Atari is hoping that taking a 30 year old iconic title, mixing it with some up-to-date graphics and new enemies, but retaining the classic feel and playability will produce a game for parents and kids alike.
“Haunted House”, a game originally released in 1981 for the Atari 2600 console, makes its spooky return just in time for this Halloween season. The game returns players to the Graves Mansion as the grandchildren of the original character, Samuel Silverspring, and search for the lost pieces of a magical urn.
Game producer Roland Lester said reimagining “Haunted House” was part tribute and part balancing act.
“When the game was originally released in ’81, it was the original survival horror, thriller game,” Lester said. “We wanted to bring back the nostalgia and make a game that parents can play with the kids.”
The development team went to work, expanding on levels and monsters while still keeping the feel of the game true to the original. Retaining the glowing eyes that represent the player from the first game was a big priority.
“There was a lot of back and forth in the design process,” Lester explained. “How do we want to show the character? In the end, we decided to keep the iconic floating eyes because it gave us a good tie-in to the old game.”
While there was discussion about third-person viewpoint or even first-person (over the shoulder) view, designers went with a top down viewpoint, which also offered opportunities for interesting map puzzles. Players will find closed doors as the map teasingly shows a room beyond, but the door can only be opened by using colored lanterns.
There are new enemies as well as old ones in “Haunted House.” Ghosts, rats and bats inhabit the early levels and gamers will battle wraiths, skeletons, gargoyles and the ghost of Zachary Graves in the later, challenging levels.
“We provided various levels of difficulties so parents could play with their kids and not get anyone frustrated,” Lester said. “I remember the old ‘Haunted House,’ and by the time you got to the end, it was pretty challenging.”
Lester said the team also looked at the older game and tried to figure out what a player would have wanted to do, then figure out a way to do it in the new game.
In the original, the main character couldn’t fight against opponents. He was just forced to run away. So, designers came up with a way to fight back.
“We wanted to fight to ghosts, so we had to come up with tools to be able to do that,” Lester said. “Torches are the early weapons and most effective against the bats. More light weapons come in later.”
The game features 16 levels full of 3-D environments, hidden treasures, new puzzles and boss battles. Sound and lighting also play an integral part in gameplay and setting the mood.
The rooms of the haunted mansion remain mostly in the dark with only the floating eyes of the character to be seen. Players can find matches, candles, cellphones and other light emitting devices to light their way for a short period of time. Stronger sources of light also act as weapons against the forces of evil.
Sound is used to evoke an ominous atmosphere with creaking doors, squeaking floor panels and the occasional peal of laughter from out of nowhere.
“The storm outside gets louder as you progress through the game. The house has become twisted with evil and creaks everywhere,” Lester said. “You hear the sounds of a kid laughing through the wall, which ties into the back story of the game.”
The original game came with small comic books to explain what went horribly wrong at Graves Mansion. Lester said journal pages from Graves, his wife, and Grandpa Silverspring are scattered throughout the levels to reveal the back story from each person’s point of view.
“The journals reveal how Zachary Graves went insane after the death of his son. His wife describes how she watched him deteriorate,” he said. “It really tells the entire story about how this place went wrong.”
New players will get an arcade like game that is easy to play but challenging as they progress. Older players will find a game that feels nostalgic, but still exciting with new twists and turns.
If it achieves both goals, Lester said it would be mission accomplished for the design team.
“This title needed to hold true to its roots because it was the foundation to the horror/thriller games of today,” he said. “We want to keep this as an arcade title for younger players but want older players to think, ‘That’s the old game. That’s the game I remember and love.’”
“Haunted House” is available for the Wii and PC now and will be available on the Xbox Live Arcade in October. It is rated E10+ for language, mild blood and mild cartoon violence.
During a press conference at Nintendo Conference 2010 in Tokyo, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said the console will go on sale in the United States and Europe sometime in March but did not announce a price tag for the 3-D device. Announcements for details in those markets are expected to come soon.
The new portable device can produce 3-D effects without the need for any special glasses. It is also expected to be backward compatible with Nintendo DS software and available in Cosmo Black or Aqua Blue.
Some new features were revealed at the press conference. The 3DS will allow users to take a picture of themselves, then automatically convert the image into a Mii – the player’s personal avatar in the Nintendo system of consoles.
