In another of his occasional guest features for Arcade Heroes – industry specialist Kevin Williams (KWP), takes a look at the history of the “Deluxe” and “Super Deluxe” categories of arcade cabinet hardware. These now dominate the arcade landscape, so I felt it fitting to see how we got here. Original text is from Mr. Williams, while I’ve edited the copy while taking the liberty to add a few items to the post. Enjoy! – Arcadehero
KWP: While some may claim that there are no new video amusement pieces being made anymore, the reality is that the modern amusement trade has seen an explosion in new releases, the 2020 pause excepted. While the gaming public tends to focus on the mainstay of ticket redemption redemption pieces, they overlook or ignore the serious investments that have been made into producing new video amusement titles.
The arcade business is about attractions and there has been no better way to draw crowds into a location than the use of big-box simulator style attractions, based on standard amusement releases. For many years, amusement manufacturers have developed “Deluxe” (DX) and “Super Deluxe” (SDX) cabinet hardware, as a step up from the “Standard” (SD) designs, as a big-ticket item hopefully warranting a big-ticket price. Here, we will dissect this interesting history and how it has influenced the releases of today.
Look back at the History
Since the production of Computer Space, the arcade market saw one dominant cabinet – the traditional upright. These were supplemented by a smaller and more affordable design known as the cocktail cabinet after Atari released Quadrapong, but the thought of going bigger didn’t hit until 1975 when the same Atari (under the Kee Games label) would produce what we could call the first Deluxe cabinet with Indy 800. This would take the standard cocktail design and spruce it up into something far more attractive than the norm.
Apparent from the sales flyer above, Indy 800 was truly deluxe, not just due to its size, but due to its features. Based upon Atari’s successful Sprint racing series, Indy 800 was the world’s first 8-player video game. It came with a giant 4-sided marquee topper, with two angled mirrors that allowed bystanders to see the action below. That action was then displayed on a rarity at the time – a color monitor. Each driver even had their own horn. This design would be borrowed by Atari for games like Tank 8, and slightly pared down for a 4-player model in Indy 4. Rival Exidy would use a similar 4-player setup for their Car Polo game.
This hardware would come at a cost however, which has also accompanied all deluxe releases since. Where standard hardware releases would cost around $745 to $1145 at the time, Indy 800 came in at a whopping $6495 or $36,632 in 2023 dollars. While such an enormous cost would limit how many locations would grab such a game, it did raise the profile of the location that did add it to their game room.
Another deluxe design to come from Atari would be in their co-operative 2-player game Fire Truck. Released in 1978, it did not do deluxe quite like Indy 800 had, but it was made available in two models, the single player version called Smokey Joe only launching the month afterwards. The price contrast here was not quite so stark compared to Indy though, with the games costing $1495 and $1345, respectively.
High costs would keep such cabinets from being a success, so standard uprights continued to be mainstays. Competition breeds innovation however, and as the likes of Taito and Atari dominated the late 70s scene, smaller competitors would find a way to grab attention and grab it they did when Exidy created the first cockpit cabinet for Star Fire. Released in 1980, it was not the first sit-down cabinet every made, but it was the first time that the cabinet would enclose the player by putting a ceiling onto the structure. This was also a step in the direction of the simulator, immersing the player into the digital action in a way that had not been done previously. It also helped that the game was essentially a Star Wars game without being licensed as such, and without an official SW game on the market, it played onto the hype where people could go to the arcade and feel like they were hopping into a starfighter. A small upright version of the game was also produced, but any location wanting to impress their customers would spring for the deluxe model.
Atari was reacted quickly to Exidy’s idea, although they did so as something of an afterthought at first. Designing another big hit in Missile Command, the company would create a cockpit model for it but only 100 would be produced. The game that was more of a reaction to Star Fire would be the cockpit model of Red Baron but the company also would only produce about 500 of them. They found solid success with NAMCO’s Pole Position license, producing a sit-down cockpit model for that in 1982.
