Here's a peek at a new videogame category that you will be hearing more about in the months and years to come. Leading operators are quietly finding success with a new class of videogame, which can be called a "midscale attraction." This new category can be described as a hybrid consisting of a deluxe video-style amusement cabinet and a midsize theme park attraction.
Around the world, this new video category is sparking rare levels of excitement in larger street locations, smaller and midsize FECs and public venues like museums that many operators never dreamed could support video amusements. Most of this excitement has been witnessed overseas -- with obvious implications for the American market. For the moment, these machines may be said to constitute one of the unsung success stories in today's amusement trade.
How did midscale video attractions come to be? It appears they were created in much the same way that automobile manufacturers have created hybrid vehicles. Just as Tokyo and Detroit have rolled out cars and trucks powered by both gas and electricity … or "crossover" vehicles that blend characteristics of both SUVs and sedans (and don't you dare call them station wagons) … so have gamemakers rolled out videos and attractions that blend the best of both concepts.
From Sega to Triotech Amusement Inc., a growing number of videogame and attractions manufacturers have either "scaled up or down" the deluxe videogames of yesteryear or oversized attractions, respectively, to bear a new "in-between" size of equipment.
At their best, midscale videogame attractions appear to be just right for a broader range of locations than either of the original categories. They offer the space-saving footprint of a bank of standard deluxe games, yet they also provide the player excitement and earning power of much larger attractions.
That's why, from America to Europe to the Middle East to China, this new videogame category is catching on with operators, locations and players. Just as Tokyo and Detroit have found a sweet spot in a challenging global automobile market with hybrids, videogame manufacturers are finding a sweet spot in a difficult global videogame market with midscale attractions.
There is another reason why operators of larger street venues, as well as fun centers, are finding success with midscale attractions: They can handle a large throughput of players and they also drive strong repeat visitation with interactive audience experiences.
What follows is a quick review of some of the midscale video attractions that are finding success with operators today. The "super" deluxe systems sit at one side of the scale. A recent example is Sega's adventure-themed Let's Go Island game. Following in the tradition of the company's earlier hit, Let's Go Jungle is offered in a theater-style enclosed cabinet. (It's available in motion and non-motion open cabinet styles.)
Namco Bandai's DeadStorm Pirate, in which players chase "ghost ships" on the hunt for a fabulous treasure, is another example. It's offered in a sitdown cabinet with oversized video monitor where the player is partially obscured by a curtain, almost like a photobooth. The same format is used in Taito's Gala Attack 4, a four-player theater blaster.
A high-profile incarnation of the midscale video attraction is Raw Thrills' Terminator: Salvation SDX (super deluxe), featuring a 100" display and large cabinet presentation (see page 44). The cabinet design brings a new level of player immersion to classic shooters. Adding to the movie-theater feeling of the game are full-size replicas of the Terminator robot character mounted on top of the monitor frame.
PHOTO: Pictured, from left, are Taito’s Dariusburst (top), Cruden’s Hexatech, Trans-Force’s five 5-seat (and 5D) and Namco’s DeadStorm Pirate.
Another shooting experience on a 100" screen has been developed by RASS (Real Action Shooting Simulator), a South Korean company. Its single-player Vulcan-M interfaces a realistic representation of a Vulcan mini-gun (a machine-gun style weapon with cannon-scale recoil and destructive power). The the life-like gun controller permits players to blast at air, sea and land targets amid digital sound effects. The game cabinet's Dolby audio and force-feedback systems stimulate the player's senses.
Single-player midscale attractions like these units from Sega, Namco and Taito, among others, hark back to the amusement origins of the technology, with their large cabinets and screens offering solo action on a "centerpiece" attraction. However, midscale attractions are evolving from one-, two- or even four-player systems to grandiose configurations that can entertain eight, 10 and even more players simultaneously.
Canadian developer Triotech has added interactive game elements to its popular 4D passive film experience platform with motion seating, the XD Theatre. Launched this year, the XD Dark Rider seats eight or more players who blast at the screen in response to compelling game narrative.
Japanese videogame giants and Canadian simulator experts are not the only sources of midscale attractions. A number of these machines are coming out of Europe and a few are beginning to find toeholds in the U.S. market. The concept of the mass audience screen blaster was originated by Belgium-based AlterFace in its Desperado theater experience. Partnering with 3DBA, another game developer, AlterFace has adapted its system for midsize theme parks and family entertainment venues. The company is now developing a new version of the technology and game narrative under the 5Di Interactive Cinema brand.
