Category Archives: Arcade Games

BAS Arcade Cabinet Restoration – Part 2

Arcade cabinet restoration – the fun stuff

With the major repair work completed on the woodwork, monitor and control panel (covered in part 1) it was time to focus on the cosmetic aspects of the restoration of this BAS Arcade Cabinet.

The cabinet itself was not in really bad shape, but the coin doors and metal trim had suffered from rust which was showing through the paint, and the lighting behind the marquee and coin slot was not working. There was also a very scruffy piece of rubber on the footrest of the cabinet which would need to be replaced. Finally I would need to replace the rubber t-molding which was removed when the cabinet was stripped for repair.

Stripping, Sanding and Painting

Starting with the metalwork, a lot of arcade restorers rely on the services of powder coating companies that will shot blast the old rust and paint away before apply a new powder coat. I decided on the DIY approach as I was interested in the quality of finish I could achieve myself, and if I was not satisfied there was nothing lost. I could always send off to the powder coaters to fix.

So I began the process of removing the metalwork, which was all conveniently bolted on. Off came the coin doors, metal edge trim and marquee retainers as well as all the various nuts and bolts which would also need to be treated.

My plan was to use a paint stripper to remove the worst of the paint chemically before sanding off the residue and using a rust converter if necessary before priming and painting. As you can see from this picture the stripper paste was very effective on the coin doors, albeit after some experimentation with thicknesses of paste and time left on the paintwork.

Pain stripper on the coin doors
Using paint stripper on the rusted coin doors
Coin doors stripped
Coin doors stripped and ready for sanding and primer

The metal trim pieces were a lot easier to treat than the coin doors as the paint was thinner and the surface nice and flat.

After a bit of sanding by hand to remove the rust I applied some rust converter fluid to make sure it wouldn’t bubble up again before preparing for primer. I decided to use PlastiCote as I had heard good things about this paint, and to use standard rattle cans for the best finish without special spray equipment.

I took my time and applied the grey primer as per the instructions in light coats with a short drying period in between. After 24 hours I then sanded to remove any imperfections and give the paint a key for the black topcoat. I selected a satin paint that resembled the original, although some people prefer the crackle type finish you get with Hammerite.

Coin doors primed
Coin doors primed ready for top coat
Primed metalwork
Metalwork is primed ready for top coat

The paint went on smoothly and again I took my time with light coats, and a short drying period in between. At this point I could tell how the doors were going to come out and I was really pleased with the result. It’s not going to be as perfect or hard wearing as a powder coat but it was very satisfying, being my first attempt at metal finishing.

Coin doors painted
The coin doors finished in satin black
Metal satin black
Metal components with several coats of satin black

Fitting an LED Marquee Light

I set the freshly painted metalwork to one side to harden off a bit more while I focused on other jobs, the next fix being a new light for the marquee. The original marquee had a fluorescent tube, as did all arcade machines of the era, but I decided I wanted to use LEDs, as they are cheaper, last longer and generate less heat than an old tube. As they are not really visible anyway there is no argument to keep them, even for the purposes of authenticity, as an LED array can generate a similar lighting effect. I chose a pre-made 12V unit built for use as a caravan light, as it would be easy to hook up to a spare output from the existing transformer.

The LED unit fit nicely in the space vacated by the fluorescent tube, attached to an angle bracket with some vecro in case it needed adjustment to get the best marquee lighting effect. I need’nt have worried as the light looked great behind the marquee, which I reattached with the freshly painted retainers. I even treated myself to new black screws as they would be visible under the marquee. I kept the marquee original as it is such a great design, and I plan to use this cabinet as a multi-game unit so want to keep it generic.

LED marquee
The new LED marquee light fitted
testing marquee
Testing the new LED marquee light

Restoring the base of the cabinet

With the marquee in place I turned my attention to the base of the machine, and removed the tatty old rubber matting. I filled all the old screw holes and painted the edges with matt black paint in case any showed through the new matting and metal edge protectors. I then cut some new rubber matting (a bargain at £7 for a 2 meter roll including delivery) and fit it around the base. With the metal edge protectors fitted and new black screws the bottom of the machine looked as good as new.

