Coin-Op Commemoration

You'll hear people talk about the sonic chaos, how the pings and bells and digital tweets coming from each cabinet will draw them in. They'll mention the thundering roar of race car engines or the room-shaking explosions. Others love the bright neon contrasting with the cave-like darkness, or the seizure-inducing flashes coming from the screens. That's not it for me though. It's the smell of it all, the scent you get when you fill a room wall to wall with electronics running full speed for hours at a time. Just under that aroma of people huddled together, there's that warm silicon smell in an arcade, and that's what pulls me in.

Finding a good arcade is like striking oil: it's rare now and only getting rarer as time goes on. The kids these days aren't impressed with the giant cabinets, the big screens and tactile controls. Why stand in line to play the newest Tekken when you can play your PSPs over by the food court? They weren't there at the first Street Fighter 2 machines. This generation of gamers doesn't know the joy of beating the guy who's been standing there for over an hour, whooping and hollering as he cheeses his way through newbie after newbie with Blanka's shock attack. There is no greater feeling than walking up to that saddest of gamers and showing them what a few well-placed Dragon Punch combos will accomplish. The kids today would rather stand outside the Hot Topic and talk about how breathtaking Halo 2 looks in 720p than enjoy the frantic excitement of House of the Dead 2.

Normally I'd say it's their loss. They aren't worthy to be among the true believers. They're not even important enough to hang around the back, by the skee-ball tracks and the Whac-A-Mole. But we enlightened few are not the market anymore; the kids are the ones with the disposable income and the time to kill. They'd rather be at home, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet and the voice masking of Xbox Live, than in a true competitive environment, the one last pure social gaming arena. They wouldn't be able to understand the bracket structure of a Soul Calibur tournament, and they'd mistake nostalgia for the honored row of 80's arcade games in the corner. "Pac-Man?" They'd scoff. "I've got MAME on my PSP, I can play it whenever I want."

It wasn't always like this. Many of us can remember the days of Space Invaders and Defender, coin-op classics that defined an entire generation. It wasn't just the geeks and nerds flocking to play Dig Dug, but children and teens from all walks of life. It was the 80's, technology was hip, and hundreds of thousands of kids were finding the best place to waste time was in these high-tech halls of neon and noise pollution. Then the parents stepped in, deeming our newfound homes to be seedy and unfit for our precious youthful minds. They imagined hidden back rooms where little Timmy would find copious amounts of bathtub crank and pornographic pictures of Molly Ringwald, corrupting their precious angel into the twisted bad boy visage of Judd Nelson.

Of course, it didn't help that the games started getting expensive. The days of a simple stand-up arcade game are long gone. People want more complexity in their games, more bang for their buck. Two paddles knocking a pixel back and forth doesn't cut it anymore in this age of 3D polygons, massive explosions, and new interfaces involving giant rifles or swords to swing. Companies like Sega started developing sit-down racing sims and stringing them together sixteen at a time, and hardware like that doesn't come cheap. So the arcade managers raised the price of Daytona USA from a quarter to a dollar to compensate for the higher cost, and you and I grumbled about wanting more bang for our buck.

Arcades today hardly feel like the holy temples of the past. Most don't even call themselves arcades, opting instead for titles like Family Fun Center. Walking through one in Las Vegas before a friend's wedding recently, I was struck by how few actual video games there were. The focus instead has drifted toward redemption style games that reward the player's high score with tickets. It's fitting to see this style of gameplay in Vegas; one machine I walked by had a child and his mother collecting hundreds of tickets off one play, hitting the jackpot much like people at the slot machines above us were hoping to. Instead of large sums of cash, however, Bobby is going to cash those tickets in for a giant stuffed animal or other cheap toy. And while he's preoccupied with the crappy Elmo doll in the Claw Machine (Oh, how I hate you, Claw Machine, you fail me every time) the intelligent machines, the rail shooters and DDR shrines and fighting games, continue to roll their demos, waiting.

Maybe there will come a day when the home consoles will fall out of style. The online networks will crumble like a stale cookie from Auntie Anne's, and the signals on all the wireless controllers will drop out. And the people will look up from their self-imposed comfort and realize the brilliance of a 16-car arcade racing game. They will cast off the chains of portability and embrace the camaraderie of being huddled around Virtua Fighter, cheering for the 12-year-old using Jackey to take the balding 40-year-old back to school. Until that day comes I'll be standing in the back, raising my high score in Centipede, filling the screen with my initials. I'll be waiting for the rapture to come.

Comments

Save a spot at the back for me, will ya?

Wonderful article .

Ah, what an experience all of that was way back wh-......um, or so I heard.

Thanks for making us that actually understand your article feel old!!! /bonk

Well said, Demi. Well said.

