Eugene Jarvis needs little introduction. As the creator of Defender, Robotron (and accompanying two-joystick control system), NARC, and the Cruis'n
series, his reach in gaming, especially as concerns arcades, is
incredibly wide. Even if you've never been inside an arcade, his
influence can be felt in the glut of indie and downloadable games using
the Robotron control scheme, such as Geometry Wars and Blast Factor.
More recently, Jarvis has returned to the arcade scene with his company
Raw Thrills, whose first game was the very controversial light gun
shooter Target: Terror.
The game was very inflammatory at the time, and while part of it was
simply an eyecatch, there's something to be said for putting a game out
there that makes people consider actions and ramifications, if indeed
The company's newest game is The Fast and the Furious Drift,
and on the occasion of its release to arcades, we spoke with the
industry legend at length. Jarvis gives us a very realistic portrait of
the current arcade industry, where rising costs and waning consumer
interest compete. This difficult scenario encouraged a recent merger
between Raw Thrills and Play Mechanix (Big Buck Hunter), which allows sharing of technology and ideas, as well as multi-team workflow.
In this interview, we discuss the changing methods of designing for
arcade games, how the Wii is (or isn't) encroaching on the unique
experience of the arcade, to what extent graphics still matter, why
most modern arcade cabinets are basically just dedicated PCs, whether Target: Terror was a political statement, and how far the envelope can be pushed.
How different is the arcade industry now, versus its heyday?
Eugene Jarvis: In some ways, it's similar to where it was in the late
'70s, before it became huge. It's half show and half garage sale. It's
on a smaller scale, but the challenge is still there. Trying to create
a game that players care enough to pop a buck into every two or three
minutes is a high bar. In the case of something like World of Warcraft,
there may be 20 million people playing it, but they're not paying a
buck every minute to play that game. They're paying a buck every ten
hours. It's a different animal.
How do you design arcade games so that they eat dollars now, instead of quarters?
EJ: If you could tell me, you'd have a job! You have to pack a huge
amount of entertainment into a small stretch of time. It's like an iPod
versus Microsoft Windows. It's got to be so easy to start the game, and
be very clear as to what you're doing, and have a super elegant user
interface. The action has got to hit you in the face.
A lot of people associate that kind of entertainment with casual
games, but you're coming at it from a more hardcore angle. They're
certainly easy to get into, but the games themselves are a bit more
EJ: There's really two huge groups of players in the arcade market. One
is the group that just really wants to have some fun and go to the
arcade every six months, and then there's the dedicated group of players
that pump a huge portion of money into the games. You have to have some
depth to the game, and have challenges beyond what the average casual
player would notice.
Most of your games are getting sold to movie theatres and bars and things like that, right?
EJ: Yeah. I guess they call it the "street" market. It includes
movie theatres, bars, bowling alleys, pizza parlors, Wal-Marts, and
other places. There are arcades, but they're much bigger these days,
like Gameworks, Dave & Busters, and Chuck E Cheese's. They're a big
place with probably several hundred games, and that's more of the
classic arcade environment.
Until you guys, along with Play Mechanix and Incredible Technologies
came along, there weren't actually new games coming out for a number of
years with any regularity.
EJ: There were new releases, it's just that the games weren't selling
that much. The reason was that it was a changing marketplace. Back in
the '90s it was all about fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Back in the '80s it was all about character games like Pac-Man and shooters like Defender, Asteroids, and Space Invaders.
Those genres hit huge, then waned in popularity. You have to follow the
curve and see where the players are. You have to give them today's
game, which is more of an environmental thing. You have gun-based
interfaces, or driving games with steering wheels, gas pedals, and gear
shifters. We have a motorcycle game called Super Bikes,
and you're leaning the motorcycle. It's much more physical and
control-intensive. It's play that you can't get at home. People are
still going to play their Xbox or PlayStation 37 hours a week, so we
have to give them something that is not on their PS3 or their Wii.