Coin-Op Cubicles: Types of Arcade Cabinets
History was made in 1971 when future Atari founders Ted Dabney and Nolan Bushwell produced Computer Space, the first ever arcade game.
Equally as notable as the game itself was the machine it was housed in: a funky, futuristic cabinet that looked like it had materialized straight out of a sci-fi film.
That design set a precedent for the classic arcade look. As arcade games boomed in the 70s and 80s, a variety of cabinet styles emerged to accommodate unique game styles and to give players—and vendors—more options.
Upright cabinets, sometimes referred to as “standard” cabinets, are what most people envision when they imagine an arcade. They generally stand at about six feet tall and are made of wood and metal. Eye-catching artwork advertising the game decorates the sides and top of the machine.
Upright cabinets comprise the vast majority of arcade games in North America. They are the icons of the arcade era as a whole, especially the golden age during the 70s and 80s.
Many of the most famous and beloved arcade games come in upright models, including Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Street Fighter, and Punch-Out!!.
A variety of control configurations exist for upright cabinets, including:
- Joystick: The most common controllers. Joysticks are usually accompanied by buttons that serve to start the game.
- Paddle: First used with Pong (1972), these controllers have knobs that allow players to move horizontally or vertically along one axis. Also seen with Breakout (1976).
- Trackball: A touch-sensitive ball that players roll to move around. Appears with many early 80s Atari games, including Atari Football, Centipede, Missile Command, and Marble Madness.
- Steering Wheel: Used with—you guessed it—racing games. Functions similarly to paddles, where the wheel acts as the “knob.” Atari’s Gran Trak 10 (1974) was the first game to feature a steering wheel (plus a gas pedal).
- Light Guns: Used in… drumroll… shooting games. Sega’s 1966 submarine shooter Periscope was one of the earliest light gun games; however, it wasn’t until the 80s and 90s that they became commonplace. Popular light gun games include Duck Hunt, Hogan’s Alley, Lethal Enforcers, Virtua Cop, and Time Crisis.
A cocktail cabinet, or table cabinet, consists of a small, glass-covered table that houses a game. Unlike upright cabinets, they are intended to be played while sitting. The design of cocktail cabinets makes it so that drinks can be set down while playing—hence the name. As one would expect, they’re most prominent in bars and restaurants.
Games are usually designed to accommodate two players sitting at opposite ends of the table. This element, along with the overhead view of the screen, makes cocktail cabinets a more communal experience than upright models. People can gather around to watch players compete against each other with a convenient place to rest their drinks.
Cocktail cabinets were often released alongside upright versions of the same game in the 70s and 80s. They are far less common today, but some of the classics can still be seen in pubs. Examples of games with cocktail models include Space Invaders, Galaxian, Pac-Man, Warlords, Rally-X, Defender, and Zaxxon.
Cabaret cabinets, sometimes called mini cabinets or just “minis,” are smaller, more compact versions of upright cabinets. They allow arcade and restaurant owners to fit more games into a limited space, and their reduced size makes them more accessible to small children. Like upright cabinets, they usually support 1-2 players.
Atari coined the term "cabaret" and made many of their major titles available in the form, including Asteroids, Centipede, Battlezone, Tempest, and Dig Dug. Other games with cabaret cabinets include Galaxian, Pac-Man, Robotron: 2084, Zaxxon, and Out Run.
A less common variant than previous entries, countertop/tabletop/bartop (no company could seem to come to a consensus on the official designation) cabinets are compact machines that typically consist of only a monitor and a control panel. They are small enough to rest on top of a counter or table, making them an ideal option for places short on floor space.
Games in this cabinet style are often in the trivia, puzzle, or gambling genre. As such, they are most commonly found in places like bars, pubs, taverns, and lounges. Companies who manufactured these cabinets include Merit Industries, Exidy, Greyhound Electronics, and Leland. Some home consoles, such as Nintendo’s PlayChoice-10 (1986), came in countertop styles as well.
