. The other player controls Marge, and this is where the Pikmin-style element of the game comes in. She gathers a mob and then directs them to stop the evil intruders setting fire to the hobbits' homes.
The game isn't being demoed on a particularly big screen but this doesn't seem to matter. The visuals are big and bold enough that you can easily see what's going on, and because each character has their own objective you don't need to spend ages looking for your partner and shouting abuse at them for being on the wrong side of the level.
In short, the co-op mode looks like fun - which makes it even more of a shame there's no online co-op mode. Rizzer's ready with an answer for this one. "It's okay to laugh alone, but it's a lot more fun to laugh in a group," he begins. "We've created what we think is one of the funniest games ever. It has good gameplay that can be shared by two characters so it's like, let's do co-op splitscreen and make it work really well. I'm completely happy with that."
Whether everyone else will be is questionable, but this game isn't primarily aimed at people who spend a lot of their gaming time online. There's stuff for hardcore gamers here, such as subtle references to ancient games and the billions of collectibles to find. But The Simpsons has been designed to reward players rather than challenge them, first and foremost.
"The Simpsons' audience is massive, and it ranges from casual gamers to the absolute hardcore," observes Rizzer. "We didn't want to make this game so difficult that people couldn't finish it. We spent a really long time creating a proper learning curve."