Kids of today will never know the magic of the 1980s arcade. It was a time when you could walk in and witness something you've never seen before. Not just addictive new games, but incredible technology that was years ahead of anything you could play at home. And best of all, you could experience it for little more than a quarter a play. It was a magical time.
These days the arcade is all dancing games and redemption machines. The bright neon lights and loud sounds remain, but the sense of wonder and excitement is long gone. Forget about the days of having a sophisticated game room, today's arcade is little more than a carnival. It's a depressing relic from the past, gone the way of soda shops and movie rental stores.
For years, I wondered what it would be like to own and manage my own arcade. Not a modern day zombie arcade, but a classic shop during the heyday of the video game boom. Thanks to Firebase (the Canada-based company behind Orbitron: Revolution), I now have a chance to put my arcade management know-how to the test.
Arcadecraft is the 1980s arcade simulator you never knew you wanted. For a mere three dollars (or the exact amount of money it would cost to actually beat Ikari Warriors), you can take control of your very own arcade and turn it into a million dollar business. It's like Theme Park, only with fake Frogger machines instead of dangerous roller coasters.
The year is 1980 and you have a sweet new location, a brand new sign (with a name you picked out) and a twelve thousand dollar loan. The goal is to buy enough new arcade machines to bring gamers of all ages to your brand new business. Your choice is limited at the start, but with each new month brings a new cabinet from one of the fictional companies -- Forti, Wave, Monaco, Points, Camping and Millions.
Twelve thousand dollars doesn't go as far as you might think. Even worse, buying each new machine is a gamble. You never know if gamers are going to embrace each new title, and it can be tough when you're putting your last few thousand dollars towards a dud. You'll have to pay close attention to the trends and monitor interest in each type of game. And if worse comes to worst, make sure to sell the unpopular cabinet before it loses its market value.
It's a juggling act for the first two years. Not only will you have to keep your arcade stocked with new machines, but you're also in charge of collecting the coins and repairing the units. On top of the usual chores, you'll also have a chance to set game prices and difficulty, maximizing profits and adjusting your stock for the changing time. Before long you're adding neon to the walls and buying a vending machine.
Don't think that your time as an arcade owner is going to be easy. Things start out simple enough, but problems quickly escalate out of control. People will grow bored with your arcade if you aren't replenishing the stock of machines. Also, you'll have to deal with ruffians who come in and damage your machines. On top of all this, you'll also have to contend with the burgeoning home console market. And don't forget to collect the quarters; it's the only way you're going to pay down that twelve thousand dollar loan.
Over time you'll grow your little arcade from just a few cabinets to dozens. High score seekers will frequent your establishment and video game collectors will spend top dollar on old machines. You only have six years to make the most out of your arcade, so pay close attention to trends and be ready to weather some rocky times in the industry.
Arcadecraft does break the illusion with a few annoying problems. On the serious side, I found the game to be more than a little unstable, crashing multiple times throughout the course of the early 1980s. The game does auto-save from time to time, so I never felt like I lost much progress. This taught me to stay vigilant and manually save more than I normally would.
The game is at its most exciting when you're worried about the two-year loan. Unfortunately, there isn't as much to do after that point. There are a few story beats that make 1982 - 1986 interesting, but by that time I was far too busy racing around and collecting money from 30 different machines. If only I could hire more employees so I could get back to what I enjoy doing, pouring over every new arcade game that comes out.
There came a point where I started to run out of things to do. I customized the walls, pillars and floors early. Same goes for adding a vending machine and jukebox. With the exception of two annual additions (a thousand dollar pumpkin and Christmas tree), there isn't much to do after a certain point. It's even more disappointing that the developers couldn't find a way to neatly wrap up the story. You can play out all of 1986, but in January the game abruptly informs you that the game is over.
Arcadecraft has a fantastic premise that needs to be expanded on. The fun of designing and managing your own arcade is certainly worth the three dollars, but there's so much more that can be done with this series. This story ends long before the birth of the fighting game scene, which would later turn into an era of dance games and redemption machines. Forget Grand Theft Auto V, Arcadecraft 2 just became my most anticipated sequel.
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