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The Chuck (Interview With GameGavel.com's Mike Kennedy)

Posted by Rob Maerz on January 14, 2015 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

THE CHUCK

Mike Kennedy is Determined to Get You to Kick the eBay Habit and Go For a Ride on the GameGavel Wagon

Originally published in Classic Video Gamer magazine


 

 

An eBay member since 1997, Mike Kennedy saw the online auction giant losing focus of what had made it successful. Knowing that video games are a large niche to support a dedicated auction environment, Kennedy decided to take a chance and start his own auction site, ChaseTheChuckwagon.com, in 2008.


The concept was to create an auction site dedicated to gaming and charge significantly lower fees than eBay. This combination of cheaper fees and dedicated gaming environment has paid off as the site, now named GameGavel.com, has grown to over 3,000 members in its first year and a half.


To instill a community feeling, GameGavel features member forums, chat rooms, a classic gaming radio station at RetroArcadeRadio.com and most recently a podcast at RetroGamingRoundup.com.


Mike, you call yourself a gamer first and foremost. So, first and foremost, tell us about the arcade collection you have in your garage.


Kennedy: I started collecting consoles, games and handhelds about the same time I joined eBay in 1997. Moving to Southern California from Nebraska in 1999 also helped in my hunt for classic gaming relics as I discovered the reoccurring weekend swap meets all year long. Between eBay and the swap meets I was in retrogaming heaven, easily finding about anything I could have ever wanted.


Both were responsible for a very large collection of gaming artifacts that soon grew so large I had to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with myself and make the hard decision to start selling off all this stuff I had amassed. It was then that I decided I didn’t need everything, but only the things I had as a child or wanted as a child but never had - things that had some meaning to me. So, I went through years of finding items at the swap meets and selling them off on eBay for a profit. This also helped finance my small but sustained collection of things as I would buy everything cheap at the swap meets, sell off much of it at a profit which would in turn pay for the items I kept for myself. I basically had a collection of items that essentially cost me nothing. Since then, I’ve greatly reduced my collection to only a small cabinet full of systems, games and electronic handheld games.


There was one day at the swap meet where I came across a Venture arcade game for $75. This was probably around 2002 or so. This started my love affair with having arcade games in my home. The problem I have is I only have a small single car garage to use as my arcade and it also happens to be my office - it’s packed to say the least.


As of this writing I have a Hanaho Arcade PC MAME Cabinet, a Zaxxon cabaret, Atari Battlezone, Atari Video Pinball, Omega Race cabaret, Tutankham, Midway Stunt Pilot mechanical game, Super Moon Cresta and two pins: Williams Taxi and Stern Stars. I have decked out my arcade with black light carpet, a laser star projector, an iPod jukebox and various black light and 80’s movie posters. My arcade is named Yada’s, which was the name of the childhood arcade I spent lots of time in Millard, Nebraska.


All my games are original, dedicated and working machines. I am not a fixer-upper so I tend to buy games that are working and then cross my fingers that they continue to work. So far I’ve had great luck. It’s really amazing how well these continue to work for being so old. My favorite of the bunch and one that I will never get rid of is my Midway Stunt Pilot. This was the first arcade game I ever remember playing and I had to have one. It took me years but I did find one on eBay for $400. Amazingly it was working and is still working to this day. I’ve not seen another one since.


I really love trying to recreate the arcade experience at home, but it could never duplicate the feeling of being in a real 70’s or 80’s arcade. It was a magical time to grow up, to say the least. Since I love my existing game lineup, I try not to look for new games too often because if I find one, I need to consider removing one to make room. That sucks!

 

If you had to make room in your garage for one more arcade cabinet, which would it be?


Kennedy: That’s always a tough question. There is never any one particular game I am looking for, but when I see it, I know it and I want it. For example, I just came across a beautiful BurgerTime locally that hasn’t been posted anywhere, so I have a line on it. And the price is a nice $400. Now I have to figure what to get rid of and right now it looks like the Tutankham has to go.


What recollections do you have of Yada's?


Kennedy: Yada’s, like most early arcades, was a very vibrant, noisy place that always had a good smell of pizza and popcorn coming from the small snack bar. What I remember most are the sounds that emanated from that place as I was opening the door and about to step in: a mixed up symphony of arcade theme songs and attract screens all greeting me and wanting my attention (and my quarters). It was magical. I always went straight to Star Castle and then migrated to Astro Blaster, Carnival, Missile Command and Battlezone. It is also where I learned the Pac-Man square pattern and could routinely get to the 9th key before the pattern changed to something else. The next best thing was meeting your buddies there and watching each other take on the latest games.


In the spring of 2008, you launched the video game auction site ChaseTheChuckwagon.com. What was the biggest challenge in getting this venture off the ground?


Kennedy: The biggest challenge was day one. Thinking to myself, “How do I get people to use a site with no buyers, no sellers and no nothing?” Well actually, I was on a camping trip the day we turned the site on. I was setting up the categories using the Internet on my cell phone. It was crazy but most of the site was formatted and set up on my phone during this weeklong trip.


Then, I needed to figure out how to get a few people using it. My plan was to start hitting the swap meets hot and heavy, buying up everything I could and then listing it on my site. I figured if I loaded it up with a constant stream of new items and offer them cheap, I would at least get a few gamers from the forums looking to buy things. Then I started to comp people into the site - basically give them a lifetime membership where they can sell for free in exchange for listing items. It was a combination of me populating the site with my own items and persuading others to list theirs that allowed us to at least get out of the starting gate and we just built on that.


I distinctly remember one forum post from someone saying something like, “Wow you already have 100 items listed. I think this is going to work.” I look back on that and it seems like so long ago. As you have seen by reading the pages of forum posts, I was met with tons of criticism. I really felt like I was doing something good for the gaming community, but most people really thought this wasn’t going to work and it would fizzle out. Some responses were downright mean and I always wondered why it wasn’t met with more enthusiasm in the beginning. I guess because it had been tried before (Vidiots.com) and failed so fast that no one thought going up against eBay could be done. Thankfully, the praise far surpassed the negative vibes, I pressed on and I think we have come a long way to surprise some of the disbelievers.


A constant battle is convincing people they will be as successful selling on GameGavel as on eBay. eBay really has people fooled into thinking their items will sell 100% of the time. But, a search for items “ending soon” quickly disproves this. Don’t believe me? Simply type in “Nintendo NES” into the search and look at all the items ending without a bid or being purchased. There are considerably more items not selling than selling, and with eBay’s new rules this will be a continuing trend and that is a fact.


I believe that if people use GameGavel in the same way they use eBay, they will see equal success selling their items at or near the same selling price they will see on eBay. One thing that plagues both GameGavel and eBay are sellers that overprice their items. One thing I really think eBay is good for is price checking your items before you list. eBay has a good history showing what items should sell for and if more sellers would educate themselves on the value of their items it would make their selling more successful on either auction site.


It's interesting to follow the ChaseTheChuckwagon thread on AtariAge, which begins the day after ChaseTheChuckwagon.com launched. You can see the Chuck growing as you read through page after page of posts.


Kennedy: Reading the threads on all the forums is quite amusing to me now. But early on, it was difficult to remain positive as most of the comments were negative. It always made me wonder, why all the negativity? A lot of it stemmed from the fact this had been tried before and failed. Many early comments read, “It’s a great idea but will most certainly fail.” This really added to my determination to press through the start up period and grow this thing. And I knew I had to grow it as fast as possible.


I started out selling things from my personal collection and also from items I found hitting the weekend Southern California swap meets. I literally had to fuel this thing with my own items in the beginning and somehow I managed to bring in buyers. These buyers eventually started to see it working and then started to sell things of their own and the site just started to snowball. Thankfully, I have been blessed with some true believers who have continued to stock the site with a few thousand auctions.


Not only did you surpass your target of 2,000 members in one year, but you added yet another 1,000 members just five months later.


Kennedy: Many small, underfunded websites like GameGavel have a first year goal of 1,000 people. My goal was to hit 2,000 members in our first year and we hit that on the bull’s eye - even surpassed it a bit. Like you say, our second year is far outpacing the first year, not only with membership but also with listings, bidding, searching, etc. which is a good sign. But I can never let up. Once you let up the site starts to dwindle off, thus my love affair with the forums. I try to use them to my advantage but at the same time try not to annoy everyone. Sometimes it’s a fine line to use the forums as a gamer and also a business owner. Sometimes I say things I shouldn’t or get involved in discussions I shouldn’t have. The bottom line though is I am a gamer first and foremost and a site owner second.


Why do you suppose the naysayers said that you couldn't succeed and that this venture would fail?


Kennedy: Easy: “No one can compete with eBay”, along with the fact that there have been a few other gaming auction sites try and fail. But, I can tell everyone that no one is as determined as me. My goal is still to be the number one online destination to buy and sell video games. That means overtaking eBay, GameStop and all other large online gaming stores. I think I will achieve this, but the question is how long will it take? That is anybody’s guess.


But I can say this: by the end of 2009 we will have entered into a strategic partnership with a large international gaming community with significant marketing muscle. This has the potential to turn GameGavel into a household name for a hundreds of thousands of gamers around the world. 2010 is going to be one hell of a year!


On March 26 2008, two days after opening the Chuck, you said “It will take time to catch on and grow.” With over 3,000 members in a little over 17 months, has it caught on?


Kennedy: That is a good question and one that is hard to answer. The site has definitely gone above and beyond my expectations since the launch, but it still has so far to go. But, I guess it is catching on because when I wear my t-shirt into GameStop and local gaming stores frequently I am approached and asked if I own the site. That is a great feeling and shows it is reaching further into the gaming community. But, taking into account eBay has around 300,000 video gaming auctions running at any one time; we have light years to go. But, like I said earlier, it will get there. How long it will take is anyone’s guess.


It seems like you can’t make anyone happy with the auction site name. ChaseTheChuckwagon allegedly was hard to identity with gaming - people associated it with dog food or it was just too long of a name. Changing the name to GameGavel.com is viewed as an unpopular move based on bad experiences some may have had with the old GameGavel.com while others just have a fondness for the ChaseTheChuckwagon name. How did the GameGavel deal come about and then why the subsequent name change to GameGavel.com?


Kennedy: In my mind the name really isn’t that important - it’s what you do with the site. It’s functionality, features, advantages and benefits. The name association will come. I could have named it anything and after a while the name would stick. I mean, eBay means nothing (well, maybe East Bay as that is where eBay is located - East of the bay). I had people say I should have named the site GameBay. I still laugh at that one.


To understand why I named the site ChaseTheChuckwagon we need to travel back about a year before I launched. I was always an avid listener of Shane R. Monroe’s RetroGamingRadio show. So after meeting Shane at CGE 2007, I pitched a segment for his show where I hit the Southern California swap meets, negotiate bargain buys on classic gaming items and then make them available to our listeners for the same price I negotiated at the swap meet. Shane loved the idea and my segment “Chasing The Chuckwagon” was born. I soon purchased the domain name, ChasingTheChuckwagon.com and at the same time I also noticed the domain name “ChaseTheChuckwagon.com” was also available so I bought that as well. You never know when you may need something like that.


For about a year I was scouring the swap meets finding great deals and passing these great deals onto our listeners. It became a small, but popular part of RetroGamingRadio and was part of Shane’s show until he ended it back in early 2009. After the show came to an end, I figured I had built up a small dedicated following that would then be called upon to help me populate the auction site, which of course became known as “ChaseTheChuckwagon.com”.


At the time I launched CTCW, a fellow gamer started another auction site, GameGavel.com. We continued to bang heads for months. Looking back, it was a great thing because it pushed us both to outdo each other and add more functions and features to both our sites, which really benefited the gamers that used our sites. In the end, the owner of GameGavel had other commitments that kept him from growing GameGavel the way he wanted and he posted in various forums he was going to be closing down. I had always thought GameGavel was a good name for a gaming auction site so I made the decision to contact him and make him an offer for the name. We agreed on an amount and I became owner of the domain. I figured sooner or later I might need it as finding short, decent gaming domain names are next to impossible these days.


The decision to change the name from CTCW to GameGavel was a very difficult one, because as I mentioned above, I think it could have worked and been successful with any name. I had a constant battle within myself but in the end, I felt I had to do it. CTCW had deep meaning with me and in video gaming lore but it just didn’t resonate with modern day gamers, who, love it or hate it, are a core demographic I need to grow this site and take to the next level. It would be great to just be a big classic gaming site, but in the end we need the buying and selling activity of the modern gamers to help us grow the site so us old-timers can continue using it.


