It seems today that all you see is violence in movies and sex on TV. Where are those good old fashioned values on which we used to rely? Let’s look to the Internet, where Fox Consumer Products and ACRONYM Games Inc. are preparing to launch Family Guy Online, a free-to-play massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) that runs in your browser. You can do questionable chores for Herbert the Pervert, lay waste to Dead Format Records for that “Surfing Bird” incident, and play Chase the Greased-Up Deaf Guy, all from the comfort of your own home. Finally, media with morals and values. Cheers to Peter Griffin, savior of our souls!
Welcome to Quahog
In Family Guy Online, you’re a new citizen of the proud city of Quahog. You assemble your character at the beginning of the game, and even though you don’t get to actually play as Peter, Stewie, Lois, or any other member of the Griffin family, you collide with some familiar faces almost as soon as you begin playing. That’s because Mayor Adam West has some quests (er, “chores”) for you to complete before you can gain a chance at becoming a distinguished citizen. Quahog is a city of freaks and talking dogs, so don’t expect Mayor West’s chores to get any less weird as you clock in time with the game.
The Family Guy television show still commands a massive audience with males aged 18 to 35. It’s the number one most downloaded show on Hulu and iTunes, and it’s the most “liked” show on Facebook. Family Guy’s viewing base doesn’t overlap much with the general audience for web-based social games, so how do you make a Family Guy video game that’s free and accessible, but is deep and sassy enough to keep that viewing base engaged? Easy: you think “midcore.”
What is “midcore?” According to Ian Verchere, COO of Roadhouse Interactive (the production company behind Family Guy Online), midcore games are easy for beginners to latch onto, but are more involved than typical social fare. The environment in Family Guy Online is big and expansive, and there’s lots to see, do, and explore. The game is built on the Unity engine and controls via a mouse and a keyboard, but the whole shebang is not as complex to play as comparable downloadable PC titles.
And if you’re already a fan of Family Guy, you’re golden. Almost everything you do, everything you touch, and everybody you talk to recalls a past episode of the show. Moreover, given the fluid nature of social games, it won’t be any problem for Fox, Roadhouse, and ACRONYM to keep on top of updating Family Guy Online to reflect pop culture events or include story points that occur in future episodes of the show.
Even the characters that you design fall into the basic body types that you see lumbering, toddling, and scooting around Quahog. You can play as a Peter-type character, a “tank” who can essentially shoulder blows from irate citizens and vengeful chickens. You can also play as a Mom-type (think Lois), a nurturer and a healer. Or, you can get on board as a Teenager (Meg, or Chris), a surly being whose tantrums translate into skills that can be used for the greater good. But maybe playing as a baby is more your speed—a quick little gremlin-like creature who is bent on domination.
Freakin’ Sweet Humor
Whichever avatar you take into Family Guy Online, you’ll soon find yourself wandering through familiar streets. Your earliest tasks occur inside the Griffin house. Peter leaps up out of his lawn chair to greet you and solicits your help for a little revenge against his son, Chris. If you’re up for it, there’s a pretty sweet hat in it for your avatar. In fact, you can dig up all kinds of recognizable clothes and accessories for your character, and what isn’t handed out or found on the street can be bought at the in-game shop via microtransactions.
The core of Family Guy’s humor, for better or worse, is its famous “cut-away gags.” Roadhouse and ACRONYM wondered how said cut-aways might be implemented in the game, and a solution was born: for every quest you undertake, a relevant clip from the show pops up and illustrates how the task at hand fits into the show’s mythos. If you’re successful, another clip wraps up the events at hand. For example, if you manage to wrestle away Peter’s beloved “Surfing Bird” record from him (violence is involved), then you’ll get to see Stewie and Brian’s slow-motion, Office Space-inspired destruction of said record.
Further along in the game, you visit Downtown Quahog and observe the softly-glowing sign for “The Drunken Clam.” You even visit all of Spooner Street, and Lake Quahog—but do you dare tread in the darkened wasteland that is James Woods’ House?
“When we started [making the game], we went through all the episodes of the show and looked for ‘quest seeds,’” says Ian Verchere. “We’d ask, ‘is this is a gameable moment?’ I sat down with [writers] Alex [Carter] and Andrew [Goldberg] and we ranked them to see if they [were] relevant. We wrote out how each quest would unfold in a game moment.”
But coming up with quest ideas is just one problem: sandwiching them in show-worthy dialogue is another. “We worked very hard to make the dialogue as good as the stuff in the show,” says Alex Carter, who is writing for Family Guy Online in addition to the show. “[It’s] a challenge, since the show has a large writing staff. We’d double-check with writers to make sure that fans would enjoy the comedy in the game as much as the show.”
Carter and Goldberg are keeping the writing for Family Guy Online at a PG-13 level. Much of the show’s trademark raunchy humor is intact, though excessive swearing and blood are not.
“Hold on Quagmire, I Need to Kick This Guy’s Ass.”
As previously stated, Quahog is not a peaceful town, so you need to be prepared to fight. Your character is equipped with skills for the job, but don’t expect the usual fire-flinging and dragon-summoning. Everything you do is dictated by the character type you chose at the start of the game. Teens, for instance, can cast buffs and debuffs with the aid of their fluctuating tempers and emotions.
Like any good social game, you’re going to need a little help from your short, squat, and portly friends. Family Guy Online has Group Quests, tasks that are not easy to undertake alone—unless you really think you have a chance at stopping a prison riot all by yourself. You can also try your hands at various minigames, like Chase the Greased-Up Deaf Guy, but be warned—you’ll never catch hiiiim!
Finally, there are boss fights. Muscle Pig is hanging around, and he dares you to try and turn him into a pile of steroid-laced bacon. You might even find Cripple-Tron hanging around Big Pete’s House of (Wheelchair-Inaccessible) Munch.
The Art of Quahog
While the writing staff for Family Guy Online worked on weaving the show’s writing into the game, the art team had its own problems. Namely, finding ways to bring a two-dimensional cartoon into the third dimension. The digital Quahog, for instance, was constructed via multiple viewings of the television show, since no official map of Quahog exists.
But bringing the Griffins into a 3D world was a special challenge. Peter is not a man who is easily budged.
“The biggest challenge was to translate the show from 2D to 3D,” says Murray McCarron, the art director for ACRONYM. “We spent a lot of time in focus pre-production learning and understanding the art style. We did this by working with the animation guys with their dope sheets, etc. We asked, ‘How do we make it work in 3D? How do we make it work in a browser?’”
The answer? Perseverance, fine-tuning, and more fine-tuning. “It’s more than what it looks like,” McCarron says, “it’s [also] how it feels. Pose for pose, a lot of the animation is from the show. Music is pulled from the show. Visual effects are pulled from the show. The user interface is all inspired by the show. Over time, the game’s ‘tonality’ really matched the Family Guy cartoon. We got to a point where we really nailed the look of the animation and the world.”
Even though the Griffins’ doughy physique seems like it’d be easy to render, there are a lot of little tips and tricks that needed to be nailed down from minute one. Have you ever noticed that you never see Peter’s face head-on in the show? It’s always slightly off to the side. A forward-facing 3D model would look especially hideous, and Verchere’s team needed to address that. “Building Peter’s ‘chin flip’ was a challenge,” he admits.
Nobody Messes with Adam We
Quahog is a weird, slightly frightening place to live, but that’s all of its charm. Can you endure Mayor Adam West’s initiation into citizenship, or will he and his massive menagerie of cats burrow into your soul and consume it? Find out when the Family Guy Online open beta goes live on April 17.
By Nadia Oxford
*Also appeared in GameZebo Daily Electronic Newsletter