The London Trocadero. While to the average Londoner, it may have just looked like a high-budget tourist attraction that crashed and burned after sponsorships were dropped, to gamers it meant so much more. Funland was quite possibly one of the best arcades in the UK right up to it's closure, and Sega World, despite it's flaws was just plain amazing to have. While I wasn't around to expirence it, I've made this article chronicling it's history to do the place justice, as while others have tried to I feel most have left a lot of stuff out. I hope you enjoy reading.
Background history and early years
First a bit of background history.
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. But this was just the beginning...
Relaunch (1984 - 1995)
(the original entrance to the Trocadero)
(Awesome, awesome image)
It was a high-tech wonderland, full of the newest releases and innovations in arcade gaming. Of course, Funland quickly became a mecca for arcade gamers, always getting all the huge deluxe cabs and latest games before anywhere else.
Notable games that Funland housed included Ridge Racer Full Scale, Galaxian 3, multiple Sega R360's, various sit-down 'Candy' machines, and the cutting-edge Virtuality pods (located in the basement) seen in this video-
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, one of the first Family Entertainment Centres in the UK. At the time of opening, it didn't have a single gambling machine- just video games.
Thanks to the boost Funland gave it, slowly but surely the Trocadero became 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, Virtual World, a 3D paragliding experience, 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.
To understand how Sega World London came to be, 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 later on 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 had gambling machines to boot.
So, they set out to change that.
Sega, being ambitious as they were at the time, had the idea of opening Sega branded arcades across the UK, being much more safer, to test their arcade games and raise the profile of arcade gaming as a whole in the UK.
Around the time Sonic 2 was released, they opened the 'Metropolis' arcade in the basement of Hamleys in London. The venue was a success, with a snack bar and impressive games like the R360 and the first Virtua Racing machines in the country.
Sega then upped the ante further with the opening of Sega World Bournemouth, their biggest arcade outside of Japan at that point. It had bowling, a Sega shop, a Burger King, and of course scores of arcade games. The location was once even home to a AS-1 simulator, essentially making the venue a prototype of what Sega World London would become.
(Sega World Bournemouth, 1993)
More Sega arcades started opening, at the rate of one every couple months, often situated in bowling alleys, shopping centres, or even Blockbuster Video stores. They were all very well maintained, and were often location test sites for many arcade games, particularly Sega's of course.
(the Sega Park that was in Southhampton's Bargate shopping centre)
Sega World London (1996 - 1999)From this interview by Sega magazine 'Mega Power' with Sega, shortly after the Bournemouth venue opened they already were planning to open a Sega World in the Trocadero- apparently similar in size to Sega World Bournemouth. This obviously didn't happen. It's not known for sure what made Sega instead make it the biggest of their arcades, but something along the lines of this probably 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 a normal shopping mall to a futuristic entertainment centre. 3 massive screens adorned the back walls, running advertisements and 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.
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- an 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.
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.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 UK arcade 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 would change the scene drastically- Dance Dance Revolution, and Beatmania. These games gave new life to UK arcades, and helped Funland massively in the years that came.
Unfortunately, it was looking very real that Sega World would close. 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 some of the old Sega World floors- the reception, Race Track, Carnival, and Sports Arena. A go kart track, sports bar, bowling alley, ghost train, and a second dodgem track were installed, some of which can be seen in the pictures provided by Proun themselves below.
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 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 clear decline the building was in- for example, the 2nd rocket escalator had been rather comically been blocked off by a Coca-Cola 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 seen this mentioned by someone on a urban exploration forum, but couldn't find the pictures that were taken by them. However, 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.)
(...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 sadness 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, one of the greatest arcades of all time, was gone.
The final years (2011-2014)After this, the Trocadero looked just plain empty and sad. A small attempt was made to bring back arcades to the centre in the basement, with the '5D World' and 'Star Attraction' arcades, but it was nothing 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.
The last two big name tenants 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 dilapidated remains of the decor 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, simply put.
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)
Some of Funland's games were sold to other arcades like The Heart Of Gaming in Croydon (VS City cabs, Naomi DX's), and others were sold to JNC Sales, who then sold them off themselves, and were bought by arcade machine collectors and other arcades. Some of them also still reside in the basement of Las Vegas Arcade, Soho- which is ran by Family Leisure.
And, 4 years on from closure, here is the Trocadero as of right now:
As you can see from the video, the building 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.
The old Planet Hollywood section of the building 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. All of these sound like promising developments that could put the building back on the map as a tourist destination.
So, after it's many failures over the past few decades, hopefully this will be the time that the Trocadero gets it right. And maybe, just maybe, in the distant future, in the right environment, arcades could finally return....and that's it.
This took me a incredibly long time to make. An entire 2 months were spent sourcing videos and pictures, and making sure everything was verified and true. And despite a accident where I ended up losing most of what I'd written, I got it all back.
Thanks to everyone who uploaded the videos here, without them this probably wouldn't have been possible. Also 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 Sega blogs recounting their memories of the place, to a archive of the original Trocadero website. Anyway, thanks for reading.
More Trocadero, Funland and Sega World-
A blog post about the Trocadero's impact on people's lives, and a more detailed look into it's dance game scene (by Toby Na Nakhorn, manager of Las Vegas in Soho)
Part 1 of a tour of Funland from December 2009
A Sega Saturn magazine's article on the place
The Sega World tag from a Sega blog, features a couple more videos and more
Saved snapshots of the Trocadero website from 2001 to the end
List of Sega arcades that were in the UK
Pepsi Max Drop Tower
Again, thanks for reading. This has gone on to be the most successful post on my blog, and from the bottom of my heart thank you all so much for the support and over 10,000 views.