Everyone, to a certain extent, knows about Sega World's. How they were giant, sprawling arcade-come-indoor theme parks featuring Sega's biggest and most spectacular technology and games, that only now exist in Japan.
One such example of Sega World, is the London location, once housed in Piccadilly Circus' Trocadero centre. The Trocadero overall is an oddity when it comes to central London tourist attractions, as it's and it has more than one link to gaming than Sega World. It also housed Funland- an arcade that meant a lot to some people.
This article tells the full story of how it was once a entertainment centre full of the latest virtual reality experiences and arcade games, and how it fell from grace so rapidly. To do this I have scoured the internet for any relevant pictures and videos I can find of it. Hope you enjoy.
Background history and early years
First a bit of background history. I do realise that this is a blog about arcades but without this we'd be jumping into a building with no history or how it came to be in the first place.
While the Trocadero building itself had been around for a while and housed numerous things before (several theaters and music halls) it wasn't until 1896 that it got it's name when it became The Trocadero Restaurant. Owned by J. Lyons and Co., it remained popular for many years- the only of the Trocadero's attractions to do so! However, it entered a period of decline after World War 2, and it eventually closed in 1965.
After this, it was bought by Mecca Ltd, who reopened it as another restaurant (this time smaller and with new decor) and added in casino's and a bowling alley. This was just the beginning, however...
Relaunch (1984 - 1995)
(the original entrance to the Trocadero)
(Awesome, awesome image)
Funland quickly became a mecca for arcade gamers, always getting all the huge deluxe cabs and latest games before any one else. They were also one of the very first British arcades, for better or for worse, to introduce redemption ticket games as part of the 'Laser Bowl' floor expansion it had in 1991, which also saw it gain a impressive new entrance.
Notable games that Funland housed included Ridge Racer Full Scale, Galaxian 3, multiple Sega R360's, some of the only candy cabs in Britain, and the cutting-edge Virtuality machines (located in the basement) seen in this video, plus another showcasing the indoor dodgems, Galaxy Force 2, and tons of JAMMA cabs-
Funland was owned by Family Leisure, who also owned most of the other arcades in Central London like Game Zone and Las Vegas. It was their main arcade overall predominately focusing on video games and a few redemption machines, while their others featured gambling machines.
Thanks to the boost Funland gave it, slowly but surely the Trocadero would become somewhat of a UK epicentre of virtual reality experiences. It would gain the infamous Emaginator theatre, which sent people down a CGI mine cart ride seated in moving chairs, a 3D paragliding experience named Virtual World, and Alien War, situated in the sub-basement level of the Trocadero. This video should tell you exactly what it was- and it was awesome.
(yes, that is indeed the Ridge Racer Full Scale in clear view! sadly confirmed scrapped :( )
Sega World's and Park'sNow, to understand why Sega World London even happened in the first place, we need to start back in 1992. Sega were becoming an ever more dominant force in arcades than before, with their groundbreaking Model 1 and Model 2 hardware having been unleashed on the world. But, Sega noticed something. Most arcades in the UK were a lot different from the ones in the US and Japan. They weren't as safe, they weren't as clean, and were even perceived by some as dangerous.
So, they set out to change that.
Sega, being crazy as they were at the time, had the idea of opening Sega branded arcades across the UK, being much more safer, to earn them more money and raise the profile of arcade gaming as a whole in the UK. Anyway, reaping the rewards of Christmas 1992 thanks to the success of Sonic 2, they opened Sega World Bournemouth.
(Sega World Bournemouth's entrance, circa 1993)
And speaking of London, Sega also opened an arcade just before Bournemouth called Metropolis in the basement of London's famous Hamley's toy shop. It featured a snack bar and an area with a games shop, used to launch Sonic 2.
More Sega arcades titled 'Sega Park' started opening, at the rate of one every couple months. However, they aren't much of note, as these were just your normal arcade, nothing too interesting about them aside from the Sega brand. They were mainly either in shopping centres or in bowling alleys.
(the Sega Park that was in Southhampton's Bargate shopping centre)
Sega World London (1996 - 1999)It is known from this interview by Sega magazine 'Mega Power' with Sega, that shortly after the Bournemouth venue opened they already were planning to open a Sega World in the Trocadero.
