Alive & Thriving!
Years in the Making, The Walking Dead Arcade Is No Zombie!
One year ago this month, rumors swirled about Raw Thrills/Play Mechanix newest project: The Walking Dead Arcade. Operators and arcade enthusiasts eagerly awaited any solid info on the storied manufacturer’s newest piece, especially after the runaway success of Jurassic Park Arcade, which was topping collection sheets and wowing players worldwide. Now, the zombie shooter is on location alongside the best, drawing eyes in even the most crowded game rooms with its flashy, environmental cabinet, mass-appeal license, riveting gameplay and innovative inclusions.
One year may seem like a long time for anyone who was waiting to see if legendary game developer Eugene Jarvis and his team could keep their winning streak alive. But for the folks tasked with tackling such a huge license and creating a unique game from it, one year was hardly the whole battle. According to George Petro, owner of Play Mechanix, and the company’s Creative Director Will Carlin, the team had been pursuing rights to build their vision of a Walking Dead arcade game for four years.
“It’s a big name, a huge license, and has been topping the TV charts from a viewership standpoint for years,” Petro said. “The popularity of Walking Dead is not just TV, it has a fanatic following unlike any other TV show. The fan base is so invested, we knew we’d see that reflected in the game’s success.”
The concept of using The Walking Dead license began years ago when the Raw Thrills/Play Mechanix team wanted to use it as downloadable content for their Big Buck HD video games. After multiple pitch meetings and plenty of negotiations, AMC and our coin-op game maker were ready to pull the trigger and start the project.
Then Tragedy Struck
On December 14, 2012, Newtown, Connecticut, became the site of one of our nation’s worst tragedies. The Sandy Hook school shooting stole the breath from the nation and the project, cooling AMC’s desire to be associated with any kind of gun game. According to Petro and Carlin, it shook everyone on the project, right up to the president of AMC who ultimately shut the collaboration down.
As the psyche of the nation slowly recovered, Carlin and Petro moved forward, always with the ongoing (and still wildly popular) zombie license in mind. Instead of Walking Dead-themed downloadable content for Big Buck HD, the team transformed the project into In Case of Zombies: Doe of the Dead, an unlicensed zombie mode for the popular hunting game.
“Everything cooled off for a while. We made our own game which did well,” Carlin said. “We would check back every once in a while to see how AMC was feeling, but for years, there was no change. Honestly, that tragedy forced us to make a different kind of gun game in the end.”
Ultimately, persistence paid off. The result is the beautifully crafted The Walking Dead Arcade. The game’s environmental cabinet features synced interior lighting that matches up with the action on the screen, meaning the player is bathed in soft, dim light while fighting in the depths of a dark prison, only to be blasted with brightness as they burst through a locked door into the sunlight.
When your character lights up a flare to see in the dark, the interior lighting burns hot red. This immersive feature is compounded with story-driven gameplay that was designed to feel like the popular TV show. The show, if you haven’t seen it, is much more than shoot-’em-up zombies, and is packed with drama and character development.
“The show is a bit of a melodrama, actually,” Petro said. “There’s a lot of action, but the reason people love it is the characters. We wanted to match that, so you actually have a cast that sticks with you through the game. The cast expands throughout but, just like in the show, before you get to safety a lot of characters won’t make it.”
The gameplay is meant to be immersive as well, arming players with a crossbow (a signature weapon of one of the show’s favorite characters) and tasking them to escape and fight through locations torn directly from the TV show. Originally, the concept was to have rifles similar to other gun games. But as a way to calm AMC’s unease after Sandy Hook, developers took every gun out of the game, instead replacing it with the new, unique weapon emulating character Daryl Dixon’s renowned crossbow.
“Honestly, the complication forced us to make a different kind of gun game. In The Walking Dead Arcade, every shot counts and headshots are incredibly important, which plays true to the zombie theme,” Carlin said. “Sometimes you’re forced to improvise, and sometimes that leads to a creative breakthrough. There is a skill level involved in this game that isn’t present in a lot of rapid fire gun games.”
You’ll never fight a boss monster or anything like that while you play through the game, which also plays true to the original Walking Dead world. Instead, you are tasked with escaping situations and surviving, while contending with the never-ending horde of mindless walkers.
The first machines began shambling onto the street earlier this year, with U.S. locations being a main priority for the manufacturers. Dave & Buster’s and Main Event were some of the earliest locations to get the game, quickly followed by arcade and street operators, and certainly the FECs nationwide. Soon, the game was overseas with Petro and Carlin reporting shipments to Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, the U.K., Japan, China and more.
