Back in January 2013 a friend and I were discussing what would it take for arcades to be revived in the UK.
All the machines are set to free play: you pay a flat rate on the door and can game to your heart’s content, a different experience from the arcades of yesteryear. This obviously suits hardcore gamers down to the ground; there was a time I couldn’t tell a shoryuken from a shuriken, but now after some day long sessions and meeting people there I’m a pixelated murder machine. That’s one of the amazing things about The Heart of Gaming, there’s plenty of scope for people to chill out and meet other gamers: shared passions are a roundhouse kick to the face of social inhibition. The same is true of any hobby, but it’s pretty damn cool to know there’s a place where who or what I am doesn’t matter, who I am is how much ass I kick at Ikaruga.
This is the arcade room, with Sega Naomi cabs lining the walls, House of the Dead, Fighting Mania, the racing game Daytona USA and a couple of custom retro cabs that cycle between the likes of Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, 1942 and Pacman. Time Crisis 2 has made an appearance too, so I can finally avenge my parent’s wallets. Many of these cabs were rescued from London’s dying arcade scene, places like the Trocadero and Casino Arcade after they closed their doors. For shooters, Naomi titles like Border Down and Shikigami no Shiro 2 hold sway. A great thing about this room is there’s usually some obscure game I’ve never heard of before, like Money Puzzle Exchanger or Xexex. Visitors don’t need to worry spending their money on an unfamiliar machine, as they’ve already paid to get in and can try the games for free. In fact I’d recommend trying everything you see.
Moving onward there’s two little rooms, the first of which is dedicated to a dance machine. After that is a lounge area packed with retro consoles: Super Nintendo, Sega Megadrive, N64 and Playstation with games you can get from the front desk. The last area the HoG has to offer is the console room. There’s roughly 20 flat-screens with as many consoles set up here set up here for PS3 and 360 Gamers as well as a Wii U and some couches to make up a chill space in the middle of the room. Little crowds of gamers are usually in here huddled around their platform of choice, usually doing rotation for a fighting game. The corner has a couple of desks and monitors ready to provide live streams of any tournaments the HoG is running online at www.twitch.tv/thewonderpark. These are usually a wild assortment of fighters but sometimes it’s a dance game.
As such, there are older games developing large competitive scenes, like Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and Super Smash Bros Melee; games which are over 10 years old. Upwards of 200 people have been known to turn up for Smash tourneys and the whole place is both transformed by that energy, and physically transformed when HoG staff set up loads of CRT displays to accommodate the demand for more smash setups.
A favourite of mine is seeing the Dance games community show up in force. They arrive equipped with towels, bottled water, crates of coke and order pizza in bulk once they’ve worked up an appetite. Those guys ‘n’ gals move their feet faster than I thought humanly possible and get unbelievable scores.