Not long after Clash of Clans launched, Rob LaZebnik’s then 12-year-old son introduced him to the mobile strategy game. LaZebnik, a writer and producer on The Simpsons since 1999, was hooked almost instantly. Like the flu, the game spread amongst the show’s writers, and like the flu, it crated work responsibilities. The staff formed a Simpsons clan in the game, and regularly sent each other messages during the workday to initiate battles. It almost became an obsession — one that may have impacted their day job. “I’d say any bad joke that’s been on The Simpsons for the last four or five years,” says writer Joel Cohen, “you can attribute to Clash.”
Eventually LaZebnik, Cohen, and fellow longtime Simpsons writer John Frink took on a new side project to turn their obsession into something more productive. Inspired by the game’s cartoonish fantasy world, the trio set to work doing what they do best. They devised characters based on Clash units like the barbarian and archer, and created new situations to put them in. The writers pitched the idea to Supercell, the Finnish studio behind the game, and the result is Clash-a-Rama, an ongoing series on YouTube that turns the world of Clash of Clans and its follow up Clash Royale into an animated show.
New episodes of Clash-a-Rama are being released weekly, with the fourth — a holiday-themed show called “12 Days of Clashmas” — launching today. Each clocks in at around ten minutes and touches on a variety of stories from the Clash universe. It’s a look at familiar characters on their off time, when they aren’t building defensive walls or raiding villages. The show was inspired in part by Portlandia, a sketch show that crams in lots of different topical bits, often about the mundanity of day-to-day life, and stars a number of recurring characters. In Clash-a-Rama, for example, overly-competitive archers have petty squabbles while a villager spends time trying to teach goblins that there’s more to life than stealing gold.
While its characters are fairly well-known, thanks to the game’s massive popularity (Supercell’s lineup of games are played by an estimated 100 million people each day) and plentiful TV commercials that air during high profile sports events, Clash of Clans doesn’t actually have much of a story. That is, the writers claim, part of what made creating a series like Clash-a-Rama so appealing. “There’s not a ton of backstory to the game and characters, so it was great for us to say ‘This is our take on their universe,’ and be able to define who some of these characters are,” explains LaZebnik. “On one hand, you do have character rules about how they fight, how they interact with other troops. But beyond that, we were able to sort of really attack it ourselves creatively.”
Supercell has been involved in the series — every idea has to go through the studio before making it into the show — but LaZebnik says that the developer has “really given us a ton of freedom” in terms of crafting the show how they want. The only time the studio vetoes an idea is when it expands beyond the realm of the games, such as a scene where a character digs deep underground only to discover a hidden dragon’s lair.
The Clash series may not have much of an overt story, but Supercell has carefully cultivated a very specific and silly sense of humor around the game, particularly when it comes to advertising. TV commercials like the “Rules of the duel” series for Clash Royale, or Liam Neeson’s Superbowl ad for Clash of Clans, help to both create and reinforce that vibe. With all that going on, an animated sketch show by a team of Simpsons writers doesn’t feel out of place. And despite its scrappy beginnings, the show has a professional feel, with character designs from Rough Draft Studios that offer a clever twist on their in-game counterparts, along and with voice work from the likes of Simpsons / Futurama mainstay Tress MacNeille, Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock star Rachel Dratch, and prolific voice actor Charlie Adler.
So far the episodes have been viewed more than 40 million times combined (in addition to YouTube, you can also watch Clash-a-Rama through places like Facebook, Google Play, and the iTunes store). The show, Cohen explains, wasn’t written with the intention of luring in new people to the Clash universe. “Really, our motive was to just do something for the community,” he says. The show is filled with plenty of in-jokes — including references to other Supercell games like Boom Beach — that really only make sense if you play these games and watch the show very closely, searching for tiny details. “It’s great that they look at it so closely, because we’ve looked at these things so closely while producing them, that we really appreciate that they appreciate the little things we’ve done,” Frink says of the show’s fans.
Of course, this extra layer of scrutiny also means that the writers have to be a bit more careful when it comes to the seemingly smaller details. “We’ll still make the occasional mistake,” says LaZebnik. “There will be a level 7 town hall, and a character who shouldn’t be in that village. We’re trying to be as careful as we can, but stuff will slip through the cracks.”
Supercell isn’t saying exactly how many episodes will air, but Clash-a-Rama is expected to continue for at least a few more weeks. And for these three fans, who still play the game today when they’re not writing lines for Homer and Marge, creating the series has somewhat changed how they experience the Clash universe. It has forced them to look at the games in a different way.
“You’re playing, but you’re also thinking on another level ‘Oh this new lumberjack guy is great!’” explains Cohen. “You can’t help but think how to implement it into a storyline.”