Maybe I'm a hopeless optimist, but it seems to me that I entered the world of arcades at the perfect time. When I started this blog, indie arcade developers were just starting to get a foothold in the industry. Since then, I've seen massively exciting developments like Nex Machina, the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat-em-up, and House of the Dead: Scarlet Dawn. Sometimes—just sometimes—it feels like my journey into blogging was preordained, like I couldn't have picked a better time to start if I'd tried.
The reveal of the Exa-Arcadia kit system and all it entails was another kick-butt arcade development that had me believin'. We've seen one mind-blowing thing after another in the past year of arcades, and this—dare I say it—might be the coolest thing yet. (Maybe.)
If you have no idea what the Exa-Arcadia kit system is or why I'm so gosh danged enamored by it, allow me to enlighten you. It's a story that is most certainly worth hearing.
What is the Exa-Arcadia kit system?
It's common knowledge that upgrade kits haven't been prevalent in the arcade industry for a long time. As a player, it doesn't really bother me that much. I'll play the new games either way. As a "purist" (or whatever you want to call it), I'm just fine with not having kits; all they ever did was destroy games of historical significance. However, despite how I feel personally, there's no denying how useful kits are to arcade operators. Buying games in dedicated cabinets is expensive, and I can imagine most operators would rather swap out a game in an existing cabinet than purchase a new one. But like I said, upgrade kits aren't really a thing anymore.
Enter Exa-Arcadia, the kit system of the future. Exa-Arcadia takes a very NEO-GEO/AtomisWave-esque approach to kits. Unlike many of Japanese arcade platforms of late (such as NESiCAxLIVe), Exa-Arcadia games are offline, physical PCBs that can be swapped about with ease. The Exa-Arcadia platform itself is Windows-based and supports four games at once. (If the last six words of that sentence didn't give you NEO-GEO vibes, I don't know what to tell you.) Thank the arcade gods, because this newfangled platform will be cutting-edge AND cost-effective.
Exa-Arcadia somehow manages to support both the 4:3 aspect ratio on CRT-based cabinets and the 16:9 aspect ratio on newer cabinets. (Don't know how they do it, but sure ain't complainin'.) But don't let the CRT love fool ya: The hardware apparently surpasses current home console tech. (Once again, thank the arcade gods!) And even with this fancy-pants hardware, the kits are promised to be cost-effective and will be supported post-release through free online updates. Exa-Arcadia beats the pants off of home consoles AND it's cheap—in other words, it's everything we need it to be.
After long-last, a true successor to the NEO-GEO has emerged.
If you didn't see the parallels just by reading my brief description of the hardware, let me clear things up for you: Exa-Arcadia is advanced arcade tech that will allow operators to run four games simultaneously on a single cabinet. To me, that sounds just like the NEO-GEO.
To be fair, there have been other NEO-GEO-esque kit systems before. The AtomisWave hardware was an amazing, cartridge-based system that allowed operators to swap games in-and-out in a single cabinet like it was nothing at all. Of course, AtomisWave hardware only ran one game at a time (and it wasn't nearly as ubiquitous as the NEO-GEO), but it was still super cool. AtomisWave will always have a very special place in my heart. Demolish Fist and Dirty Pigskin Football ran on AtomisWave; those two games alone justify the hardware's existence.
More recently, we've seen the Airframe Arcade Operating System from Griffin Aerotech. The kits are simple enough: all you have to do is insert a USB stick. However, what sets Airframe apart is its mission. Airframe was designed by an indie developer for indie developers. Its goal is to make arcade game development easier than its ever been. Still, Airframe is no NEO-GEO. The units only run one game at a time, and the hardware is a bit "underpowered", if you will. (Also, the only games available as of right now are Skycurser and Rashlander. The hardware is still in its infancy.) Airframe was still a boon to the industry, but in a very different way.
What makes Exa-Arcadia so different is how perfect it is for both major developers and indies alike. Like the NEO-GEO, the specs are gonna be pretty beefy. (It hasn't been confirmed just how beefy just yet, but I'll share the details when we get them.) The NEO-GEO was the pinnacle of arcade hardware; it was unlike anything you could get at home. To have another four-in-one kit system of that stature is a blessing to the entire arcade industry. This is cutting-edge hardware that won't be locked behind expensive $8,000 cabinets. Instead, all the polygonal goodness requires just a single board and four PCBs.