“The game has been crazy in Japan. At the latest Japan Amusement Expo this spring, we saw pictures showing people waiting for upwards of an hour in line to play it. The Japanese reception was a surprise, but I think it shows the game is appealing worldwide,” Petro said. “They don’t broadcast the show in China, but a lot of people there are still crazy about it and it’s selling well there.”
When asked whether they think the license and game will have the legs to last a long time, Carlin and Petro both agree that The Walking Dead (just like its titular zombies) isn’t going anywhere fast. The show has been on the air since 2010, while the graphic novel it is based on first published in 2003. Both are still in production, and have broken multiple records.
“This is THE show for AMC, and for fans,” Petro said. “It’ll be a part of their lives even after it ends.”
Kudos to the Crew
The current success of Raw Thrills/Play Mechanix’ games has the team in good spirits, but they’re far from resting on their laurels. According to Petro and Carlin, innovation is key to the company, and their goal is to be constantly evolving alongside the market and the game player. Both say they will always be working on licensed products, but the company won’t just chase any license out there. Also, nearly half of the company’s developments are currently homegrown projects.
“Everyone in these offices is capable of making a game. That’s how a lot of our stuff happens. We’ve all worked together for so many years that sometimes we hardly have to say a thing once we get started on an idea,” Petro said. “A clear path usually appears.”
“We can make any game here, but we try to make the best. We want to make sure it’s right for the arcade. A lot of us have been doing this for more years than we haven’t, and we know what it means to make a game that’s more than just eye-turning, but provides a great player experience. We want to make sure we give players something they enjoy.”
Both Petro and Carlin were grateful for the efforts of the entire The Walking Dead Arcade team, specifically mentioning Joe Lillyman and Joel Seider, the designer and software manager for the game respectively. Also, both thanked Mark Gruber, who designed the cabinet, and Bob Yoest, the mechanical engineer who designed the crossbow controller for the game.
“Additionally, we have to thank all the awesome employees at Play Mechanix and Raw Thrills. There are lots of people behind this game, and no one can push these rocks up the hill alone,” Petro said. “We have some of the most creative people in video games working here.”
The team also wanted to thank AMC, celebrating the studio for being very involved in the process. As the timeframe tells, this involvement led to some difficulties, but both Carlin and Petro agree that it ultimately helped make the game more authentic and helped the team understand many of the nuances of the Walking Dead franchise.
“Everyone involved has done a great job,” Petro concluded. “We might have different titles or sub-jobs, but our goal here at Play Mechanix and Raw Thrills is to make video games that last, that tell a story, that entertain. We have a lot of fun in the process.”
What’s Coming Next?
Raw Thrills/Play Mechanix is one to watch in the coming months. As IAAPA approaches, more details are leaking out about what the manufacturer has in store for 2017 and beyond. The team has confirmed that they will be developing an arcade version of the raucous shooter Nex Machina for arcades, with many speculating the game will be at IAAPA. Alongside Housemarque, the original publisher of the shoot ’em up game, the manufacturer has made the new arcade cabinet look flashy and attractive, in the usual Raw Thrills/Play Mechanix style. The game equips two players with joysticks torn straight from a flight simulator, and tasks them with a challenging fight.
Raw Thrills/Play Mechanix is also bringing Cruis’n Blast an update, adding motion seats in a collaboration with UNIS. No word if this version of the classic driver will make it stateside, but it was recently seen at the Asian Attractions Expo in China.
Beyond the games themselves, Raw Thrills/Play Mechanix is still getting creative with one of their oldest franchises: Big Buck Hunter. The team has transformed the game into a cult classic, drawing out an avid crowd of players and fans who are happy to travel across the country each year for the Big Buck World Championships. Qualifiers for the event run throughout the summer, and encourage players with cash prizes to keep coming back and plunking quarters in. The event has even gained some fame on the popular video game streaming site Twitch.Tv, with hundreds of thousands of views, a recurring, hosted show called Buckin’ Around and more.
Twitch debuted its first in-house mini-documentary on April 7, titled Ironsights, which chronicles the competitive scene that has emerged around Big Buck Hunter. The 22-minute story follows Sara Erlandson, a Wisconsin bar owner who has dominated the Big Buck scene. Erlandson will surely be back on October 28, when the Big Buck World Championship kicks off.