It's not long until The Simpsons' November 2nd release date, but we've just had time to squeeze in some last few words with one of EA's game designers, Greg Rizzer.
Going on what we've seen of the game most recently, it's shaping up as a platformer with a difference – one with multiple playable Simpsons characters and even a Nintendogs-style pet Homer to feed and fatten up (assuming that's possible).
Not everyone is being so positive about the game, though. Rockstar, for instance, reportedly didn't like the use of the name Grand Theft Scratchy as the in-game section that parodies the controversial publisher's Grand Theft Auto series.
We couldn't help but get Greg's comments on this, but also on why the game will come on a huge DS cartridge and more.
Pocket Gamer: It's been a big year for The Simpsons. There was the the movie and now the game. But this game doesn't actually have any ties to the film does it?
Greg Rizzer: It's wonderful because it actually doesn't. People will obviously say, "Well, here comes a video game that's based on the film, and it's going to be quick and dirty and not good". So we're really fortunate that we've been given full freedom to make a game that has absolutely nothing to do with the film.
So what is the story of the game?
The concept is very complex in general, especially if you're a fan of video games. The Simpsons realise that they've been licensed into a video game; Bart finds out first and then he tells Homer, then Bart tells Lisa, then Lisa tells Marge.
So, the concept being they realised they've been licensed into a video game, what would they do with their video game powers, and what powers would they have of course? Obviously that just blew the doors off what we were allowed to do, which was wonderful. We were able to take The Simpsons and take them out of what you would expect them to be able to do.
So that's basically the concept and later on they realise that they've not only have they been licensed to one video game, but they've been licensed to many, many video games: Medal of Homer, Super Happy Fun Fun, NeverQuest, Grand Theft Scratchy. And there are some levels that are tributes. We do an entire tribute to the Treehouse of Horror, as well.
So the characters draw on their attributes in the show. Is Homer just all about eating?
Yeah, one of the things we tried to do is make the gameplay mechanics really appropriate for who they would be. So Bart wanting to be the action hero, it's a no-brainer. And Homer wanting to be able to eat everything in sight and turn into a giant fat ball.
And, of course, eat the Gummy De Milo, in reference to a great episode. We said we needed another Homer mechanic, to make him like a tank kind of thing. So we said, "What if he was blobby?". And then we said, "What if he was like a Gummy Bear?" Then, of course, there's 19 years of reference. There was an episode where he eats the Gummy De Milo, and then, boom, it just writes itself.
And what is Marge – a nag?
Marge uses her bullhorn to gather mobs to do her bidding because she's such a busybody in Springfield – and she's pretty much admitted that she's never going to leave Springfield – so that's her thing: for her to be able to gather mobs and have them do her bidding. And she uses Maggie as well, to drop her into tiny crawl spaces.
And then Lisa, we wanted to use her saxaphone. We came up with a cool mechanic for her to stun people by playing some far out Ornette Coleman jazz.In Medal of Homer you clearly parody a World War II game. How did you manage to do that, er, tastefully?
Medal of Homer was a challenge because we didn't want it to be about killing Nazis. We had to try to create a sense of combat, so what we did was really utilise the French village. Homer wants to collect the food but the French villagers want to collect the food as well.
We were able to create conflict within the context of World War II, and then part two you're blowing up gun turrets – there's no humans involved there. In the final section you're just fighting Smithers, who's dressed as a sailor. It's really, really funny.
GTA is an obvious one to parody. How did you approach that?
Grand Theft Scratchy. It's really interesting; video game parody is a challenge because you don't know how far you can push it. The farther you can push it, obviously the better the reference will be. [But] these are the intellectual properties of other companies and they're looking out for their best interest.
So doing Grand Theft Scratchy, we had to be very careful about what we said and how we presented it to the public. We've had to pull stuff down because it hit a little too close to the bone.How did you squeeze the game on to the DS?
One of the challenges is how do you transfer those mechanics that we were so fond of on the 360, PS3 and the other formats on to the DS. Amaze, our third-party developer, really worked hard with us early on in the project, and said, "What are your mechanics, can we use them?".
So they maintain the spirit of the other platforms by having Homer be Homerball, Bart become Bartman and then, of course, utilise two characters in the episode, so that was a really big win for us.
And then the other thing, which was the biggest challenge, was getting all the voices in there. The DS cartridge is massive because it's got more voices in it than I think any DS game ever made. There's thousands of line of dialogue in that cartridge.Have you done much with the DS's control inputs, such as the stylus?
Yeah, Pet Homer really utilises the stylus, you tickle Homer, you can use it to poke Homer and touch things on the screen. The front-end area where you really utilise Pet Homer uses the stylus extensively and then some in-game stuff, too.
Finally, did Matt Groening have the ultimate say on all of this?
Actually Matt Groening is just an outside observer who's just very happy with the product.
Our thanks to Greg for his time. We'll have a review of The Simpsons for you shortly – click 'Track It!' to find out as soon as it's up.