Strong Museum Of Play Receives Huge Atari Donation; Nolan Bushnell On Potential Future Of Out-Of-Home Gaming; Sega’s Tom Keil Passes Away

arcadehero April 23, 2014 4

A couple of semi-related stories here.

UPDATE: I had this in a draft but for some reason my browser ate it and posted an earlier draft. Sorry about that. Tom Keil who worked for various companies in the arcade industry including Atari Games and most recently Sega Amusements has passed away. Here is a link at Sega with more details. 

Next is a link shared by The Stinger Report, where Polygon.com has an article on a new Atari-centric acquisition by the Strong Museum of Play. The cache of papers and items such as floppy disks were donated by well-known collector Scott Evans, who was fortunate to be in the right place and time back when Midway shut the Atari Games division down back in 2003. He was able to save a lot of material, including source code, test reports, memos, etc. from the Golden Age days of Atari’s arcade operations until the end and has donated that to the Museum, which we have mentioned a few times here on AH.   Among the donation includes fascinating reports on how certain games tested on the market to source code and designs of unreleased games. The picture below was posted by the Museum that shows a design for an unreleased arcade title that might have been called Speeder Bike had it been released – the two designs borrowed from the speeder sequences seen in Star Wars VI: The Return of the Jedi. Perhaps that was an early version of the Return of the Jedi game that they ultimately released. Also in the cache was source code to Ed Logg’s unreleased Maze Invaders, the ROM of which is available for MAME per the video below.

speederbikeatari

For the other story is something sent my way by Adam Coate, where Gamasutra has reposted an old article from a 1997 copy of Game Developer Magazine (which is now defunct) where Nolan Bushnell shared his thoughts on the decline of the arcade industry from where it was in the Golden Age and how it could reach a status above where the good times had landed ($20 billion annually instead of $18b). Some of it applies today so let’s discuss.

Being written 17 years ago, it came from a time when society was just beginning to enjoy the benefits of online access and it pre-dates the smartphone craze but there are some things he mentions that still could apply to today’s industry. Sadly, it is only now beginning to dabble more with online features, Bushnell was suggesting that a system akin to Taito’s NESiCAxLIVE would be needed to provide fresh and varied content over the internet. It would allow for seasonal content which is what the movie industry uses to generate revenue. As we have discussed on AH before, such a system coupled with exclusive releases creates a draw for consumer dollars but it is not the single magic bullet needed to build things up. Either way it seems that no one is interested in bringing such a system to North America anytime soon,  the impression is that the risk outweighs the reward.

Bushnell mentions something interesting: “Rather than developing games only for young males, we must reach out to many different audiences.” He suggests targeting businesspeople and patrons of bars or coffee shops but I think it also should apply to women as well. I’m surprised he doesn’t mention that, given his own stories about games like Pong bringing people together. This comment was probably a swipe at 1-on-1 fighting games which were beginning to wear out due to idea overcloning. Those games in particular interest the guys much more than they interest the ladies; but the same could be said of light-gun games. When I hosted a few big fighter tournaments at my arcade, various girlfriends of the tournament players sat around looking at their smartphones instead of participating; that is where I knew I needed to get more games that appealed to that demographic so I adjusted accordingly. In terms of new games, there isn’t a whole lot to choose from that fits the appeal, so you have to go with older stuff. But the catch and risk there is that when something is old, it isn’t cool anymore to a younger crowd so they aren’t really interested in a 30 year game their parents probably enjoyed. I operate a number of classic games but they are primarily played by adults over 30, not by teenagers. 

Back in the Golden Age days, there were a lot of games which appealed to both sexes and covered a variety of tastes, which is something that Nolan was advocating and something I agree with as I have tried to offer a variety of games in my venue. Games like Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, Frogger, Donkey Kong had a very broad appeal but again, at this point those IPs are old and will not make a ton of money for a location, unless it is a reboot with a twist, like Pac-Man Battle Royale. I am reminded by famous game maker Jeff Minter’s lamentation over how his Xbox 360 game Space Giraffe was thrashed in sales by a Frogger reboot. Sure SG was a technically advanced game but it was narrowly appealing. The Tempest concept that SG was based on was always a little abstract which harms audience appeal, whereas Frogger didn’t have that issue going against it from the get-go.  Konami could probably make a killing off of a new Frogger arcade game but that probably isn’t happening anytime soon. Either way, it is still a challenge to offer variety in your location when you are looking at newer content. That is a point I think I have raised previously – if you visit a distributor website that specializes in just new product, imagine putting together a list of games from what they offer that spans a wide area of tastes. I think people would be surprised at how narrow a lot of the video-only selection still is. That is also why I tend to rail against just having 3 types of games in video (light-gun, racing, rhythm). They have their place but there are other concepts that could work and reach a broader appeal. Funny enough, pinball seems to be something that grabs a lot of appeal from all sides and ages. It only seems to limit itself by the license/theme. 

Moving on, it is also interesting how Bushnell made a point of high earning bartop games like Megatouch, which recently announced that they were getting out of the business. At the time of the article, he used Megatouch as a counterpoint to how the rules the industry was basing their assumptions on were wrong since those bartops could outearn popular titles like Mortal Kombat. Things have evolved since and bartops don’t have that power in most places thanks in good part to competition from smart/tabletphones.  Megatouch didn’t adapt fast enough and provide enough of a reason to play one over the phone game. Megatouch needed not just exclusive but good content that didn’t feel like a web Flash game in terms of quality. And speaking of mobile games, we now have various companies converting those games into big arcade titles. This market creates a different dynamic that game makers are still adapting to. But while you have one side constantly proclaiming that it is The Only Future, I think it’s in the process of creating a big bubble. It reminds me in part of the promises of VR – in that instance the hype was that it would transport you into the virtual world but the hardware wasn’t up to the task. The promise of mobile is that it is an every-game platform that can handle any type of title and thus fit the needs of everyone but that is not the case, as companies like Capcom are finding out. It’s not an invincible market although it will certainly be there for a long time to come. Much like arcades are still around as are the games. But arcade game design only is a hit when done the right way. It’s the same thing for mobile, hence the loads of shovelware you can find on any smartphone marketplace.

