Store Manager M – The 6th store manager for the Hey arcade. They’ve been making great efforts to spread word of Hey since taking over, sending out information and exclusive goods that are for sale their via social media.
Store Employee S – A senior staff member that has been around since the arcade opened, who is in charge of the maintenance of various games. Their skills are indispensable to the continued functioning of retro games.
Until We’re The Holy Land Of The Darius Series
Today we’ll be speaking with some staff members of the Hey arcade, which has many different entries in the series setup, and is known as the holy land of the Darius series.
(M) We opened the arcade in 2001, amidst the last vestiges of “electric town”. At that time the home electronics stores were beginning to leave the area.
The entrance of Hey
Was the idea to focus on retro games from the very beginning?
(M) I hear that we were originally not an arcade with video games, but rather crane games. At the time the building was owned by Hirose Radio and Electronics (Hirose Musen Denki), but eventually they stopped selling directly to consumers. So the then empty floor was rented and the arcade was opened up.
Why didn’t the arcade end up being named “Taito Station” like the others?
(M) The owner at the time requested “Hirose” be a part of the name. So the name became “Hirose Entertainment Yard’, or “Hey” for short.
Were retro games brought in immediately after that?
(M) Yes, apparently they were to a certain extent.
(S) Arcade board shops have been around in Akihabara for a long time now, and of course there’s been a lot of traffic from people who like consumer games as well. With that sort of a foundation, at first we tried mixing in both new and old games. And what we found through trial and error, was that games made prior the 1980s weren’t making as much money. Games that had been ported to consoles in the 80s and onward tended to be more popular and made more money.
(M) That’s right around the time when the numbers of big satellite machines started increasing too. We had metal games out at the time as well, and I think we were just kind fumbling around to figure out what customers wanted. I also think that it was that effort that brought out Hey’s distinct characteristics.
My impression is one of it being a specialized place in which you can play all sorts of games, regardless of maker.
(M) Of course we have a certain amount of Taito games, but we’re largely able to experiment in whatever ways we want. Though maybe that’s a bit misleading.
So instead of saying you’ve had no concrete direction, it’s more like you’ve walked alongside your customers in a direction more aimed at their needs.
(M) To be more direct, we just scramble for a market share against other arcades. I think that customers coming in regardless of that fact is something that we’ve been lucky enough to inherit.
It feels like you’ve really established yourselves as a staple of the landscape in Akihabara. There’s a Great Thing (a whale boss from the Darius series) on the outside wall of Hey, how long has that been up for?
(M) It went up in November of 2015. It replaced the Iron Fossil (a coelacanth boss from the Darius series) that we’d had up there until that point.
Was there any particular reason for that?
(M) Vertical banners aren’t particularly durable, and it had to be redyed quite a few times in a 3 to 4 year period. We also started accepting electronic money in July of 2015, so we thought this would be a good way to advertise that (it says it on the sign). At that time the only two shops that accepted electronic money were us and the Taito Station #2 in Akihabara. So it became sort of an allure to anyone who might think “Hey, I can use electronic money there!”, and we switched it over to the current design.
Why did you pick the Great Thing?
(M) That was my choice (Laughs) Of course the Iron Fossil that we’d had before this one is the face of Darius. But I’m glad because this ultimately made us known to everyone as the “Blue Whale Arcade”. If you were trying to describe where to meet before this, you could have said something vague like “at the picture of the giant mechanical fish”. But the “blue whale” acts as more of a symbol, and I think it might be easier to give someone that as a landmark.
And “Coelacanth” isn’t exactly a word you use everyday, is it? (Laughs)
(M) That’s true (Laughs) However, there’s been talk that it may be time to change it up again.
It has been right around 3 to 4 years since you last changed it.
(M) We’re not sure what’s going to go up next, but look forward to seeing it!
That Great Thing isn’t going to be there forever, so those who are interested should go see it while they still can, right?
(M) Yes, please come by and play some games!
