Missing in Action: Space Games

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Over the next little while I am going to run a feature every now and then where I discuss genres which have been “lost” to arcades. Where these genres were once a proud part of an arcade line-up, they have all taken a back seat to the current primary genres of the arcade industry (and in some cases they’ve been all but forgotten in the console world) which include: 1-on-1 fighters, light gun games, racers and dancing titles. Sure those are all great genres that work great in arcades but to think that they are the only ones that can do well on the arcade scene is ridiculous.

A little history first

So let’s start with a type of game that has suffered not only in the arcades but in the rest of the gaming world to an extent : the space shooter or space combat title. Why even bring up space games? I suppose they hold a special place for me as I grew up playing so many of them; on top of that I enjoy shows like Star Trek so personally my interest in such things hasn’t waned although it has in public. Perhaps the decline of interest in space games can coincide with a general decline of interest in space overall but it’s really hard to nail that down. The very first coin-operated arcade game carried the theme in both it’scompspace.jpg name and the game itself: Computer Space)pictured right, KLOV image). Computer Space was essentially Space War, which would later become the first vector arcade game in 1976 (which also was one of the best selling arcade titles that year). The space craze continued with games such as Space Invaders (1978) which is one of the most popular classic games of all time and spawned other space-related classics such as Galaxian, Galaga and Gorf; Asteroids (1980) broke earnings records and brought a new concept to the genre that would create a timeless classic; Star Wars(1980) and Star Trek(1982) brought popular sci-fi series to the arcades; it seems that most Cinematronics games featured a space theme with titles like Star Castle and Cosmic Chasm;  overall the 80’s saw many space-based games but as the 90’s came along those began to disappear slowly despite some huge hits such as Starblade, Star Wars Trilogy Arcade, Space Lords(pictured, KLOV image), spacelords.jpgthe Rayforce series (and to an extent space shmups like Raiden, Darius and Gradius) and with this decade space combat games of any type have practically disappeared as there has only been one real space combat title, Star Wars Starfighter. (I guess if you had to stretch things you could count Star Trek Voyager Arcade, which was a light-gun game; maybe throw in any Cave shmup that takes place in space). Namco was going to release a couple of space combat games a few years ago: StarBlade and Star Fox (which definently would have done well) but for unknown reasons those games were canceled. So does that mean that space games are done for? I don’t think so and let me tell you why. Hit the post break to continue reading.

Why space games in the arcade?

Of course you don’t see many space shooters on consoles these days – only the PC seems to attract most of these games but they tend to be too complex for the arcade environment but that doesn’t mean that every space game has to be Wing Commander to be successful. As always I believe that the arcade is capable of providing a fun experience that if done right can bring something unique to a genre – a good example from recent memory would be Blazing Angels, which with it’s unique control scheme and seat force-feedback technology puts it into a different category than it’s console counterparts. It would be excellent to see a new space title take advantage of a cockpit cabinet with a force-feedback control scheme and surround sound but beyond that with the right artspaceinter.jpg direction a space title can look amazing (check Metroid Prime 3’s space scenes or the graphics in games like Space Force or EVE Online; pictured is a PC game called Space Interceptor), especially if you use an HD monitor. What has to set apart an arcade-style combat game from something you would typically find on a PC of course is the flow of the game – in an arcade you can’t spend time traveling to different star systems or several minutes hunting down another ship that just looks like a minuscule speck on your display – it has to be fast and action-packed. Many times battles happen in waves but obviously that doesn’t mean it has to be that way as designers can always come up with new ideas in familiar settings. Not every space-game has to be a shooter persay; one of Midway’s last titles was a space racer (HyperDrive) but space racing games never seemed to work out terribly well. One game that would have given the space genre a swift jump start in the arcades would have been the aforementioned StarFox – between the built-in popularity of that series and it being thrown into an arcade setting it’s easy to see that it would have been a winner. Overall I believe that space games set in the arcade can do very well and in some instances they are only worth it if they feature arcade-style gameplay.

And that brings me to my final point – we need new blood on the arcade scene in terms of what kind of games we’re seeing. I have been pleased to see some developers innovating design in some recent games such as 2Spicy, Primeval Hunt, Action Cop and a few others but it would be great to see us move away from the light-gun/racer/fighter/dancer merry-go-round. Of course inventing entirely new genres at this stage in video game history is pretty difficult so why not come up with some new ideas in some other familiar settings, whether that be a space-action title, a beat ’em up (or scrolling fighter, not 1-on-1), a puzzle title or something else. And later on we’ll discuss those genres as well (or anything else you’d like to talk about).

