I’ve been hearing a lot about the arcade scene in Singapore in general and this Bugis arcade in particular, both from the Singaporean players that I’ve met and the Melbourne players that have visited Singapore over the last few years. I hear a lot about their high standard of play and abundance of cabinets, so I’ve been quite keen to check it out for quite a while now.
I haven’t been back for years now, so I figure that while I’m back for two weeks visiting family it would be a good opportunity to check the place out.
I get to Bugis around 4PM and try to find my way around. It’s the 21st of December, just a few days before Christmas and a Wednesday, so I wonder what the crowd will be like in the arcade.
Now I actually grew up in Malaysia, so I have no idea how to navigate Singapore’s geography. I can’t differentiate Wisma Atria from Takashimaya or from any other shopping mall on Orchard Road. But as my friend tells me, the Bugis train station feeds directly into the basement of Bugis Junction. And the arcade itself is in the basement or B1 floor of the mall. So how can I go wrong?
Apparently I still can.
I wander around the basement for nearly half an hour trying to find the damn arcade. I keep circling back to the store directory and checking the map out. The only thing that looks like an arcade on the list is something called Virtualand, and it’s in the corner of the map right there. How the hell do I get to it! Urrgh.
Apparently one of the few things that I am actually worse at than playing fighting games is simple navigation.
After walking past Cold Storage for the umpteenth time, I finally realize that I have to go outside the basement food court to find the arcade. I go out the door, and find myself in an outdoors corridor- a shopping arcade, much like a little street in between the feet of the buildings. I walk down the corridor and, finally! I spot an escalator leading downstairs with a large sign saying “Virtualand” on it.
I’ve been in this arcade before! Back when I was in the army, my buddy Daniel brought me to this very arcade to play some LAN games. (That must’ve been the first I ever played Left4Dead.) This must’ve been in late 2007 or 2008, so it was definitely before arcade SFIV came out and thus must be why this place never clicked in my memory.
So this is the SFIV hub that everyone has been talking about. I take a quick look around; the place looks the same as I remember, a large basement floor with multiple wings.
The major difference from the place that I remember is that one of those wings now features multiple SFIV: AE machines against the wall beneath a giant big screen with a direct feed from the cabs, and even more cabinets on the side.
I notice another wing with a similar Tekken setup, but I don’t look around too much further- I want to get some games in!
I make a beeline to the counter and ask about tokens. They tell me they use a card system, so I quickly whip out twenty bucks and get one made.
I quickly walk back over to the cabinets, feeling the dry thirst festering in my mouth from having not played in a while, pick a middle cab and sit down. I swipe my card and hammer at the start button. I don’t bother to check my credits- I figure I’ll just play until my card is depleted.
I feel a bit out of sync immediately. A Blanka jumps in on me and I do my dragon punch motion and hit the button- too late. I eat the jump in. This happens quite a few times, and it immediately feels like there’s a difference in timing between the Bugis cabs and the cabs I’m used to back home. Maybe it’s something mental, or just a byproduct of not having touched a stick in nearly two weeks. In any case, I quickly adjust after two or three games, and start hitting my links and anti-airs with no further problems.
I’m having a blast. There are so many cabinets that I get a lot more character variety to play against, as compared to the Ryu fest I normally encounter in Bluehouse and its measly four cabinets.
About the only character that I seemed to play a lot that day was Blanka. Another common occurrence I saw that day was the “buddy system”; people sharing a credit and swapping out what I assume to be the lesser player for the better one when they lost a round. I don’t really see this a lot in Melbourne, but it seems to be quite common here. To be honest, personally I don’t quite like it. What’s the point of calling on your better buddy to take over when you lose? Sure you get the win, but you don’t get to improve. You can’t actually improve without losing. And that is the whole point to me of going to an arcade.
And at one time there were three or four Blanka players there, two of which were using the buddy system! So it was Blanka galore for a while there. But it’s okay; I suck at the Blanka matchup so I was quite happy to get the practice in against a variety of different levels of Blanka players and playstyles.
I even learned something new. You know how when Blanka does his slide he’s really low to the ground but you can still punish with cmk tatsu, which would normally whiff on crouching opponents? So the slide even though it looks really low, must still have a hurtbox that counts as standing.