However, it's also mentioned in the interview that it would be more similar in scale to the Bournemouth venue, just a bit smaller. I don't know for sure what made Sega instead make it the biggest of their arcades, but I'd say something along the lines of this happened:
Sega approached the Burford Group to begin the plans for Sega World London, who then encouraged Sega to make it bigger by utilizing the unused space still in the Trocadero to complete their goal. So, Sega, hot off success in Japan with it's Joypolis theme park-esque arcade's opening a few years prior, decided to ditch their original plans and base it off of those.
It ended up occupying 100,000 square feet of the Trocadero, with 7 virtual reality rides and simulators, not to mention the scores of arcade games spread across them. Here's a interesting video hyping up the place's opening, with some nice 3D renders of what the place would look like:
And, after 8 months of construction which included a complete refitting of the Trocadero itself to keep inline with it, Sega World opened on September 6th, 1996.
And now, the Trocadero was almost unrecognizable. Everything had gone from simple shopping mall to futuristic entertainment centre. 3 massive screens adorned the back walls, running advertisements and the latest music videos. A amazing statue of Sonic adorned the Sega World reception, with lots of other Sonic statues and signage throughout the centre.
2 huge 'rocket' escalators were installed as the entrance to Sega World at the top, stopping once at a podium where you could see the screens up close, and also watch a animatronic show featuring a large alien monster called 'Trocadilla' once every hour (which was ditched early on, apparently it kept breaking down. very few people remember this, I only managed to find out about it by a few forum posts by a old employee, and this thing right before it reopened).
But it didn't end there. It now housed the UK's largest HMV, a second Madame Tussaud's titled Rock Circus which focused on rock music icons, a new Planet Hollywood restaurant outside the entrance, and the first IMAX 3D cinema in the UK, sponsored by Pepsi. Here's a video not containing much of Sega World itself, but lots of the rest of the Trocadero and some of Funland (sorry if this doesn't work for people on computer, just use the link):
Anyway, back to Sega World itself. In total there was 6 floors to the place, accessed by a further 8 escalators running at each side of the top of the Trocadero's atrium.
The first floor was the reception, where you could change money for game tokens, get ride tickets, and have a picture taken with the iconic Sonic statue, the one that most remember Sega World for. You could also try out Sega Saturn console setups for free, playing the newest releases.
Just below the reception was then The Combat Zone- which had over 70 action games, mainly shooters, lightgun games, and fighting games, like Virtua Cop 2, Tekken 3, Virtual ON, Time Crisis, Fighting Vipers, Crypt Killer, Fighting Bujutsu, and Virtua Fighter 3- VF 3 in particular had it's UK launch at Sega World, having only just been put out in Japan weeks before.
The Combat Zone also had the first ride- Beast In Darkness. This was one of the only rides to not have some sort of VR or graphical features- this was more of a glorified ghost train, with sensors and surround sound to simulate the 'beast' lurking around you.
The very F1 car that Damon Hill drove was also on show, though this was later removed.
The Race Track's VR simulator was Aqua Planet, also known as Aqua Nova at other Sega World's. In this attraction, you would don a pair of 3D glasses and be transported to an undersea world which has fallen to decay at the hands of a huge squid monster. At the end of this, you would shoot at the squid, with 3 separate endings depending on how well you did.
The 3rd floor was known as The Flight Deck- and featured 20 different flying games, like Sky Target, Wing War and 2 of Sega's infamous R360 simulators- which rotated a full 360 degrees. There was even a real Harrier Jump Jet hanging from the ceiling.
This floor's ride was VR-1 Space Mission, one of the premier simulators in Sega World. This ride combined VR, hydraulics and sensors to provide a fully immersive VR experience, in which you would aboard a spaceship to 'deliver vital information to the planet Basco', destroying any enemy ships or debris that is in your way with your guns.
Sega World's biggest floor was The Carnival- a floor dedicated to redemption and more light-hearted games.
While UFO Catchers and a prize corner stocked full of Sega merchandise were this floors main draw, there was also the 'Segakids' area- with a McDonalds and a Sonic themed play area.
