Dark Presence is still a thing—and it means a lot for the arcade industry

August 14, 2017

A long time ago (2008) in an arcade far, far away (the Galloping Ghost Arcade in Brookfield, Illinois), the development of a new arcade game was announced. This game was far more ambitious than any Western arcade game had dared to be in quite a while. It boasted thousands upon thousands of frames of animation, a gigantic cabinet full of nifty bells and whistles, and was planned to clock in at a terabyte in terms of total data. Oh, and it had a prize dispenser.

            But then, this mind-blowingly ambitious arcade development simply…disappeared. After a stream of news and screenshots in the bygone year of 2010, this arcade game went totally dark.

            This game was an arcade fighting game known as Dark Presence, and now, it’s back and better than ever.

            You read that correctly, folks. The long awaited release of Dark Presence is starting to become a bit more tangible; the game EXISTS in a playable form. And after stumbling upon the existence of this game back in 2016, I thought it was never going to be. I thought I had stumbled upon, well, vaporware. But after reading this Arcade Heroes article, I don’t I’ve EVER been so happy to be proven wrong.

            You know how I did that “Skycurser, Forgotten Indie Arcade Games, and the Modern Industry” thing back in April? (It’s actually one of my most popular articles, apparently. Thanks, Wix, with all your visitor analytics.) In all honesty, that was probably one of my most well-researched and well-written articles ever, and I really enjoyed writing it. To me, indie arcade games are exactly what the industry needs right now, and writing about new games like that brings me so much joy. And while the Skycurser article may have be as inclusive and conclusive as I can possibly get when writing about indie arcade games, I think the subject—no, Dark Presence—deserves so much more. Dark Presence is aesthetical, technical brilliance, and I think it’s time to talk some more about it.

            Oh, by the way, I just wanted to drop a brief note here in the intro: This game (and by association, this article) in no way changes how I feel about Skycurser’s impact, just to be clear. In fact, I kind of tie that all together at the end of the article...barely. It's like one sentence. But anyway, I just wanted to clear that up so I didn’t look like some fad-hopping, flip-flop fanboy (alliteration, people). However, since I don’t ever get to play any of these new games (exactly why my life goal is to start an arcade), it doesn’t hurt to obsess over one game at a time to, well, bide my time.

            So whaddya say? Ready to read about another indie arcade game?

 

In-Depth Dark Presence Thoughts

Hoo-boy, where do I even begin? There’s just so much to this game…it’s practically insane how groundbreaking it is! Do I start with the innovative gameplay, or do I drool over that sleek hardware?

            But you see, that’s just the thing. This game is so wildly innovative and technologically insane that there is no way to narrow down what to talk about. I have to talk about everything—a challenge I am very willing to undertake.

            First, why don’t we talk about the game itself? See, I’ve never been a big fighting game guy, and it’s not that I don’t like them: It’s just that I’m a trash player. I’ve simply never been good at fighting games. Does that stop me from enjoying them? No, of course not. Does that skew my coverage of them? Yeah, a little. But with Dark Presence, I don’t have to be a fighting game fan to appreciate all of its nuances and incredible additions to the genre.

            Let’s look at the most obvious aspect of this game: It uses digitized human actors for character sprites. We haven’t seen that in a long while, have we? The last game I can think of with MoCap like that was Target: Terror back in 2004, but that was a light gun rail shooter. Heck, the last fighting game with digitized sprites was probably Mortal Kombat 3! So yeah, you could call this game a little retro. In fact, it seems a lot of indie games come about as a way to invoke a certain historical aesthetic. With The Act, it was to imitate Laserdisc Dragon’s Lair-esque games. With Skycurser, it was to invoke the feeling of mid-90’s 2D sprites. And with Cosmotrons, they came way outta left field with some classic vector graphics! Dark Presence, of course, has it’s own definitive art style, but it’s not quite as retro as you would think.

            Rather than simply playing the classic digitized actors visual style completely straight, Dark Presence goes the extra mile. This games features HUGE, glorious, high-definition sprites and literally thousands of frames of animation—for each character! Characters are designed to react to each other, and there's no sprite-flipping. Add that to the slick real-time 3D environments, and you’ve got one of the most visually stunning games EVER.

