We’ve all played on an arcade machine one time or the other, but have you ever wondered how they’ve developed over the years and what goes into them? With a wide selection of films and TV series showcasing retro arcade systems over the past few years, we must have been aware that many of these cabinets had technology powering them that were much less advanced than the most basic smartphone, and more advanced than what was developed by NASA scientists for the launch of the Voyager satellite. Indeed, in an age of rapid technological evolution, it is sometimes easily to forget how far we have come.
With it recently being Pong’s 45th birthday, we figured we’d take a trip down memory lane and explore how the humble arcade machine has evolved over the years, and also see where it’s going to go in the future.
Early Arcade Machines
There are quite a few contenders for what should be called the first real classic arcade machine, and it all comes down to how you define them. Some argue that Galaxy Game should be titled the first arcade game, as it was the first coin-operated machine, whilst others argue that Computer Space should be the first, as it was the first commercially sold coin-operated arcade machine.
However, we’re going to be slightly controversial here and say that Pong was the first real arcade machine. Pong really doesn’t need an introduction either. It’s certainly the most popular one, and kick-started the arcade revolution almost single handedly, which is why it gets the crown of first real arcade machine.
After Pong became successful, the 1970s saw a flurry of innovation in creating a lot of the standards of what we know to be the basis of modern arcade machines. Joysticks, gun controllers, steering wheels and more were either invented or improved upon to a great degree of success compared to previous efforts. From the end of the 1970s, arcade games started to grow into their own industry, rather than just being an offshoot of another industry.
The Golden Age of Arcades
This growth into a new industry kick-started around 1978, with the release of Space Invaders. Following the success of Space Invaders, the Golden Age continued with the release of such timeless games as Asteroids, Galaxian, Pac-Man, Defender, Donkey Kong and Frogger, all within the following three years after Space Invaders.
From there, gameplay and technology only continued to improve in the form of introducing sprites, improved storage, cel-animation, vector graphics, digital audio and the use of larger numbers of buttons to help improve gameplay aspects. All of these were introduced in the early 1980s, and thanks to the technological developments at the time, there are huge differences between games such as Frogger which was released in 1981 and Out Run which came out in 1986.
However, 1986 was also the year that arcade gaming started to decline. This was due to a number of factors, including the release of home gaming systems such as the NES, and a flood in the market of a lot of cheap clone games which helped to oversaturate the market. As such, arcade gaming started to wane a lot, and whilst there were periods where it became popular again, arcade gaming never really hit the highs again that it had achieved in the 1980s.
The new style of arcade games
Facing fierce competition from home consoles, arcade gaming had to diversify and expand into sectors that couldn’t be easily recreated at home. Games such as Dance Dance Revolution became popular by providing an experience that just couldn’t be recreated at home easily. This, combined with arcade halls diversifying out into other entertainment avenues such as offering air hockey tables, basketball games, and other, meant that arcades were still relevant as an entertainment place, but a lot of arcades did struggle throughout the 90s and 2000s.
A lot of arcade machines ended up in the hands of home owners as arcades were forced to close down, and as a result, there quickly became a new opportunity for businesses to sell vintage arcade machines. Additionally, further improvements in technology now meant that gamers could play a wide range of games all in one cabinet, thanks to MAME (Multi Arcade Machine Emulator) and other technology. This further fuelled customers buying an arcade machine for their home, and helped further the decline of the arcade as a place to go and visit.
The future of arcade machines
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Arcades have still kept clinging onto life, and depending on where you go, you may find that they are thriving in places like Japan. Games are still being developed for arcades, such as the Star Wars Battle Pod which gives players a unique experience that they wouldn’t get on their home console. Arcades have even diversified into businesses such as bars and pubs to keep running, providing all avenues of entertainment for people with fond memories from childhood. It’s clear to see that just like the zombies in House of the Dead, arcades just can’t be fully killed.
Do you have fond memories of a childhood spent down the arcade? Did you set any records that are unbeaten, or have any particular favourite games that you just couldn’t stop playing? Let us know in the comments below.