In the second part of his trip down arcade memory lane, Kevin Williams (KWP) continues to discuss “Deluxe” and “Super Deluxe cabinet designs. Editing and several additions were thrown in by myself, Arcadehero. If you missed the first part, click here!
KWP: The first part of our coverage looked at the history of Deluxe (DX) and Super Deluxe (SDX) amusement configurations, but to keep it from getting too lengthy, we left out several companies and their important contributions to the space. We’ll wrap that up this time by charting new developments on the modern market, while giving needed nods to history.
We’ll begin with a Japanese amusement operation we missed from last time: NAMCO. When Sega and Taito were both eyeing the theme park space for medium scale attractions, Namco was right there to compete, offering up many of their own SDX and DLX releases into the amusement market over the years. Collectors and arcade fans alike will likely recall their first theme park attraction, the massive Galaxian 3. Released in 1990, this 28-player ride did not find its way into many facilities, but it would whet Namco’s appetite for downsizing these kinds of experiences for use in the arcade space.
As something that some well-off operators could grab, although it’s size and cost kept it rare, there was the phenomenally successful Galaxian 3: Theater 6, released in 1993. Older operators would wince at the thought of the size and price of this one though (415(d) x 424 (w) and 202(h)), it’s enclosure distilling the theme park experience into a SDX setup that supported up to six-players action (for more details, see our previous coverage of the rise and fall of laserdisc). The company would employ a variation of this enclosure for a second game in this SDX series, moving from sci-fi to racing with the unique Ridge Race: Full Scale in 1994. This adapted their popular arcade racing title with a key difference – players sat inside of an actual race car, modified to work as a game controller. Every control in the car works and corresponds to what happens on the massive 18′ wide screen. At the time of its release, it held the record for the largest amusement piece (and one of the most expensive).
Much further down the road, NAMCO would try and break that record with their Deadstorm Pirates 4D+ attraction, a vast theater enclosure with two motion units. This offered scaled down dark ride style experience for up to four players, launched in Spring 2011. This style of 4D SDX cabinet was a delayed response to what Sega had created back in 2006 with their equally huge The House of the Dead 4 Special, and before that the 1998 The Lost World Special. Given the rise of FECs over the past few years, one wonders why we don’t see more of these medium-scale attractions make their way to the market.
The NAMCO game was a scaled-up attraction version of the original two-player SDX motion cabinet version known as Deadstorm Pirates. Billed as a “closed booth style gun game,” the 2009 cabinet style was another response in the growing “arms race” between companies like Namco and Sega to bring more spectacle to the arcade space. These designs for two-player, bench seat shooter enclosures would be defined as a “Environmental Deluxe” (EDX;harking back to the classic arcade concept mentioned last time with the cockpit cabinet). Additional mini-theater enclosures can also trace their roots back to the 1990’s with games like Sega’s Strike Fighter and Line of Fire, but more so with their 1997 release, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The latter truly defined the environmental enclosure shooter with the EDX type, a sort of go-between a DX and SDX cabinet. Many other companies would find influence from such a design, and it’s very common to come across in any modern arcade.
Jumping forward some 14-years and the pirate-themed shooting concept receives a new outing, with the current BANDAI NAMCO Amusements Japan (BNAJ) placing on location-test ‘Gold Storm Pirates’ – in its own EDX cabinet for two players – with motion seats, and a full enclosure. This new version of the game hopes to reignite the fun and action of the original, with a greater emphasis on gold & treasure than before. The game is still on a “very early” test however, meaning we will have to wait for a confirmation for a possible Western release. Will Bandai Namco consider dusting off the 4D attraction enclosure for the release at some point?
Before we leave Namco behind, some of their other more recent EDX/SDX releases deserve a mention, particularly the deployment of their dome screen concept. Originally conceived back in 2002 under the name O.R.B.S. for the ultimately unreleased sequel to Starblade, as well as the unreleased Starfox, Namco decided to keep the tech in Japan for a time, eventually producing a commercialized version of the ORBS in a new cabinet, popularly known out West as the “Gundam Pods,” although the official [translated] name was Mobile Suit Gundam: Bonds of the Battlefield.
Western gamers would have to wait until 2013 to enjoy the technology, first with the action-packed fighter jet game Mach Storm. The idea involved bending the image that was output from a projector onto a curved surface, creating an experience that would be impossible for the average home user to replicate on their phone or home console setup. It also had an interesting immersive effect similar to what users can experience with a VR headset, while not requiring the user to wear anything.
