One of the biggest — as in physically massive — arcade shooters I’ve ever played was Namco’s Galaxian III. I only found out years later that it was actually the smaller version of the one that came out in 1990 which was based as more of a theme park attraction. The downsized ‘arcade’ version was released in 1994.
Namco’s Galaxian III, as it existed in its initial form in 1990, was a titanic setup seating up to 28 people (which was later could be configured down to 16 people) in a 360 degree ring facing outwards toward a wall on which the actual game was projected with 16 projectors. The gaming area was also on hydraulics, probably to mimic the movement of the ship itself. It’s like that Star Tours ride over at Disney MGM, a mobile theater that pitched and moved to the onscreen action only this time, you could shoot at the stuff coming at you.
The idea was that everyone was a gunner covering their part of the ship as it flew by rail toward the final objective. It was a far, far cry from the kind of classic Galaxian we knew in the arcades. This was a game that was crammed with its own storyline, voice-overs calling out mission status and enemies onscreen, and first-person gunnery action with a literal crew of players.
Darth Nuno, over at his shrine to the arcade goodness of the past, Dragon’s Lair Fans, even has a number of pics in a thread on his forum showing the game such as this one displaying the seating arrangement for the 28 person version:
The arcade version was a six-person mini-theater type attraction instead of the monster one shown above and that came out in 1994 to the tune of $150,000 USD. It was far from being a cheap investment for arcade owners, especially during the 90s when arcades began dying out with the rise of consoles and PC gaming bringing a lot of that cutting edge experience home. The only place I remember playing the six-person version was probably around Las Vegas, the same with Sega’s R360, and it took more than the loose change in my pockets to play it.
In the six-person game, everyone sat at their own “turret” and as the ship automatically flew along its pre-determined path, shot at everything on the giant projection screen in front of them.
A big cinematic introduced players to a do-or-die mission against an alien fleet and a doomsday weapon that could destroy the Earth. The mission followed the ship as it piloted its way through space and an armada of danger on its way to the enemy superweapon. For an on-rails shooter, it was really fun stuff — just crazy expensive to get your foot into the theater.
Galaxian 3: Attack of the Zolgear had also come out in 1994 as a conversion kit for the arcade theater version of Galaxian 3, this time pitting players against a massive alien creature.
What was notable about Galaxian 3 was the use of 3D polys to create the vast space battles and explosive action painting the massive projection in front of players, something that Nintendo’s own Star Fox in 1993 on the SNES would later boast of and amaze its own audience with in the same way.
Namco would later smoosh the game down even further bringing it out for the Playstation as Galaxian 3: Project Dragoon in 1995 with support for up to four players and it would be part of what would be a Galaxian III trilogy of sorts (which included Attack of the Zolgear). Another Galaxian 3 game, The Rising of Gourb, was included as a bonus with the port taking place after the events of Project Dragoon.
Today, you could probably snag a copy of the Playstation version of Galaxian 3: Project Dragoon from online auction sites like Ebay or trade with other players at forums keeping the series alive at places like Dragon’s Lair Fans.
Namco’s Starblade which resembles something of a Galaxian 3-lite to a large extent down to the polygon ships, mission-centric voices, and storyline of a planet busting weapon, apparently can be found without as much trouble as an arcade cab, Playstation port, and on the Wii and iOS mobiles as a downloadable port.
Namco tried to do something radically different by making it more than a simple “arcade shooter.” By betting big on both a memorable name and a visionary take on creating a virtual ship for would-be space heroes to fly into space with, it’s one of those rare atmospheric shooters that does its best to pull you right into the gunner’s seat by doing things few others in its genre often do — by trying to wrap things up inside a lush, storied universe in the same way that titles like Technosoft’s Thunder Force V does.