The base of the BAS cabinet
The base of the cabinet stripped of old rubber mat

With the rubber mat replaced and coin doors test fitted the base of the cabinet looks as good as new.

Cabinet base complete
The cabinet base fitted with new matting and freshly painted metalwork

One of the easiest ways to cheaply and easily smarten up a tired arcade cabinet is to replace the t-molding which costs around a £1 per foot, and takes around 30 minutes a side to fit. Once the old t-Molding is removed with the help of a screwdriver blade, the new t-molding is just hammered gently in with a rubber mallet. For any corners, you just need to cut or nick the plastic to allow it to bend properly and for a tight fit.

Bas arcade cabinet with new T molding
Applying T Molding to the tricky corners
New t molding
Applying new t-molding to the BAS Cabinet

Finishing Touches

The final step was to fit the coin doors, which bolted back on easily and some new locks added, cheap as chips on eBay but make a huge difference to the look of the doors. As you can see the result is an “as new” set of coin doors for the cost of a couple of cans of paint and some elbow grease.

Finished coin door
The finished coin door reassembled with new locks

The final touch, which only came to light after I reattached the coin doors, was the lack of lighting behind the coin slot. A trip to Halfords later and I had a new bulb, a common item which is also used for car indicators so easy to source.

BAS arcade cabinet coin door with lit reject button
Coin door with indicator bulb from Halfords

So that’s about it for this project, the BAS JAMMA cabinet is complete and ready for another 30 years of arcade gaming. This will be my “vertical” games cabinet, with a 60-in-1 board for now, while I develop a MAME based solution with access to more classic arcade games.

Now I’ve completed this restoration I much more confident I can tackle a dedicated arcade cabinet, and not make huge mess of an irreplaceable piece of gaming history.

Fully restored BAS arcade cabinet
The finished BAS arcade cabinet

The Arcade Shed Build – Part 1

Why build an Arcade Shed?

Growing up in Essex in the 80’s, I had easy access to some of the best arcades in the UK, with Southend being a 25 minute drive from my home in Grays.  Every Friday my friends and I would head up the A13 in an old Ford Capri owned by my friend Jason, and hit the arcades on the Southend sea-front. It seemed then that there were new arcade games every week, dedicated games that were almost impossible to replicate on the home consoles and computers of the time (although the BBC Micro did a good job).

Southend arcades

30 years later and the arcades are still there, but the games are all gone, replaced with 2p coin pushers and slot machines.  A few retro arcades have sprung up, most notably Arcade Club in Bury, and the Heart of Gaming in London. Southend even has its own retro gaming Mecca in the form of Astro City, which has some great retro cabinets.  But with a full time job in London and 4 kids I can’t head off to Manchester every time I want to experience an 80’s arcade.

Arcade Club
Cabinets in the Arcade Club in Bury

So I decided to create the real thing in my garden, my own Arcade full of favourite 80’s games.  I’m calling it the Arcade Shed, as that’s what it’s going to be – a big shed.  It needs to be big enough to fit in my favourite games – at least 4 or 5, plus room for at least 1 pinball table.  It needs to be insulated and heated to protect the sensitive electronics from the cold and damp,  and just as importantly allow me to play all year round.

Arcade Shed : The Games

As far as the games are concerned, I had a shortlist although this was always going to be subject to change, I was warned by other collectors that you always end up with more than you planned, but these were my “must haves”.

