Open Discussion: Arcade Hardware

arcadehero September 3, 2012 10
Open Discussion: Arcade Hardware

Newsfeed 1256 viaThe Stinger Report

This morning The Stinger Report sent me a link to 4Gamer.net, a Japanese gaming news website that is covering a Japanese game developer conference called CEDEC 2012. While game developer conferences in the West rarely delve into arcade game creation, in Japan where the market supports such developments to a higher degree means one can expect the discussion to move in that direction.

The instance that 4Gamer covers here in good detail is a seminar given by Koji Tripartite of Taito’s amusement division. He gets into some worldwide market data they had collected then into some history of arcade game development at Taito. It’s always a bit amazing to hear some of these stories from the pioneering days of video games and we don’t hear too often about arcade development on the Japanese side. He discusses the development of Space Invaders came along and the difference of TTL vs CPU-powered games. It sounds like the situation was similar at Taito compared to many other companies – electrical engineers knew enough about the craft to make headway but it wasn’t without a challenge. As they say in this article, there was no textbook for making arcade games, where you had to develop both the software and hardware to get a game working in the first place and all of that was left up to a very small group of people to carry out.

You can read the article here.

I think this gives us a space for another open discussion and that’s about arcade hardware. I’ve always found the subject of video game hardware to be fascinating, moreso on the arcade side because there is a much larger variety of quirky designs over the years. I really enjoy seeing some old piece of hardware being pushed to its limits or seeing a game do things thought impossible in the early days of a platform. This sort of thing happens a lot more on home consoles as they generally have a lot more software created for them but there have been exceptions for the arcade side, the Data East DECO Cassette system, the SNK NeoGeo MVS and Sega NAOMI are some of those. Of those three the NeoGeo has seen the most support in its aftermarket life, GunLord being the latest title to give the system some extra life.

These days it is rare that we see hardware designed practically from the ground-up for an arcade title. It just makes more economical sense to use a PC, where R&D money has already been spent and proven to produce graphics on a level that is needed on that end than to build something from scratch. But even as PCs have taken over on that end, that is only one component in the arcade hardware equation – you still have the cabinet which can be designed to your liking as can the controls. That doesn’t prevent some standardization from taking place – there are benefits to using standardized designs that various games can fit into, one standard gaining steam is that of the cabinet that does not come with a monitor, that you purchase yourself to fit your needs. But those standards aside, ultimately it is the whole hardware package that gives arcades enormous potential – we can integrate a wide range of technologies into a cabinet and they can be tailored for a single game concept or experience you want to get across.

I still look forward to seeing progress made through online functionality. This weekend an operator I’ve begun working with installed a Big Buck HD at my location and it was the first time I’ve used a game that works with Twitter. Initial coolness of that feature aside, it was also good for my business since anyone that will use that feature will end up spreading the word as to where they played the game at. Eventually Facebook will work with that too, expanding the reach. I have not searched out the SmartPhone application for it quite yet but that is another area I am glad to see being dabbled with. I think that such apps when properly integrated can improve not just marketing for arcade games and location but there is potential to work hand-in-hand with the games themselves. Raw Thrills’ new SnoCross arcade game moves in that direction through the scanning of QR codes to post scores to social media. Namco’s Pac-Man Battle Royale app drove players to find the game at a location near them. But could apps eventually interact with the game right then and there? I don’t see why not. I’m not just talking about paying with your phone or logging into a game either (something the Big Buck HD app promises to do), I mean potential game interaction – perhaps attract modes could become mini-game challenges controlled by phone? Or maybe even minor ways to participate in a game already being played (occasional enemy or power-up drops).

Augmented reality also has potential – not so much with smartphones since not everyone will carry one but as we saw with a prototype light-gun game by Konami called Space Agent, there are still ways to change the game using AR type ideas.

I also have brought this up before but I think that if there is ever economic ability to include displays that are higher than 1080p in an arcade game, that would be a nice advantage to take. Home users already enjoy higher resolutions sometimes with PCs, more often with tablets like the iPad 2. I would think that it is a beneficial thing to offer “4k” or “8k” resolution displays before they are common place at home. Again, that comes down to economics but it is one way a game can stand out for a while. That or perhaps if something could be worked out with a display maker and getting a better deal on a new type of display they are working on (OLED, Laser projection, FED, etc.). An arcade title could be great public-wide advertising for them.

