Arcade Gold at Preview ‘04
Arguably the best and largest showing of new video amusement titles in the UK this year was held at a London Hotel in Hammersmith. The annual two-day event is an exclusive trade only gathering in preparation for the main Amusement Trade Exhibition International (ATEI) show in January 2004. The arcade industry is still strong though focusing on tried and trusted genres such as driving/racing, fighting and shooting games. The requirement for vandal-proof cabinets for the new generation of arcades is oftimes at odds with the new technology simulators and high quality force feedback systems employed in the latest games.
The Preview 2004 event included the first European showing of Sega's ‘Out Run 2’; over three cabinets of the game had made the trip from the respective Japanese and American débuts. The twin sit-down cabinet on the Sega booth received much attention, the normal race – ‘OutRun mode’, ‘heart attack mode’ and ‘time attack mode’ styles a refreshing new aspect to the popular title. The twin network ‘Versus mode’ is another feature new to the classic lines but much appreciated with the promise of four-player simultaneous action. The CHIHIRO board (based on XBox architecture) supplying lush scenery and the promise of unlock cars and levels all add to continuous play and coin drop. The system utilizes the standard Sega twin cabinet configuration for European application used before for Sega Rally II.
The company had along side this the re-release of the water jet-ski game ‘Wave Runner GP’ (first released in 2001) now minus the expensive motion cabinet aimed at a cost cutting market. The player sits astride the seat, holding motorbike style handlebars, and controlling his jet-ski with a throttle control. The game was developed for two player action competing round glorious Naomi hardware.
‘Virtua Cop 3’ paid testament to the slow adoption of a shooter that had had high expectations, however the amazing CHIHIRO (Xbox based) graphics still took the breath away, and the foot-peddle feature for ‘Max Payne’ style Bullet Time was used to great effect in the futuristic shooter. The possibility of these CHIHIRO games being ported to the Xbox in the foreseeable future has been placed in doubt by AM2 comments to Japanese media, however.
The puzzle game ‘Puyo Pop Fever’ was on booth offering Tetris-esque play in a cartoon deformed jell blob fashion, including unique plays and fun competition mode to the previous incarnations. The game was supplied as a Naomi GD-ROM release for upright cabinets.
On Sega licensed distributors the first twin networked sit-down versions of the racer ‘F-Zero AX’ were on display. The deluxe cabinet was perched on the main booth, and the players sat in a rocking motion base familiar to a compact version of the cabinet employed for ‘AfterBurner’ (though greatly reduced in size). Players were able to both collect magnetic cards on which game information stats were stored, or in a revolutionary feature were actually able to swap created craft from the Home (F-Zero GX) version between the arcade variant using the GameCube memory card, with special unlockable time released features. At the distributors booth space was also found for the SimuLine CyCraft motion cabinet playing a version of ‘Club Kart International’, a high sticker price simulator experience that shakes the player to the max. The system is a suspended one seat open motion platform using three degrees of movement or direction. 3DoF is the motion platform developed by a Korean manufacture who has licensed their hardware to Sega. The full motion envelope is achieved by the ride, enhanced by the capsule hanging from the motion base rather than resting on top a motion platform, which is more common.
Leading manufacturer Namco was represented by their distribution operation Brent Sales, with the ‘Time Crisis III’ release the only showing by their parent. The fast pace criminal chase game ‘Tokyo Cop’ was present in a slimmed down non-motion sit-down cabinet. The players used a number keyboard to store highscore and save unlocked selectable vehicles in one of the most sophisticated highscore features in modern video gaming. The Brent booth also included a motion simulator game based on the LucasArts 'Star Wars Starfighter' software, which had players sitting on a specially developed TsuMo 6 DoF motion platform, outwardly styled to represent the players craft within the game. The player, rather than steering the craft, controls where the weapons are deployed on four levels in the current version of the code. The game includes space battles and ground attack missions on planets made famous from Episode One of the StarWars movie. The manufactures Tsunami have previously licensed software from Microsoft and Atari Games for application on their arcade platform.
Other new technology at the show included a number of VR boom mounted cabinets with multiple software game titles which also took pride of place at the front of the Brent booth. Players steer the boom mounted visor, which combines a stereo viewer and the control interface, allowing the player to turn around to view 360 degrees of the playing field. The developers (GlobalVR) have created arcade conversion of popular PC titles such as BeachHead which allow the player to be dropped into the centre of the action.
A new rendition of the 1994 shooter, now release on a reliable PC format, rather than the original laserdisc, was also on show from GlobalVR. The cabinet utilizes the original style of the upright quick draw gun cabinet. The player sees what was once laserdisc stored FMV now run through a much more reliable and cost-effective PC hardware platform allowing players to blast away at the cowboy themed pattern-following shooting game (a shooting, live action equivalent of Dragons Lair). The company has become the largest American based video amusement manufacture in recent years, so GlobalVR had product on a number of booths, pushing the adoption of their own driver based on ‘Need for Speed’ from EA, seated in a specially designed cabinet and offering arcade enhanced racing action. Players sit in a driving cabinet, which includes gear lever and force-feedback steering wheel. The production version will also include a tournament network for players to compete for prizes and unlock special car features and hidden tracks. The game played and looked differently from its competition, making strong use of the consumer game to pick the best features for transfer to the amusement format.
Another EA Sports title given arcade coverage was Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 golf, or for amusement, ‘EA Sports PGA Tour’. The game hopes to break the domination of the leading arcade golf game ‘Golden Tee Fore 2003 / 2004’, the golf arcade market being a vast business, with lucrative tournaments run in most locations. The winners of the most recent heats of the world competition in Europe (off to playoffs in America next month) were honoured at a lavish gala event during the show. Both games use a large trackball to control the golf swing, housed in a specially developed upright cabinet…this combined with a vast tournament network has proven a big draw in most UK and American bars and clubs.
The exhibition contained some interesting pieces such as the first appearance in Europe of Sammy's ‘Guilty Gear Isuku’, straight from Japan and demonstrating how the AW-Net system will work (the cabinet asked players to enter their card – even though the system was not connected). The game carries on the same style of the previous Guilty Gear X V.1.5, though the 2x2 and 4x4 multiple play element could not be fully appreciated with only one upright cabinet available at the show. The completed version of ‘Dolphin Blue’ was also on booth, the completed version of the game offering similar playability to Metal Slug, though with the use of dolphins to ride on during certain sequences and the addition of special bonus levels. The action was sped up considerably from initial Beta releases seen earlier in the year. Also on the booth was the Final Fight style brawler ‘Demolition Fist’. The game uses a pre-rendered style of 3D graphics, allowing the players to walk through multiple screens taking on a host of thugs, as well as to collect various items littering the scenery to use as weapons (this includes the odd abandoned car). The Sammy’s Atomiswave architecture is based on the System X hardware environment (loosely modeled by Sega on the Dreamcast chip sets for Sammy) is a crucial experiment in a PC and System 246 dominated architecture market.
The plethora of drivers at the event (eight in all) showed a market bouncing back after lean times, with high opportunities for next year. Technology attractions (using VR graphics and console based hardware) and special motion base systems were the fundamental features of the changing amusement sector.
This is a brief snapshot of the key makers and shakers at the event, however for a detailed rundown of the event and observation on latest industry news and views please sign up to The Stinger Report.
Kevin of the Stinger Report