We Don’t Know Where, But Getting There Will Be The Hardest Job Of All?
How were you able to get this original Darius cabinet?
(M) It belongs to Taito, and it seems it was the only one that they even still have. We’re the ones borrowing it, but we can hardly monopolize it all of a sudden. So it will disappear from Hey when it’s needed for an event, or game development related activities. We have a lot of customers that think of us when they think of Darius, so we try to keep it in-store as much as possible. It can sometimes be difficult though. If there’s someone who owns one of these that is willing to sell it, we’d love to talk to you about it!
The “Hey Channel” on Niconico streams about the Darius series quite a bit, but have you gotten a big response on that from customers?
(M) Actually Hey has an entry in Nico Nico Pedia, which collects information on accounts of interest that stream. The content there is more detailed than we even know, and everything from happenings during streams to the contents of the streams themselves are listed out there. We make great of use of it ourselves, and are very grateful for it.
(S) We expected some activity from doing this, but we never thought it would go as far as it has.
(M) I think it’s plain to see that watching live streams has gotten much easier than it used to be.
(S) It’s a very big deal that we’re all able to have fun together, since we’re all connected. For Dariusburst: Another Chronicle, people from all over Asia were able to come together and play it through Niconico.
Even if you want to play with four players, it can be a bit tough to get everyone together in-person.
(S) That’s right. Most of the time you can make things work with just two players, but…
(M) There are quite a few people that get together for offline meetups when there’s some kind of an event going on, since Akihabara has its own local flavor.
Even though there are many arcades that use social media, I feel like Hey is very proactive with their use of it. I wonder if that sticks in people’s minds?
(M) We started doing it from a point where no one knew where Hey was. When I took over running it, we’d get several calls per day of people asking us where we were located. People would call saying that they searched for tens of minutes and couldn’t find us, so making up maps was the start of it. So we’re trying to gradually get people’s attention, and then gather feedback from there.
Have the number of those sorts of calls decreased?
(M) Thankfully, we get almost none of them today. So I think that means people are more aware of us now. I recently had someone tell me that they just realized that the place with the crane games that they pass by is actually the back entrance to Hey (Laughs)
Actually your perception of the arcade really might change from the back entrance (Laughs)
(M) Even though if you just go up the stairs there, you’ll be on a floor with video games (Laughs) Even so, that means people are aware of Hey, which is quite a bit of a different situation than before.
Have you gotten any particularly concerning remarks?
(M) We’ve had several, things like how we’re suddenly going into our final act (Laughs) We get good reactions to our selection of retro games, which of course includes Darius. We have games that you don’t usually find other places, so I think is a big element is that people get to talking about games they’ve never seen before.
I assume some of it is talking about games that came out before the person was even born (Laughs)
(M) That’s right. So when something catches their interest and they say “What’s this?”, we like it when that turns into them saying “I’ll just try playing this for a bit…”
You also have a lot of different Darius goods, such as t-shirts and folding fans. Could you share some details about those?
(M) That all started with the former manager selling posters. From there I guess it went to Darius reusable bags.
(S) There are Space Invaders reusable bags sold at a bunch of different Taito locations.
(M) Hey and the Akihabara Taito Station were the only two that sold Darius reusable bags though. I was managing a different location at that point, so I was very jealous of that. And when I said that I wanted my location to have them too, I was told that they were limited only to Akihabara, and tears were shed (Laughs)
Oh come on (Laughs)
(M) And from there is when we started selling the folding fans. I feel that it’s important to use IPs that haven’t been exhausted already when it comes to selling goods. Nowadays MegaRage (a Taito Station arcade/bar) sells them too, but at the time they didn’t. But since these things were only being sold at one location, there wasn’t very much stock. It was less of an issue of us selling out of everything, and more one of us being in trouble if we didn’t. We can’t really maintain a large stock of these goods. Of course we’d love to always have stock available to meet the needs of customers, but…
You are an arcade after all, so you can’t afford to take on such a high level of risk.
