The golden games

The golden games

Arcade games have been around for a while now. With their near-certain demise playing out since the 1980s, Josie Adams explores Dunedinís final bastions of vintage electronic entertainment.

In 1770, Europe and America were spellbound by a machine. It was called the The Turk, and it was an automaton, a self-operating machine. It carried around on its chest a chessboard, and would play lords and ladies around the globe. It tended to win. It was the most advanced technology around; and it was a fake. For nearly 84 years, The Turk had won against intelligent humans Ė Napoleon Bonaparte, Benjamin Franklin Ė all of whom never guessed there was a chess master sitting under the table and operating the mechanical man. The Turk wasnít real; but the human interest in it was.

Playing a machine started out as a novelty and a curiosity. In the 1920s, you could slip a penny into a wooden box in any number of amusement parks, and an automaton would tell you your fortune; later, pinball and jukeboxes, though not humanoid at all, let the player interact with the machine. In 1936, Seeburg Ray-O-Lite used light-sensing vacuums in a machine to let you shoot a duck. The 20th century saw quick innovation and advances in virtually every field, and arcade games werenít left out.

The games we see today arenít made of wood and plastic ducks, and arenít found next to a ferris wheel. In the 1960s we saw a short, intense transition period occur. The games became a blend of mechanical and electronic: they used rear image projection, light sensors, and sound effects. In 1966, Segaís Periscope hit the markets. It had a new and improved version of the light-gun shooting technology Seeburg Ray-O-Lite used, and it simulated shooting down ships from a submarine. It was followed by the racing game Grand Prix in 1969, an ancestor of the much-loved racing games we play today.

It wasnít until the 1970s that electronic fully took over, and the famous and much-loved brand Atari hit the scene with Pong, ushering in a tide of electronic games. A few electro-mechanical games went the distance through the 1970s: Killer Shark, F-1, and Jet Rocket all got featured in blockbuster films of the time. In 1978, though, the final blow was struck: Space Invaders descended upon arcades from video game heaven, and a new age of indoor fun was let loose on coin-rich adolescents everywhere.

It was the golden age of arcades: they were everywhere Ė even in restaurants! Ė and the games they played still ring fond and familiar even in the ears of people our age: Pac-Man; Galaxians; Battlezone; Galaga. All through the 1980s, this golden age roared along the top of rapidly progressing graphics and computer systems; the home computer was poised to take over. The golden age began to fail around the late 1980s, when home consoles became widely available and affordable. In 1981, the U.S. arcade game industry had been worth $8 billion; 10 years later, it was worth $2.1 billion. Although the games fought it out, home video games and modern computer games have grown to overshadow the arcade industry.

The early 1990s saw one final, mad arcade frenzy in the release of fighting games: Streetfighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken. Most of the people reading this will be ďnineties kids,Ē and remember playing Tekken on their PlayStations, if not in the shadowy recesses of big-city cinemas.

Remnants of the golden age of arcades can still be found in the dark corners of shopping centres, cinemas, and long-standing takeaway shops.

These games are loved and cared for and still enthusiastically played. Alongside them are those members of the New Arcade Posse: games that have such complex interactive features they could never be satisfactorily played at home. Games like Dance Dance Revolution and Time Crisis are still a worthwhile investment for hot spots like Megazone and Time Out, which are found all over New Zealand.

Are these places shrines to a golden age long past, dedicated modern arcades, or simply a ragtag collection of random games designed to eke out an extra few dollars from a moviegoer? Iíve created a guide to the major arcade spots in Dunedin, so you can check them out for yourself. Although the ďbest gameĒ can be subjective, the limited variety in our city makes a short ďbest ofĒ list pretty easy.

Laserforce/Megazone

Itís been renamed, but the games are still the same. This is the biggest collection of arcade games in town: youíve got DrumMania, air hockey, basketball, a couple of racing games Ė basically every kind of arcade game, except those sweet multigame tables of yore (on which you could play Pacman, Space Invaders, Pong, etc.). Although it doesnít have any games that are well celebrated in their genres, and is seriously lacking in fighting games, you can easily spend plenty of time and money checking
it all out.

