There’s no rest for the weary as the saying goes, and for me, that is certainly going to be the case for the next week. I had the great opportunity to spend the past five days in Orlando, FL attending the IAAPA 2018 trade show, so now it’s time to bring everyone up to speed on what was there and what the landscape of arcades will be like come 2019.
I may do a Vlog about this – if I can find the time. But with over 100GB of video shot at the show, and business at the arcade ramping up as I also look into expanding into my first route location, I’ve got my work cut out for me going into the “holiday season.”
The Personal Side of IAAPA
Before we get to the news though, I wanted to thank everyone who was gracious with their time. Catching up with many of you and meeting many readers is another happy perk of the “job” (I have never thought of this blog as such, so I say that facetiously). In fact, I met many more people who are readers at this event than at any other IAAPA previous. Once again, I’m honored to have you as my readers – I really appreciate the support.
Among the other personal interactions, I was invited to play The Beatles with Roger Sharpe. He noticed me watching him play and invited me to take on Player 2. I always enjoy watching pro level players play, but it was great to play a game with him offering encouragement and advice (as I am in no way a top level player 😛 ).
— Arcade Heroes @ IAAPA 2018 (@arcadeheroes) November 15, 2018
Also on Thursday, I had the change to catch the SpaceX rocket launch. My brother was with me for a few days and he’s a big SpaceX geek; he had wanted to drive out to the areas of the launch where you can feel the rumble, but the launch was pushed back from Wed. to Thurs., mere minutes before he had to catch a drive to get his flight. I’d never seen a launch before, so was hoping to catch something as well, which we did. We weren’t only fortunate in that; it was raining and cloudy in Orlando most of that day, but right at the launch, there was a break in the clouds exactly over that area. So while we couldn’t see the launch site, I caught the flames of the rocket and from our vantage point atop a balcony on one of the east facing hotels, got to witness the ascent for the last half of the vehicle until it disappeared into space.
Took a quick break from #IAE18 to find a high spot in Orlando for the #SpaceX launch. Got lucky with a break in the clouds – couldn't see the launch area, but did get to watch some of the ascent. pic.twitter.com/FtxKsxtXMV
— Arcade Heroes @ IAAPA 2018 (@arcadeheroes) November 15, 2018
My thanks to each of the site advertisers, they were all there with their own booths, and while no one paid for special IAAPA attention beyond their ads, I still just want to point out that you should give their sites/products/services some love, since they are helping me cover bills to the site here. 😉
Ok, that all out of the way, onto IAAPA news! NOTE: This post is only covering a small part of what was there – there is much more to do and talk about, so stay tuned for more. All videos below are also available in glorious 4K UHD 😉
The Big Surprise – Taito
While I normally list things out alphabetically, I’ll break the “tradition” to talk about Taito for a moment. This year’s IAAPA was so popular with vendors, that the organization had to setup giant tent spaces in part of the parking lot. This was found right next to the “Outdoor Area,” which houses rope courses, ziplines, rides and other things that might be too big for inside the convention center.
Among the vendors in the tents came the most unexpected discovery of the show – finding Taito. I had no idea that they’d be there; they’ve been somewhat quiet on the Japanese market over the past few years so I wasn’t expecting them here. Granted, IAAPA is an international show, but the company had never attended IAAPA even back when they were big in the US. In talking with the rep, they also revealed that they are actively looking to bring their name back to the Western market (both North America and Europe).
Whether they can with their current game line-up is a big question – the company brought their somewhat obscure train simulator Densha De Go!!!, a pair of linked Vewlix cabs running Ultra Street Fighter IV and was also representing two VR experiences from another company – a soccer goal kicker and an Attack on Titan simulator. It’s hard to say what they have in their current line-up that might appeal to FECs and arcades here at the moment, but I imagine they have things in the works which might be easier to adapt. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on what goes on here.
— Arcade Heroes @ IAAPA 2018 (@arcadeheroes) November 14, 2018
The Beatles (Stern Pinball)
In starting with the “B’s,” Stern Pinball brought along their latest music band game by showcasing two Gold Edition models at the front of their booth, while Iron Maiden, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars and Deadpool occupied the back:
My expectations on this game weren’t terribly high going into it – I just expected something like Whoa Nellie!, where you had to be more of a classic pinball fan to get a kick out of it. But, I liked it, it’s a fun game. I’m sure the catchy tunes help with the general “energy” of the game, elevating it above the Seawitch title that it is based on. Speaking of such tunes, just hearing “A Hard Day’s Night” a few times while playing, got that song stuck in my head for a few days (mentioning it now has done so again, argh).
While I see people on the YouTube video complaining about the screen animations, I didn’t mind them. They were better animated and more vibrant than games like Aerosmith, so I have a feeling that complaints about the display has more to do with personal dislikes of the move to HD from monochromatic dot matrix. No, you don’t really focus on the screen when you play, but it does make watching the game while you stand by more entertaining. Just my two cents.
All that said, I will be surprised if many of these end up on location – most will end up in collections or in storage New-In-Box. I certainly would hesitate to put a title like this on location, but perhaps other operators out there feel differently.
