Atari has been synonymous with games and gaming since it was founded in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. The company’s products, such as “Pong” and the Atari 2600, helped define the computer entertainment industry from the 1970s to the mid-1980s.
However, about five years ago, the company got away from developing their own games to focus on publishing and distribution. Atari CEO Jim Wilson said it was a complicated time for the company and the brand.
“(Atari) got bought by this retail distribution company that focused primarily on building non-Atari brands and distributing third-party titles,” Wilson said. “The Atari name was then being used as a corporate name on a retail distribution company. That didn’t make any sense to me.”
Wilson wanted to take Atari back to its casual gaming roots and recognized the best way to do that was embrace the social and mobile change in the gaming landscape. He said there are new business models in gaming and the company is ready to take advantage.
“What we’re doing is we’re going out to the best and the brightest of the developers in the mobile business. We’re looking at different ways to reinterpret or reinvent our classic franchises in ways that people are playing games today in the business model that people are playing today.”
Atari released “Atari’s Greatest Hits” for the iOS in the spring of 2011 to a resounding cheer from fans around the world. The game featured classic arcade games like “Centipede” (Wilson’s favorite as a kid), “Lunar Lander” and “Missile Command” as well as games from the Atari 2600 home console such as “Adventure,” “Haunted House” and “Yars’ Revenge.”
The game in the Apple App Store has been downloaded more than 3.5 million times. It was recently made available in the Android Marketplace, further expanding the market for Atari products.
“The great thing about Atari and its very brand is that it is recognizable. You understand what it is, and frankly, in the App Store or the Android Marketplace, discoverability is a big issue for people who are releasing their games. One of the benefits of Atari is that it creates instant recognition and discoverability in the App Store and the Android Marketplace.”
Wilson then focused on reimagining some of Atari’s classic titles to make them more appealing to today’s gaming audience. He said their core audience is male, over 30 so they’ve grown up with Atari, and they have the money to spend on games.
“What we’re looking to do is build games. Some of our games are going to have a much more broad appeal and, for us, the ability to generate a community.”
“However, we also to address a larger audience and that’s what it’s going to come down to – making games that appeal to a broader audience.”
“Asteroids” was the first game to be reinterpreted as “Asteroids: Gunner,” a top ten bestseller in the App Store in its first two weeks in November. The free app game featured a new look and new weapons as well as the opportunity to micro-purchase Space Bucks in game to enhance your spaceship.
“We’re looking at different ways to reinterpret or reinvent our classic franchises in ways that people are playing games today in the business model that people are playing today,” Wilson said. “We believe there are multiple ways to reinterpret ‘Asteroids,’ and ‘Asteroids: Gunner’ was a great opportunity for us to create a time-based, premium model that seemed to go over well with our core male audience.”
The company released “Breakout: Boost” in December and have garnered more than two million downloads in the App Store alone. The game offers 5 free levels and more than 200 more that can be purchased through micro-transactions.
It would be easy for Atari to continue to reimagine and re-release their classic titles, but Wilson said to appeal to a broader audience, the company is also working with developers on original intellectual properties that fit the Atari brand and ideals.
He said they are expecting to release 10 to 15 new titles in the next year with about five of those titles coming from outside developers. They will be games that hold true to the Atari brand, but could appeal to those gamers outside the male-dominated, core audience of traditional Atari games.
Wilson is counting on a blend of reinterpreted classics and original games for the social and mobile gaming arena to drive Atari’s business for the near future. The company has slimmed down to 65 employees, most of whom are targeting the mobile gaming platform.
“If we stay true to the original brand ideas and we work with some of the best talent in the industry and we listen to our consumers, I think we have a very good opportunity to make a big statement and bring Atari to a new stage. We have an opportunity to bring back a powerful brand that consumers know and love.”
What once was old is new again. And it is buggy.
Atari is getting ready to release a new version of their arcade classic, “Centipede,” with an updated version called “Centipede: Infestation.”
The game is a run and gun shooter in a post-apocalypic world overrun by creepy crawlers of all shapes and sizes. A new trailer shows how the player battles centipedes, spiders, beetles, and yellow jackets.
