Electro-mechanical (EM) games were electronic arcade games that predated and were similar to arcade video games, but relied on electro-mechanical components to produce sounds or images rather than a cathode ray tube (CRT) screen.
These were popular during the electro-mechanical golden age of the 1960s and 1970s, but video games eventually overtook them in popularity during the golden age of arcade video games that began with Space Invaders in 1978.
Electro-mechanical golden age
The electro-mechanical golden age began with the 1959 arcade hit Mini Drive, a racing game where the player used a steering wheel to control a miniature car across a scrolling conveyor belt inside an arcade cabinet. It was manufactured by Kasco (Kansei Seiki Seisakusho) and became a hit in Japan.
Periscope, was released by Namco in 1965, and then by SEGA in 1966. Periscope revived the North American arcade industry in the late 1960s. The game was cloned by Midway as Sea Raider (1969) and Sea Devil (1970). Midway later adapted it into an arcade video game, Sea Wolf (1976).
Video projection games
In the late 1960s, Japanese arcade manufacturers Kasco and SEGA introduced a new type of electro-mechanical game, video projection games. They were similar to, and anticipated, arcade video games, using rear video image projection to display moving animations on a video screen. Video projection games became common in arcades of the 1970s. They combined electro-mechanical and video elements, laying the foundations for arcade video games, which adapted cabinet designs and gameplay mechanics from earlier video projection games.
Indy 500 was a rear-projection racing game designed by Kenzou Furukawa. It used rear image projection to display a first-person scrolling track on a video screen, along with rival cars the player needs to avoid crashing into, while the controls consisted of a steering wheel and accelerator pedal. It became a hit in Japan, selling 2,000 cabinets there, and inspired several clones in 1969, including SEGA's Grand Prix and Chicago Coin's Speedway, which became an even bigger hit in North America, selling 10,000 cabinets there and winning a prize. Indy 500 laid the foundations for racing video games.
In the late 1960s, SEGA developed Jet Rocket, which eventually released in 1970, and was cloned shortly after by three Chicago manufacturers. It featured shooting and flight movement in a 3D environment from a first-person perspective, a precursor to first-person vehicle combat video games such as Battlezone (1980) and Hovertank 3D (1991), and the first-person shooter video game genre.
In 1974, Nintendo released Wild Gunman. It was the first interactive movie game, and the first game to use full motion video (FMV). The quick time event (QTE) mechanic also has origins in Wild Gunman. Alternate film footage was played depending on the player's quick draw reaction. It paved the way for later QTE laserdisc video games. In the 1970s, Kasco released a hit electro-mechanical arcade game with live-action FMV, projecting car footage filmed by Toei.
In 1975, Kasco released the first holographic 3-D game, Gun Smoke, a light gun shooter. It was a hit in Japan, selling 6,000 cabinets there, but only 750 cabinets were sold in the US. It was followed by two more holographic Kasco gun games, Samurai and Bank Robber, released between 1975 and 1977, as well as a 1976 Midway clone, Top Gun. They predated the first holographic video games, SEGA's Time Traveler (1991) and Holosseum (1992).
Following the release of Pong in 1972, arcade video games began competing with electro-mechanical games in the arcades. The gradual shift was not abrupt, as early arcade video games were largely modelled after earlier video projection games, which continued to thrive up until the 1978 video game Space Invaders, which dealt a powerful blow to electro-mechanical games. Kasco, one of the biggest electro-mechanical arcade manufacturers at the time, declined due to its reluctance to make the transition to arcade video games. The 1978 release of Space Invaders marked the end of the electro-mechanical golden age, and the beginning of the golden age of arcade video games.
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