Exa-Arcadia is the NEO-GEO's truest successor. It is powerful; it is accessible. Players and operators alike will surely appreciate this kit system.
We're finally going to see more Japanese arcade games officially released in the West.
What makes Exa-Arcadia even more of a boon to the industry is its software. As you probably already know, we don't see nearly as many Japanese arcade games here in the West as we used to. Apparently, they're just too darned complex or niche for our little Western arcades. In the past, the only way you might see a wicked Japanese game like Magician's Dead is at Round1USA or at some random arcade that decided to import the game. But hark: Exa-Arcadia is here to change everything.
Though Exa-Arcadia is designed to be a worldwide platform, it already has a slew of Japanese developers lined up to support the system. So far, it has been confirmed that Tanoshimasu, Abylight Studios, Piccorine Software, G.Rev, Seibu Kaihatsu, and City Connection are all supporting Exa-Arcadia. Right now, we only have three confirmed games (from Tanoshimasu, Abylight, and Piccorine); but still, this is incredible. The fact that the hardware has gained this much support so quickly—and the fact that we're going to see so many Japanese arcade games in the U.S.—absolutely blows my mind.
Right now, the lineup for Exa-Arcadia does seem to be pretty much exclusively shoot-em-ups. That's not really a bad thing, but I hope we see more genres on the platform as time goes on. Still, shoot-em-ups are boat-loads of fun. And in my opinion, any game that isn't a racing game or rail shooter is a blessing to the Western arcade industry. Even if shoot-em-ups aren't your thing, you can still rest easy knowing that these specific shoot-em-ups are some of the best of the best.
Tanoshimasu is bringing the always-awesome Aka & Blue Type-R shoot-em-up to Exa-Arcadia. The game is already available on iOS and Android (and will be coming to the Switch), but it's still super cool to see an arcade version. Here are some screenshots, if you want a better idea of what Aka & Blue Type-R is. (In all honesty, I hadn't heard of it before now, but it looks great.)
Abylight Studios is bringing the retro-infused Super Hydorah AC shoot-em-up. It's a rebalanced, remixed, more difficult version of the original PC game. It features two-player co-op, too. This is a horizontal shooter (I prefer vertical shooters), but it still looks totally rad. Here are some screenshots, kiddos.
The third game planned for Exa-Arcadia is another retro-infused shoot-em-up: Infinos EXA by Piccorine Software. I'm honestly drawing blanks on all these games and developers. This is too obscure even for me.
According to Arcade Heroes, G.Rev might be bringing Strania - The Stella Machina - to arcades. It is currently unknown what Seibu Keihatsu and City Connection are bringing to Exa-Arcadia, but I'm still plenty hype. Exa-Arcadia is such a monumental development in the modern arcade industry. The fact that we'll finally start seeing all of these semi-obscure Japanese games in the U.S. is a wildly exciting prospect. The best part? Exa-Arcadia requires developers to add extra content to the arcade versions of games released on the platform to differentiate them from their respective console/PC releases.
Heck, we might start seeing all kinds of wicked Japanese games on the platform. What if Exa-Arcadia was the platform of choice for a major fighting game? Or even a more general action game, like all those battle arena games they have in Japan? Exa-Arcadia promises "...around 10 titles that cover popular genres such as shooters and action titles that come from both Japanese developers and talented developers from abroad.” They have also stated that they "...have a large number of well known Japanese and overseas partners that will be announced in due course throughout 2018. Some long desired arcade titles are definitely in the mix!”
We can't be certain what all this means just yet, but it certainly is exciting.
Exa-Arcadia is perfect for street operators.
It's hard not to feel like street operators have gotten the short end of the proverbial stick in recent years. As arcade games haven't gotten bigger and bigger (and pricier and pricier), I'm sure it has become a lot harder for the average vendor to purchase new games and fit them in smaller locations like restaurants and movie theater lobbies. To make matters worse, games that are expensive for operators are expensive for players. (Upwards of a dollar per credit, in fact.) I've talked about inflated arcade pricing before, but it seems that nothing is really being done about it by the industry at large.