Why do people prefer GameGavel over eBay?


Kennedy: eBay is in a transition period - a period that I frankly don’t get. They are moving away further and further from what made them unique. They have lost their vision of what made them great. I think people are looking for new places to take their business. And for gamers, what is better than an auction site dedicated to gaming and the gaming community?


I think our members like dealing with people they know through the hobby and have met through the online gaming community. Combine that with a dedicated gaming auction environment and cheaper selling fees, GameGavel will continue to be a favorite online destination for gamers, to not only buy and sell, but to buy and sell with people they know.

What exactly is your day job and how many hours do you typically work per week between that and GameGavel.com?


Kennedy: I am a regional sales engineer for a manufacturer of material handling products back East. I handle the Southern California area for them and work out of a home office, when I am not traveling around within my territory. This tends to work well as I can still, from time to time, catch my emails and keep an eye on the site during the workday. After five o’clock, I am online the balance of the evening to about 11:00 PM. I figure I spend roughly five hours each night trying to promote the site or simply keeping up to speed with what’s going on in all the forums.


Weekends are obviously also spent working on the site: tweaking things, talking with my developer about suggestions for improvement, etc. My mind is always going 24/7. I am always thinking of ways to promote the site, companies to partner with and those types of things. I have had discussions with companies like GameStop and Play N Trade, among others. So, to directly answer the second part of your question: I work more than 80 hours per week.


Another thing that will soon be available, that was born out of one of my late night think tank sessions, is a new flash and iPhone tile matching game that will be a new and inventive way for people to search our site. Someone can now play a tile matching game where the tiles are randomly taken from our pool of photos from live running auctions. They will attempt to match up tiles before a timer runs out. Points will be scored for matches, consecutive matches and finding all matches before time runs out. There will be a few cards scattered in there like a “thief” card that will steal 100 points from you and take one of your three lives. A “Warp” card will randomly shuffle all remaining cards and a “clock” card will add more time to the clock. With each wave completed the time to complete the wave is reduced. The game ends when you flip over three “thief” cards or run out of time during a level.


Once the game ends the player will be able to register their high score and also have the opportunity to bid on any of the items they successfully matched during their game play. It’s really a new way to search the site disguised all in the form of a cool little game - like I said, always thinking. This will be offered as a Flash game that can be played anytime on the site and also a free iPhone game that I think should bring in significantly more memberships to the site.


Is there any one auction that sticks out in your mind that has been listed on the Chuck or GameGavel since the site's inception?


Kennedy: We have had some auctions for rare items, but the one that sticks out the most is a boxed Atari 2600 Chase The Chuckwagon game. I remember it fondly because it was the first time I had ever seen a boxed one. It ended up selling for a little over $500 and I really wanted it but didn’t get it. I always love seeing rare items get listed, because they can bring lots of attention to the site and always seem to sell well.


A response to the word “community” in a word association game may be “Mike Kennedy.” It’s a word that I see repeatedly in every interview you do. So, let’s talk about community for a bit since it seems to be something you emphasize. It’s a big deal to you, right?


Kennedy: Community is what it's all about especially since I am also a part of it. It is very important to me to uphold high standards for this community and cultivate a community that I, too, would have wanted to be a part of if I hadn't been the one who created it. On eBay, the community feeling has been lost, mainly because it is all encompassing.


GameGavel has the benefit of targeting a single niche and this helps create a community feeling. We are all in this together, taking on eBay and other commercial gaming websites and stores, if you will. There are business simulation games and this to me is like a video game. I am trying to grow this site in real life and against all odds. If I compare this to playing a video game, it makes it even more fun and a lot less daunting.


You recently announced your Gaming Community Affiliations initiative getting ScrewAttack, CheapAssGamer, Digital Press, AtariAge, NintendoAge, Sega-16 and KLOV onboard. How will members of these communities benefit from these affiliations in the short and long-term?


Kennedy: I was extremely lucky and grateful to have the support of some of the premier classic gaming forums like AtariAge, DigitalPress, NintendoAge, KLOV and Sega-16 among others. I asked their owners for permission to start a single thread in their forums and they obliged. Without their support, starting a gaming auction site would have been much more difficult.


I needed to make inroads into the community I knew best - the classic gaming community. So, because of their support the site has prospered with classic gamers. Classic gamers are the ones that account for the largest percentage of users at the moment. In order to move the site forward, I felt I needed to now embrace the younger gamers – the NES Generation. At the same time, this really helps me target the modern day gamer.


I asked Cheapy D, founder of CheapAssGamer.com, for permission to start a thread in his forums and he was cool with it. That started me in the direction of courting the modern day gamers and now it is extending into another popular gaming website, ScrewAttack.com (more news forthcoming on this relationship).


In order to build on these relationships, I started to think of creative ways to separate GameGavel from other gaming store or auction sites. What better way than to magnify a level of integration with these other communities. So, I made the decision to add what I am calling “Gaming Community Affiliations” into GameGavel.com. Once this integration is in place, GameGavel members will be able to have a graphic Avatar representing their community memberships which will be displayed next to their GameGavel User ID.


Taking this a step further, members can then do a custom search for items for sale by members from a particular community. For example, if you are a member of AtariAge.com you can search for auctions only being run by other AtariAge members. This helps convey that GameGavel really is an auction site created by gamers for gamers. Associating with some of the top gaming communities will always be key to the success of GameGavel.com. Gamers will feel safer knowing they will have the opportunity to know who they are buying and selling with.


What about the Twin Galaxies community given that they are one of, if not the, most recognizable names in video gaming?


Kennedy: I know Walter Day and I have asked about how we can work together. Unfortunately, he is not in charge of their website but has passed my information on to the powers that be with Twin Galaxies. I think sooner or later we will be working with them in some form or fashion. For now, GameGavel is struggling with the arcade gaming crowd. That is still a community I am trying to persuade to use the site. They, after all, have the biggest upside as the cost to sell higher priced arcade games is significantly less on GameGavel than on eBay. Sooner or later I will get the arcade community to use the site. You can bet on that.


As the GameGavel community grows, won’t it lose the intimacy? When does it get too big?


Kennedy: When compared to a site the size of eBay, we will always have an intimate community. That is the beauty of a niche auction site. I think gaming is a close-knit community. Add to that, gamers are very passionate people and I think it takes a passionate person like myself to run a website like GameGavel, as that gives confidence to its members. We are all in this thing together. We all want an alternative to big business and eBay. If we all use this site there is no reason why we can’t overtake these larger companies that have lost any sense of community and commitment to their members.


I think I can speak on behalf of our sellers and say the site can never get too big. The more people on the site, the better the chances of selling their items at higher prices. The way I look at it, I work for our sellers. It is my job to continue growing the site so it draws in more buyers. I can never stop my attempts to grow GameGavel and it is something I think about each and every day, all day. As we grow, I intend to always keep the site grounded no matter the size. I think a lot of this depends on how the site is run and the accessibility of site management and owners by community members. As long as I am in charge I can always be reached by anyone very easily. I am not too hard to find.


What are your plans to reach those outside of the AtariAge, KLOV et al communities? Any plans to expand advertising outside the Internet medium?


Kennedy: There are really three different types of gamers I need to focus on. In the beginning I’ve focused on the classic gaming community because, as I said before, I know it best. Starting in 2010, I will be focused on two other gaming demographics: the hardcore gamers and casual gamers. For GameGavel to make it big, it needs to go mainstream by targeting these next two types of gamers. The question is, how do I target them and how much is it going to cost me?


I’ve tried getting involved with some of the hardcore gaming sites like IGN, Gamespot, Destructoid, Kotaku and Joystiq but am not getting anywhere with them. They all want me to just spend an arm and a leg on advertising. At this stage in our development, I still can’t afford any significant advertising on sites like those. I have used Google Adwords, Facebook Advertising and other pay-per-click advertising, but the amount I can budget for is not enough to really keep the ball rolling. So, I am still looking to partner with other companies while looking at other ways to compensate them, like sharing in the revenue of GameGavel. This is something that I will be doing more of because it doesn’t cost me anything out-of-pocket initially and the companies I am working with will then have a vested interest in our growth. In a sense, it is trading a percent of our revenue for their effort to promote the site to their population.


At this point, advertising outside the Net in gamer magazines or trade publications is not something I can afford. But, it would be nice to make enough money to promote this outside the Net and through different channels to reach all demographics of gamers, young and old, male and female, all around the world. This will come as we grow.


On October 26, 2009 you announced that sales were down, bidding was down and registrations for the month were off 50% at GameGavel.


Kennedy: October was a weird month and our stats were down. This didn’t jive with the rest of the year which for the most part saw increasing statistics each month throughout. Maybe it had something to do with the site name change and change over.


One other thing that added to the less than stellar month was that our Google Feeds were down due to some items being listed that were against their policies – something to do with modded systems and such so they stopped our feed. In a sense we were losing out on significant Google Search traffic during the month and it has since been reactivated. As I thought, November is back on track with our yearly averages. I think there was a combination of things that led to October’s poor performance, but GameGavel is back on track and I expect the holiday season to be a big one again this year.


I read an article recently where a video game store owner commented that "There is a whole nostalgia thing going on" in regard to sales of NES and other classic game titles. Is there a nostalgia thing going on?


Kennedy: Nostalgia is something that is always “going on”. As far as video games are concerned people are playing games they enjoyed in their youth. It brings back memories and transports you back to that first time you loaded a Kaboom! cartridge into your Atari 2600 or Super Mario Bros. into your NES.


It turns out these are much simpler games and can be picked up and played for short durations unlike the games of today. I split my time between my classic systems, PS3 and Wii. It breaks things up a bit and gives you something to do if you are stuck in a modern day game or just need to take a break from a marathon gaming session to play something you can finish in a few minutes. I think both have their place - at least in my house.


Many companies are playing the nostalgia card now. It’s big business and really responsible for the record growth of the casual gaming market that is now close to becoming the leading gaming genre.


What's in store for GameGavel.com and any other ventures you may have for 2010?


Kennedy: I can guarantee 2010 will be an exciting year for GameGavel. Dare I say, maybe even a real breakout year. I am aligning GameGavel with a couple other very large gaming entities and have some big announcements forthcoming. Depending on when they are made, it may be old news at the time this is going to press. But, the bottom line is that GameGavel will be making a big splash in 2010 and all members will see the benefit.


Why the disdain for eBay, the company that in effect paved the way for all auction sites?


Kennedy: Despite what you read and see others saying, I really don’t have any disdain for eBay. I just think they are shitting in their nest. I share this with many of their longtime users. I still use them for buying and selling things other than video games and will continue to use them. I hope they can iron out their vision and get back on track.


Unfortunately, I think that bad decisions are being made at the top and until the top is shaken up they will continue their downward spiral. But, I’ve used them since 1997 and wish them the best. I think GameGavel will thrive with or without them. Once GameGavel is significantly populated it will be the best place to buy and sell games online.


Do you own stock in eBay?


Kennedy: Nope. Thank God.

 


 

Brewskis: Quenching the Thirst for Fresh ColecoVision Titles

Posted by Rob Maerz on December 29, 2014 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Brewskis: Quenching the Thirst for Fresh ColecoVision Titles

Originally published in Classic Video Gamer magazine


In the summer of 1982, the ColecoVision’s release meant doomsday for the Atari 2600 and Mattel’s Intellivision home consoles. Coleco’s “Arcade Quality Video Game System” was released with the smash pack-in game Donkey Kong and solidified the system as an instant success selling out all 500,000 units in its initial production run. The most advanced home console of its time sold six million systems in just two short years.


Unfortunately, the ColecoVision was released only about eighteen months before the Video Game Crash. The crash, the disastrous ADAM computer and the passing of the Cabbage Patch Kids forced Coleco to declare bankruptcy in 1988.


Only around 125 titles were released during the ColecoVision’s production run. Arcade perfect ports like Mouse Trap, Frenzy, Carnival, Pepper II and Zaxxon have left ColecoVision enthusiasts thirsty for fresh new titles ever since.


Scott Huggins, a Math and Computer Science graduate of Southwest Texas State University, is a Software Engineer with Lanvera, LTD., a document outsourcing company. Huggins began programming for the ColecoVision in 2002 and has four titles to his credit: Cavern Rescue, Astro Invader, Spectar and Terra Attack.


