Now it’s time to speak with Minoru Ikeda, the owner of the arcade “Mikado” located in Tokyo’s Takadanobaba area. Ikeda was first attracted to arcade shooting games by Xevious. He talked with us about the history of shooting games and arcades from the dark days of shooters to the present, and the allure and future of shooting games from the perspective of the arcade.
Mikado’s Owner is a Raiden Clone Enthusiast!?
I’d like to start by asking about the arcade that you run, Mr. Ikeda. How long have you been running it for?
(Ikeda) I managed an arcade on Kabukicho in Shinjuku before this. Eventually I thought about starting something of my own, so I opened my own company in 2004. But I didn’t have the funds to do this kind of thing right away, so I started out making soundtrack CDs and strategy DVDs. Around 2006 I was able to purchase space for a store, and that was the start what’s now Mikado. In 2009 the building I was in was sold, so I had to relocate. In looking for a new location I found this one.
Were you keeping these old nostalgic shooting games running from the time you worked in that arcade in Shinjuku?
(Ikeda) I was. I’ve been obsessed with video games ever since I was a kid. I got into Xevious and started frequenting arcades, then some time after that I started collecting arcade boards. When I started my own arcade, I couldn’t really afford many brand new and expensive boards as a small business. So I made use of the old boards that I had, and that’s why Mikado focuses on those sorts of games.
Which arcade shooters are the most interesting to you, Mr. Ikeda?
(Ikeda) This is going to sound a little obsessive, but after Raiden was released a lot of other game companies released clones of it: Thunder Dragon, Mad Shark, etc. They disappeared from arcades almost immediately, they weren’t ported to anything, and there aren’t many boards left in existence. Those are the kinds of shooting games that I really like.
One important point is that you can still play those games at Mikado, right? But what about the dark days of shooters, from the time that fighting games took over their popularity?
(Ikeda) I’ve actually been asked this by developer friends before. In the era that a location test for a new fighting game would make over 30,000 yen per day, I started jumping at shadows and wondering “Can I afford to buy the board if it doesn’t make 30,000 yen in a day?” about Raiden II for example. And it seemed like they were making the games more and more difficult. But I think that everyone involved in making shooting games back then was suffering equally.
But nowadays it’s understood that shooting games have a steady fan base, right?
(Ikeda) That’s right. But back then things weren’t as separated, so I think shooters were really at a disadvantage. In those dark days, the only places that brought in new shooters had owners that loved shooting games, or regular customers that competed for high scores in them. And this is apropos of nothing, but apparently Raiden II’s “Salaryman Laser” is an in-game depiction of the mentality used by men when aiming for the urinal freshener while doing their business.
That’s a very amusing story (Laughs).
The Dark Days of Shooting Games, Supported by High Score-ers and Salary Men
You’ve told us the story of the “Salaryman Laser”, but what supported shooting games when everyone was worried about their sales?
(Ikeda) High Score-ers supported them. Several generations old copies of video tapes would circulate between enthusiasts, and they’d exchange information through the notebooks found in arcades, where they would write things like “Someone cleared Raiden II at such-and-such arcade!”. Salarymen still regularly putting coins into them also helped a lot. You could say that the big reason that Touhou Project came about was because of this period for shooters. The current generation of young shooter fans got into them through Touhou, and I think a lot of them also recognized the same sorts of patterns in Cave games as well. And a lot of them are even going back and playing games like Battle Garegga and Gradius.
Do a lot of High Score-ers come to Mikado?
(Ikeda) Yes. Some of them are very earnestly playing for the top scores in the country, and some of them are playing because they want to clear games that they weren’t able to clear when they were young. Nowadays there aren’t many new shooting games released for arcades. So there are a lot of players who come to Mikado to play older games that they tried back when they came out, and haven’t quite gotten out of their minds. It seems that they notice that they’re surprisingly interesting once they play them again. We distribute game play footage at Mikado in order to convey how much fun these games are, but we also purposefully show more unrefined play from those who see other replays and want to start playing a game themselves. When you see nothing but super high level play, it often ends in someone thinking “That’s amazing!”, and that’s it. In this way, I think shooting is a genre that really shows players how to have fun with it.
Shooting games have been thriving on the indie scene since the introduction of Touhou, so do you have any expectations in regards to that?
(Ikeda) All manner of game creators making shooters is nothing but good for the revitalization of that scene, if you ask me. It’s important for the creators doing this to love shooters, but those who don’t will probably be weeded out naturally as the genre revitalizes. But I think there’s a possibility of high quality games coming from that, so I hope that many of those games will be reverse-ported to arcades, and released for consumers on Steam, PlayStation 4, etc.
Recently a reverse-port to arcades was announced for the smart phone game “Aka to Blue”, and it’s quite the hot topic isn’t it?
(Ikeda) It is. I’m actually already helping set up “Aka to Blue” using exA-Arcadia, but I feel that this is related to more high quality games being back-ported to arcades. From there I think creators will separate things they want to make from things that will sell, and it will be up to them to balance between the two.
The amount of arcades is decreasing, but would you like to see arcades increase to numbers like they were in the 1990s?
(Ikeda) Of course I would. Video games are a low-risk high-reward business. For example, you buy a “Shanghai” board for 20,000 yen. If it makes 3,000 yen a day, that’s 20,000 yen in just one week. Just recently we had a location test for “Aka to Blue Type-R” at Mikado, and it made about 12,000 yen per day day. I think the price of the board is about 200,000 yen, but if you make that much in a day you’ll already have made up half your cost within a week. So it’s all very feasible as a business. These days there aren’t many games that will bring in 12,000 yen per day. So shooters are still in demand, and I’ve come to feel that they have life in them once again.
It seems like there are people who just got into shooting games on smart phones with “Aka to Blue”, who now want to go to arcades to play that version as well.
(Ikeda) If that’s what does the trick, great. Going to an arcade is a very straightforward experience, because all you have to do is just come in and put in some money to play. So I think that everyone will eventually come back to them. Because if that doesn’t happen, arcades can’t continue to operate.
You’re planning on having some new games running using the exA-Arcadia, right?
(Ikeda) Four titles have been announced as of right now, and we’re planning for up to 20 titles. It’s tough for arcades as small businesses right now, but it would be great if the exA-Arcade project can make running arcades a little more affordable, so that they can make more of a profit. I also think that arcades should start getting involved in content creation themselves from now on. If they don’t, neither arcades nor shooters will have much of a future.