S3:E22: Haunted House and the top 27 Scary Things For Atari Fans
In this episode Steve and Jeff cover the Wii Haunted House port from 2010, and also make their list of the top 27 things that scare Atari Fans (or at least scare Steve and Jeff).
They also feature an Easter egg from their past and a fantastic Tony Longworth tune.
Steam Store Haunted House: https://store.steampowered.com/app/9960/Haunted_House/
Listen here or on all major podcast platforms, including Spotify.
Written, Edited, Produced by Steve Fulton and Jeff Fulton
Branding by Daryl Litts
Tony Longworth: Primal Serenity E.P. : Ostero and Light Of Day.
- Tony Longworth: Repercussion : https://www.patreon.com/posts/new-music-39166514
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The Day Atari Came Knock Knock Knocking on our Front Door
(note, some of the links below may not resolve anymore. Who ever d=said the internet was permanent?)
Back in 2010 we were running a very successful indie/retro games blog named 8bitrocket.com with a sub-100 Alexa ranking which at the time, was really good. It got us into E3 with press passes, book contracts, and free tickets to the Flash Game Developers conference.
It also caught the eye at least one press-person at Atari SA. This was pre-“social Media Manager” days so I hesitate to call them that, but this was someone who followed Atari interest on the Internet and reached out for marketing and promotion opportunities.
One of the first things they did was send us to copies of their newly updated version of “Haunted House” for the Nintendo Wii. We gave the game an honest review, and then a created contest where some someone could win the 2nd copy.
Here is that review
October 4th, 2010
Back in 1982, Atari released Haunted House for the Atari 2600. (Not 1981 as stated on the back of the new game’s box. 1981 is the copyright date, the game was released in 1982 -ed). Amid pressure from competing platforms like the Mattel Intellivision, and 3rd party games for the 2600 (i.e. Activision’s Pitfall!), Atari needed to release games that had more “staying power” than the simple arcade translations they had created for many years. Both Superman and Adventure, released in 1979 showed, that the 2600 could have more involved games, but the lack of much of anything else with any kind of depth was becoming a huge problem for the platform.
The 2600 version of Haunted House started as Graves Manor (an awesome name! -ed) and then went through a few iterations (i.e Mystery Mansion, Nightmare Manor) before Atari Inc. marketing, using their knack for stripping almost everything interesting out of late-era Atari 2600 games (Two-Player Pac-Man anyone that made Tod Frye have to leave out up and down pac-man animations anyone?)), settled on the name Haunted House. It was programmed by James Andreasen, the same programmer responsible for the miraculous Realsports Baseball.
The game was set in the titular “haunted house”. Your job was to traverse the four floors (each with six rooms) of the mansion to find the pieces of a relic so you could get the heck out. Spiders, ghosts, and scepter that scared away the ghosts figured prominently as well. One of the main features of the game was darkness. In the regular game mode, only walls were visible. You ignited matches with the fire button that would light-up the area around your player, a set of “googlie” eyes. Igniting matches was the only way to see the various objects and collect them. The ghost’s arrival extinguished your matches, and hitting any of the baddies cost one of your nine lives. The paradigm of a chase in the darkness, lit only by a match, was the key ingredient that set this game apart from many others. It and helped transform, what was essentially a “maze chase and collect game”, into deep, interesting and compelling contest.
This original Atari 2600 game became a kind of “cult hit”, as it helped pave the way for a genre now known as “Survival Horror” (A point made by GameSpy’s Christopher Buecheler several years ago). The game was a bit of a revelation when it was released. It was still a bit crude next to some of the competition, but at the same time it made hard core Atari fans sit-up and take notice. Was Atari Inc. serious about trying make games that could compete on the same field as Activision and Imagic? Unfortunately, Haunted House was followed up by the adventure titles E.T., and the Sword Quest series. Those games had the dubious distinction of showing some definite promise, but also the serious limitations of the Atari 2600 at the very same time.
The new 2010 version of Atari’s Haunted House is refreshing for a couple reasons. It is the first time in, maybe forever, that an original Atari 2600 title, one that was not already an arcade game, had received a full commercial make-over. Second , the game does not “shoot for the stars”, but reigns in the scope and keeps it close to the original. Your job is to make your way through a darkened house, searching for a magic Urn, dodging ghosts and using limited light sources to find your way. In a very basic way, it is essentially the same game. That’s OK though, as the basic game play is mechanic is an interesting one.
