April 16, 2009
When “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” hits theaters on May 22, it will be the first time the interiors of the museum complex will be shown on the big screen. An equally significant date for the increasingly cool Smithsonian will take place on May 5, when a set of video games based on the movie will be released. For the first time, the public will be able to explore a realistic interpretation of the Smithsonian museums on their Wii, Xbox 360, Nintendo DS or personal computer.
The “Night at the Museum” games, by Majesco Entertainment (also behind the similarly-named “Escape the Museum“) and Twentieth Century Fox, will put players in the role of movie protagonist Larry Daley (a.k.a. Ben Stiller) as he moves through 14 levels [game settings or stages] that include the National Air and Space Museum and the Lincoln Memorial. Along the way, gamers will travel on the back of a T-Rex or in the cockpit of a Pitcairn Autogyro, flown by Amelia Earhart.
I asked game developer Jeremy Mahler at Pipeworks, which developed the games along with Amaze Entertainment, how the Smithsonian museums and new movie influenced the upcoming games.
Q: Aside from the National Air and Space Museum, are there any other levels in the game inspired by the Smithsonian?
JM: Most of the levels were inspired by actual Smithsonian museums—the National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Castle, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Speaking of which, since the art museums at the Smithsonian are numerous and vast, it would have been impossible to represent each one in the game. What we chose to do instead was to create a composite art museum that is really an amalgam of the best parts of all art museums with their incredible collections of paintings, sculptures and amazing architecture.
Q: What did you need to know about the movie and the museums to design the levels?
JM: We wanted to make sure the game felt and looked completely true to the first and second movies, while still offering a new experience. We also worked with FOX to create a storyline that captured key story points from the movie but offered a lot of surprises in between. The intention from the beginning was to not make an exact re-creation of the movie. We started by taking a trip out to the Smithsonian and taking 8,000 photos. We drew up schematics of the real museums, so we could give the team back home the closest thing possible to having seen it for themselves. Then we designed our levels to use recognizable elements.
Q: What are the challenges involved to make a game like this?
JM: With all of the people involved in making this game, making sure that everyone was on the same page and communicating with each other was definitely a challenge. Keeping track of all of the in-game objects and exhibit art pieces that needed to be created was also quite a task. There were a ton of art assets that needed to populate every level. A lot of people worked really hard to make them. It paid off in the end, though. We strove to make the game so visually compelling that people would want to take their time to explore each level, much like they would in a real museum, and we feel that we definitely hit the mark.
Q: What museum would you want to spend a night in?
JM: The National Air and Space Museum would be an amazing place to spend a night in. There are so many of America’s greatest achievements represented there.
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