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.
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.