Saturday, 17 June 2017

The rise and fall of the London Trocadero and Sega World



For a number of months now, I've been interested in the history of the London Trocadero. Being a fan of arcades, the Trocadero has a vast history with them, with arcades operating in the building from 1984 up until 2014, like Funland and most importantly Sega World.

 I've been scouring the net for every image, video, and info I can find of the place, some of which I'm willing to bet not many people know or have seen, So, get ready for a long post about the London Trocadero's history over the years.


Early years (1744 - 1965)

Now I *may* of ripped this part of the article from Wikipedia. But, I did mainly make this blog post for the video games aspect of the Trocadero's history, and this part does not have them, so who can really blame me. There isn't very much reliable info on the Trocadero from around these times, so who could blame me.

'The Trocadero Restaurant of J Lyons and Co. opened in 1896 on a site on Coventry Street, near the theaters of the West End, which had been formerly occupied by the notorious Arygll Rooms, where wealthy men hired prostitutes. A one time maitre d' of the Trocadero was Belgian born Maurice F. Monbiot, grandfather of the journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot. His French born great-grandfather Raymond Monbiot was the restaurant's manager.

The new settings were magnificent in an Opera Baroque style, and the various Trocaderos of the English-speaking world have derived their names from this original, the epitome of grand Edwardian catering. Murals of Arthurian themes decorated the grand staircase, and the Long Bar catered to gentlemen only. During World War 1, the Trocadero initiated the first 'concert tea'. Tea was served in the Empire Hall, accompanied by a full concert programme. After the war cabaret was a feature of the Grill Room. The Trocadero closed on 13 Feburary 1965, and was replaced by casinos, a restaurant and discos and nightclubs, after being sold to Mecca Ltd.'

...And that's about it for this part of the Trocadero's history. This is where it gets interesting...


Relaunch (1984 - 1995)

                                                 (the original entrance to the Trocadero)

Besides the casinos and lay dormant for almost 20 years, but around 1984 the Trocadero was redeveloped, given it's name back, and became a entertainment centre with a Guinness Book Of Records Exhibition, shops, a cinema, and a arcade named Funland (this name will come up again soon), which was spread across 2 floors. 

Funland quickly became a mecca for arcade gamers, always getting all the huge deluxe cabs before any one else. Notable games that Funland housed included Ridge Racer Full Scale, Galaxian 3, multiple Sega R360's and the cutting-edge Virtuality machines (located in the basement) seen in this video, plus another showcasing the indoor dodgems and metric tonnes of JAMMA cabs-





However, come 1994, there were not enough tenants to keep the place afloat. Burford Group Plc bought the Trocadero in hopes of expanding it into a part of the building that hadn't been used since it's early days. This is now where Sega comes in. But, before that, here's the only other video I found of the Trocadero from this time. Apologies for there being no sound on this one, no idea why it's like this.      



   (yes, that is indeed the Ridge Racer Full Scale in clear view! sadly confirmed scrapped :( )                           

Sega World's and Park's

Now, 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 socially accepted, and worse, crime was reported at them sometimes. 

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 a very successful Christmas 1992,  they opened Sega World Bournemouth. 


                                            (Sega World Bournemouth's entrance, 1993)

Originally intended to be the largest of them, alongside it's arcade games featured a Sega shop, bowling alley, a food court, and a number of Sega's cutting-edge virtual reality rides, like the well-known AS-1 simulator. It was pretty much a prototype of what Sega World London would eventually be. 

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 bog standard arcade, nothing too interesting about them. They were mainly either in shopping centres or in bowling alleys. 
            (the Sega Park that was in Southhampton's Bargate shopping centre)

They even opened some across Europe. I'm not gonna touch on them though, there's barely anything known about them. If you do want to see a list of the known arcades opened in the UK, there's a page on Sega Retro which has them all, that I have linked at the bottom of the page.


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 featuring 6 themed floors that occupied 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:


                                          
And, after 8 months of construcion which included a complete refitting of the Trocadero itself to keep inline with it, Sega World opened on September 6th, 1996. And aside from the overall layout, the Trocadero was now almost unrecognisable. Everything had gone from simple shopping mall to futuristic cyberpunk. 3 massive screens adorned the back walls, running advertisements and the latest pop music videos. A amazing statue of Sonic adorned the 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 see 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, only managed to find out about it by a few forum posts by a old employee and this thing right before the troc 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 (actual Sega World videos later on):


                                          
Anyway, back to Sega World itself. A costly decistion 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 £2. Things were not looking good already. Newspapers and critics who reviewed the place from the media buzz were not impressed, criticising the massive cost of everything in the place. Sega realised their mistake and put all the arcade machines on free play in response, but it did nothing to dispel the notion on the place so far. 

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 attract buzz Pepsi again sponsored a massive indoor drop tower ride, and a James Bond interactive 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 soon 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 all the buzz was about. 

However, just like in Japan, a loyal crowd for the games did form, with the few hardcore Saturn owners often coming to play the rare Versus City machines imported, and as the dance games craze began to emerge, so did a community. 

