Tag Archives: Arcade

#94: Ms. Pac-Man

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Maze Released: 1981 Developer: Bally/Midway / General Computer Corporation

In 2005 I waved goodbye to Blighty (UK) and set sail (boarded a plane) for the new world (Vancouver, Canada). There I was going to make my fortune (live there for a year) and wander from town to town righting wrongs (do some travelling). I went with my good friend (actually… hang on, he is a good friend) Andy. Being adventurous we decide to plan as little as possible (left everything to the last-minute and chanced our luck).

When we arrived we had no job, no where to live and only our first night in a hostel booked. Seems crazy to me now but at the time neither of us was particularly worried. That’s the confidence of a 25-year-old. You completely believe it will all work out fine in the end. And it did. We arrived on the 4th, by the 8th we had found work and a place to live.

Home to travellers, wanderers and slightly confused Brits

Unfortunately there’s a peculiar Vancouver by-law (I think) which only allows contracts to start at the end/beginning of the month which means on the last day of the month the streets are full of moving vans and people carrying sofas.

So despite signing our contract we couldn’t move in for another three and a half weeks. With no other option Andy and myself prepared ourselves for 23 days of hostel living. The YHA Vancouver Downtown became our home. 23 days of sharing a room with three other men. 23 days of eating out every night (and drinking pretty much every night). 23 days of getting strange looks in the kitchen at breakfast time as you were in a suit dressed for work.

Still, it could have been worse. The place was clean, relatively quiet and only a couple of weirdos. The main problem was trying to fill time. The books I brought with me I soon finished. The TV room always seemed to be hogged by someone watching… whatever it is they put on Canadian TV (The Rick Mercer Report, Corner Gas and hockey). There’s only so many times you can play ‘Chase the Ace’. So thank God for Ms. Pac-Man.

Similar arcade to the one I used to play. More games should come in table form.

Yes, Ms. Pac-Man. The hostel ‘games room’ had a bashed about but perfectly working Ms. Pac-Man arcade. At first I just played it in a slightly ironic ‘Oh yeah, old game… cool’ kind of way. Plus at only a quarter a play it seemed a cheap way of occupying myself. Within a few days though I was hopelessly addicted. My ultimate aim? To beat the current high score. Why? Because it was there of course, because it was there.

So did I do it dear reader? Well, the photo speaks for itself.

Possibly the happiest moment of my life.

With only a few days left in the hostel I manged to do it. The High Score. 30,470. IN YOUR FACE OTHER HOSTEL PEOPLE! So imagine my disappointment when a few days later a guy turned up to empty the machine of quarters, turned it off and the score was deleted. In many ways this tale is like a modern day Icarus. I had a brief moment in the Sun before I plummeted back to Earth.

I was even more disappointed when, while researching for this post, I found out the highest score ever was 933,580. Abdner Ashman of Queens, N.Y. achieved that in April 2006. That’s about 6 months after my high score. Maybe I inspired him?

A couple of years ago I got Ms. Pac-Man for my phone. Despite no need to find quarters and lots of time to kill on the tube I’ve never beaten 30,470. It remains a personal best. I think I might have 30,470 put on my gravestone.

Before I go, have a look at this. I never realised Ms. Pac-Man had such a lovely voice.

Ian

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Filed under 1981, Coin-Op, General Computer Corporation, Maze, Midway

#66: Emergency Call Ambulance

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Racing Released: 1999 Developer: Sega

Failing to complete a level in most arcade racing games results in little more than the inconvenience of having to insert another credit. But failing to complete the first level of Emergency Call Ambulance results in nothing less than the death of a ten-year-old child called Jack.

In what has to be one of the most macabre game set-ups ever, this coin-op sees you take the wheel of a Chicago ambulance with the aim of rushing various patients to hospital without them expiring en route. A heart-rate monitor at the top of the screen reveals the patient’s condition, and a little inset in the top right shows you what’s going on in the back of the ambulance. Take a corner too wildly or collide with another vehicle and the patient’s condition worsens – take too many hits and they kick the bucket.

Unfortunately, the floaty handling of the ambulance combined with the tight time limit and abundance of other road users means that it’s almost impossible to actually get the patient to hospital without them moving on to a better place. In fact, this game has to rank as one of the hardest driving games of all time – in the many, many times I’ve played it, I’ve never once got onto the second level. (Although perhaps that says more about my driving skills than anything else.)

