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.

Donkey Kong Junior: 4-way joystick and Jump button

Donkey Kong Junior: 4-way joystick and Jump button

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.

Time Crisis

So successful, Time Crisis had three sequels

So successful, Time Crisis had three sequels

The duck/reload pedal was a new foot control

The duck/reload pedal breathed new life into shooting games

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.

A button on the gun barrel replaced the foot pedal

The “Gun Con” featured a button on the gun barrel, replacing the foot pedal.

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.

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4 Responses to Namco: The Role of Coin-Op in the PlayStation

  1. Bob Weiss says:

    Hi Jerry,
    A little side bar for you regarding the playstation hardware that we used for the production of our coin op games at NAMCO America.
    Unaware we began production of our first games utilizing this hardware, only to discover that we could not export the finished product out of the United States. Seems as though it was O.K. to import the hardware, but we were not able to export it. Turned out there was no one in the U.S. that we could team up with to solve this, not even Sony. The government had concerns about the potential of and for the hardware falling into the wrong hands.
    As such I took it upon myself as Director on Manufacturing, under the direction our COO, Kenji Hisatsune to work with the government to obtain the necessary approval that would allow NAMCO to be able to export the product. When the process was completed, NAMCO became the only company in the U.S. with the government approval that could export product utilizing the playstation hardware.
    Bob Weiss

  2. Bud Leiser says:

    Great article!

    We never did do a class field trip to any arcades. I agree with you thought it’s the games that can’t port to console that dominate the floor space. Especially if they have tickets or prizes.

    Just the other day at Riviera hotel’s pinball museum I saw an “old” game I loved that had a skateboard control system. So much fun and could never be ported without a similar control device. Yet that’s also a double edged sword, because the control is so different it creates a friction barrier. Some people look at it and won’t try it or physically can’t use it.

    • Jerry Momoda says:

      I agree. For some, playing a game like that means they are “on center stage” and feel intimidated.

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