So, as mentioned, I took a brief sojourn to Los Angeles earlier this week, and one of the things that I managed to do whilst there was make it out to Rowland Heights' Arcade Infinity. It's a small video game arcade that's way out to the East of the city in the sprawling suburbs, but was nonetheless worth the pilgrimage for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, Arcade Infinity was actually the company that I bought my Sega Aero City Japanese arcade cabinet from on eBay a good few years ago. Here's a picture of a slightly busted-up one, if you're not sure what they're like.

Basically, half-height sitdown Japanese cabinets are much more home and JAMMA board-swapping friendly (and have surprisingly large monitors!) compared to the normal Western paradigm - though the normal U.S. cabinets have a little more nostalgia attached, perhaps.

Anyhow, I digress! I believe that Arcade Infinity don't sell cabinets any more - or perhaps not in such numbers - but I'd heard from my co-worker and Insert Credit supremo Brandon Sheffield that the arcade was possibly the best in the U.S. for import-only music and fighting games. So I wandered over there to see, and was rewarded with a couple of happy firsts.

So here's the outside of the arcade - it's up a floor in what must be the most Japanese-specific shopping mall I've ever been to on U.S. soil, complete with Japanese language neon signs and delicious European-Japanese style pastries (always one of my favorite parts of going to Tokyo!)

As you can (just about) see inside, music games - and more specifically Konami's music games - are ruling the roost when you first enter. In fact, there's a mammoth post which has a good rundown of info about Arcade Infinity with a 90% correct machine list, showing how (relatively) up-to-date it is in getting music titles.

There are recent and well maintained Japanese-sourced Beatmania, Guitar Freaks, and DrumMania machines there - as well as KeyboardMania and Para Para Paradise, if you're into the more obscure.

The din of all the music games firing off simultaneously is _very_ reminiscent of genuine Japanese arcades I've been to in Tokyo and Osaka - which is very cool when a lot of U.S. arcades have everything at slightly more polite volumes and higher lighting levels, heh.

Arcade Infinity also has the newest Pop 'N Music arcade machine I've seen in the States, and more interestingly for me, a couple of experimental/less successful music-based arcade machines.

This, my friends, is Sega's Flash Beats, a totally bizarre kind of shufflepuck vs. music game melange which I'd seen just once before - at the ATEI arcade show in London in 1999, where I presume they were showing it to Western distributors before selling about four copies.

Basically, as I understand it, Flash Beats' tubes have colored pulses traveling up and down them. Your job in single player mode is to play against the CPU, pressing the button when the pulse arrives at your end of the tube to send it back to the other end - there's five buttons in all, and it turns into quite a multitasking job.

Interestingly, this is all done to an ace licensed European techno soundtrack, including Junkie XL and Coldcut, which makes the whole thing in some ways feel like a bizarre massive sister project to Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Rez, synesthesia to the fore.

Of course, it's not perhaps as interesting or good as the visuals imply, but boy, if I had too much money/space, I'd pick one up for a conversation piece straight away.

The other machine (not pictured in situ, but here's the System-16 profile of the cabinet/game) is Sega's 'Crackin' DJ', which I'd never seen or had a chance to play. As many of you probably know, Konami's Beatmania has a turntable attached, but it doesn't really use it to its full effect - you just scratch it in any direction at one particular time, so it's effectively just a button.

However, Crackin' DJ - which has neat visual design too - has both turntables and a crossfader, and the 'records' on the turntables are actually spinning while you play, so its gameplay goals are very different. Anyhow, I found a recently posted YouTube video, originally recorded by Sega back in 2002, which shows how Crackin' DJ plays excellently.

Basically, you have scratch, a la Beatmania, but you also have to backspin the records and use the crossfader at the correct times. Also, there are actually two different sound sources that are mixed between in real-time as you use the crossfader, so it really is a lot closer to DJ-ing that Beatmania ever was.

The game came out in 2000 (and the sequel, Pt. 2, which Arcade Infinity has, in 2001), and was actually created on the Dreamcast semi-compatible Naomi, but the add-on hardware would have been far too complex, most likely - and the arcade machine was never a big hit - so we were denied a home version.

Of course, now Activision has trademarked DJ Hero, could they be thinking about similar gameplay? European (or transplanted Europeans, like me) would certainly go for a little virtual DJ-ing outside the arcade with crossfader action and reeewinds. So make it so, folks!

As for fighting games, looks like Arcade Infinity just got in Japanese 2D fighters Battle Fantasia (from the Guilty Gear creators) and Sengoku Basara X, both of which I'm guessing have somewhere between one and slightly more than one publically playable locations in North America.

In addition to this, they had the first Melty Blood I've ever seen on U.S. shores - and of course, they have a lot of the obvious Capcom fighters and entries in the King Of Fighters series, even with vs. mode on two different system-linked sitdown cabinets, I noticed, which is a nice touch you don't see much in the West. Plus plenty of shooters - Raiden 4 just arrived!

In any case, for a further look at the arcade, GameTap's Jared Rea has done a neat video tour of the place which is for an upcoming (or past, but I couldn't find it?) entry in his 'No Country For Old Arcades' series. That gives a much better flavor for the arcade than my three or four pictures do - though his guide says Crackin DJ' is 'terrible' and OMG... OK maybe it is a bit.

It's a shame that the Japanese companies (particularly Konami) never got the cultural experience right on these music games for the West, even in the localized versions, too - it might have helped perk the scene up. With all these style of games widely available in the home now, the arcade is even more hyperniche.

But overall - Arcade Infinity is clearly a labor of love and a great way to experience social gaming (yes, social gaming!) outside of your own home, so if you're in LA, get out there and give it a try sometime.

(And if you can't get all the way out there, also try the Japan Arcade in the Mitsuwa plaza downtown - it's a bit more rundown, and it has a Gals Panic machine prominently displayed - which my wife was only barely OK with me playing in public, heh - but it's certainly got some machines you don't see everywhere, including an arcade Typing Of The Dead.)