Bringing the arcade home with Arcade Paradise
Everyone remembers their first arcade. For me it was a ramshackle joint dragged around on the back of a van that used to roll into town for a week every September, when you'd see if anyone had managed to bump you off the Super Monaco GP leaderboard in the months between each visit. For Nosebleed Interactive's Andreas Firinigl, it was somewhere a bit seedier than that.
"It was this really grotty one in the back of a dodgy video shop in Stamford," he says over a lunchtime whiskey as we chat online. "It had four or five machines - Rolling Thunder, Robocop and this Japanese board that was untranslated so I didn't know exactly what was going on. I was talking about it with a friend recently and he was like 'oh I remember that place, it had a room for pornos'. It was a really grotty shop."
Indeed. It's that unsavoury kind of joint that you first take over in Arcade Paradise, Nosebleed Interactive's forthcoming mash-up of management sim and mini-game collection.
"Basically you're working in this dead end job in the laundrette," he explains. "You've got a couple of arcade machines in the back where you've got you start off with like three cabinets in the back. It's wallpaper-less concrete, these grim storage cabinets everywhere. In my head, that's what that arcade in Stamford looked like. Anyway, the cabinets end up making more money than the laundrette machines, so you start building this arcade."
That's the core loop of Arcade Paradise, though it's wound as tight as it was in Nosebleed Interactive's Vostok Inc., a curious and characterful blend of clicker games and twin-stick shooters. "There's a day/night system here," says Andreas. "You order your arcade machines on a PC and then you have to wait for it to be delivered. And when it comes in you might as well have a go and see what it's like, then you complete an objective within it..."
If the management side sounds compelling, it's the mini-games where Arcade Paradise's heart seems to lie - in fact, calling them mini-games seems a bit reductive, when so many of the generous selection are full-blown tributes to classics of yesteryear. And in some cases, performing a tribute isn't enough.
"The way we've picked games is choosing ones that people in the studio love," says Andreas. "If we can do them justice, or add something to them, that is. So Drop 7 - that's my most played game of all time, and I always just play Blitz mode. I wondered if we added some stuff to it, what would it do to the gameplay? So there are randomised drop amounts - it gives you more of a survival chance - and you're more encouraged to get chains. Get a big chain and we basically give you power ups where you can shuffle numbers or turn the board upside down, that sort of thing - and it works really well."
Maybe it's the lunchtime whiskey, but there's an energy to Andreas that's infectious, and made his way into his games just as I'm sure it'll make its way into Arcade Paradise. Andreas is one of those fizzing balls of energy you're sometimes lucky to meet at a gaming show like EGX Rezzed - apologies for the self-promotion, and I may as well admit our own paths have crossed there several times as Andreas is a friend of the site - where he'll run you through the countless little demos and prototypes he's been tinkering with in his spare time.
That's the genesis of Arcade Paradise, it turns out, his publisher coming up with the masterstroke of finding a way to package them all together. "People have asked why don't we just use ROMs in Arcade Paradise," says Andreas. "Well, you can't have as much creative freedom that way. Some of these games have full XP systems, levelling systems, we've got a match three game that's presented like a JRPG with Mode 7-like graphics... To complete that and get the endless modes for it you're looking at 2-3 hours, and that's just one game."
That's one game amidst a selection of more than 35, though they're not all quite the measure of each other. "The way we've structured it is there are showcase games - there's a side-scrolling beat 'em-up, a sitdown OutRun-esque thing with an XP system - these are like our anchors, and then there are smaller games. Like I've included the first game I ever played - Blitz on the Vic 20. It's really simple, but it's satisfying at the same time. Each game's got to be worthwhile."
It's a project that certainly seems worthwhile, at least to more elderly players like me with wistul memories of the backrooms that used to serve as our local arcade. They might not be such a common sight anymore, which makes the prospect of having one I might call my own even more promising.