THE GAME REVIEWS: I’m here speaking with Alex Charlow and he’s with EA. Specifically Alex, you’ve been working on the Simpson’s game, right?
ALEX: Right, you bet. I’ve been working on it for about the last year and a couple of months. It’s been a long road.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Okay. Right on. So what do you think of the game? I mean, you’ve been playing it for a long time.
ALEX: Right. I..I mean I love it. I’m a diehard Simpson’s fanatic. It’s one of the reasons why they brought me onto the team. This is the first game that I think was really built to be an authentic Simpson’s experience. A lot of the Simpson’s games in the past; they’ve been kind of fun, but you know, I mean they haven’t really felt like the show. So to recreate that we brought a lot of people onto the team and we’ve been watching the show for the last 19 years because it’s been on that long. So, I love it. It’s rewarding. If you’re a fan there are so many hidden gems. The parody is layered just like it is on the show.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Right on.
ALEX: There are over 8,000 lines of dialog that is all original, all written by the writers and the producers of the show and movie, acted out by all of the voice actors so you constantly hear new things. I think for me I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why I like the game is because, you know 8,000 lines to a lot of people I think is just a number, but when you sit down and play it, I mean I’ve been playing this game for a year and I’m still hearing new lines today. That dramatically kind of changes the game playing experience every time I jump into the game.
THE GAME REVIEWS: That’s true. So, it’s not dry. It’s not the same thing.
ALEX: It doesn’t get old. It’s not rehashed lines.
THE GAME REIVEWS: So every time Bart gets hit he doesn’t just, you know, say the same thing. Like “Eat my Shorts man”..
ALEX: Right, exactly and everything they say is relevant to what’s going on in the game and what you’ve done. So, you’re not going to hear a lot of rehashed lines from the show. I mean as cool as that is, those are jokes that you’ve kind of already heard several times if you’re a fan, because I’m sure everyone watches reruns. There’s still a lot of content for fans to rummage around in and then on top of it, it’s fun. It’s just a fun game.
THE GAME REVIEWS: You’ve got the final version hereat E for All, right?
THE GAME REVIEWS: So how does the final version kind of differ from the demo that was released on XBOX Live?
ALEX: Sure. So, the demo actually takes place about midway, just under midway through the game and by the time you get to that level you will have learned all of the skills that you need to kind of defeat the boss. I think a lot of people enjoy the demo and I think a handful of people had issues trying to figure out what to do which is only natural when you don’t know all of the backstory leading up to it. The demo is coop. The rest of the game is coop was well, but by the time you get to that level you and your friend will hopefully really have learned how to work together and you will have learned how to switch between the characters yourself by that time in a really efficient way to kind of solve puzzles, because basically we have drop in / drop out called Game Play and if you choose not to do that, you still also have that other character there. So you have the ability to switch in between. Another big difference between the final version of the game and the demo is there is much more dialogue in the final version of the game. It has gone through a little bit more polishing by that point. It’s just an all around better experience.
THE GAME REVIEWS: The name of the game is “The Simpson’s Game”. That’s pretty darn easy to remember.
ALEX: There is actually a reason behind that too. We kind of wanted to reset the franchise and we also kind of wanted to change the perception that people have about licensed games and the best way to do that was instead of saying “The Simpson’s Game: Subtitle”. It was just easier to say “Hey, this is the Simpson’s Game.”
THE GAME REVIEWS: The definitive Simpson’s Game.
THE GAME REVIEWS: So, tell us a little more in depth about the property, about the Simpson’s game basically. What are the special mechanics, the special features, you know that you haven’t of course already discussed? Ok, and let’s say I wasn’t into the Simpson’s, (which I am), but anyway let’s say I wasn’t, why would I want to pick up the game?
ALEX: Right. There are actually a lot of reasons. For starters, it looks exactly like the show. Even if you’re not a Simpson’s fan, it’s kind of a big deal. You don’t really see a lot of video games that emulate that cartoon style well and we actually put a lot of work into that. We created some new technologies that we have the patents for just for this game, one of which is called 3D to 2D technology so I think when you first see the Simpson’s game it looks like your average shell shading game, but it actually isn’t. When you’re shell shading an object you’re painting a 3D object to look 2D, but it’s still essentially a 3D object. So you don’t quite get that flat 2 dimensional look. What our technology does is every time you move a camera the character turns all the skeletons within the level, you know, below all of that, you know, nice graphics. All of the skeletons morph in real time to ensure that from every single angle every character and every object looks exactly like it would on the TV show. It’s a really cool new technology and it makes it look really beautiful. It took a lot of work to get that in there.