Eduardo Mello is a programmer for Opcode Games. He began programming for the ColecoVision in 1998 and has six home brew titles to his credit with Space Invaders Collection, Sky Jaguar, Yie Ar Kung Fu, Magical Tree, Road Fighter and Pac-Man Collection.


These are the ColecoVision home brew meisters. It’s not a lucrative business, but a labor of love. I sat down with them to discuss the ColecoVision and home brewing for this historic console.


In its heyday, the arcade not only showcased the hottest games but also served as a hangout, meeting place and some even hosted competitions. There are those that say that the arcade is dead and that they simply are no longer profitable. Will we ever see people getting out of their homes and back into the arcades? And what is it about the modern console games that have lured people away from the simpler, two-dimensional classics?


Huggins: I don't think we will ever see it like it used to be. Certainly it will not have the feel that it did back in 1980-83. I guess we can blame technology for taking away the simplicity and charm that those old arcade machines delivered. I am not sure what exactly killed the feel of the classic arcade.


The classics were meant to be played for a maximum of fifteen minutes per quarter - very quick and you move on to something else or put in another quarter. I think the fast twitch factor is lost.


Mello: Technology became so advanced that it now requires large teams to develop both the hardware and software which translates into higher costs. Considering that the average arcade sells probably no more than 50,000 units, it isn't hard to figure out why we do not see many arcade games released anymore.


Huggins: It's an adventure to start playing a modern game nowadays. The games last forever as you can stop and continue a single game for over a period of days, weeks or months. They are all time consuming and require a lot of studying just to figure out how to play. I guess to many, that's called evolution.


Mello: The most traditional entertainment industry in the U.S. is Hollywood, so I believe that is why Americans like their games photorealistic and cinematic. If you think about it, the search for realism isn't anything new - get a copy of any video game magazine from the eighties and you will find reviewers describing how the graphics looked "almost real". The problem was that the technology wasn't there until recently.


The first person shooter games are the number one genre in the occident. For some reason our culture seems to enjoy extreme violence. In contrast, FPS games aren't as popular in Japan, an eastern country that hasn’t been involved in any war since World War II. Also, in Japan mangas and animes are the dominant form of entertainment. Thus, Japanese gamers aren't as concerned with photorealism and are more open to graphic abstractions.


Huggins: I would prefer to play Defender for ten minutes and then move on to Qix or something else. Some of my younger friends just cannot understand why I would waste time on those games versus an XBox 360 game.

What was the historical significance surrounding the release of the ColecoVision and how did its release influence the future of video gaming?


Mello: The ColecoVision was released during the Golden Age of Arcade Gaming and offered the closest to the arcade experience in the comfort of your own home.


Huggins: I am 40 years old. So, in late 1982 I was the perfect age (thirteen) to "get" the ColecoVision’s relevance when it was released. It looked so sleek. The television commercials and magazine ads made the console and games look state-of-the-art. I couldn't believe it.


Mello: The Expansion Module #1 (the Atari 2600 module) was a huge advantage back then and I think most people today just don't realize the importance of that. The success of the ColecoVision with its pack-in Donkey Kong cartridge convinced Nintendo to enter the video game market the following year in Japan.


Huggins: I had an Atari 2600 with about twenty games at the time. I remember in December 1982, all the guys in my school were nuts over the possibility of getting a ColecoVision for Christmas. I was envious because I knew I wouldn't be getting one.


You could certainly feel it immediately - people forgot about Intellivision or any Atari product as being the “cool system.” I still enjoyed my 2600 and playing my friend's Intellivision, but those that owned a ColecoVision were viewed as being in another league.


I think the ColecoVision came and went too fast. It never saw momentum since the video game industry crashed only eighteen months after its release.


What set ColecoVision apart from the competition at the time was arcade-like graphics for the home console. If you were to pick one game that looked, sounded and played like the arcade on a ColecoVision which title would it be and why? Additionally, what is your favorite ColecoVision title?


Huggins: My favorite ColecoVision title is Pepper II. Talk about a great translation of a very unknown (as was their M.O.) - Pepper II has it all: great sounds, nice graphics, perfect controls and perfect game play. It's one title I never got sick of.


Obviously, picking Donkey Kong as the pack-in cartridge was brilliant. It's arguable whether the game was done as well as it could have been done, but it was good enough and it played well. Just seeing it as it was on a regular television set with the theme song, graphics and sound effects was thrilling at the time.


Mello: There are many examples of very close ports. Games like Venture, Mouse Trap or even Turbo. Atarisoft also produced many first-rate ports like Galaxian and Defender. In fact I find it ironic that Coleco's biggest competitor was the one releasing the most polished games for the ColecoVision. All Atarisoft games were very well programmed and in some cases were using some very advanced techniques. I wish I had met the team that created them.


Some of my favorites like Zaxxon, Tapper and Mr Do! were not arcade perfect but were a lot of fun nevertheless.


What was the most damaging blow to Coleco and what could they have done differently to stay afloat during those down years in the video game industry?


Huggins: At the time of the crash there was an immediate shift towards home computers. You could program your own software, buy non-game software and also buy great looking games. It seemed the more versatile way to go.


Mello: The ADAM was their worst decision, but I understand why they were putting all their chips on it. The video game market was collapsing and the word was that video games were a fad and computers were the future. So they were doing what everybody else was doing, switching from video games to computers.


We know how the ADAM ended: being rushed to the market, full of bugs and other problems. But, even if they had missed their release window in Christmas 1983 and waited until 1984 to have a more stable product it probably would not have made a difference. By then 16-bit computers were all the rage and 8-bit computers started to fade away.


Another issue was software quality. Do you realize how amateurish game development was back in the early eighties? Companies were not applying the most basic rules of software engineering. A programmer leaving a company most of the time would spell the end of a product.


I believe that Coleco should have stayed in the video game market only, improved their overall quality (both hardware and software) and focus on designing unique products.


After the market crashed, Nintendo released the Entertainment System in 1985 which in effect revived the video game industry and has grown into the behemoth that we know of today. If Coleco was financially stable in the late 1980s [they declared bankruptcy in 1988] what challenge, if any, could it have presented to the NES?


Huggins: Games will always look better on the NES because of its color palette and better sprite hardware - it's just a more capable machine. However, the ColecoVision was not “pushed” until then and I think it could've evolved nicely had it been given the chance.


Mello: I believe the ColecoVision was a viable platform. Sure, it isn't as powerful as the NES as it lacks a few important features like hardware scroll. But, you can still produce some quality games for it and the hardware could be produced at a very competitive price.


A unique advantage of the ColecoVision was the expansion port which is unusually complete and flexible for a video game (or even computer) system. The ColecoVision expansion port basically exposes the whole system bus to the outside world allowing you to add more memory, peripherals and replace the video, sound and even central processors. Because of that, Coleco would have released a “ColecoVision II” between 1985 and 1987 yet still allow ColecoVision users to upgrade without the need of buying a new machine.


In Japan, two systems similar to the ColecoVision evolved into far more powerful machines during the eighties. The Sega SG-1000 used the same ColecoVision hardware with just a few differences in memory and I/O mapping. In 1985 Sega created the Master System which was basically an SG-1000 with an improved video processor. It was even backward compatible with the SG-1000. That is something Coleco could have done.


Then there’s the MSX - a standardized format for home computer. Also very similar to the ColecoVision, yet it evolved not one, not two, but three times - all backward compatible.


Additionally, in Japan Konami was a major player in the MSX software market. Had the ColecoVision stayed around, Konami would have ported most of their MSX games to the ColecoVision in the US and I am sure a few other Japanese companies could have done the same. In fact, three games that Konami created for the MSX were ported to the ColecoVision: Antarctic Adventure, Cabbage Patch Kids (Athletic Land in Japan) and Monkey Academy. More were planned like Video Billiards but cancelled because of the crash.


Why the significance of home brewing for classic consoles like the ColecoVision and what do you “get” out of it?


Huggins: Nostalgia is part of it. The feeling of late 1982 came back when I had a working version of Phoenix that I had been developing for the ColecoVision. I then wanted to port an obscure arcade title in the same traditional vein that Coleco had previously. Astro Invader is certainly not an arcade classic, but I thought it might translate well to the ColecoVision.


Mello: I believe that home brewing helps keep classic consoles like the ColecoVision alive. In the 1990s, people like me started to rediscover classic consoles and collect them. Fifteen years later, most of us had already completed their collections. I believe that eventually we would all get bored playing the same games for decades. Home brewing is here to fill that gap and to offer us something new to play from time to time.


It's very rewarding to be able to create or port a game for such limited machines. The sense of accomplishment is out of this world.


What motivated you, Scott Huggins, to port obscure titles like Astro Invader and Spectar?


Huggins: That’s one thing that I am attracted to regarding the ColecoVision. Space Panic, Pepper II, Cosmic Avenger, Looping, etc. aren’t exactly classic arcade titles. But, Coleco made them available on their console, which I thought was great. So, I wanted to try to continue that tradition.



 

 Is there any competition between each developer? For example, is it race to stake claim to writing a particular arcade port?


Mello: It is more a matter of who wants to do what. Once someone announces that they are porting a given game then that game is taken and we will look somewhere else. But I don’t think it’s really competition.


Huggins: When I was roughly fifty percent complete with Phoenix, Opcode expressed interest but they let me try to finish it. I told Eduardo I was abandoning that project but I don't think he wants to pick it up. I think all ColecoVision developers help each other out a lot - a very friendly group of guys.


Mello: I toyed with the idea of porting Phoenix and I actually even exchanged a few emails with Scott about that. But, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was stealing someone else's project.


What technical background is required in home brewing for the ColecoVision and what type of person home brews for the ColecoVision? How different is it to program for the ColecoVision versus the Atari 2600?


Mello: The ColecoVision is actually very easy to program for. Although it is less powerful, in many ways its architecture is similar to a more modern platform like the Super NES.


Huggins: It's totally different from the 2600. We have Video RAM which is really nice. All the cycle counting on the 2600 makes it very challenging to code for that machine. Those 2600 developers who have been doing it within the last five to six years are incredible.


Mello: The 2600 is very hard to program because the hardware is completely unusual: there is no real video processor therefore the CPU must create the whole video on the fly which is very complicated and requires precise timing in software.


I believe that what is required to program the ColecoVision is first of all a good understanding of the machine along with a good understanding of what you can and cannot do. A good starting point is to play as many games as you can, including games on similar platforms like the SG-1000 and MSX. That will give you a good sense of what can be done.


Then try to learn Z80 assembly. While you can program the ColecoVision using C language, Z80 assembly is the way to go if you want to extract the most out of the machine. It can be a hard and slow process in the beginning, but later on it will prove a very useful tool and will give your games a technical edge.


Huggins: To get into ColecoVision programming at an entry level, you should carefully and patiently read Daniel Bienvenu's C-Programming Tutorial document. You could then get going pretty quickly if you have a decent amount of C-Programming experience.


How do we keep alive classic console home brewing for the next generation of developers?


Huggins: I'm not sure but it seems to be flowing along well. I joined AtariAge.com in 1999 when it was called Atari 2600 Nexus. It's every bit as strong now as it was then.


Mello: I am about to be a father of a baby boy and of course I will introduce him to video games eventually. What I think I can do is to introduce him first to Atari and ColecoVision. This way I hope he develops at least some respect for those old consoles and games. I will also try to get him involved with classic gaming activities, like gatherings and such, so hopefully he feels like he is part of the whole thing. And of course in the future, if he expresses a desire for home brewing I will be there to support him.


How long does it take, on average, to reach completion on a given project? Which project was your easiest and which was your most challenging and what made that project challenging?


Huggins: Astro Invader was by far the easiest as it only took three months. Spectar was the most challenging in that it took roughly one year to complete. I find the sprite limitations on the ColecoVision to be very hindering. So, in the later levels on Spectar to get that many moving objects on screen at once without flicker was a challenge.


Mello: A game can take from a couple of months to many years. So far I have authored only arcade ports.


Porting an MSX game is fairly simple and quick, while porting an arcade game can take years. Pac-Man was ported from an arcade game and the hardware is quite different from the ColecoVision. That means I must convert all routines to simulate the arcade hardware. The MSX on the other hand is very similar to the ColecoVision hardware as it uses the same CPU and video processor.


