Quarter Up: The Evolution of the Arcade

If you’re a gamer in his/her 20s or 30s, you probably fondly remember afternoons or even whole days spent in arcades – those big dark rooms full of big, colorful stand-up game cabinets all abuzz with lights, sounds, and music.  It was a pretty magical time for gamers; arcades had a little something for everyone.  Whether you wanted to quarter up to take down your local arcade’s resident Street Fighter II king, beat up foot soliders to rescue April O’Neil, or blast bad guys arms only with a light gun, a pedal, and a desire for justice, there was something for every gamer to enjoy.  Or if you wanted to shoot CDs at a bunch of bad guys to save….music…?

Who was this game for again?

More importantly, arcades offered gamers an avenue to have game experiences that you just couldn’t have with home consoles at the time.  Sure, there would eventually be console ports of games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II, but the graphics and sound ultimately took a hit and the experience suffered a bit for it.  Not only did arcade games look far superior to console games at the time, many arcade games offered a level of interactivity that home consoles simply couldn’t match.  You could play Hang-On on your Master System, but the console version of the game didn’t come with a peripheral in the form of a motorcycle you could ride and lean on in order to steer your cycle in-game.  And don’t get me started on those epic 8-player Daytona USA cabinets, each equipped with a full-sized car for players to hop into.  Arcades felt special and that’s why kids flocked to them in droves – at least until around the turn of the new millenium.

With this, it began.

With the introduction of game consoles like the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, not only did gamers have consoles that could compete with the graphical prowess of the arcade cabinets of our youth, but they now had console ports that not just as good as their arcade counterparts, but BETTER.  Why would you go to the arcade and spend 25/50 cents per round of Soul Calibur when the Dreamcast version offered better graphics than the arcade version, but a deep, rich single-player mode with tons of unlockables and the ability to play their friends for hours on end without quarters?  Sure, arcades did still offer the immersive experience.  Sure, there remained a few niche markets that arcades appealed to, such as the Dance Dance Revolution fans – after all, an arcade-quality dance pad for home consoles was prohibitively expensive for most gamers at the time.  Of course, the social aspect of the arcade was still present.  However, for many gamers, it became harder and harder to justify going to the arcade and arcade turnout saw a steady decline that ultimately led to many an arcade closure.

Now, you might think that this would be the sad end to the arcade, leading only to a time when arcade cabinets were relegated to the bowling alleys and movie theaters of the world, but there is a light in the distance for the humble arcade.  In the late 2000s, new businesses have emerged with a concept that has seen great success.  I’m referring, of course, to the bar-cade.

In this day and age, many arcades have shifted their focus.  Rather than looking to appeal to just teenages and kids, they’re striving for something that can be appreciated by gamers of all ages.  Chuck E. Cheese still exists of course, but there is little there for anyone over the age of eight.  Enter establishments like Dave & Buster’s, which offer a variety of modern arcade games (with a couple of retro ones mixed in for good measure) as well as the redemption machines they may remember from their Chuck E. Cheese days, only with much better prizes and a modern “ticket” system that places all of your winnings on the card that you also use to pay for each game.  (Isn’t modern technology great?)  Best of all, you can do all this while getting a decent meal and even a cold adult beverage or two if you’re so inclined!

However, D&B isn’t the only game in town.  A good friend of mine introduced me to a wonderful place in Greensboro, NC called Boxcar Bar + Arcade.  I’m gonna be totally honest with you guys – this is the kind of place that I’d probably never leave if there was one closer to home.

I feel like this is the sort of thing Heaven must have…

This was an experience unlike any other I’ve had.  This is a barcade that has completely embraced classic gamer culture.  It’s a venue lined with classic video game artwork and murals.  It sports a main room that is lined with just about every classic arcade cabinet you could ever want,  a back wall lined with beautiful modern pinball tables, a back room dedicated to Dance Dance Revolution, a few modern arcade cabinets added in for good measure, and even a bar that folks can sit down and play classic video game consoles at.  Who wouldn’t want to sit down with a cold drink while power-sliding around Cocoa Mountain in Mario Kart 64?  (Oh, and children are allowed when accompanied by a parent or guardian before 9 PM, in case you were wondering on the age policy!)

