RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Jul 14th 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Simulations, Aqua TV, Virtua Racing, Continental Circus, Galaxy Force, Space Gun, Tetris

From the beginning, the conceptual design behind many if not the majority of video games involves some form of simulation.  The original sports game of Tennis for Two and Pong led to our annual Madden and FIFA releases, each reflecting some abstract interpretation of an "IRL" game.  It is this facet of virtual gameplay that brought some critics to declare games like Battlezone and Death Race as kid-targeted military training and violent "murder simulators" long before yellow-pajama-wearing ninjas were permanently curing back pain exclusively on Sega consoles.

Sure, games like Super Mario Bros. aren't exactly plumber training tools, although they do tend to implement simple physics and puzzle-solving.  Even Tetris is loosely based on mathematics puzzles featuring tetrominos, of which there are precursor board game variants.  I don't think every video game fits in to this simulation paradigm, not neatly, but the general principle holds.

I was thinking of this as I was setting up a nifty virtual aquarium on our PS4 called "Aqua TV" as I was house cleaning.  I was selecting between various options, including different tank sizes and fish types.  There are options to set different backgrounds behind the virtual aquarium tanks as well as props on the bottom, so that the tank looks like it is displaying a much larger underwater scene (much like real life tank backgrounds.) 

But there is also the option to simply have what amounts to a virtual camera at the bottom of the ocean.  So I can emulate watching marine life from the bottom of the sea... or I can emulate watching a virtual tank of water that itself is set to look like it is emulating the bottom of the sea. (!)  I mean, I kinda get that it is nice to have different options and variations, but the absurdity of adding another layer of simulation as a novelty was a little striking. 

It reminded me of a cyberpunk pen-and-paper RPG that I wrote and GM-ed many years ago.  The players were real-life friends of mine and we had all played through a few games together.  In-game, their characters were trying to recruit an elite NPC hacker who was obsessed with an MMO in the game's fictional setting.  The players' characters had to 'play' the MMO to even contact this hacker.  That MMO in our cyberpunk game just happened to end up being the fantasy game world we had all played together a few years prior, which I had also created.  So me and my friends, in real life, played the fictional MMO version of the fantasy RPG we had played in real life within a new game and cyberpunk setting.  I pulled out our old maps and everything.  It was, as the kids would say, "meta."  (By the way, said cyberpunk game pulled a lot of source material from Mike Pondsmith's Cyberpunk 2020, the source material for the Cyberpunk 2077.  We can only hope these do not end up accurately display an actual simulation of our 'dark future.')

When it comes to modern options for video games, extra layers of simulation are taken for granted.  Now instead of porting superior arcade hardware into less powerful home consoles, modern consoles often emulate far older arcade or console hardware.  As any fan of the arcade will tell you, this can't always relive the experience.  For example, one of my favorite arcade machines is the sit-down cab version of Continental Circus.

Credit to Arcade Longplay

Now if you watch the video, it hardly impresses unless you have a certain affinity for retro F1 racing.  I personally don't, although my Atari did get a bit of Pole Position time.  What makes Continental Circus great for me is climbing in the sit-down cab, complete with pedals.  It looks like this:

(Image pulled from emuparadise)

Once inside, it is just you and the throaty whine of engine noise (there is no music during gameplay.)  Popping the shifter from high to low and watching sparks fly from the back of my machine as I take a hairpin curve has literally never gotten old for me.  I do so enjoy this game. 

However, loading up Continental Circus on the Xbox/PS2 Taito Legends compilation doesn't elicit the same response.  Even the stand-up arcade cab just doesn't do it for me.  The game software is obviously identical, but the extra layer of simulation is gone.  Speaking of that Taito Legends compilation, it features another game with much the same problem.

Image from the International Arcade Museum

Playing one of my favorite arcade gun games at home can't replicate the way the stand-up, with its fantastic facade and physical presence, brings the experience together.  Space Gun just doesn't feel the same without it.

Now there has been plenty of articles written that hone in on what is lost translating an arcade machine to the home, even when home has the superior technology.  What is interesting is how technology keeps trying to replicate or replace the novelty of the arcade experience at home, with differing results.  Instead of just faithful software recreations, there has been a recent trend to polish and even improve upon the original by ignoring what can't be replicated (the arcade setup) and focusing on what can be improved (frame rate, draw distance, etc.)

