A look at Springfield in 1997
Released for both Mac and PC in 1997, Virtual Springfield puts you directly into Springfield where you can freely explore the Simpsons town, Springfield. Whilst promoted as being a 3D game, it’s actually 2D with a 3D-based perspective, using an engine built by Vortex Media Arts. This isn’t the first Simpsons game released, with previous titles being released on the NES and the Sega MegaDrive, and it wouldn’t be the last either.
This game was an interesting look at Springfield since in the show, whilst there was never any continuity of the town itself, buildings would come and go and the layout of the town never remained consistent, not helping was the change of animation studio from the first few seasons. Still, a lot of references to the early seasons of the show are present.
The main object of the game is to collect all 74 of collector cards, which are hidden across 17 different locations. Some locations are locked and can be unlocked by collecting specific items. The game’s HUD is designed around the player wearing a VR headset and using it to navigate Springfield.
The game runs slowly on PCem when running it directly from the CD-ROM (being played from an external Blu-ray drive) so it’s usually based to create an iso image of the game, then mounting it into PCem. (Update: It seems that I had set the CD-ROM speed in PCem to 4x, which wasn’t fast enough for the game, since increasing it to 16x the stuttering issues have reduced, but you still get the odd delay, defiantly dump to BIN/CUE when running in PCem)
The game is navigated using a point-and-click approach, moving your mouse cursor to a specific area lets you either select or interact with an object or if it turns to an arrow, lets you move in that direction. If the game is left idle, random animations are played out.
Some buildings (Like the Simpsons house) can be entered some have multiple rooms that can be navigated through. Some rooms/buildings are blocked and require an item to be in the inventory before it can be accessed, these can be obtained by picking up the item by clicking on it.
It’s not really a game in the traditional sense, there’s no fail state or any challenge, except for collecting cards. It’s more of an application like the previous Simpsons Cartoon Studio. Nowadays you could probably build the same game within a modern browser, like Bing maps but for the Simpsons universe, and maybe leverage a VR headset for full immersion.
Being a long-time fan of the show (For seasons 1-9) and an obvious target for this product, my only gripe is that there weren’t more things to interact with per location. Sure the game will have a limited scope, imposed by the technology of the time.
There are the occasional mini-games featured in the Noiseland Arcade, but certainly more activities like this could have been sprinkled into the game.
Quite a few locations are missing like the Springfield dog track where they adopted Santa’s little helper, Krusty Burger (appears in-game but cannot be entered), Department of Motor Vehicles, Police Station (again cannot be entered)
Virtual Springfield uses a hybrid disc that allows the PC copy of the game to run on a Macintosh system. To get the game up and running, you simply insert the CD into the Mac and click on the Virtual Springfield icon on the desktop, the game will launch, providing you set the colour depth to 256 colours. No installation is required.
The game will run on a G4 PowerPC-based Mac, running on OS 9.2.2, but you must change the display colour depth to 256 colours, otherwise, the game will crash the system upon startup. Virtual Springfield will not change the display automatically. It also works by changing the resolution to 640×480 since the game will not scale for a higher resolution, resulting in the game being displayed in the center of the screen with black borders around, if run at a higher resolution. What annoys me is the game does not give an error message informing you of this, just crashes the Mac instead.
The classic environment on Mac OS X does not seem capable of playing the game, this was tested on both OS X Jaguar and Panther classic modes.