Pac-Man Collection started in 2003 and was released in 2008. While I cannot say it took five years to complete because I was actually working on many different games during the same time, it surely took hundreds of hours of programming effort. So I would say it was the most challenging so far.


Strangely, Donkey Kong, a game that would be perceived as a bit more complex, has been progressing at a far better pace, perhaps because I am more experienced now.


The VideoGameCritic.net review on Sky Jaguar questioned "why bother on this old relic" calling it "bland" and "generic.” They then go on to state from a technical standpoint that it "scrolls in a jerky manner." How do you react to negative reviews and in retrospect do you say "yes, there is a way that I could have fixed the scrolling issue" or is it an instance where any possible solution had been exhausted?


Mello: Reviews are always a matter of personal taste. If a reviewer hates RPGs, no matter how good an RPG is that reviewer will always say it isn't good enough.


While this particular reviewer did not like Sky Jaguar, I have heard a number of people saying the opposite and that Sky Jaguar is the best shooter they have played on the ColecoVision. It is also fair to mention that Sky Jaguar isn't a game that I created as I only ported it from the MSX. The reason I ported it was because on the MSX it is the best shooter available that requires only 1KB of RAM which is the amount available on the ColecoVision.


From the technical point-of-view the problem with the scroll isn't related to the game but to the ColecoVision itself. The video doesn't offer a scroll smooth function, so we have two options: tile scroll, where the playfield is scrolled 8 pixels at a time or smooth scroll by software. Smooth scroll by software requires that you define the same tile four or eight times (1 or 2 pixels scroll) for each tile instance with an increased number of pixels shifted. The problem with that solution is that the number of tiles available is reduced by four or eight. The other problem is that the video has a color limitation where each character line can have only two colors and when you start to shift pixels that just gets worse.


So, games that use the software scroll solution get severely limited in terms of tile variety or color or both. That is why Sky Jaguar doesn't use it - it is a design decision and I honestly prefer it that way.

Eduardo, you wrote Pac-Man Collection which has been auctioned off on eBay for as high as $350. Do you see this as a form of flattery or is there resentment as to what may be perceived to be others profiting from your efforts?


Mello: I think it's more of the latter, unfortunately. What I believe is happening is that a lot of people outside the AtariAge.com circle do not know about the game and think they are getting a “one of a kind” deal when actually it is widely available. Sure, we have been slow to ship, but it's just a matter of waiting a few months at most.




What is the reason for Space Invaders Collection not being available at this time?


Mello: We ran out of manuals and boxes for the game. But we have plans for it, stay tuned.

 

Do you have any additional games planned for development or currently in progress?


Huggins: I am about 95 percent complete with an original game called Frantic which is best described as "Frenzy on steroids". Joe Kollar, who does the label and box artwork for my games, designed it while I did all the programming. When it is complete, I think it will be my best programming feat thus far as I pulled some stuff off that I didn't think I could.


Pixel-to-pixel collision detection is one thing I had to do. I needed to do that in order to let your player get out of the tight sports he can get in with robots, missiles and the cannon laser fire. You have to be dead accurate with your firing to destroy your intended target. In the past, if you were "close enough" (for example three or four pixels within target) you were awarded the kill or you were killed. Again, some of those levels have so much going on. Lots of sound, lasers, robots, missiles, and Heinous Hank (equivalent to Evil Otto in Berzerk) all going at once and the game does not slow one bit.


Also, I tried to really break the mold graphic-wise and not look so much like a computer game but more like an arcade game. The game just needs more polish and a couple bug fixes and it should be ready.


Mello: I have many games currently in development:


Donkey Kong Arcade is a port of the original Donkey Kong arcade game. The idea is to produce a more faithful version of the game than the one shipped with each ColecoVision. For example, this new version includes the conveyor belt stage, all the intermissions and a permanent high score table. Some would say that the ADAM version offered all of that too, but graphics in the new version are much more faithful and game play is as close to the arcade version as possible.


Arkanoid is a port of the Taito classic. All the small details found in the arcade version will be present, and some kind of analog controller will be offered so the experience is as arcade-like as possible.


Rally-X is a port of a Namco game and is in very early stages of development. The final game should offer fast and smooth scrolling.


Then I have many MSX ports in different stages of completion:


Knightmare is one of the best (if not the best) shoot-em-up for the MSX. It features fast action, smooth sprite animation, eight different stages, bosses and many different weapons and special powers to choose from. The ColecoVision version will include an easy mode (because the original game is so insanely hard) and permanent save of high scores and warp zones.


Goonies is a Konami game based on the classic Richard Donner movie. It offers five different stages with dozens of screens each. The ColecoVision version will replace the password system with saving points for easier access.


Yie Ar Kung Fu II - The Emperor Yie-Gah. This is the follow-up for the first YAKF featuring more fighters, more scenarios, better sound and graphics and more challenging game play.


Zanac is a version of the classic Compile shooter. This game was actually first released for the MSX in Japan, and then ported for the Famicom Disk System (which later was ported to cartridge for the US release). The game is very long and the final boss is one of the coolest ever.


There are more, like Gradius, but they are still in very early stages of development. All the games above will require the Opgrade Module, a small expansion module for the ColecoVision that will increase the memory of the system.


What exactly is the Opgrade module?


Mello: The OM is still under development so specs can change. What we have for sure is 24KB of additional main RAM, 128KB of Flash memory for the new BIOS and to save games and 128KB of RAM for the MegaRAM which is a device that simulates a bank-switch capable cartridge.


I have a number of games in development for the OM, including ports of Donkey Kong and Arkanoid, as well as many MSX ports, like Knightmare, Goonies, Yie Ar Kung-Fu II, Kings Valley, Zanac and more. The module should be available later this year or early next year with two games: a pack-in (Donkey Kong Arcade) and a standalone game which will probably be Knightmare. Developers will be able to use the OM if they want and will be welcome to do so.


How will the ColecoVision stock controller work with a paddle-based game like Arkanoid?


Mello: We are planning to offer two control options: one based on some kind of analog controller or perhaps an adaptor for Atari paddles and the other using the regular ColecoVision controllers. The problem with the regular controller is that you lose speed control, but we will try to offer some speed control thru the second action button. For example, press the button to go faster, release it to go slower. Not perfect but better than nothing for those who don't have an Atari paddle. The spinner on Super Action Controllers and track-balls won't be supported since they are too CPU intensive.


Which of these arcade titles would you or would you not consider porting to the ColecoVision and why: Satan’s Hollow, Galaga, Turtles, Moon Cresta / Eagle, Tazz-Mania, Make Trax and Magical Spot II.


Mello: Never heard of Magical Spot II. What is that - a porn game?


Huggins: Satan’s Hollow is very doable and would translate very well to the ColecoVision. However, Galaga would be very challenging to pull off.


Mello: Moon Cresta is kind of a classic of the shooting genre. Not high in my list but still a possibility.


Huggins: I seriously considered Moon Cresta at one time but instead I opted for Spectar for the vaporware aspect. Spectar was shown as an upcoming game in 1982 but never saw the light of day.


Mello: Turtles I played a lot on the Odyssey 2 and is also a possibility. Galaga is a no-brainer although I have been trying to figure out the best way to port it.


For more information on purchasing these home brew releases, visit www.AtariAge.com and www.opcodegames.com.


 


 

Game Over: 30 Years After Pac-Man Fever, Arcades Struggle to Stay Alive

Posted by Rob Maerz on December 10, 2014 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (1)

Game Over: 30 Years After Pac-Man Fever, Arcades Struggle to Stay Alive

Originally published in Classic Video Gamer magazine


 

I was fortunate to grow up in the arcades during the classic gaming boom. Those old black and white games like Tank, Pong and Speed Race could be played on cabinets found in bowling alleys and department stores. To play Space Invaders and Death Race in a packed arcade on a Friday night or Pong and Space Fury in the back of a Two Guys department store was nothing short of awesome. Arcade cabinets were everywhere and it was, in fact, history in its infancy.


My local bowling alley started out with a few games in an area against the wall across from the lanes - Robot Bowl and Breakout amongst some pinball machines. After renovations, they moved their games into a dedicated game room where you could play classics like Asteroids, Tron, Jungle Hunt and Sea Wolf. They featured about ten arcade cabinets, two pinball machines and three pool tables in a smoke-filled room where folks would think nothing of resting their cigarette down onto a burn-hole infested control panel while firing away at Asteroids.


In 1981, there was no comparison between arcade and home console graphics. Gamers regarded the home consoles as a “better than nothing” alternative to the arcade. There were many nights where I closed the arcade and the first thing I did when I got home was pop Space Invaders in my Atari 2600. Later on, home console games were becoming (literally) a dime a dozen and a lot of them of poor quality.


This was Coleco's M.O.: bring the arcade experience into the home, which they did in 1982 with the release of the ColecoVision and its pack-in game, Donkey Kong. No other console at that time had anything close to arcade quality audio and video - barring games like Video Olympics (Atari’s port of Pong) and Breakout which were not graphic intensive.


Some will argue, however, how “arcade imperfect” ColecoVision’s port of Donkey Kong is, with missing intermissions, levels etc. But the fact is at the time of its release, the majority of gamers found these shortcomings to be forgiving amidst the awe of finally having graphics of this quality in their own home.


In 1980 Atari released its port of the video game craze catalyst, Space Invaders, for the 2600. It was not even close to arcade perfect, but still an excellent title that was reason alone to buy a 2600 console. Both the arcade and home console releases of Space Invaders were a huge turning point in video game history.


The video game phenomenon picked up steam with the 1979 releases of Asteroids and Galaxian. But it was the 1980 release of Pac-Man that stirred the video game industry into a frenzy and packed the arcades. To a ten year old, video games were larger than life itself.


In retrospect, 1981 was the most prolific year for arcade releases with Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Gorf and Satan's Hollow, to name a few headliners. The games were unique and imaginatively rich. Even the titles that may have been considered Pac-Man clones, like Lady Bug, were original enough in their own right.


Look at the artwork for the arcade cabinet Tron, for example. The Tron experience is what we have lost in the evolution of gaming. You will never be able to duplicate the controls, the audio or visuals of this Bally Midway classic if ported to a home console or even on a desktop computer running MAME. Tron was only one work of art in the arcade exhibit.


It’s a typical Friday night in 1982. From the top step of the escalator in the JC Penney wing of the Park City Mall in Lancaster, PA you see the indoor roller rink straight ahead. As you descend, the sounds of space battles, pinball machines, air hockey and billiards increase in volume from the left as you near the end of the ride.


Exiting in a dash from the escalator, you stand in front of the arcade’s left entrance and take in the scene. The arcade is laid out in a horseshoe with two large entrances at either point. Asyou walk through the left entrance, you pass three billiard andtwo air hockey tables on your left and a row of ten pinballmachines to your right. Making a right hand turn at The Safe, you stop at the arcade operator’s station to your left, which is located dead center of the horseshoe. Wearing a bright yellow polo shirt and donning a change pouch, he exchanges your dollar bill for four quarters.


After waiting for an eternity at the operator’s station, you walk past the next row of pinball machines on your right and the cockpit games Monaco GP and Star Wars in the middle aisle. You proceed towards the cabinet located against the opposite wall sandwiched between Sea Wolf and Carnival. With one hand on the steering wheel and one foot on the gas pedal, your objective is to run over as many people as possible in that game your parents love to hate: Death Race by Exidy.


Looking for the next fix you notice a crowd gathering around Pac-Man only a few cabinets away. As you stand on your toes to catch a glance, you notice seven quarters lying side-by-side on the monitor glass just above the control panel. But with the run Player 1 is on right now, you know that you will not be playing this game any time soon.


Pushing your way through the meandering throng of thrill seekers, you make your way to the cabinet at the end of the row located at the mouth of the arcade’s right hand entrance. The glowing cabinet marquee reads Eagle. Another machine is fed 25 cents.


A few minutes later, your battle against the bird-like aliens comes to a close. Quickly, you snake your way to the opposite corner of the arcade to play on one of three Galaga cabinets. After a perfect score on the Challenging Stage of level 3, you step back from the cabinet, exhale and take a good look around the room.


The place is packed with young and old. Crowds gather around the Frogger and Donkey Kong cabinets. The sounds of Space Invaders’ missile fire, ghosts gobbled up in Ms. Pac-Man and the thunderous sound of exploding rocks in Asteroids resonate through the arcade lit only by pinball machines, monitors and marquee’s glow.


