When I was a kid growing up in the UK, the highlight of my year was always the trip to the seaside video game arcade.
I now think I’m lucky to have experienced video arcade gaming in the early to mid 1980’s. It was such an exciting and fast-moving time for arcade gaming.
Some of my earliest memories are of standing in awe in a video game arcade at the turn of the 80’s. The lights and noise are imprinted in my soul.
I remember games like Donkey Kong, Scramble and Frogger. I would beg for 10p coins from my parents or I would do the old trick of checking all the coin return slots of the games for rejected coins that people had forgotten about. That would often return a bounty of 10p’s for me to continue playing.
The first games were always ‘stand up’ machines with a few exceptions. The world changed for me when I first saw the ‘Star Wars’ arcade game in 1983. It was a sit down booth and like it was from the future. The 3D Vector Graphics and gameplay left me in awe.
It looks very primitive now, but at the time it was one of the first games to be in a ‘3D’ viewpoint. The booth you sat in added to the atmosphere as you felt like you were flying the Millennium Falcon yourself (well it did when I was 8).
That was the start of a new era in arcade video gaming. Nearly every popular game that came out after that was in a sit down booth. Games that had previously been ‘stand up’ machines were even put in booths to capitalise on that game’s popularity.
Four player arcade gaming.
In 1985 my favourite arcade game of all time was released. Gauntlet.
It was a four player top down dungeon crawler apparently inspired by Dungeons and Dragons. I recently played Diablo 3 and there are so many nods and influences from Gauntlet in it. The designers clearly have a love for this game too!
Spending countless hours and lots of money on this game, I know I could have bought my own machine with the amount I spent playing it.
Space Harrier. A new experience in immersion.
I remember seeing the Space Harrier arcade machine by SEGA for the first time one summer. It had a crowd of people around it in the entrance of an arcade on the seafront. It moved on a gimbal, matching the movements on-screen for a more thrilling and immersive experience. At the time it was mind-blowing to see. In hindsight it is quite a basic rail shooter but the graphics and technology at that time were state of the art.
Later, Afterburner, also by SEGA had a similar movement system. Flying a F-14 Tomcat in a combat flight simulator, the cockpit you sat in rotated vertically and horizontally. These games heralded a new era of big, show-stopping machines that were always displayed in the front of the arcade to tease the curious people inside.
Stone, cold arcade classics.
I think of the 1984-1986 period to be the best years of the arcade video game era. Stone cold classics like Space Harrier, Gradius (Nemesis in the UK), Ghosts n’ Goblins, The driving game ‘Out Run’, Double Dragon, Bubble Bobble, The Light Gun Game ‘Chiller’, Marble Madness, the unique ‘Paperboy’ and countless others appeared and blew my tiny mind!
The classic ‘Chase H.Q’ was another game I played a whole lot.
Another favourite of mine was released later in 1989, ‘Hard Drivin’. A driving simulator arcade game. Well, a driving simulator in name only as you had to drive up a ramp and do a full loop. It was so hard and very rarely did I actually do it. The sit down version had a gear change stick, clutch and everything. You could play it in ‘easy’ mode but that wasn’t as fun as pretending to be an adult changing gears in a car. 😉
Blackpool was arcade heaven.
My favourite place to go and play video games was in Blackpool on the North West Coast of England. At the time in the mid 80’s, It had a lot of different arcades on the seafront. All vying for your attention. The best one’s had the latest and greatest machines in the front and the older games in the back. ‘Coral Island’, the arcade pictured at the top of this post was one of my favourites. It had a ‘pirate’ theme and was massive. In its heyday, it had every single arcade game on release and all the older games you could think of.
I now look back on those days as some of the best of my life. All I had to worry about was having enough 10p’s to play for a few hours.
Unfortunately in the present, the only games arcades like this seem to have are dancing games, racing games or the odd Light Gun game. Nothing like the 100’s of different games they used to have.
Seeing a picture like this one fills me with so much nostalgia for video games as they were:
MAME and returning to the arcade games of the past.
I have recently acquired many of the ROMS for the old arcade games I love. I play them using the MAME emulator on my PC using an X-Arcade controller that I have modded with new sticks and the best cherry switches and best quality buttons I could find.
To see and play all these old games can bring a tear to my eye. It reminds me of a time gone by that needs to be remembered and kept going for future generations. That’s why I love the MAME project.
As many of the old arcade units and cabinets are falling into disrepair and get rarer to find in good condition, It’s important that this exciting time in video game development is archived and cherished for generations to come.
Modern day Arcades are just not the same.
I now live in Melbourne, Australia and sometimes venture to the huge arcade at the Crown Casino here. I always end up leaving feeling kind of let down. Dance games and light gun games dominate now. It’s pretty hard to find an arcade machine with a joystick and buttons anymore which is shame to me.
Platformer’s are my favourite type of game and seem to dying off in the arcade. Maybe one day there will be a resurgence. I hope so.
All is not lost though. There are a few cafe/bar places here that specialise in retro video arcade games and keep machines serviced and alive.
I just doubt I’ll ever hear that wonderful sound of 300+ arcade machines on ‘attract mode’ in one big space again, or feel that total excitement of choosing which game I’ll play first!
At least I have the memories.