It’s almost heartbreaking to hear the long ‘beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep’ as the heart-rate monitor flatlines and you know you’ve failed to save Jack yet again, but there’s something compelling about the game that kept me coming back time after time.

“If only I hadn’t hit that car on the last corner… I know I can save him this time. Don’t worry Jack, I’m coming!” [Inserts coin]

Of course, I’m kidding myself – if I really cared about Jack I’d leave the machine well alone and let someone a bit more skilled in the driving department deliver him safely to hospital.

Still, the fatal [no pun intended] allure of this game is that it gives you the opportunity to be a hero, and how many driving games can you say that about? That’s what makes it so addictive – every driving game from Gran Turismo to Pole Position gives you the opportunity to win a championship, but how many driving games give you the chance to save a life?

Or, in this case, cause the repeated death of a critically injured child through reckless driving.

In many ways I’m glad I never got past the first level; apparently a later level sees you transporting a badly burned woman who’s pregnant with triplets… It’s bad enough my conscience has to deal with the death of a ten-year-old – I’m not sure I could deal with the deaths of three unborn children too.

(I apologise in advance for the poor quality of the video clip by the way – it was the only one I could find on YouTube…)

Lewis

(Images from The Killer List Of Video Games: http://www.arcade-museum.com/)

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Filed under 1999, Coin-Op, Racing, Sega

#58: Star Wars Arcade

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Space Combat Simulator Released: 1993 Developer: Sega

For a long time I thought I’d just imagined this game. Whenever I asked people whether they’d played Star Wars Arcade, they always thought I meant the 1983 version, then they’d start going on about how the vector graphics were way ahead of their time and how the digitized voices were amazing, yadda yadda yadda. And I’d just sit there going “No! No! The other one, the one set during Return of the Jedi…” and they’d look at me like I had a screw loose.

But look carefully upon the picture above all ye doubters – it does exist! Thanks to The Internet(TM) I’ve unearthed proof that in 1993, ten years after Atari released the insanely popular Star Wars Arcade, Sega released… Star Wars Arcade. Thus proving that although the game may have been erased from the collective memory of everyone else on the planet, I AM NOT GOING MAD. Phew.

A slightly dark screenshot from the arcade version.

Presumably the game was a massive flop – partly because no-one seems to have ever heard of it and partly because I only ever saw it in one arcade (in Barcelona of all places, seven years after it was released). I only have very vague memories of playing the game, although I remember being impressed by the graphics (considering it was a seven-year-old game) and disappointed about how difficult and expensive it was. It kept me coming back though and, along with Time Crisis 2 and Jambo! Safari (another brilliant but obscure Sega arcade game), it sucked up a goodly percentage of my pesetas.

The Sega 32X version of Star Wars Arcade. Or is it the arcade version? Er...

Apparently Star Wars Arcade was converted to the Sega 32X in 1994, although seeing as only around ten people actually bought a 32X, I’m not surprised that the game has had such little impact on the popular consciousness. I’m almost tempted to get hold of a 32X just to have another go on it, although inevitably I think I’d be disappointed.

Perhaps it’s better just to keep the memory of a frustrating, fleeting and above all fun arcade game that’s been – for better or worse – lost to the world…

Lewis

(Images from The Killer List Of Video Games.)

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Filed under 1993, Coin-Op, Sega, Space Combat Simulator

#56: Out Run

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Racing Released: 1986 Developer: Sega (AM2)

Back in the very first post on this blog, I said that all racing games before about the mid-nineties were “pretty rubbish”. I stand by that comment, but with two obvious exceptions: Chase HQ, which we’ve already covered, and the mighty mighty Out Run.

Out Run was amazing. The graphics were phenomenal (for the time), and it had a fantastic sense of speed – the gorgeous scenery whipped by you at an eyeball-spinning rate. Add in the wonderful music (which I’ll come back to in a minute) and you end up with one of the best arcade games of all time. And it was way ahead of its time too – things like branching levels were pretty much unheard of in games in 1986, and even the behind-the-driver viewpoint was a new and exciting concept (it had been pioneered by Pole Position in 1982, but by 1986 had only been used in a handful of games – many racing games still had a top-down view).