Crisis Zone is at the top of my list of arcade games at the moment. It's a lightgun shooter on rails with a plastic automatic submachinegun. The feeling of holding those 8 lbs of "raw power" still excites me even today. I understand you can purchase a similar controller for the PS2, but it probably won't match up to the feeling of the coin-op version.

That's one thing arcades will always have going for them - the model of distribution allows for "cockpit" style games with very game-specific hardware, such as the gigantic mounted sniper rifle in Silent Scope and
the infrared-position-sensors in Police 911.

It's no surprise that arcades are in decline; after all, most of them stopped carrying Space Paranoids.

Good job, Demi. Love that final paragraph.

Yoyoson wrote:

Crisis Zone is at the top of my list of arcade games at the moment. It's a lightgun shooter on rails with a plastic automatic submachinegun. The feeling of holding those 8 lbs of "raw power" still excites me even today. I understand you can purchase a similar controller for the PS2, but it probably won't match up to the feeling of the coin-op version.

You'd go Crisis Zone over Time Crisis? I always thought the submachinegun was both too heavy and kinda cheesy. Not requiring the same, shall we say, finesse.

I'd have to put House of the Dead up there as well, but the interaction you got with Time Crisis really put it over the top. I wonder how much one of those machines would be...

I love playing Arcade cabs... and oh there are next to no arcades around me anymore (except 'family fun centers' located in Niagara Falls.. tourists; blech).

You left out another wonderful thing about arcades.... pinball!

A good pinball table, much like a good arcade cab, can hold me for hours on end, except pinball doesn't have a 'home console' type form for home. The 'only' way to play these magnificent machines is to hit an arcade, find a bar that has a good table still kickin' around (and actually working!), or to shell out the money and get a table at home.

*sigh*

How I miss the old Bijou, with it's smoke filled room of electronic beeps and bloops, casting wonderful rays of light through the atmosphere.

For those of you anywhere near eastern PA, Hershey park still had a working TRON machine last I was there. Course that was a couple years ago, but I'd imagine that's a badge of pride for whoever is running it.

Good article, but unfortunately, I don't see anyone getting up from their couches soon. More likely the home games will undergo the same transformation arcade games have, and soon we'll see dance pads, guitars, guns, and swords coming out of our consoles.

Oh wait, we're already there...

Nice!

I remember the time when I could beat Double Dragon with one quarter. I remember practicing the fatalities in Mortal Combat. I remember being able to do Nina's full body break combo in Tekken.

I was an Arcade God and the ladies loved it.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:
Yoyoson wrote:

Crisis Zone is at the top of my list of arcade games at the moment. It's a lightgun shooter on rails with a plastic automatic submachinegun. The feeling of holding those 8 lbs of "raw power" still excites me even today. I understand you can purchase a similar controller for the PS2, but it probably won't match up to the feeling of the coin-op version.

You'd go Crisis Zone over Time Crisis? I always thought the submachinegun was both too heavy and kinda cheesy. Not requiring the same, shall we say, finesse.

I'd have to put House of the Dead up there as well, but the interaction you got with Time Crisis really put it over the top. I wonder how much one of those machines would be...

I've only played Crisis Zone once, Time Crisis many times. Both have their advantages. Still, that SMG is fun to hold and shoot. However, the action is much more frantic and hard, since you've got a full-auto weapon.

What disappoints me is the way modern arcades have changed. This is the trend I've seen: The majority of the games are sit-down racers (cars, boats, motorcycles, jetskies, snow skies, skateboarding). The rest are split between competitive two-person fighting games (Soul Calibur, Tekken, etc.) and shooters (Time Crisis, Lethal Enforcers, Area 51). And while I do enjoy fighters and shooters occasionally, pretty much every other type of arcade game has disappeared, thanks to the console. Since the console don't come standard with light guns or steering wheels, these remain the province of arcades. I imagine the fighting games stay (for now) because of the joy of competition against a steady stream of anonymous challengers. I'm just so saddened at the way the arcade has evolved. I used to feel such joy walking into one, seeing the huge variety of games that required no more commitment than a quarter. Nowadays, they all look the same, and the games all look the same.

Back in college, we had a full stand up arcade box of Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition. Which rocked in unbelievable ways, except for being woken up on a Saturday morning by the sound of someone overzealously working those controls.

Great article, Demi. I grew up not too far from some really excellent arcades, and I too lament the passing of their kind.

I really enjoy 80s movies that show the video arcade in its heyday. Think of Tron, or Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Great article!