Every bar should have this.

Of course, all this would be meaningless if people weren’t coming.  Folks, let me tell you – this is the most people I’ve seen in an arcade since my days at the original Tilt at Patrick Henry Mall.

Warms my heart to see so many enjoying classic arcade games.

It’s clear from the response that places like D&B and Boxcar are getting these days that we’re in the middle of an arcade renaissance.  Sure, they don’t look quite the same as they did in our youth, but I’d argue they look better.  Kids still have their places to play, and for the adults, these new places have the best of both the modern and classic eras of gaming, no smoke, and great food and drink selections.

I guess arcades never went away.  They just grew up right along with us.

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Wade Plays…Badly.

This time around, I’m checking out “Montezuma’s Revenge” on the Commodore 64. I follow that up with a look at “Sydney Hunter and The Sacred Tribe”, a spiritual successor to MR from new-brew publisher Collectorvision. I think I succeeded at not totally embarrassing myself!

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The Importance of Playing Alone

E-Sports.

There’s a word you’re probably hearing a LOT these days – a buzzword, if you will.  Sure, the concept of large competitive gaming tournaments being broadcast isn’t a new thing.  (There was a time when ESPN aired the National Scrabble Finals, after all.)  However, this concept of broadcasting massive video game tournaments has grown to heights I never would have envisioned as a child.  My experiences in video game tournaments were all small mall/store-based events, but hey, I ALMOST won the Blockbuster Video Game Championship II at my local Blockbuster in Donkey Kong Country!  (Alas, history doesn’t remember second place.  Or second banana?)  Nowadays, it’s so much more.  It’s a Twitch streamer broadcasting Fortnite with Drake and getting 1,000,000+ views.  In fact, even my therapist and manager know what Fortnite is now!  It’s Blizzard’s titular multiplayer shooter Overwatch being big enough to have its own professional league with teams in 8 different cities – and having players get public punishments for misconduct.  (Just like a real sports league!)  It’s Evolution, the world’s largest fighting game tournament, broadcasting the Street Fighter V finals from Mandalay Bay on ESPN2.  Perhaps most impressively, it’s a League of Legends World Championship filling a stadium and having the kind of stage that would make you think less of a video game tournament and more of a WrestleMania.

Seriously. Tell me that doesn’t look like a pay-per-view!

This goes beyond e-sports, though.  With games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and Rocket League surging in popularity and MMO/live-service games like Destiny 2 and Elder Scrolls Online getting plenty of attention, gaming as a social experience is bigger than it’s ever been.  The point being – multiplayer gaming is all the rage right now – do people still say that? – and companies all around are trying to get a piece of that delicious e-sports pie.  Developers find themselves scrambling to be the next great multiplayer game and many gamers are left to wonder – what about those who just want to play by themselves?  Is single-player dying?  It’s easy to become worried about the future of the single-player game when the gaming press seems to constantly be reporting its death.  Be it EA’s decision to close Visceral Games and re-purpose their planned single-player Star Wars title into a “live service” game (read: Destiny: Star Wars Edition) or Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s decision to forego a traditional single-player campaign and add in a battle royale mode called Blackout (read:  Fortnite Battle Royale: COD Edition), single-player games seem to be dying all around us.

I’m here to tell you, friends – the rumors of single-player’s death has been GREATLY exaggerated.

“Who said single-player was dead?! BOY!!!”