This floor also had 3 rides- the first was Power Sled, a bobsled simulator that would throw you 360 degrees around and was a later addition to the floor.
This was at a few other Sega World's and was also not limited to them- a few turned up at other amusement centres.
The 2nd was House Of Grandish- another later addition, but this one also came and went, and was also at other attractions before Sega World- so it may have been more of a 'travelling circus' type of attraction.
This was just a simple walk-through some ghost and monster themed corridors with jump-scares, and at the end you would get a card that told you your heart-rate throughout the experience.
The 3rd attraction was Ghost Hunt- a interactive ghost train. You would get in pods which would go around a track with small drops and turns, and shoot ghosts on a see-through screen with gun yokes.
You would be rated how well you did at the end, and would compare the scores if there was 2 people playing. It looks pretty bad on video but the see-through screen effects don't really show up well on video.
The final floor was The Sports Arena, which had 90 sports themed games, like Alpine Racer, Wave Runner, and Sega Bass Fishing. This floor had a bar and was where most of Sega World's corporate parties took place. Sega's newest games were also tested on this floor before they were moved up to their respective floors.
This floor had 2 rides- AS-1, one of Sega's first rides they developed, was on this floor. AS-1 was like a normal motion simulator, only better- it could hold more people, and was interactive. It ran the two games that were made for it Michael Jackson's Scramble Training, and Megaopolis: Tokyo City Battle.
Both saw you take control of the game with a flight stick-type controller after brief introductions that utilised the technology, and had different endings depending on how well you did during the game.
The second ride was Mad Bazooka, a sort of bumper cars ride with a difference. On the floor was little foam balls that your car could pick up and shoot out- aiming at a target on other cars. You would only get so many hits until you were out.
The Sports Deck had the Sega Shop too- where you could buy Sega merchandise of all types, as well as their own games.So, with an astounding lineup of arcade games, high-tech VR rides, and impressive theming, it sounded like nothing could go wrong, and Sega World would remain successful for years to come. But, a costly decision was made by Sega right from the start, and that was you were charged upon entrance.
While the VR rides and simulators were free, you had to use your own money on the arcade games, which would sometimes cost up to £3- and the VR rides could only hold a few people at a time, creating massive queues.
Needless to say, newspapers and critics who reviewed the place from the media buzz were not impressed, criticising the cost of everything in the place and the wait for so little. Even Nick Leslau, who owned the Burford Group which bought the Trocadero and made Sega World happen, was discouraged. He went on record to say this after the first day of business:
"Sega could not deliver what they said they'd deliver. It looked amazing, but their rides were not capable of delivering the number of people they needed to deliver to support the operation. People were queuing for ages. It was a question of over-anticipation and under-delivery."
By the time it's 1st full year of operation had been achieved in September 1997, Sega World had gotten 950,000 visitors, which missed Sega's target of 1.7 million. By this point losses were being made by both Sega, who were having problems of their own with the Saturn, and the owners of the Trocadero, who were getting little return from Sega World.
Because of this, Sega ditched the entry fees, so that you had to pay for the VR rides individually instead of them being included in the entry fee. The arcade games also had to be paid for individually again, making Sega World essentially a glorified arcade. Sega hoped this would help, but it did little in actuality.
Meanwhile, the Trocadero itself wasn't doing too well as well. In desperate bids to generate interest Pepsi again sponsored a massive indoor drop tower ride, and a interactive James Bond ride named Licence To Thrill opened, both attracting at least some buzz, but it still did little to help. Sega World began to decay, as it became less busy and there was less interest.
(sadly this did nothing to turn Sega's fortunes around)
Making it free entry turned out to be a fatal move for Sega, as most visitors ended up just passing through the floors only playing on a few arcade games and going on one VR simulator, or even just walking through and doing nothing to see what it was all about.
While people would come to Sega World to play their favourite arcade games the scene was nowhere near as strong as that of Namco Wonder Park, just a few buildings behind the Trocadero, or even Funland, which was still going strong with a new entrance.