Ruining the moment is Dad who sneaks up behind you and tells you that it’s time to go. You plea for more time as you still have two ships left but there is no bargaining at this point. You ask the stranger that assumed the visitor’s position at your Galaga cabinet to take over.


A fifteen minute drive through the suburb in the back of a maroon, four-door ’72 Chevy Nova is only like halftime in your gaming extravaganza. As soon as you reach the home base, you dart down the steps into the rec room and fire up Space Invaders on the 2600 for a night cap.


Flash forward to 2009 – almost thirty years after “Pac-Man Fever.” Those images of the arcade in 1982 are now ancient history.


Long gone are the crowds. The days where profit could be turned by simply plugging in an arcade cabinet to a nearby electrical outlet are just a distant memory.


The simple, yet challenging games played within the arcade walls are out in favor of the cinematic graphics and sophisticated controls found in modern home video games.


Arcades that have held the same street address for decades are closing their doors forever.


Joe LeVan, a former college professor, is the owner of the Challenge Arcade at the Berkshire Mall in Reading, PA. A passionate gamer, LeVan has been in the family run business for over seven years. In addition to the mall arcade, LeVan has a smaller location at the Reading Airport, where he really enjoys the staff and providing games for the pilots and guests that frequent it.



Last May, my son and I visited the arcade after attending the Too Many Games Expo in Leesport. There was a fantastic mix of current and classic titles, although we opted for the latter playing Donkey Kong, Mr. Do!, Pac-Man Plus, Ms. Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros. and Pole Position. I marveled at how the arcade was “done right” – the décor, the layout of the cabinets and the game selection. I was shocked to read that the Challenge Arcade was prepared to close its doors for good only two months later.


Two months prior to the Challenge Arcade visit, I made the 90 minute trek from the Pennsylvania state capital to Southampton, PA, home of Todd N. Tuckey’s TNT Amusements, Inc., to purchase my first arcade cabinet. What I found in his warehouse was a classic arcade paradise: Tron, Pac-Man, Tempest, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Galaxian and the cabinet I purchased, Satan’s Hollow to name only a few.


The customer service at TNT Amusements was fabulous. Great care was taken loading Satan’s Hollow in the van and I was invited to stay in the showroom for a while to play the cabinets which were all on free play. The Arkanoid cabinet in the showroom was a museum piece. Everything about the game – controls, audio and video were in pristine condition.


TNT Amusements boasts the largest used game showroom in the world, reselling pinball machines, Skeeball, air hockey, jukeboxes, shuffle alley and of course, video games. Additionally, the showroom can be rented for parties - all the games are set on free play and the kids can venture through the maze constructed of cutouts in the walls.


Todd has been in the business for thirty years. The commercial arcade sales and services which were so prevalent in 1979 now only account for a minority of his business in 2009.


I met with Todd Tuckey and Joe LeVan to discuss the boom, the bust and the challenges currently facing arcade owners.


############################################################################


When you look at the arcade titles released for a given year, which year do you think was the most prolific for new releases of the Golden Age?


LeVan: I think 1980 would have to be the most significant year in the classic video game boom. Groundbreaking games like Pac-Man, Defender, Centipede and Missile Command paved the way for many great titles to come in the early 1980s.


Tuckey: Probably 1980 to ’81 with games like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position, Frogger, Defender, Centipede, Tron, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Jungle King and Crazy Climber.


 

Which game of the classic era do you feel was the most groundbreaking?


LeVan: This question could be argued in a number of different ways. One could argue that Computer Space, Pong, or even Space Invaders paved the way for the classic era of video gaming.


Tuckey: Space Invaders - I really think it got everyone hooked, although mostly men. The Invaders were orderly in their descent and anyone could develop their own techniques for killing them off. Pac-Man was the game that hooked both men and women equally.


LeVan: I would have to say Pac-Man was the most ground breaking due to its overwhelming popularity in sparking interest towards the arcades at the beginning of the Golden Age of video gaming.


 

Are there any titles of that era that come to mind that you feel are underrated or considered “hidden gems?”


LeVan: I think several classic sequels were underrated for their quality of game play. Games like Q*bert's Qubes, Donkey Kong 3 and Discs of Tron.


Tuckey: Sega's Astro Blaster comes to mind. This was the first game that featured "secret bonus features" and even numbered them so you could attempt to find them all. For instance, if you dodged all the meteorites moving left and right without firing at them, that was one secret bonus. If you were able to hit all the enemies that flew from one side to the left without any of them making the other side, another bonus was awarded. Great voice and sound effects too.


 

What are some recollections you have of an arcade on a Friday night in 1981?


LeVan: I remember going to the arcade back in 1981 to a huge and very full arcade in a local mall. It seemed like back-in-the-day people were more focused on their public gaming experience than today.


Tuckey: Dark hallways just the glow from the marquees, two to four people crowded around each and every game, lots of mixed sounds and rows of quarters lined up on each game.


LeVan: As a young teen I was rarely bothered by the older kids and businessmen that frequented the arcades of that time. The only time I had problems is when I tried to shove my way in to play a new release at the arcade. I was often shoved to the back of the line because I was quite often the youngest and the last to play the new titles.


I also have fond memories of the difficulty of most of the classic games. They were very frustrating for an adult let alone a young kid. Thankfully, I came from a generation that was willing to learn the strategies of the game and hang in until our skills improved at many arcade games.


 

What cannot be duplicated with Compact Disc or digital download is the charm of the album artwork found with the 12-inch vinyl record. The same can be said when comparing the home console to the arcade cabinet. What is your favorite arcade cabinet in regard to the design, lighting and artwork?


LeVan: This question is easy for me. My favorite game – Discs of Tron. This game provides an experience you will never be able to duplicate with MAME or by other means. You have to play the original to get the full experience of the controls, lighting and sound.


 

What experience does the arcade offer that a home console cannot?


Tuckey: Full sized controls and being close to the screen.


LeVan: There are many things that the arcade experience can offer that the home console cannot. Original, commercial grade arcade controls and showing them off in front of the general public are still some of the best reasons to come to an arcade. There are several games that cannot either be played or properly experienced in the home setting.

 

Todd, tell us why you won’t sell The Safe?


Tuckey: Sadly, The Safe is sold. I was offered $1000 for it and out it went. I originally had it because I made a hole in the wall below it and the kids could crawl under during parties here. I now turned a pinball machine sideways so the hole is still used.

 


When and what were the first indicatorsthat the business of video gaming wasgoing to be huge?


LeVan: The first indicator to me was the long lines of people that were gathering at the arcades to play the new releases back in the early 1980s. I had no doubt that video gaming was here to stay at that point.

 

Tuckey: Perhaps when arcade games started springing up anywhere there was an electric outlet. Games were placed in roadside stands, any spare space in stores or restaurants and even in the waiting area for pickup of packages at Sears - all in 1979-1981. Crappy, little stores would somehow squeeze in at least one game to try to make their cut of the quarters.


 

 

Nolan Bushnell envisioned the arcade as a complement to selling a product which he realized with Chuck E Cheese pizza restaurant. During the boom, were the games good enough that they themselves could act as the sole source of arcade income? Was it as simple as finding a location and having the capital to fill the space with the most lucrative arcade titles?


Tuckey: In the right places, yes you could survive just as a neighborhood arcade. However, all the arcades I tried to operate all failed because you get the same local kids all the time. They started to get bored quickly with the games.


LeVan: I think this was the case at the time. Rent and mortgages were cheaper as was living expenses and overhead. Games were making more money so it makes sense that, at the time, you could do more with the income. I have often heard of operators having problems with the coin boxes being so full that the games would not credit up (ala Nolan Bushnell’s Pong) – a nice problem to have.


Tuckey: I remember putting the new laser disc, Mach 3, in an arcade we had in North Philadelphia. The first week it grossed $200, second week $100 and then less than $75 per week afterward. "When is the next game coming?"


You did not get any new kids to the arcade as they did not go outside of their neighborhoods. The only place an arcade could get new, fresh people was in a mall or on the boardwalk. We must have tried twenty arcades in all different places - even one in Wildwood, but not on the boardwalk - all were disasters. The Chuck E Cheese and Dave and Busters idea of mixing food with games has proven to be the only reliable way to keep such an arcade open.


 

What is the best location for an arcade?


LeVan: The only spot that I feel is a good location for an arcade today is a vacation destination. You might have a small chance of catching people away from their full sized consoles.


Tuckey: The only viable locations for arcades are the boardwalk and the mall to attract as many different people as possible. Other locations would be “Artsy Fartsy” towns where a specialty arcade or museum would have a fighting chance.


 

What were some of the obstacles faced and overcome in starting up an arcade business and what are some of the challenges you may have faced in day to day operations?


Tuckey: Regular arcades are losers - here's what's against you:


Basically, no local towns want an arcade - they always felt they are a den of kids hell bent on selling drugs.


License fees per machine are ridiculous - just try to get an arcade license! Try to get a center that would rent a store to you to open an arcade! Only in a rotten part of town, maybe.


Attracting a changing crowd every week is imperative - locals will not support it. They will get tired of whatever game you have within a few weeks and stop coming.


The rotten, lousy quarter - it was a quarter in 1979 and still is. A Coke at the arcade was a quarter in 1979 and now its $1.50, so why is the game still a rotten quarter?


If someone is good at a game, they will play it for an hour on a quarter. You lose money on that person.


LeVan: In today's world almost everything in the business is an obstacle. You, as an arcade operator, have to face a public with little respect for your equipment, very little patience and/or concentration and little interest in playing coin-operated games due to the power of today's consoles. These reasons alone cause problems with day to day operations. This along with the general headaches of running a business and the growing difficulty in finding parts for games manufactured as late as the 1990s can make for some frustrating days.


Tuckey: Regular arcades are finished - they are closing everywhere. Specialty arcades are the only way to go.


I have seen some mini arcades in video stores - a line of pinball machines for instance, all in nice shape. These machines are usually owned by a collector and pinball enthusiasts come in to play them. The collector is there probably every other night wiping them down, changing bulbs and making endless adjustments as he is reveling in the fact that the pinball players are complementing on how nice the games play and are maintained. But, those players are putting 50 cents in a game and popping many free games. The collector is in fact making $200 a week gross for ten games, splitting it with the owner of the store and spending hours fiddling with them! There is just no way someone can make a profit this way.

 


Because the home console hardware just simply could not compete with their arcade brethren, there are many that feel that the home console merely augmented the arcade experience. How then could the lackluster quality of home console games, like the often cited E.T., possibly take down the arcade sector while innovative laser disc games like Dragon’s Lair were just coming to market?


LeVan: In this era of gaming, I don't think that consoles could have taken down the arcade titles of the time. The home gaming technology just didn't measure up.


Tuckey: By playing the inferior game at home, the kids were getting their game fix and settling for less quality, but they didn’t have to beg for quarters. Parents were cracking down on the money spent on the games.

 


In retrospect, were there any early warning signs that you recognized indicating that the video game bubble had burst?


Tuckey: Too many games - oversaturation, plain and simple.


LeVan: Yes, very obvious signs. For the inverse of the reason I mentioned as a sign for the classicvideo game boom. I noticed somewhere starting in the late 80's early to early 90's that people were not coming to the arcades like they were in the early 1980s. I didn't have as much trouble playing the new releases. I thought games like Mortal Kombat were going to revive the industry. For a time they did - but it turned out to be short lived in the overall timeline of video gaming.


Tuckey: The games would be strong for two weeks and then die - and fast. Super Pac-Man was supposed to be huge and it was terrible. The first week it made $75, while Ms Pac-Man was still making $100.

 


In the bustling Mid-Atlantic beach resort of Ocean City, Maryland, out of the two largest boardwalk arcades there was only one classic arcade game present and that was the “Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Class of ’81” cabinet. The most classic cabinets I could find in any one location was four (Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug and Track and Field) at the Arcade Family Fun Center on 136th street. After notifying the operator that I wore out the fire button on Galaga, I brought up the fact that his arcade (about 1/10th the size of the boardwalk arcades) had more classics than the two largest in the city. His response was “I have ten classic arcade cabinets sitting in storage but nobody plays those games anymore.”


