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Video Game Arcades in the 1990s, according to a guy in 1984
by Ryan Langley on 01/08/14 09:09:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


TV Gamer, July 1984 - It's not often you find gold in old game magazines, but man, this is absolutely fascinating. "How to play Adventures in the 1990s" by Richard Porch is a fever dream of what Arcades would be like in the decade coming up.

This was written in 1984 - directly in the middle of the American Video Game Crash (though written in the UK) and a few years after Tron happened and no idea on how Japan developers like Nintendo and Sega would change the world in a year or two. It's about how Arcades will evolve into giant Blade Runner style buildings where arcade games will be "modules" and essentially become the giant Vegas style casinos we see today.

It's an absolutely fascinating read to see what this guy thought would happen in the 90s, much like how Back to the Future expected 2015 to be pretty wild. It's so fascinating that I've transcribed the whole article here for easier reading.

I don't know where you are now, Richard Porch, but you're probably disappointed.


The video game arcades of the 1990s and beyond will make today's arcades look like the cinemas of the silent era - antique and full of decrepit machines. The arcades of the next two decades will be adventure playgrounds for people of all ages, and centres of urban drama.

The new arcades will stop inhabiting other people's cast-off buildings with their faulty fluorescent lights, second-hand carpet-tile floors and Neanderthal arcade staff. Arcades of the 1990s will be purpose-built, computer-controlled leisure complexes, composed of gleaming ductwork, exposing servicing and steel supports. Acres of smoked mirror-glass will project an air of alien aerospace efficiency to the world, hinting vaguely at the almost incredible contests inside.

They won't look like conventional buildings. They may be just an assembly of themed game pavilions, hanging in modular groups from a series of support columns. Of those modular arrangements may be clustered around a large, central resource tower. In addition to providing structural support, the tower also carries all of the power cabling, utilities, air conditioning and piped music.

Atop the resource tower would be a service crane to hoist the latest arcade modules into place and take down others. They would disappear on the back of the next articulated truck.

Such a modular approach to arcade design means the entire arcades, and all the games they house, will come ready-made to site on the back of large vehicles. They need only to be lifted by the service crane up to the appropriate 'slot' on the resource tower and hooked up to the tower and service supply.

The interiors of these arcades will obviously tend to have more in common with sky labs rather than Joe Bloggs' video emporium on the high street. In other words, their design will mirror the futuristic pretensions of the game technology they sprang from.

Gone will be the familiar upright video game cabinet adorned with third-rate graphics. In will come game consoles and screens built directly into the wall. Screen sizes will increase, and certain complex games will require the player to use headphones. Automatic cash dispensers will be introduced and any human element phased out.

It's impossible to predict exactly the design of the new arcade modules as they will all probably be themes to suit the game programs they'll house. For example, a combat game's arcade module of the 1990s might be designed to resemble the flight deck of some futuristic starship. An entrance pathway into the module could branch off into groups of consoles at which are seated dozens of head-setted people, who are selectively either fending off or attacking a computer-generated foe. A module commander - again computer generated - calls out strikes and counterstrike to the defence group, simultaneously feeding tactical defence positions and targets.

Such a game might be played with up to a dozen or more competitors in either an attacking or a defensive posture, the module's survival being the aim of the game. Groups of people would form into self-selected bands of informal 'buddies' whose role is either attack or defence. Gone will be the days of the lone games player, single-handed against the program, with a small crowd people straining to watch.

I feel that these modular arcades will form only a small part of any future arcade system. They will be fine for use in compact, urban high streets, where economy of space is everything and the only way to build is up. But when significant sites of some size are obtained, we'll begin to get an architecture and design sensibility worthy of the micro-computer age. On a decent sized site, a mixed assemble of structural envelopes could be built in cater for the aspirations of all the games players. There will be no fixed building as such, only a central-service package which would supply heating, ventilation, air-support pumps and power.

Different arcade structures would prevail, ranging from the inflatable to the modular, tented or domed arcades. The arcades would be rented out to individual computer companies or software houses, for them to fit our as they like. The changeability would mean an extra dimension of visual attraction to passers-by and tourists. Arcades might be housed in an inflatable structure one week, in a module the next or under a transparent dome the week after.

