March 25, 2019

Life and death of arcades (arcade machines)

In all countries except Japan, the arcades are dead. The current generation of gamers with the word "arcade" indifferently shrug, close this text and continue to play your Xbox. Old people will let a nostalgic tear and buy a ticket to the museum of Soviet slot machines. Many in our country will not understand at all what it is about - in their world was Dandy, Suponev, and a game salon with TV Funai in a supermarket around the corner. They did not go to any arcade halls and do not know that behind these words there is a whole layer of the electronic entertainment industry.

Why are arcades extinct? There is an opinion, and it is sufficiently substantiated, that home consoles are to blame for this. But is it really? And in general - is it worth it to yearn for the past? Let's try to figure it out.

Arcade machines
Now you have to burst into tears of nostalgia
In our million cities, arcade games can still be touched. Enough to go to a large shopping center and visit the children's area near the food court. There you will find several machines designed for kids, for example, the good old whac-a-mole, invented already in 1975. It is easy to recognize him - there one needs to strike a hammer on the heads of the little animals that emerge from the holes. Next to it will be a lottery machine with prizes or a crane, where you need to pull out toys. With some luck, air hockey will come to light, also from the seventies. And somewhere in the depths of the room you can see video games - a couple of races and some shooting range. If the tenant is mad enough, then it will be relatively new models, two or three years old. As the most "impassable", low-income devices, they are usually put somewhere back. In the golden age of arcades, no one would have thought so to do.

Deposit quarter

The Golden Age is called the period from 1978 to 1982 - the time when 13 thousand halls were opened throughout America, and each unit consistently brought in $ 400 a week. Video games made a revolution in business, where until then the ball rules pinball. Not very popular with us, pinball was the favorite entertainment of the post-war American youth. Every respected manufacturer of entertainment devices - from Bally to Williams and Midway - released their own modifications of this game. Teenagers were so excited, squandering parental quarters, that automatic machines were first banned in public places in New York, and then in many other US cities. The ban lasted for almost three decades and was lifted only when the first video games began to arrive at the pinball site.

But in Japan, there were no such problems. With the end of the Second World War, the country became interested in pinball, slot machines, and other similar equipment. An economic upswing began, and on its wave there were firms that decided to try their hand at the electro-mechanical entertainment business. A native of Russia founds Taito. Two Americans are starting to deliver vehicles to the military bases of Okinawa through the company Service Games (abbreviated Sega, the same one). A simple Tokyo boyfriend, Masaya Nakamura, opens Namco, named after himself. At first, Japanese offices imported products from the United States, but later took up their own developments. This is how the famous Periscope submarine simulator and many other games that came with the international exhibition "Attraction-71" came to the Soviet Union. Yes, adored by the pioneers "Sea Battle", "Sniper", "Virage" and other devices of the first wave in fact were copies of Japanese and American machine guns.

The queue at the exhibition in Gorky Park
The queue at the exhibition in Gorky Park. Soviet citizens tried out a lot of rides, from roller coasters and carousels to electronic games for the first time. After the exhibition, all machines remained in the USSR
The revolution took place in 1972 - then Atari releases the Pong. The tennis simulator was the first fully electronic and commercially successful game. He, in fact, gave impetus to the development of the entire industry. The demand for Pong was rabid; Nolan Bushnell, President Atari, barely had time to process orders. Besides him, a dozen other companies illegally produced copies of Pong. Bushnell did not sue - it turned out a good advertisement, and there was not enough own opportunities to saturate the market. Shortly after the success of Atari, developers on both sides of the Pacific quickly realized the potential of electronic (read, computer) games, and by the end of the decade, the world had already seen all the current classics: Space Invaders (Taito, 1978), Asteroids (Atari, 1979), Galaxian (Namco, 1979), Defender (Williams, 1980), Pac-Man (Namco, 1980), Missile Command (Atari, 1980), Rally-X (Namco, 1980), Donkey Kong (Nintendo, 1981). Market volume reached $7 billion per year and continued to grow.

Nolan Bushnell with the Pong cabinet, as well as the first home version of the game
Nolan Bushnell with the Pong cabinet, as well as the first home version of the game
After the ban on the pinball was removed, and chasing the balls was no longer a sign of rebellion, the teenagers threw themselves into the arcade halls in a crowd. The arcades turned into a place where young people spent their leisure time without the constant supervision of their parents. That is how America remembered them. Like ours, behind the backs of the players, there were queues with the audience; their masters appeared, capable of playing on one counter for half an hour.

