8-Player Arcade Gaming – A History

arcadehero May 18, 2017 7

With the upcoming release of Sega’s Daytona Championship USA and the news of an 8-unit location test, it gave me an idea that should have been covered before for those slow news days…

The 8-player arcade setup

Some modern arcade racing titles offer this as a part of their feature set but it is not very common to find a location that decides to go all out on it. This requires quite a bit of space as well as an investment that lands somewhere around the $70,000-$80,000 price range given current prices. But if you do come across one and a group of players to fill it out, the only other experience out there quite like it would be a LAN party.

Seeing games setup in such a manner is also quite impressive – something that becomes an attraction piece by itself. I rarely have found such setups locally but large FECs or theme parks often have them as a showcase piece.

So let’s take a tour down memory lane to look at those few games in the business that have offered up to eight players, pleasing crowds in arcades everywhere.

Note: Finding games under this classification is no easy task since most used networking to achieve the effect. Many arcade archive resources do not list the number of total players or they are incorrect so one has to look at each flyer to figure it out. Even then it is not a sure-fire way to discover the information. I’ve been finding out often as of late that many marketing people of the past failed at their jobs – tell me what the machine can do and make it look nice. That’s all they needed to do. Instead, it was focused on making it look nice instead of selling you on the product with features. It shouldn’t be that hard but apparently it was/is in many instances. /rant

Where I’ve looked through hundreds of game profiles and flyers and it’s probable that I missed something from a smaller company out there but this should cover the big ones. If I have missed any, please let me know in the comments.

Atari

The gaming pioneer is generally known for games like Pong, Breakout and Asteroids but among the many firsts they created, 8-player local gaming is one of them. This started with Indy 800 in 1975, using a behemoth of a cabinet that featured a steering wheel and set of foot pedals for each player (2 per side). It used a color monitor so that each racer could distinguish their car from the others; the design also featured angled mirrors so that bystanders could check out the action. The game took up 16 sq. ft. of floor space and sold for $6495 MSRP. Where most games of the time cost $600-$1300, it was a bold move but if you found one it was awesome.

Atari Indy 800 game flyer

Atari would follow-up with the design the following year in Tank 8, one of the few non-racing 8-player titles out there and again in 1977 with Sprint 8. This one would feature a clutch for each user and it also introduced AI racers to fill in empty slots so that even a single player could enjoy the action.

After that, I’m not aware of anyone producing an octo-player machine as Golden Age gaming would focus on single player experiences or in taking turns between 1-2 players.

That would change forever in 1987 when Namco and Atari Games joined forces to produce Final Lap. Set in the Pole Position ‘universe’, it was a Formula-1 racing game with great graphics for the time. Sold in Twin models, operators could purchase four twins and connect them for 8-player mayhem. Final Lap sequels (Final Lap 2,3 and R) would retain this feature although Namco would sell them on their own. Atari & Namco would also go on to do the same thing with the Namco created ATV racer Four Trax (1989), which was among the few games of the time to feature swivel seat controllers.

Final Lap has shown up a few times on the ABC TV comedy ‘The Goldbergs’

I am aware of developments that aimed to link cabinets together prior to Final Lap (such as Atari’s Tomcat in 1983 or Midway’s Predators in 1986) but since they never were released, they don’t get the glory 😉

After this, Atari wouldn’t focus much on 8-player gaming but there were exceptions. 1992 saw the release of their first-person space combat game Space Lords. It features a two 25″ screen cabinet and two player controls per screen allowing four users to get in on the action; you could link two of these together to reach the 8. 1996 would see the launch of Atari’s last great racing series, San Francisco Rush Extreme Racing. This and the sequels (Alcatraz Edition and 2049) supported such group play when linked. I only came across a quad-set of 2049s back-in-the-day but I’m sure there was a location or two out there which invested in the full set. The only other game I found that carried the Atari name along with this feature is Road Burners, released in 1999.

Namco

Since Namco were the ones to develop and release the 8-linked cabinet concept, let’s see what else they got into. We already mentioned Final Lap and Four Trax so no need to rehash those.

