A Lesson In Arcade Game Design

arcadehero December 23, 2011 4

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Arcade games have always in a class of their own in how they present themselves and how they are played. There are certain things that work best in video games found in an arcade environment while on the flipside there are certain elements of home games that work better when time is not so much of an issue.

This article on Gamasutra by Xavi Fradera, who formerly worked for arcade developer Gaelco, dives into game design and how increasingly popular “Free To Play” PC games can learn a thing or two from real arcade games. In the process he covers elements that still apply to games being made in the arcade world, as the requirement still happens to be giving players enough bang for their buck, presented in such a way that they will want to keep playing over and over again. If any part of the presentation in an arcade game isn’t properly polished, it can mean disaster as the customer may be turned off from inserting that next coin. It’s a battle that requires game designers to find that balance between challenge and reward, innovation and proven methods. It isn’t an easy one to fight but when it is found you generally have a game worth playing. Xavi also makes some points about what you find in arcade titles, from the player perspective – they are cheap, impulsive and satisfying. I would add that the arcade experience allows you to more easily have a vicarious entertainment experience since you are often presented with a realistic physical item to control what happens, like a gun or driving wheel.

As a matter of discussion, which arcade games do you think feature both the best and worst design features and why? Comment!


  1. bacon December 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    in the case of rhythm games this has always been a huge problem because interfaces are normally more complex than what most general players are used to seeing with other games. in has taken a while for many rhythm game interfaces to really get to the point of being idiot proof. in Pump it Up Fiesta you have an interface that locks you into a song list that is more suited towards beginner players and the same can be said for DDR X. that was the main problem with the interface but there has also been a long standing learning curve when learning rhythm game controls like a dance pad. a lot of interfaces try to give a tutorial mode before you can start actual gameplay but most new players don’t have the patients. I think older DDR versions had it right by placing a character behind the notes for you to mimic their actions. more games need to just dump players into the game and give on screen ques rather than having them sit through a tutorial.

    • arcadehero December 23, 2011 at 6:04 pm - Reply

      I have read about that in Game Developer Magazine – different ideas for tutorials. In the case of arcade games, the traditional model doesn’t work because you have to trudge through it every time and it’s not giving you a taste of the action. But something that can show the player what to do in real time is one way to do so, giving them on-screen cues on the first easy level. I’ve noticed that it often doesn’t matter what text is located on the cabinet as people will ignore that in general.

      • editor December 24, 2011 at 6:58 am - Reply

        As Xavi stated in his article the application of incentive to player is essential. There is however an issue that certain amusement machines use unfair play models to drill money (credits) out of the players.

        The big issue for the future of public-space entertainment is how we change the payment model to suit the sectors needs.

  2. Arcades4ever January 15, 2012 at 8:57 am - Reply

    One of the things I don’t agree with in driving games is that games like e.g. Sega’s R tuned street racing game, in order to play the next race track you have to pay to continue which is fine to some degree BUT paying to continue even though you came first? I don’t think that’s fair at all because if you come first then you should be givin some sort of reward for your hard work.

    Here’s another example, in mario kart arcade GP you only get to have one race and when you select the track there are more to follow which you can play but need to be unlocked and the only way to unlocked them is to continue after you either win or loose the race and then put another coin in.

    In sega’s sonic and all star races however (it’s a good mariokart clone but not mariokart but it’s second best) you get to race on 3 tracks which I think is alot more reasonable than mariokart arcade gp even if it is a bit easy and not as smooth with the 30 frame per sec unlike mariokart which runs smooth at 60 frames per sec.

    Even if sega sonic all star racers is a port of a console release ai think it was quite reasonable compared to many racers and I think manufacturers should learn from this game

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