Alpine Racer, Alpine Surfer, Aqua Jet, Downhill Bikers and Final Furlong

1984 US Olympic Gold Medal Downhill Champion, Bill Johnson plays Alpine Racer at 1997 Ski Show in Las Vegas

1984 US Olympic Gold Medal Downhill Champion, Bill Johnson plays Alpine Racer at 1997 Ski Show in Las Vegas

Other foot controlled 3D arcade designs included Alpine Racer (I & II), a downhill ski racing game and Alpine Surfer, a snowboarding game. Both amazing games that set new benchmarks for unmatched realism and simulation. Each featured sophistically engineered controls that swung left and right, plus banked to provide edge control. Namco’s industrial design department really outdid themselves with superbly effective and durable controls. I can’t overstate how difficult it is to create controls that can withstand the physical wear-and-tear of American arcades. Each game provided faithful simulations of each sport.

In Downhill Bikers, players pedaled down a mountainous biking course and Final Furlong, where players raced thoroughbreds around the track by way of a spring-assisted elliptical-like movement. Both of these games were so physical that some players left exhausted.

Players racing down the stretch!

Final Furlong: And down the stretch, they come!

So much like real skiing!

Alpine Racer: So much like real skiing!

Snowboarding down the mountain

Alpine Surfer: Shredding down the mountain

Prop Cycle

Both game and controls were brilliant

Players could fly like a bird on the custom cabinet with 3D graphics

Navigate to collect all balloons within the allotted time

Navigate to collect all balloons within the allotted time

In 1996 in my opinion, one of the best games ever debuted. In Prop Cycle, players controlled a self-propelled, turn of the 20th-century glider. Players pedaled to stay aloft and steered to turn. On a small mythical planet that resembled Swiss cheese, was a system of caves, canals, and trenches. Players navigated an obstacle course seeded with balloons to diagram a path. Having limited time, players needed to combine pedaling at the right speed with turning at the correct radius to master the game. It was much harder than it looked. There was even a fan mounted inside the cabinet blowing air to simulate the wind in the player’s face. It’s the closest sensation to flying like a bird I’ve ever experienced in a game. A large expensive game, sadly few players got to try it.

Team photo: I’m on the right, in the white shirt waving my hand

Team photo: I’m on the right, in the white shirt waving my hand

I still feel it’s one of the most under-appreciated games ever. It has yet to be translated to console or mobile (pssst…virtual reality opportunity). Flying like a bird has forever been one of man’s greatest dreams. With today’s computing technology, this would be flat-out amazing!

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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.

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