Blue skies - check. Palm trees - check. Ferrari - check. Yep, definitely Out Run.

The whole thing had a kind of holiday feel to it (which was probably helped by the fact that I mostly played it in beach-front arcades whilst on holiday with my parents). There you were in your Ferrari Testarossa, cruising along sun-drenched highways with an unnamed blonde woman at your side and not a care in the world… except the odd Volkswagen Beetle and generic truck of course, which had a nasty habit of getting right in your way at a crucial moment and triggering a spectacular crash.

I’ve got to admit though, watching the smug git of a driver get totalled was a source of secret satisfaction to me, even if it meant a Game Over screen. He was obviously a smug git – I mean, he had a Ferrari.

Thankfully, despite what the map screen suggests, not all corners in the game were at right angles.

Out Run‘s graphics may have been astounding, but its crowning achievement was without doubt its music. The game gave you the unique option to choose which background track you’d like before you started the race, and all four tunes were absolutely brilliant. My personal favourite was ‘Magical Sound Shower’, which is still as intensely catchy today as it was nearly 25 years ago (scroll down the page to have a listen). It’s a real tribute to Sega’s sound engineers that they were able to come up with such infectious tunes with the limited technology available to them.

Yeah, 'Passing Breeze' is good, but let's face it, it's no 'Magical Sound Shower'.

There are very few games that stand the test of time. The games industry moves at such a blistering pace that games can look horribly dated within a couple of years, but there’s something about Out Run that means it still looks fresh today. Maybe it’s the eternally blue skies so beloved of the designers at AM2… whatever it is, Out Run remains a stone-cold classic that reigned supreme in the arcades right up until the 3D big boys (Ridge Racer, Daytona) came knocking at the door in the nineties.

But then again, Ridge Racer didn’t have ‘Magical Sound Shower’…

And as a special treat, here’s the legendary S.S.T. Band (Sega Sound Team Band) performing ‘Magical Sound Shower’:

Lewis

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Filed under 1986, Coin-Op, Racing, Sega

#28: 1942

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up Released: 1984 Developer: Capcom

Every time we went to holiday parks or the seaside when I was a kid, I would beg to be taken to the arcade. I think at first my mum thought I had a gambling problem, but in actual fact I didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to the fruit machines  – I only had eyes for all those wonderful arcade games.

Although having said that I’ve always quite liked those machines with the sliding racks of 10 pence pieces – does that still count as gambling?

1942-arcade-cabinet

Anyway, going to the arcade was a real treat when I was young. There was a huge gap between the quality of games in the arcade and the quality of games for home systems, so seeing the latest coin-ops was like taking a glimpse into the future. It’s completely different now of course – if anything, home systems are actually slightly ahead of most arcade machines, and most arcades are completely dominated by the same old shooting and driving games. Add to that the fact that the cost of console games has come down while the cost of arcade credits has gone up (or at least stayed the same), and there suddenly seems to be little point in visiting the arcade anymore.

Still, back in the eighties it was all different, because a trip to the arcade meant you could play something mind-bogglingly amazing… like Out Run, Double Dragon, Shinobi, Chase HQ or 1942.

1942_screenshot

I always made a beeline straight for the 1942 cabinet whenever I went into an arcade. The other games I mentioned are all excellent in their own right, but for some reason I was totally hooked on this shoot ‘em up.

I don’t even know what it is that I like about it so much – maybe it’s the simplicity, or maybe it’s the well-balanced gameplay. It’s a hard game, but it’s never unfair, so every time you die you know you could do better next time if you just moved that little bit quicker, or tapped the loop-the-loop (evade) button a tiny bit faster. The risk/reward ratio is just right as well – diving for the power ups is always worth it, even if it might end in a fiery death (and the loss of a 20p credit).

1942_screenshot-2

Having said that, it looks incredibly dated now. The graphics could be generously described as ‘dull’… I mean, just look at it – you spend most of the game staring at what looks like stippled blue wallpaper flecked with bits of green snot. Also, there’s hardly any variation in the enemies  – some planes are red instead of green (whoo) and sometimes a slightly bigger plane turns up (although these planes are usually green as well). Understandably, the gameplay gets pretty repetitive quite quickly. Also, the music was pretty damn awful, even by the standards of the time (just listen to the video below to see what I mean).