The real game that would grab attention for Atari in a deluxe format would be the long anticipated release of STAR WARS in 1983. Released in a standard upright, the “holy grail” model would be the cockpit. Delivering on Exidy’s original promise, the deluxe model allowed players to pretend that they were Luke Skywalker as an X-Wing pilot. The price difference between the SD and DX models was $800 ($2295 / $3095), although the floor space taken up by the cockpit certainly played into an operator’s decision as to buy it or not. The DX would sell over 2,000 units, but it paled in comparison to the SD’s 10k+.
Atari would roll out a similar two model design with their first and only laserdisc game, Firefox in 1984, although the most impressive DX cabinet – to the point that we could probably argue that it was a Super Deluxe one – would come with TX-1. Developed and released in Japan at the end of 1983 by Tatsumi Electronics, Atari would manufacture the game for North America. This one was a titan for the time, coming in at 71″ tall, 55″ wide and 73″ deep and it weighed 650lbs (measurements similar to today’s DX cabinets). Why was it such a huge cabinet? It featured 3 screens for a widescreen display of the game’s graphics.
Jumping back, the idea of a deluxe cabinet would be taken further with what was called at the time the “total environmental cabinet” – originated for Discs of Tron by Bally-Midway as their unique stand-up deluxe offering for the big movie release behind TRON. The big difference with this design from Bally was that the player did not sit down, but stood up. These environmental Discs of Trons (called EDOT) are highly prized collector items today.
While American amusement manufacturers of the period would create many unique simulator variants and designs, it would take the Japanese amusement factories to define the categories.
Drawing the line between what makes one cabinet a standard and another deluxe is not set to any scientific standard, but SEGA would ultimately set the broad definitions that we’ve been using up to this point of the SD/DX/SDX hardware designs. The company did dabble with some larger-than-standard cabinets in the 70s with the likes of Bullet Mark and Galaxy War but it was in response to Exidy in 1981 where they gave their first cockpit design a shot in Space Tactics. Obscured by time today, this giant game employed an innovative idea that only arcades can do, blending the use of mechanical tech with digital. The game itself was a basic sci-fi shooting game but the difference came from the monitor literally moving on gears in conjunction with the player’s movements! Of course as we say in the business, a player’s wildest dream is often an operator and technician’s worst nightmare.
Space Tactics wasn’t a great seller but Sega pressed forward undaunted and among their many releases in 1982 & 83, they would offer a few more titles in the Standard and Deluxe categories. A more traditional cockpit model was offered for Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator, finding inspiration from the series to create a “Captain’s Chair” model. Then in 1983, two more titles followed the pattern, Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom and SubRoc-3D.
These particular machines wouldn’t set the arcade world on fire, but a series of simulators that Sega would launch in 1986 would – OutRun, Hang On, Space Harrier and soon After Burner II would all find multiple options available, the most impressive of which were the simulators that took things a step further by adding motion into the mix. These features demonstrated the power and ability of arcades to go beyond anything a home console was capable of doing, not just in terms of graphical prowess, but in hardware that can’t be purchased as a cheap accessory and setup in a living room. It was this idea that would become the stronger influence for arcades down the road as they fell behind in the graphics wars.
By 1990, Sega had defined the “large entertainment” machine range, thrusting onto the market what they named “En-Joint” space systems. These represented what would go on to become “Super Deluxe” (SDX) cabinets, sometimes classified as Medium-Scale Attractions. Releases to fall into these lines were personified by the R-360, AS-1, and elusive Cyber Dome. Sega had hoped that these scaled-up amusement deluxe pieces, also called their “Hi-Entertainment game series,” would become the mini-attractions populating the new initiative of “amusement-theme parks” (ATP). Venues such as Sega’s JOYPOLIS and Namco’s Wonder Egg would fall into this category, with Japanese amusement factories dreaming of transitioning from traditional arcades to the amusement park business.
However, the aspirations to grow the industry towards adopting SDX proved harder than planned. The vast expense of these systems alone precluded their adoption across the amusement trade, with most operators unable to generate the revenue needed to recoup the cost of these big box items. To adapt, SDX systems would be sold in piecemeal batches for the flagship venues, while the amusement trade of the 1990’s pivoted towards restructuring. DX and SDX designs would not go away, still being produced in small quantities for those who could afford them, otherwise the market of the time focused more on revenue generation, rather than big eye-candy.
