We interview Mark McGinley, the Lead Designer on Futurama. He shares with us some juicy game details!
Q: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions for our readers.
A: No problem at all. Things are finally beginning to calm down a little now after a hectic alpha & beta period. The team are just in the process of fixing the small number of bugs that keep raising their ugly head.
We can now finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. We hope it’s light anyhow and not the headlights of a runaway train heading straight towards us.
Q: First off can you tell us who you are and what your role is in the development of Futurama?
A: My name is Mark McGinley and I’m the Lead Designer on Futurama – The Game.
Q: How many team members are involved in the project?
A: At it’s largest the team had around 25 individuals working on the project. On average though we have a team size of between 17 – 20 people.
Q: How was it working with Matt Groening and the voice actors?
A: It was a pleasure to work with such talented and creative individuals. Matt has been heavily involved since day one, when we pitched the original concept to him. J.Stewart Burns created a wonderful script that really allowed the voice actors to do what they do best and really bring the characters and the story to life. The script is well written and extremely funny.
With regard to Matt Groening, it was a dream come to true just to meet him, never mind work with him. He’s very excited about the game and the direction it has taken. He is very keen to extend the life of Futurama through the game and he and other members of the Curiosity Company have given the team and the game a lot of support. Matt is also very aware of how to best transfer elements from the show into the game and his input has been invaluable.
Q: With the writers of the TV series actually writing the script for the game, was the game developed around the script or vice-versa?
A: Good question. Initially Anders Hejdenberg (Producer) and I flew to LA to meet up with a Producer from Fox and the very talented and funny, J.Stewart Burns. During that meeting we just brainstormed various different themes and ideas we all thought would make a fun and enjoyable game/story. Anders and I were in stitches just listening to some of the wild, crazy and bizarre ideas Stewart came up with. We knew then that we’d got the right man for the job.
A few months later J.Stewart Burns sent us over the first draft of the story/script he’d come up with. The first draft was fine but in general it was just too big so we needed to condense it somewhat. The team and I went through the first draft and we compiled our own constructive feedback and past it back across to Stewart so he could take that on board and send over the second draft.
Eventually we all agreed on the basic backbone of the story that we would build and construct the game around. Obviously as we progressed through the development phase, various new ideas were added to the story/game and some were taken away/reworked, so modifications had to be made but this was an ongoing process anyhow.
When we designed each level, once it was complete we’d send it over to Fox so we could get feedback from Stewart, Matt Groening and the other senior members of the Curiosity Company. If any story/script changes were needed Stewart would make them and together the game and the story evolved in more detail as each level was developed and created by the team. It was a very time consuming process but it was excellent seeing the way the game/story evolved.
Q: What demographic is being targeted with the Futurama license? Is this title leaning towards the younger gamers in game play or will there be challenges present to keep the seasoned gamer occupied?
A: Futurama is not a hard-core game. The game will be released with a teen rating so with that in mind the game is tailored to a slightly younger audience. The game is what I’d call a “Pick Up & Play Game”. It’s simple, fun and intuitive. The controls are simple and the objectives are clear and straightforward enough that even a monkey could play it and know what to do. (:
There’s over 30 minutes of FMV in the game so not only can the player have fun playing the game, but they can also be entertained between levels with the excellent FMV’s, which are extremely well crafted and extremely fun to watch. The FMV team here at UDS have done an excellent job of putting this material together.
David X Cohen, the show’s leading producer, really sums it up for me when he described the game as a ‘lost episode’ of the show. I really do think that this sums the game up perfectly. It really is an interactive episode. It’s fun to play, great to watch and overall it is a very fun and enjoyable game.
Q: Can you give us a run down of the story behind the Futurama game?
A: Evil entrepreneur, Mom has bought Planet Express from Professor Farnsworth. By doing so she now owns over fifty percent of the Earth, making her the supreme ruler.
Her first step is to enslave all humanity and turn the planet into a gigantic warship to conquer the known Universe. The player's goal is to prevent Mom from Universal domination by taking the Planet Express crew back in time to stop the deal from ever going ahead in the first place.
The story (game) features essential parts of the Futurama universe that fans of the show will know and love – such as the Planet Express HQ and New New York. In addition you will get to explore outer reaches and previously unexplored depths of the Futurama universe.
To say the story involves world domination, life after death and time travel would be pure hearsay & speculation!
Q: Since each of the playable characters has different playing styles and weapons, will there be different solutions to puzzles and events in our quest to stopping Mom from taking over the universe?
A: The game is very linear therefore we give the player set characters to play at set points in the game/story etc. Therefore you cannot switch between the playable characters as you only ever get given one playable character to control at any given time.