Twelve years after a nuclear war, the world has turned into an uninhabitable wasteland with mutant insects thriving in a toxic world and humanity holding onto survival in outposts hidden from the poisonous air and the killer centipedes hunting their natural resources.
There are more than 20 different breeds of insects featured in seven different environments and 40 stages. The game is expected to be released later in 2011 for the Wii and Nintendo 3DS.
Fantasy role-playing takes a staggering step forward as “Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale” lurches along with uneven visuals, spotty artificial intelligence, but a combat system that is easy to learn and easier to use.
The first D&D electronic game (Bedlam Games, Atari) that features use of the new 4th Edition rules from Wizards of the Coast, “Daggerdale” allows players to create and develop a character from 1st level, much like the table top version of D&D. Ability scores, hit points, attack and damage rolls are all part of making up your character, but without the use of any dice.
There are four base characters: male human fighter, male dwarven cleric, female elven rogue, and male halfling wizard. You cannot mix and match – no female elven fighters or male human rogues.
Each race and class has their own bonuses and class abilities to help perform their actions.
The adventure begins in a dwarven mine overrun by goblins. As with any D&D campaign, the story builds from there into a rousing battle with a major enemy at the end.
There are major quests which help move the main plot along and minor quests that offer opportunities to earn more gold and experience points. Experience points are the backbone of character development, allowing for increased abilities, powers, and weapons.
Only one quest can be tackled at a time. Once you start one, you need to complete that mission before moving on to the next. This often results in a lot of back and forth through some of the same areas.
Gold and weapons can be gathered from fallen enemies or from barrels that seem to be everywhere and in every setting. Improved weapons, armor, ring, amulets and potions can also be purchased from local merchants.
Sounds like a typical D&D game, right?
Visually, the game conveys the fantasy setting well. The dwarven mine appears foreboding, but never really gives off the dark look with looming shadows. A jail also is well lit when it could have been a better mood setter with some lighting adjustments.
A mini-map in the upper right hand corner was very helpful in pointing to merchants, possible quest givers and quest locations. A larger map was easily accessible using the character menu.
Player characters appear different as they don different armor and hold different weapons. Enemies look unique from type to type (e.g., a minion looks different from a controller) and can be readily identified by appearance alone.
Each enemy has a small box above their head that lists out what they are and what level, how many hit points they have (via a sliding bar), and things they might be more resistant against (fire, ice, etc.). In a table top D&D game, these things would be hidden so players wouldn’t be able to target weaker foes first in order to whittle down the opposing forces.
The information box would sometimes appear if the enemy was hidden around a corner, thus ruining any possible surprise that could have occurred. There were also instances where there would be a info box, but no enemy.
Enemy AI was also hit and miss. While the overall tactics of groups of enemies was good (minions charged as their archers and magic-users would ping from afar), they would also stand in place as I lobbed fireball after fireball at them. Those battles were less than epic.
However, combat was pretty good and where I thought it shined over its table top counterpart. I played through the single player campaign as the halfling wizard and switching from normal weapons to spells was incredibly easy.
All four buttons on the controller can be mapped directly to weapons, spells or potions. There are additionally four more locations that can be used by pressing the left trigger button (Xbox 360) or the L2 button (PS3), and then utilizing the standard buttons.
Spells had cool down times after casting, so you could either stand there and get pounded or find another way to attack as you power back up. As I increased in levels, more spells became available so I could fire off spell after spell in a cycle.
Action was quick and intense. Battles didn’t last very long against weaker opponents and was appropriately longer against stronger opponents. There are some “boss” battles before the final conflict and those required some use of tactics (run and gun) to be successful.
My biggest gripe about the game has to do with when those tactics fail and you die.
In the single player mode, there are healing potions you can carry with you to regain hit points. There are also clerics in the settlements that will also heal you for free.
However, there are occasions during a quest when an enemy gets some really good hits in, and, in the heat of battle, you lost track of your hit points and you die. Here is the gripe – no matter what stage you are in the quest, you have to restart the quest all over.
There are no checkpoints during the quest. There are no “save and reload” points other than in between quests.