Present entertainment offerings
While the Japanese amusement trade may not drive the video amusement industry at the same level as they had previously, their influential strategy still holds true in current developments. Recent years have seen a return to the deluxe cabinet approach, with that completely supplanting the standard upright cabinet. Big amusement pieces today dominate the gaming floor for most venues, capturing the players’ attention in ways beyond a concept and a name.
Raw Thrills is an industry leader in the Western amusement industry, and they have a long list of deluxe style amusement to their name. They first dabbled with Sega’s style of three-model releases in Terminator Salvation, first launched in a 42″ deluxe cabinet, followed by smaller 32″ & 42″ SD cabinets with fixed guns; This was also the first time that the company would build an SDX game with their 100″ cabinet version, a design not copied by the rest of the industry at the time, although you’ll notice the similarities between that cabinet and the fictional Heroes Duty game that played a role in the 2012 Disney film Wreck-It Ralph.
Jumping forward to now, Raw Thrills has been taking DX & SDX design ideas to the max with releases like Fast & Furious Arcade – while not officially represented by an SDX moniker, the system has an amazing 2x 65’’ UHD (Ultra High Definition) screen setup per each cabinet, combined with a motion base. When multiple units are linked together, it makes for a mighty impressive display, with some FECs around the world seeing the marketing benefits of having a spectacle with four or in a couple of instances, eight, units set together.
Screens have become one method to single out DX from SDX cabinets and Raw Thrills certainly has dropped the mike with this particular release. Many would feel that they are staking their claim in owning the DX racing game landscape, creating a dominant release that would be hard to beat in the face of competition from other manufacturers.
FnF isn’t the only Raw Thrills product to embrace the idea; The company joined the VR revolution in 2020 by creating their own take on popular VR rides with King Kong of Skull Island in 2020. This features a motion platform for two riders, sporting high end VR headsets, 4D wind effects as well as hand tracking for an interactive experience. The machine comes in at 309cm(d) x 121cm(w) and 279cm(h), incorporating a large 55’’ display for the top marquee, allowing the audience to watch the action(or a pre-recorded video if the operator chooses), while the players enjoy the high-quality cinematic experience in their VR headsets.
Raw Thrills had also been the first to restart the arms race for the domination of game floor real-estate, embracing the burgeoning FEC market with their 2018 release: HALO Firetream Raven SDX. This broke in at a massive 301cm(d) x 347cm(w) and 299cm(h), sporting two 4K screens and seats for up to four players, enclosing them in the modern cockpit, or environmental design. The market would however dictate that they needed to release a smaller cost-effective two player version which would be their entry into “Environmental Deluxe” cabinet configuration (see the coming ‘Deadstorm Pirates’ coverage). But would be seen as the first flush of the return of the big deluxe cabinet approach to video amusement for this generation.
Now known as SEGA Amusement International (SAI) – the US and UK/EU operation that has become independent from SEGA Corporation in Japan, but has proven to be considerably active in amusement development, especially with video amusement pieces. SAI was not content to sit by and let Raw Thrills take all of the glory, unveiling their own monster Super Deluxe gun game with Mission: Impossible Arcade back in 2020. This mega four-player enclosure takes up 261cm(d) x 400cm(w) and 286cm(h) with two 55’’ HD displays – and fully illuminated with LED’s. Made to mimic an IMF safe house (refer to the movies if you need an explanation to what that is), an early design featured an optional backwall with a 65″ display, although most locations preferred to make the game open from both sides. Eventually SAI would make a two-player version which they christened a DLX, allowing venues with limited space to deploy the game. At the time, some question if the market was about to see a return to grandiose video game releases, and that seemed to be the case.
