Movie tie-ins from arcade’s past – Star Wars Arcade

Sega’s dual-seater cab featured a unique co-op setup: instead of one player flying and shooting all on their own, it was possible to have one player pilot the fighter and the other player handle all of the shooting.

Atari wasn’t the only company to see dollar signs in Star Wars’ arcade presence and later years saw a number of creative efforts emerge such as this unique cabinet straight from Japan.

Years ago I vaguely remember playing this but only recently discovered just how rare this was outside of Japan. It never really made it out of the country in massive numbers though the size of the cabinet and the possible price for it likely made it unappealing to arcade owners who didn’t have bottomless pockets or endless floor space in the early 90s. For most players, the 32X port on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive would be the only exposure many would have to this rare arcade adaptation. Or many others would assume that arcade-wise, Star Wars hopped from Atari’s Return of the Jedi and straight into Sega’s follow-up to this cab with Star Wars Trilogy in ’98.

The game was built on top of Sega’s Model 1 board which was intended to be a polygonal powerhouse and would establish Sega as a leader in bringing true 3D graphics to the arcade, an impression arguably aided by another game using the same hardware — Virtua Fighter.

According to System 16 and Sega Retro, Sega approached General Electric Aerospace (a division of the monolithic mega-corporation, General Electric) around 1991 and 1992. GE Aerospace was later sold in ’92 to another defense industry titan, Martin Marietta, who later merged with Lockheed forming Lockheed Martin today.

GE Aerospace was also a government contractor specializing in some serious hardware such as satellites and warship radar systems.They were even working on elements of the Space Defense Initiative, or SDI, such as spy satellites and space-based missile defense systems. Incidentally, the nickname for SDI was “Star Wars”.

The company was also in the business of building simulations which Sega was interested in for its planned push into 3D. And what better way to get a leg up on everyone else at the time by going to a company whose portfolio included creating 3D simulations as a part of the aerospace and defense industry. Sega wanted to bring that into the arcades and sought help from GE Aerospace to build a CG platform to make that possible, eventually rolling the fruits of their labor into the Model 1.

The Model 1 was a powerhouse boasting 180k polygons per second, a graphics co-processor (the Fujitsu TGP MB86233 Floating Point Unit rated at 16 MFLOPS — ), could render 1.2 million pixels per second, and had a resolution of 496×284 featuring 65536 colors. For sound, it used two Sega MultiPCM Custom 28 channel PCM chips and one for effects. Sound timing was handled by an old reliable — a Yamaha YM3834. All this contained inside a setup consisting of a massive 50″ rear-projection monitor in its own cabinet with the two cockpit-styled seats linked up separately.

The game, developed with Lucasarts, covered the final battle at Endor in Return of the Jedi with four levels – fighting off TIE fighters while surrounded by Star Destroyers and asteroids, flying into a Super Star Destroyer to blow up its engines, skimming the surface of the Death Star blowing up turrets and more TIEs, and then flying through the inside of the Death Star II to destroy its core.

That's no moon, that's a giant low-poly space station!

(Sega 32X version) That’s no moon, that’s a giant low-poly space station!

Each stage was timed and with the exception of the Super Star Destroyer and Death Star II core attack, required a quota of TIEs to be destroyed within a time limit. Players also had to watch their shields which could only take so many hits.

Everything was played from first-person. Players could speed up and slow down and had some limited movement around the playing field. If you’re going into this expecting the kind of responsive controls from Origin’s Wing Commander or Lucasarts’ X-Wing, think again. Unlike Atari’s Star Wars which largely guided the player on rails with a very limited range of movement allowing them to focus on shooting things, Star Wars Arcade allowed the player to move about and shoot things at the same time even though it felt as if you were tied to only one plane (horizontal) of movement.

Technical effects included 3D realized starscapes such as the guts of a Super Star Destroyer to the surface of the Death Star II coupled with music from the films and a few voice samples created plenty of atmosphere. The game could also be tough — getting that quota of TIEs within a time limit, dodging turret fire spewing into your path inside the Super Star Destroyer, and trying not to smash yourself into the innards of the Death Star II ensured players continually fed the expensive machine plenty of quarters and tokens.

The game also came out for the 32X in 1994 as a launch title. The 32X add-on for the Genesis was expected to expand its capabilities, though its success in extending the life of the system as a stopgap was mixed. Even Tom Kalinske, then-head of Sega of America at the time, was leery about the device. On paper, it sounded like a great idea for players eager to jump onto the 32-bit bandwagon. Rushing it into production, the weak library that resulted as third-parties proved hesitant in supporting it, and the perception of having to buy yet another add-on after the lukewarm reception of the Sega CD (especially when the Saturn was launching in ’94 in Japan and was expected to arrive in NA shortly afterward) just piled onto the woes that the 32X was forced to face. “Why support something like this when the ‘real’ machine is coming next year?” was a question that more than a few gamers like myself in the West were asking in the 32X’s wake.

That said, the titles that did come out gave us an idea of what it really could do. Star Wars Arcade’s port was almost exactly like that of its rear-projection screened cousin featuring big polys, great sound, music, and plenty of action. It also featured far more than the four levels of the arcade version along with a “Training” start to get the player acclimated to the controls with a few simple challenges. It gave players two choices — the 32X version featuring expanded levels or the four-level Arcade version.

The 32X version (which, unfortunately, inherited the sluggish flight controls from the arcade), also featured the Lucasarts logo following Sega’s and featured eight levels that included all of the arcade levels including more stages with quotas of TIEs to destroy. It even had the Death Star trench run, though that didn’t do much to help mitigate the repetitive “quotas” that players had to shoot through with the additional levels.

The 32X version also had a chase camera mode that players could switch to.

The 32X version also had a chase camera mode that players could switch to.

Failing Star Wars Arcade on the 32X brought you to this screen with Vader mocking you from the Dark Side.

Failing Star Wars Arcade on the 32X brought you to this screen with Vader mocking you from the Dark Side.

Finishing the game, a freeze frame showing Luke and Han standing at attention in the awards ceremony from the end of Star Wars: A New Hope (even though the 32X version covered the destruction of both Death Stars I and II) was displayed with a parade of still following afterwards during the credits. Finally, a ghostly Ben Kenobi and Yoda would bid farewell to the player by saying that the Force would be with them always.

In a number of ways, Star Wars Arcade followed, and then filled in the wireframes of, Atari’s Star Wars with its special effects and high end hardware. It was also a pretty rare beast in the arcades, especially in the West where it trickled out, which made its home version far more popular. The Model 1 was also an expensive piece of hardware for Sega to manufacture further limiting the number of games that they built around it before moving on. But it helped plant a low poly 3D flag for Sega in the arcades paving the way into the living room.

Star Wars Arcade might not have been the most memorable title in the Star Wars universe, at least as its “arcade” version goes, but it wasn’t that terrible, either, and did its best to continue the kind of bombastic presence that the films delivered to theaters by delivering a little of Sega’s own “Industrial Light & Magic” to players.

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