Needless to say, Sony Santa Monica’s recent revival of God of War, in my opinion at least, is a stellar single-player experience.  However, that’s just my opinion – let’s look at some facts, shall we?  Consider the Game of the Year Award that’s been handed out every year at The Game Awards since 2014 – in that time, only ONE multiplayer game has won the Game of the Year Award and that was Overwatch.  Every other year, it has been a strictly-single-player game: 2014 awarded the top prize to Dragon Age: Inquisition, 2015 gave it to The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, and 2017 handily awarded the trophy to the modern Nintendo masterpiece, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  Whether you love those games or not, the trend of single-player games as king holds true.  I can even take that a step further and refer you to the nominees in this year’s Game of the Year running.  Of the nominees, yet again, only ONE game was a multiplayer game (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds), while The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Persona 5Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Super Mario Odyssey rounded out the nominees.  (Here’s a comprehensive list of the winners and nominees.) If you want to step away from The Game Awards (and given some of the cringe involved in that show, I wouldn’t blame you!), consider that the current top 3 Playstation 4 games in sales are all single-player games or have very strong single-player elements:  Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and The Witcher III: Wild Hunt.  (See current stats here – thanks, Wikipedia!)

Clearly, single-player still sells and sells VERY well, but why do we keep hearing about the death of single-player games?  Well, given the examples I provided earlier, let’s go ahead and say it – neither EA nor Call of Duty have ever been about single-player games in recent memory.  EA thrives on Madden and FIFA (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and Call of Duty campaigns have largely been an afterthought for most gamers and for the developers as well.  A recent report even suggests that less than half of people ever finish the campaign of a given Call of Duty title (See the IGN report here.).  Those developers clearly haven’t made single-player a priority, so looking to them as examples of the death of single player doesn’t really hold up.  Why do we only hear about multiplayer then?  Why does my therapist who doesn’t play video games at all know what Fortnite is?  Short answer: multiplayer games are the games getting broadcast on TBS and ESPN2.  They’re the games that draw massive audiences to Twitch and TV.  Basically, sponsors find those games sexy.  This doesn’t make single-player games any less relevant to gaming.

I don’t know about you guys, but while I have my favorite fighting game and my favorite multiplayer shooter, I don’t always want to play a game with other people.  Just like I sometimes want to read in the evenings in peace, I often just want to enjoy tearing up Draugr with Kratos or blasting zombies with Jill Valentine by myself.  Sometimes, at the end of a long day, all I want is a hot cup of evening tea.  A good single-player game is like the gaming equivalent of that cup of tea – I can enjoy it peacefully and on my own time and get just as much enjoyment out of it as I would a cold pint with friends on the weekend.  Single-player games will always have their place in gaming – they’re what started gaming, truly.  Those long nights in front of a glowing monitor stomping Goombas, gobbling dots, or even running from Evil Otto (That’s a Berzerk reference, kids, and no, I don’t mean the anime!) are what I remember most from my youth.  In fact, I even recall times with friends and family, huddled around game consoles as beating a game became something to bond over and accomplish together.  In a strange sort of way, I guess even single-player games can be multiplayer.  Funny, that.

At the end of the day, gaming will always need both single and multiplayer games – games to play with friends and games to lose ourselves in.  Single-player games aren’t going anywhere.

 

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Thinking Outside The (X)Box #1 – A New PC, A New Adventure!

So, real talk – a lot of you reading this bought more games in the last Steam Summer Sale than I have ever played seriously.  That may sound ridiculous, but the truth is I’ve never been that big of a PC gamer.  Sure, I enjoyed the original Tomb Raider and Jedi Knight on my parent’s Windows 95 box back in the day, I’ve known the grind of World of Warcraft, and I enjoyed long nights of co-op play in Left 4 Dead 2 with the few friends I have that are into PC gaming (and on a PC I built, no less).  I’m not averse to PC gaming in any way.  I’ve just always been drawn to consoles more.  Ever since my parents bought me an NES at the tender age of…5?  6?  Whatever it was, I was young and impressionable and the games I played on that console made me a Nintendo fan for life, which made me a video game fan for life.  I played 99.9% of my games on consoles and that trend followed me into my teenage years.  Some people grew up having LAN parties playing StarCraft or Counter-Strike into the wee hours of the morning, but me? My Saturday nights were spent drifting around turns in Mario Kart 64, laughing maniacally after blasting a friend from behind a grate in Goldeneye 007, and, eventually, blasting new friends on an Xbox LAN setup of Halo: CE.  Basically, I just didn’t have the time or money for PC games.