On my shortlist I had:

  • Star Wars Arcade – Bought this one already, cost a fortune, currently with broken monitor and in need of a few cosmetic repairs
  • Track & Field – I’ve bought an Electrocoin Cabinet to house this game, and a dedicated control panel.  Just waiting for the PCB to come back from being repaired by a contact on ithe UKVAC forum.
  • Snow Bros – Have the PCB already and a BAS Jamma cabinet to house this in, just needs a bit of tidying up.  Played this to death at our grotty student union bar at Aston University.
  • Centuri Phoenix – Looking for a dedicated original cabinet for this, my favourite shooter and first arcade obsession
  • Outrun (Midi size) – The classic driving game, didn’t have this cabinet when I build the shed but have managed to find one since, and it’s is awesome!
  • MAME Cabinet – probably vertical format, to play all of the other games that I can’t fit in!  Will need a Jamma cabinet to house this, and I want to play on an original arcade monitor.  Not decided between a PC or a Raspberry Pi, or a 60 in 1 board
  • Pinball – Addams Family, my absolute favourite and also will be another really expensive purchase
  • 2p count pusher – will be essential in making the arcade family friendly, the kids and wife just love these games. Very expensive as still used in arcades and making money for the operators
Dream arcade lineup
Some of the arcade cabinets in my dream lineup

That’s quite a long list with some rare and sought after cabinets in it but I’m not expecting to have my arcade complete overnight, this is going to be a long term project.

Building the Arcade Shed

After a lot of internet searching, and considering the potential lifespan of the arcade shed, I settled on an actual shed which I would restrospectively insulate to turn into more of a permanent structure, as opposed to a pre-fabricated garden building.  I estimated that a garden room was going to cost me around £10k for the size I was looking for, whereas a heavily modified shed would cost me half as much – albeit with a bit more work involved.

The building would need to house the gardening equipment such as spades and mowers, as my shed would be replacing an exiting smaller structure, so I went for a combo deisgn that had an integrated “shed-in-a-shed” with a separate door.  After pacing out the space at the bottom of my smallish town garden, I worked out I could have 17 foot by 10 foot structure, with a Pent design that was taller at the front to allow my arcade games to be pushed against the back wall.  I would have minimal windows to allow for better insulation, and also to recreate the arcade feel and not have too many reflections on the screens.  After a trip to the local garden centre I ordered the bespoke shed, which would come with optional insulated floor and ceiling, double glazed windows and doors, and an updated rubber roof.

Arcade Shed Build
The Arcade Shed takes shape

After an agonising 8 week wait for my shed to be fabricated, and a frantic last minute demolition and sales of the old structure, the arcade shed arrived, and was carried to the back of the garden in panels.  I was reassured by the grunts and groans of the shed builders, who complaining about the weight of these extra height insulated panels.  I thought the roof sections would never get around the back of the house, they were so big.

Just and hour later and the shed was fully constructed and ready to move in!

The Arcade Shed before painting
The Arcade Shed before painting

Arcade Shed Interior

Having waited 8 weeks for my shed to arrive I wasn’t going to hang about waiting for it to be completed, so i got working on the outside straight away. My experience with sheds was that painting them made them last a lot longer and was greater protection against the elements, so I had the shed delivered untreated, and quickly painted the whole thing with primer.

Arcade Shed painted
The Arcade Shed Freshly Painted

My summer holiday wasn’t going to stop progress, so I booked a local decorator to paint the shed with exterior emulsion while I was away and booked both a sparky and a builder to fit out the interior. While I am fairly handy and could have done this all myself, I am aware of my time limitations with a busy job and 4 kids, so elected to employ professionals.

Arcade Shed awaits plastere
Arcade Shed cabling complete ready for the plasterer

The builder put in celotex insulation panels in the walls followed by a sheet of plywood lining, which he then left for the sparky to fit the electrics – a consumer panel and a truck load of plug sockets as well as dimmanle led ceiling lights and external lamps. Then the plasterboard went in, and the electric sockets completed. I also elected to have a further sheet of plywood put over the floor, to help distribute the weight of the arcade machines.

Arcade Shed view
View up the garden to the house from inside the Arcade Shed

I procrastinated on the floor covering, with many people advocating wooden floors for ease of movement of the cabinets, and other suggesting carpet was the only way to go. In the end I settled on industrial carpet tiles, which would be easy to lay myself and also allow me to replace any damaged by 200kg arcade machines being constantly dragged over them. The carpet tiles went in with minimal effort, and I am very pleased with the result, very hardwearing and don’t seem to mind the beating they are subjected to.

