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The home arcade: what games do you pick, and why? Ben and Andrew break it down

The home arcade: what games do you pick, and why? Ben and Andrew break it down

I’ve been following Mike’s adventures in setting up a home arcade with a good deal of interest. There is a storage room in my house right now that’s taken up by bins of baby clothes and old equipment, and I’d love nothing more than to clean it out, paint the walls, and bring in some arcade cabinets and a pinball machine or two. This possibility fills me with something that approaches dread, just because the question is so heavy: How do you choose what machines to put into your own personal arcade?

There is something amazing about an arcade machine that you can’t get with even an impressive home theater. It’s big, heavy, and permanent. You have to stand to play it, and it takes a significant investment in time, effort, and resources to bring it into your home. It’s a way of planting a flag, to say that this game is important to me, damnit, and it gets its own room. You have to pick carefully; you can’t just swap the thing out if you get bored. So what do you pick?

It’s a huge question, and it’s likely to send serious gamers into a fit of self reflection. Me? I’d start with a Robotron 2084 machine. Robotron in the arcades was probably one of my first and most intense gaming loves, and I never get tired of the zen nature of the game play. It’s so pure, the sprites are so beautiful, and the relentless nature of play lets me zone out and think about whatever it is I need to think about. I’ve been thinking about having my own Robotron machine for years, and finding one would probably be my first step into the world of a home arcade.

My second pick? The cocktail Ms. Pac-Man machine. They look great, you can set your drink on it, or sit across from a friend and play. They’re not very expensive, utilitarian, and the game will never get old. Those two machines would serve as my base from which I would expand the collection.

Andrew, what about you? Where do you start? Bonus question: Is a pinball machine a mandatory addition or a luxury?

Andrew's Arcade

There isn't even a shadow of a doubt in my mind about which arcade cabinet would come first: Street Fighter III: Third Strike. The allure of the arcade cabinet is as much about recapturing (literally) something that you got a lot of joy out of in your youth, and for me that was Street Fighter III: Third Strike.

It wasn't a common game by comparison to Pac-Man, but two times that game showed up in my life and rocked my world. Both times, spontaneous fighting game tournaments happened out of nowhere as the groups of 20+ people I was with coalesced around the magic of a good fighting game. My only dilemma with that particular style of game is wondering whether anybody would want to play with me once I'd reached a certain level of play.

I like your pick of the Ms. Pac-Man cocktail table. Not only is it functional and timeless, but it's a very welcoming game that practically anyone can understand and enjoy. It's not Street Fighter which would be miserable to a new player. Everybody played Ms. Pac-Man, and it would be an addition to the room that would encourage infrequent gamers to join in.

As to your question about pinball tables…I'm so glad you asked. Because one of my other must-haves is the Star Wars pinball table. Maybe pinball connosieurs will scoff at my populist choice, but as I said before, a home arcade is about recapturing a special time. I spent days upon days with that particular machine in my uncle's basement and still know it backward and forward. I'd say a pinball machine isn't necessary unless you're passionate about preservation and history, or if you have a particular game you're attached to.

Maybe that's just my youthful perspective talking, though. I grew up in the post-pinball era when most pinball machines were relegated to the dark corner of the arcade.

So what's your goal with a home arcade? Is it a display/conversation piece? Is it a place for you to go to actually enjoy the games? Is it an entertainment room for thrilling nieces and nephews during family parties? What angle would you approach it from?

Ben's Arcade

That's the big question, right? I would feel more like a curator than a collector, and it would really depend on how many machines I could realistically fit in the space. I despise the culture of collection; I think arcade cabinets are meant to be played and enjoyed. I'd only buy games that I want to play today, and that I know I would want to play ten years from now. I also like games that look a certain way, and make sense as part of a single room.

I said above that you can't just swap these games out, and that's not really true. The nice thing about going with a Neo Geo-based cabinet is that you can swap out a large variety of fighting games, action games, or 2D shmups. That would be a great compromise between classic, beautiful gaming and a good variety of games you could move around. Depending on the game and the base system, the carts can be pretty affordable as well.