The best game here is Silent Scope. It only has one gun, but you can take turns if youíve got lots of friends (and if you donít, hey! More turns for you!) If you play in ďmission mode,Ē Silent Scope is exactly the same as most other shooters: bad guys pop up, and you shoot as many as possible. Itís nothing new, and since the only thing that separates it from the crowd is that you have a scope, I would highly advise just playing Terminator instead (not available at Megazone). No, to truly understand the excellence of Silent Scope, one must select ďbattle mode.Ē

The aim is to shoot the bad guy before he shoots you. It sounds simple, but your constantly moving vantage point and the variety of scenery he hides in makes it complex. Because youíd have to be pretty damn good to win every single time, itís very satisfying when you do. Oh, and donít worry about being a great shot: In this game, apparently even a shot to the hand is lethal.

Silent Scope does not have the constant stimulation and gratification of gratuitous violence of shooters like Alien and Terminator, but then again, you donít have to deal with the brightly-coloured flashing and repetitive yelling that seem to be staples of over-branded games. One thing that Silent Scope will give you over any other shooter is this: time for your money. Even the most average player can get up to ten minutesí play from two dollars.

There is one other game at Megazone that Iím going to recommend, and I ask you not to judge me until youíve played it. When you first see Rapid River it will probably have up to four seven-year-old children on it, and you will probably think it is lame. You might think itís the game they put there to entertain kids whose parents and babysitters just want a peaceful game of mini-golf. You would be wrong: mini-golf is never peaceful, and Rapid Riverís proper operation requires the strength of two grown teenagers.

Itís a paddleboat game: you and a friend squeeze into the boat and row it along the river. The catch: the boat paddles are connected so you have to work in sync, and the riverís current is nearly always against you. You donít know true embarrassment until youíre sandwiched between two other adults in a shaking yellow half-boat, being yelled at to turn left, or ďpaddle harder,Ē and failing to reach the finish line. The kids waiting for their turn will think you are weak. Rest easy, because you donít know true satisfaction until, arms aching, you watch someone else make all the same mistakes.

There are several river maps to choose from in Rapid River: jungle, volcano, and another kind of jungle. There are paths within each map you can choose to take, which allows you plenty of in-world exploration, or at least some switching-up of the pretty digital scenery. Donít worry; the chair shaking is probably a feature of the game and not a mechanical flaw. Take a friend or two with you to play, look out for the giant yellow platform, and prepare to forgo arms day at the gym.

Modaks

Modaks is an uber-hip cafe with unpredictable, but usually annoyingly early, closing times. They make up for this with the best fries in town, a special diet-friendly menu, and Streetfighter. Up the back of the cafe, next to the bathrooms, there are two Streetfighter games. Streetfighter is an absolute classic in the fighting game genre, and was part of the wave that kept the golden age of the arcade from dissipating irreversibly quickly. You should play at least once, even if itís just because itís got historical worth. Itís easy to dismiss it as hipster Ė in Dunedin youíre most likely to find it at Modaks or Radio One Ė but it does provide some seriously sweet bang (and kapow, and hi-ya) for your buck.

Can you play Tekken? Then you can play Streetfighter. Donít know how to play Tekken? You can still play Streetfighter. Random button-mashing will always work, because Streetfighterís combos arenít always complicated and itís easy to accidentally make one. That being said, actually knowing the combinations would be a better approach. Itís fun all around either way: every character in this game seems to have been an acrobat at some point, and as always with fighting games, using a special move is a thrill and a half.

You can play the computer or another human, so itís enjoyable no matter what your social situation. Because there are two of them at Modaks, impromptu tournaments donít have to involve waiting eons for rounds to finish; and if they do, there are some A+ milkshakes for sale 10 metres away.