Fantasy Soccer (UNIS)
Finding a non-licensed, original title at the arcade these days isn’t quite as rare among video titles as it is among pinball, but it isn’t as common as it used to be either. That combined with a worldwide love of soccer, my interest was piqued over news of UNIS jumping into the fray with Fantasy Soccer.
In asking a few of you out there about this, reactions were mixed – some liked it, some didn’t. IAAPA caters to an international crowd where there were very passionate soccer fans among potential players – a good testing ground for reactions I would imagine.
I found it fun and smoother to play than expected, based upon that initial teaser video showed. It is a little awkward to remember that kicks/passes aren’t handled by a button press though, I can see some people being tripped up by that as it took some getting used to. But once down, I fared pretty well in my first match. I also noticed that the balls at your foot appeared to be authentic soccer balls. I’m not sure how they attach to the unit, but they seemed sturdy and after a few days of getting played, I didn’t see any damage or failures on that component. The game also comes with a camera, a 2nd marquee for “live” commentary, and for some reason, no Team USA (unless I overlooked it, but couldn’t find it). Perhaps that will be added in a software update, if missing. Granted, the US isn’t exactly known for it’s prowess in the sport…
Fantasy Soccer is fun, better than I expected.
Or maybe I'm just saying that because I wrecked it playing as Brazil :p pic.twitter.com/sG5frhQ5gA
— Arcade Heroes @ IAAPA 2018 (@arcadeheroes) November 12, 2018
The ability to link units for 4v4 play opens the door for some fantastic tournaments; the only hindrance I find with it is the unit price. It’s a bit higher than I expected for a joystick game (above $10k), so I’d love to see some location test earnings on it to see how it fares over a couple of months. Given the demographics of my customer base, I think it would do rather well; our coin-op foosball table was in the Top 10 earners last year, and when we had The Ultimate 11 working in our Neo Geo MVS cabinet, it also got played a lot. Given that, even a standard version without the soccer ball controllers or the second marquee would still do well.
Halo: Fireteam Raven 2-player (Play Mechanix/Raw Thrills)
While not as famous as the crash of ’83, the arcade industry experienced a downturn during the 2001-2004 era that coincided with the release of game consoles like the Playsation 2, Gamecube and XBOX. I had an Xbox myself, spending a bit of time on various titles for the platform, lapping up Halo just like everyone else. Playing the game in a LAN configuration was normal at my house with friends.
When Halo: Fireteam Raven was announced earlier this year, it hit on those nostalgic heart-strings, particularly with the Super Deluxe model which was designed to replicate some of the feel of playing 4-player split-screen with friends. But not everyone has the space – or can afford – such massive games that were built with FECs in mind. Thus, the 2-player model of the game was announced and made it’s first appearance at this IAE show.
Fortunately, Raw Thrills/Betson brought both models along, with a single 4-player cab on one side of the booth, two 2-players on the opposite. Both games sport a 4K display and custom made, mounted cannons with LED effects built into them. The controls are straight forward – triggers fire, thumb buttons fire grenades and there’s a reload button. The reload button is something that took a tiny amount of getting used to for me, as reloading has become rare in gun games of this style (The Walking Dead, also by Play Mechanix, is one exception that comes to mind).
Speaking of TWD, if I were to compare HFR to any other arcade titles, I’d use TWD and Aliens Armageddon as a yardstick, while maintaining most of the elements one expects out of a Halo game. There was a distinct difference in how enemy patterns were handled however. To compare: Terminator Salvation had large groups of enemies that stood around shooting at you; Aliens had groups running straight at you; TWD also had groups to deal with needing to take them out with headshots. In Halo, the action is more focused – there are groups, but each player generally has a single or pair of enemies that they need to deal with in a procession.
This is more obvious in the 4-player version, where as an example, you’ll have sequences of attacking banshees – they attack four at a time, one for each player. You can destroy the immediate threat on your end, then go steal-the-kill (err…”help”) of one of your friends. The 2-player version does still maintain this to a degree, but was modified to not overwhelm. That is also a key in how Halo differs – most 4-player shooting games just throw all enemies at everyone, which tends to create a bit of chaos with everyone trying to decide which targets are the biggest threats to shoot at the same time. It’s easy to get lost when you have four reticles on the screen, but Halo’s game design has essentially eliminated this problem by keeping the presented enemies focused on each player area. I think this increases playability as some occasional chaos can be ok, but too much of it or on-all-the-time isn’t fun.
As mentioned in the video, I do miss any melee experiences (I forgot when I recorded the video that TWD does have a few instances of melee); also after thinking about it, I’m surprised they didn’t really include any sniper sequences, but instead there was one time where you use the pistol and it didn’t feel terribly effective for the enemies you were fighting.
One type of weapon and sequence that was plentiful, was the turret with infinite ammo. The number and length of these sequences was unexpected, meaning you didn’t have to reload for those times.