I found many still operational at the Hersheypark arcade [Q*bert's Qubes, Galaga, Pole Position (two cabinets and one cockpit), The Safe, Berzerk, Millipede, Monaco GP and Operation Wolf]. But many games like Dig Dug, Mr. Do!, Joust, both Ms. Pac-Man cabinets and two of my favorite pinball machines, Comet and Cyclone, were all out of service.


On September 2nd, The Coliseum Entertainment Megaplex in Camp Hill, PA was acquired by its main creditor, Members 1st Federal Credit Union, at a sheriff’s sale for $1.


Are there any surprises with these findings?


LeVan: As an operator currently that’s no surprise at all.


Tuckey: No and here's why:


When I do trade shows I will set the classic games on 25 cents to play. Tempest, Stargate and Pac-Man - people will sometimes be thrilled to find one. "I used to play this all the time." They would plunk in a quarter, play and then when the game was over they were done. One game is all they wanted to play - one lousy quarter and they were happy. You cannot open an arcade and get a few quarters per person and expect to operate.


 

What are some strategies an arcade can deploy to stay in business?


LeVan: I think the best strategy is to have a variety of games from many different eras of gaming.


Tuckey: Specialty angle is the only way to go - a museum for instance. A flat charge to enter -say $10 and everything is free. Most people will get their fill after one hour and leave. At 25 cents a game and an average game at two minutes, you would only make $7.50 or much less if they played continuously. In a resort town or in a quirky village or street, you may pull it off. I always thought of opening my own museum with my cabarets and minis.


LeVan: Also, I would recommend supplementing operating games with another business such as snacks, food or selling other products. It is very difficult to exist today on operating games alone.

 


I read an article where a Toronto arcade owner stated that years ago they were able to, in a sense, secure profits as video games were exclusive to the arcade for some time before being ported to the home console. If today, a video game developer would either write titles exclusively for the arcade or delay porting titles to the home, would this help arcade owners?


LeVan: This is the key to saving arcades. Arcades need exclusive titles to survive in today's world – period.


 

When adjusted for inflation, is it cheaper to manufacture a video game in 2009 versus 1979?


Tuckey: Absolutely - a new game in 1979-1980 was $2000 to $3000. It was just a wooden box, monitor, power supply and game board. Nowadays, it’s a wooden box, a monitor, and a $400 Dell computer. The cabinet may have some extra flourishes, but charging $3500 and more is insane.


LeVan: This is a sore subject with me. Yes, but there is a problem.


While inflation has run its course over the years, businesses have adjusted their prices while the amusement and gaming industry has had a tough time with this concept. What other business can you think of that has not adjusted its prices consistent with the rate of inflation since 1980? It is not uncommon for an operator to pay $15,000 to $20,000 for a single video game today. New games are difficult to purchase under $5000 today.


If the manufacturers continue to raise prices with the combination of people complaining about increased prices and playing the games less, the future is grim for arcades.

 

In a conversation I had with Todd Tuckey earlier this year, he stated that “a quarter is what it was thirty years ago – a lousy quarter” and “arcades are not going to be profitable unless the owner owns the building.” Maybe I’m in a minority but I still feel that 25 cents is the fair pay-to-play price for an arcade game and seldom will I pay more than 50 cents per play. With all that has been discussed, how can the arcade business model of 1979 possibly make any sense in year 2009? Furthermore, what would drive anyone to venture into an arcade business today?


Tuckey: What drives them in? Insanity!


LeVan: I agree with Todd as far as the idea of owning your own building. Rent and overhead will drive you out of business with an arcade in today's world. But, a quarter is worth much less than it was in 1980. By having the mindset of not wanting to spend more than 50 cents on a video game, you will contribute to the eventual downfall of the arcades for the reasons stated in the question about manufacturing.


Tuckey: Every week, someone calls me up and knows where there is an empty store and wants me to fill it with games and we will "split" the money. Wow! A game grossing $20 a week nowadays would be amazing. So, thirty games each grossing $20 brings in a big $600 and I will get $300. And then my service guy will be there three hours every week, regardless of how little money it made, unclogging coin mechs from paper wrappers and sticks, changing a monitor chassis, replacing a ripped off joystick and etc.


Then the owner would demand different games because "the kids say they played x game down the street or at the shore and they said that it was a great game" and "the kids say these aren’t good games - that's why we aren't making any money etc. I heard those lines for thirty years now!


LeVan: With inflation, 50 cents was a reasonable price to pay to play a game in the late 1980s. Namco was charging $1.00 per play for some of its games in the early ‘90s. It is like going into a retail store and saying “I am not going to pay $20.00 for that shirt because I didn't pay $20.00 for a shirt in 1980” - and still expect the store to give it to you for less just because you don't like the price. I went into the business because I have a passion for gaming. If someone wants to get rich, they need look elsewhere for business opportunities.


Tuckey: Remember, I got in this business in 1979. I have operated longer than most people that are still out there. When I got in this business, the Yellow Pages had three pages of vendors with four columns per page. Three years ago, we had barely half of one column! Nowadays, of course, the Yellow Pages are history. But, we still get calls from folks who "want to open an arcade".


Another blow to the arcade industry is that, in fact, there are maybe a handful of new games made just for the arcade each year. I am not counting the endless ticket redemption games where you put a token or quarter in, the game play is 20 seconds at best and you play to win tickets to redeem at a counter.


Even pinball machines are limited to, at best, two new titles a year of which there are 3000 of each made. At its height, there were five pinball manufacturers in 1980 making six to twelve different games each year and making 2000 to 20,000 of each!


The biggest game this year was Guitar Hero which featured the exact same music as the home version. The manufacturers have abandoned the arcades for good - it’s more profitable to design games for the home when you can sell ten million copies. A best seller in the arcade industry nowadays is 2000 units while Pac-Man sold 100,000 units for the arcade.


New games are not selling because there are fewer places each month to put them since more vendors close up or merge. A local ice skating rink near us had their vendor pull out because he wasn't making money and he had trouble finding anyone to put games in. Three games would, at best, gross $90 a week. Split that 50/50 and what's left?

 


If I go charge up a swipe card I wouldn't think twice of putting $25 on it to start off with. Points seem to blur the actual cost per play and when I see e.g. "4.5 points per play" I don't bother to compute the cash value. Do you think card readers are a viable solution to assure that the arcade owner gets their fair share and can they be retrofitted into the classic cabinets? Is calling a quarter a "fair price" to pay per play more to do with what we were "trained to do" in 1979 versus rationalizing that a quarter is obviously worth less in 2009?


LeVan: You bring up a good point about the people that were part of the arcade boom being "trained" to put a quarter in an arcade game. I think most people expect to put a quarter in an arcade game. It relates to putting hard currency in a machine versus charging up a card in a reader. That is a good way for operators to make money.


The problem with the transition to card readers is that you have to convert every machine in the arcade to that technology. This is expensive for any arcade and can affect the resale value of the machine depending on how the reader is installed.


 

You mentioned lower machine costs and the prices you mentioned are mind-boggling. Have you calculated how long it takes to break even on a $15,000 machine? How do the manufacturers justify these costs and is there anything that they can do to reduce these costs?


LeVan: Most people don't realize how much a new arcade game costs. I think if they did, they would complain less about the price to play them.


Yes, we have calculated how long it would take to earn $15,000. As an example, you would be looking at 30 weeks at $1.00 a play at 500 plays per week. There are several issues with this math.


First, you have to assume that your location will support 500 plays per week on the game you buy. Second, keep in mind that you are just paying for the game. In theory, that machine is not paying the bills and overhead until it is paid off. Third, and probably most important, unless you move the machine around to other locations, you have to expect a decline in earnings over time with any arcade game.


So instead of 30 weeks, you are most likely to be looking at more than a couple of years to pay a $15,000 piece off. What many operators are doing today is selling a new piece off after only a few months of operation. This makes much more sense financially.


I really don't know how manufacturers justify these high costs. Many arcade games today are PC-based and often employ Linux or slimmed-down versions of Windows as their operating systems. One would think this would greatly reduce the cost of games. I have spoken with at least one distributor that has been after some of the arcade game manufacturers to lower prices. I guess time will tell if the manufacturers get the hint.


 

Joe, you were prepared to close the doors of Challenge Arcade on July 31 but Stride Gum stepped in with a $10,000 cash infusion. Did Stride Gum indicate why they have such an interest in saving the arcades?


LeVan: The last few years have been a rough financial period for many businesses and we have been no exception. August 2009 was the end of our very long five year contract with the Berkshire Mall. We were planning on closing the arcade due to financial struggles and other personal issues.


Around July, we were on the verge of entering Stride's Save the Arcades contest which we had been preparing for over a month. Stride knew of our financial struggles and stepped up to the plate with $10,000 in exchange for using our arcade as a media location for their event. People at Stride are serious about gaming and are huge fans of arcades. They are obviously serious about saving the arcades.


 

What is trendy or “hip” in arcade gaming today?


LeVan: I would have to say that the dancing and music games are popular in the arcade setting today as well as in the home. I think some of the dancing games that were released in the 90's are more popular today than when they were new.


Tuckey: Food and liquor seems to sell at Dave and Busters. The card swiping also makes for more convenience, although, you are spending a lot more than you normally would if you were putting quarters in. It’s not hip to carry around pockets of quarters and try to impress a new girlfriend.

 


What is the significance of restoring and reselling arcade cabinets or running an arcade that mixes a hefty amount of classics with the latest titles? In other words, why do you do what you do?


LeVan: The reason I "do what I do" essentially is two-fold. First it involves being part of a business that I have intense fond memories of as a youngster. The other part of the equation is being able to pass along a small piece of the arcade atmosphere that I experienced when I was young. I can't bring back the 80s for people but if I can put smiles on people's faces, I have done a successful job in the amusement/entertainment business.


Tuckey: I got into the vending business in 1979 and started exclusive home sales in 1984. I have been doing this longer than anyone else in the USA with over 14,500 machines sold mostly into the home market. It was all business for me.


However, when I started a family, I decided to have a large game room at my home. My wife let me convert the two car detached garage into just a game room. I filled it with games but then discovered I could fit more in if I put in mini or cabaret size games - thus started my collecting of the dedicated small versions of their full size counterparts.


So, my collecting started in 1996 and continues to this day. Now I have more dedicated cabaret or mini arcade video games than anyone in the world and many are one of a kind. I have set up over 40 in my game room at home for my kids and friends to play. And I am going to will these machines to any museum that will display and keep the collection complete. So, you see that I have become a collector also.


 

You are the expert on the front lines. What changes are necessary for an arcade business to succeed?


LeVan: In order for the arcade business to thrive several things will have to fall into place. The cost of the arcade equipment will have to be reduced. Game pricing will have to be on par with inflation and cover the arcade owner's costs while still being reasonable enough for people to pay per play.


One of the biggest things that need to happen is that arcades need exclusive releases to get people back to the arcades. Manufacturers need to keep pace with technology. Joysticks and steering wheels have been around since well before the arcade boom. Manufacturers need to be progressive and creative for the games to earn - thus selling more games. Motion sensing, body feedback, and holographic/full immersion technology needs to be pursued to get console gamers to the arcades.


############################################################################

I purchased a new house a little over a year ago that finally provided the space I needed to restore arcade cabinets. It wasn’t difficult to decide - if I can’t play the classics in a local arcade then I will bring the classic arcade to my own home.


For me it is about nostalgia and preserving a piece of that historic era of video gaming. It is something that my 5 and 7 year olds can experience for themselves in my best attempt to recreate that environment augmented by the "Retrocade" parties that I host several times a year.


The key point is that it was always more than just about the games themselves. Arcades were social havens, rendezvous points and arenas of competition. The arcade gaming experience is something that cannot be duplicated on an Xbox or Wii - all for that "lousy, rotten quarter" for a few minutes at a time.


Dating as far back as Pong, there has always been the desire to have arcade quality gaming in the home. Ironically, the demise of the arcade is in part a result of the gamers’ endless desire to bring that arcade experience home.

 


 


 

 


 


 


Five Questions With CollectorVision Founder Jean-Francois Dupuis

Posted by Rob Maerz on December 2, 2014 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Five Questions With CollectorVision Founder Jean-Francois Dupuis

Originally published in Retrocade Magazine Volume 1 Issue 1


Why port Mario Bros. to the ColecoVision?