Arcade Shed interior
Plasterboard up and lights installed

As soon as I had the carpet in, I moved in my collection of cabinets, such as it was at the time, and thankfully they fit nicely in the space, and the carpet seemed very happy having these huge bits of wood dragged across them.  There was just enough space at the back of shed for the tallest of my arcade cabinets, which meant I could use the whole of the back wall and fit in maybe 6 or 7 in total.

The Arcade Shed with carpet tiles fitted and cabinets moved in

So I have a completed arcade shed, painted, insulated and ready to use. In part 2 I will be looking at the games themselves, and how my collection has changed since the shed was first built. I hope this has inspired you to consider your own build, if you have any questions contact me via Twitter @retrogamesnow.


BAS Arcade Cabinet Restoration

After I built my arcade shed, I went on a bit of a buying spree, snapping up knackered old cabinets on eBay without much thought as to what I would do with them. I just knew that I had a space that needed filling with cabinets, and that I needed to learn how to restore them. I didn’t want to be just a player of old arcade games, I wanted to learn what made them tick and how to bring them back to life.  The BAS arcade cabinet was my first.

My initial purchase was a semi-working machine with a bootleg Mortal Kombat installed, this lovely old BAS branded cabinet, manufactured in the UK. I had seen a few of these knocking about on the UK forums, so I figured there would be enough people around that knew how they worked. Plus there might even be some spares available if I needed them. I managed to pick up this particular example for less than £100, a real bargain for an largely unmolested machine with what appeared to be a working monitor and PCB.

Martin the Van Man (UK king of arcade removals) delivered my BAS Arcade Cabinet along with a couple of others that I had managed to buy within a 2 week period. My first challenge was how to get them out of my hallway and down the garden before my wife came home.

Original eBay listing, and delivery day

Cunningly I managed to buy 2 virtually identical BAS cabinets, thinking that I might be able to make one perfect machine from parts salvaged from both, should it come to it. I also managed to acquire another Electrocoin Midi, a great little cabinet that may or may not include my favourite game, Phoenix. But that’s another story.

The 2 BAS cabs and the Electrocoin Midi make it down the garden to the arcade shed

Safely installed in the shed, my first job was to survey both the BAS cabinets and work out which one I was going to tackle first, and the problems I would need to address. I decided that I liked the look of my donor cabinet the best, as it was actually in better physical condition than the Mortal Kombat cabinet, albeit with an untested monitor and a botched control panel.

So my to-do list became:

  • Install a multi-game PCB
  • Test and fix the monitor
  • Repair or replace the control panel, joystick and buttons
  • Fix the damaged wood on the base
  • Remove all the metalwork and respray
  • Replace the rubber matting on the footrest
  • Replace the coin door locks (missing keys)
  • Find a replacement marquee light

This was going to take some time, but I was looking forward to a project that would give me experience of every aspect of restoration, not just the cosmetics but the electronics that power these old games.

BAS Arcade Cabinet Awaiting Restore
The BAS donor cab awaiting restore

Fixing the BAS Arcade Monitor

The cathode ray tube is the heart of these old machines, something that can’t be replicated with modern flat screens, and I was determined to keep this original monitor in place.  The other BAS machine had a working monitor but I wanted to find out what it would take to bring one back to life.

First job was to test the power supply, which was producing healthy voltages to both the JAMMA connector for the game PCB, coin door and control panel (5V) and to the marquee light (12V) according to my multimeter.  I had a working 60-in-1 game plugged in with flashing LEDs so I knew there was nothing wrong with the video signal being produced to the monitor.   The monitor was however showing no signs of life, and no “glow” in the neck, so I decided that the chassis would need to be removed and repaired.

This provided me with an opportunity to test out my new HV Probe, as the tube needed to be discharged before safely handling the monitor chassis due to the high voltages that can be retained by old CRTs. After donning my wellies and pink Marigolds (not joking), and with one hand behind my back to prevent my body becoming part of a circuit, I gently placed the probe under the anode cap.  Nothing.  No spark, no crackle of discharge, nothing.

