Friday, 15 May 2015

Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff welcomes the Alpha Quadrant

Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff was more Star Trek than anything else this spring as the crew of The Next Generation descended on Quahog. Could the most ambitious event yet to hit TinyCo’s addictive freemium mobile game tap the right nostalgia buttons? Against quite a few odds, and Borg, absolutely says Matt Goddard.

“Stop poking me” – Deanna Troi (Family Guy version)

Your chance to revitalise Quahog's Star Trek Quarter

It’s been a long time brewing. Despite some major hiccups, Family Guy remains one of the pre-eminent lampooners of American culture on the air, pop or otherwise. And despite being placed on hiatus after its third year – which, as every Star Trek fan knows is a sign of some quality – it’s now somehow reached its 13th series. Packed full of references, it likes few things better than a strong dose of science fiction and has dutifully paid tribute to Star Trek over the years. So, it had to happen - for just over a month Family Guy’s freemium mobile game, The Quest for Stuff (TQFS) was all about strange new worlds. 

The Star Trek Event that ended last week was TQFS’s fifth in-game event since it launched just over a year ago – tent-pole, short-lived seasonal specials that introduce more targeted in-joking gameplay. Previously Comic-Con, Christmas, Halloween and Valentine’s Day have expanded the Quahog universe, but this was the boldest leap yet, hurling the player straight into The Next Generation. Of course, it remained a mainly comedy game, and more importantly a Family Guy game. Even the greatest The Next Generation fan setting coordinates near TQFS was unlikely to be convinced if they’ve never quite gelled with Seth MacFarlane’s work. That’s a warning worn on the sleeve of any uniform freshly purchased from Al Harrington’s Outfitting Store…

“I know I can be a little dramatic…” – Khan

A nice night for ornithology. With phasers.

But what Family Guy creator MacFarlane certainly is, is a Star Trek fan through and through. That’s evident from all his shows, with countless references and cameos (particularly Patrick Stewart’s regular role in Family Guy sister series American Dad) and not least his own two appearances in Star Trek: Enterprise as Ensign Rivers. In 2009 MacFarlane even managed the unthinkable, staging a cast reunion of the The Next Generation crew on Family Guy! Although they didn’t record together, it was the first time they’d appeared as a 'crew' since Nemesis in 2002. MacFarlane is one of the key people in American media determined to keep The Next Generation going. 

So not surprisingly, what really hit about this Star Trek Event was the attention to detail, no matter how skewed. From classic show design, the fact that most characters were voiced by the original actors and ridiculously canonically correct in-jokes and parodies: it was certainly a work of affection. And just as the best comically bad piano can only come from a pianist of Data’s ability, this heightened, tongue in cheek, intrinsically well-researched Star Trek fitted right in to the Family Guy world. 

“My Beard is warm face blanket” – William Riker

Riker crash lands: Little regard for the Prime Directive
On with the event! Once you reached a sufficient level of the standard TQFS game (Quahog District 3, you know) you were pushed to the mobile equivalent of amber alert anticipation: a battered Commander Riker crash-landed his shuttlecraft in Quahog and off you set on grabbing ‘stuff’ to fix him up and unlock as much Star Trek as possible. On the way there was time for the loose plot that unravelled around the Borg. The crew’s mission to 21st century Quahog was all to do with a weapon that Stewie Griffin would invent in the future and would have been very useful at Wolf 359 - culminating in various upgrading boss battles with a Borgified Bertram – who, as fans of the show will know, is Stewie’s sworn nemesis. As always nemeses prove a killer formula - even in a parody Star Trek universe.

Defeating Borgified Bertram was the name of the game 
That ‘stuff’ part, the transaction and reward system that necessarily propels the game, was – truth be told - where this event came slightly unstuck. With every character you discover, comes the task of gathering a quantity of specific items. By making other characters, Star Trek and otherwise, complete tasks and building special monuments in your town centre to earn everything from cat food for Spot to beard trimmers, medical tricorders and emotion chips, you can expect an increase in time and perseverance as the game progresses. But as Riker’s unlocking led you variously to Geordi, Troi and Ten Forward, Locutus and the Bridge, Crusher and the Sickbay, Data and the Holodeck and so on… There was an inevitable push to pay for shortcuts as you work against the Event’s deadline. Some terse criticism of the time and effort it took to obtain items, combined with what will forever be called the ‘Enterprise bug’ that hit in the game’s final weeks led to a week-long extension to May 7th. I’m certain the balance could have been better pitched. While this ‘inflation’ may be expected from freemium games, it’s not a great fit for Star Trek or a fan frothing at the mouth against a deadline… 

Sometimes visual bugs had comic consequences 

There was very little chance of fully completing this Event without investing, unless you got few other things done during April. The price of every achievement was steep and the dedicated collection items took almost just attention to threaten sucking some of the fun out of an event that really needed to feel spontaneous and full of potential. 

But inevitably, sometimes it was nothing short of irresistible. Once Riker was unlocked and Peter Griffin had earned his own Star Trek uniform – and was crucially able to perfect his ‘Peter manoeuvre’ and sit in ‘that chair’ - access to the Enterprise-D made things a whole lot more interesting. Alright, it wasn’t an accurate representation of the ship, rather a wonderfully toy-like breakdown of the saucer section into five key areas. It managed to distil the essence of that iconic flagship and the show’s chemistry while picking up and running with all The Next Generation tropes you’d expect. In fact, the Event was less predominantly The Next Generation than definitively 1987 to 1994. There were no First Contact jumpsuits to be seen – although the Borg got a latter television colouring and a couple of the character’s sound-bites had a very movie feel. And there was defiantly no reboot. None of that.