It is important to understand that almost all video games of that time were purely competitive - the goal of the game was not to complete it as such, but to score as many points as possible. Therefore, visitors fought for the right to get to the top of the list of high scores. The best of the best could count on the mention in the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard, the weekly newsletter in the country. The desire to get on the list of top players prompted children to squander handfuls of coppers in the halls, but they barely managed to hone their skills in one game, as she was replaced by a new, even steeper one.

The industry went forward by leaps and bounds, demand only grew, and money flowed like a river. There was simply no alternative to the halls - yes, the Pong prefix, released on Christmas Eve on the 75th, sold out 150,000 copies in a matter of days, but most of the arcade hits didn’t have console versions, or it looked much worse than the original.

Arcade Pac-Man (right) and the version for the main home console of those years - Atari 2600 (left)
Arcade Pac-Man (right) and the version for the main home console of those years - Atari 2600 (left)
And then came the famous collapse, known as The Atari Crash.

After the crash

The fateful year of 1983 ended the golden era as soon as it began. Moreover, it was about the survival of video games as a business in general. The annual profit from electronic entertainment, which had previously hit the mark of $12 billion, had fallen to a miserable $100 million by the end of 1985. Cart dump trucks were buried in the New Mexico desert; dozens of companies went bankrupt, including, in fact, Atari itself.

For the revival of the arcades took eight long years. Thank for it is worth two in its revolutionary fighting game - Street Fighter II (Capcom, 1991) and Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992). Despite the fact that the street already hosted Mega Drive paired with SNES, and both hits soon visited all the current home systems, the arcade performance remained a reference. Some games, like the famous Sunset Riders, lost much of the content when porting. In addition, the same competitive spirit did not disappear, so the reason for going to the halls was not lost. Automata again spread across America and not only - cars were found in Europe (especially in hotels and resort towns), and even in Russia (as a rule, in amusement parks).

Sega's cartridge Virtua Racing (1992) was impressive, but it was only in the arcades that the four of us could drive on real Formula 1 cars. There was also a version for as many as 8 players.
Sega's cartridge Virtua Racing (1992) was impressive, but it was only in the arcades that the four of us could drive on real Formula 1 cars. There was also a version for as many as 8 players.
But as time went on, the performance of home gland grew, and by the beginning of zero games on the same PlayStation they were no longer graphically inferior to arcade releases. In addition, a much more important thing happened - the consoles offered their owners a completely different product, in which the competitive component was relegated to the background. Ahead came the story, the notorious storytelling. Suffice it to recall any of the famous hits of those years - MGS, Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Siphon Filter or Final Fantasy. All of them used the fact that they were left alone with the player, without strangers, and told him a story. Unrestrainedly stupid, as in the eighth finale, or piercingly sad, as in Tenchu ​​2, but a story. Video games have become more like a movie and more often borrow tricks from it, and it is this kind of products that ultimately determined the future of the industry. I deliberately mention only console-side exclusives here and lower the PC - in the nineties that set the tone for Japan, the trendsetters were consoles.

The arcades could not follow a similar path: neither the time of the gaming session nor the need to milk the tokens allowed. In competitive games, home systems came on the heels. If earlier Shooting Gallery for Odyssey or Duck Hunt for NES could not contend with a good shooting range in the hall, then a set of GunCon pistols with a Time Crisis disc or Point Blank already could. The San Francisco Rush port may have lost all its charm, but it was successfully replaced by the Need For Speed ​​series with a plug-in steering wheel and pedals. Arcades had to play for promotion, so that the experience from going to the gym was brighter than from sitting in front of the TV. Manufacturers began to complicate the controllers - few people are willing to put in the living room a real racing chair with recoil or buy an intricate control panel for an exotic simulator, say, fishing. However, this did not change the essence of the games, and gradually less and less people began to visit the machines.

Dead end

The reluctance of arcade games to change ruined this segment of interactive entertainment. If you come to the hall today and look at the most expensive cars, then they are just not interesting to play. Here, for example, one of the relatively fresh and technically very advanced horror-shooting ranges is the rail shooter Dark Escape 4D (2012) from the Japanese Namco.

The machine is a large cabin for two, with a sofa and curtains, allowing you to isolate yourself from the rest of the space. Inside are 3D glasses, but for oldfags there is also a usual 2D mode, which pleases. Chip Dark Escape - heart rate sensors built into the arms of the weapon. The more you fear with your friend, the more monsters are rushing at you - they feel fear. At the end of each stage, the game sums up which of you “squealed like a bitch”. When traveling through virtual caves in the cockpit, real airflow works, directly erasing the line between the worlds. By the way, both the weapon itself and the sofa are equipped with vibration feedback, and quite good. Together with a powerful stereo system, this entire complex should make a truly lasting impression on the players. Does it produce? Let's get a look.