Last for now, but not least (so I can stop rambling on), I also would love to see that love for LED lighting on cabinets taken to a new level, perhaps through classic pinball style marquee enhancements or even multi-color enhancements to coin inserts, where a bonus could be given if a coin is dropped at a particular time that is highlighted by change there. Not that enhancements we’ve seen in recent times have been lagging – Sega has done some cool work with games like Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Arcade and Operation G.H.O.S.T., showing some of the potential in that regard.

Anyways, let this be your spot to ramble on about hardware, what your favorite has been in the past, the present or what you might like to see in the future.


10 Comments »

  1. neil brimelow September 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    In the past there was a certain advantage of arcade manufacturers building their own proprietary hardware. Sega had a dual processor setup for Afterburner in 1987, and the competition amongst the various game companies drove innovation.

    Now, there really isn’t much advantage to develop a custom designed hardware anymore as the refresh rate of new, and considerably more powerful hardware is measured in mere months now, not years.

    If, lets say, an arcade manufacturer decided to go all out and build an off the shelf, state of the art system, it would probably cost around $3,500 in bulk. That’s with a rock solid motherboard, 16GB of RAM, two solid state drives, and two GTX690s.

    That rig could Max out practically any game currently out there today. However, what I’ve seen is that the horsepower has been available for quite some time, it’s just that the arcade manufacturers simply got lazy. None of the games I’ve seen in the past seven years look significantly improved, and none could even be considered to be close to cutting edge.

    The arcade used to be a place to go to get that experience that you simply couldn’t get at home. Then it became a sort of pre-release for the home game systems. Now the arcade has become boring and blaise and the games don’t appeal to anyone; they are simply lesser games than what is available at home, or even on a phone, but in a fancy box.

    Next gen home systems are going to arrive in the next year. But with the economy seemingly only going to get worse in the near future, nobody is going to be able to afford a $300-$400 game system. This is a good time for arcade to make a quasi-comeback, but the arcade is going to have to start offering something more that what users can get at home, or on their phone, or ipad.

    • arcadehero September 4, 2012 at 7:51 am - Reply

      I take it you have not seen Big Buck HD in person then? Love or hate the game itself, it is well above current gen consoles in terms of looks. I got one in on Friday through a deal with a local op and it has stopped a lot of people in their tracks just based on looks alone. 1920x1080p @60FPS, high rez volumetric textures, high quality soft shadows, vivid color, abundant particle effects and detailed environments, some of the best water effects I have seen in a while. To me it looks better than the latest Deus Ex, Skyrim or Phantasy Star Online 2 (which I run on an nVidia 550Ti). Of course it has much smaller environments to worry about so less to worry about in the overall world with AI processing and whatnot but still it is obviously much better than any other arcade title on the current market. I also think that at the time Afterburner Climax, House of the Dead 4 and H2Overdrive looked really good – I’m looking forward to seeing Dark Escape 4D in person as well. DeadStorm Pirates 3D looked really good but I am not sure if they actually released that version or not(by far the best stereo 3D I have seen in a game yet). I certainly agree that many games have been below-par of what could have been done though and I would be happy to see future titles fit in more with what BBHD has done or better. In fact I would much rather see 4k displays than stereo 3D ones being utilized.

      I am curious about what you would like to see exactly when you say “start offering something more”, do you mean expanded, greater content games in the realm of first person shooter or RPGs that somehow will work in an arcade environment? Or do you just mean in terms of more complex hardware setups?

  2. editor September 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    I would like to take a counter view.

    We are now at a point where the next reiteration of home consoles will be soon upon us (Generation-8). This means the performance has been sealed in stone. From what I have seen of the spec’s, the manufacturers have gone for a conservative approach, hoping that 20% better than Gen-7 performance will suffice.

    Compare this to the latest PC hardware and I think that there is a golden opportunity to create a major wow again in the experience the Out-of-Home entertainment offers its audience. Having seen the latest graphics fidelity from the new PC systems, I wonder if Gen-8 consoles may find themselves left behind (dependent on their DLC and online business model to hock the audience).

    In concluding, I point you to the FOX architecture that Konami will be fielding next year. This is a PC SDK at present, aimed to help develop realistic content for Gen-7 and Gen-8 consoles – but from the rumors in Japan, be prepared to see un-locked-down FOX content for amusement!

    http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2012/03/can-you-tell-reality-from-konamis-fox-engine/

  3. Ryan September 4, 2012 at 7:05 am - Reply

    I like how the Namco System 357 is basically a PS3!