Dupuis: At first, Opcode was supposed to make it. But in 2008, Eduardo Mello announced that he was quitting the homebrew scene (which he didn’t do). So, I decided to make Mario Bros. because I did want to see this title on the ColecoVision since the 80s.


What were some of the challenges faced in developing and porting this title to the ColecoVision?

Dupuis: Flickering! That was the biggest challenge. We did our own flicker engine to manage all those sprites on the screen. At first we were supposed to use a 32K board but the game could simply not fit in 32K so we ended up using the MegaCart. A prototype of the 32K version exists. We took almost two full years to make Mario Bros. That is our biggest involvement in the homebrew scene.


How does the CollectorVision release stack up against other console ports of Mario Bros.?

Dupuis: We have all the intros which are missing in most if not all console ports. I also think that our version is much closer to the arcade version than any other ports.


I read that you have some type of cartridge that is being released that includes the Mario Bros. ROM?

Dupuis: Mario Bros is distributed free with the Atarimax SD Cart. But, we also have developed a multi-cart PCB which we'll soon use for some projects.


Will there be another production run of Mario Bros?

Dupuis: We'll have another batch soon and with a lower price. I'm just too much busy right now with new and upcoming releases. But, rest assured Mario Bros. will be back in stock soon.


The Old Warehouse At TNT Amusements

Posted by Rob Maerz on November 17, 2014 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (1)

The Old Warehouse At TNT Amusements

Originally published in Retrocade Magazine Volume 1 Issue 1


In business since 1986, TNT Amusements is a retail arcade showroom with pinball machines, video arcade games, jukeboxes and much more. Their showroom is also available to rent for private parties.


The photos shown were taken at TNT Amusement's former 10,000 square foot warehouse in Southampton, PA in March, 2009.


“Over the years, we have purchased from closed arcades all around the area,” said TNT Amusements President Todd Tuckey. “We traveled down to North Carolina one time to purchase a tractor trailer load of about 50 machines. Those days are now history. Most of these arcades have been cleared out long ago. Arcades are becoming very hard to find and locating a stash of games is becoming more and more rare. Recently, we came upon a load of games in a barn in Lebanon, PA where the home was foreclosed on. A bankrupt vendor lived there and the games left were late 80's fighting games and many empty carcass cabinets. Nothing you could really retail - just good for monitors and MAME cabinets. The classics were already gone!”


“Problem is, people want an empty cabinet from $50 to $100 these days!” Tuckey explained. “There is no one that will want to keep a supply of $50 cabinets in valuable warehouse space these days. Cheap warehouse space is not in nice neighborhoods. Our company is surviving the rapid downsizing of this industry by owning our own warehousing. We now outright own 10,000 square feet and are currently renting another 3,000 square feet for $1100 a month. By the end of this summer, that rental space will be gone, too. TNT will be lean and mean with only the classics in storage and the undesirable stuff long dumped!”


“We are watching the business of arcade machines that used to have three full pages of Yellow Pages ads drop to a small part of one column,” Tuckey added. “The coin-op industry is going the way of the Dodo bird. However, there will still be some free standing fun centers and specialized arcades that will remain.”


 


Rudy Ferretti's Vision for the Electronic Athlete

Posted by Rob Maerz on November 12, 2014 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Rudy Ferretti’s Vision for the Electronic Athlete

 

Originally published in Retrocade Magazine Volume 1 Issue 1

 

Say what you will about motivational coach Tony Robbins. While his teeth may hypnotize you into buying hundreds of dollars worth of DVDs and printed material, he did manage to write a good book called Awaken the Giant Within.


In this book, Tony teaches that all great ideas emanate from one’s ability to think outrageous. Therefore, if you have a vision of man travelling to Pluto, you have to think impractical. From there, you develop a comprehensive plan that will achieve your goal - in this example, perhaps utilizing technology that does not yet exist.


Enter Rudy Ferretti - a classic console multi world record holder and New Yorker who transplanted to Nevada. He’s been lobbying for the electronic athlete – a paid electronic athlete with full benefits.


As you can guess, Rudy has his naysayers. They believe that Rudy’s vision is merely a pipe dream and will never come to fruition.


But, when you consider the modern technology we take advantage of and television oversaturated with “reality TV” and cooking shows, is it that difficult to wonder that maybe he’s right?


 

You began gaming in 1985 at the age of 6, right?

Ferretti: The first two games I ever recall playing was Pitfall II for the Atari 2600 and Beauty and the Beast for Intellivision. Both were my family’s consoles as we always had the new and popular systems. The Atari 2600 I played first and I was so excited to play Pitfall II. I knew right away even at six that this was the hottest game for that system. I was always getting pushed into the water by the rat yet I always had a belief you could get past the rat.


Beauty and the Beast for Intellivision was much like Donkey Kong. You can get temporary invincibility and things can be thrown out of windows at you. I had come close to breaking the high score on it years back. Those two games were in fact the first two I can clearly remember and how and where I was playing to date. We had a game room with brown carpet, the TV was to the left of the doorway and we always had junk food parties and gaming with friends. Ah - the good ol’ days!

Are you an avid classic console collector?

Ferretti: Well, years back I was not into it as much. I have to thank my Dad for that one as he got me started in 1996 after I had a huge fire and lost everything. We started to go to garage sales where I got all kinds of stuff over the years for pennies on the dollar. I'm sure we could have gotten more, had I known what I know now, and I'd have a small fortune from collecting and selling.


I do collect, however I'm the type who collects and plays. Certain things I have are sealed but I keep my stuff well in order. My most valuable game is The Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur Peak for only $4.99 shipped and it's worth well over $200. I got that when FuncoLand was changing into GameStop. I was always a fan of mysterious games so I was reserved until a place would have a clearance or going out of business sale. Again, I should have bought more but who knew?


 

What is the historical significance of classic gaming?

Ferretti: Classic gaming paved the way, it put gaming on the map and the classic games have so much more variety and fun factors than today's games. The only difference is the graphics. Classics are still valuable and popular to many people today and without it you would not have anything like Wii, Xbox or PS3. That is why you should care about it. Without Commando for Atari 2600 there is no Metal Gear for NES - it's a timeline.


The same thing we’re doing now would have been done 30 years ago - we just did not have the technology. There would have been just as many people online playing Commando for Atari and other games as there are today. The new era is missing out and should go pick up an old system games. They are a lot of fun to play and they are basics for you to develop into an all around gamer.


 

You have numerous Twin Galaxies world records spanning several console generations. Are there any that stand out more than others? Which of these would you say was the most difficult or frustrating to achieve? Lastly, which one would you consider the easiest achievement?

Ferretti: Every time I set a record or score it's special in itself. I can honestly say nothing was easy and no score was ever done on one try. Castlevania 3 on the NES was very frustrating over the years. Lethal Weapon on the NES was crazy and the hardest ever to achieve was probably A Nightmare on Elm Street for the NES or Splatterhouse on the TurboGrafx-16.

 

Though I will say I have a special score on each system and I’ve learned over the years “some you keep and some you lose.” I think the easiest to achieve was probably Monster In My Pocket for NES - it's like a training type version of Castlevania.

What attributes do you possess that enables you to achieve these high scores?

Ferretti: It's a combination of skill, heart, and talent. Talent you’re born with so that can only take you so far. Skill is development - I think anyone can get good at anything to an extent. And heart: that is psychological in your mind. As you gel the three together, in any sport of competition, you get your end result: finger speed, reaction time, calculations of timing both offense and defense, figuring out how fast you can beat the game or what is needed to obtain a hard to beat score in a particular game. You have to have it all to get it but you don't have to be the best - just one of the best.


The secret is how bad you want the score and what amount of time will you put into it. That is nothing you’re given or born with and that is the special unique person in you and you only.


 

What do you consider to be your biggest achievement thus far?

Ferretti: Years ago not only did I suck at gaming, but I can remember using cheat codes and the Game Genie. Today, I'm now third if not arguably the second best all around NES player today in the world. I hold the most max-outs and perfect scores on the NES to date - talk about coming out of nowhere in 2003.


 

You are one of the players that have performed the Laser Blast 1,000,000. Personally, I stopped at 600,000 because I couldn't take it anymore. What were your thoughts during the game and then after you reached 1,000,000?

Ferretti: That's a great question and I'm glad you asked. The game is easy but even at 100K I was like talk about repetitiveness. I was ready to scream and after I hit the million I threw down the controller and said I’ll never play it again.


 

 

Why do people view you as a controversial figure in the gaming community?

Ferretti: Years back I was mistreated and lied to by many big and small names in the community. When I finally tried to fix things many others were biased and spread false rumors which hurt my name and my submission status. I went on a rampage to clear my name, prove my points and I have no regrets because it was all preventable.


 

And what were the issues?

Ferretti: Multiple gamers, senior and chief referees taking word of mouth to ban me, tampering with the database and my scores, promises broken and not kept, score challenges not taken seriously even though I knew I was correct all along. There was retaliation such as misspelling my name in a book or not leaving a space for an autograph, excuses to why I was not part of something I should have been part of and verbally bashing my image and name. That is just a brief summary of why I have done what I did in the past and present.


I did some wrong things. I was vocal and cocky at one time but now I'm just fed up with what I see and what continues to be said about me. Unlike others, I won't sit back and take it. Also, I’m very passionate and have a vision of what I want for myself and others. But, like I said, others think they know me and my story but they have no clue. Although I'm not quiet, I'm a good person that means well and sometimes I come across as bad when it's just my New Yorker strong personality. One day I will release my story book and/or documentary as my story will be told one day.


The damage has cost me interviews, money and parts in films.


 

If you could fix one thing in the classic gaming community today, what would it be?

Ferretti: The bias and politics - there are great gamers whose names and accomplishments are not treated equal. All gamers need to be respected and given their recognition, fame and their turn to shine for what they do regardless of the title or who they are.


 

You have been vocal recently in regard to gamers being paid to play. How is this supposed to work?

Ferretti: I keep seeing TV shows of the dumbest things and I said to myself “why not?” If cooking and bowling can be this big then why not gaming?


First off, we need all games and systems to form a league. Second, obviously we need someone or a group of people who are rich and say “hey, let’s take a chance on this.” I can see it being on any sports channel being watched by the gamers, casual gamers and collective gamers.


We need sponsorships from ESPN, NBC, USA, Spike, G4, Sony, Nintendo etc. Competitions could be held at arenas or stadiums. Millionaire programmers and rich people who love gaming could help us get sponsored to pay our salaries.


I had a plan eight years back with other gamers to form a league. We could have console players against arcade players in hopes of an upset, timed competitions, most points in 45 minutes and things like that. I think FPS need to be involved but the right way - not five on five but one on one cage matches which is the true test.


Other major league sports could help us out. Alex Rodriguez earns 28 million a year to bat .120 in the playoffs. Really, can you imagine how good I and others could be getting paid for this? I feel a fair salary is $250,000 a year for any sports person - not millions with potential to earn bonus.


Just like any sport, you have to be one of the best to be considered a professional. You have to throw, pitch, hit, run and catch to be a pro ballplayer. You don't have to be the best at all positions but you have to know them all. Gaming is the same: you’ve got to play it all to be a pro. Period. And that is my vision.


I'm really shocked that it's not a reality yet. I'm feeling like gaming is stuck at the NCAA levels with no future. We should get paid because we are the best gamers in the world - electronic athletes. We are the companies, we make the scores and we play so it's time we’re taken care of. If we stop, there is no gaming, no money and no players. Do you think pro sports players will play for free? Never!


 

There are the naysayers out there who believe that getting paid to play just isn't realistic, especially at $250,000 per year. First, do you understand how others may see this as a fairy tale and secondly how do you convince them that this can be done?

Ferretti: I can understand why some would see it as a fairy tale. Many people in this world see things black and white, are closed minded and all the other leagues have failed or are failing. It's just like science: it's only what we have done and know not what we can do and learn.


If I would have told you 150 years ago that baseball players will get paid millions whether they win, lose, suck or shine you know you would laugh. We should get paid because just like any trade, talent or skill we are electronic athletes. We spend just as many hours, years and days on end to be the best and develop like anyone else including heath and injury risks. For us to perform and show the world our greats we should be rewarded and compensated for all we do. If Bobby Flay can get paid to cook and eat at a throw down, and Alex Rodriguez can bat .120 in the playoffs (and still get paid), then why should gamers not be paid to entertain the world?


