Locked & Reloaded!
Big Buck Gets Big Upgrade for its Birthday
New cabinet, new games and new animals – Big Buck Hunter: Reloaded is everything you’d want and expect from Raw Thrills and Play Mechanix as they celebrate the game’s 20th anniversary.
Operators started receiving upgrades for existing Big Buck HD machines at the end of February. Each got the USB stick update and a new marquee. New cabinets, automatically loaded with Reloaded and branded as such, will be in production at the end of March.
George Petro, president of Play Mechanix, said a prototype will be at Amusement Expo this month. “Big Buck Hunter: Reloaded is a celebration of 20 years of Big Buck Hunter,” he said. “It’s a direct result of 20 years of support and feedback from players and operators around the world.”
That feedback has been implemented in numerous ways, starting with the cabinet itself. “We designed the cabinet from the ground up,” explained Mark Ritchie, the production coordinator and producer at Play Mechanix. He noted the great new way to store guns on the machine – by effectively holstering them to the unit. Before, the guns would essentially just sit on grooves atop the machine, which was not as secure. “This is a huge improvement for operators.”
Added Mike Colesworthy, the team’s graphic design lead: “The cabinet also has new integrated lighting and it’s going to make a much bigger statement.”
For players – it’s all about the game upgrades (and the highly anticipated cupholders to avoid “hold my beer” moments at the bar).
The newest content is Terminator Salvation: Delta Mission, Bow Hunting and In Case of Monsters: Lost Island. Colesworthy said the games are all based on “feedback we’ve gotten from players and operators over the years.”
Terminator Salvation: Delta Mission is a “director’s cut” of sorts of the game’s previous iteration. Bow Hunting allows players to – you guessed it – bow hunt for the first time. And In Case of Monsters is a continuation of In Case of Zombies: Doe of the Dead. Instead of going after zombies (you guessed it again), this game features monster hunting. New animals and difficulty modes and situations are peppered throughout the games.
Perhaps most importantly, Petro noted, is that “all of the changes are backward compatible to Big Buck HD,” meaning operators don’t need the new cabinet to get the new content – though, as already detailed, there are a ton of benefits to upgrading that. The content will be continually updated over the years, he said.
As for the annual Big Buck Championship, it’s shaping up to be their best ever – for obvious reasons. The team reports that there are around 5,000 players working to qualify for the Oct. 2-3 event, held this year in Chicago. With about six more months of qualifiers to go, they’re well on pace to surpass last year’s roughly 14,000 total players seeking qualification.
With that in mind, they’ve doubled the number of qualifiers from 54 last year to 128 this year. There’s a bigger bracket and lots of excitement in the community over the new Reloaded content that will be featured in the tournament and the qualifiers leading up to it.
Aside from the new Big Buck, here’s what else you can expect from the Raw Thrills/Play Mechanix teams at Amusement Expo and further into 2020:
Based off the classic 1986 Taito bubble shooter Bubble Bobble (also called Puzzle Bobble and Bust-A-Move), Raw Thrills’ reimagining of the game just started shipping in February.
Called Bust-A-Move Frenzy, it’s a 10-foot tall version in the same vein as their World’s Largest Pac-Man and Space Invaders Frenzy. The simple objective is to shoot three bubbles in a row. Raw Thrills president Eugene Jarvis made it his mission to “bring it up to date for the 2020s.”
“It’s such a great classic game and I’ve been such a big fan,” he said. “What we brought to the table was not only the huge screen, but powerups that make the game really exciting.” Its powerups allow for incredible scores and comebacks (it’s a competitive yet cooperative, 2-player game where players work together to stay alive).
Bust-A-Move Frenzy is even more intuitive than the company’s previous large games, as it features blaster guns instead of buttons and joysticks. “Some of the younger kids haven’t seen this game,” Jarvis said. “This makes it really easy for them to pick it up in the first 5-10 seconds.”
The cooperative aspect also encourages more social gameplay. “It’s so compelling to see it in that type of screen, but it’s also a chance for generations to get together,” he added, noting parents and grandparents who knew this game can bring the kids into the arcade and “really relate to the younger generation.”
King Kong of Skull Island & Nitro Trucks
Raw Thrills is also dipping its toes into virtual reality this year with King Kong of Skull Island. Jarvis said they’re hoping to demonstrate a prototype at Amusement Expo, but it’ll be ready to go some time this summer.
He said the game is “theatrical” and “dynamic,” and puts players at the center of a King Kong movie. A 2-player motion cabinet with next-generation headsets, it will allow players to really feel a part of the action.
“We think it’ll be the best VR motion game that’s come out to date,” Jarvis said.
Also, the final version of the previously-seen Nitro Trucks will be on display at this month’s show. Shipping the first week of April, the “rowdy off-road racing game” is a lot more tactile than most racers.
It also features 14 upgradable trucks, six exciting tracks and a ramming and speed boost features. Players go around the track three times, getting to learn it better after each go-around – keeping them coming back time and time again, they say.
Autistic Player Embraced By Big Buck Community
A lot of people outside the industry equate “video game” with “isolation.” With Big Buck Hunter (and many other social arcade games), that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, it has the opposite effect – bringing players like Federico Read, 22, out into the wider group of gamers. Federico, who is on the autism spectrum, has trouble socializing but attributes Big Buck events for getting him engaged with the community.
He came to the attention of Play Mechanix years ago, when he’d email the company suggestions to better the game. As he got older, he started attending events and became a big part of the Big Buck World Championship (note his terrific 7th place finish in the 2019 event at www.bigbuckhd.com/world/history).
“It’s a great community, and they totally embraced this young man,” said Brandon Cook, the domestic sales executive at Raw Thrills. “He’s a crowd favorite – everyone’s cheering for him.”
During the 2019 event, held in October, Cook got together with Pete Stearns of Dave & Buster’s and they decided to team up to get Federico his own Big Buck machine to play at home ahead of qualifying events and the annual tournament. D&B provided the machine, and Play Mechanix made sure he got the latest Reloaded software.
“I already upgraded the machine with new content, and I’m going to be putting it online soon as well, so I can get access to the brand-new Big Buck: Reloaded content coming next year,” Federico wrote in an email to Brandon and Pete. “I’m sure you’ve heard that I am on the autism spectrum and I have trouble socializing because of it. The Big Buck Hunter community has helped me to become more social because they share the same obsession.
“It is the one place where I don’t feel different. Because of this gift, I will be able to post high scores and other stuff on the private Facebook group, which will help me stay active in the community.”
Federico’s mother, Carmen Monzon, added that the community has been “amazing” to her son. “As the mother of a child with autism, maybe we have been more protective than most parents,” she said. “But I started noticing the way everyone was truly embracing of his differences, respectful of his age and celebratory of his successes, and it has been absolutely wonderful beyond my wildest dreams!”
She noted that Federico started playing at a young age – too young to participate in the championships, but the whole Big Buck community, since the beginning “has been a huge social skills training for him.”
Good luck and have fun in this year’s championship event, Federico!