Last Friday, Double Fine invited a gaggle of press over to their San Francisco Headquarters for hot dogs, beers, and game announcements. In addition to announcing Costume Quest on Steam and some new (and fun-sounding) Iron Brigade DLC, they also announced a new game: Happy Action Theater, a minigame collection for the Xbox Kinect.
Now, you may be a bit disappointed that that was all we got. After all, with the recent release of Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, all four of Double Fine's "Amnesia Fortnight" games are finished and released. It stands to reason that the studio is working on a number of new games, and I think we can be fairly certain that a collection of Kinect minigames is not occupying most of their time. But the time for wild speculation is later. Maybe even later today! For now, let's talk about Happy Action Theater. It's a riot.
As you can see from the trailer above, Happy Action Theater Which, awesomely, would be Hatfor short. Can we call it HAT?)… anyway, HAT is a game aimed at family fun time, and it's certainly kid-friendly. For the most part, it's more of a toy than a game—the room will fill with lava, or bouncy balls (I refuse to use the term "Ball-Pit"), or balloons, and players see themselves onscreen and can interact with the screen augmented-reality style.
Throughout the evening, Double Fine head Tim Schafer and the rest of the developers and staff took turns playing the game alongside reporters on the big-screen TV in Double Fine's game room. It certainly never got boring. Sometimes the people on screen would be surrounded by fireworks, other times they'd be underwater, or walking through flowers. The most gamey-looking of all the options was a Space Invaders-style game that cast tiny versions of each person in the room as a defending space-fighter. You had to hold your hands up above your head, and shake them at the ceiling to make your ship's gun fire, which of course is necessary to hold off incoming enemy ships.
I didn't get the sense that there will be much writing or story in Happy Action Theater, but all the same, Double Fine's trademark charm comes across. The game will mostly be of interest to those with kids (and to the kids themselves), but after a few drinks (or perhaps the imbibing of some psychedelics), it has a much more broad appeal. That said, it is what it is—a party game, a collection of inconsequential bits of goofiness, perfect for a party but not aimed at the hardcore.
While we haven't yet heard about Double Fine's next "big" game, Happy Action Theater seems like a good time, and a further sign that Double Fine is continuing to diversify its output while solidifying its status as one of the few studios making fun, non-pandering family games. That aren't about Legos.