Arcade Design in the Modern Era

Do arcade-like game design have a place in the modern era?

Okay, what’s Arcade-like design? Lets have a look at some elements I think fit:

-Low Persistence. Almost nothing is retained across sessions, or built up over time. You always start and end in the same place. Even across levels few things are typically carried over, so there is no worry about things like running out of ammo.

-No Direct Tutorials beyond a 30 second video at most at the beginning of play

-Pick up and Play, get into the action instantly due to low/no investment and short play cycles.

-Short Session time. 30 minute or less session times.

-High Difficulty, likely to die or take damage at any time.

-Fairness, all damage can be avoided, no need to manage attrition over time.

-Small numbers. Anything that’s a resource usually is dealt with in small chunky integers that are easy to keep track of. Like health being lives or icons, and granting mercy invincibility when you’re hit.

-Temporary powerups that are picked up and have a big effect. No 2% bonuses versus undead here. Quad Damage or go home. Powerups replace typical resources and are nonessential to progress.

-Lives, sometimes instead of Health. Lives change how checkpointing works, so you have big checkpoints (for when you continue) and little checkpoints (for when you lose a life). Sometimes lives are basically just health and the character respawns on the spot when they lose a life.

-Continues. When you run out of lives or health, you can put in another credit to continue, sacrificing your score, but getting all your health and ammo or whatever back. Lets you destroy the difficulty of the game in exchange for currency. But if you’re better, you can spend less money. Sometimes you’re asked to repeat some sections in exchange for continuing so it’s not completely free.

-Scoring. Scores give people a higher standard of play to work towards, and encourages 1 credit clears. Scores can institute their own systems of risk versus reward, track more carefully how perfect player perform certain actions, award players for conserving resources, milking enemies and the environment, and consistent performance. Scores are superficial, not used as a form of persistence. Gives people a reason to come back to games even when they beat them, and to not credit feed.

-Lack of exploration. You never backtrack, the way forward is always obvious. Branching paths may exist.

-Time Limits. Progress either continues automatically, or actual time limits penalize players that do not progress. Progression is inevitable. The only thing preventing progression is death.

-Local only. Everything happens at that one machine or set of machines.

-Twitchy fast action. No Puzzles. Usually nothing that could potentially be memorized or more accurately, trivialized through memorization.

What’s arcade design in a nutshell? “No Bullshit, go right at it, enjoy.”
I think there’s an audience that wants this, but developers and gamers keep getting distracted by other stuff. Not that it’s all bad, there’s a lot of games that you can’t really do in the arcade, like Dark Souls of course. However I think there’s something to be said for each of these design elements.


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