While this is very much like the table top version of the game, it was insanely frustrating from a video game point. In more than one occasion, I completed a rather lengthy fight, defeated multiple big bad guys, and get killed on the way back to the quest-giver (forgot to heal myself on the way).
Rather than pick it up from after I beat the bad guys, I had to start all over again. This was particularly maddening during the climactic battle where you will have to defeat multiple high level characters in rapid succession.
Get through some and lose to the last one? Too bad. Start that mission over.
If playing with a party of characters is more your speed, there is a co-op mode that allows for up to 4 players to combine talents toward the group good. The enemies are stronger and the loot gets better with more people.
There is also a freeplay mode that allows for grinding your character to increase their levels once an area is cleared. Level appropriate monsters are randomly generated and, if you choose to go to the campaign mode, you will pick up where you left off.
Like the table top version, the game can be finished in a single setting. Completing the main quests only can be done in less than 5 hours (a good length for a D&D campaign), but doing all the side quests will add some time to your play.
Overall, “Daggerdale” was enjoyable, but a bit buggy. The story and combat were good and made for an exciting experience. The spotty visuals and enemy AI weighted down the overall fun, but not enough to make me want to stop playing.
Is it good enough to be a D&D RPG? Depends on how much RP (role playing) you like doing. There is little to none to be had and interactions with other non-player characters are dealt with grunts and subtitles. No dialog exists other than during cut scene cinematics.
It won’t replace your table top game, but it might give you some good ideas how to run your next campaign while still allowing you some enjoyment along the way.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale” is available now on the PC and through the Xbox Live Arcade. It will be available on the PlayStation Network on May 31. It is rated T for Teen. This review was done playing the Xbox Live Arcade version as a halfling wizard in the single player campaign.
A new driving game attempts to tap into the thrill of driving on the open road in scenic areas with not a care on your mind. Until you decide to sign up for that dirt race across mountainous roads with switchback curves and no pavement.
“Test Drive Unlimited 2” (Eden Games, Atari) breaks out of the mold for “driving as racing” games and introduces social and exploration skills as part of their MOOR – massively open online racing game. It is more about the driving experience rather than constantly racing others for win and points.
Starting off as a valet at a hotel on the island of Ibiza off the coast of Spain, I was quickly recruited to participate in a television show that features racing around the streets of a resort city. But once I got my license, car and first win, I quickly found out that there is more than racing to this game.
To raise my level in the game, I needed to do more than win championships (which unlocks other championships). I needed to explore, collect and socialize with other players to increase my skills and get to higher levels.
First things first. The vehicles.
The selection of available cars is extensive, but not overwhelming. Nearly 100 cars can be won or purchased once you earn enough money.
There is some customization of the vehicles at the body shops, but most is just cosmetic. This isn’t a game for gear heads. There are different levels of engines, brakes and the like that can be bought to improve performance with no specific tuning required.
The vehicles have a decent feel to them while driving. Not simulation, but not arcade style either. There is a consistency of physics to their reactions on the roads. Heavier vehicles take longer to accelerate and stop while smaller cars feel more nimble.
They aren’t difficult to drive, but my ’68 Mustang Fastback definitely needed new tires from the get-go with hardly any grip.
Racing championships are held in 6 stages that involve timed events, elimination races, radar events and door to door racing. Finish high enough and accumulate enough points to win and unlock the next championship.
Exploration levels and collection levels keep track of how many new roads you’ve discovered, how many scenic locations you can photograph and how many old wrecks you can find hidden in the off road areas.
Designers wanted to keep the environment lively so there is plenty to see and look at as you explore the different islands in the game. Whether you stay on the asphalt or decide to head for the hills off road, each contains enough signature places to hold your interest while you rack up the miles.
Also, you can find points of interest along the way that will invite you to join in a group race, transport someone to another location or even where you can get your hair done.
It is the social aspect where TDU2 really wants to shine. Other players populate the island at the same time as you drive around and can interact with you when you cross paths.
They can challenge you to an instant race with just the two of you, help create a group of drivers for a special challenge or even assist completing some tasks. Developers are ready to support thousands of players in the game world, but due to graphic limits, attempt to manage how many players are being shown at any one time.
