ATEI 2008 Show Report • Page 2

Silent Hill, Far Cry, Tekken and scaffolders' laptops.

'Redemption' is the buzzword of the show. The industry clearly feels cheap prizes will get customers through doors, but in doing so a whole new set of laws set up for the fruit machine industry now apply to videogame cabinets that offer material rewards in return for guzzling a few pounds. Throughout the show worried faces are talking of 'the UK gaming law', but are apparently convinced prize-giving is the way forward.

Still, there are plenty of highlights. Back at Konami, Guitar Freaks V4 and Drum Mania V4 keep the Bemani crowd enthralled, and it's clear by some of the skills on show that thankfully a few genuine arcade gamers have got into Earls Court, despite tightened security to make this an industry-only event.

The linkable V4 cabs are built like a tower of amps that could make a backdrop for Iron Maiden, and frankly make Rock Band and Guitar Hero seem like Fisher Price toys, but it's actually a small silhouette on a poster that really gets the rhythm-action fans excited. There are a few whispers from the men in suits about a new Dance Dance Revolution on the horizon, but they can say little about it, other than suggesting it will work with Konami's e-AMUSEMENT system, which effectively brings online gaming and memory cards to the arcade in Oyster Card form.

I can hear it calling in the air tonight oh lord I can hear it calling in the air tonight oh lord.

Also dabbling with save-game systems that are yet to take off in the UK were some of the near-infinite range of racing games. Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3 and The Fast and The Furious Drift were both superb fun, each featuring amazing sit-down cabs and takes on the memory card, but both were among the main features of the show despite being released in 2007 in Japan.

The real problem of course is that console gaming long ago caught up with and superseded the arcade experience. All arcades can hope to do now is to continue to offer something you can't get at home, which all too often appears to be prizes and novelties. The huge cabs for the Blazing Angels arcade machine were really quite special, but ironically a more modest affair was the unrivalled star of the show.

One single cab enjoyed constant crowds, to the extent that eventually the game's distributor in the UK Brent Sales caused uproar and anger by switching the machine off of freeplay, allegedly defying show rules. While things were still going good, Tekken 6 courted camera flashes, cheers and wavering arms taking mobile phone footage, as incredibly talented players lapped up a masterpiece of game design and cabinet manufacture.

Shouldn't we all be at school?

Tekken 6's tiny sit-down reeked of quality. From the buttons and sticks to the luscious 32" HD screen, every part was top of the range, and stepping away from the game left you feeling like you knew how to save the arcade industry. A machine that provides simplicity, quality, competitive gaming and comfort just feels so much better than even the most showy of home console gaming set-ups.

You can't beat playing on a cab. It makes you feel like a naughty teenage Goonie bunking off school and a heroic videogame hero all at once, and a console will never quite manage that. While companies like Konami do their best to put the player first, the reaction to the Tekken 6 freeplay switch-off typifies sentiments in the hardcore UK arcade gaming scene that players feel unimportant to the very companies that should be showering them with attention.

Novelty machines and gifts have their place, and are obviously key to the upkeep of the industry, and new machines like Silent Hill: The Arcade should draw in new and retired players, but the uneasy relationship between joystick jockeys and the industry suits might just be the very hurdle holding back something that could be very special indeed.

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Will Freeman

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