1942_screenshot-3

I haven’t played the original in years, but I found a remake (1942: Joint Strike) on Xbox Live Arcade that looked promising. It has the same repetitive gamplay but it’s still somehow compelling: I think this game – in all its forms – must generate some kind of Pavlovian response deep in the cerebellum that keeps your trigger finger twitching long after your conscious brain has entirely disengaged.

1942 – a flawed classic. But I’d still happily bypass all the Time Crisis and House of the Dead cabinets to play on it if I saw it in an arcade now. Especially if it still cost 20p.

Lewis

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Filed under 1984, Capcom, Coin-Op, Shoot 'Em Up

#9: Chase HQ

Format:Amstrad CPC Genre: Arcade Released: 1989 Developer:Taito/Ocean
DISCLAIMER: All the references to Robert Maxwell and the impact he may or may not have had on the fortunes of a particular computer games retailer below are based on half remembered conversations and hearsay. Apologies if they are not exactly accurate. Though seeing as he robbed pensioners I can’t see anyone complaining.

Chase HQ was my first arcade love. It’s the first arcade game I can actually remember, well, remembering. I knew the name, I would actively seek it out in the various horrible, dingy, seaside arcades I forced my family to take me to as a kid.* It was colourful, it was noisy, you got to drive a car, bash into another car, and a man leaned out of the window and fired a gun. Brilliant. Simple, effective arcade action. I did whatever Nancy told me to do. I still probably would.

So it was only natural I would want my very own version to play at home. As Lewis has already touched on here there was a time when everyone was obsessed with something being ‘arcade perfect’. The dream held by every school boy was that they could play an exact replica of the game they played at the arcade in the comfort of their own bedroom, away from the frightening puffa-jacketed older boys who might beat them up or intimidate them by standing right behind them and watching them play.

Of course it all seems so quaint now, bloated as we are on fancy graphics and plasma tellys. Why, the arcade itself now struggles to compete with home consoles, relying on ever more elaborate and expensive gimmicks to try and get people to fritter their pound coins away as they once did with their 20ps. Ahhhh, ’twas a different time.

At the time my brother and I were proud owners of an Amstrad CPC6128k (with disc drive, and I’m sure it was spelt disc not disk back then). Now the Amstrad CPC version of Chase HQ was never going to be arcade perfect. Even at 10 years old I knew that. While the arcade version looked like this:

Arcade goodness

Arcade goodness

The Amstrad CPC version looked like this:

Amstrad... okayness

Amstrad... okayness

Didn’t matter though. I was well used to such differences and had lowered my expectations accordingly, I just wanted the chance to play Chase HQ at home. Is that really so much to ask?

I found a mail order company in an Amstrad magazine selling Chase HQ at a very reasonable price. I can’t remember how much now, something like £5, but it was cheap. I saved up the odd 20 pence and 50 pence given to me by grandparents and aunts and uncles until I had enough. I got my mum to write a cheque for me, posted my order and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And after about 2 months my parents tired of me asking if Chase HQ had arrived every time I got home from school. My dad called the company, it seemed they had gone bust. I wasn’t going to ever get the game. They had though, in a thoughtful parting gesture, cashed my mum’s cheque, effectively stealing from a 10 year old.

Now this is were Robert Maxwell gets involved. At least I think he does. I’m sure I remember my Dad saying the company had gone bust partly because one of Maxwell’s companies, I presume Mirrorsoft but again I don’t know, owed them a huge amount of money. So, in a roundabout way, Robert Maxwell stole Chase HQ away from me. How did he sleep at night? Maybe that was the final guilty nail when he was on that boat…

Though now I think about it (and having done a little bit of research on the internet – I checked wikipedia) that doesn’t seem that likely. Still, I like to blame him, he did enough crooked things that adding another seems fair enough.

I never got Chase HQ. Very soon after that incident it became increasingly difficult to find places selling Amstrad CPC games, certainly older ones. It seemed I just wasn’t meant to play it at home. In fact after that experience I stopped playing it in the arcade. The game had been soiled in some way.

So, how did Chase HQ make my life slightly better? Well, it taught me to be wary of ads in the backs of magazines – an important lesson to learn whatever your age.

Ian

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Filed under 1989, Amstrad CPC, Arcade, Ocean, Racing