This can sometimes lead to what I call ghost car syndrome – driving up on an intersection to see a car stopped at a red light only to pass right through that car instead of colliding with it or the car simply disappear from view as if it never existed.
It is a minor thing when compared to the expansive areas and number of players they want to populate the game. But it does take away from the immersion factor of the game.
“Test Drive Unlimited 2” does have some more pressing issues than ghost cars.
The voice acting is terrible. The script is so over the top outrageous that I began to wonder if they were actually poking fun at the characters.
The characters themselves aren’t very exciting. You can change how you look once you find a plastic surgeon, but lots of players end up looking a lot like each other. Or maybe my avatar just had a lot of identical brothers on the island.
Despite the points of interest and expansive layout, most of the off road environments were of the copy and paste variety. However, designers did create floating icons over the points of interest so that they could be easily spotted at 110 mph, which was very helpful.
Overall, TDU2 is not a game if you want to go racing. It is a game that is designed to go sightseeing with your friends and enjoy a picturesque sunset off the shores of Hawaii.
The social aspects and leveling requirements are interesting for a console game. There is a feeling of being able to do whatever you want, but only if you aren’t interested in leveling up.
It is a MOOR with only a portion of it dedicated to the R. But that is what they wanted it to be.
“Test Drive Unlimited 2” is rated T for teens (lyrics, mild suggestive themes, simulated gambling) and is available now on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. This review was done using a preview version of the Xbox 360 game.
For the retro geek in your life, “Atari Greatest Hits, Volume 1” will invoke memories of early geekdom at the arcade.
The game for the Nintendo DS accurately recreates 50 of the iconic Atari arcade and Atari 2600 games. It also contains a trivia test, images of original arcade cabinets, game manuals and even advertisements.
The arcade games, like Centepede, Lunar Lander, Asteroids and Pong, were the early trendsetters in the gaming world. Geeks will be thrilled to turn back the clock and relive those patterns they memorized so many years ago.
Is your gamer geek more into first-person shooters? Then the “Halo: Reach” Legendary Edition is the perfect gift to not only provide them with the finale to one of the most popular franchises but also enough extras to make their eyes light up like a plasma rifle.
The package contains the “Halo: Reach” game, the last in the long running series, but actually a prequel to the entire storyline. There is also a Noble Team statue made by McFarlane Toys which has been individually molded, hand painted and numbers.
An embroidered Spartan II patch, an artifact bag containing notes and documentation on how the SPARTAN program began and customized packaging await your Halo geek. There are also in-game bonuses as well – an Elite armor set for multiplayer modes and an exclusive Spartan armor effect.
This will make the perfect gift and a lasting memory for a game your geek has probably spent (and still spends) many hours playing on the Xbox 360. With the end of the series, these items become just a little more special.
Maybe your geek is a thinker, someone who likes to figure out how to take diverse elements and make them work together.
“Sid Meier’s Civilization V” is just the right thing to have your geek huddled over his or her computer trying to play just one more turn. “Civ V” is a strategy based game where players try to build up an empire from starting with just one city.
The game has been updated with new combat techniques, amazing graphics and an artificial intelligence that actually “learns” as you play. It will be a challenge to those geeks who dream of taking over the world without actually leaving the comfort of their home.
If you really want to go all out, the Special Edition contains metal figurines, a CD soundtrack, behind-the-scenes DVD and hardcover art book. Just be prepared to find your geek a-glow from the computer monitor at 2 a.m.
Maybe you have a young geek on your gift list and want to get them something a little less electronic. Why not get them introduce them to Dungeons & Dragons with the new D&D Red Box?
The Red Box is a starter kit that introduces players to the 4th edition of rules for Dungeons & Dragons. The kit comes complete with a solo game to help players understand how the game works, what some of the new rules are and dipping a toe into the waters of role-playing games.
Don’t buy this for someone who has been playing D&D for years. They probably already have it if they want it or they are not interested in learning the new rules.
Do get this for youngsters who are interested in role playing games but don’t know how to get started or for a person who always wanted to try D&D but was overwhelmed by all the books in the old rules system.
With this gift, you will be thanked for opening a door into the world of imagination.
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.