South Park: The Game Preview
South Park is still one of the finest shows on television, remaining rib-achingly funny even after 15 years of existence. In that time we’ve had a distinct lack of good videogames to back it up, even with creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s much-publicised love for the medium.
And so it is that this time around we’re actually hopeful – Obsidian Entertainment, developers of the really very good Alpha Protocol, Dungeon Siege III and Fallout: New Vegas, among many others, has been brought in – by South Park Studios itself – to create a new RPG based on the TV show.
If this seems like a surprisingly un-jokey intro for a game based on a favourite comedy show of ours, that’s because we’re still coming to terms with all of this. It sounds… good.
It’s patently obvious to say South Park: The Game looks very much like the South Park we’ve enjoyed on our screens for the last 15 years. Look at it. It’s South Park.
But the level of detail with the look and the animation of the game is quite surprising, thanks in no small part to the level of collaboration between Obsidian and South Park Studios.
SPS has made its entire library of footage, frames, animation files, techniques and whatever else is used in the creation of the series’ visuals available to Obsidian, and has worked directly with the developer to create new animation techniques to make everything look as accurate as possible.
The idea of Cartman and crew dressing up as wizards and warriors to vanquish evil could easily have been a TV episode.
As South Park is an RPG it makes sense that a lot of thought has gone into its combat mechanics. What began as a more real-time system has developed into one more akin to Paper Mario – turn-based and reliant on timing; suitable for those not au fait with RPG combat systems but deep enough that those who know what they’re doing can get more out of it.
But, essentially, it is just about kids beating each other up – in the words of Trey Parker, it’s “kids being little bastards”. All the Paper Mario and Final Fantasy VII influences in the world fade into the background when you throw a ninja star into Butters’ eye.
The game is written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, though obviously with plenty of work done by Obsidian itself. What this has meant is a slow, laboured, iterative process of back-and-forth between South Park Studios and the developer, working out how to do things, where the kids should go, what should happen and how to make it all suitably South Park-ish.
Then, of course, there’s the thorny issue of how to make it funny – there’s no doubt Matt and Trey have the track record, but how it is applied into the game itself will be what makes or breaks the experience – the funnies have to work.
The usual RPG tropes show themselves throughout South Park, from the class-based character selection – fighter, mage, thief, cleric and Jew. Yes, Jew.
The others are self-explanatory, whereas the Cartman-created class is a risk/reward archetype – the closer to death he is, the stronger he gets. Of course, you’ll be facing off against numerous factions – vamps, ginger kids, hippies and, of course, Crab People, among others.
It’s not just going to be a simple reskin job making you face off against essentially identical enemies, though, with the kids, adults and creatures you beat up all having different powers and weaknesses that you’ll have to get around to succeed.
There’s a long line of ‘enemies’ for the South Park characters to tackle.
It’s no surprise that the voice acting in South Park will be handled by the original actors – that is, in the most part, Matt and Trey. A lot of new dialogue has been recorded for the game both to keep it as accurate to the source as possible as well as to make sure there’s little in the way of repetition.
Then there’s the music – another area in which South Park Studios is going above and beyond in helping Obsidian, offering up the entire 15-year back catalogue of music, audio cues and whatever else might be needed, as well as having the show’s composer on hand to create new ditties as and when required.