Surprisingly, while Namco kickstarted the whole networking effort, they did not stay on the bandwagon with very many games. This is one area where I could be missing some titles but all I came across after Four Trax is Suzuka 8 Hours, the first title being released in 1992 and the sequel the year afterwards; one of their their ‘answers’ to Virtua Racer in Ace Driver (1994); then that same year was Ridge Racer 2 (the first one apparently did not support such linking) and finally Rave Racer in 1995. Their modern racing games such as the Mario Kart series, Dead Heat & Nirin only went as high as four linked.

One exception has been their Mobile Suit Gundam (2007) series, which pioneered Namco’s use of dome screen projection technology. With 4v4 battles, this certainly stands out among the pack as it isn’t a racer and also showcased some high-tech prowess.

Mobile Suit Gundam 8-palyer

Sega

Sega was a very busy company in the latter half of the 80s but while Namco and Atari launched titles with said feature, Sega took their time until the right concepts and tech came along. When they started however, they went all the way, launching numerous titles one after the other that operators could run in such a large configuration. As you will notice, Sega has long held a fascination for offering games in such a configuration although they do tend to keep that focus almost exclusively on racing titles.

Sega’s first 8-player concepts came about through “Medium Scale Attractions” like the Sega Super Circuit (1988) or the Cyber Dome (1992) light-gun theater game. This page at Sytem16.com shows how many of Sega’s early 90s attractions focused on creating events for up to 8 players but we’ll try and keep the focus more on arcade machines. The Sega Super Circuit also did use arcade cabinets for each player, it just had that massive race track that the RC cars were riding on…

 

Apart from those attractions, Sega would really jump into the ‘eight’ idea on an arcade level with their marquee title Virtua Racing in 1992. Launching the entire series of ‘Virtua’ titles, Virtua Racing also set the standard for 3D gaming at the time. Sure the polygons were flat-shaded instead of textured but they screamed along at 60 FPS. With excellent track design and handling, others in the game business hoped to match what VR achieved but often fell short. Also in 1992 we saw Sega release Virtua Formula, Stadium Cross (for some dirt bike fun), F1 Super Lap (raster graphics instead of polys) and Out Runners. The latter title being a part of the popular OutRun series and the first among the pack to offer multiplayer.

In 1994 we reach what is perhaps the most recognizable 8-link capable game of them all. When I asked about your favorite 8-player racing game on our social media, Daytona USA dominated. This is for good reason – I’ve heard stories of locations where players would organize their own tournaments – operators noticed and made it more official. Then of course you had locations grabbing 8 units with the Tournament setup (which used an additional screen on top of each game) and featured an attendant station. The odd attempt to revive Daytona USA without the name in Sega Racing Classic supported it of course. The official sequel, Daytona USA 2 (1998), could also support 8 linked units but they upped the ante by offering a maximum of 16; the pseudo-sequel in Scud Race / Super GT (1996) likewise supported 8. Sega of today is hoping to re-capture that same spirit with Daytona Championship USA, which has the Party Mode and display marquee built into each game.

Daytona Championship USA at Dave & Busters

Sega would have a difficult time recapturing that same “lighting in a bottle” that Daytona seemed to have about it with subsequent racing titles but that didn’t stop many games from allowing the feature. In 1995 we had Indy 500 (of which a deluxe 8-player version graced the Gameworks in Las Vegas for many years); Cool Riders and Manx TT; 1996 enjoyed the releases of Boat Race and Sega Touring Car Championship amidst the aforementioned release of Scud Race. After that, they did seem to pull back from the quantity of games that offered the feature, the end of the millennium and the beginning of a new one getting F355 Challenge (1999), Club Kart (2000) and NASCAR Arcade (2000).

For all of these racers, one might figure that it was the only game style that Sega could do with the idea but it wasn’t. In 2000, they launched Alienfront Online. This also promised to support cross-platform play with the Dreamcast although I’m not sure if that ever really , would also support it. I’ve had a hard enough time finding an AFO that I would be surprised if anyone did go for a full set of 8.

In 2001 Sega would introduce Derby Owners Club. While this was a racing game in a sense, it wasn’t quite like their vehicular titles of the past. Players used data cards to build up their horses then race them on the track. This spawned some sequels and proved to be rather popular, a similar design was used the following year but for soccer in Sega’s World Club Champion Football (which also spawned some sequels).

