Original North American Sega CD cover art, note the content advisory on the far right.
|Publisher(s)||Sega (Sega CD and 32X)
Virgin Interactive (3DO)
Digital Pictures (DOS and Mac OS)
Night Trap is an interactive movie video game developed by Digital Pictures for the Sega/Mega-CD and first released in North America on October 15, 1992. It was later ported to the Sega 32X, 3DO, MS-DOS, and Mac OS. The game is composed of over 90 minutes of full-motion video (FMV) sequences, only possible with the storage capabilities of the new CD-ROM format. The plot concerns a group of young women who are the targets of the Augers, vampiric beings who wish to take the women's blood. The player must switch between various hidden cameras, activating traps that capture the Augers and prevent the women from being harmed.
Night Trap is notorious for the controversy it brewed in 1993 due to the game's mature content. This controversy led to withdrawal of the game from the market, hearings on violent video games at the United States Senate, and contributed to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Night Trap was given a 15 certificate by the British Board of Film Classification.
A group of young women are staying at Mr. and Mrs. Martin's house for the night. The Martin family seems like a normal American family; however, odd things have been occurring at this house. Five girls who previously stayed there had disappeared, so the "Sega Control Attack Team" ("Sega" changed to "Special" once the game was ported to other consoles) is called upon to protect the new guests and find out what happened. As the new wave of girls arrive for a slumber party (one of whom is undercover SCAT agent Kelly (or Kelli) Medd,[a] played by Dana Plato), the vampiric Augers begin to invade the Martin family house, and it's up to the player to save the girls.
The game is an example of the trap-em-up genre, which also includes games like Heiankyo Alien, Space Panic, and Lode Runner. Referred to as "control", the player views events via hidden cameras set up in eight different locations, which can be viewed one at a time. As the aforementioned Augers creep into the house, the player has to spot them and use traps to capture them. At the bottom of a screen rests a small meter; when this meter fills, it is the player's signal to activate a trap in the room being viewed (i.e. a revolving bookcase or a faux seal on the floor) and capture the Auger(s) on screen, adding to the score.
The player must also have the correct security access color code selected on screen in order for the traps to work. The code is changed four times throughout the course of the game, and keeping up with the accurate code requires listening in on key conversations. Ultimately, high performance requires repeat plays in order to gain complete knowledge of the story and capture all Augers possible. Time always moves forward, cannot be rewound, and if too many vampires are missed, the game ends. The game will also end if certain characters are taken away or if the hosts of the slumber party disconnect the player's access to the traps.
It was filmed in Culver City, CA over a three-week period in 1987 and was originally developed for Hasbro's Control-Vision video game system (originally codenamed "NEMO"), which used VHS tapes instead of ROM cartridges. However, when Hasbro discontinued production of Control-Vision, the footage was placed into archive until purchased in 1991 by the founders of Digital Pictures. Digital Pictures ported Night Trap to the Sega CD platform and later brought it to the Sega 32X, 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, and PC platforms with higher-quality video. In total the game reportedly cost US$1.5 million to produce. Actors included Dana Plato as Kelly, Arthur Burghardt as Collins, Blake Gibbons as Mike, and Andras Jones as Jeff Martin.
All references and depictions of Sega related products were eliminated from the 3DO and PC versions. In order to do this, the introduction and some of the other videos were replaced with the original footage made for the game's originally scheduled release on the canceled Hasbro Control-Vision video game console.
Versions released after the Sega CD version differed slightly in presentation. Later versions utilize more advanced hardware, allowing for the video in Night Trap to play in a box nearly twice the dimensions of the one in Sega CD edition and have higher resolution. Also, an on-screen map with each room color-coded appears at the bottom of the player's screen at all times in the 3DO version. The PC version includes a save feature, from which the player can access a new pause menu with a large map of the house. This version also included Dangerous Games, a brief documentary about the game and the controversy that surrounded it.
Footage of the never released VHS-based Control-Vision games can be viewed in the Sega CD version of Night Trap by entering a button code when the credits read "In Memory of Stephen D. Hassenfield". This footage shows Hasbro executives taking a look at Scene of the Crime (the prototype for Night Trap) in December 1987.
