In yesterday’s installment, we gave you a look at how Fox was working to create an all-gamer friendly MMO in Family Guy Online. But more than anything else, the drive for the assembled teams working on the game appears to be getting as much fidelity to the show as possible. That means the extensive use of characters, locations, and voiceover from the show.
In this installment, we’ll look at how the assembled teams behind Family Guy Online worked to create a virtual Quahog—right down to details that weren’t even in the show—into this Fox MMO.
If you were wondering how the Griffins would function in FGO, the dysfunctional clan will be quest givers in the game and are voiced by the actors from the show. Peter, Meg, Chris, Stewie, Brian, and Lois will dole out story-based assignments in and around Quahog. And of course, each is voiced by the original cast members from the show.
Ian Verchere, CCO of Roadhouse Interactive, explained that one of their goals with the VO was to avoid replicating audio for gamers, noting that when Adam West’s mayor character provides you its quest or tutorial information, it won’t be duplicate audio from the show.
FGO also keeps the show’s non-sequiturs intact— one we saw involved a little dead girl appearing in the Griffin kitchen saying she was thrown down a well and disappearing. These don’t seem to have any bearing on quests and just appear to replicate the often random nature of the show. In-game videos from the show will be used throughout the game to set up quests as well as pay them off. The videos are accompanied by a block of test with the mission title and objectives.
An additional layer of fidelity to the game comes from the map of Quahog—something that didn’t exist for the show before Roudhouse started making the game. The studio worked with the Family Guy show runners to lock down the full layout for the Griffin’s home. In order to help keep players oriented, when they drop into the game world, it will be near one of the iconic locations from the series.
Art Director Murray McCarron of A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games joined Verchere in discussing the look and feel of the game. The latter talked about how FGO isn’t a licensed title—instead, it’s a collaboration between Roadhouse, McCarron’s company and a Shanghai-based studio called Mindwalk and publisher Twentieth Century Fox. McCarron says part of that collaboration was spending time with the artists from the show and learning how to translate the game’s art style into 3D and how to make it work in a browser without the benefits of the heavy-duty rendering of a current-gen console. As an extension of the show, they wanted it to look and feel like the series. McCarron, whose experience stretches all the way back to the early CG series are boot and later to The Simpsons: Road Rage for consoles, says that it would have been easy to just drop a Toon Shader-style filter over custom 3D models, but that it wouldn’t necessarily feel like the show.
That means that pose for pose, the character animations matched what you would see in the show, pulling from key frames from Family Guy. He also explained that some of the tonality from the series showed up in the menus and interface, with the musicality of the game making an appearance in the UI with small visual and audio cues. For McCarron and his team, the visual target for FGO wasn’t reached until environments from the show were indistinct from the ones in the game.
When showing off slides from the FGO art bible, McCarron says when creating assets for the game, their goals were to make the game look like the show while still remaining optimized for the game’s engine. Maintaining scale and color palette while remaining faithful to the current season were also some of the key objectives of art team. Fox sent along specific details about line weight that the team at A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. who worked with them to generate the characters and realize virtual Quahog. A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. and their external teams kept a mantra of not assuming they knew what visuals in the game looked like—they were in collaboration with MacFarlane and his team to find environments and characters that might have only been shown once in the game.
To create some of the customization and costume options, McCarron asked his designers to go off for about a week and create a variety of pop culture and random elements that would ultimately make their way into the game.
Characters with more physical volume like Quagmire and Peter especially difficult to bring into the game because of their unique silhouettes in the show. He joked that when he sees Quagmire in the game, he can’t help but tweak the character to match his character model from the show.
Writing Family Guy Online
Alex Carter, Executive Producer, formerly Story Editor and Writer for the series along with Family Guy writer and producer Andrew Goldberg spoke about writing for FGO. In the past, Carter has provided consults to other games but this is the first time for him actually creating content for a game. He says that one of his goals is to revisit fan-favorite bits from the show. He lauded the art team’s ability to translate the series into 3D from the flat, 2D look of the show, Verchere chiming in that one of the challenges of the show is that you never see the characters straight on, meaning it was necessary to figure out how to visualize the angles of the Griffins and company.
In attempting to get the show’s style of writing into the game, Verchere talked about another challenge: trying to bring in elements like the cutaways and non-sequiturs in an open world. He said the team used interstitial dialog to paste over gaps in activity. Carter says that he was constantly sending notes about things that the game’s quest givers could be doing while players aren’t engaging them, only to find out that the wacky action he was looking for would take an extra six months to implement.
Another key issue for Carter was figuring out how to get timing to work in a situation where there would be multiple things in the game drawing the player’s focus. Verchere commented that this kind of thing was a clash between in-game instances and trying to figure out how to best get jokes across. The jokes were also a matter of communicating what was going on in the game space that some of the non-gamers in the cast might not be familiar with (save for cast member Mila Kunis, a hardcore gamer in her own right). Goldberg credited cast members like MacFarlane and Green with having great improvisational skills which allows the VO sessions to be richer and provide a full experience for the player.
Goldberg said that for the writers, it was a matter of becoming less rigid and figuring out how to cater their work to what Verchere called the needs of the gamers. That meant that sometimes the quests couldn’t be so deep in the weeds of show continuity that it would keep players not as familiar the Family Guy universe on the outside. Along the same lines, some jokes in the game would draw directly from the show’s film and TV homages and references. When I asked how they would deal with the legal minefield of celebrity references and parodies in the game, Goldberg and Verchere noted that it’s a fine line of parody and commentary and that at this point, they’re still learning to navigating these issues, and that like the show, it’s a great deal of give and take with legal.
One advantage of the MMO format is that unlike the show, FGO is able to implement jokes rapidly as opposed to the year or so that it takes for the show to animate jokes. In the game, Carter and Goldberg are able to keep up-to-date with current events although they’re still keeping pace with legal who have to get the jokes before they go live. Verchere says that the goal in the future is to have a constant, possibly weekly flow of new content.
Tomorrow, we’ll wrap things up with a few words about FGO’s customization system as well as a look at how the game plays.