New “Duel Masters,” seventh “Leisure Suit Larry” videogames roll from High Voltage

Hoffman Estates videogame designer High Voltage Software created two major releases this fall for very different audiences, and is working with Warner Bros. on a famous children’s classic for release next summer.

Atari just released High Voltage’s “Duel Masters,” the first PlayStation game based on the popular card game and animated series, targeted at boys ages eight to 14.

And last month Vivendi Universal put out “Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude,” the latest installment in the venerable adult game series.

“?Duel Masters’ is a game that’s accessible to young boys, but we’re really proud that it’s also deep and strategically challenging for adults,” said producer Ben Hoyt.

Hoyt, with a team that grew to 40, worked on an accelerated 16-month development cycle to build a game that offers all the features of the card game, but also features 109 unique creatures, each with their own set of animation, visual and sound effects.

Hoyt’s team created new technologies for “Duel Masters,” allowing designers to develop the game’s user interface in Flash, employ asynchronous loading and “crank out really customized effects much more quickly than we’ve ever been able to before.”

“Magna Cum Laude” follows six previous “Leisure Suite Larry” titles which were released between 1987 and 1996. The game relates the sexual misadventures of the title character, a community college student who is the nephew of the original game’s protagonist.

“The primary goal of the game is to make it fun and easy for non-gamers to pick up and everybody can get a laugh out of it,” said producer Josh VanVeld, who oversaw a team of 30 over the game’s two-and-a-half- year development.

High Voltage created 3,500 animations for “Magna Cum Laude,” 60 percent of them based on motion capture footage shot at neighboring sister company Red Eye Studios.

Within “Magna Cum Laude” is a mini-“Conversation Game,” which features elaborate dialogue and natural, realistic characterizations.

“The majority of the moves we captured had to be synced to voice, which added a level of difficulty, and required somebody who could not only run or jump or fall down but could really act well,” VanVeld said.

“It’s a different kind of animation than we usually see in games ? what do people look like when they’re standing around talking to each other?”

High Voltage is also working with Warner Brothers on a “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” game, to be released by Take 2 Games on July 15, the same day the studio will premiere its remake of the psychedelic children’s classic.

High Voltage has a staff of more than 150 and has developed more than 30 games since its founding in 1993.

“It’s not uncommon in this industry to have really severe layoffs when times are tight or a project gets cancelled,” said Hoyt, who moved here from California to work on “Duel Masters.”

“High Voltage is a unique company in management’s loyalty to employees. They’re really good about keeping employees around, and that results in extra attention to the games and a real sense of job security.”

High Voltage Software is at 2345 Pembroke Ave., Hoffman Estates. Call 847/490-9567 or see www.high-voltage.com.

? by Ed M. Koziarski, edk@homesickblues.com

COMMENTS