This scene was on my TV a LOT.

Well, now I’m 33 years old and life looks a little different.  I have a mortgage and car payment that come due every month, I have a job that I report to Monday-Friday, and some of those medical commercials I giggled at as a kid suddenly raise legitimate concerns.  (Maybe I DO urinate too frequently…)  Hey, don’t worry, it’s not all bad.  I also have more money and I have a lovely wife to come home to who just happens to love games as much as me.  The funny thing is – she does a lot more PC gaming than I do and I’ve had her and my fellow Playback cohorts trying to court me to the realm of PC gaming for some time.  Funny enough, my passion for console gaming is what has led me to this.  As a Twitch streamer, having a more powerful rig is beneficial to supporting that process.  So when it came time to replace my PC, I figured “go big or go home.”  I didn’t go ALL out, but my new rig is very powerful.  Intel Core I7 processor, GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card, 16GB of RAM…I haven’t had this much power before and a certain web-slinging teenager would tell me that great power comes with great responsibility.  This time, that responsibility is to explore PC gaming.

So let’s talk about my first gaming experience on my new PC: a little platformer from Studio MDHR called Cuphead.

Yeah, that one.

I had hoped to one day own this one on my Xbox One, but by the time they finally released it, I’d traded my Xbox One in to buy a replacement Switch, but that’s another story for another blog post.  This PC gave me the chance finally experience the game, but I knew a keyboard and mouse wouldn’t suffice for a game with platforming and shooting THIS demanding…but what other options did I have?  That’s when a Google search revealed a mind-blowing revelation – I didn’t need anything special to use my Xbox One or PS4 controllers.  No wireless dongles, no surfing the Web to search in vain for the correct drivers…all I needed was a USB cable.  Steam instantly recognized the controller and it just…WORKED.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that, outside of special controller adapters, only gaming on PC will you have the ability to use Xbox and PlayStation controllers on the SAME PLATFORM at the SAME TIME.  (In fact, by the time you’re reading this, Steam will have beta support for the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller!)  I had avoided PC gaming for so long, fearing the headaches of getting games and peripherals to work…yet everything worked flawlessly.  I immediately showed my wife this revelation with glee and showed her the first level of Cuphead like a young man running to show his Mom Super Mario Bros.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

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Powered by Playback: We’re Not Friends Anymore – A Night of Mario Multiplayer Mayhem

The March Powered by Playback event will be a Mario multiplayer extravaganza!  Join us at Poket Gaming in Poquoson on March 17th, 2018 at 7 PM for a night of Mario-themed multiplayer fun!

As always, $10 gets you in for a night of fun and a shot at a cash prize in the tournament!

The star attraction will be a single tournament consisting of two stages, each played in a classic Mario multiplayer game.

Player Cap: 16

Stage 1:  Mario Kart Double Dash (Game Cube) – Single elimination with byes based on signup order/number of entrants

Race Format:  VS
Speed:  150CC
Match format:  1-on-1, First to 3 Race Wins
Tracks:  Starting with the Mushroom Cup and working up as needed, a random track will be chosen from the four available and the opponents will race on it, then the next race will come from the Flower Cup, then, the Star Cup and, if needed, two from the Special Cup.
Items: “Recommended” setting
Laps:  3

No banned characters or tracks.

NOTE:  The tournament official reserves the right to adjust the rules as needed, based on player turnout.

Play will continue until the Top 4 remain.  The Top 4 will move on to The Party Round!

Stage 2:  Mario Party 4 (GameCube)

Board:  TBD by Tournament Official
Number of Turns:  20
Bonus Stars:  On

Contestants will be allowed one practice run of each mini-game as they come up, unless the group agrees unanimously to skip it.

The player with the most stars at the end of the game is declared the winner of the tournament and receives the pot of tournament money!

Controllers will be provided for this event.  If you wish to bring  your own controller, it MUST be approved by a tournament official.  See any of the folks in the Playback shirts to get approval.

While the tournament is going on, eliminated players or those waiting for turns will have access to free play stations to enjoy Mario Party and Mario Kart goodness!