The arcade gaming scene was showing signs of decline, due to more and more racers and shooters being made- and little else. However, 2 games would soon be released that created a scene of their own- Dance Dance Revolution and Beatmania. These games gave new life to UK arcades, and helped Funland massively in the years that came. But more on these later- as there's 5 videos of Sega World in it's prime that need to be seen.
Sega World London Tour- 1998
(probably the best video there is of it)
Escape TV- Sega World Tour Parts 1 & 2
(2 parts of a Polish video games TV show, good footage but it seems like a few minutes are missing? also very low sound, turn your volume up if you want to hear it fully)
Sega World Tour- Unknown Dutch TV Show
(A tour of Sega World from around the time it launched. Some good footage of the VR rides, particularly Michael Jackson's Scramble Training)
Cucciolo- Italian movie clip
(a clip from an Italian movie about a literal manchild that can't age apparently, but just ignore the 90s music + Italian dialogue and there's some good footage of Sega World)
And that's really all the good videos on Sega World in it's prime. From them you can get a feel on what the place was, and it looks just plain amazing. However, just 3 years after opening, Sega World shut down in 1999.
Sometime in 1998 the 6 floors were sub-let to Family Leisure (owners of Funland) in the case of the attraction failing even further, which it did, so by 1999 changes began to be made to Sega World.
Branding and Sonic statues were removed, Sega stopped supplying the latest games, and the new attractions for that year were 'Bar on 4' and 'London's Fastest Dodgems'- which were both features in the original Funland.
The top floor began to have renovations, and arcade machines began to creep in where they hadn't before- if you look closely in this video, you can see a crane machine and others behind the Sonic statue:
By September, the re-branding was almost finished, and after a few days of downtime, the new Funland was ready to open. Sega's dream was over, and just a year later they sold all of their UK arcades to the Leisure Exchange arcade operators, seeing no point in keeping them when their main venue was gone. Sega World London officially became Funland on 7th September 1999, exactly 3 years after it first opened.
But, just why did Sega World actually close? There was obvious factors like the failure of the Saturn, Sega's concentration on the Dreamcast, and the massive losses it made, but the main reason was that as part of the original 1996 deal, Sega would have to drop their involvement with the Trocadero if they didn't make over £3 million from the facility in the first 3 years.
The Aftermath and new Funland (1999 - 2002)Sega World was now named Funland after the other arcade in the Trocadero, and it's two floors were absorbed in the process. Of course, all the Sega signage was removed, but the games and VR simulators were still there, with new ones still being added.
However, Sega's pulling out triggered a knock on effect that would effectively end the Trocadero. Pepsi were first to go in early 2000, as another 3D IMAX cinema had opened elsewhere in London, and the drop ride wasn't making enough money.
While the IMAX was removed almost immediately, the Pepsi Max Drop stayed for another few years, renamed as 'London's Scream Ride', until it was relocated to the Funland fairground on Hayling Island in 2003 (no connection despite the same name).
The Madame Tussauds branch in the basement followed suit, and some of the more upmarket shops and former VR experiences (Emaginator, Virtual World) were hastily replaced by tourist shops and snack bars. The Trocadero's reputation was already declining, but it still wasn't as bad as it would end up being in a few more years.
In 2000, Family Leisure tasked a architectural firm, Proun, with renovating a few of the old Sega World floors, with the 'Carnival' and 'Sports Arena' theming still intact. They would go on to add a go kart track, ghost train, new pool tables, bowling alley, and balconies to the right of the centre, seen in these photos- some of which have been provided by Proun themselves.
The buy-out of the 6 Sega World floors by Family Leisure was gladly appreciated by arcade-goers, and Funland was now considered the best arcade in the UK, at a time when most arcades were on the decline.
This was around the time the dance and rhythm games scene really began. Along with all the newest fighting, racing, and lightgun games Funland would also regularly get the newest rhythm games, like the In The Groove, Pump It Up, Beatmania, and Dancing Stage/DDR series, among others.
The dance crowd would hold tournaments and practice regularly to the amazement of the general public. Here's a video for the trailer of a Pump It Up tournament that was held in January 2002 at Funland, featuring the infamous Jason Ho and other London Pump players:
Declining Trocadero (2002-2011)
With the floors went the McDonalds, 2nd rocket escalator, VR simulators (which were most likely scrapped), and the huge video wall. The Trocadero began to look more barren, as almost all of the big name restaurants and shops finally pulled out around this point, and most became tacky tourist shops.
