I went to the seaside last week. Was a good day full of scantily clad ladies and arcade games (and chips). The trip was a bit spontaneous – was a Bank Holiday Monday and I wasn’t at work until the late shift – but still somewhat thought through, in that we left early enough to get free parking and to avoid queues. When we got there we had a stroll along the seafront (only one of two reasonable situations that one can ‘stroll’ the other being after winning a lot of money at a casino/bingo hall) and had premium ice creams at an ice cream parlour that needed to crow bar its doors open to serve us. I don’t know about you but I think ice cream tastes better after being trapped behind a stubborn set of doors for a period of time before being liberated by a yokel Gordon Freeman with his crowbar. I had Marshmallow ice cream in a waffle cone and while it tasted more like bubble gum, it went down nicely and then we headed for the arcade and amusements across the green.
YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!
Now, before we continue I think we can all agree that arcades are not as great as they once were. Instead of rows of CRT monitors beaming gaming greatness out through the windows we now have to wade through dozens of coin dozers, fruit machines and ticket-winning challenges. In most ‘amusements’ nowadays you are lucky to find ten arcade games.
Now here is the odd thing.
I spent TWO HOURS in the amusements.
I played games, including one that I LOVED (more on that in a bit) but I also ended up playing a lot of games to win tickets that could be exchanged for sweets and old tat.
I normally view these games with a sense of loathing but something happened that changed all that.
Let’s wind back to December 2006. I was walking through a Christmas Market and happened across a store with a display of Xbox 360 bundle deals. Gears of War had just come out and I was a bit flush with cash. For my money I got a console, Hexic, Gears 1, Dead Rising and Condemned: Criminal Origins as well as Viva Pinata. It was a cracking deal – although it also led me to NEED an HDTV as the text on some games was illegible – and when I got home it was set up within the hour and I was gaming.
Then an achievement popped up. A monster was created and now I find myself just 3,600 points away from 200,000 gs. They mean nothing really, other than being a great trump card when the ‘Elite Gamer’ pops up with his 100k gamerscore brag, but to me achievements ‘gamified’ gaming. Which is obviously the intention, but in essence they have made me play games more than I would have done to get more points. I have a personal target of 42% average total score being complete before I am able to purchase a new game and I have been known to sit for hours holding four controllers just to get some.
Arcades have an achievement system, they always have. In the good old days it was the simple delight of a High Score table. The logic was sound, have some way of showing skill, while driving that ‘just one more go’ mentality by pointing out that while *you* think you are good at the game JKD was just a bit better. Nowadays I pop BNC (Bouncy) as my three letter representation of choice but in the 90’s it was LWD (Elwood – I was in a Blues Brothers act thing) and before that it was just GUY as that was one of my middle names and I lacked inspiration. I once saw a high score player set a new personal best and marvelled at the top five names he had clearly manipulated with his god-like skills
Was just great.
Anyways, the High Score table is responsible as much as enthralling gameplay for the success of the arcade as we knew it. Over time though arcade technology had to combat the rise of the home computer and console market and it simply wasn’t enough to expect people to plough ten pence pieces into a machine to play a side scrolling brawler when you could play Final Fight at home. So soon enough we saw racing games with bucket seats, then racing games with bucket seats with a bit of a car around it, then racing games like the amazing OutRun 2006 arcade game that looked like this:
Just achingly stunning.
I played on this exact machine on my ill-fated stag do. Moving cars, cameras that broadcast the drivers to people in the back. Co-drivers. The lot. Just phenomenal.
Concurrently shooting games sort of just refined what Operation: Thunderbolt and Wulf had done by having a rattling gun, but released them from the cabinet a bit and offered up Sniper Scopes in Silent Scope, oversized plastic pistols for the amazing Point Blank and more recently giant rifles for Aliens and Terminator licences games.
Then you have the blending of shooting and driving that was great in the Jurassic Park arcade game, and Sega’s Let’s Go Jungle that set you in a sit down cabinet, with guns fighting giant animals and testing love compatibility. When I visited the arcade this week I was delighted to see that Let’s Go Jungle has also evolved with the times and was available in a 4D version. Motion, sound, 3D goggles, air blasts and more made for an awesomely fun game. However the highlight of my visit was Namco’s Dark Escape 4D that played like a blend of Saw and Silent Hill (Sawlent Hill?) and had the same as above but also a heart rate monitor that gauged how frightened the game made me. When doors suddenly swung open a blast of air would hit my face and a 3D rendering of some zombie monster would lunge out of the screen. Just exceptional. I could have easily dropped £20 into the machine and kept playing but there was a little kid who kept popping his had through the curtain and I was worried that in an enhanced state of Flight or Fight I would punch the little tyke in the face, and that would probably put a dampener on both of our days.
So I left and decided to look at the ticket prize machines. There were dozens and dozens of them. Some were skill based while others were simply ‘Put 50p in – do this – get tickets’. I spotted a PacMan machine that was promising a ‘Pac-Pot’ over up to 1000 tickets so I figured, heh, why not. Aim of game was to clear screen of dots with a single life and to get a high score. The score then determines what amount of tickets you win, and a successful clearing of the screen would offer a potential bonus score. I won to Pac-Pot.
The Pac-Pot guys! Now I expected a bundle of tickets to drop out, but what actually happened was that the machine went mental and essentially shouted “LOOK AT THIS FAT BASTARD! HE HAS WON THE PAC POT!! WHAT HAVE YOU ACHIEVED TODAY, EH? NOTHING! YOU HAVE TO PLAY ON THE ‘GUARANTEED A PRIZE’ CRANES BECAUSE YOU ARE USELESS BUT HE WON THE PAC POT!! LADIES! FORM AN ORDERLY QUEUE!! PAC POT WINNER IS HERE!!! WOW, WHAT A GUY!!!”
Or at least that’s what I thought. So while I basked in delusional grandeur my son noticed that NOT ONE PERSON turned to look. Not one! Not even some kid who was attracted to flashing lights like a weird moth boy.
Each ‘ting’ sound represented one ticket being printed, so there were 801 tings. In a row. While I stood with a huge bundle of tickets gathering around my feet I felt like a God among men.
Truth was I had just won a pile of tickets that would equate to a pair of plastic magnetic crabs.
Either way for a moment I felt the same buzz as I feel when I get a 100gs achievement. It made me feel awesome and I felt that my abilities had validation.
So while it was once the case that ticket machines were for throwing balls or rolling coins arcade now contain rifle ranges, Pac-Man games and touch screen games of Fruit Ninja. All tapping into the common culture of short-burst gaming that is prevalent these days, and offering up a negligible reward to entice payment and playing. It’s a great step forward for arcades in general really. People like to have these Temples of Entertainment and with the right conditions they can be revitalised and I would say that they are well on the way.
Ultimately I left with a carrier bag full of trivial prizes, but more importantly we had spent over an hour on a variety of differing games. We played traditional arcade stuff, raced one another, faced fear and challenged skill. I look forward to the next evolution, when VR becomes commonplace enough to be affordable in this situation.