Have You Played… The Simpsons: Virtual Springfield?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

The Simpsons has often been eerily prophetic of future events, be it unreliable autocorrect on portable Apple devices, horse meat scandals, ebola outbreaks, a thin-skinned satsuma becoming president, The Simpsons somehow still continuing decades later…

Even so, revisiting 1997’s The Simpsons: Virtual Springfield reveals striking similarities to many of the VR games we see twenty years later. Janky 90-degree rotation-based movement! Low resolution 3D sightseeing! Minimal interaction! Becoming entirely tedious after 15 minutes!

Virtual Springfield was/is less a game and more a tourism app, albeit tourism in an imaginary place. From a first person perspective, navigate crudely and mechanically through the streets of Springfield, visiting places and faces we knew and loved from what was then a show at the peak of its powers.

We just couldn’t get enough of The Simpsons at that point, so the idea of seeing Moe’s Tavern, Burns’ nuclear power plant and Evergreen Terrace in Actual 3D! On Our Actual Computers! Whenever We Wanted! was almost irresistible.

The reality was… well, we endured it for the jokes and quotes and the box-ticking. Gotta catch ’em all, right?

The whole thing is framed as a theoretical VR game, goggles placed over the player’s perspective in its opening moments, and from there it’s basically Google Maps Street View in rudimentary 3D. The 90-degree turns and lurching leaps forward are much like so many VR games’ awkward button-based movement, and the heavy, jaggedy aliasing is pretty comparable to gog-o-vision too.

Of course, being The Simpsons, it’s arguably protected by a thick layer of irony, and might only be rubbish because it’s pretending to be rubbish.

Even so, re-release this in actual VR and hell, I’ll play it.


  1. mrentropy5 says:

    I would pay good money for this to be re-done (better) for Vive/Rift.

  2. Ejia says:

    Yes I have! I gave it to a friend and I don’t think he gave it back. I also lost my System Shock 2 and Homeworld 2 copies this way, but to a different friend.

    • wombat191 says:

      Thats what you think.. it was I the whole time secretly borrowing all your games in different disguises ! muahaha

    • Canazza says:

      I lost my Red Alert collection like that. Sad times.

    • teije says:

      Baldurs Gate 2 original boxed edition. Still bitter.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Augh, that’s how I lost my old Grim Fandango! Still bummed me out right up until the rerelease.

      • Shazbut says:

        Me too! I think Grim Fandango was the only game I ever let a friend borrow. Now I don’t let anybody have anything ever and am much happier

        • poliovaccine says:

          The awful irony is you only have the impulse to share with others those things which you love the most, haha… these days I’ve learned just to never loan anything out I’m not prepared to lose. Certain books I’ve bought like ten times over.

          • DodgyG33za says:

            Once I have finished a game I am happy to give it away.

            Books are different though. If I like a book I buy a second copy in hardback, and only loan out paperback copies. I get to share the love AND can easily spot my favourites on my bookshelves.

    • Canadave says:

      I borrowed a game from a friend when I was a kid, then he moved across the country. I realized I still had it, felt tremendously guilty about it, and never played it again as a result*.

      * It also wasn’t very good, some sort of point and click adventure thing about… dinosaurs or time travel, maybe?

    • MajorLag says:

      I’m on the opposite side of this problem. I’ve been lent several games who’s owners never bothered to get them back from me before seeking fortune trying to find the northwest passage and falling off the edge of the earth.

      Freespace 2, Yuri’s Revenge, and Starcraft ended up in my collection this way.

  3. Canazza says:

    I played this as a kid. Finding the hidden Doom minigame was great as I wasn’t allowed the real Doom. Finding all the canned animations was entertaining enough to an 8 year old.

    Hunting all the collectable cards was fun, until I realised that they just respawned in the same place when you revisit an area, so all you had to do was go between two places and you’ll get them all.

  4. satan says:

    Wouldn’t say I endured the game, I mean it was pretty exciting for me to go down to street level in Springfield back in the day.

  5. stringerdell says:

    No, but I played a lot of Simpsons cartoon maker and X men cartoon maker. Awful games but heaps of fun for us

    • poliovaccine says:

      Haha awesome, I wondered if anyone else played the Cartoon Studio one! I was writing my comment wondering that when you posted yours… did you ever succeed in making any sensible narratives out of it??

      • stringerdell says:

        Nothing even remotely close! we had a ton of fun with it though.

  6. poliovaccine says:

    Best feature-bar joke line in a minute on this article haha. From the litany of available quotes, an excellent selection.

    And no, I never did. I did, however, play The Simpsons Cartoon Studio, which provided you with *almost* enough highly specific animations and arbitrary sound bytes to construct an incredibly minimal and almost-comprehensible Simpsons episode of your very own! Anyone else ever play that one?

    I was young and naive enough to imagine the tie-in product might have actually allowed me to at least mock up a basic narrative, like you’d think the designers would assume you’d want to do, but the sound bytes available required you to be especially creative just to accomplish as much as that. Not sure what the criteria were for choosing the animations or sound bytes, since they seemed to be so arbitrary thematically – there was little to connect them beyond the walk cycles, and apart from the ubiquitous catchphrases, the dialogue choices they left you were particularly useless. I loved it, I played it all the time. Making a cohesive narrative became the ultimate goal. It became a puzzle game.

    In my naive, child’s fantasy of it beforehand (I got it through the mail so I basically fantasized about it for like three weeks), I had actually imagined it would be a proper animation tool, letting you manipulate separate details, like an arm, eyes/expressions, various items, etc, on separate cel layers, like real animation. So that, yknow, you could actually make them do non-preset actions. Even back then that was totally plausible for a computer game to do. But what you actually got in the game was more like a Simpsons theme for making PowerPoints. Ah, (the ceaseless parade of disappointed expectations and violently immolated ideals that is) youth!

    Btw, does an animation program exist like ^that today? I know there’s Flash, but I have enough experience with Flash MX to consider it a separate skill on its own, and it only resembles manual cel-layer animation in the most basic ways, buried under worlds complexity I see as needless. But something similar, yet more akin to a direct digital interpretation of the hand-drawn method, does that exist? Like, ideally for less than $700?

    Apologies for the double-tangent, but figure it’s worth an ask.

    • Harlander says:

      There’s OpenToonz, which claims to be based off the software Ghibli used, and it’s free. Might be worth a poke…

      • poliovaccine says:

        Interesting..! Might be indeed! Thanks, off to poke it now..

  7. ComicSansMS says:

    Ah, it got boring. I’m really into this cup and ball now. Man, you never know which way this crazy ball’s going to go.

  8. TheSplund says:

    Still have a copy :-)

  9. DelrueOfDetroit says:

    I got this in one of those book order pamphlets you used to get back in elementary school when I was 12. Yeah, I was pretty disappointed as it cost me like 4 allowances. The box it came in was pretty cool though.