The handheld console will also let users do some multitasking, pausing a game in mid-play, launching another program, and then returning to the game at the point where it was left.
As previously announced at E3 2010 press conference, Iwata confirmed that the 3DS will connect to a Wi-Fi signal while it is sleeping to allow it to automatically download data and free software.
This connection also allows for a Tag feature that lets users share information with one another just by passing each other without the need for direct interaction. Third-party developers are already working on integrating the Tag mode in their games to let players exchange rankings, messages and more.
A 2GB SD card will be included with the console package.
Iwata said that some classic console games will be remade in 3-D and can be played on the 3DS. The handheld console’s Virtual Console, a function that allows titles to be downloaded onto the 3DS’ memory permanently, will allow Gameboy and Gameboy Advance games to be played.
While it isn’t the cantina on Tatooine, “Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures” tries to put players inside a vast, virtual world but ends up being more arcade room than exciting shootout in a dive bar.
Sony Online Entertainment and LucasArts teamed up to bring the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” animated series to life with a new free-to-play (most of the time) online setting. If you are a fan of the cartoon, the game will put you in the animation to interact with all the main characters from the series.
The graphics, art and voices are all directly from the cartoon. The movements and animations look very much like what is seen on the TV series. So if you ever wanted to chat with Anakin or Yoda, this is probably as close as you are going to get.
Players are tasked with becoming the next great hero of the Republic by completing mini-games, missions, and generally try to gain experience with every interaction. A space station acts as the hub for all the activity and a place where gamers can gather to talk with one another.
Most of the gameplay is set in arcade-like games that have players doing shootout against enemy fliers, matching colored gems or solving puzzles. Getting the highest score is the goal but it is all one-player action and you’ll have to wait to see how you do against other scores later.
Games are controlled with the mouse, either to shoot or for steering. Some games will also use the arrow keys on the keyboard to help with the steering as the mouse is used for shooting. This comes in particularly handy fighting battle droids in the Tower Defense game.
The games aren’t that difficult in the beginning levels, but do get more challenging as players progress through the levels. Some game levels are restricted to players who purchase a monthly Jedi membership and that’s where the free-to-play aspect begins to crumble.
For $5.99 a month, players will have access to new games modes, difficulties and other extra items to personalize their characters. While Station Cash (the term used for in-game credits) can be won with success in the mini-games, points can also be purchased through micro-transactions which allow for a small amount of real money to be spent in exchange for game money.
Despite the mingling of all the characters together in the station, this is not a MMO game (massively multi-player online game). This is a game designed for fans of the cartoon, which is mostly in the pre-teen age group.
As part of the game, “Clone Wars Adventures” will be updated after each new TV episode airs to be able to include new characters and scenarios that get played out in the cartoon. Parents can also customize the safety options in game to protect the younger players.
Interacting with Obi Wan or Ahsoka will be cool the first few times, but will quickly lose its luster. The items players can purchase in-game, like a droid pet or a new speeder, are only for show and have no impact other than visually.
The mini-games are fun, but without direct competition, feel less than stellar despite their good looks and ease of play. A lot can be done for no cost, but if you are the type of player who needs to get every accessory or finish every level, be prepared to pay to play.
Gamer fans and critics alike have seen what the new device can do, how it will behave and even how it will affect their current and future gaming. But did you know that the Move, as complex and complicated as it seems, has a very basic beginning?
To paraphrase Walt Disney, it all began with a ball.
At a demo event in Washington, D.C., the man behind the Move, Dr. Richard Marks, talked about how the motion controller came to be and where he hopes it will take gaming in the future. As the manager of research and development for Sony, Marks said work on the Move started after they developed the EyeToy and discovered they needed a ball.
“Early work with the EyeToy camera got it to recognize specific shapes and colors to help it with tracking,” Marks explained. “We figured out that lighting is key to tracking.”
Marks and his team found that using a sphere or ball shape allowed the EyeToy to find and follow the ball in all dimensions.
“The sphere looks the same no matter what angle you hold it,” he said. “The camera then tracks the location by the size of the sphere. Bigger sphere means closer to the screen while smaller means further away.”
The development team used foam spheres with some success until a researcher wanted to make the spheres light up. It turned out that lighting the ball actually helped the EyeToy track the device even better.