Dunedin International Airport

Most of you have probably found the airport arcade accidentally by now. Itís with the upstairs gates, just above Gate Nine and opposite the bookshop. It has a couple of the claw machines that children in movies get stuck in. But aside from that, the games arenít half-bad Ö Ok, half of them are bad. But then thereís Terminator: the arcade game.

When Arnie said, ďIíll be back,Ē he wasnít messing around. Years after the movies, and in spite of the cancellation of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Terminator is going strong as one of the most alluring arcade games around. Itís one or two-player, loud, brightly coloured, and has one simple mission: destroy all machines.

You roam around with your gun-slinging buddies pointing and shooting at the exciting variety of machines in their dystopian spread of environments. All shooters seem to have the baddies flash red when theyíre close to you, so itís easy to prioritise shooting. Terminator is different because you have to reload, which sometimes makes this difficult. Yeah, itís not stunningly different from the other big names in this genre, but itís very pretty, and you can pretend to be Sarah Connor.

Something transfixingly hideous on the face of arcade is a game present at the airport: Buckhunter. This game is not topping any lists, except maybe bad things to put in the Meridian food court (where it can also be found). Buckhunter is astoundingly awful.

The aim of the game is to kill animals. This isnít within some plot-based need for sustenance; itís just for fun. Straight off the bat, itís not going to be a favourite. The pointless violence continues in an assault against decent sensibilities, which takes the form of the Buckhunter girls. The majority of arcade games leave objectification of the female body to their console and computer-based brothers, but even then itís not as overt as it is in Buckhunter: they are real human females, clad in scant clothes you definitely wouldnít take on a real safari, and smiling like theyíve had their souls sucked out.

Your points are determined by where you shoot the animal, how many you shoot, and whether or not you shot something you werenít supposed to, like a less delicious deer. It doesnít change much except for the occasional lion popping up, which makes one sad rather than titillated.

Arcade games have big screens and are seen by plenty of people, especially when theyíre in airports and food courts, so theyíre possibly the best way of getting attention by using annoying sexualisation. Iíd say this was an indicator that Buckhunter are good at marketing, except that they arenít even using the girls to advertise anything except the game you are already playing, you depraved soul, you.

South Dunedin Burger King

South Dunedin Burger King is now the home of Time Out. Once a bastion of everything arcadian, Time Out has been slowly dying off. Nowhere is this more apparent than at this particular Burger King, where three games huddle together pretending not to hear the weeping of Time Outís other branches.

It has that basketball game; never a favourite. Itís a two-player game, where you throw a miniature basketball into a miniature hoop, and try to get more goals than the other player before your time is up. Despite being miniature, it does require athleticism, which goes down well in neither modern arcades nor Burger King. They also have the non-game where you press the button to make the light stop and maybe get a prize, and a claw machine, where you will not get a prize. 10 per cent of the time youíll get a tatty, obsolete pop culture reference in soft-toy form or a tiny, Oliver-worthy ďfun-sizedĒ bounty bar, but these are not prizes; theyíre reminders of better times, and the money you could have instead spent on a tray-full of hash bites.

Hellís Pizza North Dunedin

Finally, although it isnít really an arcade - thereís only one game Ė the Studentville Hellís Pizza is worth checking out. Not only do they have delicious sides, they also have an absolutely pristine Young Frankenstein pinball machine. You need skill to be really good at pinball, but you can be super average and still get a lot of time out of your one coin. Itís the ideal time-spender (not waster, never time-waster) while you wait for your pizza. What a reward!

If youíre ever considering an arcade tour of Dunedin, I would suggest starting with breakfast at Modaks, intense exercise at Megazone, and picking up dinner at Hellís. Itís a guaranteed happy end to your day, no matter what desolate state youíve judged modern arcades to be in.
This article first appeared in Issue 11, 2014.
Posted 3:11pm Sunday 11th May 2014 by Josie Adams.