Perhaps the best recent example is M2's Switch version of Virtua Racing.  Despite various attempts, the original signature physics and feel had never been truly replicated even by Sega's own various home ports.  This port, however, doubles the frame rate, improves the resolution, and includes split-screen for up to 8(!) players.  It doesn't feel like sitting in the arcade cab, of course, but it is a marvelous conversion that arguably plays even better, and portable to boot.   

Speaking of M2 doing the Lord's work, I'd be remiss if I neglected to bring up what I still consider their finest effort thus far.  I was naturally skeptical of needing another attempt and Sega's classic arcade behemoth Galaxy Force.

Image from Hardcoregaming 101

You ain't replicating that at home on a console.  Most of the home console ports of it have a reputation of being... let's be kind and say 'negatively reviewed,' even discounting the inability to experience that unwieldy Super Deluxe cabinet.  However, the 3DS port takes an arcade-perfect emulation at 60fps, adds difficulty adjusting, a truly stellar 3D integration that I'd argue is the best on the system, and even has an option to simulate the Super Deluxe cab tilt and rotation.  Forget aquarium tanks, this is a simulation of flying a spaceship, being simulated on a portable system, which is simulating the arcade software, while simulating the physical mechanics of the arcade cabinet...  I'm going to go lay down.  But the game is fantastic to play and much more manageable and intense in a different way on the 3DS.

Finally, I want to mention that we found an Arcade1Up Asteroids cabinet on clearance.  Seeing as how we are in the process of putting together our own gaming convention, I had a convenient excuse to pick it up.  My impressions are overall positive (I slightly modded the spinner dial and may replace it with a better part) and I'm glad we got it.  It did, however, hammer home the fact that raster screens just cannot replace the good old vector graphics of old.  Playing Tempest, easily among my favorite arcade games from that era, on an actual 3/4 scale or so arcade machine is great, don't get me wrong.  But the clean fluidity of the original vector screens are still something to behold, and those machines were notoriously failure-prone even then.  This machine gets decently close to simulating the original, but simulations only carry so far.  Sometimes the real thing remains elusive, just out of reach, unrealistic.  Simulations, be they video games about the real thing or video games simulating other video games, can never quite be the same as the real thing.

*Unplugs from Matrix, goes outside to toss a Frisbee with kids*


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Very interesting article, and one that I think most of us can relate with on some level.  I am an extremely aural and olfactory person when it comes to arcade (and video game) nostalgia, so it is usually fairly easy to appease me.  Rastan on Taito Legends comes to mind and maybe Magic Sword on the Capcom Classics Collection.  But there are exceptions.  As you mentioned, Operation Wolf would be weird (the thumping gun), and maybe Cabal (how do you even simulate the trackball?), but the big one is Victory Road.  I recently got to play it on the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection and quite frankly was looking forward to it.  While the dual analog setup isn't bad (far more acceptable than some of the other wacky solutions I've seen) it took hours to not feel awkward.  The rotary joystick that SNK used on a bunch of their games is pretty unique, and not even the older Happ rotaries they used to sell are a good analog (that I've played on homemade PC cabs).  I really love playing it (especially after so long), but...  It's just not the same.
You're absolutely on the money about Space Gun. Don't get me wrong, I love having access to it on PS2 and PSP, but having played that at an arcade in a movie theater a couple decades ago, and nearly always popping a quarter (or three) into the game each time I went there, that kind of experience can't really be replicated elsewhere. I think that's why arcades have shifted so much to favor the types of games that don't translate well to other mediums. You're right about vector vs raster as well. I remember playing Space Duel years ago at a sandwich shop. The colorful vector graphics setup was awesome, and despite toying around with the game years later in MAME, it's not the same. On the main topic, I've never been a simulation type of guy. I don't care about fishing games, never got into The Sims, and Civilization doesn't interest me. Give me a good RTS, and I can be all about mining resources for a few hours, but it always culminates in a skirmish of some kind. It's just not a game style that I've ever been invested in.

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