“(The researcher) wanted the sphere to change colors to reflect different things in potential gameplay,” Marks said. “What we found was that the camera worked better because the colored light in the ball makes it stand out from any background.”
The Move and EyeToy actually examine the surroundings of a player for color pixels and then assigns a completely different color to light up the sphere. The result is a smoother tracking of movement in three dimensions, something that a similar controller for another console can’t do.
Once they got the camera to track a lighted, colored sphere reliably, how could they turn that into a game device?
Marks said for his very first rudimentary Move controller, he took a regular controller for the PS3 and put the ball on one end.
“I cut the ends off (where the controller would fit in the palm of the gamer’s hand) because I wanted to make something that would feel good in one hand and had buttons to help with gameplay,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty.”
The R&D team would begin to tweak the look and feel of the proto-Move controller, adding a gyroscope and accelerometer to assist with game movement. Marks insisted the new device keep the buttons from the PS3 controller because he said they are needed to do specific, in-game movements.
“You want to know you are having an effect in the game. Buttons give you instant feedback instead of just waving a hand to get something done,” Marks said. “Not only can you quickly change from item to item using buttons, the T-button (an analog button located where your fingers wrap around the device) allows you to control how much of something you want do. It gives the players more feedback and more freedom.”
Marks envisions the Move controller as a device that will allow players the opportunity to explore 3-D environments and games in ways that previously were seen in science fiction movies. He said the Move can pinpoint position and angle of the player’s hand in a way to show off in point-of-views in games.
Although his team had a good controller in the hands, it was too expensive in the beginning. It wasn’t until pricing of the components, specifically the gyro and accelerometer, came down over the past 5 years. Marks said sensor technology also got better over time.
“We could have done something early, but it wouldn’t have been as good,” he explained.
And if one Move is good, two is better.
“Two Move controllers allow for more detail,” Marks explained. “It opens up so many more possibilities for game developers to really put players in the middle of the action. There are a lot of things you can do as long as the platform is good.”
He said first-person shooter games like “SOCOM” and individual sports such as tennis, golf, and archery will be the early success stories for the Move. But he’s not counting out any game genre because he said developers are already testing out the Move to find out what it can and can’t do.
“I want new ways to show to up to do things we haven’t even thought of,” Marks said. “The Move isn’t going away any time soon.”
The Sony Move controller was suppose to be released for sale on September 19, but there have been reports that it is already available in some locations.
Bungie, the developer of the successful series, has said that “Halo: Reach” will be their last game with the franchise. While it is unknown if another developer will pick up the plasma rifle, publisher Microsoft should be pleased with the result.
Microsoft announced that the game generated $200 million in the first 24 hours, making it the biggest entertainment release in the United States so far this year. By contrast, the movie “Alice in Wonderland” made $116 million in its first U.S. weekend, but the “Modern Warfare 2” video game had just over $401 million in U.S. sales in its initial weekend in 2009.
“Halo: Reach” was definitely one of the most anticipated releases of the year after a playable multiplayer demo was available to those who purchased “Halo 3: ODST.”
Players control Noble 6, a member of an elite squad of soldiers known as Spartans, and quickly find themselves trying to defend a planet from an oncoming Covenant invasion. Along with the rest of the Noble team members, they move from one mission to another, uncovering the reason for the alien invasion and doing their best to survive under many different scenarios.
The solo campaign is well thought out and tells the story from Noble 6’s perspective well. Players will immediately identify and relate to the other Noble team members since they have distinct personalities that come out during firefights and in between missions.
The tale of brutality and sacrifice winds its way through the forests of Reach, into the cold reaches of outer space above and into deep caverns holding secrets long buried. While the thrill of blasting more Covenant will be enough for some, the story pulls the player through 11 levels with enough flow to keep it interesting without dragging them through needless scenes.
Armor is customizable, but doesn’t add anything to game play other than looking good. There are armor packs found in the field that do the actual work and add abilities to the player like jet packs, sprinting and camouflage.
Weapons are familiar to Halo players and ordinance packs are readily available. However, attempting to make a stand in the middle of a jungle might not be the best idea unless the player gets familiar with using alien weaponry as well.
The environments are beautifully rendered and majestic in their scope. Animations and effects seem life-like, but nothing less would be expected from Bungie.
