At E3 it's easy to get swept away by the new. The three-day show, centered around games that have yet to be released, was chock full of trailers for games that look more like movies and the latest in gaming technological advancements. Over at the Atari booth, though, we consistently saw people huddled over three classic video games– Asteroids, Missile Command and Centipede– all presented in video game arcade cabinets. Each day, Atari gave away one of the games to the person with the highest score.
“They're kind of challenging us,” says Austin Beer, a brand manager with Atari, of the players. “We work around [the games] all the time, we get pretty high scores, but some of the guys up there are pretty hardcore.”
The retro giveaways were all too appropriate for Atari, the company that made its name during the video game boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Amongst Atari's new games at E3 are Centipede: Infestation and Warlords, two new takes on games that brought so many kids into arcades decades ago.
“I think people are nostalgic for the games that they remember, but they don't remember how much they have changed,” says Beer. “What we're trying to do is bridge that gap, between games that they remember, that were so much fun that they wasted thousands of dollars of quarters on, but making it relevant to today.”
A lot has changed in the video game industry and Beer says that Atari is working to link together the old and new schools of gamers.
“It's not just the gamers who played the old cabinets now,” he says. “There are gamers who are growing up with these very hardcore, high-end games. We're trying to find the middle ground between the two.”
Inside the booth, we met Armando Soto, who works for WayForward Technology, a third-party developer for Atari, and was a designer and director for Centipede: Infestation. The game is currently in the pre-alpha stage of development and is anticipated for release later this year for Nintendo Wii and 3DS.
“They wanted to bring the brand out for a new generation but still tip the hat to the classic original,” says Soto. “Even the gun is the original Centipede gun. In fact, we have original centipedes that actually walk just like the original and behave like the original.”
Where the original Centipede game was a vertical shooter, Infestation is a “360 environment shooter.” In it, you play Max, who must defeat huge, badass bugs to save Maisy, the girl who can, in turn, save the planet. Soto told us the “super nerd” story they have for the game.
“The super nerd story behind it is that Missile Command let one missile in and now we're living in a post-apocalyptic future,” he says, “but we're shooting bugs because they're feeding off the earth.”
Soto, who describes himself as an “arcade brat” says that it was important to try to retain the “arcade feel” of the original.
“If we totally ripped out everything that made the classic game Centipede, I feel that we would be doing a disservice to the brand,” he says. “What I love is that we're still tipping the hat to classic Centipede.”
Set for release this summer is Warlords, a remake of another Atari classic for Xbox LIVE Arcade and PlayStation Network.
“If you remember the classic, it was about having your castles at the four corners of a square and you move around your shield to block yourself,” says Beer. “We have the exact same thing, except a couple more elements to make it deeper, such as your wall slowly breaks down.”
There are a few other new additions to the game.
“We also added a Snoot, which is a little knight that goes around and takes power-ups,” says Beer. “You can also repair your own wall or damage another, which is a little more embellishment than the original.”
Warlords will also have a third-person isometric view option, though people can still choose to play it from a traditional vantage point.
“We wanted a design that was fun, that was still challenging, that would be relevant to a party game, when a bunch of people want to get together and tease each other and make fun of each other,” says Beer. “That's exactly what this should be.”
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