Microsoft's newly announced Game Room for the Xbox 360 and Games For Windows platform was available to play on the CES show floor today, giving attendees a chance to go hands on with classics like Pitfall, Scramble and Tempest.
Those old school arcade and Atari 2600 games played mostly as one would remember them, 8-bit visuals and audio in tact and well emulated by the developers at Krome, responsible for Game Room. Some played better than others at this point—Scramble and Crystal Castles played near flawlessly, Finalizer a little slower than it should—but Microsoft reps say the team is striving for accurate emulation on all titles, with plenty of work still left to be done before launch later this year.
In between bouts of playing old school games, we browsed the Game Room arcade virtual space, distributed across multiple floors and arcade rooms. Each room can be customized with an overall theme—one looked very Tron-like, another like a spooky graveyard, another featuring an Old West aesthetic—and decked out with arcade cabinets and decor.
That decor consists of items as straightforward as coin changers and Atari or Intellivision logo-style tables, but it also means items like chainsaws, wig stands and paintings of vampires that can be hung on the walls. Customizing rooms was simple, choose a theme and place cabinets on empty slots.
The service doesn't follow a PlayStation Home-like interface in the sense that you don't see your Avatar walking around the virtual space, heading from room to room or machine to machine.
And while Game Room does offer a handful of two-player games, those games will feature real-time multiplayer in a local sense only. Two-player games like Football, Sea Battle and Armor Battle will be playable in versus modes locally only at launch, according to Microsoft, something that could change in the future.
On Xbox Live, two-player score challenges will require each participant to play through the game in full, then compare scores. The option to play one life, then let a friend take his or her turn, won't be available for Xbox Live matches at launch. Microsoft reps stressed that should the community demand real time multiplayer for Game Room via Xbox Live it would look into adding such features.
Getting in and out of individuals games was quick to load and easy to navigate, something Microsoft says it will continue to focus on as the Game Room library expands from 30 at launch to over 1,000 in the next three years. It expects to dole out 5-7 games per week via Xbox Live Marketplace.
One aspect that may make the purchasing of (somewhat pricey) Game Room games go down easier will be the addition of Achievements to each title. In the demo we saw, this included three medals, based on time spent playing a title and high scores. It sounds like Microsoft and Krome don't plan on adding more specific Achievements to Game Room titles, as it may compromise emulation. But if you're into Gamerscore boosting, you'll find more options here.
Additional competition will come from the option to play regular or ranked versions of each game, letting you compare your scores to friends within the Game Room. Each title in your personal arcade will display a virtual banner above it, with the high score in your circle of friends. Those banners are color-coded and display green if you're the current champ on a particular cabinet.
We saw a few games not mentioned in the list of announced titles, including games like Super Breakout for the Atari 2600. That particular title—and Crystal Castles—didn't play quite as they did originally, as each required a custom control scheme. Microsoft reps say they didn't intend to offer paddle or trackball controllers to support titles like these, but that controls will be tweaked to make games like Super Breakout more playable on an Xbox 360 controller.
Super Breakout was one of the titles that was recommended by Game Room after playing through another title. You'll see game recommendations like this in the menu screen after a gaming session and on virtual monitors scattered about the arcade.
If you'd like to see more of Game Room in action, check out our quick video from earlier today.
Game Room is planned to be released to all Live members later this year on Xbox 360 and Games For Windows.