While midscale attractions are typically driven by interactive game software, a growing number of passive rides are entering the category. For example, some theme park attractions have been rescaled for deployment outside of park environments -- in other words, they're being scaled down for amusement operators and classic amusement locations. Examples of passive 4D film midscale attractions include Kraftwerk's MOOVID 6D and a range of units from the UK's Simworx, which incorporate motion cabins and 4D cinema systems and an extensive library of exciting ride films.
Yet another motion simulator developer that has scaled down its attractions to suit a diverse market is South Korea's Simuline. Its X-Rider motion theater is available in four- and eight-player formats; the latter uses two Simuline motion bases in one theater.
As the number of neighborhood bars continues to shrink -- and competition in the FEC sector becomes increasingly crowded -- operators are looking for new types of location. Surprisingly, midscale attractions can help amusement professionals open new types of venues that many operators never envisioned might be part of their businesses.
The 5D five-seat motion capsule, made by Russian developer Trans-Force, is being installed in museums and shopping malls. Each rider plays a different role in the game's narrative (some players are gunners and others pilots).
In France, the UK and UAE, several unlikely videogame venues are offering such midscale attractions as Hexatech by Cruden, a major European simulator manufacturer. Originally a motor sports training simulator, the machine has been converted into an amusement device. Its fully configurable 3CTR motion platform offers six degrees of freedom and three screens for a super-realistic driving experience. Venues are now offering Hexatech as a standalone game attraction with exclusive VIP driving packages, demonstrating that creative marketing can be as important to the success of midscale attractions as the creative applications behind the technology. This is an obvious piece for cutting-edge U.S. operators to place in speedways, car museums and other automobile venues.
Additionally, the latest motion-tracking technology is used by some midscale videogame attractions. Canada's Virtual Sports allows players to compete in a full enclosure in different sports like Ice Hockey, in which players hit a puck that is motion-tracked. The puck's trajectory is calculated instantly and virtually represented in the game.
MADE IN CHINA
Midscale attractions are also becoming important in China. Why should U.S. operators care about super-sophisticated, and perhaps super-expensive videogame systems in far-off China? Because if cheap Chinese-made pool tables and cuesticks can invade the U.S. market, so can lower-cost Chinese videogame attractions.
It is possible that China's inexpensive labor, ever-increasing manufacturing prowess and world-flooding export programs could soon impact Western amusement markets. It's not at all unreasonable to imagine that American operators could someday find previously out-of-reach costs begin to descend -- with a "Made in China" label.
For this reason, operators worldwide should keep a close eye on China's emerging amusement videogame manufacturing sector, which has already produced some high-quality midscale attractions. Among them is 4D Star Raiders by Dragon World. Widely praised as the first fully 4D amusement system, it offers 3D and special effects in a super-deluxe package.
Flee Dinosaur Island 4D, from China's Belrate, is a two-player blaster that emulates a Japanese-style theater enclosure cabinet. Similar presentations enhance Topfull Amusement's X-Monster.
Chinese developers are also working on more conventional midscale attractions such as the Mutant Alert multi-player shooting experience, originated by Goldenhorserider. Amusement developer InJoy Motion has developed its own motion simulator, called Cruiser, which offers two-rider thrills.
Even without the possibility of opening new types of location, operators need to make more efficient use of the space they have in existing locations. As overhead rises and competition increases, they need to buy equipment that yields more dollars per square foot, offers a "wow effect" to dazzle players and drive repeat traffic, and justifies higher play-pricing.
Midscale attractions can do all of this and more. Just as the motion picture industry began over a century ago with one-person peepshows, then graduated to the group-viewing experience with theater seating, the same evolution is possible for the amusement industry with midscale video attractions. These hybrid machines appear poised to become a significant factor in future buying habits of this ever-evolving industry.
KEVIN WILLIAMS is founder and director of the out-of-home leisure entertainment consultancy KWP Ltd. His nearly 20 years of experience in global video amusements and high-tech attractions includes top management and design posts, with a focus on new technology development and applications. He is a well-known speaker on the industry lecture circuit, and has authored numerous articles. Williams is also editor and publisher of The Stinger Report, a leading industry e-newsletter and Web-based information service. Go to thestingerreport.com to sign up for a free subscription.