Tag: Blog

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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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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