Monday, 18 April 2011

If I won the lottery...

If I win the lottery, there's the usual, and understandable, things that people would normally do with a large amount, by which I mean:

a) Sorting the family out with somewhere to live, with no mortgage
b) ensuring the extended family all get a bit, at least paying their mortgages off if not more

So, besides those, there would be other things I'd want to do with the remainder. A donation to my old brass bands, for starters, the holiday to Australia we've always wanted perhaps, maybe take the kids to Disney World... but I'd like to keep a few thousand pounds for the "game room" in our new house.

As well as being tastefully decorated with a fine choice in retro posters / artwork, there would be some classic arcade games in there, maybe the games would be cycled after a while, but the list of games I'd initially want in there are listed below. Now, it is important to understand the reasoning behind these choices. For example, despite one of my favourite arcade games being Gauntlet, I'm not sure about owning it outright now that I've seen that there is no "end" to it, just a sequence of repeating levels. However, if I had 3 friends round for a retro session, it would be pretty cool... but would it be as cool as the big 4 player Simpsons game? Possibly not.

So, criteria 1, then, they need to be worthwhile owning for real, and not a game effectively killed by emulation.

Criteria 2 is quality. Obvious, really. Prop cycle may be a unique game, but was it any good? Not to me.

I think, to be honest, that's all I need. However, I feel I should point out that the choices below will just be a list of ten games of choice (and ten because I need to set a limit but I don't know how big my game room will be), and not necessarily the greatest games of all time.

1) Virtua Cop 3
 You might have thought there's bound to be a significant presence of gun games in my list. Firstly because I love them, secondly there's a lot of high-quality games in this genre. Of them all, Virtua Cop 3 was my favourite. Unfortunately, it's not particularly retro. However, it's the best gun game I've EVER played. So in it goes. As difficult as it might be, I'm going to try and avoid the genre for the rest simply for variation.

2) Roadblasters - Sit-Down Cockpit
A gem of a game I really need to cover in depth at some point, but this would be uber-cool to have in a game room. Of course, the Atari T-Shirt offer screen would still be activated, and eventually I'd get the code and send it off to try and claim one... Only a couple of decades late. Roadblasters is explained pretty well by its name... drive on a road, blast everyone in your way. Although it is also available in a stand-up cab, I'd rather have the cockpit for the cool factor.

3) Club Take Your Pick - Fruit machine

Thanks to the wonders of Fruit Machine Emulation, I managed to relive the glorious days of working at St Wilf's Club in Standish, where this fruit machine resided for a considerable amount of time. With a lot of depth to the machine, and lots of features, and GREAT sound, this absolutely would stand proudly and well-maintained in my game room. It would also double up as a saving-box for the next retro-project... or holiday.

4) Paperboy

Obvious reasons why I'd prefer to play the arcade original rather than an emulated equivalent, right? No? It's the handlebars, you dummy. Without them it's just not the same. And as a game, apart from Paperboy 2, it's a concept unrepeated since. Why? Erm... copyright infringement, I should imagine.

5) Track and Field / Hypersports
I can't decide which of these I'd want in there. I was always a big fan of both games, and yes, I'd absolutely take either of these two ahead of a Decathlete (a.k.a Athlete Kings). Maybe I could make space for both...
6) Galaxian 3: Project Dragoon

The Galaxian theatre by Namco has always excited me, from the first time I saw it in Blackpool, to seeing this excellent set of pictures of one being dismantled and moved. I'd be pushing the boat out on this one, but given the opportunity I'd get one of these in. With an awesome sound system, incredible laserdisc footage and a decent game to boot (6 player simultaneous, anyone?), owning this would add up to some serious envy factor. Plus it would be like, totally awesome, dude.

7) Pac Man Ball - Pusher

Tell you what, just read my review.

8) G-LOC - R360 version

Tremendously expensive at the time, and even needed its own attendant to oversee it, this was undoubtedly the best way to play this (admittedly basic) variation on After Burner. Another one crying out for review.

9) American Laser Games Gun Game cabinet

It's too tough to make a choice. Mad Dog McRee? Who Shot Johnny Rock? Crime Patrol? Space Pirates? I want to play them all, and I understand they're pretty easily converted from one to another. So in it goes.

10) Space Harrier
 Number 10 is a silly one, to be honest. I'm not a fan of Space Harrier. Not in the slightest. But for me, an 80's/90's arcade was not complete without the ambient noises, the things you can pick out over and above your own game's noises. Without doubt the noise I most remember hearing in an arcade was the attract mode of Space Harrier. "Welcome To The Fantasy Zone. Get Ready!", followed by the death scream... "AAAaaaaaargh!" So, this wouldn't be played much, but it HAS to be there...

Honourable mentions
It was difficult only coming up with 10 games. My initial thoughts consisted almost entirely of shooting galleries and driving games (which surprises me, not being a driving game fanatic). However, with a bit of thought, here are a few that might get in the next rotation of games:

The Simpsons (4 player sit-down cabinet)
Daytona USA
Sega Rally
Any Time Crisis game
Crisis Zone (big screen version)
Police Trainer (big screen version)
Point Blank (big screen version)
House of the Dead (surely you know which version)
Rambo
Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom
Hard Drivin' (sit-in cabinet)
Time Traveller (the faux-holographic game)
720

Friday, 15 April 2011

Arcade - Pac Man Ball

Arcades
Pac Man Ball

The “pushers” or “penny falls” (or whatever you like to call them) have always been popular in arcades. I never saw the attraction for years (I always played the video games until I discovered the fruit machines), seeing the massive overhang of coins didn’t do anything for me. Until one year I went to stay at Pwllheli, North Wales.

