Spotlight Feature – Play Mechanix & Raw Thrills


More than 30 Years Later…

NBA Superstars Succeeds NBA Jam
In Wowing Basketball Fans

By Matt Harding

Raw Thrills NBA SuperstarsGet ready for wild, high-flying slam dunks as your favorite NBA player because NBA Superstars is lifting off this summer! Devel­oped by Play Mechanix, it harkens back to the 1990s-era favorite NBA Jam but adds a whole lot of modern fun to the mix.

Eugene Jarvis, president of the parent company Raw Thrills, told RePlay the game is shipping now exclusively to Dave & Buster’s and Main Event and will be available industry-wide this summer. It was also on hand at Bowl Expo.

“This project has been a huge dream,” Jarvis said. “NBA Jam was such a legendary sports game and kind of established the modern era of arcades. It also definitely marked the modern era of sports games with photo-realistic players and realistic action.” Of course, there’s also the heightened reality of insane halfcourt alley-oop passes and slam dunks that would make your head spin.

“I still play NBA Jam to this day. The average player can just come up and have fun, and that was our inspiration,” Jarvis explained.

Like NBA Jam, the new NBA Superstars has modern realism and even commentary from the same iconic voice of Tim Kitzrow. Unlike NBA Jam, this new game offers 3-vs.-3 play instead of 2-vs.-2.

And, if you couldn’t tell by the name, it’s the first officially NBA-licensed game since the ’90s (the license is also in partnership with the National Basketball Players Assn.).

With that in mind, players can compete with all 30 NBA teams and get to choose from four athletes on each squad, meaning 120 NBA superstars in total. Among them are LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

George Petro, Play Mechanix topper, said ideas for such a game started bouncing around in his head some 10 years ago.

“We’ve wanted to do an NBA game for a long time,” he said. “I was involved with Midway back in the day and with the team that did the original NBA Jam. It took us a long time to convince the NBA they needed another arcade video game.”

That came to fruition when they quietly inked a deal in June 2020. Nick Petro, who worked on the licensing deal, said it was integral to the type of game they wanted to make.

“It’s been great working in tandem with the wishes of the NBA and NBPA and balancing them both,” he said. “To their credit, both parties have been excellent to work with. Their feedback made sure our game is as authentic as possible.” He added, by including every team and 120 players, “chances are your favorite player is in the game.”

Creative director Will Carlin said that George’s NBA fandom is what spurred this new development, which was a daunting task for the team.

“We were terrified about doing this game,” Carlin expressed. “NBA Jam is the gold-star for a lot of people. I think if we would have all voted on this one and let fear decide, we wouldn’t have made this game. But it was a very interesting project. Challeng­ing, fun and exciting all at the same time. This really is about a love of NBA Jam and basketball in general.”

He added that there’s a level of intricacy to NBA Superstars that made it tough to make, but players will benefit from all the hard work. It’s emblematic of the “easy to play, difficult to master” mantra of many of the top-tier game manufacturers.

Head of software Joel Seider said they made essentially three basketball games, tore down code and built it back as one game to satisfy all arcade-goers. “We wanted a game that was more skill-based but could still be accessible to the casual arcade audience,” he said.

As George Petro explained: “Getting to great from nothing takes a long time.”

It all started with the meticulous building of assets. There were all the approvals from NBA and NBPA on player looks – from smile and eyes to skin tone and hair. “From a design point of view, we started looking at our predecessors and said, ‘What if they made NBA Jam now?’”

From that starting point, he added, “It morphed into our own game, and we made some significant differences.” Among those is the increased strategy that comes along with competitive 3-on-3 basketball.

Added lead programmer Craig Grupp: “This game was definitely an interesting challenge to work on. There’s a lot of moving parts to it. We pushed the limit in terms of a real simulated crowd, for instance. The crowd is very reactive to the game and that adds to the experience.”

He noted there’s also the detailed visual effects once players unlock Superstar Mode, which lets them take home MVP honors if they earn the win.

The Play Mechanix team also proudly confirmed that there are indeed secret modes in the game, though they’re going to wait and let players figure them out.

The designers said with a game as good as this, they knew they’d have to box it in something special. The cabinet, designed with Raw Thrills’ Mark Gruber, is 10 ft. tall and features a 75” screen with an LED scoreboard panel that mimics what you’d see at real life arenas and stadiums – with graphics lighting up the board when you drain a three-pointer, for example.

In the day-to-day of game development, the team can get a little jaded about how cool what they’re making is, but as Carlin said, “When that screen showed up here, everyone lost their minds. It was exciting to us even when it was barely functioning.”

Nick Petro also noted that the team wanted to produce something that has the possibility to work well in smaller street locations as well as large FECs. “We wanted to create something that could sit next to someone’s Big Buck Hunter or dart boards – something competitive,” he said. Each of the four play stations features team color-coordinated RGB LEDs as well.

All of the in-game features and cabinet details were painstakingly crafted to draw players into the competition – whether playing against a friend, a stranger or the game’s AI. It’s the kind of game players can’t get at home from console, PC or mobile developers.

With thousands of animations and intricate gameplay, superb audio quality and a link to that famous past NBA game, NBA Superstars is bound to carve a legacy unto itself.

Once again, the game is currently shipped to Dave & Buster’s and Main Event locations and will be available to the wider industry in early August.

To learn more, visit


Godzilla Kaiju Wars, T-Rex Safari Next Up for Raw Thrills VR

After their successful foray into virtual reality with King Kong of Skull Island, Raw Thrills has a couple more products they expect will thrill fans.

One is Godzilla Kaiju Wars, which launched at IAAPA Expo 2023 and was fine-tuned for this year’s Amusement Expo. “People were pretty shocked at it,” said company president Eugene Jarvis. “Everyone who plays the game walks away stunned or smiling or something.”

Raw Thrills Godzilla Kaiju Wars VROnly two of the five game chapters were finished at that time. Since then, the team has been working to optimize the first few chapters and create the others, adding to the Godzilla character’s saga.

“We just want to make sure this is an epic game,” he said. “We’re going to get all those episodes in by July. We’ve had a huge positive response from the players out there.”

Jarvis explained the company signed a license for Godzilla seven to eight years ago and have been working on the concept ever since. “After a couple years, after we came out with King Kong, we realized VR would be the perfect technology to get the excitement and scale and put you in that environment so you can see how big Godzilla is. There’s a sense of presence in that reality.”

He continued: “It’s a beautiful game and it seems to have struck a chord. I didn’t even realize how many Godzilla fans there are. We have people traveling hundreds of miles to play.”

The cabinets are shipping right now, and further updates are set for this summer.

Raw Thrills T-Rex Safari AdventureAlso available now is the new T-Rex Safari, which made a quiet debut at Amusement Expo. With this game, Jarvis said it allows people to “feel the wonder of virtual reality.” T-Rex Safari puts you in an environment based on real dinosaurs from the Jurassic era.

“You see dinosaurs hatching, they jump into your hand, and you get a chance to ride on dinosaurs – fly on a pterodactyl and explore that environment,” he said. “We’re thinking of things where you can get that VR scale. You just get a feeling for how huge these creatures are. It’s a fun experience that’s also actually very educational.”

Jarvis added: “It’s a nice complement to Godzilla and King Kong.”


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