So I assumed the same would happen with his Ultra 2. One time a Blanka player attempted to chip me out with Ultra 2, and I jumped with roundhouse and did cmk tatsu. The jump in and cmk hit, but the tatsu whiffed clean over him, and I lost the game and round because of that. I was pretty surprised when that happened, but the next game he tried to do the same thing, and I made sure not to whiff this time by doing cmk EX fireball FADC Ultra instead to take the game. I guess it might be that Blanka’s Ultra 2 counts as crouching or has a weird hurtbox. Or it could even be the range. But at least I learned something new that day.
Another thing that I noticed right away was that every game was best of three rounds, not like Melbourne where it is usually best of five rounds for each credit. When I started playing I didn’t think too much about it.
About two hours into playing, I started wondering about it. Usually twenty bucks in the Melbourne arcade only lasts about an hour for me if I get to play continuously, which I usually don’t.
Here at Bugis I was playing non-stop and after two hours my credits still hadn’t run out. And it’s not like I was going on long win streaks or anything, I was losing at my usual rate; which is to say, a lot. I would sometimes have mini win streaks of three or four, but I would more commonly have streaks where I would lose nine straight games to a certain Zangief player and things like that.
So I finally turned my head to the player next to me and asked, “Excuse me, out of curiosity, how much is one credit here?”
He looked at me and raised all five fingers on his right palm to me. “Fifty cents,” he replied.
Fifty frickin’ cents!!!
I’m so used to paying a dollar per game in Melbourne, and even two dollars for a few months when AE first came out that fifty cents per play just seems almost too good to be true. So that explains why I was able to play for two hours non-stop and not run out of credits!
(I would later go on to play from 430 PM to about 730 PM. Three hours on twenty dollars!!!! Okay maybe that might seem expensive to local Singaporeans, but to a mediocre SF player from Australia like me, that seems really freaking cheap.)
After I recovered from the major butter that was the price per game in Singapore, I started looking around me a bit more.
One thing that felt kind of different were the amount of people simply standing and watching.
In Melbourne, sometimes you have people standing and watching too. But when there’s an empty cab opening up, best beware that people are going to jump on as quick as possible and get their games on.
I was able to play non-stop because, simply put, there were a lot of empty cabs. I was more or less able to play on the same middle cab for three hours, and rarely would the cab to my right and left be occupied.
This felt strange to me, because every time I looked back over my shoulder I would see at least seven or eight people just standing there and watching. There were a lot of cabs at Bugis, way more than ten and I think maybe twelve or sixteen in total? So to me the proportion of players playing, empty cabs, and spectators always felt a little weird. I think the number of spectators were almost always about two thirds of the number of people actually sitting down and playing.
To me, that feels really weird. When there’s so many empty cabs around, why not just sit down and play? (Especially at a mere fifty cents a pop.)
I suppose it might also have to do with the Bugis setup. As I’ve mentioned before, with multiple cabinets against the far wall, a big screen above them, a few more cabs on the sides, and a big standing area in the centre for people to watch, it definitely feels like it is setup for easy and large spectatorship. Which again, is a little different from Melbourne’s smaller and more cramped arcades.
Later on I had dinner with my buddy Dan, and I queried him about this weird phenomenon I had seen at the arcade. He bluntly told me; “Singaporeans don’t like to lose in front of other people. A lot of eyepower only.”
Huh. Being from around here, I kind of know what he is talking about, but I’m not sure how much of that is true. But it is pretty interesting to see how the different cultures of countries can perhaps affect how people approach playing in the arcade.
For instance you can say that Australians are more laidback, and willing to give things a shot and therefore have no fear about jumping on a cab and getting bodied…okay Sweeping Generalisations Police please come blow my brains away right about now.
But that also made me remember a conversation I had with Gootecks at Shadowloo Showdown 2011. Being completely ignorant about the Singapore scene I had asked him about the size of the Singaporean scene compared to the American scene, kind of implying that I thought it was a lot smaller by comparison. Gootecks was quite quick to cut down my assumption down to size, saying that from what he heard, Singapore had a huge scene, with tons of arcades and cabinets and players, and it was only their tournament scene that was relatively small in comparison to all of that.
I remember being both surprised and quite interested about why that was. If they have possibly the biggest arcade scene in Asia, second to only Japan, I wonder why they would have a smaller base of tournament players by comparison?
Huh. I guess culture must/might have a lot to do with it. (Feel free to correct me about all this, I’m sure more informed people will be able to discuss this more accurately.) But after experiencing Battle Medley Singapore in 2010, I already knew firsthand that their scene is loud and pretty damn hype, so at least finally I get to try out the arcades here too.