You start in the first dark room of the house, viewing your character from 3/4, overhead view. You cannot leave the house through the front door, so you must find another way out, and hopefully the magic Urn at the same time. You have an initial light-source, a cell phone (very clever update, by the way), that is stolen by a ghost fairly quickly…probably before you know what you are doing. Your player is a set of googlie eyes, an obvious nod to the graphics of the original game. When you activate your light source, part of the room and your body is illuminated. After your cell phone is used-up, you go about the various rooms searching chests, closets, trunks, etc. to find objects. Much of the time, those objects are additional light sources that help you illuminate the darkness and continue searching. All light sources have a limited life, so you need to be on the constant lookout for more matches, candles, cell phones, etc. You can hold two objects at once, so you need to be careful about what you choose at any particular time. Areas of the house are divided by locked doors and floors. There are various keys that must be located in each level that will open locked doors so you can continue searching for more light sources and other treasures and later, powerful weapons to fight off the ghosts.
The ghosts and others baddies operate a lot like they did in the original game. They will “blow out” your light source if you get too close, but instead of killing you instantly, they will “freeze you in fear” and you need to “shake out of it” (this is where the Wii-mote waggle comes in), and drain some your health. Once your health is gone you “die”, but you can restart at the last save point. Those save points come in the form of fireplaces that, when lit, become a safe area, and damage ghosts near-by. Later in the game you get torches and other objects that can be used to damage the ghosts directly, but when you start the game you are nearly defenseless.
As a simple design, the game is enjoyable, especially in cooperative multi-player mode. I watched Steve and is 12 year-old play cooperatively, and the game had us all hooked for a couple hours straight. However, in the early part of the game, you really don’t have any way to defend yourself from the ghosts, but you still need to search for keys and find matches. This makes the ghosts a bit of a non-issue because, even though they hurt you, there is not much you can do about it, and after a while, you just ignore them….waggling the Wii-mote when necessary to unfreeze yourself. This works in a 2-player game because, if you die, you can restart with the other player and continue the game instantly. However, I’m not sure if it would be the same in a single player game.
They did not finish the entire game, but the package says that it consists of 20 levels. However, it also says there are 4 houses with 4 levels each. I’m not sure which is correct, but I do know that it took about 2 hours to finish the first house, so the entire game should take about 8-10 hours. There are 3 difficulty levels, so if you play them all, there should be 30 or more hours of game here. However, while the basic game design is compelling it does get a bit repetitive, so replaying all three difficulty levels might not be on your game playing calendar,.if you can even find a working Wii and a copy now-a-days. All told, Steve and his daughter and I had a really fun time playing the two-player multi-player version, and his asked to play with to play it multiple times after I had them Steve’s house. As a father, that is all he could ask for in a game.
The game had some performance issues, mainly with slow-down at unpredictable times. Also, the waggle control for getting away from ghosts did not feel fully complete. Still, for the most part the basic controls and game engine work well. The game’s theme is “scary”, but besides some sounds, the presentation is not really scary at all. Inside jokes referring to other games and media with similar themes abound, so keep your eyes and ears out for them.
For what it is, Haunted House‘s proper distribution should have been something like Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, or WiiWare. Since the Wii does not make WiiWare easily accessible to the masses, and there were problems with sales for most all brands except Nintendo, I can see why the choice was made to go with a retail game for the Wii. However, the scope and features of this game have “download” written all over it. What is included in Haunted House feels like a good value as a downloadable title, but it might get lost in the shuffle as a retail game. The good news is, in 2020, the game is still available on Steam for $5.99, although I’m sure the play mechanics were adapted slightly for a standard controller.
But, I digress…
At the time it looked like Atari SA was really on to something, so I’m going to dig back into our old review of the game from 2010 and find the suggestions we gave Atari for future game releases based on games from Atari’s classic catalog.
By the way, some of these could be applied to the latest Atari offerings in 2020 and beyond. Atari has been doing SOME of these things with the new VCS, see you can spot where they are doing well, and where they are failing.
