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February 2013 Retro Gaming Article


February 5, 2013 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Namco's Level 256 is getting poised to take the cheese outta Chuck E.

Arcade redemption prizes Having spent my teen years (and innumerable quarters) in the 80's arcade scene, you can only imagine my dismay at what constitutes an "arcade" these days. Redemption games and air hockey are valid elements of an arcade, but when they exist in solitude without any video screen'd cabinets or flashing pinball marquees... well, that just isn't an arcade.

Arcade games have certainly changed since I was dropping quarters into Asteroids Deluxe and Wizard Of Wor, but the absence of CRTs in many "arcades" is sad - not to mention my complete disdain for trading in 200 tickets for a cheap plastic toy that distributers sell for less than one penny. When did arcade owners get together and decide "customer engagement" was best captured via pathetic troves of cheap baubles?

I always see kids frantically snatching strings of tickets and racing to the redemption counter as though all that cheap crap is the pinacle of the arcade gaming experience. That tells me something is very wrong with the gaming experience. After a bout with Defender, I wouldn't have any desire to culminate the experience with a cheap rubber frog. Playing the game was the reward!

Chuck E. Cheese's Logo

Chuck E. Cheese's

I'm always taken aback when hearing that Chuck E. Cheese's was founded in 1977. On the other hand it also explains a lot. Atari founder, Nolan Bushnell, had a great idea in mixing video games with pizza. However, like many aging businesses, the funding to renovate and modernize them with changing times simply isn't there. Maintaining the same properties fits the budget, but when they begin to feel old - like yesterday's concepts - the money isn't there to keep pace with the times.

new Chuck E. Cheese's mascot Sears has similar issues when compared to Target. The stores are similar, but Sears being an aging giant doesn't look as new and fresh as a new Target location. I far prefer Sears, but most shoppers are seeking a retail experience... I just want a new pair of pants.

The unfortunate downfall is that it's cheaper for a new retailer to launch than for an older one to modernize. Look at Circuit City - Best Buy is the same damn place, but being a newer company they look fresh while Circuit City faded away.

Like older retailers such as Sears or Kmart, Chuck E. Cheese's hasn't modernized or changed all too much. They upgraded the animated mouse who dances through their TV commercials. That's great until you get to the physical location and discover it doesn't compare with similar establishments. I won't go into my usual diatribe about it not really being my kind of arcade nor is the food particularly edible.

Namco's Level 256

The quirk of a 256th level in many vintage arcade games, like Pac-Man or Dig Dug, is where the game fails due to the level-counter being a single 8-bit byte only capable of storing 256 unique values; 0 through 255. When 256 came around various unplanned behaviors came into play making further game play difficult if not impossible. Of course, back in the 80's you played most games until you ran out of lives. For most of us this occurred long before the level counter hit three digits, let alone 256.
So, anyway...
new Chuck E. Cheese's mascot
Codenamed Level 256, Namco is setting out to develop a prototype for a gaming restaurant that could be turned into a franchise or chain of sorts. Although most of the arcades I frequented as a kid didn't allow food or drinks, there has been a connection between gaming and food since the success of Pong in a bar.

If nothing else, I'd love to see an adult variant on what Chuck E. Cheese's has offered kids. I often hear complaints that Chuck's doesn't cater to the adult crowd (despite many locations having liquor licenses) who wait while their kids play games. I've always thought that Chuck E. Cheese's was geared toward kids and that responsible parents would see the virtue in playing with their kids rather than chugging brews while Junior racked up tickets for trinkets. So much for family values, I suppose.

Advent of the Barcade!

I feel there is a huge open market for yesterday's arcade gamers who have grown up, but haven't out grown gaming. I think many folks miss real arcades and don't like the typical loud-music bar scene that aging arcaders are apparently supposed to gravitate toward.

Has the term "Barcade" entered your vocabulary yet? If not - it's the adult version of the arcade you loved as a kid. Many bars are adding arcade games to their floor space while others are building anew with the express intent of stocking an area with arcade games. And I'm not talking about the latest wide-screen game with a built-in chair. Many barcades are being founded by the 80's arcade generation and they're stocking their new bars with Defender, Donkey Kong and Centipede!

Places like the upcoming Quarters Bar and the Barcade in Brooklyn, NY are part of a trend that I hope grows. Perhaps the arcade-muscle of Namco will further escalate the integration of gaming and night-life. I can only hope. Who doesn't want to stop off for a beer and some Missile Command? Hell Yeah!!

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