The secrets to success in arcade game design

I have for a long time been interested in the ‘rules’ if any of designing arcade games. As a kid growing up in the late 1970’s I saw the lot. Space Invaders through to probably Out Run was my arcade “time”. In that time I devoured them all. There was no golden rule for the game that I chose to sink my coins in to but they all had something in common – you shot stuff !
Pretty basic you might think but for me it was where the fun was. I just couldn’t get in to PacMan no matter how hard I tried. I wanted to believe me but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get excited about eating dots and chasing / fleeing ghosts when the cabinet next to it was Defender or Galaga or Scramble.

But regardless of my choice of game all arcade games shared some common traits. They each wanted your money and they each had to keep taking your money. The success of any machine is undoubtedly the weight of the cash drawer at the end of the day. So to that end every game had to have the finest “attract mode” and every game had to deliver thrills, challenges and rewards by the bucket load.

All of that is fairly self explanatory but what actually made some games more popular than others?
To a certain degree playground hype probably influenced a large amount of the initial attraction to the games but evern then kids are pretty savvy. They can smell a turkey from several paces.
No some games just had it. They had a certain attraction that ensonced cool and worked its way in to the hearts and minds of the kids of the day.

Some games even defied all logic and maintained their status against the odds. Defender was a nightmare to control and took quite a bit to get used to. Given Atari’s own core rule “simple to learn, hard to master” this one stood out as exceptional since it was both awful to control and impossible to master. Williams scored a huge hit and I for one reckon it was down to the sheer thrill of slapping the fire button and listening to the sound effects. The thrills of the game were otherwise too hard to come by unless you were a pro. But Defender had its pros. Some people were willing to spend money on it.

Colour and visuals play a huge part in arcade game attraction as does sounds. When a cabinet is jostling for position in a room crowded with cabinets its got to throw everything at you.
Some of the more popular games were probably the loudest and possibly the most colourful.
Rainbow Islands springs to mind as does Out Run.

In creating my own JavaScript Arcade Games I want to delve back in to the past and try to rediscover what it was I loved about playing these games so much.
There must be something in there that I can package and sprinkle across everything I write. There must be.
Simply making the game fun to play almost seems like the final part of the puzzle.

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Comments

  • mrentropy  On September 27, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    One of the things that drew me to Defender was that you could have way more than one shot on the screen at one time. And they looked like lasers, not a dot, or whatever, that was supposed to be a laser.

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