More on that later though, as I promised Sega World videos, and now seems like a good time to put them here.


Sega World London Tour- 1998


                          (probably the best video we have of it, shame all of it's in the dark though)


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)

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 get a real feel on what the place was, and it looks just plain amazing. However, just 3 years after opening, Sega World shut down in 1999. There was other obvious factors like the failure of the Saturn, 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. 

They hadn't.


The Aftermath (1999 - 2002)


The owners of the Trocadero were now left with a massive 6 floor arcade with over 450 machines and a number of VR simulators. The easy thing would've been to close it, sell off all the games and work on something different, but within a few weeks or so, all 6 floors were reopened. Sega World was now named Funland after the other arcade in the Trocadero, and it's two floors were absorbed in the process. 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, I do have reason to believe that the Pepsi Max Drop stayed for a little while, renamed as 'London's Scream Ride', until it was relocated to the Funland fairground on Hayling Island (no connection despite the same name). 



The Madame Tussauds branch in the basement followed suit, and some of the trendier shops were hastily replaced by tourist shops and snack bars. 2 of the 3 massive screens were eventually took out, and a few months after it was renamed Funland, the management decided to renovate a few of the Sega World floors and the two Funland floors to include a go kart track, bowling, a sports bar, pool tables, bumper cars and balconies where one of the screens used to be. These changes can be seen in these pictures, these are in fact the only ones I could find from this time.


This was around the time the dance and rhythm games scene really began. Along with all the newest fighting, gun and racing games Funland would also regularly get the newest dance games, like the In The Groove, Pump It Up, and Dancing Stage series, among others. The dance crowd would hold tournaments and practice regularly to the amazement of the public. Here's a video for the trailer of a tournament that was held in January 2002 at Funland, featuring Jason Ho:



The final years of the Trocadero as we knew it: (2002 - 2014)


In September 2002, all of Sega World (i.e top floors of trocadero) was shut. Throughout all the research I've done, I still do not know why this happened. But if I had to guess, it would be the cost of it all. With the floors went the McDonalds, 2nd rocket escalator, VR simulators which were most likely scrapped, and the last of the screens. The Trocadero was beginning to look barren, the almost all of the big name restaurants and shops finally pulled out around this point, and most became tacky tourist shops. However, the remaining 3 levels or so of Funland were still well stocked full of games, and throughout its final years an effort was still made to get the newest ones. Some dance and rhythm games only meant for sale in Japan showed up there, along with other Japan exclusives like Street Fighter IV and Initial D Arcade Stage 4. The hardcore players still remained, and unknowing tourists still went in, despite the Trocadero now looking extremely run down with the blocked off escalators.


                                                                        (oh dear)

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. 




Then, in 2011, the end happened for Funland. While people still came, it was known to a lot of people now as a tacky, rundown centre, and due to losses Funland management hadn't been paying the bills. After some dissagreements with Criterion who had confronted them about this, the landlord for Funland cut off the electricity for the arcade, and since the Trocadero was already going to be closed soon for the hotel, Funland finally shut up, with almost all cabinets sold.


                           (Basically all that was left in the Troc after Funland closed)

After this, the Trocadero seemed even more barren and empty. The only floors with anything happening now were the basement where there was 2 arcades that moved most of the remaining unsold cabsto there, and the ground floor with a few tourist shops. Other games were dotted around the 1st floor, looking lost, with the only things being on there now that Funland was gone, were the Cineworld Cinema and a laser tag game. A substantial amount of the Trocadero was not open now.

The last two large shops and restaurants the Trocadero was hanging on to, HMV and Planet Hollywood, soon closed down and relocated. 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. Everything but the entrance with the shops and the Cineworld Cinema closed on February 24th, 2014. R.I.P Trocadero, gone but certainly not forgotten.


                                                          (pretty depressing)


Loose ends and the future of the Trocadero

The Cineworld Cinema with the very last cabs scattered around it's entrance only lasted until later in 2014, and it was replaced and refitted into a Picturehouse Central in 2015. The final remnant of the Trocadero's old days, the entrance with shops, was taken out and replaced by just on 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, become unbranded, 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. The whereabouts of the VR simulators are unknown now entirely. While it is known that places like Las Vegas in Soho and The Heart Of Gaming in Croydon bought some of their machines (Naomi cabs, dance games, VS City cabs), most others from what I can gather were sold to a company called JNC Sales. They then sold them off themselves, although not many people knew about this, so I'd imagine most went to actual arcades instead of collectors, unfortunately.

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 multiple failures over the years, hopefully this will be the time that the Troc gets it right.

...And that's it. 

This took me a long time to make. An entire week was spent sourcing videos and making sure everything was definitely true. And I've 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

A tour of some of Funland from 2006

Part 1 of a tour of Funland from December 2009

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

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

List of UK Sega arcades

2 comments:

  1. What an excellent write up, thanks for this, have found memories of the place and being blown away by its size back in its glory days.

    ReplyDelete