THE GAME REVIEWS: I’ll bet.
ALEX: It definitely pushes the systems.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Did you work on that?
ALEX: Did I? No, I didn’t, but you know actually I saw them putting a lot of it together and when you see how it’s done, I think it really changes your perception of how video games can be made.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Right on.
ALEX: It’s just a lot of out-of-the-box type thinking to get it done. There are over 175 characters. So it’s absolutely massive. You can play as any of the family members and they all have a lot of powers which is really cool. They’re all fully upgradable. Just to give you a little bit of the back story for the game…
THE GAME REVIEWS: Please.
ALEX: The story was actually written by the writers and producers of the shows, so Matt Groening and James L. Brooks come in all of the time to consult, Matt Selman is one of the big writers. So they wrote us 100% of the original script. We pretty much, you know, said “If you could do anything you wanted with these characters in a video game, what would you do?” No one has really had that kind of working relationship with Gracie Films and 20th Century Fox before so it’s kind of a big deal.
THE GAME REVIEWS: It’s actually one of the things that really stunts game production from movies.
ALEX: Yes definitely. You know the other nice thing is that we’re not tied to the movie so we weren’t on a time line. We really had the luxury of kind of spending the time to make sure that we got things right as opposed to being rushed.
THE GAME REVIEWS: That’s great.
ALEX: But, they came back to us with this phenomenal story where essentially the Simpson’s discover that their reality as they know it is not real, much like the Matrix, you know to simplify it a little bit, if you’ve seen that movie.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Of course, who hasn’t.
ALEX: Right, exactly. So they find out that their world isn’t actually real and they are actually just video game characters that have been licensed out into yet another crappy video game, right, because that’s what a lot of people think of when they think of licensed video games. Now, at first they’re really excited about this because this means they all have powers and all of these powers are totally true to their personalities. You’re not going to see Homer brandishing a machine gun.
THE GAME REVIEWS: I think he gets a burp instead.
ALEX: Yes. He’s got a lot of great powers. But so at first they were excited because they have powers, awesome, they can do all sorts of things they didn’t think they could do before, but after a while they start to realize that there might be a couple of problems of being in a video game. Like for instance, what happens when people stop playing you, and, of course there are villains whom you know are trying to destroy everything and someone has to save the day or else the game is over. And, of course, everyone’s big fear, I think is having your name dragged through the mud in a really crappy video game year after year after year after year. Because that’s how the video game issues tends to work. You know, there’s a good game. There’s going to be a 2 and probably a 3 and a 4 and a 2008, 2009.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Right.
ALEX: So basically they fight their way through over 25 years of video game parody to stop this process from happening and save Springfield and also kind of question why this is happening and why they were licensed out so you know, it’s just really massive meaty story which is a lot of fun and while all of that’s going on just like any other Simpson’s episode you have all of these subplots. You know, and characters. Mr. Burns on one level decides that there is money to be made in luxury toothpicks and in order to do that he wants to cut down one major redwood per toothpick, so while you’re trying to save Springfield you also have to stop Mr. Burns’ logging operation, but it all ties back together which is cool.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Very cool. So let’s get into the powers.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Tell us some details. Now what are all the powers?
ALEX: So every character has really a ton of powers and they’re all fully upgradable throughout the game. For example….
THE GAME REVIEWS: How does the upgrade system work?
ALEX: It basically works on your ability to get through a level and then earn the upgrades. So, the way the Simpson’s discover that they’re in a video game is that a video game manual drops from the heavens and it’s actually the same manual that you’ll have in the box. Bart is the one who finds it and at first he doesn’t understand what it is and then he opens it up and he realizes, holy crap, we’re in a video game and there’s a list of his buttons, just like you would have in any manual and this is kind of how he discovers things and as you kind of progress you’ll find more and more pages of this manual that are teaching you powers. You also find power-ups that will give you additional powers.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Oh, okay, right on.