Starfleet Lois shoots some stuff while a Red Shirt gets typical short shrift 
That meant an event hinged around the crew of the Enterprise-D you’d expect, albeit Locutus is manning the Bridge during this Borg incursion. In opposition, the troubled and battered The Next Generation crew were aided by unlocking various Star Trek spins on the inhabitants of Quahog - from Ferengi Mort to Klingon Chris - who could board the Enterprise and carry out their own Starfleet missions. And once that’s in the mix, there’s no harm in bringing in some golden classic guest cameos from of the rest of the Star Trek pantheon. Yes, The Next Generation was supplemented with icons from the Star Trek canon. The Original Series Kirk was the golden aim, although Spock, Uhura and Khan all made memorable appearances.

Montgomery Scott: Who could resist that equation? 

This intrepid explorer did invest in some extra Clams (premium Quahog currency) to unlock Scotty (movie version) after being sucked in by an advertising conjunction: a 23 hour deadline and a hilarious character equation that told me that accessing Khan, Spock and Locutus would unlock the venerable engineer instantly. That comedy pact between the Locutus and Khan was irresistible. Still, springing a just-out-of-reach iconic character on a game player was really tugging on the heart strings on this ship. Perhaps it should have stuck more to that strong The Next Generation base. 

“Would it hurt the Captain to say please sometimes?” – Geordi la Forge

Can you feel it? Assimilate this! 
Still, switching between Quahog and the Enterprise-D added a certain away team styling to the game. With Riker’s crash-landing came a Tribble invasion of Quahog that would continue aboard the Enterprise-D. Later, fan 'Trekkies' of two varieties strolled around the corridors who –like their small and furry, multiplying friends – were be dispatched for dilithium with a quick stab of the finger. Later still hordes of Borg stalked the corridors alongside rather hapless panicking red shirts (inevitably on fire – the game played the red shirt card a lot). 


Aboard the ship, a plethora of Star Trek experiences were laid on, tugging even more desperately on those nostalgia strings. Phaser crystals allowed for phaser fights against Petercrafts (Starfleet vessels via Thomas the Tank Engine with a rather familiar visage) and even decloaking Romulan Warbirds. Away missions sent assembled crew off to comedy planets (Cesspoulus?) as a hit and miss way to capture certain items faster. A fully powered replicator allowed you to trade special monuments and characters for gathered items, collecting them on a replicator pad in Quahog. The end result were rooms that chopped and changed aboard the Enterprise as your goals changed– most with their own comedy stylings – as Quahog quickly developed a lasting Star Trek quarter. From a branch of Latinum Loans to the Klingon Forehead Clinic, floating Borg Cubes to Romulan Ale Bar these were built to last.

As the missions heated up, the comedy didn't stop. Borg dispatching played an important part, but was only available to certain characters. When Deanna Troi starts dispatching Borg by hurling Tribbles at them you know the Federation was far too humane when they chose not to pump Borg cubes full of the critters. Sisko wouldn't have thought twice, which is presumably why Deep Space Nine had no presence at all while Voyager’s Seven of Nine managed to sneak in during the Event’s final days. 

“You will be assimilated” - Locutus

Riker's quarters - you had to ask? 

The cast added hugely to the occasion. All the regular The Next Generation crew came equipped with comedy Family Guy one-liners - and the power of that authenticity became clear when other characters weren't so lucky to be voiced by their original actors. Dishonourable mentions for Khan (oddly, only once unlocked) and sadly Scotty. Otherwise, all of the characters were stretched to the max. Here’s lascivious womaniser Riker, sex-bomb Troi and irritably logical Spock. Locutus may not have anything amusing to add, but that just served to aid the meta-jokes. Other great examples of that were Beverly Crusher casually asking if she missed anything during season two and multiple character asking you not to poke them. 

The same was true of tasks which grew as characters gained more experience and levelled up. While Starfleet Lois may have run off to spy on Riker, Troi could grow a perm while Khan could equally tame his mane or dig a grave with relish. Most amusingly Locutus could be set to work playing with a Borg kitten or brilliantly, assimilating tea. 

"He's here. Spock is here." - Spock

Whoever thought Khan didn't know how to have fun? 
What this Event really did show was, as if we’d forgotten, how vivid and brilliant The Next Generation ‘brand’ was and still is nearly 30 years on. From Trexels to Timelines, we’re not short of Star Trek mobile games, but anything touching this level of respect and addiction would be superb in a 100% Star Trek game. The catch may be that so much of this gameplay relied on parody and in-jokes. So much so that it would be virtually impossible to scan across to a real universe game that sought to give a ‘realistic’ mix of comedy and drama. Still, it was a pleasure to hang round with that famous crew again, even in a sitcom... 

The Live Long and Prosper monument standing proud 
But above all else, even the pang of The Next Generation nostalgia, this TQFS event was a timely tribute to the legend of Spock. Quagmire and various blue shirt Trekkies running around the Enterprise imitated the look, but unlocking Spock and having him stroll around the ship and Quahog, sometimes playing 3d chess, sometimes indulging in a bit of Pon Farr, was a treat. Voiced, of course by Leonard Nimoy - the only posthumous vocals in the game - this prolonged tribute was touching even in an occasionally coarse game like this. When I placed the Event’s Live Long and Prosper monument in Quahog only to later arbitrarily place a propelling Star Trek II casket launcher and find it’s its torpedo arc perfectly sparked at the monument… Well, it truly felt a little bit special. Highly illogical though it may be, small moments like that left me rather adrift when the Event’s suddenly concluded last week. 

But while I may have been pondering where that re-imbued nostalgia would take me next, I’m certain of one thing: it won’t be long before Star Trek makes a return to Quahog…

Been playing the event? How did you get on? Drop us a line below!

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