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Arcades in the 90s

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My friend Martha just told me about what her local arcade used to be like in the 90s.

 

"I went from 1992 to 2003, when it closed up. Its glory days were in the mid to late 90s. The lights were dim, it smelled of smoke, and of course, there were lots of games. There was a token dispenser and ticket eater at the entrance and they would give you tokens if you did well in school. There were all sorts of genres: regular arcade machines, pinball, redemption games, and what have you not. Some games I remember being there were Street Fighter II, The Simpsons, Star Wars Episode I Racer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NARC, Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, Rolling Thunder, Sonic Championship, Spider Stompin', Spider Splattin', AAAH! Real Monsters, Hydro Thunder, Arctic Thunder, Offroad Thunder, The Ocean Hunter, Mortal Kombat 4, some classic games like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Frogger, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., etc., Speed Racer, SegaSonic the Hedgehog, RoadBlasters, Wacky Gator, Feed Big Bertha, Skee-Ball, PlayChoice 10 (forgot which), Mega Man: The Power Battle, Act-Fancer: Cybernetic Hyper Weapon, X-Multiply, R-Type, Life Force, Virtua Fighter, Daytona USA, Superman, Nemo, X-Men, Dance Dance Revolution, and Captain America and the Avengers. 

 

Of course, it had music. Here are some of the songs I remember playing in there:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That's all I can remember. But it was so awesome."

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"Some more games: Marvel vs. Capcom, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, X-Men: Children of the Atom, Marvel Super Heroes, TMNT Turtles in Time, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, some redemption machines I forget the name of, House of the Dead, Time Crisis, Time Crisis 2, Crisis Zone, Pac-Mania, Tekken, Tekken 2, Tekken 3, Tekken Tag Tournament, Tekken 4, Soul Edge, Soulcalibur, lots of fighting games like that. There was a Batman kiddie ride near the kids games, it was like the Batmobile or something. I loved that as a kid who was a big fan of Batman.

 

Some more songs that I remember played there...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, that's all for now."

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I was a pre-teen in the early '90s when I went to my first arcade.  My parents didn't let me go to them when I was younger because they said they had a reputation for catering to drug users and problem kids.  In the early-to-mid '90s, I remember the fighting games being the real draw:  Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct were the ones I remember most.  The other type of game that seemed to be much better in the arcades than on home systems were the beat 'em ups, especially the Ninja Turtles games.

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Arcades in the '90s were pretty much my life since I worked in them from '93 to 2000. I worked in several different arcades on the Las Vegas Strip. We would get all the latest games including rare machines like Galaxian 3 Theater which was the size of a garage and cost as much as a house. The most popular games we had were the racing games like Daytona or the Cruisin' USA & Cruisin' World. Fighting games were very popular too and I would give tips and tricks to kids. I was a pro at all the fighting games (and all the other games) and would challenge kids by playing blind folded or one handed and win. We pretty much had all the popular fighting games with all the Street Fighter games including Street Fighter The Movie and the SF: Alpha games all the way up to all the SF3 games. We also had all the Mortal Kombat games, a bunch of other Capcom fighters, Virtua Fighter 1-3, Primal Rage, etc... The older classic games we had on rotation as well as all the pinball machines.  Shooting games did well, also, like Virtua Cop and Area 51.

 

The arcades were mostly filled with tourists but there were some regulars. In the middle of the week I would do my major cleaning with the help of some kids. I would let them keep all the tokens they found in return for helping me clean. I also had some other perks like getting to watch movies being filmed on the strip like Vegas Vacation, Mars Attacks, and Con Air. I was invited to be an extra on a couple of them but turned them down. I didn't get to see any of the big stars but I did meet some of the other actors and crew when they'd come into the arcade. They'd ask for a few free games then tip me for more than what they played. It was fun times working at all those arcades. The pay wasn't the best but it was probably one of my most favorite jobs.

 

 

 

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By the late-1990s, I was largely over arcade games. I remember the few remaining establishments being dominated by redemption games and games with huge, specialized controllers that could not reasonably be ported to the home market. Dancing games were seemingly huge -- at least they were prominently placed near the entrance. 

 

One of the last arcades (other than the small handful of classic games at the Greyhound bus depot -- now closed -- and the even smaller handful still at the airport) largely transitioned into a PC game room. It lasted until about 2004 or 2005. 

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In 2002, I used to go to an arcade that had a PC game room. The arcade games there were DDR, Tekken, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat III, Daytona, Indy 500, Virtua Fighter, Fighting Vipers, The Ocean Hunter, and more. There were a lot of games like Starcraft in the PC game room. I used to talk with my nerdy friends there about stuff like Toonami and anime, Adult Swim, comic books, and more.