ALEX: So all of these powers are totally true to their characters’ personalities. Homer, for example, he finds out he can eat all he wants with no health consequences whatsoever which is perfect because I mean that’s something that he would really wish for that if he could. So he’s got this little calorie meter in the lower left hand corner of the screen and when you first start playing you can eat food and when you eat enough food you can burp, you can use mega burps. There are a bunch of fun things you can do with that, but after a while you earn the ability to eat so much that you turn into a giant ball of lard and when you’re in this ball that we call a Homer ball, you can dash around. You can roll around slowly and navigate levels. He’s got a stomp attack. I mean there are just layers and layers. He can also find a gummy Venus DeMilo, you know from a really early episode and if he eats that he can become gummy Homer which is this big gelatinous blob of sugar that can shoot bombs. You know one of his power-ups happens to be the Guatemalan insanity pepper if you’re a fan of that episode. He eats that and becomes a giant invincible ball of heat.
ALEX: But, I mean if you’ve ever seen the show and you’ve seen that, you know you freak out because it’s such a small reference. Right? We definitely have it covered. Bart has the ability to turn into Bart man and kind of everything that comes with that and there’s a lot that comes with that because obviously Bart man, Batman, there’s gadgets and stuff like that in there. He has a hook shot. He has a sling shot. He can get a wrist rocket a little later. He has a power shot. He can use his cape as a parachute and later as a hang glider. So he’s got a whole bevy of powers. Marge, she’s one of my favorites. I’ve never seen this power in a video game before. She’s always been kind of the mom. She basically does two things on the show. She nags and she protests. That’s just who Marge is.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Right.
ALEX: And then she takes care of the family.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Dinner, stuff like that.
ALEX: And Maggie and….She has a megaphone and she can release a sonic attack, but cooler than that she has the ability to gather people on her side and do her bidding.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Oh.
ALEX: So you can basically use this megaphone to summon the citizens of Springfield to get behind you and once you have them behind you, you can kind of micromanage what they’re going to do for you. So you can kind of delegate responsibility. So you can tell a couple people to attack one enemy while a couple others attack another or you can have a few people build or repair things. It’s very cool.
ALEX: But, then the really neat thing about it and what really makes it Next Gen, her powers specifically is that you know when you start off you can only control 12 people because she doesn’t have that much influence, but later your sphere of influence gets bigger and you’re going to be pulling around, you know, 40 something characters. So imagine 40 characters running behind you doing your bidding while all of this other stuff is going on. It’s a pretty amazing technology feat.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Why would you say that it’s classified as Next Gen?
ALEX: That power specifically?
THE GAME REVIEWS: Yes.
ALEX: Well there’s absolutely no slow down in frame rate when you have that many characters on the screen.
ALEX: So, this is the first time that you could have 20, 30 or 40 enemies on the screen and then 40 people behind you that you’re you know managing. Just a lot of stuff on screen at the same time and it’s one of those things where it would have been really difficult to do in the last couple generations. We do have a PlayStation 2 version of the game and a Wii version and a PSP and a DS and you know those don’t have the same hardware capabilities as the XBOX 360 or the PS3 for example and even in those games she has just a huge, huge mob following behind her, not quite as big, obviously because of those technical differences, but it’s still really big. There are not that many slowdowns. When you see it, it’s absolutely amazing.
ALEX: Marge also has Maggie. She can drop Maggie off in small places and she’ll crawl through ventilation shafts and hit buttons and turn switches for you. Lisa has a couple cool powers. She’s got her saxophone.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Of course.
ALEX: So she can use that to kind of stun people with her music playing abilities, but she can upgrade it later so that she can play certain songs that cause enemies to attack each other. She also has this really cool charge attack with her saxophone. It almost turns her into this little bright tornado that knocks things over. One of the coolest things about Lisa is that she has always been the spiritual, nonviolent kind of person and we really wanted to echo that in her character in the game. So what she can do is she can find these hand of buda points and she can meditate and summon the hand of buda which is a gigantic hand. It looks like her hand that comes down from the sky and she can use it to manipulate the environment. She can pick things up, drop things and later on she learns how to flick things. She’ll get God-like powers. So, I mean as you can see you have a lot of abilities to start off with and then throughout the entire game you can upgrade those and get new.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Okay.
