Arcades may be dying out, but they're such a significant part of gaming history that interest in them remains high. There are plenty of people out there old enough to remember the thrill of visiting the local amusement centre and popping spare change into their favourite cabinet, which is why we've seen a host of replica arcade systems popping up over the past few years.
UK-based Quarter Arcades have come up with one of the more appealing ranges, mainly because – as the name suggests – its units are a 1/4 of the size of the real deal and are therefore easier to fit into the average house than an actual unit. The company has been working with the likes of Bandai Namco and Taito to produce faithful recreations of some of the arcade era's most famous titles, and it has big plans for future releases.
With that in mind, we sat down with Managing Partner Matt Precious and Creative Director Karl Mizen to talk about the range.
Can you tell us where the idea for Quarter Arcades came from?
Quarter Arcades was born from our love of retro video games and the limited access we had to play them. Classic games didn't disappear, but the experience of playing the classics in their intended form and setting certainly did. It's not practical, for most, to collect full-size machines, so we wanted to bring these games back in a collectable way to those who remember their youth playing in arcades and for the younger generation that missed them entirely. We have designed these as showpieces for people to collect and display, the look, design and artwork of these original machines was as important as the game itself, so that why wanted to recreate the machines as they were played originally as well as the game.
How did you go about selecting the titles you wanted to use in the range?
For the launch of Quarter Arcades, where better to start than the most successful – and arguably, most recognisable – arcade game of all time. PAC-MAN.
From there, we looked at other arcade games from BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment (Namco), and Galaga seemed the natural choice to follow. It felt wrong to skip Galaga's predecessor and Namco’s first shoot 'em up, so Galaxian was added to the range alongside Ms. PAC-MAN, another huge title.
There are so many amazing machines we want to make, but making these machines is a very long process but with every machine, we are getting better and quicker so you will see many more machines coming out over the next few years as we build that dream arcade.
What has it been like working with the IP holders for these games?
They've been instrumental in the development of this product and as excited as we are to see their old properties brought back to life as 1/4 scale replicas. It’s been amazing to be working with such legends as Iwatani-san on PAC-MAN, and the IP holders have the same desire and respect for the original machines that we do, so getting these as close as possible to the original is something we have been working on together.
How long does it take from concept to final product, on average? What's the development process like?
Concept to the final product can vary, but on average we'd be looking at 12 to 18 months per machine. PAC-MAN, our first machine took almost three years!
The first step of this lengthy process is to source the original cabinet; this is essential to produce a perfect 1/4 scale arcade. Finding an original can prove difficult, and it's not uncommon to have machines sourced and shipped from all over the world. From there we painstakingly measure every detail before modelling begins at 1/4 scale. Once prototyping is underway, we can look at the artwork, which is where we work with the IP holders to see what assets are available. It is a long process, with many hurdles but the satisfaction of receiving the final arcade make it all worthwhile.
Given that you're working with games that are decades old, what's been the biggest issue you've had to overcome during this process?
There's been an enormous resurgence in retro arcades in recent years so it can take months to get our hands on a particular machine. Our Space Invaders cabinet is an original Japanese model we found in Australia!
Original artwork can also be tough to source if not readily available from the IP holder, and it's a long process to recreate it if needs be. There's a lot of reproductions out there, and we have to do a lot of research to make sure we're using material that is true to the original.
Can you tell us about the emulators you use in these games? How have you ensured the highest degree of accuracy?
We wanted these machines to remind people of playing the originals in their youth. It was also important for those new to retro gaming to have the same authentic experience. We developed an emulator to run the original arcade ROMs to do just that. Our more recent machines also allow you to change the dip switch settings, so you now have control over the number of lives, extra-life settings and difficulty – all elements of the games that could have varied, arcade to arcade.
What's the reaction from the gaming community been like towards the Quarter Arcade range?
The reaction has generally been very positive, and fans are always asking us to create their favourite games. We take great care in creating the most accurate replica possible, and the community seem very impressed with what we have been able to achieve. But we are always listening to the fans and we take all points on board so that we can improve what we have and make it as good as physically possible.
You've worked with the likes of Namco, Taito and Konami – are there any plans to work with other companies, like Capcom, Sega or even Nintendo?
Yes, we'd love to work with other companies and expand the Quarter Arcade Range. A 1/4 scale Donkey Kong would look fantastic!
We do have many machines in development from other companies which are sure to excite a lot of people. Our dream is to launch a broad range of games, so there's something in there for everyone.
What's next for the Quarter Arcade range? Are you sticking with stand-up cabinets or could we see you branch into tabletop or other varieties?
Quarter Arcades is about collecting authentic, playable arcade machines when you wouldn't otherwise have space (or permission) to collect full-size cabinets.
We'd love to release a full range of props and accessories to build an entire arcade environment at home. Items such as tables and chairs, '80s style carpets and wall coverings, prop TVs and jukeboxes – all the things you'd find in an old school arcade.
And of course, other varieties of playable machines is something we'd always consider. We want the community to tell us what they want and we will do everything we can to make this happen, as we are fully invested in Quarter Arcades as a range of products for many years to come.