So last night was my official birthday outing. I was planning on going to ‘Insert Coins’ the new Video Game Nightclub in Minneapolis, then I read it was basically ladies night. See that wouldn’t bother me normally, but the amount of alcohol required for me to ignore all the ‘wooooooo!’ would probably kill me. After much deliberation, and my roommate shooting down laser-tag in suits, we decided to hit the Maple Grove Dave and Busters up.
A few pints in, I started reminiscing about the old Aladdin’s Castle franchise, and Smash TV, Splatterhouse, and House of the Dead before the shiny fucking zombie plague started. Now and again, I wonder why arcades actually died off. Was it the lack of creativity or space? Did we grow up? Did arcade games become mundane or simplistic? Walking around Dave and Busters, I think that if anything, the still animated corpse of the arcade has become a full on monster. Aside from the staples like the 8 player Daytona USA, basketball, air hockey, and coin cavalcade (I have no idea what you call it in America) the arcade has devolved into 4 genres: Ticket Games, Racing Games, Rail Shooters, and Games of Chance.
The racing games have gone from Daytona and Cruising USA to EXTREME RACING! Nitrous, insane physics, machine guns, dinosaurs (yes dinosaurs) with engine upgrades and silly features like taking your picture for versus racing. Everything seems layered with absurdity, and drenched with the fake testosterone of a war video game. With cars that handle like they are being driven on ice and generic rock soundtracks, it makes me miss the days of Super Off Road and Roadblasters. Instead we get Dead Heat and Dirty Driving, or whatever the track based Twisted Metal knockoff was. I watched a couple playing it, and while the girlfriend won, one thing hasn’t changed over the years… I’m pretty sure the makeup sex would be more fun than the game.
Rail shooters have evolved slightly over the years, from live action actors in Lethal Enforcers, to the now over the top action of Time Crisis 4 and House of the Dead 4. Instead of just a left to right scrolling, we are now treated to virtual diving behind cover and car crashes. Sadly, inaccuracy of these machines is still a problem. Missing a bad guy a foot in front of you when the gun is right in his face is infuriating, and seeing the bullet hit someone to his right makes it even worse. Adding mini-games in, like shaking the gun to clear off zombies, or giving you weapon switching seems like it would give the game more depth or some added strategy. Just like in the shooters of old, plugging away with well timed single shots still renders these additions silly. It’s nothing more than a coat of new paint over the good old fashioned lead-based paint of old.
Ticket games and games of chance are more or less the same thing. Skiball is a staple ticket game, however even Frogger has devolved into a random game of chance. Press a button the frog blindly saunters forward eating bugs and hopping on a straight line until he reaches the end or falls into the water. Elvis is rolling in a grave as coin cavalcade is what remains of his once legendary rock ‘n’ roll and Deal or No Deal has become a game that even a six year old can play and win. Skill games like Stacker and well any crane games are obviously rigged with astronomically low odds of wining, but still entice people with promised of Xbox 360s and iPads. After a first loop of the floor I head back to my table for another pint and something to eat.
My server Kristi comes over and we have a brief talk about Space Aliens, an ill-fated franchise much like D&B. I tell her about a similar one from my childhood outside of Mildenhal that was all arcade games, recalling Final Fight, Undercover Cops and Fatal Fury. We talk a small bit about video games, and she mentions that Pac-Man is her favorite game. I inquire about the 4 player versus Pac-Man I saw, which she mentions is fun, before she disappears with my food order. A few minutes later, my order comes up and I sit there, contemplating the fate of the arcade.
By the end of the night, I cash in tickets and spend them on prizes, like anyone else however I feel sad in a way. It’s like I’ve accepted this travesty that was once a large part of my childhood. Now when you speak of arcade games, many think of the Xbox or PS3 downloadable games, which while good, lack the atmosphere of sticky floors, the smell of pizza from the food court, and the sounds of multiple games going on. Maybe the nostalgia is blinding me to why the arcades really died, but to me, all I can think of is the years I spent killing zombies and fighting Shadowloo in Hanes Mall. It was my escape from a world where the real evil was other school children, and it only cost a quarter for the trip.
Josh Flaherty is an independent game designer from Minneapolis, MN and owner of Queuethulu Games LLC. He has worked on independent video games since 2003 and is passionate about the art of games, unique stories, and long walks down dark alleys. Visit Josh at his personal blog, http://vonshmoot.blogspot.com/ and also at Queuethulu Games Blog (personal game design blog) http://queuethulu.blogspot.com/. You can follow him on Twitter as well @SWTZMBEJESUS. To contact Josh, email him at email@example.com.