He closes with “The customers are there. There’s no shortage of talent to develop entertainment for them. But we’ve got to challenge ourselves to invent new rules and jump-start this next wave of location-based entertainment.” That still applies today. I was visiting a mixer the other week put on by a new Betson location that opened up in my neck-of-the-woods and I spoke with a sales guy that could hardly believe that I run a profitable video-only arcade. It’s something I wish everyone that proclaims “arcades are dead” could see, just seeing how busy things can get on a weekend here. If there was zero appeal in the idea then that shouldn’t happen.

Well enough of my ranting, what are your thoughts?

 


4 Comments »

  1. Arcades4ever April 23, 2014 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    Companies are not only relying too much on games they know work but I just feel somehow they are appealing more to casual gamers a bit too much in terms of the products they have for sell. there is too many racers and light gun games and not even enough to make them stand out on their own

    For example look at namco. They have the wmmt series which is really popular worldwide but yet they don’t release anymore after the 3rd in the series.
    Then there’s dead heat which is basically the same but more simplified for the casual gamer. Not to mention the fact that they removed the AI pin feature in the newer models making it very basic racer.

    Then you have games like namco’s Mach storm which even though is really cool with the dome screen the game is still basically catered again to the casual gamer as you don’t have full control over where you move your plane towards where you want as it’s basically an on rails shooter but controlling speed and the front cockpit view of where you shoot in front of you.

    Then you have dark escape which is really cool but too hard and near impossible to continue with at least having 5 credits not including what you’ve put in. But I felt it was focusing on thrills rather than gameplay when I think about it and the same for sega’s dream raiders, it’s too easy and the game finishes too soon and you don’t get to play other world unless you start the game again.

    It’s all about getting that balance right both pleasing casual and hardcore players. Just look at the DDR series anyone likes that and pacman like you said before. I find that by playing old arcade games that manufacture will have fun and remember what it makes to create a simple but challenging appealing game. Rawthrills is a good example because their games look cool on appearance but get harder as you play more which the point in that you get better at it but it needs to be fun and worth while playing it until the end.

    As for the mega touch I’m really surprise they didn’t take advantage of the market while there were no tablet computers out at the time and I believe arcade games should be in the same league as other gaming systems and other devices by having online features and smartphone integration such as Facebook and scan codes like rawthrills snow cross etc

    • arcadehero April 23, 2014 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      I think Megatouch took the market for granted, didn’t anticipate the market changing so quickly and were left in the dust. Their last platform was the ML-1, which had online play and user accounts, much like Xbox Live. But that was 2013. Had the ML-1 came out in 2003, perhaps things would have been different. I’m amazed JVL is still up and running. They made a competing platform but it has little in the way of online features and they haven’t released any new software for them since 2011. You have to react much faster than that to stay afloat.

      Arcades of course have been able to wing it since they have more of an experience to offer than a bartop touchscreen game thanks to the controls. But likewise its a shame that it’s 2014 and most games have zero online features. The QR stuff is ok but the UI is rudimentary and it’s hard to track down where your scores are if you are just a casual player since those are buried online. I also doubt that many people even bother to use them. Manufacturer sites would do well to add “HIGH SCORES” sections to the front pages of their websites and connect that to the QR stuff and maybe some promo videos on Youtube explaining the system a little better. Just get it out in the the ether on some level that is beyond the explanation on the machine.

    • Halfmachine April 24, 2014 at 5:33 am - Reply

      “Companies are not only relying too much on games they know work but I just feel somehow they are appealing more to casual gamers a bit too much in terms of the products they have for sell.”

      I agree, and blame this on a few factors:
      (1) For manufacturers you want as little risk as possible when rolling the dice, meaning that you’re going to be averse to trying new and different things.
      (2) For better or worse I think that game players/customers are a different breed nowadays and don’t handle “losing/failure” like those in the past. This is a reflection of society at large.
      (3) Related to above is the competition/alternative to arcades, with smartphones/tablets/home consoles etc – anyone has easy access to more games than you can play in a lifetime. So what does arcade do? Make it as easy as possible to win! There are many “modern” games where the gameplay is simplified to a point that you almost have to try to lose!
      (4) Casual players make up the majority of customers.

      “Then there’s dead heat which is basically the same but more simplified for the casual gamer. Not to mention the fact that they removed the AI pin feature in the newer models making it very basic racer.”

      I personally find DH’s gameplay is awful – all it does is keep all players “neck and neck” until near the end. But players seem to like it! Didn’t know about the removed feature though – so there is no keypad on new units?

      My problem with DH is Namco’s stupid design for the control panel/steering assembly – to get access to the steering components I have to disassemble the entire front panel of the game! Who thought that was a good idea, especially since nearly every other driving game has hinged flip-down panel for easy access?

      • Arcades4ever April 24, 2014 at 12:06 pm - Reply

        I liked dead heat at first due to having a pin save. I used to have 2 or more profiles and race against myself which was pretty funny and challenging to and to add insult to injury what I hate the most is that even if you win the race and come first you still have to pay to continue which pisses me off.
        If you think that’s bad now they removed the pin it’s even worse game length wise. The courses have been reduce in distance meaning your race time is less and you start the race further up the track which I think is really cheeky and bad what namco have done with this version. Dead heat riders is also the same so I don’t go on them anymore.

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