By John Gaudiosi
LOS ANGELES—Electronic Arts, which has had a studio in LA for years now, has learned a thing or two about Hollywood premieres. The game publisher hosted a world premiere launch party at the Hard Rock CafÃ© at the Universal Studios City Walk, just across the way from EB Games, which remained open an extra three hours to sell the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2, PSP and Nintendo DS game to die hard Simpsons fans and gamers.
Simpsons creators Albert Brooks and Matt Groening were on hand for the launch, as were the show writers who also worked on the game. EA had a yellow carpet set up outside of the Hard Rock for celebrities like Zach Levi ("Chuck"), Zach Ward (Postal) and Ian Ziering ("Beverly Hills 90210") to pose for pictures and talk to TV reporters. There was a live DJ and a Tommy's Burger's truck outside giving away free hamburgers, fries and sodas to everyone. Break dancers wearing yellow The Simpsons Game t-shirts performed outside for the crowd who didn't have access to the VIP party inside.I had just attended the Walt Disney Home Entertainment Blu-ray Disc launch party for Pixar's Cars over at Social Hollywood on Sunset Strip and EA actually attracted more star power and had a much better organized event than even that Hollywood studio. But not everyone was impressed with the celebration.
"I guess it's how far the art of publicity and bullshit hype has come," said Matt Selman, co-executive producer and writer of "The Simpsons" and lead writer for The Simpsons Game. "They feel like having these young kids from the Disney Channel who I don't even recognise will help sales of the game. Anything to get yourself on those gossip pages, I guess."
Fellow "Simpsons" TV and game writer Tim Long was more diplomatic with his thoughts on the party.
"It's exhausting," said Long. "I don't know how Matt Groening does it. Just to be a little bit famous for one night, for two hours, it's killing me. There are just so many attractive young people milling about for this thing that I would have to wake up at 6 am on Tuesday mornings to write for. It just is mind-blowing that we actually got it done. I would really enjoy tonight if I were the type of person who could experience joy, but because I'm a writer, I can't. My emotions right now are neutral."
Both writers brought the wit fans have seen in "The Simpsons" TV show, movie (which hits DVD and Blu-ray Disc December 13) and EA's new game to every answer they gave me, as we talked upstairs in the VIP section of the party.
"The game allowed us to do a crazier story," said Selman. "It's like the biggest, most insane Halloween episode of the show we've ever done. It's almost like you made a Simpsons movie that had the rules of a Halloween episode with more ideas and more parodies."
Long said the fantastic thing about the game was that it has this epic scale that allowed us to explore the nooks and crannies of the Simpsons universe.
"With the TV show and actually even more so with the movie, there's a real discipline to follow in telling a story," said Long. "With The Simpsons Game we were able to go in different directions and we were able to explore peripheral characters, even when they're not interacting with The Simpsons family. For instance, I wrote some little seamlets that you can happen upon where you see Apu's wife talking to Chief Wiggum about immigration reform and they're having this crazy conversation that has nothing to do with anything you've seen before, but it just lends this incredible richness to the experience."
Although there have been many other Simpsons videogames over the years, dating back to the origins of the show, Selman said this is the first game that really originated from the show and then improved through the videogame company.
"All of the other games started at the videogame company and then the show did its best to make it good," said Selman. "That's why we call it The Simpsons Game. It's a blank slate. There's no clever subtitle like 'The Armageddon Agenda.' It's just they are in a game and realise it's hard to be in a game because there are alien invasions and all kinds of crazy things happening."
All four of the game's writers have grown up playing videogames, which helped when creating the concept for this game: The Simpsons become self-aware that they're in another bad videogame.
"The days I could spend all weekend playing Dig Dug on my Atari 2600 are sadly over," said Long, who's now married. "This game takes on videogames the same way 'The Simpsons' TV show takes on other aspects of pop culture. We would parody these games and they both make fun of and pay tribute to games. That's our way of saying don't sue us, we're actually paying homage to you."
Now that the game is out, the writers said they have plenty of fodder for additional games, and that "The Simpsons" TV series can easily go on to episode 500 or even 600. Next up for the writers is The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios, which opens in 2008 (and replaces the Back to the Future ride).