            In fact, that’s part of what appeals to me so much about this game. Instead of just playing the “giant 55-inch screen” or “social experience” cards, Galloping Ghost Productions is clearly aware of the other major advantage to arcade gaming: hardware that makes home consoles fall to the ground and cry in shame. Like I said, this game clocks in at a terabyte; you can’t shove that on a Blu-ray disc without some serious trimming. Dark Presence proves that arcades are still on a technically superior level, and it doesn’t have to use gimmicks to prove it.

            That being said, it’s not like this game is being housed in some throwaway stand-up cabinet. There’s the “Mack” cabinet and the “S.P.O.O.K.” cabinet, with the former being the deluxe and the latter being standard. However, don’t let the word “standard” make you think the S.P.O.O.K. cabinet is somehow lesser, because it’s still really wicked.

            The Mack cabinet has a giant screen, 4.1 surround sound, two 7-inch touch screens on the control panel, and a…prize box. You read that correctly, folks: a prize box. If you’re the person in your arcade the beat the game with whichever character you choose, you win an intricately crafted figurine of that character. It’s kinda weird, but it works.

             What’s really, REALLY cool about this game is its save system. Instead of relying on the industry-standard PIN code system (which seems a little outdated in today’s Internet-connected world), you can plug a USB drive into one of the ports on the control panel, saving all of your stats and achievements and whatnot. All of that nifty information is stored on the aforementioned 7-inch touch screens, one for each player. The best part? You can pop your USB drive in literally Dark Presence cab and have your save file right there. It’s so genius that it makes you wonder why no one has done it before (especially considering that both H2Overdrive and Dirty Drivin’ had achievements). You know what I think? I think it’s because the big three arcade developers are too afraid to take risks. But of course, that’s a tangent for another day.

            The gameplay is just as detailed as the rest of the game experience. While I won’t pretend to know too much about fighting games, I can give you the hard details: There are four attack buttons, a block button, and a special button; there are three health bars, and your character takes on a different stance when a health bar is depleted (to show that you’re wearing down—genius, right?); and fatalities are quick-time events. In my opinion, Dark Presence has really innovated and improved upon existing fighting game mechanics. And of course, it all looks really amazing when in action. Too bad I can’t embed Arcade Heroes’ Vid.Me video that has all that sick gameplay footage.

            Oh, and before I forget: I love that this game is going to have a meticulously detailed story. That's something that a lot of modern indie arcade games have going for them. I'm ALWAYS a gameplay over story guy, but it's so nice to see arcade game developers putting more thought into the lore surrounding the in-game actions. It just adds a little extra something, ya know?

             In short, I think I’m gonna absolutely love this game. I was literally smiling the second I saw the headline on Arcade Heroes, and seeing the gameplay footage (finally!) just made me that much happier. I think Galloping Ghost Productions did a good job of slowly revealing the game. Sure, they announced in ’08, but once they realized that it would take five years to get all of that MoCap done for this game, they stopped talking about it. I’m glad GGP did that, because now that the game has come back in full swing, it makes that long wait with almost no information all the more satisfying. They didn’t say too much too early, ya know? It keeps people from getting impatient. It’s better to make the game look like vaporware that suddenly came back from the dead than a game that’ll never end active development.

            In terms of the game itself, though, I think Dark Presence is gonna be mind-blowing. The Galloping Ghost Arcade is literally the largest arcade in the world; if anyone can make a perfect arcade game, it’s Doc Mack and his team. They seem to have nailed every last detail and targeted every aspect of what makes arcades so great: making a beefy game that won’t easily translate to a console release, the social aspect, the redemption aspect…oh, and they took advantage of the power of BIG games. If that monster of a cabinet didn’t attract you, I don’t know what will.

            So, Dark Presence looks a like a game changer…but is it an industry changer? I think it is.

 

So What Exactly Does Dark Presence Mean for the Industry?

If you haven’t noticed, the Western arcade market hasn’t been entirely favorable towards fighting games for a while now. While Street Fighter IV was hugely popular in arcades, it also shot operators right in the foot. And sure, Tekken 6, 7, Tag Tournament 2, and Pokken Tournament got arcade releases, but good luck finding those anywhere. Heck, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Street Fighter V didn’t even get arcade releases—not even in Japan! It’s just such a shame, you know? I mean, fighting games were BORN in arcades!

            But luckily for us, I think Dark Presence is gonna fix that.

            First, let’s look at the obvious: It’s an arcade fighting made for the Western market. Instead of being a Japanese arcade game getting a lazy Western release, it is legitimately a game designed for the American arcade market. With Dark Presence, Galloping Ghost Productions has addressed both sides of this market by producing two cabinets, which I can explain.

