Prototype and unreleased concepts have always been fascinating to me, particular in the video game arena. There are a plethora of reasons as to why a product might not ever make it out of the door. For all of the work that go into these games, it is a real shame if we never heard about them or know only their names so it is something to kvell about when we do get such information. The post today involves the work of a company called Amazement Machines. They were created about six years ago in Bath, UK to produce innovative new concepts for the amusement industry. Started by Hugh Fulljames, he reached out to me a short time ago and provided these details so that these ideas and innovations would not be lost: “I just want to share the crazy ideas I had and see what people honestly think….I loved amusement arcades and wanted to try to recreate the magic for a new generation – going into an arcade and not knowing what you’d see next.” Just for a disclaimer, this is not a paid post and I’d never heard of these games up until a couple of weeks ago. I do find these to be very creative ideas and hopefully they can still make their way to a wide release.
For Mr. Fulljames’ experience in the industry, he stated:
As a kid back in the 80s I wrote commercial games including one called Skulldigger which was rated 90%+ by then top UK games magazine ACE (Advanced Computer Entertainment). Got into publishing computing and games magazines including: ST Action, Amiga Action, Games-X (weekly UK games magazine), Advanced MegaDrive Gaming, Super Control (Super NES). At that time my name was Hugh Gollner (changed it when I married my wife).
From here let’s separate the content into two tabs as hugh broached a subject that is interesting and could work as a separate post.
The Amazement Machines Prototypes
Upon getting Amazement Machines started, he created over 15 standalone game concepts as well as an FEC which was essentially a unique theme park called Planet Wow. Two of those concepts reached a working prototype stage, Planet Goo and Imagidome. Let’s start with Planet Goo. This was a redemption game that uses green-colored silicone oil as your ammunition while you and two other players blast the monster targets around the area of the machine. While we’ve seen numerous machines using physical ‘ammo’ such as water jets, ping pong balls, or even airsoft bullets, this takes the cake for being unique:
(click on the images to engorge them to a full view)
Pics are nice but video is better, especially when it comes to a unique game like this:
For the other concept – Imagidome. When I first saw this I thought it was an odd variation of something like the Speed of Light, Catch the Light or Atomic Rush redemption games. With over six-hundred buttons inside of the 2.5m high dome housing, it seems a little overwhelming. But in looking into it further, it is deeper than that thanks to the use of different programmed games and voice-acting to tell a story. As such, Amazement bills this as an interactive theater. Here is how that worked: “Players interact with, and control the flow of, the stories by pressing differently shaped and coloured buttons. The machine also plays games with the buttons – in one scenario the players try to kill off a mutant virus that’s spreading around the dome from button to button. One game included the deck of a space ship where the silly crew had forgotten how to fly the ship and needed your help – this resulted in all manner of slapstick and mini-games. A second scenario saw you entering the dome to the sounds of a snoring monster, pressing the buttons wakes him up and you then engage with him including trying to find a frog for him to eat. One of the more interesting concepts for Imagidome was that school kids would be able to use an online tool to create stories and then play them in an Imagidome near their location. Every time you enter the ImagiDome, you’ll experience a different story or scenario, and each one is a slapstick ride through the the players’ imagination. It was never really conceived for an amusement location but rather for PlanetWow. We did think that we’d probably create ‘mini PlanetWow’ centre with a sub-set of the machines which operators could install in existing amusement spaces.”
When I asked him what drove the inspiration for these projects, he stated: ” The inspiration all came from a single trip with my daughter to the Science Museum in London – the interactive zone there is rammed with kids constantly, you can’t get near the interactive exhibits. I guess I also got some inspiration from a childhood at amusement arcades where every time one visited you saw something new and amazing. When was the last time you visited an arcade and saw something so amazing you had to tell your friends about it? Some credit must also go to Willy Wonker.”
So with that promise, what happened?
PlanetGoo tested really well – people loved it. Sega Europe took a license on PlanetGoo and then a series of unfortunate events meant the project got delayed and then it finally became apparent that they’d lost their nerve – the problem is their relationship with Japan – they can’t get anything adventurous approved. Sega cost me big in terms of time and money – that’s a big part of what sunk the project. – HF
This same kind of situation has occurred before with different manufacturers – one that comes to mind was the innovative Robo Restle that had reached a complete location ready stage with Namco before disappearing to never be heard of again.