Comfortable that I wasn’t going to kill myself, I removed the chassis from the monitor, making sure I took pictures of all the connections so I would be able to reverse the procedure later.

Hantarex monitor chassis
The poorly monitor chassis looking a bit worse for wear

I didn’t really know where to start with the repair of the chassis, so I cleaned it up with some cotton buds and some isopropyl alcohol, and sent it off to a contact on the UKVAC forum. Repairs to my Star Wars arcade machine have susbsequently taught me a lot about monitors, but at this stage I didn’t have the equipment or know-how. So I figured while the monitor chassis was being repaired I could focus on the cabinet itself.

Control Panel Repairs

The control panel on both BAS cabinets were less than ideal, one with a standard but weird vertical button arrangement, the other with extra buttons hacked on, presumably to play Mortal Kombat. Asking around the forums I found someone with a spare BAS panel, one with a button configuration that I was happy with.

BAS Control panel
Original BAS Control Panel with strange button layout

The control panel overlay had seen better days, so I decided that I would need to repair or replace it. Back to the forums, and although there was no off-the-shelf replacement available in the original design, I found a chap who was prepared to make a copy.

The wiring harness in the control panel was however complete and had a molex connector for easy replacement, so I documented the wiring layout taking lots of pictures, and set about carefully removing the old buttons and joysticks. The joysticks were mismatched and a bit worn, so I planned to replace with some stock 8-way items that had left over from a previous MAME cabinet project along with some shiny new buttons. The blanking plate that covered the extra joystick hole would be salvaged and cleaned up with some Brasso in leiu of specialist plastic polish.

BAs Control Panel Wiring
The wiring of the existing control panel before removing buttons and joysticks

A few weeks later and my replacement panel overlay arrived (thanks Olly from the Arcade Art Shop) looking fantastic. I treated the replacement control panel with some rust converter to tidy up any corrosion on the bare metal, and gave it a good wipe down with white spirit to remove any remaining adhesive residue and dirt that would prevent the new overlay from sticking. I then carefully applied the overlay, making sure I smoothed it down as I went and lining it up with the visible area of the control panel. Once applied, I then cut out the joystick and button holes with a craft knife, leaving some overlapping triangular sections to tuck into the hole.

BAS Control Panel
Applying the repro control panel overlay

Then the most satisfying part, pushing the buttons and the joysticks through the newly covered panel and securing with plastic nuts and shiny new chrome bolts. I was really pleased with the result, basically a good as new finish with every visible surface and component replaced, while keeping all the original internals. Now the control panel was perfect, I needed to address some of the problems with the cabinet itself.

Completed BAS Control Panel
The replacement control panel with repro overlay, new joysticks and buttons

Repairing the BAS Arcade Cabinet Woodwork

I had noticed when moving the cabinet around that there was some bulging in the cabinet edges, mainly in the bottom part of the cabin where the wood had possibly got damp and the glue holding the fibreboard together had decayed. So I tipped the cabinet onto its back (making sure the monitor and glass was secured correctly) to survey the damage.

BAS Cabinet with damaged wood base
The base of the cabinet before the damaged wood is repaired

Looking at the bottom it was fairly sound, but would need some work to stabilise the spread in the board and prevent further damage, as well as improving the looks. I removed the loose material with a file and then applied a wood hardener to the remaining surfaces to “glue” what was left together, with the help of some clamps to push the spread wood back into place. After drying, I sanded away any remaining protruding wood, and then filled with a high performance wood filler to level the surfaces and fill any holes. After a couple of rounds of filling and sanding I was happy enough with the base to prime and paint Matt black. As most of the base is hidden with rubber mat or metal plate, it didn’t have to be perfect, just tidy.

Repaired base of BAS arcade cabinet
Based hardened, filled and sanded ready for painting

While I had the cabinet on its back I took the opportunity to remove the t-molding and all the remaining metalwork including the coin doors so they could be treated for rust and cosmetic damage. There was a lot of visible rust and bubbling of paint so I decided to take back to bare metal rather just touching up. This is a job that many arcade restorers like to outsource, by sending the components off to a sandblaster and powder-coater for treatment, but I wanted to get my hands dirty on this first project. Which will be the subject of my next update, as this one is getting a bit long!