If you move away from engineering innovations, then what exactly is the game itself? And the game is an old rail shooter from the time of the early PS2. The similarity of the plot is taken from the movie "Saw" - an unfortunate player along with some generic girl needs to get out of the complex, into which a mad scientist in a mask let go of zombiera. The environment is almost indestructible, it’s impossible to turn off the rails, the invulnerable woman doesn’t help at all, her behavior is more like a wooden blockhead than a person. Dark Escape can only frighten banal screamers, and at the end game designers generally give out a great trick - it turns out, the success of the mission depends on whether you destroyed the surveillance cameras on the way to the final. If not, then the girl dies picture, game over, start over. Of course, in advance no one even thinks to warn about this. Desperate attempt to squeeze some more money into the project, obsolete for ten years already at the time of release. If a similar thing came out on consoles, then the disks with this "masterpiece" would gather for years on sales.

To go through almost any of the arcade games, you should be prepared to spend about two thousand rubles on tokens. For the same amount on Steam or PSN there are lots of offers that allow you to spend a lot more pleasant time. And I do not judge on one project - a similar paragraph can be devoted to each arcade. Tyra over the past 15 years have not progressed. The races are still running in time trial mode, where you have 30 seconds on the stretch of track, as if the first editions of Ridge Racer are still in fashion, but Forza Horizon does not exist. While the narrative and network multiplayer is developing in home video games, and the Nintendo Wii allows you to make fun parties right in the apartment, arcades are marking time.

It is important to understand that arcades die out not at all because every house has a console or a cool computer. The arcades disappear due to the fact that they have stopped offering something new. We all saw it. Companies continue to improve the technical part of the cabinets and forget that people did not come to the halls to hold onto a plastic rifle. They came for interesting games. They came to prove their skills to all, to get on the list of the best of the best. They walked into the halls, because there was fun, there was a get-together. Now all this is almost nowhere.

Love in Japan

Except one country. In Japan, an amazing way arcades are still flourishing. At the annual exhibition Japan Amusement Expo 2016, traditionally held in February, Japanese manufacturers showed their latest machines. Both current teenagers and middle-aged salarists continue to shape the demand for classic shooters and fighting games like Street Fighter, various rhythms and dance games, as well as simulators of everything in the world, including such strange things as bets on virtual racing. In the local "gaming centers" you can meet crowds of people, as in the good old 90s.

Why is that? Some Western observers explain this by the difference in culture - they say, the Japanese invite home only their closest friends, and with the rest of their friends and acquaintances they prefer to gather in neutral territory. In addition, the majority of young people live in cramped apartments, where you do not clear up. The lifestyle of the Japanese city, tied to public transport rather than to a private car, makes the center an attractive meeting place. This is how one of the popular leisure activities continues to be the arcade.

In Western civilization, the time of arcade halls has irrevocably passed. Those rare places where entertainment machines still stand are oriented towards the youngest visitors with timeless cranes and plush toys. Expensive video game rooms are a waste of money for both the owner, who ordered them, and the players who decided to play them once. The inevitable death slightly delayed the suddenly returning fashion for nostalgia for the 70th and 80th. Today in the hipster bars of America it is considered good form to put in the corner something from the classics, like Space Invaders. But it will pass sooner or later. Large rooms, where teens have been hanging out for years, are now empty.

Arcade bar - hipsters, beer and classic games. In the photo: Emporium, the most famous bar of this type in Chicago
Arcade bar - hipsters, beer and classic games. In the photo: Emporium, the most famous bar of this type in Chicago
The owners of few old halls say that soon they will be comprehended by the fate of the once popular video rental points. At times, representatives of the already grown up generation Y come in and take their sons to introduce them to the culture of their childhood. But for young gamers all this does not find understanding. Well, yes, a cool artifact from the past. Like a dinosaur skeleton or a tape recorder - in their eyes these are about equal concepts.

If you are now sadly sigh, then do not be upset. Pong and the rest of the competitive games were not created to enrich our culture. These programs served the same purpose - pulling parental money out of schoolchildren. Quarter extraction machines. The revolution they have accomplished in our mind and video game industry is a random side effect that no one expected. As a result, over four decades, video games have made a tremendous, incredibly winding path from primitive entertainment to real art along with music, painting, and cinema. However, the merits of the arcades are not here. Yes, they initiated this epic, but then they froze at the starting line, remaining money-raising apparatus. Now, when we want something more than five minutes of pleasure for 100 rubles, it is time for arcades to rest.

We are also waiting for new amazing things ahead.

There is a project whose goal is to preserve the legacy of arcade games and allow them to play on modern devices. This project is called MAME.


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