In May 2014, Night Trap creator James Riley announced that he was in talks to rerelease the game with improved resolution and gameplay. In August 2014 a Kickstarter campaign appeared for the game's original creators, who formed a company titled Night Trap LLC. The developers have said that if the campaign is successful they would be looking into rereleasing other Digital Pictures titles. Furthermore, the company is also considering making a sequel to the original game.
Upon release, the game received a polarizing mixed reception, with a wide range of scores from critics, averaging out to an aggregate score of 65% from Defunct Games. Dragon reviewers gave the game 4 out of 5 stars. Reviewing the Sega CD version in Wizard magazine, Glenn Rubenstein said that Night Trap "could be called the best game ever. Well maybe not the best, but it certainly is the most entertaining, that's for sure." He particularly praised the use of live actors and the need to play through the game multiple times in order to see everything, and gave the game an A+. The December 1992 issue of Electronic Games also gave it a positive review, giving it ratings of 95% for graphics, 92% for sound, and 86% for playability, with a score of 89% overall. On the other hand, Electronic Gaming Monthly gave it an average review, with the four reviewers giving it scores of 5, 8, 6, and 5, out of 10. GameFan's four reviewers gave it scores of 60%, 74%, 90%, and 69%, adding up to 273 out of 400 and averaging 68.25%. The lowest score came from Next Generation, which gave it 1 out of 5 stars.
The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly scored the 3DO version 29 out of 40 (average 7.25 out of 10), unanimously describing it as far superior to the Sega CD version in both visuals and playability. GamePro, however, remarked that "The use of live actors in video, the TV-like props and dialogue, and the CD-quality sound were innovative at one time, but Trap's graphics and sounds now play like standard stuff." They gave it 4 out of 5 for graphics, sound, and control, and 2.5 out of 5 for fun factor. They were similarly dismissive of the later 32X version, accessing that its graphical improvements over the Sega CD version are insufficient to justify buying the game a second time. They gave it a 3.5 out of 5 for graphics, 3 for sound, and 2.5 for control and fun factor. Edge gave the 3DO version five out of ten, saying that the game "does have an intense atmosphere and has converted quite well, but it’s just that it’s, well, Night Trap. With the limitations of the CD it was never a brilliant game on Sega’s machine, and sadly the same can be said of this 3DO version. Early adopters of the 3DO system will no doubt state loudly that this a great game, but beneath the enthusiastic exterior there will probably lie a very worried and unconvinced individual."
Retrospective reviews have been average to negative. In 2006, Honest Gamers gave the Sega CD version a score of 4 out of 10, and the PC version a score of 6 out of 10. Night Trap was ranked the 12th "Worst Video Game of All-Time" in an Electronic Gaming Monthly article by editor SeanBaby in 2001. He and other game journalists also featured the game in a 2007 episode of their comedy web series, Broken Pixels. Yahoo! Games listed it as one of the top ten controversial games of all time. Game Informer listed the game among the worst horror games of all time in 2008. WatchMojo.com put this game as #10 on their Top 10 Worst Launch Titles in 2011, but put the theme song at #1 on the Top 10 Cheesiest Video Game Songs in 2014. It was included among the worst games of all time by GamesRadar in 2014.
Night Trap was cited in the 1990s Congressional hearings concerning violent video games. Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Lethal Enforcers and Doom are considered to be primary factors in leading to the development of the ESRB game industry ratings system.
Two weeks before Christmas 1993, the Sega CD version of Night Trap was removed from store shelves at the United States of America's two largest toy store chains, Toys "R" Us and Kay-Bee Toys, after receiving numerous complaints that were suspected to be part of an organized telephone campaign. A journalist for GamePro noted that both Toys "R" Us and Kay-Bee Toys continued to stock Mortal Kombat. In January 1994, Sega withdrew the game from publication in direct response to a December 9, 1993 joint Senate Judiciary and Government Affairs Committee hearing on video game violence, announcing they would later release a censored version. The hearings were covered heavily by the media and were co-chaired by Senators Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut) and Herbert H. Kohl (Wisconsin), during which Night Trap was cited as "shameful", "ultra-violent", "sick", and "disgusting", encouraging an "effort to trap and kill women".
