Today we will have a look at a particularly rare and interesting arcade machine.
This is a Polyplay arcade cabinet, which has been manufactured only in 1985-89 in Eastern Germany, and very few of them have remained in playable condition. The one I was playing is located in the Museum of Computer Games in Berlin (computerspielemuseum.de) and is installed in a part of the museum, devoted to gaming in GDR.
Eastern Germany has got its unique home computing and videogaming scene, particularly because of it being influenced by USSR and not many consumer electronics were sold there in such quantities as in other parts of Europe and in United States.
This machine is typically “GDR-ish”: it looks a bit simplistic, in comparison to other arcade cabinets of its era; internally it is based on Soviet computer hardware (i. e., Z80 microprocessor clone); it features not one but whopping 8 games, all of them with simple “ZX-Spectrumish” graphics and most are “inspired by” popular arcade games which were flourishing in other parts of the world, - in other words, they look like clones of them. The video resolution 512x256 might seem OK, until you realize that the game screen is split into large blocks of pixels, and there is no smooth sprite movement like in console versions of the games. Instead, the hardware is limited to displaying text and letter-size sprites, like in many home computers of the era, so the images can move just by those grids – either 8 pixels forward, or 8 pixels backwards and so on and no way to move a sprite on 1 pixel distance. If you have ever played on ZX Spectrum, Apple Iie, VIC 20 or something like that, you know what I mean.
Originally, one play costed 50 pfennings. But this particular arcade machine has been modified to be played for free: a push of a red button is needed to emulate dropping a coin into the coin slot of the machine.
The other clearly visible modification in the machine is its monitor, which is by any means not an original one, because it is LCD! This may be both a good thing and a bad thing: a good thing because it makes colors more crisp and overall more good-looking image, but the bad thing is that it is a step down from keeping the machine’s look as close to the original as possible. But anyway, this is much better than throwing the whole cabinet into waste because it is “broken and outdated”. Who knows, how many of them are still left?
What about joystick, you ask? Now PolyPlay machine features a Competition Pro-style arcade stick, which is quite comfortable to use, although it tends to break every once in a while, and this time was no exception. The day I was playing the joystick was hard to turn straight right – so the gameplay is screwed up a little bit in the following video footages. All the footage were filmed in Computerspielemuseum.
The videos do not feature the best possible gameplay, but they are enough to get the idea of every game which is in the machine. There are overall 8 games, although the machine was first designed with 12 games in mind. These games are interchangeable and other Polyplay arcade cabinets might feature two other games, which are not listed here.
- Hirschjagd (“Deer Hunt”). This is a simple shooting game: you are a hunter and you shoot deer. This might look like Robotron 2084, but a very-very simplified version: there is only one deer on the screen at a time, it cannot hurt you and the game is “race against the clock” type, meaning you just have to shoot a deer while the timer hasn’t run out. You have a limited amount of ammo as well, so there is a limited amount of misses!
- Hase und Wolf (“Hare and Wolf”). It is speculated that this game is based on a Russian cartoon series “Nu, pogodi”. Anyway, this is just yet another Pac-Man clone, although not bad one. Every time you go to the next stage, there is one wolf more on the screen. Apparently, they can’t be killed, because your powerups seem not to affect them, as they would in original Pac-Man game.
- Abfahrtslauf (“Downhill Run”). This game is also a clone. Although I hardly can imagine a skiing game done some other way in the 80s. You go skiing from up to bottom, but you have to get your hero between the flags. There are 6 runs overall, each one ends either with successfully reaching the bottom, or failing to get between the flags. This makes the game one of the longest for one play – because you have 6 tries, unlike 3 in the previous one.
- Schmetterlinge (“Butterflies”). This game also might be based on a cartoon series – the protagonist looks like Pittiplatsch from a cartoon with the same name, filmed in GDR. You control a plumpy dwarf who tries to catch butteflies. Basically you have two minutes to catch as many butterflies as you can.
- Schiessbude (“Shooting Gallery”). This is obviously a clone of a game named Carnival, and this one is actually good! All is there: limited supply of bullets, ducks stealing your bullets, multipliers and a lot of targets to shoot in “space-invaders” style.
- Autorennen (“Car Racing”). Conceptually this game is similar to Atari’s Gran Trek 10, although I wouldn’t blatantly call it a clone. First, it is mor e like a genre of racing games,with a lot of titles with similar concept, rather than all of them being clones. Second, this game actually does have some interesting elements in it, like racing against a computer’s A.I. There are just two cars on the screen at a time though: one for a player and one for A.I.
- Merkspiel (“Memory game”). This game is one of the numerous Simon-type games, where you have to remember sequences of colors and music tones to reproduce, and every time one . The main difference with original Simon is that you have more available colors with corresponding sounds and each color is actually a unique geometrical figure. When you fail to reproduce the sequence, the game is not over though – it is over when you have no time left, which is extended with every your good move.
- Wasserrohrbruch (“Water Pipe Break”). The last but definitely not the worst game. The water pipe is broken and you have to gather drops of water in a bucket. When your bucket is full, you go up the stairs and pour it outside. The game is over when your entire body is in the water. This game must be the most original in the whole list: I can’t recall a similar arcade game of the era.
Polyplay is a homebrewish-looking simple arcade machine, which already had outdated hardware (as for an arcade machine) back in 1986 and simplistic games (games like those were already on the market 5 years ago), but anyway it is playable and can be rather addicting for those who enjoy achieving high-scores in old arcade games. The feel of the machine is a bit similar to the feel of some of Soviet arcade machines, which is not surprising, since Polyplay is actually based on hardware produced in USSR, sharing its limitations. And you know that hardware limitations is what gives a retro game that unique feel, which can be nostalgic to someone.
Although these machines are rare and hard to find: not more than 12 cabinets are confirmed to be found in working condition – you still can play abovementioned 8 games via online emulation, if you go through this link:
The emulation there is quite accurate, although I’ve come through some inaccuracies in collision detection in Autorennen and Schmetterlinge. Anyway, you are welcome to try out the games by yourself, and maybe you can even manage to achieve a significant high-score .Bbeware, there are a lot of high-scores out there already!
And don’t forget to get to the machine if you see it in Computerspielemuseum!