Driving is still wonky, with vehicles handing like a go-cart with four different sized wheels. And whatever you do, don’t let the AI drive because you’ll never know how long it will take to get from point A to B and trying to fire at enemies is really an exercise in futility as you lurch in the passenger seat.
Multiplayer action has been a staple of the Halo franchise and “Halo: Reach” offers more choices for co-op and competitive play than its predecessors.
Along with the familiar Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, more choices about how to play, objectives, and scenarios are offered in new multiplayer modes. Players can choose parameters on what type of teammates and opponents they want to battle against.
Firefight puts the players in a game of survival as they face ever increasing waves of enemies who also get stronger as the game progresses. Generator Defense put teams of 3 against one another in a battle of attack and defense. The Invasion scenario pits 6 against 6 in a fight for territory control.
Each mode is customizable and players can earn credits (they can also be earned in the solo campaign) that unlock features to change the look of Noble 6 throughout the game. There are also challenges from Bungie that will help players improve their skills.
Despite all the in-game success, there have been a few glitches along the way. Some players were getting a disc read error and Microsoft is addressing those concerns on a case-by-case basis.
The gaming site Kotaku also reported that the 4GB Xbox 360 Slim is not capable of online co-op. Apparently one of the requirements for online co-op is a HDD (hard disc drive) and the Slim’s Memory Unit is not enough. The only recourse for those users is to purchase a slim hard drive or a 250GB Xbox 360.
Bungie definitely emptied their Halo basket of ideas and put together a fitting ending (or is it a beginning?) for a franchise that has thrilled millions of fans since 2001. Great storytelling, awesome environments and an expanded co-op system should keep players awake into the wee hours of the morning defending humanity from the Covenant scourge.
The third story in the Professor Layton series, “The Unwound Future” is set in steampunk London as the good Professor and his apprentice, Luke, are sent a letter allegedly from 10 years in the future. It seems the future London is in trouble and needs the puzzle-solving Professor to set things right again.
The puzzles are the basis of the gameplay with some interactions with non-player characters along the way. The mysteries are revealed as puzzles are solved, and with more than 165 puzzles in the game, this adventure will last quite some time.
There are logic puzzles to test how well you can pay attention to detail and can deduce a correct answer. Some puzzles are mathematical in nature, but no advanced calculus necessary.
There are riddles to be solved and sorting puzzles to figure out. Some answers require winding through mazes to a certain goal. And each puzzle is worth picarats, which not only measures how difficult a puzzle will be, but collect enough and a special screen will appear.
Don’t worry if you get stuck. Hint coins are scattered throughout the game. Collect them and you can buy 3 subtle hints and one “Superhint” for each puzzle as you need them.
Finding the coins is its own mini-game since it requires tapping around on the DS screen at different scenes to uncover the helpful trinkets. There are a set number in the game, so only use when necessary.
Nintendo also plans to release weekly downloadable puzzles for the game. The puzzles won’t be part of the storyline, per se, but rather add-on that will relate to the story. The lack of a DLC puzzle won’t stop a player from finishing the game.
There are also other mini-games that will occur after finishing certain puzzles. There are sticker books to fill out, roadways to drive on with a toy car, and a friendly parrot that will carry packages for people, who then will be happy to help you.
Moving around the city is easy enough with bus and underground train to get you to faraway places. A map in the top DS screen gives you an overview of the London area while the bottom screen displays a more detailed view of the specific area the player is working in.
The art work is splendid and not overly confusing for the small Nintendo DS screen. Hand-drawn animations give the movement a fluid and life-like appearance and the voice acting is stellar with just enough of an English accent to make you feel you are in the presence of London gentleman.
Sound effects during the game are okay, but not spectacular. The background music doesn’t distract from the gameplay but some tunes are more appropriate for a Paris café than a London alleyway.
The characters’ back stories and personalities are filled out nicely and will actually have you empathizing with them during different events. Bouncing back and forth from the present to the future can be rather disconcerting!
Overall, the story is deep and wide-ranging. The graphics and animation are smooth and well done. But the puzzles, where the game lives, are challenging, confounding, and fun for all ages and IQs.
“Professor Layton and the Unwound Future” comes out Monday, September 12 as an exclusive title for the Nintendo DS family of consoles. It is rated E 10+ (everyone 10 years of age and older) for some mild violence.