But before I finish this update, I thought I would share the most exciting part of the build, as at this stage in the restoration I received an important package.  The monitor chassis was back from repair, and after careful reinstallation, sprang back to life on the first power up without needing any adjustment.

BAS Cabinet with monitor
The BAS Cabinet with newly repaired monitor chassis installed

Up Next in Part 2

So next up in part 2 of this restoration blog will be the coin doors and other metalwork, the t-molding and bringing the marquee light back to life.  I’ll then assemble all the refurbished parts of this lovely old BAS arcade cabinet ready to play some classic games.

Huge thanks to gunblade from the UKVAC forum and Olly from for their help with the restoration.

Chase HQ Arcade Game by Taito

Chase HQ was an arcade racer that was very much of it’s era, so 80’s in its style that it could have been directed by Jerry Bruckheimer, starred Eddie Murphy, and had a soundtrack by Harold Faltermeyer.  Playing like cross between Sega’s classic OutRun and the film Beverly Hills Cop, your role is to chase the bad guys through busy streets and bring them to justice by ramming them off the road.  So for a brief moment, you felt like you were the star in a buddy cop movie – that was the magic of Taito’s 1989 classic Chase HQ.

Chase H.Q. Arcade Flyer
Chase H.Q. Arcade Flyer
The cabinet itself was an elaborate affair, the stand-up version having both foot pedals and a wheel, as well as the hi/lo gear selector with turbo boost button.  Sirens would blare from the machine in attract mode and during the game, accompanied by flashing lights above the screen.

Insert a coin and you would be given your instructions by police dispatcher Nancy, including the description of the felon you are to apprehend and the vehicle he is driving.  Jump in your Black Porsche 928, floor the pedal in low gear, and you are off down the road in pursuit of your target, accompanied by blaring 80’s synth music.  A graphic shows your proximity to the car in front as you dodge traffic to the accompaniment of shouts from your partner.

Chase HQ Arcade Screenshot
Chase HQ Arcade Screenshot

Passing traffic on tarmac covered sections, via branching paths that take you through part finished roads littered with barricades and cones, you soon catch up with the criminal. Now you need to ram his vehicle to damage it, the level of damage indicated on a progress bar at the top of the screen.  Keep your eye on other traffic and obstacles as the guy in front can get away from you if you are not careful, and each collision causes a slight skid, using up precious seconds on the countdown timer.  This is where the turbo boost comes in, allowing you to quickly recover the distance between you and the target vehicle before he gets away.  Deliver the requisite amount of damage before the timer runs out, and the criminal is forced to the side of the road and taken away in handcuffs, his expensive sports car in flames.   Nancy in dispatch will then present you with a new criminal to apprehend in a faster, more robust vehicle.

Through the game, if you have either the skill or the cash to keep playing, you will encounter sports cars ranging from a Lamborghini Countach to a Lotus Espirit Turbo – clearly the criminal element have great taste in getaway vehicles, and a few quid to spare. Each enemy was more difficult than the last to take down, the Chase HQ cabinet was designed to keep you pumping the machine full of coins in order to progress.  That said, a skilled player could complete the entire game in around 10 minutes, with each of the 5 cars having to be defeated in under 60 seconds.

Chase H.Q. ZX Spectrum
Chase H.Q. ZX Spectrum

The Chase HQ arcade game was a blast, and the inevitable home conversions were always going to be challenged, given the powerful graphics and audio, not to mention the bespoke driving controls of the original machine.  The rubber keys, limited graphics and tinny sound of the Spectrum would not therefore on paper make a good home for a Chase HQ conversion.  The reality was however a different story, and whilst not a perfect conversion, the Spectrum version of Chase HQ by conversion experts Ocean was actually pretty good.There were also conversions for pretty much every home computer and console available, including releases by Ocean for the Amstrad CPC and Amiga, and by Taito for the NES, Game Gear and Sega Master System.

