From broadcast jokes to interactive mayhem, ‘Family Guy’ writers talk about bringing the Griffens to the digital world

Family GuyVideo games remain one of the more challenging mediums for humor, but that’s not stopping Seth MacFarlane and the creative team behind the hit Fox TV series Family Guy from trying. And man, they are trying this year. In addition to the just-released Family Guy Online free-to-play game from Roadhouse Interactive, there’s also a brand new console game, Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse, from Activision coming this fall. Alex Carter and Andrew Goldberg, writers and producers on the hit show, are involved in both, very different, gaming projects.

Andrew GoldbergFamily Guy Online begins with players creating a custom, Family Guy-style character from one of four classes based on Griffin family archetypes. Each class has their own special gameplay skills and weapons, such as the Peter-Class noxious burp, and the Stewie-Class ray-gun. Players can then team up or opt for a single player experience as they adventure through Quahog’s most well-known landmarks, from Spooner Street to The Drunken Clam. Fan-favorite show characters including Stewie, Peter, Brian, Meg, Quagmire and Mayor Adam West will send players on quests where they must fetch, fight and rescue.

“It was an interesting challenge, because it’s a different way of writing,” said Goldberg. “On the show, it’s about characters speaking to each other, whereas in the game, because we wanted to make it as interactive as possible, it’s mostly characters speaking to the player, which is new for us.”

Animated Andrew Goldberg

“We do have some characters interacting with each other,” added Carter. “Although for a game, you want them interacting with the user, because that’s what the user is there for. Anytime you’re in a new medium, it just opens up different kinds of jokes that maybe wouldn’t have worked on air that can work here. It’s exciting.”

Goldberg said another challenge is that so much of the show is based on the comedic timing of the bits, whereas in an interactive game control of the timing is given to the player. “In a weird way, the player is almost like the director in a sense, because he is moving around and activating different characters to speak with, and that activates different bits,” he added.

There is also some overlap between the two games. In the upcoming console game, Activision is focusing completely on one of the series’ most popular episode, 2008’s “Road to the Multiverse.” That episode is also referenced in the online game. The console version puts players in control of Stewie and Brian the dog as they travel through time and explore some far-out variations of the Griffin family, including a “Robot Chicken”-inspired Claymation gang. Both games open up more humor targeting gamers.

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse“I think it’s similar to the show in that we try to do all forms of comedy,” said Carter. “We make some fun of games. We make some fourth wall jokes. We also have a lot of jokes that are more of what I guess you would call traditional Family Guy jokes. I think because you’re talking directly to the user, hopefully it will add something to the user that they don’t get from the show, because they literally are talking to the characters, which makes the jokes feel a little more personal as opposed to something where they’re just being broadcast to millions at one time.”

Alex Carter

“I think more than making fun of games, we found ourselves making fun of gamers,” added Goldberg. “The word ‘lonely shut-in’ was definitely used more than once.”

At least until E3, Activision is keeping a lot of the details surrounding its console Family Guy game under wraps. But there’s a lot more to talk about with the free online game that’s currently running, and getting regular updates. From a creative standpoint, Goldberg said he’s most excited about the online game.

“With a console game, you just put it out there and either people like it or they don’t,” said Goldberg. “With the online game, we can actually get feedback from the players, and adjust and improve the game according to that feedback. The guys at Roadhouse Interactive have a lot of material and game content that they’re going to roll out over time. Ideally, the game is just going to keep getting better and more entertaining.”

Moving forward, the online game and the Fox Sunday TV series will connect in their own multiverse way. As things occur on the TV series, new quests online will incorporate content from that episode and dovetail into the game world.

“The story that we run online will work so that if something new shows up on the show, by the time that episode is over, those items are going to be available for people to download or acquire in the game,” said Goldberg. “Like in the Halloween special last year, when Stewie’s duck costume appeared, that would definitely be something that people in the game world would want to have.”

Animated Alex Carter

Carter pointed to an episode that featured a gag where Peter has a pterodactyl with his face on it. The idea would be for the Monday after that show aired, it would be available in the game and you could fly on it.

Another thing both the console and online game have in common is that the entire voice cast was on board with the interactive adventures. 

“All the voices are the actual actors from the show,” said Goldberg. “Seth MacFarlane did his characters, Mike Henry, Alex Borstein, Mila Kunis, Seth Green, Adam West, and Patrick Warburton all did theirs.” 

The gang also went virtual back in 2006 with 2K Games Family Guy Video Game.

The producers coordinated with the TV voice acting sessions so that actors could work on the games while they did the series work. One exception to this rule was MacFarlane, who voices so many characters that he had to come in separately to bring the game stories to life.

And for the online game, those stories won’t end. The writers hope that the laughs won’t stop, either.