Arcades never where very popular here, they only came with the annual fair. Sadly the arcade games have all but been replaced with stuff from the evil Gamblor. The only arcade games left are Killer Instinct 2 and Asterix and Obelix

Oh, and Virtua Striker. But it's so worn down the buttons give elektroshocks if you touch them. Only noobs play with the Player 1 stick

Oh, the good ole' days. I remember spending hours on PacMan, then Tempest and Space Invaders. Even Missle Command.

Gauntlet saw me and my 3 buddies shell out many a token as we rampaged through (my Valkyrie always shot the potion) whilst we should have been in class. Damn hard to find any Arcade round these parts at all these days. At least not one that doesn't have 'Bingo Games' on the sign and occupied by drunkards, hookers and russian mobsters.

Another key components of the Arcades near me was pizza. All of them served mostly pizza, so you'd have greasy hands trying to do Zangief's screw driver, and some people wiping off the joysticks before playing.

One part I love about arcades were the 4 player games - Wreslemania, Ninja Turtles, X-Men, Simpsons, etc. There's nothing like screaming at your friend to take out the Foot Soldier while you wail on a Mouser. Sure, I can play with 24 people in UT2004 over the internet, but it's not the same as having them right next to you ...

My local arcade closed just last week, and I was there as they rolled away all the machines onto the back of a truck.

I nearly cried.

reefinyateef wrote:

Another key components of the Arcades near me was pizza. All of them served mostly pizza, so you'd have greasy hands trying to do Zangief's screw driver, and some people wiping off the joysticks before playing.

One part I love about arcades were the 4 player games - Wreslemania, Ninja Turtles, X-Men, Simpsons, etc. There's nothing like screaming at your friend to take out the Foot Soldier while you wail on a Mouser. Sure, I can play with 24 people in UT2004 over the internet, but it's not the same as having them right next to you ...

Hey, X-Men was 6 players. It kicked all sorts of ass, and you always felt sorry for the one stuck with Dazzler.

Hey, X-Men was 6 players. It kicked all sorts of ass, and you always felt sorry for the one stuck with Dazzler.

Wow, I can't believe I remember that one well enough to agree with you.

There was an arcade at my college, that was actually cool enough you could play all games for 50 cents or less, and still had rampart, tetris, beach volleyball, and a whole bunch of crazy cool games that you never see today.

Sadly, it closed a couple years ago as well.

reefinyateef wrote:

One part I love about arcades were the 4 player games - Wreslemania, Ninja Turtles, X-Men, Simpsons, etc. There's nothing like screaming at your friend to take out the Foot Soldier while you wail on a Mouser. Sure, I can play with 24 people in UT2004 over the internet, but it's not the same as having them right next to you ...

This feature to me, was almost the main selling point of Gauntlet - because the game would tell everyone exactly who destroyed something beneficial. Can anything truly replace hearing "Wizard.....shot the food!" and partaking in a 3 vs. 1 punch/slap/whatever fest?

"Try THAT with yer new-fangled ventrillo-teamspeak-headset-thingy!!!"

Vrikk wrote:

Hey, X-Men was 6 players. It kicked all sorts of ass, and you always felt sorry for the one stuck with Dazzler.

Holy crap, I swear the one that I played was only four players! I looked into it and found this link from Wikipedia:

"Depending on the machine, the maximum number of simultaneous players varies from two to six."

Damnit, I got cheated as a kid!

reefinyateef wrote:

Damnit, I got cheated as a kid!

Sure did. The six player version had two screens, so you had a nice wide area to play on. Great game. I think I prefered D&D: Tower of Doom (if that was the name), since it had branches you go on, instead of a straight path through the game.

Where is the Rampage love? I can't be the only one here who would cooperatively play with one other person (usually my brother) and when a new guy jumped in, we would mercilessly turn on each other. Many a brotherly fist fight would erupt from that game. It wasn't as good on the NES, since it didn't cost one of us any extra quarters to keep playing.

How about Track and Field? At a bowling alley I used to go to as a kid, they actually had a Track and Field with a ROLLER BALL vice the buttons. It was great to laugh at the computer player as you destroyed him in all the races!

Atras wrote:
reefinyateef wrote:

Damnit, I got cheated as a kid!

Sure did. The six player version had two screens, so you had a nice wide area to play on. Great game. I think I prefered D&D: Tower of Doom (if that was the name), since it had branches you go on, instead of a straight path through the game.

Where is the Rampage love? I can't be the only one here who would cooperatively play with one other person (usually my brother) and when a new guy jumped in, we would mercilessly turn on each other. Many a brotherly fist fight would erupt from that game. It wasn't as good on the NES, since it didn't cost one of us any extra quarters to keep playing.

I think I did more damage to Izzy's face (I always played as George) instead of destroying the cities like I was supposed to.

Gameworks seems to still be going strong, although the main draws there are the racing games, shooting games, etc. Maybe arcades will come back when they have those cool gyroscope VR simulations like in The Lawnmower Man.