Hope to see you there!

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Powered by Playback This Saturday!

Powered by Playback returns to Poket Gaming this Saturday at 7pm. We’ll be holding a Dragon Ball Z FighterZ tournament for all the fighting fans in the area. Make plans to join us for a night of anime knuckle busting! Full details on the Facebook page here.

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Last Round of Tournament Rules

We’re under a week out now, so here’s the final two sets of tournament rules for events that’ll take place at PLAYBACK III on July 29th:

First up, Bomberman on the Turbografx-16!

Player Cap: 32.

  • Depending on player participation, hosts reserve the right to issue first-round byes to those who sign up first in order to have even brackets.
  • Any who sign up past the initial 32 will be set as Alternates in the event that any of the original 32 no-show their match.

Format: Free-For-All, 4-Player matches.

Settings: Map is referee’s discretion. Depending on the number of players, some matches may feature fewer players.

  • Round 1
    • Match is Best-Of-3
    • Top 2 players in each group advance to Round 2, based on the number of wins in the match.
    • In the event of a tie for second place in a first-round matchup, those two players will play a 1-Win match to determine who moves on.
  • Round 2
    • Match is Best-Of-3.
    • Only the winner of the match advances.
  • Championship Match
    • Match is Best-Of-5.

Last, but by no means least, is the Ms. Pac-Man Arcade High Score Challenge!

Rules

  • The Challenge runs from 12 noon until 4 pm.
  • Players let the arcade room attendant know they want to make a run. The attendant will watch the player’s attempt and record their score.
  • Players may make multiple attempts in order to better their score.
  • If another attendee is waiting to play the machine, the player must relinquish the machine until it is free again. (Form a line, folks!)
  • The player with the highest score at the end of The Challenge wins the prize!

Be sure to pick up your tickets for July 29th!

PLEASE NOTE: The event organizers reserve the right to alter these rules as needed to best serve our attendees and/or respond to technical issues.

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PLAYBACK III Event Schedule

We’re only six day away from PLAYBACK III on July 29th!!!

Here’s the schedule of events for the day. Sign ups for each event open up one hour prior to start and an announcement will be made from the stage by our head tournament official at that time. We strongly suggest everyone check out the rules for the tournaments that have been posted here on the site.

PLAYBACK III Schedule of Events

9:00 am Doors Open
12:00 pm Super Mario Kart Tournament (SNES)
1:00 pm HALO 2 Tournament (Xbox)
1:30 pm Tetris Head-to-Head Tournament (NES)
2:00 Super Smash Bros. Melee Tournament (GameCube)
2:30 pm Bomberman Tournament (TG16)
3:00 pm Street Fighter V Tournament (PS4)
3:30 Pong Tournament
4:00 pm ???
5:00 pm Quake III Arena Tournament (PC)
11:00 pm Ticket Sales Stop
12:00 am Doors Close

We look forward to seeing you all at the show!

PLEASE NOTE: The event organizers reserve the right to alter these rules and/or start times as needed to best serve our attendees and/or respond to technical issues.

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Even More Tournament Rules!

Continuing with the tournament rules for the competitions coming up at PLAYBACK III on July 29th:

First up, Halo 2!

Player Cap: 32.

  • Depending on player participation, hosts reserve the right to issue first-round byes to those who sign up first in order to have even brackets.
  • Any who sign up past the initial 32 will be set as Alternates in the event that any of the original 32 no-show their match.

Game Mode: Slayer (Deathmatch).

Players Per Match: 8 (2 per Xbox).

Settings

  • Starting Weapon: Battle Rifle
  • Weapons: Standard
  • Kill Limit: None
  • Time Limit: 15 minutes
  • Radar: On
  • Suicide Penalty: None

Round Format

  • Round 1: Round of 32.
    • Map: Beaver Creek
    • Top 4 in Kills at the end of the time limit move on to the next round.
    • In the event of a tie for 4th place, winner will be the player with the fewest deaths.
  • Round 2: Round of 16.
    • Map: Lockout
    • Top 4 in Kills at the end of the time limit move on to the next round.
    • In the event of a tie for 4th place, winner will be the player with the fewest deaths.
  • Championship Game
    • Map: Midship
    • Top killcount wins the tournament.
    • In the event of a tie, winner will be the player with the fewest deaths.