Coleco sold home versions of popular arcade games, called “mini arcades,” in the 1980s that resembled countertop cabinets, only even smaller (often functioning as handheld devices). Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, and Frogger were among the titles they distributed in this “mini arcade” format.
Candy cabinets prioritize function over form, a principle that has carried them far in the arcade world. They are scarce in the West but exceedingly common in the East, especially Japan. They first appeared in the 1990s and remain the norm for most dedicated Japanese arcades today.
The major difference between candy cabinets and upright cabinets is that candy cabinets are designed to host a variety of games rather than one specific title. Whereas an upright Asteroids cabinet can only play Asteroids, a candy cabinet functions more like an empty apparatus that can play many different games. This is reflected in their sleek, simple look—a stark contrast from the busy artwork plastered across western upright cabinets.
Some candy cabinets, such as the Taito Egret II, have monitors that can be easily rotated by one person. Thus, if someone wants to switch from a game optimized for horizontal play to one best played at a vertical orientation, they don’t need to lug another screen in or switch to a different cabinet—they can simply rotate the monitor of the cab they’re already sitting at.
Some say candy cabinets were named for their plastic exterior’s resemblance to hard candy. More likely, though, the term originates from SNK’s Candy models released in the 80s and 90s. The Candy 18 and Candy 25 were among the earliest and most prominent cabinets of their type, as well as the first to be widely exported to the west.
SNK, Sega, Taito, Jaleco, and Konami manufactured many of the most popular candy cabinets. Notable models include:
- Sega Aero City (1988)
- Taito Egret II (1996)
- Jaleco Pony line of models (1993-96)
- Konami Windy II (1997)
Deluxe cabinets are just what they sound like—larger-scale, more extravagant machines than seen in standard upright models. They expanded the idea of what arcade games could do.
Deluxe cabinets paved the way for the arcade racer genre, with Sega at the helm. Their 1985 game Hang-On was the first of its kind: a motion-controlled, motorcycle-shaped machine that required players to lean to the left and right to steer their on-screen vehicle. The innovative racer was met with great acclaim.
Yu Suzuki, the game's lead designer, was responsible for a number of other iconic titles, including Space Harrier, Out Run, After Burner, and Virtua Racing.
Suzuki's success inspired similar racers, such as Namco’s Ridge Racer (1993) and Midway’s Cruis’n USA (1994). However, Sega is still the dominant manufacturer of such titles. Power Drift, Super Monaco GP, Daytona USA, and Sega Rally Championship are a few other deluxe games under their belt.
Deluxe cabinets most commonly house games in the racing and flight simulator genres, but a few exceptions exist. The 1994 Jurassic Park arcade game, for example, is a shooter that puts players in the seat of a cabinet modeled after the vehicles in the movie.
Cockpit cabinets, sometimes called environmental cabinets, are essentially variations of deluxe cabinets taken to new heights. They are designed to enclose the player within the cabinet itself, usually through the addition of an overhead roof and back wall.
What makes cockpit games so unique is the level of simulation and immersion they provide. Stepping into the colossal contraption almost feels akin to entering a virtual reality lab from a sci-fi movie. They aim to be not just a game, but an experience. For this reason, cockpit cabinets are best suited for shooters, racers, and simulators in general.
Exidy’s Star Wars-inspired shooter Star Fire (1979) was the first game with a cockpit cabinet, marketed in flyers as “the amusement industry’s first TOTAL ENVIRONMENT video game.” Several years later, an actual Star Wars game took on the cockpit style: Atari’s Star Wars (1983).
The 80s saw a number of other successful cockpit cabinet games, including Missile Command, Turbo, Discs of Tron, Sinistar, and Pole Position II.
Due to the costs involved and the overall decline of arcade games' popularity over time, modern cockpit cabinets are rare.
One recent release that has thrived is Luigi’s Mansion Arcade (2015), based on the 3DS game Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. The game takes full advantage of its cabinet style: the interior resembles an actual spooky mansion, haunted paintings and all, and the controllers emulate Luigi’s trademark Poltergust vacuum used to suck up ghosts. The video below showcases these elements along with gameplay footage.