This is a theme park approach to video arcades. It is geared to give away the maximum stimulus to spend a day or more at the games complex, not just a lunchtime flying visit. Naturally, the visitor would have to eat, drink and relax; in the larger centres, this would be possible. Fast-food concession stands would be encourages, as would "performance plazas" for music, software sales and games demonstrations by star players or visiting guests. You should be able to eat, drunk and unwind - while staying in touch with your favourite arcade by watching the overhead screens and video display walls.

White-noise generators in overhead positions would create pools of quiet, in what could otherwise be a cacophonous environment. Gleaming steel escalators and glass lifts raise you through the main mass of the arcade assembly, giving you marvellous views through and over the terraced levels, alive with people colour and intriguing sound effects. The 'whap-whap' of the combat arcades mingles with the eerie cries and groans coming from the fantasy dome, as intrepid gamers confront Gothic doom in an urban arcade leisure complex. Winking neon signs advertising the latest software and fast-food bars catch the eye. Electronic news panels break the latest from the grim workaday world outside.

And when you're exhausted or broke and the end of a  hard day's gaming, what better way to end it than by booking in at the Residential Games Motel? Naturally, such large entertainment complexes would have to open 24 hours a day to make them pay. So for out-of-towners or the purely exhausted, it will make sense to supply accommodation. After all, such a large scale arcade complexes would be far too big to take all in one go.

At the end of a day's visit, you'd make your way to the accommodation towers at the rear of the main complex. Accessed by glass lifts, you'd rise gently a few storeys above the surrounding city and claim a room module for the night.

Don't think I'm fantasising. There's been such a capsule-accommodation tower, housing tired commuters on Ginza Strip in down-town Japan for nearly 20 years. Pod-housing, slung from a main service tower, was first suggested as a housing system in the 1950s, but dismissed as absurd. Nothing I've described here is technologically possible nor financially out of the question. 

It will take a bold initiative. But the computer industry is not short of bold individuals nor the necessary venture capital. Something like the leisure complex I've outlined could be built in literally a couple of years.

As for the individual arcades, changes in game technology will certainly have some bearing. The crude game cabinets we are so familiar with today will disappear and be replaced by more skilfully integrated units. In the arcades of the 1990s and beyond, video screens will be recessed into the arcade walls or bulkheads, with the game controls suspended from the ceiling or obtruding from the wall on stalks. To change a game program, the arcade staff will simply remove a small wall panel and insert a new program cassette or key-plate. To play the combat games of the 1990s, you might need a helmet, to view the game in 3D - and to smell it. The odour of dank dungeons will mingle with the exhaust gases of your galactic runabout, as the pungent tang of your recently fires missile battery still lingers in the nostrils.

In a still more advanced phase of the video games arcades' future, you may be playing the game with the controls attached externally by electrodes to your skull. The game will take place directly inside your brain with minor electric shocks: the electrodes are strategically places to encourage the most startling mental imagery and confrontations, tapping resources from your subconscious mind. 

Using such a direct form of game playing format would obviously make for a totally unique experience and a different game every time. All your senses would be engaged, even down to taste and small sensations.

Such a game would represent perhaps the ultimate gaming experience... the game as therapy? The arcade that caters for this type of game might take on a slightly disturbing aspect. Rows of seated people with a host of wires attached to their heads, all linked to the central image-generating computer, live out their unique fantasy or nightmare.

Such an arcade will, in a very real sense, realise some of the exciting leisure potential that an advanced industrial society could unleash. It would use the new frontiers of the leisure experience, first hinted at by Aldous Huxley in the novels such as Brave New World.

The vague outline I've tried to sketch out in this article is one which I hope arcade owners and future entrepreneurs will consider.

There's a great leisure potential going unrealised these days. Arcades should cater more for the user. They should offer hot food and a place to sit down. They should also be placed where you can buy the latest software from the home system and magazines.

