In the 1980s, video games had a very different representation in our world. Home consoles were barely a thing, and their popularity was generally considered a passing fad. If you wanted to game in the 80s, there was only one real place to do it: The arcade. Long dead in our modern times, arcades were once a hotbed of social gaming, and it’s a shame the younger generation of gamers will never know the excitement of a neighborhood arcade. With a competitive and community-heavy atmosphere, they offered something sorely missed in games today.
Looking to scratch that nostalgic itch many of us have for yesteryear, Firebase Industries has developed Arcadecraft, a new business sim that puts players in charge of running and operating an arcade in the 1980s. Arcadecraft is now available on the Xbox Live Indie Games Marketplace for the low price of $3, or 240 Microsoft Points.
Arcadecraft begins by asking players to select a name for their new arcade, which is appropriately represented in giant neon letters. The game starts in 1980 and runs through 1986; with a hefty loan from the bank and a hot new name, you set up your arcade and open it for business.
Focusing primarily on the crazy vector- and sprite-based arcade games from the early 80s (there isn’t anything representing the fighting game boom of the 90s), Firebase Industries has done an exceptional job creating an authentic atmosphere. Arcadecraft’s simulated games hum and buzz with life, and the various glows of the monitors and sounds of gameplay really take you back to a time when games came in outrageously oversized wooden cabinets. It’s a hardcore nostalgia trip for sure.
Thankfully, Arcadecraft survives on more than just its retro-themed heart grab. Beneath the surface, players are given a simple-to-learn, yet satisfyingly complex business simulator. The first main goal of the game is to pay off your bank loan in two years. In order to do this, you must pay very close attention to how much you are spending and how much profit your turning every month. Every new game costs a pretty hefty entry fee, so it’s always a gamble introducing new machines. All the games have varying levels of popularity, with the most popular games frequently filling up their coinboxes, and the lesser ones sitting in the corner untouched.
New games are released every month from a series of fictional distributors, and every game is a loving nod to the various games that used to light up these dark places. Arcadecraft details every game with the amount of supported players, what type of graphics it has, and even the type of genre. Supporting a variety of genres is a huge help in boosting the popularity of your arcade.
The game is filled with little events and micromanagement tasks to keep the player from mindlessly staring at the screen waiting for profits to spill out. Various stats, like popularity, price-per-play, and total earnings can be seen at any time. Numerous things that can affect your arcade’s overall popularity: A popular gamer coming in to set a high score on one of your machines can really help boost the arcade’s popularity and get quarters in the slots. Rowdy players will rough up machines, and you’ll have to forcibly remove them before they do too much damage. Repairs can be costly, and on a machine that’s barely scraping by, the last thing you need is to pour more money into it. Things like beverage machines have to be stocked up manually, and stop generating income if they run out of soda. Maintaining machines and refilling soda dispensers all costs money; sometimes you’ll bank on the popularity of one machine to generate most of your income, and when a “home version” of that game is released – and the cabinet’s popularity plummets – it can be devastating.
When it comes down to maintaining your machines and making money, the player is given control over how much money a single play costs on each product. Bumping the cost from a quarter to 50 cents on a popular game may help squeeze more money out of it for a very short time, but that price gouge just might affect its popularity in the long run. Sure, you can charge a dollar for a soda, but how many people are going to keep buying them?
Arcadecraft sits in a very weird place. It really is a very unique and fun game, and I’m hard-pressed to recall another game like it. Unfortunately, it’s only available through Xbox Live Indie Games, a niche environment full of generic and uninspired games. It could see more success on other platforms, especially the PC, yet the developer seems against doing a PC release unless they’re able to distribute on Steam. (As such, they have already set themselves up on Greenlight.)
Firebase Industries stands behind Arcadecraft, boasting free content updates and promising expansions in the future. In its current form, Arcadecraft stands among the best of the hidden gems of Xbox Indie Games; it’s unique, daring, and a very well made sim that is more than worth the entry price. A-