Second up this time, Tetris from Tengen (played in memory of Donna K. Pelfrey)!

Player Cap: 32.

  • Depending on player participation, hosts reserve the right to issue first-round byes to those who sign up first in order to have even brackets.
  • Any who sign up past the initial 32 will be set as Alternates in the event that any of the original 32 no-show their match.

Game Mode: Endless VS.

Tournament Style: Single Elimination.

Rules:

  • Each round leading up to the finals will consist of a best-of-3 matchup. The finals will be a best-of-5 matchup.
  • Rounds will be 10 minutes long, with the winner of each round determined by whomever is left standing or whomever has the top score after 10 minutes.
  • A tournament official will start the time as the first piece is available to drop and will make announcements when the time reaches 5 minutes remaining, 2 minutes remaining, and 1 minute remaining, as needed. The official will also countdown the final 10 seconds.
  • The first competitor to win two matches (or three in the final) moves on.

Be sure to pick up your tickets for July 29th!

PLEASE NOTE: The event organizers reserve the right to alter these rules as needed to best serve our attendees and/or respond to technical issues.

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More Tournament Rules!

We’ll be spending the rest of the month filling out our rules for the remaining competitions we’ve got scheduled for PLAYBACK III on July 29th. We’ve got two for you today:

First up, Smash Bros. Melee!

Player Cap: 32.

  • Depending on player participation, hosts reserve the right to issue first-round byes to those who sign up first in order to have even brackets.
  • Any who sign up past the initial 32 will be set as Alternates in the event that any of the original 32 no-show their match.

Available Characters: All.

Match Settings:

  • Stock: 4
  • Time Limit: 8 minutes
  • No Items
  • Pause Disabled

Available Stages:

  • Yoshi’s Story
  • Fountain of Dreams
  • Final Destination
  • Battlefield
  • Dream Land

Tournament Style: Double-Elimination, Best-of-3 (Finals will be Best-of-5), 1-on-1.

  • The final match will pit the winner of the Winners’ Bracket and the winner in the Losers’ Bracket. The player from the Losers’ Bracket must win two sets to win: one to reset the bracket and the second to win the tournament.

Controllers: Standard GameCube controllers will be provided. Players are allowed to provide their own controllers, so long as those controllers do not provide any competitive advantage.

Stage Selection:

  • Out of the five Available Stages, the first stage is decided by matched players eliminating choices in a P1-P2-P2-P1 order until only one stage remains.
  • Following stages are decided by the winner of the last match declaring one of the five stages ineligible and the loser of the last match choosing from the four remaining stages.
  • There will be no stage bans in the Championship rounds – instead, players will simply go down the list as seen above.
  • You may not choose a stage you have already won on unless mutually agreed to by your opponent.

Character Selection:

  • Winning player is not locked into the same character for the next match, but has to choose his/her character before the loser chooses.

Second up today, Pong!

The Pong tournament will be contested on a Coleco Telstar 6040.

Player Cap: 32.

  • Depending on player participation, hosts reserve the right to issue first-round byes to those who sign up first in order to have even brackets.
  • Any who sign up past the initial 32 will be set as Alternates in the event that any of the original 32 no-show their match.

Tournament Style: Single-Elimination, Best of 3 games.

  • Opening Round – Semi-Finals: Each round of the single-elimination tournament will consist of a 1-on-1 Best of 3 series with 15 points needed to win the game.
    • During the Opening Round matches, players will be given three test volleys in order to get used to the controls of the Pong console.
  • Championship Round
    • The Championship Round will be a Best of 5 series (each game to 15 points) to determine the winner of the tournament.

Make plans now to be with us on July 29th!

PLEASE NOTE: The event organizers reserve the right to alter these rules as needed to best serve our attendees and/or respond to technical issues.

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