Next up is the concept for the facility called Planet Wow, a theme-park of the future that Amazement Machines intended to create numerous products for:
Q) The Planet Wow concept, how far along did that get?
A) PlanetWow was the big concept. Unfortunately I got sidetracked by the amusement industry – I figured they needed some innovation and that selling some of the more modest machines would finance PlanetWow. I’ve learnt a lot about the amusement machine industry since – if I’d realized what I know now I’d have concentrated on PlanetWow…Both PlanetGoo and Imagidome were really conceived for the PlanetWow concept – but we retro fitted PlanetGoo with ticket redemption which seemed to work – it tested very well.
…PlanetWow was always going to need millions in investment but as I said I got sidetracked.
Here is a video showing what the concept was intended to become:
For discussion on the arcade sector as a whole, scroll back up and click on the next tab!
State of the Industry and Innovation
When I asked Mr. Fulljames about Planet Wow, he also included a blistering critique of the amusement industry as a whole. This from his perspective in trying to be a content creator in an industry which has a stronger focus on going with the flow instead of rocking the boat. I should point out that this is not the first time I have heard this kind of opinion stated about the arcade/amusement scene. It is usually done in an off-the-record way by those who also worked to bring something original to the industry but found the process distasteful. He stated:
…In my opinion the amusement industry is hard-wired into a death spiral. Falling sales means less appetite for risk and innovation and lack of innovation means the
industry is offering nothing to excite a public who are being fed innovation via phones, tablets and consoles. Not to innovate means death – taking no risks just means you might survive a year or two longer at best. I know I sound bitter (I am!) – but those guys have zero balls. Going to the amusement trade shows and then the casino trade shows tells you everything you need to know – the once great amusement industry is getting the last rights read to it. Seriously look back at all the product released at the last three Iaapa’s – you’d be hard pressed to name two or three products with any genuine innovation. The operators must take their share of the blame – they basically want a machine which costs $5000 which makes them $100,000 a year and requires zero maintenance – the problem is you can’t make anything exciting or new and sell it for the kind of money they expect to pay.
We don’t get honest statements like this very often to discuss and this changes the direction of our discussion here into an important question – Is the amusement industry in a death spiral? Will it inevitably evaporate into the ether or can it continue to do what it has been doing and be ok? Comment below, it would be interesting to see what you readers think.
There is a lot to that statement I can agree with. As a partial response in being fair to the debate (the ‘devil’s advocate’ role), lamenting over a lack of new ideas is in itself nothing new – there is the popular phrase from the ancient book of Ecclesiastes: “There is nothing new under the sun.” I have certainly bemoaned the lack of new ideas on AH before, particularly with pinball but also on the video side as I want to see those new ideas, both as a game player and an operator.
We are not the only sector in entertainment where this critique could apply – type in “lack of original movies” into a search engine and you’ll get enough content to waste an entire weekend with. The 7th installment of Star Wars became the top domestic earning movie in US history this week and if you’ve seen it (spoilers)then you know it had to rely heavily on winks, nods and references to the original trilogy to tell its story.
We can also apply that to music where people still make millions off of covers; TV where reality TV and crime shows are still a important to pad out nightly schedules; comic books where you would be hard-pressed to think of a brand-new superhero that has the same cultural impact as the classics like Superman, Batman or Spider-man; or home video games where many of the top sellers are sequels & remakes. Last year some of the top games were Fallout 4 and Call of Duty Black Ops 3 – the twelfth entry in the Call of Duty series. Fortunately there were some exceptions to the rule with titles like Nintendo’s Splatoon. Most attention is on mobile and there have been a lot of unique ideas to show up on that platform, with it soaking up much of the development interest out there. However there is a lot of schlock, clones and games so poorly designed available, that they weren’t even worth the free download. In the past, the sheer amount of “shovelware” was kept in check by the cost of putting your game on physical media like a cartridge. Now it is just up to companies that prefer padded numbers over quality. I am not denying that the arcade trade has a problem; it is an unfortunate issue that we share with the rest of the entertainment business.