1. Develop a look and feel for the packaging a presentation that echoes history, but shows that it is something new. The packaging and in-game graphics here are well-done, but do not echo their pedigree in any real way. There is some rich history with this game, and it should at least be shown on the package in some way. Think about how Nintendo treats Mario: A Mario game might be brand-new, but they still echo the past and you always know what you are getting.
2. Set the price point to that of other downloadable games (about $9.99). The two-player multi-player was really enjoyable, and worth a purchase on XBLA or Steam. On the Wii, the $19.99 price-point feels a bit too high. Of course, as stated above, the state of the Wii Virtual Console is not Atari’s fault, so this is probably the only way they could get it released.
3. The “Waggle” control in the Wii version of the game is unnecessary. For a full Wii packaged game, it might be required, but since there are no other Wii-mote controls it is out of place and feels tacked-on.
Here is the end of our original review, most of it is applicable for Atari branded games today, but the p[platforms have changed ever so slightly… (ok a lot)
In the final analysis, Atari’s updated version of Haunted House retains some of the charm from the original game, while updating the overall scope, and adding a nice two-player cooperative mode. Aside from some obvious limitations, this “limited light, chase in the darkness, treasure hunt” can be a addictive. While it doesn’t appear to fit as a Wii retail game, it would be a fine title for any of the downloadable or mobile platforms. Also, as a mild, kid friendly, holiday themed game for October, it is not a bad little choice. We hope this game is a success, so we can see further updates of games like Yar’s Revenge (2600), Caverns Of Mars (8-bit), FoodFight (coin-up), Scrapyard Dog (7800), Gates Of Zendacon (Lynx), and Iron Solider (Jaguar), among many many others,
Some of this is happening of the Evercade now, which is great, but we have not heard about any of these particular titles makes it to the new Atari VCS.
Atari has made a small attempt to put out some games on Windows and other platforms.
as of today, these titles are available for download and play:
- Atari Vault with multi-player capability. Steve and I have played Combat on this over the infobaun and it is quite fun.
- The Atari Vault 50 game add-on – includes arcade, 2600, and a few 5200 game. Still no Atari 8bit, ST, 7800, Lynx or Jaguar games have been re-released by Atari.
- Star Raiders with 24 mostly negative reviews on Steam
- An update to Haunted House called Cryptic Graves (2014) that had 19 negative reviews and was a pulled from download in the store. Although I never played this, based on the 2010 version it might be kind of fun if it was available.
In 2010 we had a contest to give away a copy of the game for the Wii.
Here were the rules:
- Tell us about a classic Atari game (coin-op, 2600, 5200, 7800, 8-bit, ST, Lynx, Jaguar) that you think should be remade like Haunted House. We have linked to lists of those games to make it easy for you.
- Add you idea to our forum, here: http://www.8bitrocket.com/forum/retro-games/atari-haunted-house-wii-game-contest/
We’d like to congratulate Syd Lexia for his winning entry in our “Wii Atari Haunted House Contest”. We asked readers to describe an Atari 2600 game that they would like to see remade in the 21st century by Atari. Here is Syd’s Idea:
Syd Lexia :Without a doubt, Swordquest 2011, with all four of the Atari 2600 cartridges being combined into either one disc or 4 separate pieces of DLC.
Not only was Swordquest overly ambitious for its time, but it was never finished. So not only would this be an upgrade, but it would finally give old school gamers a chance to play the Airworld section.
We agree. Finishing something the original Atari started but never finished would be awesome.
Syd, please email us @ firstname.lastname@example.org to claim your prize.
Our pre-social-media relationship with Atari lasted just a short amount of time. They never sent us another game, and to be honest, we didn’t want one. While our thoughts on Haunted House for the Wii were genuine (it was a fun little game), it all felt so…wrong. We felt compelled to make sure the review was positive, even if the game was not very good. Thankfully, it was a fine little game, but that didn’t matter. Even the thought that we might have skewed the review to gain more favor by Atari SA didn’t sit right. We didn’t like being in that position. Even if we wanted to though, we never had a chance to continue our relationship with Atari. In just a few months, we we were both courted away from our stable jobs, and our fledgling indie web game web site, and convinced to join a newly growing gaming “BORG”, a decision that became biggest blunder both our lives. It was a terrible mistake, and one we are still legally bound from ever talking about or lest face legal retribution.
Talk about Halloween? now that is something REALLY scary.
Suffice to say, nothing was ever the same after that.