Other imports like Street Fighter IV, Virtua Fighter 5, and Initial D Arcade Stage 4, meant that Funland was still well respected by many gamers despite it's almost derelict state. As a result Funland still stayed open despite the odds and the decline the building was in- for example, the 2nd rocket escalator was blocked off by a coke machine.
Sometime in 2005, a company called Criterion Capital, owned by property developer Asif Aziz bought the Trocadero, and started plans to yet again gut out the interior of the Trocadero to make a 500 room ''pod hotel'' and replace all of the existing shops with newer ones, including a TK-MAXX.
This didn't spell good news for Funland and the rest of the Trocadero as a whole. During this time, Funland began to get even more run down as many games began to be replaced by fruit machines or just not replaced at all.
Meanwhile, above the 2 operating floors of Funland, building work was being carried out on the decaying floors of Sega World, removing the decor remnants. The only time the upper floors were used were for the odd private party- the Gumball 3000 Rally Championship 2007 launch party was held there, and pictures of it can be found in this album on Fickr. See if you can spot some remaining Funland and Sega World decor!
But also during this time, a few people went up the closed off escalator and saw the remains. I'd first caught wind of this by someone on a urban exploration forum but couldn't find the pictures that were taken by them. But, thanks to @Ricky_Earl on Twitter, we can now see what was left.
(up the closed off 'rocket' escalator...)
(lots and lots of dust!)
(once the sonic adorned entrance, now a torn down and empty floor of nothing)
(a closer look)
(some remaining decor on the walls of the combat zone floor which I recognise from the videos)
(down a derelict stair way...)
(...to what I believe to be the 'race track' floor. this picture somewhat matches up with a part from one of the videos, I think this is the entrance to it)
(a massive mural on the 'flight deck' floor. still there, albeit defaced by spray paint)
(more of the flight deck floor. still mostly unchanged)
(a closed off floor, presumably still having work done on it. possibly 'the carnival' floor)
(...and back down into funland.)
Then, in 2011, the end happened for Funland. The rent and bills were becoming too much for Family Leisure, even with the removal of the iconic rocket escalators, taken out as a an attempt to bring down electricity bills. Family Leisure stopped paying the bills, and needless to say, Criterion were not happy.
After some disagreements with Criterion, the landlord for Funland cut off the electricity for the arcade. Since the Trocadero was proposed to be a hotel in the coming years anyway, they weren't too interested in getting it back up and running, and it was soon clear Funland would never return.
An outpouring of support and disappointment soon followed on social media- by this point Funland had been a staple of Piccadilly Circus for 20 years and lots of people had happy memories of visits. Funland's Facebook page tried to lift spirits by talking about moving to a different location, but it was not to be. Funland was gone.
The final years of the Trocadero (2011-2014)After this, the Trocadero looked just plain empty and sad. A small effort was made to bring back arcades to the centre in the basement with the 5D World and Star Attraction arcades, but it just looked sad compared to what Funland and Sega World were. It was even rumoured that the rent was free for these places, with them taking only 20% of the money made, the rest going to Criterion.
(Basically all that was left in the Troc after Funland closed)
More games were dotted around the 1st floor, looking lost, with the only attractions on that floor now Funland was gone were the Cineworld Cinema and a laser tag game. A substantial amount of the Trocadero was not open to the public now- in fact, less than back in 1984 when it had first opened as a shopping centre.
The community spirit of Funland still remained somewhat in the Trocadero's underground dancing area- thanks the the dancing games there was crossover between London's street dancing scene and dancing games community, so they would come to the Trocadero still to dance.
But even this garnered negative opinions, as despite the strong community and modern surroundings (unlike the rest of the Trocadero), many saw it as a urban and scary looking place to be in. The crowds were big, but all that was really happening down there was street dancing.
The last two large shops and restaurants the Trocadero was hanging on to, HMV and Planet Hollywood, closed down and relocated- HMV as a result of their unfortunate administration. The remaining shops in the Trocadero hit a new low when a fake goods raid was carried out, and many negative reviews had now been posted on TripAdvisor.
