Hit & Run Development challenges

Posted in Simpsons: Hit & Run
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I received this question: How was the development of Hit & Run challenging, as the credits states, "Thanks for the support from our friends and family during the challenging process of making this game."

Some challenges came from doing things (for our team) for the first time:
- First 'open world' game where you could get in and out of cars and explore the environment
- For our team, first time we did character control (our previous game was driving only) so we had a ton to learn there, about controls, game mechanics, camera, etc

Another challenge was keeping the faith through development that it would be a good game, Open world games are by their nature "more than the sum of their parts" ... we had a vision and stuck to it, but for much of the development the game was boring, because you didn't have the feel of all those elements working together. So it was challenging for producers and the design team to stick to our guns about the game vision. Not everyone on the team believed it. (Most did, but the couple naysayers could be kind of insistent. I remember one artist - not to be named! - stood up in a team meeting and declaring that the game would never be fun!

Time was always a challenge - gotta be on the shelves by Christmas. However I think our producer was quite clever here, arranging the game to be "finished" in February ... knowing full well this would allow him to negotiate another six months of dev time and still hit Xmas. This is actually the main reason it is a high quality game: most Radical games (indeed, most console games from that era) were made in 12 months which was just not enough time to make something good. Hit & Run ended up being made over 24 months. That's why it is still to this day the highest-rated (Metacritic) Simpsons game ever.

And lastly there is the high profile license. While in some ways the involvement of the show writers has been exaggerated (this was part of the game marketing - in actual fact most of the dialogue was written by Chris Mitchell on our team) we still had regular reviews with Mr Groening and Gracie Films which led to some odd discussions. You know why there are phone booths everywhere? We originally planned to give Homer and the other playable characters a cell phone so you could call for a car from anywhere. This led to a long discussion with Gracie and Mr. Groening which eventually concluded that cell phones didn't yet exist in the Simpsons universe (my, how things have changed since the year 2001 eh!?). So the phone booths sprinkled liberally through the game world were our solution for you to be able to get a car from your "garage" if your car was destroyed in the game world.
I can also add what was NOT a challenge: to a person, we were all massive Simpsons fans. We delighted in digging through the shows (on VHS tapes, natch!) to find one more reference or visual gag. One of our design goals was that whatever your favourite Simpsons episode, you would be able to find at least one reference to it in the game. Mind you that might not be possible today - back then there were "only" 13 seasons!
Wait so game development commenced in 2002? That is interesting.
A bit earlier ... pre-production began as soon as Road Rage wrapped up in the Fall of 2001. But yes full production started early 2002.
Other than the cellphone idea, how much content was removed or vetoed by The Simpsons team? Is there any specifics that you can remember that you can also tell us about?
thanks for answering my question Joe! That is interesting! I knew that you guys made better games with an extra year, did Crash of the Titans have an extra year? That would make sense.
We originally planned to give Homer and the other playable characters a cell phone so you could call for a car from anywhere. This led to a long discussion with Gracie and Mr. Groening which eventually concluded that cell phones didn't yet exist in the Simpsons universe (my, how things have changed since the year 2001 eh!?). So the phone booths sprinkled liberally through the game world were our solution for you to be able to get a car from your "garage" if your car was destroyed in the game world.

If this is the case, how did L2M7 slip pass the radar?

In L2M7 (Cell Outs), Professor Frink requests that Bart destroys some Cell Phone Cars in order to prevent his Truckasaurus creation from going on a killing spree. Did Matt later change his mind on this statement, or was he not around to review this mission? Was it slipped in partially as a joke towards this statement, since by the end of the mission there aren't any cell phones in the universe at all?
I'm guessing that dialogue was small enough for them to miss, and they really looked and acted like FBIish radio vans.
>>Other than the cellphone idea, how much content was removed or vetoed by The Simpsons team?

Not a lot. This was our second Simpsons game so we learned a lot from mistakes we made on the first game. One really odd thing about games is you cannot (or could not at that time) reference real world businesses or people, not even in a spoof/comedy way (a protection that TV/movies/books specifically do have). So that made it hard to invent content because so much of the Simpsons show is like that, a spoof of the world.

Only other thing I remember getting rejected was we had 2D Simpsons-style drawings for the mission breifings. We found out during development that is a general Simpsons product no-no, they have a specific team that does ALL 2D content and drawing (for authenticity reasons, which is totally understandable). That's why the game has those kind of odd graphical iconic mission-briefing screens.
>>did Crash of the Titans have an extra year?

There was kind of a long preproduction figuring that game out, so I think it had 18 months. All our other Crash games were made in 12 months, which is completely insane. It might sound like a lot of time, but picture this:
- Finish last year's game august/september ... the team is exhausted, at least some of them been crunching, so everyone gets holidays, some extended. So a month gone you don't really start the next game until November.
- Two months preproduction - to figure out the game vision, the story, the world design, characters, gameplay plan, everything else you need
- Production starts January
- Production ENDS July, at the latest, because you need two months to finish, tune, polish, debug, and ship the game in time for next Christmas

So of 12 months there is only 6 (at most 7) months actual production time for programming all the features making all the levels and other art assets.
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