    How come Sega decided to go the build-your-own-PC route rather than using a home console base as their arcade board like Namco did? Konami used PS2 and PS1 hardware for their older DDR games and then went on to PC hardware.

    What advantage does PC hardware have over console hardware?

    • arcadehero September 4, 2012 at 7:24 am - Reply

      Flexibility is the primary advantage. While there is nothing stopping manufacturers from using console hardware, as Neil pointed out you can build something that is light-years ahead of where even the next generation of consoles is going to be at. With console hardware you can add more memory and maybe overclock it a little but changing it completely is going to be a bit harder than just building some cool new PC rig. The thing is that arcade hardware in the past generally only had releases on it for a year or two and then a new configuration or design came along that better looking games could take advantage of. Capcom did build an arcade design using the Wii but that was already so low-powered it only has been used on one or two titles. No one is using the 360 since that is essentially the least reliable console hardware ever created and could never handle the pressures of an arcade environment.

      • Ryan September 4, 2012 at 7:56 am - Reply

        I would imagine the only downside to using a PC-based design is that, when it comes time to port a game over to a home console (like the PS3), there is more hassle than if the game were running on PS3 hardware to begin with.

        I read an article that said the HOD4 arcade-to-console conversion was challenging because of the difference in hardware (RAM) between Lindbergh and PS3. In my opinion, the graphics clarity on the PS3 version is actually better than the arcade.

        One strange scenario was with Tekken 6 for PS3. The arcade version was essentially running on a PS3, but something terrible happened with the conversion to the 360 and PS3 that made the graphics look sub-HD. Not sure what happened there!

    • 60Hz September 4, 2012 at 10:45 am - Reply

      Namco has historically based their 3d hardware on sony’s since ps1 was out – SEGA has in the past based some of their HW on their own consoles, such as saturn and dreamcast. I also think they had one based on a nintendo platform (called the Tri-force)… I bet why their current HW is not based on 360 is probably more for business reasons, that is, they have a bunch of hardware engineers lying around – it makes more sense to make your own hardware – though recent platforms like the l-berg are more off-the-shelf than previous outings…

  4. editor September 4, 2012 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    To answer the fundamental question @Ryan started — the reason for PC adoption, by Taito, Konami and SEGA, is ‘Graphic Cards’.

    These corporations blew a fortune on early 3D GCi card development and in the end signed intensive agreements with CGi (GRU) developers to get their cards for their PC SDK platforms. That said we have heard rumors of a generic platform based on new technology coming from SEGA soon!

    I spent some time bidding against other PC card developers for the SEGA and Taito accounts (in the end they signed with AMD).

    For Namco, they signed an agreements with SONY back in the day to license the (PSX) hardware for the System 11 and never looked back. It is mutually beneficial as SONY gets support / direct ports, and Namco gets cost-effective hardware.

    You will notice with the new Namco System 359, we get to see the performance of the basic PS4 – this has caused some problems in revealing the hardware spec’s through the arcade system ahead of the release (the platform has been revised since) – and it is suggested this may be the last time Namco has access to SONY hardware (so a move to the PC has been heralded with ‘Dark Escape 4D’).

  5. editor September 4, 2012 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    … On a side note – we have been hearing a lot about the new SIDEARM shooting game from SEGA Europe – will be interesting what they call the architecture for this. As we saw with GRID, SEGA Europe is not allowed to use AM JP platforms so we got the SEGA Europa-R system.

    And just for the record, if ANYONE tries to turn this thread into speculation on ORPS or Dreamcast claims in this discussion, I will have AH pull the feed!

  6. Ryan September 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Just got back from the arcade and was able to play both Tekken 6 and BlazBlue (Calamity Trigger).

    It reminded me how much more crisp and clear arcade versions of the game are compared to their console counterpart. In BlazBlue, it’s obvious (after having experienced the arcade and console versions) that the arcade version has much better graphics as far as clarity and crispness goes. Same with Tekken 6.

    I am wondering if that is because game companies don’t want to spend extra time perfecting the home port to look as good as the arcade version. I am also wondering if it could be that they want to separate the arcade and console graphics so the arcade version looks better so that arcades are still relevant.

    I know that, if home ports looked as good as the arcade version, I would go to the arcade a lot less.

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