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The Lighthouse Customer: Arcadecraft

Arcade Fired

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Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, virtual arcade management in Arcadecraft.

As kid in the 1980’s, I gazed with envy at a few adults who seemed to have the best jobs ever. The ice-cream man: he could eat all the ice cream he wanted! The ambulance driver: he could drive really fast whenever he wanted! Most of all, the guy who ran the arcade. I mean, we had a filthy belly-sack full of quarters. Probably a hundred dollars in quarters. He probably lived in a mansion. The 80’s may be long gone, but that dream job is finally mine.

Arcadecraft is an XBLA arcade management game making its way to PC via Steam Greenlight and Humble, and puts the player in the role of an arcade owner. Buy and sell arcade cabinets, manage your expenses, decorate your arcade, and try to make your arcade popular. As the game shrewdly advises: “Try to only have things that increase its popularity and do your best to avoid anything that decreases it.” Good advice! I’ll try that.

The game begins in 1980, and my first challenge is to name my arcade. The arcade I frequented was a tiny, dark, crowded place filled with grubby boys who ate a lot of junk food, resulting in a particular aroma. I want to reflect that in my company name.

A little honesty in advertising.

I’m given a personal assistant named Lisa, who will walk me through the early stages of the game, tell me how everything works, and provide me with advice. It appears Lisa’s first job was being part of a Sander Cohen sculpture in Rapture, or, perhaps since Arcadecraft is still in development, she simply has not been given a proper skin yet. Either way, while perfectly pleasant and certainly helpful, she’s a little creepy.

You've heard of the supervillain RED SKULL? Well, this is Lisa.

With Lisa’s help, I’m soon browsing through the available machines to buy, all based on real 80’s arcade games. There’s Alien Landing (Space Invaders), Space Rocks (Asteroids), Lunar Module (Lunar Lander), and Alien Landing again, because I accidentally bought Alien Landing twice. I also install a jukebox, so my customers can blast Madonna, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other bands that were briefly popular in the 80’s but are now long forgotten. I’ve also set the difficulty of all the games to “hard” because, come on, it’s a 1980’s arcade. Those machines were fucking impossible.

Volume! shouts one kid. Boss, says another. Dorks.

Collecting quarters from the machines is done manually: navigate to the cabinet and hold the spacebar, and the glorious coinage is sucked out and deposited into your bank account. I try to only empty a machine if it’s not currently being played, giving the game a bit of a Diner Dash feel as I zip around extracting quarters. There are other reflex-based events as well. Sometimes a kid starts kicking a cabinet (we’ve all done it) and you need to pick them up and throw them out before they break your machine. Occasionally a spot on the floor lights up, and if you can place a cabinet on it before it vanishes, it gives the game a popularity bonus. Also, as the days pass, new games become available to purchase: beautiful, tantalizing cabinets that I lust after.

2014 me still wants this as much as 1980 me did.

There are little events here and there. As the spring turns to summer, kids are out of school and are more available to spend their hard-begged money in the arcade. As summer turns to fall, seasonal decorations become available. I get a visit from a kid named Bobby Danger, who wants to set a world-record on one of my games, which means he’ll monopolize it — costing me money — but potentially make the game more popular among my customers.

And this kid grew up to be The Internet.

And, of course, as the year passes, more and more games become available to buy. Impatient to have them all, I start selling my older games at a considerable loss, meaning I’m losing two cabinets to buy one new one. I try raising some game prices to fifty cents, which repulses my customers the same way it repulsed me when I was a kid. (Fifty-cents for a game? You just cut my entire life in half!) Repair costs and overhead are taking a monthly bite as well, and the thousand bucks I spent on a non-returnable decorative jack-o’-lantern is starting to feel like a terrible mistake. Soon, my once-busy arcade is down to a single Pac-Man ripoff, the most expensive pumpkin in history, and financial ruin.

At least one unskinned child still likes my digs.

I start over with a new arcade, scrapping everything, including the name. This time, I need a name that screams success. Something that indicates my arcade is popular. Really popular. Inexplicably, undeservedly popular, even.

HA HA: EDITORIALIZING.

I decide to be more careful with my budget. Instead of buying as many games as I can afford outright, I’ll just buy a couple, making sure my bank account never dips too low. I won’t just spend willy-nilly like I did last time and I won’t OH MY GOD YOU GUYS THERE’S A PINBALL MACHINE AND IT WILL COST ALL OF MY MONEY AND I WILL SPEND ALL OF MY MONEY ON IT IMMEDIATELY

You beautiful, noisy, jangly bastard. I must have you.

There’s also one of those sit-down, two-player table-top cabinets that will eventually wind up in the dim corner of a Pizza Hut with an out-of-order sign on it, so naturally I need to have that as well. I also buy a soda machine, to keep the kids goofed up on caffeine, though it never makes me much money. And, after a promising start, I’m soon back to doing the same thing that got me into trouble the first time: selling slightly older machines at a big loss to be able to afford slightly-newer machines because newer things are better.

Yes, I'm broke again. But it's worth it. Look at that. It's beautiful.

Though I do last quite a bit longer this time (all the way to 1981!), my failure is almost identical. Once again, I wind up with just a single Pac-Man clone, with the same ghostly child playing it, though she doesn’t like it because I raised the price to a dollar a game in a last-ditch effort to acquire revenue. Get used to that, future game-playing adult.

Hey, I'll do the editorializing, little ghost girl.

The only difference this time? No pumpkin.

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Christopher Livingston

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