There were also some arcade sequels in Special Criminal Investigation, and Super Chase: Criminal Termination, but neither had the impact of the original Chase H.Q.

The dangerous driving mechanic has been seen throughout video game history, with games such as Road Rash on the Sega Megadrive, and more recently the Burnout series of games on the XBOX.  Chase HQ however remains the most perfect and polished arcade racer, something that has to be played on an original cabinet to really be appreciated, and it’s one of my all-time favourite arcade games.

Space Panic Arcade Game by Universal

Was Space Panic The First Ever Platformer?

Space Panic is an early arcade game from Universal, released in 1980 and believed to be the first ever platform game, predating Donkey Kong by a full year. This was also the first successful game by arcade developer Universal, who later created the classic Mr Do!.

Space Panic Screenshot

Universal Space Panic

The game is set around a series of platforms connected by ladders, which your player character and also the alien monsters can use to move around the screen. Your character in Space Panic cannot jump, and is therefore reliant on using the ladders to avoid the patrolling aliens. In order to destroy the monsters, you must set traps for them by digging holes in the platforms with your spade, in the hope that the monsters will fall in.

space panic arcade flyer
Space Panic arcade flyer

Once they are in the hole, you have to bash them with your spade to make them fall through the platform to their doom. Fall through the hole yourself, or touch a monster, and you lose a life. You also have a limited supply of oxygen, and you must clear all of the monsters before your supply runs out.

Experienced players of Space Panic will use the hole mechanic to slow down the monsters, as even a partially dug hole will trap a monster momentarily, and if you can place yourself between two holes then you are fairly safe.  If you could time the drop of the alien through hole perfectly and you could also take out another alien beneath the hole. In later levels you would need to drop the aliens through 2 levels or more to kill them, increasing the difficulty of the game significantly.

Space Panic conversions for consoles and home computers

Space Panic had some popular home conversions, most notably an official version for the Colecovision system, and a great clone by Acornsoft for the BBC Micro.  I didn’t get to play the Colecovision version of Space Panic until very recently, and I can confirm it is hilarious, with your character goose-stepping around the screen, armed only with what appears to be a chicken drumstick.

Monsters (Space Panic) BBC Micro
Monsters BBC Micro Screenshot

Back in the day I had a BBC Micro, and a copy of Monsters, Acorn’s Space Panic clone.  As with all of the Acornsoft arcade clones it was excellent, and a great home version of Universal’s original platformer. My favourite strategy was to dig holes beneath each other on all the platforms and then try and trap a monster at the top, so they would fall all the way down the screen for extra points.

Nintendo may have refined the platform gaming formula with the runaway success Donkey Kong, but it was Universal’s Space Panic that started the genre, and with it a simple but addictive arcade game.

Xevious by Namco – Classic Arcade Game Review

Was Xevious the original vertical scrolling shooter?

Some games conjure up very vivid memories – where you first played it, the feel of the controls, the sounds and graphics forever burned into your mind. Xevious was one of my earliest arcade game memories, not the first I played but one of the first that I mastered. This game made me feel like I belonged in the arcade, rather than an just an observer on the sidelines.

Xevious Arcade Screenshot
Xevious Arcade Title Screen

Namco’s 1982 arcade game defined the vertical scrolling shooter format, being one of the first to feature a moving landscape with a mix of land and air based targets rather than just a scrolling starfield.

So here’s the question – could Xevious in 1982 have been the first proper “Shmup”?

Xevious Arcade Gameplay

Your space ship, or “Solvalou” is equipped with both air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, and uniquely features a set of crosshairs that hover in front of your ship, allowing you to target tanks and buildings. Careful targeting of the ground based targets would allow you to destroy two adjacent targets with one missile, which was helpful as the fire rate was relatively slow, requiring certain amount of strategy to make the most of your weapons.

Airborne enemies would take the form of geometric shapes, including cubes, spheres, pyramids and rings, which would attack in formation and fire slow-moving bullets towards your ship. The fire rate of your bombs was also quite sedate, so the game became a slow moving ballet as you dodged bullets and incoming ships, as well as positioning your ship to deploy bombs and destroy stationary targets.

