A Look at 2018
Could This Be the Year of the Indie Game Developer?
by Adam Pratt, Game Grid Arcade & ArcadeHeroes.com
Happy New Year readers! I trust that you all had a wonderful and prosperous holiday season regardless of the events that you celebrate. For my arcade business, we get to mark 2017 as our best year yet, which gives me plenty of optimism going into 2018.
Something I feel especially positive about is “indie” game development. While I and other RePlay writers have covered the indie game business before, there are exciting developments taking place that warrant a fresh look. Let’s get cracking! (We’ll run through them alphabetical order by the company/group name behind them.)
Arcadeaholics LLC is the developer of Cosmotrons, a multi-player space combat game in the same vein as Atari’s Gravitar (see this article’s featured image). What game designer Shane Gutbrod and his wife Juanita did to promote their game was quite amazing: they took it on a cross-country trip to California Extreme (a classic game fest) last summer, stopping at various arcades (including my own) along the way.
The game was playable when I saw it those many months ago, and since then, the team has continued to improve on the formula, planning to launch it this spring. One interesting new addition to the gameplay is that when a player dies, the human pilot falls to the ground below. If you still have available lives, you will regenerate your ship and the human remains can be picked up for additional ammo. If you run out of lives, the dead player can control his last remaining human, taking shots at any opponent passing by. Look for Cosmotrons to go on the market this Spring/Summer.
The creators of the popular Killer Queen Arcade game have been quietly working on another title for arcades by the name of Black Emperor. To borrow the description from their Twitter account, the game is about: “Speed and death. A game inspired by Japanese psychedelic music and bosozoku motorcycle culture.” If that doesn’t make sense then I’ll try and break it down.
It’s essentially one of those “endless runner” style games that are popular on mobile platforms in which your goal is to stay on the road. This is easier said than done as the game has an incredible sense of speed and that road tends to wind a bit. If you fall off the left side of the screen, it’s game over. This uses a spinner controller that is not unlike the rotary device found on old Major Havoc machines, just set to scroll vertically instead of horizontally.
While I am unsure as to the release status of this game at the moment, it’s been shown at different indie game events and won an award for “Purest Game Design” from Ward Games.
A major project from this developer was un-announced at deadline but by the time you are reading this, the news should be on the Internet. This company is launching a brand new PC-based JVS kit system for arcades in 2018 called exA, with an eye to support arcade operators all over the globe. The exA kit works with both 16:9 LCD and 4:3 31kHz CRT cabinets, allowing it to function in a wide variety of cabinets.
The promise of exA’s system is similar to what SNK offered with the NeoGeo MVS: an easily interchangable game system with a variety of titles to purchase and offer. Japanese operators have enjoyed similar boards for the past few years (namely Taito’s NESiCAxLIVe and Sega’s All.Net + Multi), but those competing systems used expensive revenue share models that most operators despise.
This new kit will bring brand new scrolling shoot-’em-ups, one-on-one fighters and even beat-’em-ups back to the arcade, developed by some of the biggest names on the Japanese development scene but interested developers from other parts of the world will also be welcome to feature their content on the new platform. This will launch in the middle of this year.
Bar arcades, a trend many thought was just a fad, have been hanging on and have been quite the rage in many spots around the world for the past several years. That said, there haven’t been many new games created which specifically cater to such businesses. Thus opens the opportunity for the new game Tipsy Raccoons by Glitchbit.
This is a mini-game compilation (think Panic Park or Mario Party) with trivia questions starring cutesy…and drunk…raccoons. Controlled by a joystick and button, up to six players will be able to enjoy hilarious, quick arcade action against each other. The company intends to remotely add new minigames and content each week, to ensure fresh gameplay.
What really stands out about this game is that users pay with their drinks. You read that correctly. The player sets his beverage in one of the games’ drink holders to begin play. (It’s got a liquid-resistant control panel, of course!) The company may also be considering a coin-op version for venues that don’t serve beverages.
This company is the creator of the side-scrolling, shoot-’em-up Skycurser and a small JAMMA-based PC kit game development platform called Airframe. The team continues to refine the Skycurser game with plans to launch online leaderboards, new levels, game tweaks and possibly an app. But they also have been recruiting others to bring their games to the Airframe platform.
Sole developer Ryan Davis has created his own gravity-based space game called Rashlander, which operators can order right now. They also have been working with a group called Clever Machines LLC as they produce a 2D side-scrolling beat-’em-up by the name of Founding Force. Players will become George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson in the quest for liberty.
Headed by Chris Tang, formerly of Atari Games and Sega, Hitsparks’ first arcade title is set to be Flight Armor Project: Strike Harbinger. First unveiled at a special Sega event at the Galloping Ghost Arcade in 2016, this game is looking to resurrect the same behind-the-back shooting style that was made famous by Sega’s Space Harrier. This spectacular looking game has a number of gameplay differences including boost dashing, energy resource management and close range weapons that set it apart. It will also use heat and wind effects for that additional “4D” touch.
This group, based out of Germany, has made quite a name for themselves given their love of SNK’s old NeoGeo MVS hardware by releasing a number of titles for the platform that operators can buy as MVS cartridges. Most of their titles have been a part of the shoot-’em-up genre, but they are deviating from that with the upcoming release of Kraut Buster. This is a tongue-in-cheek homage to arcade classics such as Metal Slug and Contra, pushing the MVS hardware well beyond where the hardware creators had originally imagined back in 1990.
Making new pinball games is a much harder and resource-intensive effort than many fans realize, which has resulted in a number of fly-by-night groups creating one, maybe two (or in the case of the infamous Skit-B Pinball, zero), machines before being unable to sustain additional creations. That hasn’t been the case with the Wisconsin-based Spooky Pinball, a “boutique” maker of pinball machines.
They started off with titles like America’s Most Haunted and Rob Zombies International Spookshow, continuing to create limited run efforts in 2017 such as The Jetsons, Domino’s Pizza and Total Nuclear Annhilation. In 2018, they have announced one other title, Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle, although I’m sure they will also have something else in the works for the year.
This is a well known name among console gamers thanks to the PinballFX series of titles. At IAAPA 2016, you may have come across their booth in the First Time Exhibitor area, showing off an out-of-home version of Pinball FX2 in a nice, dual-screen pinball cabinet. The home version allowed users to play pretty much any table available as a part of the PinballFX2 software, while the commercial version was going to have fewer licensed titles and more original virtual pinball creations. The cabinet also used a touchscreen and had switchable 2D/3D effects for stereoscopic glasses.
While the company didn’t launch this as planned in 2017, they recently told me they tentatively plan to release this for home collectors and arcades alike early this year.
Okay, this is out of alphabetical order, but that’s because all I can really do right now is give them an “honorable mention.” I was unable to reach anyone at American Pinball in time for this column’s deadline to learn more about their Houdini pinball game (launched October 2017). Hopefully, I’ll learn more soon.
Overall, I am very excited to see these new developments, in part because of the risks being taken on new ideas, but also because of the potential for adding some variety to our sector. If you’re working on a proper out-of-home arcade machine, let me know via email ([email protected]) so I can share news about it with the world!
Adam Pratt is the owner and operator of the Game Grid arcade near Salt Lake City, Utah. He also publishes the Arcade Heroes blog site and serves as an advisor for the web-based game supplier BMI Worldwide. He can be reached at [email protected].