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9 Comments on “Missing in Action: Space Games”

  1. Brian Deuel Says:

    My favorite games to this day are 1977-1984 space shooters. After 1982, they became few and far between, but some great ones were made in those last two years. I was never into the cutesy games (Pac-Man, etc) that partially led shooters into their decline (an overabundance of me-too shooters helped too), but I will always remember those first five years as the greatest era of the golden age of arcades. There’s just something about the action of blasting aliens in abstract space that can’t be duplicated by running from ghosts or fingering 5 button combos. At least in my mind…

    I’ll never forget walking into Someplace Else arcade in 1981 and seeing the row of Tempest machines that were just put in that day. Same thing in the same arcade in 1982 and the Galaga cocktails. Great times…

    As far as Hyperdrive goes, I could never figure out why that damn machine kept resetting when it was in my arcade. I ended up trading it for a second Rush the Rock 🙂

    Great article!

  2. Shaggy Says:

    Thanks! I have to agree that most of the great space shooters are from the era you mention although I do have a place in my heart for Star Wars Trilogy Arcade since I sunk so many tokens into that game. But it has more ground combat than space combat to be honest. I’d like to see a game similar to SWTA’s space combat scenes but have nothing but those, maybe randomize the waves a little bit and it wouldn’t have to be Star Wars. That’d be fun.

    I know of one developer that was working on a 3D version of Gorf but I am not sure if it will see the light of day due to legal issues (it might under a different name). I think that would be nice proof of how an arcade-style space game from the 80’s could be done in today’s world.

    Personally I don’t think the arcade I worked for ever had problems with HyperDrive because no one ever played it! If they did it was only for one round – I don’t know how that game ever got past field testing to be honest(as employees we’d go around and play everything and compete on the games, I’m sure you’ve seen or done that). Now if it had been a combat game in a free-space arena then it might have had a better chance.

  3. Brian Deuel Says:

    Unfortunately, Jamie Fenton (Gorf’s creator) doesn’t own the rights to Gorf, else I think she’d give her blessings to a 3D version. She was very cool about giving out the Robby Roto ROM images for MAME and other emulator users. 3D Gorf would definitely be a blast!

    SWTA was very cool. I never actually played it, but I got to check it out at Atlas Distributing when it was new and marvel at how AM-Annex really captured the essence of the movie. Plus the fact that it was the last Model 3 game (*sniff*) proved that that board went before its time. A comic book store owner who owned one told me that it was quite popular with his customers and a ton of fun to play. Wish I would have tried it when i had the chance.

    I had plenty of plays on my Hyperdrive, but the damn thing would reset in the middle of a game! I could never figure out what caused it, and I tried a ton of “fixes”; i.e. power supply, fan on the processor, fan blowing on the board, etc. Nothing worked. I think the RAM was bad, but I never got that far with it. But I got it at a steal to begin with ($999), plus I got to trade it for a piece that was more popular and could be linked to another unit.

    Good luck with your arcade!

  4. Shaggy Says:

    I know Jamie actually did give her blessing to the project but unfortunately things didn’t go well when the developers went to Midway and they could give it approval but the problem lies with the fact that Gorf took from Namco properties as well. It’s really too bad. but I think they are just going to rename it and release it on the Atari Jaguar. They also had a Dreamcast version planned but it won’t go forward until the Jaguar version does. But the Jag version is being held up due to some piracy concerns at the moment that hopefully will be resolved soon.

    I play SWTA a lot in part because we held competitions as employees. I memorized the entire game and could beat it on one credit without getting hit and on the hardest difficulty. I don’t think I’d do so well on it anymore though. AFAIK it still makes money on location and I played it not long ago and it’s so well done that it’s really aged well. I think it’s graphics are still really good too.


  5. […] of games that play well in the arcade. If you missed previous articles, we have already covered Space Games and Puzzle Games. Today we are going to take a look at the scrolling fighter – also known as the […]


  6. […] prefers light-gun, racing, standard fighting titles, etc. Previous articles have taken a look at Space Combat, Puzzle and Scrolling Fighter games. This time we’re taking a look at games that feature huge […]


  7. […] or popular genres like racers, dancing games, light-gun shooters, etc. We have previously looked at Space Combat, puzzles, scrolling fighters and tanks/mechs/planes games. The point is to demonstrate that the […]

  8. jon nichols Says:

    in 1981 i became obsessed with an arcade game called cosmic wars unfortunately i cant find any info on it can anyone give me any info as to how i can get my hands on a download

  9. soft play Says:

    soft play

    Missing in Action: Space Games | Arcade Heroes


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