(M) Our original aim was to get many, or even just a single customer to come into Hey. If we stood out as a result, then that was fine too. Regardless, it was because the arcade was in a state where people didn’t even know where it was. The priority is on getting the knowledge of our arcade out there, and getting some new customers in. We get requests from customers that want us to sell certain goods, but that put us in a bit of a difficult situation. But letting people who come all the way to us play and games and buy goods makes us very happy. If we don’t continue that pattern though, it will be difficult for us to sell more goods in the future.
I’m guessing a lot of tourists from overseas stop in at your arcade?
(S) Yes. We are a bit of a tourist attraction in which a lot of people bring their whole families with them to. But on the other hand, we also get a lot of people in that just play silently by themselves.
Having a lot of customers from overseas seems like it would result in some communication problems.
(S) Those who have planned in advanced to come into Hey often communicate with their smart phones, and plenty of them are proficient in Japanese.
Are there any particular countries that more visitors tend to come in from?
(S) I feel like most foreign visitors that come in and play video games are western.
(M) It feels like visitors from other parts of Asia tend to play crane or prize games, and not so much video games. I also get the impression that those who come in and play video games have that as one of the aims of their trip.
The Relationship Between Hey And The Darius Series
What has the Darius series become to your arcade?
(M) There’s an unmistakable image that Hey = Darius, and we don’t want that to go away. We try to have as many entries in the series available as we can, and want to continue to provide an environment for everyone to be able to play them in. We’re also praying that next year will be the year that Darius III finally releases (Laughs)
Ah, the famous phrase from Darius II (Laughs) (There’s an ending in Darius II that says Darius III will be coming “next year”)
(M) It’s a series that has a long history for Taito. All of us here hope that they make another sequel, and that they aim to to make it an IP that lasts for 100 years without going away. If it doesn’t keep bringing in new fans, then there might be no future for Hey, after all. If our goods and social media presence help make that happen, then that’s great. I believe it’s our mission to convey the history of this series. The original Darius is a rather unique cabinet, and the big problem is that I’m honestly not sure how long it will be able to last.
Just as I thought, is the supply of parts and maintenance getting to be sources of difficulty?
(S) The original joysticks have been on the Darius cabinet since it was setup at Hey, but they’ve started getting pretty beat up as of late. So new Seimitsu joysticks are going to be manufactured for the cabinet, and we’re going to replace them with those.
It seems like degradation of the board and the body-sonic seat, as well as the parts supply are going to become more and more problematic over time.
(M) I honestly think that we wouldn’t have been able to do anything to prevent any of those things.
Keeping it around could also become more difficult even just from the CRT monitors failing.
(S) Currently there is still somewhat of a market for those, but in the future it may just be LCD monitors. In regards to Darius’ display, problems with the orientation of the monitors during output will occur because of the mirror inversion. Even if you feed it through a converter, I suspect you’ll introduce lag. It’s a difficult problem to solve.
(M) This is an issue with all retro games. Is it better to not have them as they were meant to be in order to just be able to play them? Actually we’re long past the point where anyone expected these retro games to still be up and running.
(S) They’re being pushed beyond their limits in order to be able to keep playing them past the point that their makers expected them to last. I believe we can produce spare parts using 3D printers, but we can only do that while there are still original parts left to model them after…
(M) Given that we’re an arcade, we can’t stay in business if we don’t have money coming in. We can’t really have exhibitions like a museum, or anything like that. So we’d like for everyone to play these games while they still can.
Lastly, please give us a message for all of the fans of the Darius series out there.
(S) We’re praying that one day all of the 100 yen coins that you’ve put into Darius machines will be responsible for a sequel.
(M) Our job is to help you have fun playing games. And in doing so, we’d like to continue to be the type of arcade that people say “Let’s go to Hey and play some Darius!” about. We’d love it if everyone would continue on with the enthusiasm they’ve shown with our streams and goods so far!