Simply put as nicely as possible, it wasn’t exactly the sort of place to find the kind of arcade I liked. Sure, there were a couple of pool tables, which kept me and my dad entertained for a little while, and there were some arcade games like Sunset Riders and… erm… I can’t remember there being any others, really. And that really was it. The fruit machines didn’t appeal to me (too many Bellfruit machines, if I remember rightly), so I was kind of forced to look at the other amusement machines.

Across the way from that arcade was one other, filled with a batch of older fruit machines, and even older-looking Penny Falls. So old, it actually DID take pennies, not 10ps like most of the more modern ones. So old, it actually WAS made of wood…

I changed a pound down, and spent ages on them. I don’t know why I enjoyed it so much, maybe it was the tension of getting down to the last ten pennies, then getting a colossal drop of coins out, and moving on to the next overhang.

Fast Forward almost a decade, and on holiday in Newquay this time, and me and the better half discover Pac Man Ball. The basic mechanic of winning is the same, put your coins in, watch them drop down onto the pusher area, and hope for a big drop of coins. However, there is the added bonus of the screen in the middle of the play area, and the bonus boxes you can hit with your coins to activate the screen.

And I think this is what set the game apart from the rest. There was the chance to add up to 50 extra coins to the platform through this screen! Which, unbelievably, almost always resulted in a lot less than 50 coins coming out of the payout tray…

Let’s not be na├»ve about this, we all know, only too well, that arcade operators wouldn’t ever site a machine that was going to lose them money. That would be pretty dumb business. Like all AWP/SWP/Pushers/any kind of arcade machine at all, the primary function is to take cash in and make money for the owner. The odds are always in favour of the owner, if they weren’t then arcades wouldn’t last long. Pac Man Ball is no different… basic physics suggests that the holes at the side of the front platform will collect money, more money than what people would ever win out of the front, especially as that money pretty much needed to be replaced before it could be won again…

So, how to play, then… easy enough, drop your coins down the chutes at the sides, they then commence falling from the top of the play zone, sometimes passing through boxes marked with different fruits. All coins played will reach the moving platform at the bottom, where they settle and if dropped correctly will push against the back wall of the machine with the backstroke movement, hopefully pushing some coins down to the final platform that will push into the pile of coins waiting to drop out of the machine one way or the other. On their way down, if coins do pass through the fruit boxes, the fruits are sent to the screen…

Which is basically a game similar to Puzzle Bobble. On one side is a fruit waiting to launch, on the other is a launch pad for whatever fruit your coins may have activated on the way down. If you manage to launch the same as the fruit on screen, they collide, disappear and a couple of extra coins fire down onto the moving platform to increase your chances of a win. If they don’t match, the two symbols will bounce off each other and drop towards the floor, where again any matching symbols will be taken away, and this is where the chance for big money lies.

If you’re lucky, you could wipe out a number of fruits that cause further matches to be made as they cascade downwards. Through this you could accumulate up to 50 coins, all of which will slide down onto the moving platform. Don’t expect to win all these coins, however this is your best chance to get a few at the very least! A lot will drop down into the machine’s coffers, though.

Alternatively, if you manage to link up two Pacman symbols, you’ll get a “Wheel of Fortune”, where again you could add up to 50 coins to the sliding tray. If the arcade operator isn’t feeling quite so greedy you may find, sitting atop the massed coins, actual paper money, usually fivers. These make a nice welcome addition to your pocket, however more often than not, you’ll have a cycled a fiver or more through the machine to get it.

I’ve always been loathe to call gambling machines “honest”, but this one feels about as honest as you can get. You can see the areas where the machine collects its fee from the coins, so you’re well aware that they make their money out of it, but you don’t feel like it’s ripping you off. I think that’s an important thing, otherwise no-one would play. The bonuses are made so that you can earn them regularly without it actually giving you too much, but the excitement of 50 coins dropping down make you think, “Surely a load of them are going to come down to me!”

The other thing to remember is that the screen part is PROBABLY NOT random at all, in terms of the symbols presented, the bonuses awarded, and also how far the fruits bounce apart when they collide. When the pile gets big enough, new balls that land are removed if they're too high, and I have seen it get as fruits land repeatedly atop two peaks (and therefore disappear) until you eventually get a match.

But it's rare to get to that stage. With the 50 coin drop limit, your combos could potentially be pretty big (and a record is kept on screen of the best and longest combos), practically clearing the screen, but still with only 50 coins dropping (which to be honest only takes a 3-4 combo to achieve).

You know what, if you get to see one of these machines, give it a go. I've seen it in two flavours previously, 10p drops and 2p drops. Changing a couple of quid down to 2ps could potentially earn you a good 2 hours or more play, we certainly managed to get nearly 3 hours of play out of £4 in 10p's in Cornwall about 7 years ago.

Hmm.. This has given me an idea for a new article... if I won the lottery and made a game room, what would you have in there? Here's 1 for my list...