Creating Unique Arcade Experiences
Along with R&D in Japan, I was asked to help design game experiences that would bring customers back to arcades. One method was to create experiences that couldn’t easily be duplicated in the home.
Joysticks and buttons were the defacto controls of arcade games ever since the late 70’s.
Historically we control characters who run and jump, but we don’t act out the steps ourselves.
As Namco America’s product manager, I pondered designs that couldn’t easily be replaced with a home gaming joypad. I wondered about the possibilities of foot controls, beyond that of driving games. Players could even get exercise through games. Perhaps an idea ahead of its time.
And so I submitted some concepts that included the use of feet. Feet could be actively used to control an object’s movement and direction. One idea was controlling an object like a jeep while manning a mounted machine gun. Strafing a moving target while moving at a different angle and speed was a curiosity of mine. The game was based on the 60’s television series “Rat Patrol”. A small squad of Allied Forces Jeeps doing their best to disrupt the Germans in North Africa during WWII.
Another concept featured a gun battle in a building. With two networked cabinets (4 players total), teams were pitted head-to-head. Unrestricted by a “rail”, players would have the freedom to step off movements (acting as feet) to attack and defend. Both of these were early attempts towards virtual reality in games. Again, perhaps an idea ahead of its time.
Within a few weeks time, I was faxed a concept for a 3D 2-player gun game that would become Time Crisis. Though players were on a “rail”, it guaranteed a constant flow of action. A truly innovative and durable pedal control was conceived to duck and reload a pistol. Very intuitive to use, players, caught on fast how it worked.
It became a huge hit in arcades, but it was simple to bring into home console play. Good for sales, but not ideal for the “only in arcades” philosophy. The “Gun Con” featured a button on the barrel, replacing the foot pedal to duck and reload. It had that cinematic movie-like quality I loved in so many Namco games. Hugely popular, it spawned three sequels.
This began three years of unique designs weaving feet and physicality into game controls. Their downside was their cost to buy, price to play and their large footprint. Smaller, more economical versions were developed to accommodate the more diverse North American locations. But still, they were more expensive than the kit games of the day.