The levels are all specifically designed with the playable characters skills and attributes in mind. Also some of the levels lend themselves better to more thought provoking situations. For example, most of Fry’s levels are just open areas to cater for him running around and blasting everything to pieces with his gun, but in other areas we change the objective from blasting to solving a problem or over coming an obstacle etc. Throughout the game there’s a lot of different situational problems for each of the playable characters to overcome in their respective levels.
Q: How many levels are planned for Futurama?
A: 22 fun packed levels!
Q: Are there plans for other modes of game play other than single player? Will we be able to play co-op through the game? Any multiplayer modes?
A: Unfortunately no. It’s single player only I’m afraid. Due to lack of time we were unable to cater for any co-operative or multiplayer modes of play. Maybe in Futurama 2.
Q: Are any of the Xbox hardware features being utilized or is this a straight port across the board?
A: Straight port across the board I’m afraid.
Q: What are some of the weapons in Futurama?
A: Fry is the only playable character who actually uses a weapon so there isn’t a huge selection of weaponry at his disposal. Fry initially finds a hammer, which he can use to beat some of the on coming enemies to death with. The Professor then gives Fry a pistol so he can go down into the Sewer and fight his way through the hoards of rampaging sewer mutants. As Fry progresses through the old Subway in Old New York he can find and use one of the toxic warriors old trusty shotguns. The real weapon that packs a punch though is the Tommy gun that can be found in the back streets of the Redlight District. Watch out the robot mafia bots though! In the last level though (Moms HQ) Fry finds the ultimate kick ass weapon!
Q: Does the game rely heavily on weapon use or fighting?
A: Each character is very different and each of the levels are specifically designed with the characters skills and abilities in mind. For example, Fry carries a weapon so there’s a lot more weapon orientated game play in his levels, whereas Bender & Leela use their own close combat styles of attack to proceed through the levels. It’s not just all shooting and blasting though. Throughout the game there are various problems and puzzles that the player also needs to workout and overcome in order to proceed onwards.
Q: How in depth is the fighting system? Will there be combo moves that can be utilized in a melee fashion, or is it a straight forward punch, kick, shoot in combat?
A: It’s not Tekken, It’s a simple pick up and play game with simplistic actions and moves. Leela & Bender both have a special move which requires a simple combo button press to activate their special moves, but that’s about as complex as it gets.
The objective for us was never to create an over complex fighting system. The main emphasis was on creating a fun and enjoyable character, with simple but effective moves that the player could quickly get used to in order to maximise the moves each character has within the specific environments. We wanted the player to be able to learn the moves quickly and then have fun using those moves against the various numbers of NPCs that occupy each of the different environments in the game. Make it fun, challenging and enjoyable!
Q: Can you give a brief sneak peek into some of the new characters and locations that we’ll encounter in Futurama? Just a little taste :)
A: The journey begins within Planet Express. Here the player gets the chance to look around this very familiar place. For fans of the show it’s great fun checking out the different rooms within Planet Express. From here the player is forced down into the Sewers where they soon come across a new breed of sewer mutant. From the Sewer, the player progress through the old Subway system that leads up into the heart of Old New York. Old New York is populated with toxic warriors who have now claimed this land as their own. The toxic warriors carry shotguns and rocket launchers so beware. As the player proceeds onwards they will need to work their way up into the heart of the Redlight District where they’ll come face to face with a mixed assortment of troops from the robot mafia. Once Uptown then the player is soon confronted by Moms hover bot stormtroopers who are now patrolling the streets of New New York.
Once the crew leave Earth the journey takes several twists and turns which sees the crew land on an old asteroid planet, visit an old Mine facility and fight their way through an old spaceship junkyard which is over run with rock monsters, junk bots and bizarre little creatures who inhabit this forgotten land. From here the crew then visit the sun where they have to overcome an army of undead skeletons. From here the crew and then travel to the furthest corner of the universe to a swamp, in search of an old friend of the Professors called Adoy.
Several new locations and loads of new characters are packed into the game!
Q: Which one of the characters is your favorite and why?
A: It’s got to be Dr Zoidberg. He’s just so funny.
Q: Bender or Bart? Who would win?
A: That’s a tough one, although I think I’d have to go with Bender on this one. I think he’d soon bend Bart into shape.
Q: In closing is there anything you would like to say about the game to our readers that just has to be said.
A: I think the key thing for me would be to ask people not to knock the game until they’ve tried it. It’s not just another run of the mill 2nd rate licensed product. This game is more than that. It’s fun and extremely enjoyable. I think a lot of people will be pleasantly surprised.
Futurama is going to be the best representation of a Groening animation series on any console format to date. We’ve ensured that the game adheres to the best elements of the original license in all areas – humour, satire, storyline and characters.
It features a wide range of gaming environments, a number of playable characters, extensive FMV sequences………basically it rocks!
Q: Again thanks so much for taking the time to answer our many questions.
A: No problem. A pleasure.
Thanks again guys.