Atras wrote:

Where is the Rampage love? I can't be the only one here who would cooperatively play with one other person (usually my brother) and when a new guy jumped in, we would mercilessly turn on each other. Many a brotherly fist fight would erupt from that game. It wasn't as good on the NES, since it didn't cost one of us any extra quarters to keep playing.

I thought the NES versions sucked compared to the Sega Master System version, which I owned. I didn't play much Rampage in the arcade but my brother and I played the SMS all the time, in between games of Afterburner and Rambo First Blood.

Lobo wrote:

I really enjoy 80s movies that show the video arcade in its heyday. Think of Tron, or Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Wow, I thought Tron was romanticizing the arcade world for the sake of setting up a bit of backstory. It seriously wasn't like that, right?

Danjo wrote:

Wow, I thought Tron was romanticizing the arcade world for the sake of setting up a bit of backstory. It seriously wasn't like that, right?

Maybe not quite like that; not in most places, anyway. Looking past the sensationalism, the most important feature of the Tron arcade is that everyone from young kids to young adults, or even older, agreed it was a cool place to go and spend an evening. That's how people regarded arcades at the height of the Pac-Man era. Very few people today, no matter their age, would say the same of the scattered arcades that remain.

Lobo wrote:
Danjo wrote:

Wow, I thought Tron was romanticizing the arcade world for the sake of setting up a bit of backstory. It seriously wasn't like that, right?

Maybe not quite like that; not in most places, anyway. Looking past the sensationalism, the most important feature of the Tron arcade is that everyone from young kids to young adults, or even older, agreed it was a cool place to go and spend an evening. That's how people regarded arcades at the height of the Pac-Man era. Very few people today, no matter their age, would say the same of the scattered arcades that remain.

Agreed. Although I think Tron was closer to the mark than that, even. At the few arcades I frequented, everybody knew the guy who had high score on Tempest. He was very much a Flynn-like character. Life imitating art perhaps, but accurate nontheless.

When I was lucky enough to be part of a startup dotcom company (long since in the toilet) my partner and I each individually made two critical purchases: a Tron machien, and a Tempest machine.

TRON, being a straightforward piece of technology, was easy to keep running and endoured hundreds of hours of gameplay. The Tempest machine, being a vector machine, was a phenomenal pain to keep alive, so I mercifully took it home. Without it, I would not have fallen in love with my wife, as her ability to kick my ass was critical to our early courtship.

Alas, I sold it when moving cross country, and it was only reliably playing for 10 minutes at a pop.

All that said, the games truly weren't that great - we've all played them in their "museum" collections. But the experience, as the author says, is what mattered

Lobo wrote:
Danjo wrote:

Wow, I thought Tron was romanticizing the arcade world for the sake of setting up a bit of backstory. It seriously wasn't like that, right?

Maybe not quite like that; not in most places, anyway. Looking past the sensationalism, the most important feature of the Tron arcade is that everyone from young kids to young adults, or even older, agreed it was a cool place to go and spend an evening. That's how people regarded arcades at the height of the Pac-Man era. Very few people today, no matter their age, would say the same of the scattered arcades that remain.

Except in Japan. I don't know much about the demographic or the games you'll find there, but from what I've read, arcades are still quite a phenomenon. Apparently they're huge over there.

I can remember the local Chuck E. Cheese, pre-ball pit era. That place was always packed. Rows and rows of arcade machines formed this kind of maze leading to the Strobe Light Room. At the head of the maze were the big titles. I can remember when Dragon's Lair and Space Ace were on the endcaps quite clearly for some reason. But not all of the titles were mainstream. I remember thinking Vanguard was the bee's knees. It didn't hold up when I played it in MAME, years later.

More recently, the Dave and Buster's in Marietta(Atlanta) used to have the Battletech simulators in there. We used to waste sick money in there when I'd go up to visit friends from college. The social aspect of walking out of a game and comparing score cards or talking about parts of the match just can't be beat.

Minase wrote:

Gameworks seems to still be going strong, although the main draws there are the racing games, shooting games, etc.

I'm much too lazy to find a link confirming this, but I thought Gameworks filed for Chapter 11 a few years ago. I know the one in Seattle is still going, but I didn't think the company was doing that great. Which is sad, since any arcade with a full bar deserves love.

Buzzvang wrote:

More recently, the Dave and Buster's in Marietta(Atlanta) used to have the Battletech simulators in there. We used to waste sick money in there when I'd go up to visit friends from college. The social aspect of walking out of a game and comparing score cards or talking about parts of the match just can't be beat.

I would kill a man to have those Battletech simulators back. Very serious fun.

Thanks for the kind words, everyone.