I wonder if there’s a hierarchy to the setups. Perhaps the cabs next to me are empty because the middle setups are linked to the big screen, and people who desire ignominy would therefore only play on the side setups? I really don’t know.
But I had a lot of fun. I noticed Singapore Ryu players love to focus. I hit quite a few Ryu players with one of my favourite tricks; a full screen hadoken to bait focus absorb backdash and buffer Super until I see the flash of focus. And in general, (this seems to be a common things with arcade players around the world as compared to training room/console monsters), their players seem to have a more aggressive, predictive style. They were good at recognizing patterns, and willing to do unsafe stuff predicting something you would do.
For example I ate at least one or two full screen tatsus to the face through my fireball from every Ryu player I faced. Predictive tatsu is not something I do often; it doesn’t really fit my safe, (robotic) style. But the Ryus did not seem to have any qualms about doing it. Maybe my fireball game is just that easy to suss out.
And guys, let me tell you; all around the world things are exactly the same. People around the world all mash uppercut.
Some things are just universal.
While I was there I kept an eye out for any familiar faces. Unfortunately the number of Singaporean players I know by face I probably can count on one hand. I know Farpenoodle (Yu Sheng) from JB, and Xian and Kevin from Shadowloo Showdown, but I figured they would still be in SoCal. (It was the week after SoCal Regionals.) I also know a few people from Battle Medley Singapore like Yagami and Tetra, but I didn’t see anybody I recognized. Oh well, I was just grateful to have an abundance of opponents to play. Too bad it was still vanilla AE. (Zhen Wei, aka Jpage let me know that Bugis got AE 2012 just a few days after I went there. Damn.)
That Zangief player I mentioned earlier eventually had a thirty game win streak, and I had the pleasure of breaking his streak. Of course, I personally must’ve contributed at least ten wins to that count, so maybe I shouldn’t be bragging.
I noticed how smart the Gief player was. He would do really far jump fierces early in the round, too far to combo from, but it would just catch me if I threw a fireball. Sometimes when I blocked it he would walk forward just a tick and jab SPD me from there, so far away. So disgusting.
I finally started dragon punching him out of it, anticipating him doing it early in the round. I started wondering why he kept doing it when I was starting to consistently DP it.
In the third round, I found out why. He jumped from the exact same range…I anticipated the fierce and DPed…he didn’t press a button and my DP whiffed up into the air…I fell right into his warm, hairy arms and ate Ultra.
He was feeding me this free, relatively insignificant damage early in the game to condition me, so that he could bait me with something big when it came down to clutch time. So smart.
I noticed another thing he would catch onto was me doing jump back fierces on his wakeup. One of my favourite things to do to Zangief is to walk into Gief after I knock him down…get my nose right up in that ass to make him think I am gonna throw/meaty, and suddenly do jump back fierce, which beats both lariat and SPD, and keeps me safe from any backdash SPD bullshit.
I did that one or two times, and he caught on so fast. Once when my life was down to almost nothing, I went for the safe option and went for jump back fierce and he read me like a book and went for green hand, which made him whiff right under me, and SPDed when I landed. So smart. Or perhaps more that I was being too obvious and dumb.
Finally it was time to go, and I left to go for dinner. A good solid three hours of leveling up for less than twenty bucks! (I finally noticed the number that flashed whenever I swiped my card had dropped from forty something to the low teens.) Good shit.
As I was about to head back up the escalator, the Seth player I had been versing earlier ran out after me. I had left my arcade card behind on the machine, and he ran out to give it to me before I left.
Thank you for your kindness sir.
Post article edit:
Later on I visited two more Virtualands at Ang Mo Kio and Bishan and got a ton of games in. Even these smaller arcades had like four setups in excellent condition that puts GC and Bluehouse cabs to shame! As I walked around Nex in Serangoon I saw yet another Virtualand but didn’t get the chance to go in.
Singapore has this train system that goes around the island, and generally you have a big shopping mall smack right on top or near the train station. And that is where you find your arcades. In Melbourne we kind of have malls near the big train stations too, imagine if most of them had an arcade in them! I’m really envious now.
I guess I must have taken the abundance of arcades in Singapore for granted when living there, only years later when I started playing SFIV in Melbourne do I feel the big difference.
At Bishan I was playing a couple of kids before the adults started showing up. Eventually they all got sick of playing me. Finally, I extended a credit to a little boy and asked him if he wanted to play. He looked and me and said; “Don’t want. I already got. ON PSP!”
And then he gave me a raspberry.