Additional games from Namco would employ the tech, including a driving simulator called Real Drive and the wide release of Lost Land Adventure, both in 2015. The most prominent game to launch with the dome screen tech however would be the Star Wars Battle Pod around the same time. The Star Wars license has long been one of the most coveted in the arcade space, first being done through Atari and later Sega, this game being Bandai Namco’s first (and so far, only) game to use it. The Battle Pod would reemploy the Mach Storm cabinet, and it even saw a super limited motion DX release, although due to the high cost of the game, Namco would launch a standard flat screen version for it to be found in more traditional locations.
Speaking of a popular home franchises, another company has been involved in adapting them into arcades, Canada-based Adrenaline Amusements. The company has mainly been focused on videmption pieces (video games setup as ticket redemption games) throughout their history, but has occasionally dabbled in pure video, one of their most notable home-to-arcade ports being Tomb Raider. That 4-player light-gun game was originally launched as a giant 120″ Deluxe piece and later received a smaller 65″ model.
The game did well enough that Adrenaline set their sites on another popular home game, Need For Speed. This franchise was originally brought to the arcade market by GlobalVR, but in a twist of either coincidence or fate, Adrenaline first got their start by working with GVR and now with GVR effectively defunct, Adrenaline has taken their place.
The latest adaptation is known as NFS Heat Takedown, a modified version of the home game that launched in 2019. This was first presented in a standard racing cabinet configuration for up to four players (linked), with the cabinet also giving a nod to rival Raw Thrills and their new Fast & Furious Arcade with it’s two monitors. NFS Heat Takedown opted to give their own spin on the idea by featuring a micro LED marquee, although unlike FnFA, all of the game action is shown on the screen directly in front of the player; The marquee is more for bystanders to quickly see the current standings.
Given that this was the first video-only racer from the company, they opted to give it a motion DX setup too. Initially revealed at the DEAL 2023 show in Dubai, it is billed as a twin simulator, coming in at: 256cm(d) x 165cm(w) and 266cm(h). This supports a massive 75’’ UHD screen – also allowing 4 cabinets to be linked.
Into The Virtual World
Another name that may not carry the same fame as a Sega or Namco with it, but has still made big waves is another company out of Canada called TRIOTECH Entertainment. Their widest fame was found with the their massively successful Typhoon, a two-seat coin-operated roller coaster simulator that has long been a mainstay for many venues. The company has recently translated this into their own immersive “VR Ride” system, called STORM VR. Following the lead of LAI Games’ super successful Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride, STORM VR employs a similar idea to their Typhoon but adds hand tracking, allowing guests to interact and make it a game instead of a ride. This deluxe system is 277(d) x160(w) and 292(h) in size (cm).
TRIOTECH has also built on their expertise in their audience based interactive shooting attraction business with their ‘XD Theater’ – scaling this down to create a unique platform called the QUBE. This SDX enclosure marries D-BOX motion seat technology with wind effects and a big 2.5m 4k projection screen; There are three games available for the QUBE at launch time. This represents another large amusement piece to be placed on the game floor – weighing in at 278(d) x 120(w) and 100(h). Despite the large size and cost, this new system has drawn much interest with a high initial response from players and operators, being drawn to its unique level of immersive engagement offered, and spectacular graphics.
The explosion of interest in VR amusement pieces have played their part in the rise of big box amusement machines on the gaming room floor, particularly for the FEC segment of the market.
Amusement manufacturers such as UNIS Technology have worked hard to develop their own immersive “VR Ride” system, with more of a focus on the full game experience as opposed to the simulator ride. Launching in February of this year they produced Sailor’s Quest VR, a two-player game that incorporates a motion platform, vibration and wind effects, while pulling some thematic influence from Namco’s aforementioned DeadStorm Pirates. In this IGS-developed game, players use cannons to blast creatures from the deep, while the headset allows them the freedom to explore their sea-based environments. The large galleon themed cabinet comes in at 279(d) x 161(w) and 256(h).