Xevious featured air to surface missiles

Your mission took you over 16 different stages, which unlike many vertical shooters that followed, featured some very traditional landscapes, including woods, grassy plains, rivers and lakes. The only unusual feature is the Nazca style landmarks in certain stages, which suggests a South American setting. As the levels progressed, the amount of enemies on screen would increase, with flying ships join by land based gun emplacements, and then mobile units such as tanks. Large boss ships would also be introduced at various stages, requiring you to shoot the core in order to destroy them.

The Challenge of Xevious in the Arcade

Although the game was one of the first vertical scrolling shooters, it wasn’t as forgiving of new players as you might expect. The incoming projectiles may have been relatively slow moving, but enemies had a habit of firing at you as they passed close by, or from behind you, a convention that was dialled out of many later shooters. This difficuly was increased further by the movement of ground based enemies, which because of your slow air-to-surface missiles, required you to bomb not where they were, but where they were going to be. This resulted in a very tough game, one that did not allow you to cruise through the hame dodging bullets, you had to destroy as many enemies as possible on every wave in order to progress, simultaneously avoiding incoming aerial waves whilst positioning yourself for bombing runs.

There was also a suprising level of depth to the game, with novel features such as hidden towers that could only be identified by your sights turning red as they passed over them, and the ability to temporarily reduce the difficulty of the game by destroying specific ground targets, which eased off the ferocity of the aerial attack. The enemies ships were also grounded in realism (for a sci-fi fantasy game), as they never tried to collide with your player, but delivered their payload and retreated or flew off to the side of the screen.

There is no real ending to the game, complete all 16 levels and you loop back to level 7, thus the challenge for Xevious masters is for the high score.

Arcade Sequels

A sequel was inevitable, but the resulting Super Xevious game released by Namco in 1984 was more an update than a true sequel, given that much of the game remained identical, with changes being made to the enemy roster and general difficulty level. The original game had so many fans, and with Xevious not having a true “end”, the challenge for experts was not to finish but to reach the maximum score. Super Xevious provided the additional challenge that was craved by these arcade score chasers.

Xevious Arrangement
2 Player Action in Xevious Arrangement

A proper remake would have to wait until 1995 for release, with the brilliant Xevious Arrangement, an arcade game that was also could also be foind on the Sony Playstation 1. This game was a true homage to the original Xevious, with upgraded 2D graphics, more variety in the enemy ships and bosses, and greatly improved music and sound effects. The game also included a 2 player mode, and a true ending following the 16th stage, features missing from the 1982 original.

As well as the classic 2D versions of Xevious, further 3D versions were released, playing like a kind of Starfox on-rails shooter, but with recognisable landscapes and enemy ships. These games are OK, but don’t play like Xevious, being more themed around the original game.

Home Console and Computer Remakes

Due to the huge popularity of the game there were a number of officially licensed home versions, released on various platforms by Atari and Nintendo. The most popular was for the Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom in Japan and the US), which despite the challenging screen dimensions, managed to replicate the arcade gameplay accurately and include all of the major features. Atari attempted and failed to release a version on the 2600 and 5400 consoles, but eventually released the game on 1987 on the less popular Atari 7800.

Xevious had a resurgence in the 1990’s when a version was releaed on the Gameboy Advance, and it can also be found on various Namco compiliation titles.

For completeists, the Playstation title Xevious 3D/G is the one to look out for, having versions of all the 2D originals including excellent Xevious Arrangement, as well as the 3D remakes.

So was Xevious the first proper vertical Shmup?

Despite my preference for Xevious, there were actually a few scrolling shooters released in advance of the Namco classic, including the brilliant Galaxian in 1979. Galaxian featured a scrolling starfield in the background, but only had 2 way player movement, and all the enemies were on the screen at once rather than coming in waves.

Most 80s arcade fans would therefore quote Xevious as being the first game to set the vertical shmup template, and for many 80s gamers it represents the birth of the genre.

Further Reading

See Tony Temple’s excellent history of the development of Xevious on the Arcade Blogger website