Once again, enter Exa-Arcadia. This kit system is designed to be cost-effective. It fits in any PCB-compatible cabinet (including candy cabs) and supports four games on one motherboard. That's a lot of value for what is anticipated to be a low price! (I've seen estimates that the games themselves will retail at about $1,000. Don't quote me on it, though.) And even if the games and hardware are a bit pricy (which they won't be, based on what the Exa-Arcadia folks have been saying), the ability to fit four games on one cabinet is a real gift to street operators who are always limited by the available space in a given location. That's a lotta damage, right there.
I may not be an operator myself just yet, but I know the struggle of finding space-conscious, cost-effective games that will earn well. Craigslist is there, sure; but it would be nice to be able to afford modern games every now and then. With Exa-Arcadia, the average street vendor will finally be able to serve brand-new Japanese arcade games to the Western market at a real clean-like price. Also, I'm pretty sure this is the official cabinet design. It's pretty rad (and space-conscious!).
Don't it just bring a little tear to your eye?
But the question remains: Will we see Exa-Arcadia in FECs?
We already know for a fact that Exa-Arcadia kits are destined for the worldwide market. This is reassuring. What we don't know, however, is if Exa-Arcadia is destined for family entertainment centers like Dave and Buster's—or if it would even be commercially viable in those locations.
I can't say whether Exa-Arcadia is destined for FECs or even whether the developers are aiming to penetrate that market. (In all honesty, I should probably reach out to these folks. It'd make a real nice-like article; that's for sure.) However, I can chip in my proverbial two cents on whether or not I see Exa-Arcadia in FECs.
Here's how I see it. At Dave and Buster's, the flashiest, most expensive games always come out on top. Think about some of the most popular games they showcase: Games like The Walking Dead, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, and Star Wars Battle Pod are all huge (in both size and monetary investment!). The Exa-Arcadia kit system isn't meant to be huge, flashy, or expensive. It's just simple stuff. It's been proven that, in FEC locations, the biggest games earn the most. Can Exa-Arcadia survive in a world where flash is valued over substance?
The other potential problem arises in the software. I don't know about you, but I certainly don't associate places like Dave and Buster's, Chuck-E-Cheese's, or Gatti Town with hardcore Japanese shoot-em-ups. Rather, I associate FECs with games that play everything safe—games that take no risks. The racing games, the rail shooters, the mindless kiddie gambling drivel: That's what I associate with FECs. As it stands, I don't know if I can see games like Aka & Blue Type-R earning well in these types of locations. How can we know if we've never tried?
Of course, there's no doubt in my mind that we'll see Exa-Arcadia games at Round1USA. (That's pretty much a given.) It's the others that I'm concerned about. And given the current state of the arcade industry, it is imperative that the folks at Exa-Arcadia secure positions in major FEC chains in order to be a commercially viable platform. Companies like Dave and Buster's practically drive the entire arcade industry; it's impossible to ignore them.
However, I have faith. I know that the Exa-Arcadia people know what they're doing. They've clearly thought all of this through. Though we don't know for sure yet, I sincerely hope that FECs will embrace this blessing to the arcade industry. (If they don't, it'll be even more apparent to me that FECs are set on killing genre diversity. After all, if it ain't a racing or shooting game, they don't seem to care.) All we can do is hope.
After reading all of this, I hope you're as convinced as I am that Exa-Arcadia is poised to fix the arcade industry. We've strayed way off the right path in recent years. As genre diversity has died and games have gotten ludicrously expensive, it's almost not surprising that so many discredit the awesome things going on in arcades. But Exa-Arcadia is different. They know what we need. They're here to give us sweet Japanese games at an even sweeter price.
Maybe I am just a hopeless optimist. Or maybe—just maybe—Exa-Arcadia is here to save us all.
Thanks for reading, kiddos. Now scram. I've got some stuff to do today.
Actually, don't leave yet. Tell me what you think of Exa-Arcadia in the comments. We never discuss things together. Let's start doing that.
(I wrote that like people actually read this blog, LOL. That's a good one right there.)