But the final, final end for the Trocadero happened during February of 2014. Plans for the hotel and shops had been granted since 2012, and work needed to start soon. Because of this, the central atrium of the Trocadero- with the 2 arcades, laser tag, and tourist stalls, was bordered off.
Some final remnants could be seen in the corridor that had been made for the Cineworld Cinema to stay open during construction, and the very last remnants of Sega World and Funland could be seen here- a few broken arcade cabinets, still taking money. But this was the farthest cry from what it was yet, and the Trocadero was dead.
Loose ends and the future of the TrocaderoThe Cineworld Cinema, with the very last cabs scattered around it's entrance, only lasted until later in 2014. It was replaced and refitted into a Picturehouse Central in 2015, which also occupied some of Funland's former space. The final remnant of the Trocadero's old days, the entrance with shops, was taken out and replaced by just one tourist shop.
The other Sega arcades around the UK, mentioned earlier in this article, suffered a similar fate to Sega World London, and none of them are open now. A few did, however, did get new ownership become, although reduced in size and feature very little games to speak of.
(around 1/4 of Sega World Bournemouth became an arcade called Fun Central)
As for the fate of Sega World's games itself, this is quite a patchy area. A few of Sega World's simulators were taken back by Sega after it closed but others (mainly the were non-VR ones) kept by Funland with the games- what happened to them after the further closure of its floors is unknown.
As for the games, arcades like Las Vegas in Soho and The Heart Of Gaming in Croydon bought some of their machines (Naomi cabs, dance games, VS City cabs), and most others were sold to JNC Sales. They then sold them off themselves, and were bought by arcade machine collectors and other arcades.
The plans to make the Trocadero a 'pod' hotel apparently fell through last year, although there are now plans for another, yet non-pod hotel. 5 years on from closure, here is the Trocadero as of right now:
As you can see from the video, the Trocadero has been stripped completely bare now. I would say that this isn't that much work for just over 3 years, but you do have to realise that the Trocadero was well over 8 floors, over half of which had just been left to rot after their closure.
There is a glimmer of hope for the Trocadero in the future. The main original block which featured Sega World, the cinema, and Planet Hollywood, will be home to lots of new developments very soon.
Planet Hollywood recently became a restaurant based on the Forrest Gump movie, and as mentioned before an upmarket new cinema, Picturehouse Central, replaced the Cineworld that limped on until the end.
The hotel will occupy most of Sega World's former floors, a TK-Maxx store is proposed to open where the HMV was, and a 'Spyscape' museum about cyber-security will supposedly take up a floor or two where the main entrance to the Trocadero once was. After it's many failures over the past few decades, hopefully this will be the time that the Trocadero gets it right.
This took me a incredibly long time to make. An entire 2 months were spent sourcing videos and pictures, and making sure everything was true. Not only that, but I had to type it all over again after I accidentally deleted it!
Thanks to everyone who uploaded the videos here, without them this probably wouldn't have been possible. Now, believe it or not but as big as this article is, I have had to cut some stuff out that just didn't fit well with the rest of it.
...So I have included links to said content just below. They include other Sega blogs recounting their memories of the place, to a archive of the original Trocadero website. Anyway, thanks for reading everyone. See you on the next post.
More Trocadero, Funland and Sega World:
Pepsi Max Drop Tower- ride in motion
Part 1 of a tour of Funland from December 2009
A PDF file of a few pages from a Saturn magazine about Sega World
The Sega World tag from a Sega blog. Features another couple more videos and a post about a Sonic party in the Hamley's Sega Metropolis arcade!
Saved snapshots of the Trocadero website from 2001 to the end
Vice article on the Trocadero
A blog post about the Trocadero's impact on people's lives (by Toby of Las Vegas in Soho)
List of UK Sega arcades
If you're still here, and clicked on every link, I applaud you. You love this thing just as much as I do :) Regardless, thanks for reading again. Hope you enjoyed it, from the bottom of my heart.
EDIT: Holy shit, 10,000 views. Thanks so much.