To get more specific about our market there are these factors. From the perspective of the developer, they have to risk time and money (often substantial sums) on any project they bring to light in this industry. Even something as ‘routine’ as a new Jurassic Park light-gun game can cost $4 million. If you are talking about a completely original and unproven concept, it might take more if you want the quality to approach AAA grade. Often an aspect of the design will not work as intended or once it hits public testing, consumers find ways to break it that you never imagined. Re-design means more money and effort have to be spent to get it right. If the underlying concept is the issue, a complete re-write is incredibly difficult to do. A friend of mine once shared a quote that I will paraphrase here: ‘You are ready to begin writing after you’ve thrown out a million of your best words’. That painful editing process can feel like you’ve wasted your time when in reality it made you think deeper about the subject so that it can be perfected. Finding the balance between innovation, utility and cost is tricky and not everyone has the stomach to see those processes through (particularly if they did not originate the concept).
It also should be said that just because something is innovative, that does not mean that it is inherently good and fun to play.
That also leads us to testing and distribution. I have heard more than one story about distributors killing an innovative product – allegedly testing games in a poor venue to boost the chances of other, preferred products. This is also where licensing has taken hold, making it more difficult for a non-licensed concept to get some time in the spotlight.
Touching on his comment about operators, I can empathize with his side of that view. I have heard statements from people getting into the business or have been in it for a while who have wild and unrealistic expectations. Many want someone else to absorb all of the risk so that when they wake up the day after the grand opening, they have as much power and importance as Dave & Busters or Chuck E Cheeses with little work to be done apart from making those sweet deposits at the bank. Everyone in the food chain wants to minimize their costs and their risks, that is part of human nature. Thus to go against the grain of that mentality is not easy.
Not all operators carry such expectations; many want a reasonable ROI and not have to be down fixing a brand new game every weekend because it used cheap-quality parts that can’t withstand the punishment of a 3 year old. When the Star Wars Battle Pod came in in last year, the trigger to the joystick started having problems within a few weeks of the game being setup. A tiny replacement switch was almost $40, not covered by a warranty. I rigged it to make it work but still felt a little put off that this brand new $30,000 game would have such an issue when the basic technology of buttons and switches have existed since before Computer Space. Sure, things will break down at some point, that is something you have to accept if you get into this business. Most of the criticism I have heard about parts isn’t as much that the games break down, it is that the pricing on parts is obviously inflated to a a level that feels insulting ($800 for a $50 graphics card for example because it has a different BIOS). Of course, if a part is very expensive and it can’t operate for more than a couple of weeks then there is little logic in trying to sustain a money pit.
Most ops are not sitting on hills of Scrooge McDuck cash (especially if they are a start-up, which the industry needs to thrive in addition to fresh product). I don’t expect that the games I buy will do so well that it finances a Ferrari. What I do expect is to have the cost of the game covered in a reasonable time and to be able to take home something for myself once all is said and done(I’ll take the Ferrari earning game though, if I had to 😛 ). As a whole, the games need to generate enough together to cover all of the others costs of business. To be honest, a lot of other people have made much more money off of my arcade business than I have in eight years. Despite that, I have taken risks on various games – sometimes that works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, I do have a mix of games that does stop people of all ages in their tracks and instills some amazement into them. The problem is that if every purchase doesn’t work, the business runs out of money and has to close. If every single game ends up costing $30,000+ then that is unaffordable to most locations, shrinking the market of potential buyers. In my opinion, there is space for games in the $3000-$5000 range, just as there is space for $15,000 or $300,000 titles. Can a game be innovative at the $3000 price point though? It would be an interesting challenge but I don’t see why not. It might not be as exciting as the $300k game but not all innovations have to be enormous or expensive to be worthwhile.
So enough rambling, what do you think?
My sincere thanks to Hugh for sharing his ideas and his vision for the amusement industry with us. Hopefully these products will still find their way into mass distribution so that anyone can get a chance to give them a spin.