The Congressional hearings were covered in major newspapers including USA Today, The Washington Post and The New York Times. In particular, a game over scene in which the character Lisa is wearing a nightgown while captured by Augers attempting to drain her blood was found to be very offensive. In defense of the game, Tom Zito (President and CEO of Digital Pictures) attempted to explain the context of the nightgown scene during a hearing session, but he claims he was silenced. In the short documentary Dangerous Games (included with the PC version), the producers and some members of the cast explain that the plot of the game was to in fact prevent the trapping and killing of women. In addition, the blood draining device was intended to look very unrealistic and would therefore mitigate the violence. Despite scenes in which the girls are grabbed or pulled by enemies, no nudity or extreme acts of violence were ever filmed or incorporated into the game.
Additionally, the Night Trap box art was criticized by interest groups for what many believed to be a sexist depiction. In 1994, after the controversy subsided, the game was ported to the 3DO, Sega 32X, MS-DOS, and Apple Macintosh in 1995. Each of these versions was released with a different cover, but all of them incorporate actual photos of Dana Plato, thus differentiating them from the Sega CD version, which is purely illustration.
- The spelling of the character's first name has been published in different forms. The game's end credits list it with a "y"; the instruction manual spells it with an "i".
- "Sega to Withdraw, Revise `Night Trap' – The Washington Post – HighBeam Research". Highbeam.com. January 11, 1994. Retrieved August 21, 2009.
- "NIGHT TRAP rated 15 by the BBFC". British Board of Film Classification. July 21, 1993. Retrieved March 9, 2014.
- Digital Pictures (1993). Night Trap. Mega CD and 3DO. Sega. Scene: End credits.
- Plunkett, Luke (March 28, 2011). "Only In The 80's Would They Put Video Games On A VHS Tape". Kotaku. Retrieved December 26, 2015.
- "GameSpy.com – Article". Archive.gamespy.com. Archived from the original on March 23, 2007. Retrieved August 21, 2009.
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- McElroy, Justin. "Night Trap ReVamped aims to reanimate the FMV classic via Kickstarter". Polygon. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
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- Computer and Video Games, issue 138, pp. 70-71
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- Electronic Gaming Monthly, 1998 Video Game Buyer's Guide, p. 89
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- GameFan, volume 2, issue 3 (February 1994), pages 19 & 110
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- Night Trap (Sega CD) review by Sho
- Night Trap (PC) review by Sho
- Mega Zone, issue 54, p. 29
- Sega Zone, issue 8, pp. 30-31
- Rubenstein, Glenn (January 1993). "At the Controls". Wizard. Wizard Entertainment (17): 21–24.
- The Ultimate History Of Video Games, Stephen L. Kent, October 2001
- Official Gallup UK Mega CD sales chart, January 1994, published in Mega (magazine) issue 16
- Edge staff (March 1994). "Night Trap review (3DO)". Edge (6). Archived from the original on May 31, 2015. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
- "EGM's Crapstravaganza: The 20 Worst Games of All Time". Seanbaby.com. Archived from the original on June 5, 2002. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
- "Broken Pixels Episode 08 from GameVideos". Gamevideos.1up.com. May 4, 2007. Retrieved August 21, 2009.
- Ben Silverman (September 17, 2007). "Controversial Games". Yahoo! Games. Archived from the original on September 22, 2007. Retrieved September 19, 2007.
- "The Wrong Kind of Scary: Worst Horror Games Ever", Game Informer 186 (October 2008): 121.
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- Plunkett, Luke (March 24, 2011). "Sega's Most "Shameful", "Sick" And "Disgusting" Video Game". Kotaku. Retrieved December 26, 2015.
- Dangerous Games – The 1995 documentary on Night Trap. (QuickTime)
- The Milwaukee Journal, March 9, 1995