MONMOUTH JUNCTION, NJ - New from American Alpha, Inc. is an interactive video game that rewards manual dexterity in striking drumheads in time with a musical score and on-screen prompts. Called "Percussion Master," the game also takes digital photographs of high scorers and displays them on screen, to inspire emulation by their peers.
American Alpha sales and marketing executive Ken Kelly explained that the piece was conceived by company president and founder Sming Huang, who saw a drum game at an overseas event and thought of a design for a better one. Knowing that John Devecka, who invented the classic "Drumscape," holds patents on much of the necessary technology, Sming and his son, George, reached an agreement with Devecka on royalties.
"Since John's original game is no longer in production, we are discussing the possibility of reintroducing an updated version," Kelly added.
Meanwhile, "Percussion Master" is American Alpha's principal focus, and initial results have been very positive. A strong contributor to its appeal is that the player need not possess musical skills, Kelly pointed out; "the game is simply a fun experience for all."
Four difficulty levels (up from the original three) are offered, so everyone from novice to musician is willing to give it a try, the American Alpha executive explained. "We are hearing from locations that the game attracts a wide base of customers," he reported; it has proven to be a lure for kids and whole families.
"The word seems to be spreading that this game is something different," Kelly explained. Patrons can play by themselves, or compete with a partner. "It becomes quite addictive," he added. Not only is the game highly competitive; "Winners love the idea that high scorers are actually photographed, and their faces and scores are locked into the machine, giving them bragging rights."
Unlike most of American Alpha's other designs, "Percussion Master" is not a redemption game, but is classed as a video game like Konami's "Dance Dance Revolution." Several national locations have installed a "Percussion Master" on one side of the entrance, and a "DDR" on the other side, Kelly explained. "They have told us that the games are attracting customers in huge numbers, and since most cannot get to use them right away, the spillover has increased profits for the entire location's games."
In use, the player selects one of four mode settings: Easy, Normal, Hard and Expert. Each play cycle allows the contestant two songs. In competitive play, both contenders can choose the same skill mode, or different ones.
Each player has a screen, a pair of drumsticks (attached to the cabinet, but allowing great flexibility in use) and three drums: a large one resembling a timbal or bongo and two smaller semicylindrical instruments.
The screen displays symbols, color-coded to a specific drum. The player watches the screen, listens to the music and feels the beat, then attempts to hit the appropriate drum when one of the on-screen symbols reaches its target.
The smaller drums are placed side by side, and the larger one is affixed to a mount that extends toward the player and holds the drum at a slight angle, for easy access. Sensors in the drums detect the hits. The larger drum must sometimes be struck with both drumsticks simultaneously, and sometimes the player must execute a "rim shot." Three sensors are installed in the large drum to record these events.
The colorful, dynamic cabinet attracts attention, and is designed to encourage first-time trial. Signage and video images explain how the game is played.
"The design makes it very comfortable for all comers to feel at home playing the game," Kelly summed up. "Eye-hand coordination, rhythm, dexterity and a feel for the sound and the beat are very helpful. Also, as one reaches the higher levels, the game provides a very good workout."
At present, "Percussion Master" is supplied with 28 music tracks, from which the player can select two. The quick success of the game has encouraged American Alpha to begin planning upgrades, among which will be an expanded music selection. Kelly explained that the initial objective was to provide songs with wide appeal while keeping costs down by avoiding material that would entail high performing-rights fees. New song kits will be made available as the game's rollout continues, he said.
Also in the works is a card system that will allow players to keep track of their progress over time, move up to an advanced "hidden" skill level, and enjoy other benefits that result from repeat play. A website is under construction, and tournaments are planned for the near future, the American Alpha executive disclosed.
Founded 16 years ago, American Alpha rose to fame with its unique "Foto Morph" interactive photo attraction booth, which uses advanced graphics technology to enable customers to create imaginative photographs of themselves and print them out in several formats. Since then, the company has launched a number of successful redemption games including the flagship "Jackpot Crossing" coin-roller and new "Peek A Boo" hammer game and versatile "Zoom Zoom" interactive driving game for children. The company also manufactures a wide variety of printed-circuit game boards.
Kelly observed that the change in amusement market conditions over the past decade has tended to make everyone wary of launching untried new items. "Taking a risk or going in a new direction often is very difficult," he noted. "We at American Alpha, being one of the smaller manufacturers, have to make certain that our games are proven winners, and they must be very salable for distributors , and extremely profitable for locations," the sales and marketing executive added.
The company has been successful at this, but founder and president Sming also is a long-time believer in the proposition that there is a market for creative, innovative games. "Percussion Master" is such a design, Kelly reiterated; it is not easy to categorize.
"'Percussion Master,' like the dance games, creates an audience," he explained. It draws crowds as people gather to see what all the excitement is about. When that excitement is being caused by a dance game, adventurous members of the crowd , typically the younger ones , will want to try it.
"What we discovered with 'Percussion Master' is that, because there are a variety of skill levels, almost everybody will give it a try," Kelly concluded. "Young and old feel they can play because they are not intimidated."
The game was launched last November, and has gone through two complete production runs; a third run is now shipping. Information may be had by calling American Alpha, Inc. at (800) 737-7647 or visiting americanalphainc.com.