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I was born in the mid 80s so I was only old enough to go to arcades in the 90s.  As far as places that were dedicated arcades, usually the lighting would be intentionally dim, there would be a mix of games but my eye was always drawn to any cabs that were deluxe or super deluxe models over the typical arcade cabinet shape. Chances were that the large deluxe stuff would be a pretty cool experience with special controllers and/or cutting edge graphics - stuff like Alpine Racer 1 + 2 and Top Skater.  I put some quarters into Tekken 2 when I first saw it simply because it was hooked up to a large projection TV like monitor and the controls were on a pedestal, so it seemed larger than life and very important (the graphics were also pretty good for the time).  Of course many of these deluxe games sometimes cost a full dollar to play, which as strange as it seems, made them even more special b/c you couldn't waste quarters replaying them and make yourself tired of the limited levels in the games.

 

Although I was young, I was at an arcade around 1993/1994 when Virtua Fighter and Primal Rage were new.  Those seemed like such grownup games, there was a big crowd around each of them of teenagers, who were basically adults to me at the time. It lent an adult serious aura to those games. 

 

Also played Stun Runner and Race Drivin in the early 90s. I wasted quarters not understanding how to get the car to move in Race Drivin (forget if it was due to not knowing you need to turn the ignition, or use the clutch to shift the shifter into drive), the entire timer counted down while my car stayed still and I watched helplessly!

 

I watched the sega 3D racers enter the arcade - stuff like Daytona USA, SCUD Race and Daytona USA 2. The graphics were phenomenal on these and made a huge positive impression on me. The first few Cruis'n games were lots of fun and easy to have fun with as well. 

 

Aside from the deluxe stuff, there was a 4P cab for capcom's Dungeons and Dragons beat em up at my local arcade. When I first saw it, it also seemed really important with its extra wide control panel and its light story and character stat elements. I roped in some friends of mine to spend some money on the game, we probably got 10-15% of the way through it before we all decided not to keep plugging quarters into it. A neat experience.

 

Edited by sirlynxalot

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The best arcade years for me were in the very late 1970's through the mid 80's. After that it started winding down and stopped completely in the mid-90's.

 

I didn't like the music. I didn't like the newer games. It was too expensive. The ambiance and atmosphere was changing from discovery and adventure to a weekly grind. And PC gaming at home matched and exceeded the fun quotient. And soon enough emulation hit the scene, bringing back all the classics that the arcades dropped.

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2 hours ago, Keatah said:

The best arcade years for me were in the very late 1970's through the mid 80's. After that it started winding down and stopped completely in the mid-90's.

 

Yep. I genuinely feel bad for people that missed the good years.

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My prime years at arcades were roughly '88 through '92 because that was when I was super enthusiastic about the "latest and greatest" arcade games and also old enough to be able to ride my bike to arcades with friends.  The fact that I was also starting to earn some money on a paper route was also a key factor because it meant I didn't have to rely on my parents to give me arcade money.  By '92 I had started to lose interest in videogames all around, including arcades.  

 

As much as I loved the Ninja Turtles and Final Fight type games that were popular at the time, interestingly, I don't have much use for those games now, strongly preferring to play older games.  There's a pretty wide sweet spot for me, roughly from '79 to '87ish.  On the early end, it picks up where games started to evolve beyond the dull rudiments of Space Invaders to be something more fun (Asteroids) and on the later end the cut-off roughly corresponds to when "insert coin to continue" became the dominant business model.  I will say that the exception to this is shoot-em-ups, which are arguably very "continue-esque," yet I still enjoy them very much (even though I never got into them in the 80s or 90s).  

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Some of the first arcade games I played were:

Sprint

Pong

Lunar Lander

and other B/W games.

 

Some of the last arcade games I played were:

S.T.U.N. Runner

RoadBlasters

Blasteroids

Super Space Invaders '91

Assault

 

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On 10/13/2020 at 7:25 AM, racerx said:

 

Yep. I genuinely feel bad for people that missed the good years.

Well, you can always go to PRGE to experience that ambience. I frequented arcades for only one year (1984) when I was twelve, and PRGE reccreated that experience for me perfectly. Without the quarter-eating.  :)

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Friendly ball-busting aside, there were always fun games in the arcade, 90's included. Still, "peak arcade" was definitely in the early 80's, and it's hard to describe how big it was to anyone that wasn't there. There were games in gas stations and outside the checkout at Kmart, for Pete's sake. Games like Pacman and Donkey Kong got breakfast cereals, Saturday morning cartoons, and bedsheets.

 

Still, it was the song list that prompted the biggest *oof* from my inner fogey. I simply can't connect any of those with the arcade experience, at all.

I was working on some machines in my arcade last night and jotted down the tracks that played while I worked. It's quite a difference a decade or so makes.  😉

 

Golden Earring: Twilight Zone

Boston: Long Time

Blue Oyster Cult: Burning for You

Toto: Hold the Line

Loverboy: Turn Me Loose

Fleetwood Mac: Rhiannon

Styx: Blue Collar Man

Journey: Stone In Love

Rolling Stones: Start Me Up

Def Leppard: Photograph

Billy Squire: In the Dark

Foreigner: Hot Blooded

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Pinball was good back then. I played a lot of Twilight Zone, Taxi, Whirlwind, Addams Family, and Funhouse- not all came out in the nineties, but these were in the arcades at the time.

