Atari has been on something of a mission to bring back and revitalize some of its best known and beloved classics from the early 80s over the last couple of years, and one in particular that’s recently turned a few heads is Haunted House. Developed by Orbit Studio, this upcoming reimagination of the 1982 classic is promising to bring back the old horror game with some unique twists, from a roguelite structure to how it de-emphasizes combat, not to mention an entirely new art style. To learn more about how the game is going to build upon and change up the original’s identity, we recently reached out to its developers with a few of our questions. Below, you can read our interview with Orbit Studio’s lead programmer Valnei Sanderson.
"We wanted to recreate some of the atmosphere of the golden age of Atari Classic games, so we drew on the source of old teen horror/teen friends movies."
The original Haunted House is over 40 years old at this point. What prompted the decision to go back to the classic and reimagine it?
The classic game has simple mechanics that work very well: The player has to search the haunted house in search of the three parts of the urn. This would be a great starting point for creating a roguelite, fusing the simplicity of the original with modern gameplay mechanics.
Haunted House is touting a gorgeous aesthetic. What was the process like of settling on this art style for the game?
Thank you very much for the gorgeous! We wanted to recreate some of the atmosphere of the golden age of Atari Classic games, so we drew on the source of old horror movies/teen friends, the main ones being Monster Squad and The Goonies. Of course, the aesthetic of Stranger Things also influences a lot. We didn’t want something full-on horror but something that could scare you a bit but still invite exploration and be colorful overall.
Haunted House is going to make some significant changes as it looks to redefine the original game. What was your approach to balancing the need for changes against ensuring that you remain true to the original game’s identity?
We tried to keep as many elements and references from the classic game as possible. Just like in the original, the urn is the object that moves the game’s story. Enemies like bats, giant spiders, and the ghost are all in the new version.
How did the idea to adopt roguelite mechanics for the game first come about? Was there ever a discussion about perhaps developing a full-fledged survival horror experience, especially given the genre’s current popularity?
We believe the roguelite mechanics would fit the game’s concept very well. The house is always changing, and in each game, the player having to explore a different room was one of the main reasons for choosing this genre. We chose to make a roguelite because we believe it would be the most creative way to revitalize this classic. A survival horror could be interesting, but I believe it would be less innovative and more difficult to stand out among so many games.
"We tried to keep as many elements and references from the classic game as possible"
Haunted House will differ from most roguelites in some key ways, chief among them being how it deemphasizes combat and instead focuses on things such as stealth and traps. For those unfamiliar with the fundamentals, what does the game’s core loop constitute, and what level of variety does the moment-to-moment gameplay have?
The game’s main objective is to gather the three parts of the urn to imprison the creatures that are loose around the house. Each part of the urn is assigned to a boss who is on a floor of the house. The player must go through several rooms in the house to find the boss of the floor and face him in order to recover the part of the urn. Each room has different challenges that the player must solve to proceed. In the house, there are also residents who will ask for the player’s help to carry out different tasks. For example: The butler wants to renovate the house, and the housekeeper’s cats have run away and are scattered around the house.
How expansive are Haunted House’s stealth mechanics? What kind of options will players have in attempting to sneak past or avoid enemies?
Each game room will present the player with a challenge, and he will be able to decide which will be the best way to face it. For example, one of the challenges is looking for a hidden object in a chest and taking it to a totem pole. The player will be able to pass without being seen by the enemies, or he will be able to face them with a surprise attack using the flashlight. You can also use the traps you’ll find around the house. Attacking an enemy can draw the attention of others, so this is not always the best strategy. One of the challenges is to survive multiple enemies for a period of time, so in this case, the best strategy is not to be seen.
How many playable characters will Haunted House feature? How significantly will they differ from each other in terms of gameplay?
There are 5 playable characters in the game. In terms of gameplay, they have different characteristics from each other, such as stamina, speed, and stealth, all of which can be increased over several runs. In terms of aesthetics, each character has his personality expressed in his look, we try to ensure that there is always a character that each player can identify with.
Overarching progression across runs can be tricky to balance for roguelite games more often than not. What should players expect from Haunted House on this front? What kind of a balance will it strike between permanent upgrades and losing progress from run to run?
The player will be able to progress by buying permanent improvements in the store outside the run through gems, collected as a reward when fulfilling the challenges within the run. These improvements can be increased stamina, increased health, more slots to carry traps, among others. You can also buy temporary upgrades within the run using coins. In addition to gameplay progression there is also progression of cosmetic items, such as house renovation, in the butler side quest.
"We believe the roguelite mechanics would fit the game’s concept very well. The house is always changing, and in each game, the player having to explore a different room was one of the main reasons for choosing this genre."
What frame rate and resolution will the game target on the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S?
We are aiming for 1920×1080 and 60fps for both consoles.
What frame rate and resolution will the game target on the Switch in docked and undocked modes?
We are aiming for 1920×1080 and 30fps for both modes.
What are your thoughts on the Steam Deck? Do you have plans for any specific optimizations for the device?
We believe that the game will run fine on the Steam Deck. The goal for this is to have the game running at full HD and 60 fps.