Also in unique setups, Sega would release an 8-player version of Pengo to Japanese arcades in 2008…too bad it never made it over here.

After that, Sega would not really dabble with the idea like they did in the 90s but there have been exceptions. There was OutRun 2 SP SDX (2004), which introduced an interesting driver-switching system that was also used four years later in Hummer Deluxe. Their console-to-arcade port of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Arcade (2011) supported it and so has the Wahlap-developed Storm Racer G. I believe that the most recent versions of Initial D support it but am not 100% sure when that began.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Arcade by Sega

Either way, they might not have been the first to bring such an idea to market but Sega certainly has been a driving force behind it for more than 20 years.

Raw Thrills

While the 8-player feature has not always been heavily promoted by the company, American developer Raw Thrills has put the feature into several of their games. It started with The Fast And The Furious Super Bikes in 2006, followed by other titles in the FnF series (Tokyo Drift and Super Cars). Apart from FnF games, titles like H2Overdrive (2009); Dirty Drivin (2011); Winter X Games Snocross (2012); and Moto GP (2015); have all supported it, as does the brand new Cruis’n Blast.

I don’t recall seeing any of these games setup in such a configuration at a trade show but I have come across photos of locations with that many units together. H2Overdrive is one that comes to mind although I cannot find the picture at the moment.

Other

Other companies that have released a game or two that can operate in such a configuration includes Taito with Chase Bombers (1994); Konami with Racing Force (1994) and Motor X (2009); and Global VR with both of their EA Sports NASCAR releases (2007 & 2010).  Surprisingly, companies with big names like Midway/Williams or Exidy did not produce any, as far as I can find.

UPDATE: Thanks to a commentor, I missed the one Capcom game to offer such a feature, Super Street Fighter II: Tournament Edition. This is the first and only fighting game that allows multiple linked cabinets (beyond the typical two for “Versus” style play) to combine for an 8-player single elimination bracket tournament.

We could throw out some honorable mentions, such as interactive motion theaters like the XD Dark Ride, the Simuline Valkyrie or UNIS’ Galactic Force. Where they are somewhere around $300k+, you don’t come across them very often but they are tailored towards eight people.

Extending the ‘honors’, the new Killer Queen Arcade, which supports up to 10 people at once.  That of course means that 8-play is possible. There are some select games out there that support eight people taking turns like Golden Tee but not all versions of that game feature that and this is one of those things that their website and sales brochures don’t bother to detail for some reason. Then, there are some games which get close with six players, such as X-Men Deluxe and The Grid.

For you, have you played an arcade game in this configuration with that many people? Which game is your favorite when setup this way?


7 Comments »

  1. Azrial May 18, 2017 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    I had thought that maybe Midway’s Hyperdrive was an “up to 8” player game, but upon further research, it looks like it only links 4. Virtua Racing is probably my favorite linkable arcade game.

    • arcadehero May 20, 2017 at 5:56 pm - Reply

      I really thought that Midway had a game or two in the category but turns out they don’t!

  2. FMecha May 19, 2017 at 12:11 am - Reply

    I think you forgot about Super Street Fighter II: The Tournament Battle.

    • arcadehero May 20, 2017 at 6:01 pm - Reply

      Thanks! That one could count…

  3. tthurman May 19, 2017 at 6:50 am - Reply

    I remember Sprint 8 from the Space Needle in Gatlinburg, TN and I recall seeing Final Lap, the rest of those however must have been after my fascination with the arcade had waned. Mobile Suit Gundam looks cool, certainly appears the Battle Pod borrowed quite a lot from this design.

    • arcadehero May 20, 2017 at 5:58 pm - Reply

      Battle Pod is certainly along the evolution of the cabinet.

      ORBS (Prototype for Starblade 2 & Starfox) > Mobile Suit Gundam > Mach Storm > Star Wars Battle Pod > Real Drive

  4. neil brimelow May 20, 2017 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    That’s crazy that Indy 800 cost nearly $25,000 in adjusted inflated dollar back when it came out! We had one at our local Alladin’s Castle and it was awesome!

Leave A Response »