            As many of you know, family entertainment centers (FECs) make up a sizable chunk of the current arcade industry. Over at FECs, they seem to really like BIG things—hulking cabinets, huge screens, and booming sound systems. Small games with standard stand-up cabinets kinda get drowned out. That seems to be why Galloping Ghost Productions made the Mack version of Dark Presence. Like I said, it’s got a giant screen, 4.1 surround sound, a massive control panel with two 7-inch touch screen, and a prize box. This cabinet was clearly made with the FEC market in mind; bigger is better, and redemption is an added bonus. And to be fair, big things are awesome, absolutely wicked. But to be fair to operators with small, local arcades, these kinds of cabinets just do not work—at all.

            That’s why, as mentioned earlier, there’s the S.P.O.O.K. cabinet, which cuts the size down to something much more reasonable and removes the prize box. This is so incredibly integral to the success of Dark Presence. Why, you ask? Well, who is most likely to buy a modern arcade fighting game from an unproven indie developer? Small, local operators. What can’t small, local operators afford? Modern fighting games. So to avoid shooting anyone (including themselves) in the foot, Galloping Ghost Productions has this cabinet that’s absolutely perfect for local operators. The S.P.O.O.K. is extremely space-conscious (small) and will most likely be very inexpensive. This is what local operators NEED right now: new games that are both cutting edge and price sensitive.

            Why do I bring the cabinets up again? Well, I do so because, if GGP can target both the FEC and traditional arcade market, we may very well see a fighting game resurgence in the U.S. That, my friends, is exactly what Dark Presence means for the industry.

            But beyond bringing back fighting games, I think Dark Presence does even MORE for the industry. Dark Presence, in one phrase, is not afraid to be modern. The problem with many modern arcade games is their relative lack of innovation. Sure, force feedback and huge HD screens are nice gimmicks (though I don’t like that word), but do they really innovate? Do they really prove the superiority of arcade hardware? In my opinion, not really. Dark Presence, however, has fully embraced modernity, adding not only the big screen, but also a USB save function, touch screen displaying player stats and achievements, and hardware that pummels home consoles. If we’re being honest, arcade games have had pretty okay graphics for a while now, but Dark Presence looks cutting edge. (To be fair, Cruis’n Blast did have beautiful graphics. The game was just way too content-dry.)

            Hopefully, Dark Presence will push fighting games and modernity to the forefront of the arcade industry. Hopefully, arcade games themselves will become a little more tailored to hardcore gaming. Hopefully, everything I’m saying will actually happen. I dunno. But I guess I’ll finish this section by being a little too 2008: Dark Presence isn’t the hero we deserve; it’s the hero we need. (Or however that crud goes. I think I butchered the quote.)

 

But Can Dark Presence Survive in Those Gosh Darned FECs?

I guess the real question is, “Will FECs bother to buy Dark Presence?” but you know how it is. This is a question that unfortunately always pops up when going over indie arcade games. You see, the FEC market, while providing modern arcade games with a large spotlight, are kind of exclusionary. Think about it: Have you ever seen Killer Queen at an FEC? What about Skycurser? It’s a real shame that the answer to those questions is always a big “no.”

            However, Doc Mack and the others at the Galloping Ghost Arcade have a wonderfully in-depth understanding of the arcade industry. After all, if anyone can bring back fighting games in American arcades, it’s them, right? Obviously, that’s what we arcade fanatics are all hoping. Will it happen? I can’t say for sure. However, I can absolutely drop my two cents as to what the game has going for it.

            For one, this ain’t chintzy hardware. Dark Presence is pretty sick…seriously, it’s beyond sick. If I were to base it on the monstrous “Mack” cabinet alone, I’d say it’d look right at home in any FEC. Then again, Killer Queen has TWO gigantic cabinets, and that doesn’t seem to have any FEC floor space.

            However, Dark Presence has another factor that is strongly in its favor: redemption. While Dave and Buster’s may be mostly video games, I’d say the vast majority of FECs are filled with videmption pieces. Dark Presence completely understands this, too, because like I said, the game rewards the first player to beat the game as any given character with a figurine of said character. It encourages playing to the end of the game, which I’m sure will do plenty of favors for earnings. However, once all of the figurines have been procured, I suppose that redemption factor goes away, doesn’t it? Would FECs really be okay with that? I can’t help but imagine a bunch of casual players beating the game way after the game’s initial release and complaining about not winning anything.