You could also usually find Ms Pac Man and Galaga, sometimes with a mod chip- fast speed or rapid fire.

Mortal Kombat was king. I played a lot of Trog, Moonwalker, Martial Champions, and I don't remember much else. 

 

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Arcades were more or less done for me by '92 - though I did end up briefly working in a couple of them after that time.  Didn't really have a ton of interest in the games at that time, though Prop Cycle and GTi Club did catch my attention.  Pinball was doing some really interesting stuff around then, and I played a lot of it.  Twilight Zone, Doctor Who, and Demolition Man in particular stick in my head.


Shortly after moving to the US in 1998, though, I found the Pak-Mann arcade in Pasadena, CA.  At the time I was working the swing shift at Earthlink, and a few of us would finish work, go get a drink in the couple of hours that the bars were still open, then go over to Pak-Mann until we ran out of money.

 

Pak-Mann had an interesting layout: there were a couple of smaller rooms at the back with machines from the '70s and '80s, but the front tended to have newer stuff and pinball.  They did have a Galaga up near the front that was running in (what I believe was) a 50" pedestal cabinet with killer sound.  And occasionally they'd have grey-market Japanese machines on the floor - this was the first place where I saw (and played) Elevator Action Returns, Arkanoid Returns, and Xevious 3D/G.

 

Shame they closed in 2003.  It had exactly the right amount of dinginess and being somewhat run-down from having been in the same place doing the same thing forever.  Truly do miss that place.

Edited by x=usr(1536)
halp how do i close a tags kthx

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Our "Big Mall" (which is now nearly dead) opened in 1988 when I was finishing 8th grade. They had a Sega Time Out arcade there. Having grown up in the 80s and loving Aladdin's Castle I remember this one being fun but having the air of change about it. I played some fun games there but could tell stuff was changing and I remember thinking it just wasn't the same as playing Pac Man, Donkey Kong, and the other classics.

 

They had/I played (over the years):

 

STUN Runner

The Simpsons

X-Men

Vindicators

Star Wars Trilogy arcade

Galaxy Force (The big sit down one- that was cool!)

Lethal Inforcers

Dark Adventure

1943

Time Traveler Hologram

Golden Axe

Dragon Spirit

Countless fighting games I never got into

Xybots

Gauntlet II

T2 Judgement Day

Alien3 The Gun

NBA Jam

Arch Rivals

Robocop

The Main Event

Smash TV

Aliens

Aliens vs Predator

APB

Sunset Riders

 

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I recall playing Alien Storm in a Star Bucks kid casino in Orlando Florida [Altamonte Springs] and being so blown away. They had all the awesome sega 16 games like Moonwalker.

 

Now Starbucks is some lame place you get coffee.

I guess it was a showbiz pizza/chuck E Cheese clone.

 

Arcade pizza was always the best.

 

I guess this qualifies as I was around 10 years old 1990.

Edited by CaptainCanadian

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It sounds like I was pretty lucky when it comes to arcades in the '90s. Vegas was going through a "family friendly" stage in the 90s. Most major hotels/casinos offered some kind of entertainment for kids. The Luxor had one of my favorites which was the Sega Virtualand. It was a huge multi-story arcade with some pretty advanced machines for the time. The most memorable machines for me was the 8 player wall of Virtua Racing with motion seats all linked together for tournament play, a motion ride "game" with Michael Jackson in space, and the R360 machine which could rotate in all directions. 

Other notable arcades was the midway at Circus Circus - there were Big Top circus acts in a central location with classic and new (at the time) arcade machines with along with carnival games. I only went there in the late 80s/early 90s and it was always packed and had just about every popular machine from the 80s. The MGM had a Wizard of Oz theme arcade, The Excalibur had a medieval theme with carnival games, just about every other Strip hotel had something. 

And then there were the arcades I managed. The theme was possible money laundering, incest, and polygamy but all hidden away. There were few documentaries on the owners but I didn't know about it until I caught one of the documentaries on the Discovery channel a few years after I last worked with them.

 

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I used to visit arcades in both the USA and Italy during the 1980s and 1990s.  They persisted for years after the crash because in spite of the improving home console hardware, arcade machines were still more powerful than home consoles.

 

I think that changed by the early 2000s with the rise of the more powerful home consoles of the 32-bit/64-bit era like Playstation and Nintendo 64.  They became as powerful as the arcade machines or even moreso.  Plus you had rising operating costs for arcades.  You need a lot of business to cover your costs and to make your profits.

 

That is probably now why we see the few surviving arcades limited more to high foot traffic areas like shopping malls, oceanfront boardwalks, theme parks, amusement parks, etc.

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