I'd love to put a Silent Scope machine in there. That game just looks neat, and I never get tired of the neat way you look through the game's scope to pick your shots. I always play it whenever I find one in the arcades, and it's an experience you can't easily replicate on portables or consoles, although I suppose Nintendo could do something with the Wii U's tablet-style controller that would come close. Still, Silent Scope is a strong contender.

I think a pinball machine is a must. It's another experience that just isn't the same on a screen, and you can find machines for many big movies or TV shows, allowing you to add a little bit more of your personality into the space. You could also go modern, or retro, or some combination of the two with your selection. I grew up with the Playboy pinball machine at my father's house, and there was something about the oddly innocent sexual nature of the art and the design of the tablet that I loved. I'd buy one of those for my collection in an instant.

I think multiplayer games are important; this is a space you want to use to entertain your friends and family, so games where you can play with or against others is an important part of that. I'd love a vintage Sunset Riders machine, because that game is just aces. Or maybe Rolling Thunder? Dare I say… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

In fact, I'd almost say a brawler is another check for the list. Double Dragon or Final Fight would be great additions, as everyone loves to pound buttons while beating people up.

Andrew, do you think there are some genres you have to have represented? Would you skew towards single-player games, or games to share? I know you're getting married, do you think your arcade would be a place to educate your hypothetical future kids about the classics?

Andrew's posterity

A month ago I may have said that my arcade would be a personal construction built for my own entertainment, but recently I found out that my soon-to-be nephew adores Ocarina of Time on his 3DS. I loved Zelda when I was his age and this triggered a reaction of “come with me child…I will show you the Zeldas.” 

So I would probably unconsciously build with an eye toward educating about the classics. In general though, my policy on children is to assume they're not going to give a hoot about what I'm interested in. So I'd hesitate to focus on the needs of kids with this arcade. After all, these games will be 35 years old by the time these hypothetical progeny reached sentience. They'll probably regard these games with a similar disinterest as what I showed to most pinball games (unless they were Star Wars branded, of course) when I was younger.

As a general ethos though, I tend not to care much about “the classics.” For me, the classics are the games that were, and remain, the most fun. A lot of games that are considered classic just don't hold up anymore. I'm just going to lay it all out there: nobody likes playing Dig Dug anymore, OK? It's time to let it go and stop calling that a classic.

As for what I'd focus on, I'd try to stay with single-player games. Simply because multiplayer games tend to not be much fun unless both players are at a similar skill level. And I don't want to be that person who begs friends to play fighting games with them just so they can obliterate a live human instead of the computer. I'd get the Third Strike machine out of nostalgia, but the rest would probably more focused on single-player.

Single-player games with a multiplayer option are the best picks in my mind. Things like brawlers or light gun games. I'd love a Time Crisis machine with the pedal and those amazing guns with actual recoil. Or maybe L.A. Machineguns. The choices are endless. The costs are prohibitive.

Ben, any final thoughts on the philosophy behind a home arcade? Any unusual picks that you wouldn't find in most people's dream arcade?

Ben's final thoughts

I think in terms of philosophy I would just like a room that looks kind of like how I remember arcades, before they were taken over by redemption machines. I don't want a single damned thing that spits out a ticket. I want games.

That would be my guiding light: Games that feel timeless to me. It's like the albums you buy on vinyl; you want them to be the ones where you know every song is good.

As for weird stuff, did you know they released a version of Typing of the Dead for arcades in Japan? I would love an American version of that in my personal arcade. I think one of the modern Gauntlet games is an amazing pick, although “modern” for my purposes would probably mean Dark Legacy. Off Road, with the row of steering wheels? That machine is a blast.

The home arcade is decadent, but there's something special about it. It says that these games are fixtures, and you have a little place you can go only to game. You're not using a computer you sometimes work on, you can't easily sit and lean back, you have to show up and be present. It's an escape, a way to give these games a place of honor in your home. It's not for everyone, but damned if I don't want to attempt it some day.