            So if a big, flashy cabinet doesn’t woo FECs and the redemption aspect of the game is somewhat temporary, how is this game going to make any sort of splash outside of traditional arcades, retrocades, and barcades?

            That, my friends, is where Injustice: Gods Among Us comes in.

            Even though Dark Presence is so much more interesting to me, I didn’t forget about that Injustice arcade release. (For those of you out of the loop, check out last Monday’s article. Also, go back a few pages on Arcade Heroes’ newsfeed.) And while it may not be a game that I would play, I think Injustice will actually do a fantastic job of setting the stage for a Dark Presence FEC release.

            Let me explain: Right now, FECs are EXTREMELY fighting game averse. And of course, that’s totally understandable. Developers have been shooting themselves in the foot with fighting game arcade releases for a long time now. They price the games too high, release the home console version to early, and operators get burned big time. It’s a vicious cycle that has led to less and less operators purchasing new fighting games, and less fighting games even getting arcade releases in the first place.

            However, since Raw Thrills’ Injustice arcade release is already catered to FECs, the stage has been set for us to (maybe) see a traditional fighting game in a family entertainment center. Is it a guarantee? No, it never is. But Dark Presence could absolutely take advantage of Raw Thrills reintroducing the idea of fighting games being a thing.

            Unfortunately, there are still plenty of hurdles to a traditional fighting game making it in an FEC. After all, Raw Thrills’ Injustice: Gods Among Us is just Dinosaur King with a Netherrealm Studios IP attached to it. Dark Presence, on the other hand, is a genuine fighting game. Fighting games, for all we know, could be too complex for casual players. There are movesets and combos to learn, and worst of all, there’s the chance of a newbie getting monumentally crushed by a hardcore player and never returning to the game. So what can be done to ensure Dark Presence’s success in the FEC market?

            That, my friends, is a question that I do not have the answer to. Luckily, Galloping Ghost Productions is doing everything in its power to ensure some degree of success. There’s the huge cabinet, the redemption aspect, and little bells and whistles to get players interested. And of course, there’s Injustice paving the way. One thing I do recommend, though, is that they place instruction manuals next to the game, like Pokken Tournament did in its extremely limited Western arcade run. For one, instruction manuals are a convenience that can boost any game’s ease of access, and they’re especially useful for fighting games. Also, I don’t think many players bother to read instructions on control panels, so providing instruction booklets just makes them more aware. You get what I’m saying, right?

            One more thing to take into account is the blood in the game. From what we’ve seen, it’s nothing like Mortal Kombat, but I still think it could deter, say, Chuck-E-Cheese’s from purchasing units of the game. Luckily, the anti-violence stigma in arcades is slowly fading, so I’m not sure how much longer I’ll have to bring this up on my blog. (Thanks, Dark Escape 4D and The Walking Dead! Your earnings are KILLER!)

            So, what’s the Dark Presence FEC survival level? WAY higher than Cosmotrons, equal or slightly higher than Skycurser (just because of the cabinet), but slightly lower than Nex Machina. Like I said, it’s not so much a matter of if the game can survive as much as if FEC operators will buy it in the first place. I just gotta say, though, that I am of the opinion that Killer Queen, Skycurser, Dark Presence, and Strike Harbinger are the quadri-fecta of indie arcade games. It’s like all at once we’re getting this boom in indie awesomeness that’ll change the industry forever, am I right? Eh, what can I say. I’m just a player, not an operator. What do I know about FECs and industry-shaking games?

 

Conclusion

If I had to sum up this article in just a few words, it would go something like this: “I cannot wait one more second for Dark Presence.” If I had to use a few more words, I’d probably say that it’s going to be a beefy arcade fighting game with a lot of promise in terms of revitalizing the industry. I know I’m gonna play it. Since I don’t feel like writing much more here, I’ll leave you with a final statement.

            In the slightly editied words of the great Sargent Mike Taylor from the War: Final Assault product video, “…[Dark Presence] has a war—no, an industry—to save.”

            However, since I have a comments box now, I'd like to know what you all think about the incredibly ambitious Dark Presence. Also, I'd like to know what you're favorite indie arcade game is. It can be any game, from The Act, to Friction, to Fly Trap, to Killer Queen...well, you get the idea.

            Keep it real, ya sweaty nerds.

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