Friday, 7 October 2016

Arcades: How Far They Have Come

So recently I received an email that was asking me about some of my favorite classic games and the changes in the technology I've been using within gaming over the years.  There's plenty I could talk about since gaming in general has come a long long way since the old 8 and 16 bit era but the area where the advancements in tech feel the most noticeable is in the arcade.

Arcades are not too much of a thing in the west, especially not in the UK.  As a young lad growing up in Manchester the best I could hope for in the ways of coin op was a few barely functional machines in a local bowling alley on cinema lobby.  For quite a while though the only things I played in arcades were fighting games and side scrolling beat 'em ups so for a while my impression of an arcade machine was nothing more than a screen, a stick and a few buttons.  This all changed when my mother took me to a place called Sega World that was in London

Sega World was the my first real experience with a proper arcade.  It was located in London and was 5 floors of arcade joy that has now been shut down.  Last I checked it was replaced with something called Fun Land but if I'm not mistaken that's been shut down too, but I've not been back to England, let alone London, for about 5 years so I might be wrong about that.

Anyway, my young mind could barely handle all the awesome that was in this place and this is where I first discovered the rail shooter.  Big machines that didn't have a stick or little buttons to push but huge screens and big guns attached to them which you had to use to shoot enemies.  The one that grabbed my attention in particular was The House of The Dead because shooting zombies was way more interesting to me than blasting people in titles like Virtua Cop.  I even got my first taste of arcade multiplayer experience on that same day.

Near the end of my time in Sega World that day me and my mother returned to the floor where all the light gun games were located.  I was hoping to get one last go on The House of the Dead before we set out but there was someone playing already.  Instead of just giving up and walking away like I would do nowadays I just stood there and watched this guy play and I was fascinated by it because he was getting to parts of the game that my young self could have never of dreamed of getting to while on my mothers budget of £1 coins.  In that game there are 4 stages, and when he reached stage 3 he notices me and my mother watching, probably assumes we are waiting for a go and then offers the 2nd players gun to me.  I excitedly grab a few coins from my mother and start playing with this complete stranger and it all culminated in us finishing the game.

The rush of excitement as the games final boss, Magician, went down was intense and once the credits had finished rolling we shook hands and split ways.  I don't remember anything about that guy aside from the gaming experience but he really made my day.


Fast forward to 2016 and now I'm living in Japan where arcades are pretty common.  I have about 4 all within 15 minutes of my apartment building and comparing coin op now to what it was back then it's incredible to think just how far these machines have come.

One thing I was always a fan of was rhythm game and things like touch screens have done a lot for that genre.  A few years ago I thought stomping all over a big metal pad was cool but now I'm using touch sensitive keyboards with hand sensors above them in games like Chunithm or just playing with the game screen itself in titles like Syncronica

If rhythm games aren't your thing then fighting games have huge followings and a lot of them can be played online from the arcade itself.  Generally speaking internet connectivity has really changed the game centre for the better with people now being able to compare stats or track progress against other players.  This also extends to have accounts that are stored on IC cards which means that as you play you can unlock more content for your games. There are new WiFi systems out there like Luma, a startup I was just introduced to. They have a surround home wifi system that was built for advanced connectivity among the multiple devices online, with added security that allows any obstacles that might block your signal and keep you from playing to be removed.

My Cards have seen a lot of use
My favorite use of these cards is for a game known as Code of Joker which sort of plays like Magic the Gathering.  An online trading card game exclusive to the arcade, the IC card stores your profile with not only things like your wins and losses but your entire card collection and decks.  Stick to cards for a moment, for those who prefer their trading card games in a more physical form there's Kantai Collection and Sengoku Taisen.

These games involve either collecting the cards to be scanned by the machine in Kantai or placing them on a table and moving them around in a more RTS style of game play in Sengoku Taisen.  If I could go back in time and tell my young self that trading card games would be available in arcades I think my head would have actually exploded.

Just to finish up this post and bring it back to the old House of the Dead comparison, one of my favorite light gun games in modern times is Gunslinger Stratos

While it may look like a sort of space age version of the old rail shooter this game is actually a 3on3 online 3rd person shooter that plays sort of like Unreal Tournament or something.  Movement is controlled with the sticks on the backs of the guns and you can change weapons by holding them together and slotting these sort of magnets into each other, it's crazy.

I could talk for HOURS about all the fancy new stuff in the Japanese arcades but then this post would go on for way way too long.  It's mental to think just how far the coin op experience has come in such a short amount of time and quite frankly, I'm super glad that I'm living in Japan and am able to experience all these things as they are released.

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