SAI also works in partnership with WAHLAP Technology in China and IGS in Taiwan, collaborating with their conjoined expertise in amusement manufacture. The fruits of these joint projects has seen the launch of titles such as Jet Blaster a jet ski racing experience, available for up to four-players linked, the game and hardware design invoking memories of Sega’s famous 1996 SDX release Wave Runner.
Also in working with WAHLAP, SAI has brought over to the Western market the sequel to their motorbike street racer with ‘Storm Rider 2: Motion Twin’ – the fast-paced racer has players sitting astride a motion-based motorcycle. The deluxe cabinet is a twin-configuration and comes in with a specification of 267cm(d) x 306cm(w) and 249cm(h) – each player having a 47’’ full HD display. Shipped in the classic Twin configuration (two single units setup as though they were one), operators can link two Twins together to achieve four player races. This is another title whose software was developed by IGS.
This trend to build bigger and more deluxe has spilled over to influence the redemption and prize play machines space too, with such new examples as the vast two-player Dodgeball Ultimate Arena DLX by ICE or Bay Tek Entertainment’s Connect 4 Hoops. The trend has been great for FECs, but has met a little resistance from locations who don’t have 13′ tall ceilings, leading these manufacturers to usually offer slightly smaller SD versions of the same games.
Being independent however, Wahlap would not just work with the likes of Sega, bringing a big name racing title to the market at the end of 2021 in conjunction with LAI Games, Asphalt 9 Legends Arcade. A street racing game based on the popular GameLoft consumer title, and developed in collaboration with IGS, the amusement version would be initially released as a “Premium Cabinet” – a new categorization for cabinets that was a different way of suggesting an SD cabinet, but of higher build quality. This was joined at the same time by a DX version, defined as a 5D simulator – weighing in at 217(d) x 137(w) and 246(h) and a 43’’ display. The machine would set the standard for DX cabinets on the market and would be the one to beat – seeing many manufacturers jumping into the ring to release their own street racers and take a swipe at today’s king-of-the-hill, as LAI saw exceptionally strong sales for their racer as the market emerged from the pandemic.
LAI Games had also set the standard for the incursion of VR into the amusement scene, with their unique evergreen “VR Ride” system based upon Ubisoft Rabbid’s IP. Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride came to define the VR ride amusement piece in both design and in earnings, and was recently upgraded with an Ultra HD package. This increases the headset resolution to 5k (using the new HTC VIVE Pro II), while enjoying the increased power of a GeForce RTX graphics card, and enhancements to the D-BOX motion platform. A system that stands out, it’s still the one to beat, and could effectively be called an SDX setup.
That was hardly the end of VR for both LAI and Wahlap as we jump back to Asphalt 9 – given the success the non-VR versions had seen, the companies have been hard at work on a VR version of the game, promising to launch this year. It comes with the same bells and whistles as the DX version of the game (a motion seat), while adding the VR, air jets and special vibration effects to make for a truly immersive and realistic racing experience.
The system has only been seen in a pre-production version in the States, with the final version being seen at IAAPA – specifications expected to be 285(d) x 135(w) and 232(h) (subject to change). This creation follows the VR version of an earlier IGS-made amusement racer called Overtake VR, launched in 2018.
That concludes our first part of this coverage on the returning interest in Super Deluxe and big box amusement. We will follow this up with a look at the rest of the trade, which includes some surprising new developments.
About the Author – Kevin Williams is a widely-respected specialist on entertainment and technology assisting international clients in developing immersive and interactive entertainment technology and facilities. Kevin is Co-Founder and Research & Development Director for Spider Entertainment, a global leader in Out-of-Home Entertainment for retail destinations and beyond. Along with advisory positions with other entrants into the market he is founder and publisher of the Stinger Report, “a-must-read” e-zine for those working or investing in the amusement, attractions, and entertainment industry. Kevin is a prolific writer and provides regular news columns for main trade publications. He also travels the globe as a keynote speaker, moderator and panelist at numerous industry conferences and events. Author of “The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier: Expanding Interactive Boundaries in Leisure Facilities”, the only book on this aspect of the market, the second edition is scheduled for a 2023 release.
Kevin can be reached at [email protected].