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Home / Features / Beyond Space Invaders: why preserving forgotten arcade games matters

Beyond Space Invaders: why preserving forgotten arcade games matters

The latest two Quarter Arcades are obscure fare. But their creators believe these games deserve as much attention as retrogaming giants

Zoo Keeper and Elevator Action Quarter Arcades

Since 2018, Numskull Designs has created quarter-sized playable replicas of arcade legends, including Pac-ManTeenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBubble Bobble and Space Invaders, thereby preserving these games in a manner beyond mere emulation. Next up: Zoo Keeper and Elevator Action.

Now, those latest titles might elicit a shrug. Chances are, you barely know either of them. Even many retro enthusiasts aren’t intimately familiar with them. Which begs the question: why bother?

Stuff quizzed Numskull Designs creative director Karl Mizen to find out why the company thinks it’s important to preserve more than just the most famous retrogaming giants.

Taito Quarter Arcades – arcade games now preserved, including their artwork
Beyond the big guns: the Quarter Arcades line is now also preserving obscure Taito arcade games.

Why should companies do more to preserve lesser-known arcade games?

Karl: Arcade history goes deeper than Pac-Man and Space Invaders. Preserving lesser-known titles ensures diverse, unique threads of gaming history are celebrated and remembered – not just blockbuster hits. And such games offer distinct experiences the giants cannot replicate, which sparks curiosity and interest among enthusiasts.

How do you decide which games make the cut?

Our collaboration with publishers with diverse and rich catalogues lets us go beyond the obvious hits. With Taito, starting with Space Invaders was a natural fit. But we can now explore equally fascinating lesser-known games.

Several factors influence our choices. A key one is access to the original machine to ensure authenticity – especially for artwork. This can be a bottleneck for lesser-known games, because original machines are rare and publisher-provided resources are scant.

Elevator Action and Zoo Keeper quarter arcades
Quarter Arcades, in a quarter-scale arcade, complete with a quarter-scale, er, radiator. That’s attention to detail.

So with arcade titles, you feel a sense of duty to preserve more than just the game?

Our mission goes beyond gameplay – it encompasses the entire arcade experience, including meticulous artwork and cab design. The fidelity of these elements is crucial for authenticity and historical preservation. 

There’s often artistic and engineering genius in old cabinets, which deserves more recognition. And our work frequently uncovers designs and artworks that past reproductions have misrepresented. By ensuring our replicas are as faithful to the original cabinets as possible, we honour and preserve the legacy of the games and their physical embodiments.

Are there any details that stood out when making Zoo Keeper and Elevator Action?

An interesting aspect of recreating these games was the challenge of replicating the light-up instructions feature. This was a common element in early arcade games, providing players with gameplay hints directly on the cabinet. By including this in our replicas, players can step back in time and enjoy the games as they were meant to be played. It’s a small but significant detail that’s crucial to preserving the authenticity of these games.

Zoo Keeper instructions
Fine details: even the instructions light up. Not that any gamers read instructions, ever.

Finally, for people who’ve never experienced them, why are these two arcade games worth playing and preserving?

They’re great examples of Taito’s innovative spirit during the 1980s arcade boom. Zoo Keeper is a unique, quirky platform game that has you keeping zoo animals in check. Elevator Action combines spy-themed action, novel gameplay mechanics with elevators, and strategic movement. Both showcase the creative diversity and playful, inventive game design that characterised the early days of arcade gaming.

Zoo Keeper and Elevator Action are available for pre-order and expected to ship in October 2024.

Profile image of Craig Grannell Craig Grannell Contributor

About

I’m a regular contributor to Stuff magazine and Stuff.tv, covering apps, games, Apple kit, Android, Lego, retro gaming and other interesting oddities. I also pen opinion pieces when the editor lets me, getting all serious about accessibility and predicting when sentient AI smart cookware will take over the world, in a terrifying mix of Bake Off and Terminator.

Areas of expertise

Mobile apps and games, Macs, iOS and tvOS devices, Android, retro games, crowdfunding, design, how to fight off an enraged smart saucepan with a massive stick.

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