Other developers to join the fray include VR360ACTION, who has recently launched their large ‘Dream Simulator’ – an interactive two-player VR experience with an intense motion platform. The machine covering a 250(d) x 200(w) and 230(h) space comparable to any SDX cabinet. Other super VR entertainment platforms include those from Owatch, releasing their new generation of VR series 2.0 systems such as their ‘VR Flying Theater’ – a six-rider immersive experience with intense motion effects; This system measures in at 332(d) x 295(w) and 140(h).
Creating dedicated VR attractions capable of being fielded into amusement venues and larger FEC’s is no easy task, as developers must scale down the platform while still offering a unique and compelling experience. An example of this can be found in an extreme VR flying game with a small footprint called Birdly VR. Sold by Barron Games in the West, this intense experience has the player laying on their stomach on top of a special motion system, their movements propelling their flight within the virtual world. While this requires an attendant to operate, it’s proven quite popular with audiences and only occupies a 250 x 250cm space.
Another big experience scaled for application within the amusement sector as well as other entertainment locations is from Frontgrid, with their new ‘ParadropVR Pod’ – the full motion VR flying experience offering the ability for players to strap in and soar across the virtual landscape in a paraglider, rising and falling with their progress. Reminiscent of Konami’s Hang Pilot, this is a multi-player experience that is supported by its own leader board.
The battle for the game real estate is also under attack by the Free-Roaming VR arenas, who are looking to carve out their own slice of FEC game floors. These dedicated walled off arenas allow groups of VR players to roam freely within the space enjoying their multi-player action, from zombie blasting to PVP combat. One of the big entrants into this space is HERO ZONE VR, who have seen success selling their VR arena system that comprises a 457 x 457cm enclosed space for up to four-players.
Also in that space, Creative Works recently released their LIMITLESS VR free-roaming VR attraction, which comprises of physical obstacles like walls and pillars and can accommodate eight to sixteen players. Creative Works has also represented other VR attractions such as the Hyperdeck – a unique immersive VR enclosure which includes a motion floor and 5D effects such as heat, and wind for up to four players using special shooting interfaces – along with the two-player SpongeBob SquarePants VR: Dynamic Duo and the linkable single-player VR stations, VAR BOX.
But away from the amusement VR applications, there is also the development of the latest immersive entertainment technology attractions that are adding their weight to the sector. This includes the launch of new “Immersive Enclosure” systems. In what we could bill as Mixed Reality, these unique rooms employ several projectors to cover the walls in graphics, removing the need for cumbersome headsets. This is seen with the new INOWIZE platform ‘QBIX’ – a six-player multi-sensory enclosure with 5D effects, fitting into a 396 x 396cm footprint. These interactive enclosures are a brand new immersive experience for the market, once again promising a level of immersion that is prohibitively expensive to produce at home.
Others looking at these immersive SDX applications include the Japanese amusement trade who are seeking to embrace new opportunities that immersive technologies can offer. The legendary amusement factory TAITO has been looking at updating the amusement venue business to reflect a changed player audience, rolling out the first of their ‘X-STATION’ sites. These feature upscaled amusement and VR, but also have included new immersive technology such as their ‘CUBE’ 5D immersive attraction. Similar to the QBIX above, this is an enclosure with graphics projected onto the structure’s walls, which up to four-players are placed into the heart of the CUBE.
The CUBE includes shooting experiences such as ‘SPACECUBE’ – based on a Space Invaders theme, or ‘Treasure Explorer’ a mine-ride style adventure, or another VR zombie shooter game called ‘Survival from Z’. The 4m square box is able to accommodate up to four players at once, depending upon the game.
Towards the Future
As stated, attraction manufacturers have been turning to the deployment of scaled down theme park attractions for deployment into the new Urban entertainment venues and evolving entertainment market. Advancements in technology making it possible to create big immersive experiences in small packages that can sit within the space restrictions of these venues.
As we have laid out in these two posts, amusement manufacturers have long looked towards “Premium Cabinets,” “Special Editions,” and “Super Deluxe” platforms. The eye-candy of any DX cabinet can outshine the level of engagement for customers, generating more revenue for the invested location. Innovations are moving beyond wearables into “Immersive Enclosure” systems, pushing the boundaries of what is an SDX design, thus blurring the line between that and a full-blown attraction. As more large-scale Family Entertainment Centers (FEC) and the re-emergence of Amusement Theme Parks (ATP) open their doors, the need for large attractions (surpassing what is achievable on home game systems) is required to attract the current generation of players.
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].