There are also some subtle differences between how the 2 versions play that goes beyond the reformatted screen. The 2-player version as seen above reintroduces circle blast targets/bullet time that is found is pretty much every co-op arcade shooter, while those sequences were missing in the 4-player software. I also will have to confirm this with someone at RT as when I played the 4-player there was always someone else playing; in the 2-player model, I initially played it solo and found that the second player has AI that shoots at enemies if not being controlled by a person. That was an interesting element I don’t recall seeing in an arcade shooter before.
While the 4-player is quite an experience, I have to give the edge to the 2-player model for a location like mine. I kind of liked it better, which might be counter-intuitive. Don’t get me wrong, the panorama of the 4-player is one of those thing you have to see in person & play. I didn’t hear a price on the new model, other than several times hearing that it’s the same/around Jurassic Park (2015).
House of the Dead Scarlet Dawn (Sega)
Last but certainly not least is another game that has been enjoying a lot of attention throughout the year. The Scarlet Dawn cabinet is just as striking in person as you’d expect, with great detail on the back. I just imagine that it’s better to see in a darker environment than at a bright trade show.
As for the game itself, I came away very impressed – I dare to say that this is the best game in the series. I know that sets up a lofty expectation, but it took everything that House of the Dead 4 did right and made it better. The situation is contained to some kind of mansion, as opposed to traversing a city like in 4, which I think works out fine.
Your primary weapon is a machine gun, but at the start of every level you can choose from a selection of support weapons. I didn’t get the chance to try them all, but some like the incendiary gun were fun to shoot (too bad they don’t have a higher ammo count). Grenades are also very effective – in some arcade gun games, the grenades only seem useful for taking out a single tough opponent(or accidentally eliminating a single fodder opponent), but here they have useful crowd clearing ability. Reloading is a breeze – you don’t have to shake the gun, just point it down really quick. One oddity with the gun is that there are two extra buttons which perform the same function – the action trigger on the front handle and the switch on the side. Not sure why the redundancy, but apart from that, the gun sports a comfortable design and it doesn’t feel like you’re holding a toy.
While this isn’t a 4k game, the art direction and Unreal Engine 4 running at 1080p60FPS provides for a fantastic, modern-looking game that stands out. The lighting goes a long way in setting the mood of exploring a creepy venue. While an opinion on graphics is within the eye of the beholder, this may be the best looking video game on the market at the moment, competing with Halo: Fireteam Raven for that temporary glory.
The voice acting is of the”so bad it’s good” type, although I would have to say there are a few more head scratchers here than I recall from previous HOTD games. It’s like they gave the voice actors the script and then didn’t provide any direction or context as to what the situations the characters were in. When you jump out of a helicopter and Ryan says “This is gonna be fun!,” it sounds more like he’s about to jump down a water slide than off of a crashing helicopter onto a precarious balcony. More than once your brain will tell itself: “Wait a second, nobody talks like that.” 😛 That said, I haven’t heard any fans complain, as this bad acting does end up being entertaining.
The real stand-out aspect of the game is the force feedback and the X-Treme Audio. This turns the game into what we would have called a “4D experience” just a few years ago, although you don’t really see those buzzwords anymore. The air jets, the booming sound, the vibrating seat, and the gun feedback have setup lofty goal posts for other games to achieve. It’s enough that when I played other shooters at the show, the effect was missed. You can shut the X-Treme Audio off if desired, which is a welcome feature, but in doing so, it makes quite a difference.
The feedback in the guns feels much more like what you experience in a game console controller, particularly the Nintendo Switch’s “HD rumble.” The seat feedback is strong, but it also knows when to be subtle. One example is when Kate’s phone buzzes in game, the rumble feels exactly like a vibrating phone in your pocket. Then, it has spotlight ambient light that changes according to the scene. This is something that was used in Raw Thrills’ The Walking Dead. Here, it is setup as a spotlight over each player instead of a floodlight. You also have the air jet/wind effects, which have been properly tailored to what is needed by each scene/instance. The only problem that comes from all of this cool feedback tech is in driving up the price, which is a bit high for me with this model; that said, a Sega sales rep said that they’ve sold out of the game up-to Spring (and that was before IAAPA), so the FEC market sounds like they are fully embracing it and are keeping Sega’s production line very busy, regardless the price.
Overall, this IAAPA was awesome. We’ve got a lot of energy, a lot of growth and a lot of potential. I am a little concerned that the FEC market is becoming a bubble – it feels like it, although that’s anecdotal and not based on any solid numbers at this point. The same could be said for VR, although it’s a little different in that the tech hasn’t become as established on the market, yet we’ve seen explosive growth in companies that are hoping to have the next Street Fighter II or Space Invaders on hand. We’ll have to see how IAE19 is for an answer to all of that.
To end this wrap on a more positive note, my brother and I had quite a few new ideas that we’re going to try out as ways to enhance the business. Granted, we don’t have the capital to do everything that we’d like, but we’ll do what we can and see how it shakes out. I am also going to be opening my first route location next month, which is an exciting prospect and could possibly help serve as a buffer to what might take place with the arcade next summer. My local economy seems to be mirroring the national one, and where it’s on fire unlike I’ve seen during my 10 years of business, it’s impossible to not be excited by the prospects of the future for arcades!
Stay tuned for Wrap #2, sometime this week 😉