Hit TV show Family Guy followed a trajectory that’s very similar to Apple’s. The show appeared as a breath of fresh air early on, underwent a decline during which it almost vanished, then made a triumphant return.
In that way, Family Guy always seemed a perfect fit for iOS. Earlier this year, that pairing finally happened when developer TinyCo debuted Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, a mobile game that follows Peter Griffin and the rest of the Fox TV show’s colorful supporting cast as they rebuild the town of Quahog after it’s been destroyed.
Six months down the line — and with the game currently in the middle of a haunting, courtesy of its Halloween update — Cult of Mac spoke with the developers about Seth McFarlane, making games funny, and the perils of in-app purchases.
“We’re not just developers of the game, we’re huge fans of the Family Guy property across the board — from writers and artists to coders and engineers,” says Kevin Chuang, the game’s product lead. “It was a really exciting opportunity to work on this.”
On paper, The Quest for Stuff owes much to EA’s The Simpsons: Tapped Out, another iOS game that has proved hugely popular.
But while The Simpsons was certainly the model for Family Guy in the television world, in terms of gaming there are some key differences. Unlike The Simpsons, which is primarily plot-driven, Family Guy episodes often revolve around one-off jokes — many of which take the form of non sequitur cutaway gags.
Making games amusing is difficult. Those jokes that make you laugh first time around are less funny when you hear them the ninth or tenth — which is exactly what happens when you’re playing through a pick-and-play mobile game.
It’s here where Family Guy: The Quest For Stuff comes into its own, however, serving up a stream of new material that means regular players will be rewarded with a changing array of laughs.
“We started out with a goal, which was to provide a laugh with every gaming session,” says Chuang. “What that means is that we need to constantly update the game with new content.”
Fortunately that is more than possible in the mobile age. A game no longer needs to be completely “finished.” Like new versions of iOS, a game can simply iterate over time, evolving until it resembles something else entirely.
“We want you to feel like the town of Quahog is alive in your pocket — and that events are constantly moving on, even in the time you’re away from the game,” Chuang says. “It could be, for example, that you log in on a Thursday and suddenly there’s a whole new character or plot line in the game.”
So what is the involvement of Seth MacFarlane, aka the voice of Peter, Brian, Stewie and the overall originator of all things Family Guy?
“Seth’s involvement is really overseeing everything that goes out under the Family Guy banner,” says Andrew Green, TinyCo’s head of business development and operations. “In terms of the people we work most regularly with, though, it’s the content creators from the show, like the writers and artists. Seth’s there for quality control.”
Even with MacFarlane taking a backseat, the game still feels like part of the show, with many of the TV writers contributing material. “Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff captures the irreverent, and at times downright offensive humor, of the series,” says Greg Srisavasdi, a games reviewer for Arcade Sushi and Deepest Dream, speaking with Cult of Mac.
By building on the jokes the show generates and taking them off in extended new directions, the game can often feel like a writer’s room meeting — with concepts riffed on at length that almost certainly would have had to be cut down to a 20-second joke on TV.
“I think of it like Star Wars, where you have the expanded universe, you know?” Chuang says. “There was a one-off joke in the TV show where Peter became an anime character. We took those visuals and built on it to turn it into a series of quests. That’s the kind of thing you can only do in a game.”
The game also features an impressively broad range of celebrity voice talent, from George Takei, Stan Lee and Patrick Stewart to Ron Perlman and Bryan Cranston.
Of course, it’s not all good news. Unlike a critical darling such as indie hit Monument Valley, Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff is the work of a huge corporation, eager to do more than simply make a name for itself (hint: $$$). What this means is in-app purchases: the bane of many mobile gamers.
“The free-to-play model is still an emerging model,” Chuang says. “It’s true that not everyone does it right. A few years ago, when it was a new idea, players were more than happy to just keep plugging money in to continue playing the game. But that’s not a fun model. No one wants to play a game for a year if they’re constantly pressured into spending money on it.”
Instead, TinyCo has worked hard to create a game that tempts players to fork over cash for extra features but is still playable even for those who don’t want to spend a penny.
“We use the in-app purchases as a way of letting players explore parts of the game quicker than they would otherwise be able to,” Chuang says. “We also offer costumes and other bits of content, which aren’t essential for progression in the game but are still lots of fun. It’s a balancing act — but I think we’ve pulled it off nicely.”
Whatever your thoughts on freemium games, Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff is certainly an entertaining title, just like we said in our video review upon its release. Giggity-giggity-give it a go if you haven’t already.