SANTA MONICA, California — Homer Simpson is trapped in the grey brick hallways of a castle. On the walls hang red banners that read "Castle Duffenstein." Get it?
Bart Simpson fights the giant Lard Lad in a mission called "Shadow of the Colossal Donut." Get that?
The Simpsons engage in an eating contest called "Bite Night." Does that compute?
Two months after announcing that "The Simpsons Game" would be a parody of 25 years of video games and star a Simpsons family that knew they were in a video game, the creators of the project came to Santa Monica's E3 gaming show to demonstrate specifics. They were there to make fun of a lot of video game clichés and tease several "Simpsons" episodes' worth of in-jokes and outright mockery.
"There are lots of big, awesome surprise bosses and guest stars in this game," said "Simpsons" TV and game writer Matt Selman as a version of the game ran in the EA suite at the Le Merigot hotel. "Although I'm sure they will be on the Internet five minutes after the game is released, I would love to maintain them as surprises for now."
Well, not completely. The last time the creators of the game talked to MTV News, they hinted. They alluded to things. And they said Matt Groening wouldn't be in the game (see " 'Simpsons' Video Game Lets You Bounce Homer-Ball, Fly With Super-Bart"). Things changed. "We can confirm that Groening is a boss in the game but not the final boss," creative director Jonathan Knight said as he demoed the game at E3.
The game's creators let MTV News run a caped Bart through the "Shadow of the Colossal Donut" level, while a developer rolled a powered-up, spherical Homer with a second controller. Lard Lad stomped through a construction site, but Bart, with his trusty slingshot, was able to stop Lard Lad in his tracks. A hatch opened on the giant lad's back and started flashing. Suddenly, the game paused. Comic Book Guy appeared on-screen along with a line of text congratulating the player on finding one of 31 video game clichés tucked in the "Simpsons" adventure: the obvious weak point on the boss character. "It's the only game that can call out its own clichés," Knight said proudly.
Knight had an EA developer load up one of the game's three "Medal of Homer" missions (get that?), this one set in France. The goal was for Homer to collect white surrender flags. Hunting for one, the developer ran Homer toward an awning, took one hop onto the awning and sprung the balding patriarch into the air. The game paused again. Comic Book Guy again: "Trampolines — you have found video game clichß #3."
"Are you showing him the secret thing in 'Medal of Homer?' " the formerly secretive Selman asked one of the EA developers. The response was affirmative. "I think that's a good thing to show," Selman said. "That's a good way to whet the whistle." The big secret was the Duffenstein Castle, which is a visual homage to the pioneering early '90s first-person shooter "Wolfenstein 3D." The developers promise references big and small, from "Joust" and "Frogger" riffs to more recent "Madden" and "Grand Theft Auto" jokes. Asked to cite their most obscure, Knight mentioned a nod to "Ecco the Dolphin."
Knight said gamers should even expect a skewering of the company that made the game. "We're going to be making fun of EA in a really big way that we're not even showing at E3," he said. "We have to really, really make fun of who we are as a corporation ... I'm not going to give any details for that. It's a whole concept for a whole other level."
But maybe all these video game references aren't the best selling point. The EA guys tried a few others out during their demo. They described the powers. Be Marge and use her "super-nagging" abilities. Be Lisa and use the power of meditation to posses a giant hand that can descend from the sky and lift dumpsters and cars and drop them to make staircases or squash enemies.
Maybe the selling point is, as Selman jokingly put it, the game's theme: "We like to make fun of the fact that in video games there's always something new and always something better. And the thing you played before is always flushed down the toilet and you don't have that anymore. So in a sense the Wii and the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 represent the new thing, and that's what the 'Simpsons' are on now. But they're afraid of them ultimately being recycled by whatever's next. So in a sense we're making fun of the nature of consumerism — which is probably the biggest way to sell the game."
Maybe that's the way, though Knight did describe a tantalizing setup to one level of the game, which could also be a selling point. A game called "Grand Theft Scratchy" is released in Springfield. It's a sensation. "It's actually 'Grand Theft Scratchy' Day in Springfield," he said, "and the kids have gone crazy for it. They're are all over at the Sequelstop buying it and Marge decides she needs to lead a protest to get this violent video game banned from Springfield. So she uses her awesome mob-control powers to one-by-one gather the citizens of Springfield and destroy the advertising."
With that kind of topical relevance, might anti-game lawyer Jack Thompson show up in the game? "I can neither confirm nor deny Jack Thompson references in this game," Knight said. "I would have to consult my personal lawyer."
So how far does this game go? Gamers can see when it comes out for all major video game platforms, console and handheld, this fall. " 'The Simpsons' is really the perfect franchise to satirize and make fun of video games because fans of the show are already used to it making fun of movies and TV and music and commercials and religion and whatever — everything," Selman said. "They understand that 'The Simpsons' exists to make fun of the world."
Video games are just the next target. Got it?