ALEX: So there are constantly new ways to play the game for you.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Now are those power-ups permanent?
ALEX: Some are and some aren’t. You know there are temporary power-ups and some of them are once you get them, you have them and it’s up to you to figure out when and if you use them.
THE GAME REVIEWS: And how do you switch between power-ups?
ALEX: You actually have them all right there on the controller for you.
It’s a pretty simple interface, which is nice.
THE GAME REVIEWS: I played the demo and it did seem pretty simple. It was very easy to get used to.
ALEX: And that’s the thing. The hardest thing for us building The Simpson’s Game besides nailing the look and the feel of the show, is that the show has been on for 18 years, 20 years on air. It was on the Tracy Ulman show before it was its own show. If you think about it, I’m 26 now. I was 6 when that show came out and I’ve watched it every pretty much Thursday and Sunday since, but…
ALEX: I grew up with the Simpson’s. If you think about it if I was 6 and now I’m 26 the people who started watching it when they were teenagers who are going to be in the 30s and 40s and so on since it has this massive demographic so we needed to build a game that kind of was simple and fun enough for someone who was 6, but still complex enough and funny enough for someone who was in their 30s and 40s. So that’s why you kind of have that, you know it’s easy to figure out how to use your powers, it’s just up to you to decide which powers to use when and for what purposes.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Gotcha. Right on. So it makes it a little more strategic.
ALEX: Yes definitely.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Not just a button masher.
ALEX: You know it’s really funny, I’ve had people come up to me here at E For All who have said you know “this game looks really easy” and I’ll hand them the controller and they’ll struggle with it and then I’ll hand the controller over to you know a really young kid who is like 11 and the kid will absolutely floor them. It’s really funny to watch. You know, I think it’s one of those things where people see a cartoon game and they assume that’s what it’s going ….you know, it’s gonna be super simple.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Right on.
ALEX: It’s definitely challenging enough to keep you in it even if you’re a really hardcore gamer.
THE GAME REVIEWS: So just briefly, how has the reception been here at the show?
ALEX: Sure, so the reception for The Simpson’s Game specifically has been absolutely phenomenal. People have come up and they have come back multiple times to play it.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Well that is a very good sign.
ALEX: The nice thing about E For All is that it’s spread out over four days so it’s not typically as crowded on one day as say something like E3 is and what that means for consumers is that they can come in and really play the games. When you go to a lot of video game conventions there are such long lines, there are so many crowds that you get up there and you feel like you only have two seconds to play. People are commenting and backseat gamers and all that stuff. Here it’s nice because the lines aren’t quite as long. You could have come Thursday or you can come Sunday. You have plenty of time and people have been able to come down and really enjoy the experience of playing the game and I think that has made a big difference. Also, it looks like the show, the cut scenes are really funny and there are a lot of jokes. People just come by and watch. I mean we have had crowds the majority of E For All watching the game and you know it’s great for us and it’s a lot of fun for gamers.
THE GAME REVIEWS: That’s awesome man. So you think, of course EA is going to be back next year.
ALEX: Yes, I can’t see why not. Any time that you can get people to play your games, I think that’s the best way to kind of show them what you’re trying to do.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Anything else that you personally in the business have on the horizon that you can talk about.
ALEX: I can’t mention my next couple projects, but I can tell you this, EA is making really big strides to kind of change the way we do business. The last couple years we have really focused on establishing our franchises and kind of perfecting those instances and then transitioning with them all through the generations of console. This year we’re starting a really big push for new IPs and new contents. So, you’re going to see a lot of new games and a lot of risks that EA hasn’t really taken since we started. We used to be that company that came out and brought out all these great new games like Skate or Die when no one else really had Skater games and stuff like that. It’s been a while since that has been our focus. So there are going to be a lot of really awesome products coming out of EA and I say that not as an EA employee, but as a fan of gaming. I’ve seen a lot of stuff that hasn’t been talked about yet that I think is going to knock people’s socks off.
THE GAME REVIEWS: That’s sweet
ALEX: It is definitely going to be a good year.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Well, we will look forward to talking about it.