A comprehensive view of the arcade as a social meeting place will lead to improved standards of design, and their evolution into the true leisure centres for people in the 1980s as well as the 1990s. Arcade owners should be studiously courting their clientèle.

The arcades I've been describing will come into existence. But they will probably not be in Britain but in America.

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Scott Sheppard
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This is so awesome

Ray Dahlia
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The sleek, dazzling veneer of the 1980's... Awesome... Awesome to the max!

Matthew Mouras
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This describes an experience that I wish I had every time I attended a con. Instead, they are often overcrowded noise fests with a number of awkwardly dressed attendees. Richard Porch was a cool guy.

David Serrano
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Beyond being fascinating, this article should be turned into a case study for MBA students and futurists. Because in his attempt to predict the future of arcades, Porch inadvertently predicted the theme park inspired future of Las Vegas and the emergence of arena - park based games like Laser Tag and Paintball. He accurately predicted multiplayer gaming via computer networks (and the use of headphones) at a time when most people didn't own or use computers, let alone networked computers. He also predicted games would be played on large, wall mounted screens, the implementation of auto-pay systems, and micro-transactions.

But his vision of "rows of seated people with a host of wires attached to their heads, all linked to the central image-generating computer, live out their unique fantasy or nightmare"... combined with an understanding of why this could be perceived as disturbing was Gibson-esque. There was a thought process behind this which should be studied and analyzed.

Simply amazing.

Douglas Hill
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If you put a spa next door it could be a good vacation destination for couples with different interests -- one hotel, two vacations.

Bart Stewart
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Nice find!

Straight-line projection from some current phenomenon ("more of the same, only shinier!") is always tempting. It might, if you make it at the right time, even sort of work for five years or so. Real prediction, though, is perilous, because revolutions create new phenomena.

Just in the last 30 years, who would have guessed that IBM would create the personal computer that destroyed their own mainframe/mini dominance, or that it would be open-architecture? Who could foresee the economic boom of the late 1990s, despite destroying BBSs, CompuServe, AOL, and LANs, enabled by the global knowledge-sharing that emerged from the combination of TCP/IP, HTTP/HTML, and Mosaic? (Vannevar Bush, maybe, although the Memex was more of an "I don't really know when, but someday.") Who saw the iPod/iPhone changing how we communicate (and play games), especially after the Newton went down in flames?

I can't bring myself to laugh too hard at Richard Porch. Real prediction is *hard*.

TC Weidner
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Having lived and gamed in the 80s, and still kicking now, what has changed in the gaming world? not much. Graphics, sound are better, and the internet connects gamers. Thats about it.

I would of guessed things would be much farther along as well by now, perhaps Oculus can give us the kick in the ass we need.

Lennard Feddersen
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I was around in the '80's making games. Saying the graphics and sound are better is dismissive when this is what the graphics can look like now:

However, if you are looking for a revolution then here is something I've been waiting for since the early '90's.

This, along with Oculus Rift, is something different.

Harry Fields
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Wasn't the Omni on Shark Tank? :)

I can't wait to see what the new VR generation is capable of over time. It may not be "there" quite yet, but we're leaps and bounds closer than the stuff in the malls in the 90s. I think that if done right, VR can disrupt many an industry. Imagine Getting on an exercise bicycle and your bike works with Oculus and instead of exercising while watching TV, you're exercising by bike ride in the streets of Hong Kong, or on the winding paths and roads of Monaco. Same with treadmills. There are ways to "gamify" tasks dreaded by most people by turning it into a virtual vacation.

Steven Christian
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LAN centre's are arguably the arcades of the future.
In the future, perhaps the 'Gamer Motel' will come into play with people lying in bunks, all hooked into the machines matrix-style.

Or perhaps we will all just have inbuilt wifi, connecting directly to our cerebral cortex.
Silicon and Synapse, indeed.

Phil Maxey
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I can remember reading that issue, still got it in a box I think somewhere.

Frank Kane
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Disney Quest in Orlando isn't too far off from this vision, and it's still open for business.

Daniel Hayes
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Thanks for this!