People say it will never happen - well it should happen. Maybe not $250,000 a year to start but at least $100,000 a year with full benefits and bonuses. The games and companies make so many gazillions of dollars, so why not give a billion to start up a league and televise it? That will pay for itself. If people watch food cookers and bowlers they will watch gamers. Do the league one year - just one and I know it will be around year after year. And if not - we tried, right?


Not everything is realistic but anything is possible. It can all be altered - it's called making history and breaking the barrier of the impossible and improbable. People said we would never have a black president and the casino odds were 5000-1 in 2007 and 500-1 in 2008. But, he won and won in a landslide.


I had the Idea of a professional kickball league in 1993. I was laughed at and made fun of yet since 1998 WAKA (World Adult Kickball Association) is a reality. I did not create it but I came up with the idea first I'm sure. I will never stop believing - it can and will be a reality someday. We work just as hard as anyone else in sports so it's time we make it our time. I hope before I'm gone it's a reality so gamers can be just as lazy as the rest of the athletes, make money, not have to work a regular job and instead have a dream job. I think gamers are worth even more money than the $250,000. If we come together it can and will happen.

 

High Scores Arcade

Posted by Rob Maerz on November 10, 2014 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

High Scores Arcade

Originally published in Retrocade Magazine Volume 1 Issue 1


In the spring of 2010, Meg and Shawn Livernoche purchased an early 18th century building located at 348 High Street in Burlington, NJ. In August of that same year, the husband and wife team opened the doors of High Scores Interactive Arcade Museum in the city's historic district.


Meg works in the pharmaceutical industry while Shawn is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher and musician under the name ShawnLov. They live upstairs and the arcade, which is located downstairs, is open to the public on weekends.


I first met Meg and Shawn in March of 2011 at the Classic Arcade Gaming (dot com) Donald Hayes Challenge, a tournament organized by Mark Alpiger and hosted at High Scores Arcade with Meg and Shawn officiating. Their hospitality was outstanding and the tournament was a huge success.


On the eve of the arcade’s first anniversary, I ventured back down to High Scores to not only play some more Star Castle, but to also catch up with Meg and Shawn on their first twelve months in the arcade business.



Shawn, some may not be aware that you once appeared on the Jenny Jones show.

Shawn: That was a period of time between 1997 and 2000 when I was desperate to gain some exposure. So, I called the Jenny Jones show and fabricated this story about being picked on when I was little. I had my buddy Sean say that he hadn’t seen me in a couple of years and when they called him on stage he said “yeah this guy’s a dork” and this and that.


But that was a period of time where I would go barge in on record labels in New York and do anything I could: guerilla tactics just so I could get some exposure music-wise.


 

What got you interested in classic arcade games in the first place?

Shawn: I’ve been a classic gamer my whole life. And Meg, too - she had an Odyssey2 when she was little. I wanted to get an arcade cabinet and I hate to say this because it’s such a cliché answer: but, when I watched King of Kong it reignited the passion I had when I was a kid and it made me want to realize that again.


Meg: I’m a really competitive person so I think that’s what really bit me. We got the first cabinet, then the second cabinet and I can be egged on pretty easily.


Shawn: When the first machine came in, which was Donkey Kong, Meg wasn’t into it since she didn’t like Donkey Kong. But, when I got a Centipede cabinet that’s when Meg started getting excited.


Meg: Donkey Kong Junior was the second cabinet and I started to catch onto that. But, once we got Centipede…We tried to fit that in the back of a Toyota Camry.


Shawn: I brought Donkey Kong Junior home in a Volkswagen Golf!


Meg: Ill advised!


Shawn: Even when we had Donkey Kong with that one machine I felt like I owned an entire arcade. I was like ”Holy Crap! I got this machine.” I’d go to sleep at night and I would know that the machine was there almost like it had this presence. I’d be at work and teaching these kids is not a picnic. They’re busting my chops at 7:30 in the morning while in the back of my head I know that the machine’s at home and I can’t wait to get home and play it.


Meg: We got introduced into the world of auctions - most of time in South Jersey at the Cherry Hill Armory. That gets addictive because you see these games that are pretty cheap in working condition.


So, it started with showing up with my Toyota Camry and buying a game and saying “Oh - we got to get this home.” But, the next time we got hip to it and showed up with a cargo van.


Shawn: So when you rent money for a truck you’re like “screw it, I’m here I’m going to buy four games.“ “This game here is $90 nobody else wants it – mine.” Then there’s another “I could fix this” and then before you know it your whole house is filled with games.


Meg: I think the last auction we went to was at the Cow Palace auction down in Baltimore and we got about six games. We got Joust there, Spanish Eyes and then we got home and we were like “wait a minute we have to sell our dining room table!”


Shawn: We actually sold our dining room table. But, you know a lot of people will hear this and think it’s financially reckless to do this kind of stuff but these machines have determined value. When you see a particular game and the condition that it’s in you have a ballpark of what you can sell it for. If I buy a Donkey Kong machine for $400, I can sell it for $500 and all the quarters getting pumped into it in the meantime is like earning interest on that investment. So, we didn’t buy these machines before being ready for it. Our next mortgage payment isn’t absolutely dependent on our next quarter.


 


Was the purchase of the house in any way based on opening an arcade or housing the collection?

Meg: It started out house hunting. We’d see these cute, first timer kind of houses and we would look at the basements first to see what would fit because at the time we had about 12 or 14 games in the apartment. We’d sit down and try to bargain with each other and I’d say “what if we got rid of this game,” and he’d say “no.” Then he’d say “what about this game” and I’d say “no.” So, it became apparent that we weren’t willing to part with any games in our collection.  We tried not to buy this building as it was one of the first we saw on Craigslist


Shawn: By having this arcade open we’ve not only instantaneously become part of the community but overnight become a pillar of the community. All the businesses surrounding us, with the exception of three or four on this street, are failing or not attracting anyone new. On Fridays and Saturdays we can hang out casually with our friends or acquaintances just by opening our doors. In the meantime, we have people throw a couple of quarters at our investment.


Meg: Ultimately, by deciding to make a business out of it we’ve met so many cool people just in the last year. We meet people that travel to play the games and we meet people that live around the corner. It’s really got a social vibe about it.

 


You opened the arcade in August of 2010. When was the decision made prior that you would open an arcade?

Shawn: We started working on the arcade as soon as we moved in April of 2010. We really had it in mind ever since we came here and saw the store front. We were searching for a reason not to do it and we couldn’t find one.


Meg: The house has a lot of charm and technically we could say America’s oldest arcade (laughs). The whole property just has a vibe about it – it’s asking for something fun.


 

What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome in getting this arcade off the ground?

Meg: Perception: the historic district and the perception of an arcade. We submitted our business application in April (of 2010) and it just kind of dragged. It was originally zoned as a gallery so we had to go for a land use zoning change. Man, they made that as hard as possible because people were saying “we don’t want an arcade here,” the whole “drug dealer on the corner” and “what kind of riffraff is an arcade going to bring in.” So, we had to educate the whole town that the people that love these games are generally the older crowd and not the 12 or 13 year olds that are going to be causing trouble. We had to get a waiver signed by every land owner within 200 feet of us and basically we had to make our case to every single one of them that we weren’t going to bring trouble in.


Shawn: That was our biggest obstacle in getting people to accept us. And by scrutinizing our business idea they also began to scrutinize us. In a tightly knit community like this it gets annoying - especially for me teaching kids everyday and I got these guys looking at me like I’m a thug. They were frowning on us so much but throughout the course of this one year the highlight of High Street has been our shop. After all that negativity we actually did give this community a shot in the arm.



 

And then their perceptions changed?

Shawn: Absolutely. They started observing us, seeing that we’re not drugged out “20-somethings,” seeing me getting up at 7 o’clock in the morning with my tie on and that their whole perception about us when we moved in was wrong. I’m glad that we’ve been publicized on such a level that the community has to recognize.


Meg: We have Mark Alpiger of Classic Arcade Gaming (dot com) to thank along with Donald Hayes, you and everyone that came down for the competition. That put us on the front page of the Burlington County Times and that brought a lot of people in because of that. As a result, WPVI (channel 6 out of Philly) did a feature on us for the morning news so that opened us up to a whole new group of people.


Shawn: We really have Mark Alpiger to thank for that. He did us a favor in the sense that he put hours and hours of time into the competition he had here. It’s only someone like Mark that could do something like that for us because his passion and dedication forms a lot of the events that are necessary to keep some lifeblood flowing in the culture.


 

Would the use of swipe cards or charging a flat fee into the arcade make it more profitable?

Meg: We talked all about that: per person cover, swipe cards and that kind of stuff. Yes, it could be more profitable but at the end of the day it also takes the charm away.


Shawn: We would never do that – that just takes it all away. The quarters are part of the experience. It would be more convenient and more profitable but we’re going to go against the grain and keep quarters.


 

Why would anyone want to start an arcade?

Meg: Easy question for us: we don’t pay commercial rent – it’s all a part of our mortgage. So, we have the safety of our low mortgage and our full-time jobs and this is very much a labor of love. We have that luxury where we can stay open and not dependent on the economy or on how many people come in.


Shawn: We’re humble in the sense that we’re not great with the machines and we don’t have all the money in the world. But, we also know that we have a lot of power in the sense that we’re never going to close and that we’re always going to be here.



 

For the uninitiated why should anyone care about these old cabinets?

Meg: What we see is that these kids come in here and there all cocky - “these graphics suck.” But, once they start a game of Donkey Kong, Shawn has this game he likes to play where he’s got this stopwatch and he bets any kid that comes in here that’s never played Donkey Kong that they won’t last a minute. Then they realize that there’s more to it than 2D graphics and it’s about pattern recognition, memorization and real skill. That’s the angle and what’s interesting about these games. It may not be the same as sitting in front of your HDTV but it’s a lot harder.


Shawn: I can see everything 3D perfect pixilated – it’s wonderful. You get everything but you lose the imagination, the idea and the excitement that comes with not having everything like in these old games: the idea of a construction site in Donkey Kong and the maze idea in Pac-Man. With the new games everything is going to be rendered in perfect graphics but the imagination disappears. The kids that grow up on these new games don’t develop the imagination that you or I might have when we were kids and I think that cripples them in a sense. The imagination has disappeared from gaming. Some kids can play one of these machines and fill in the gaps and other kids can’t. I’ve seen a 12 year old kid come up to one of these machines and get it.


Meg: When I was growing up and I only had an Odyssey and shit you’re talking about imagination - the race car games were just squares.


What I like about the arcade cabinet is the competitive and fun element of the whole machine. You’re playing Star Wars, you got the blinders on, you’re in the game and it’s a totally different experience.


Classic arcade games are not just about the games. When people walk into our place and see Garbage Pail Kids hanging up, the black lights and the 80s music it’s more than just the games - it’s about the environment. People come in and there like “oh man it’s bringing me back!” whereas playing a PS3 in a buddy’s living room isn’t going to be nostalgic. The classic games are part of a larger scene.

 



King of 3: George Riley

Posted by Rob Maerz on October 28, 2014 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

King of 3: George Riley Takes On Junior and the King of All Kongs

Originally published in Retrocade Magazine Volume 1 Issue 1


The organizers of the The Grassroots Gaming Expo must have had a hunch that George Riley wasn’t attending – they added Donkey Kong 3 to the list of tournament games.


George Riley is undeniably the greatest Donkey Kong 3 player on the planet. Period.


And while the rest of the classic gaming world goes gaga over another Donkey Kong kill screen and its world record changing hands (yet again), his accomplishments on the less glamourous, black sheep of the Donkey Kong series goes unheralded in contrast.


Riley’s current marathon record of 3,538,000 is almost 1,000,000 points better than Dwayne Richard’s second place score.


George also holds the DK3 tournament settings world record with a score of 857,200 that was set in June 2010. That score is almost 400,000 points better than Dwayne Richard’s inaugural score of 473,400 achieved in October of 2005.


With George Riley submitting MAME scores to MARP and sitting numero uno in not only various Donkey Kong 3 ROM sets but also Donkey Kong Junior ROM sets, one can only suspect the man is serious in gunning for the Donkey Kong Triple Crown.


And why should expert Donkey Kong Junior players care that he’s putting up great scores in MAME? Because he learned Donkey Kong 3 in Java.


So, before George’s future accomplishments render him inaccessible, I nabbed him for an interview with Retrocade Magazine.


When did you first get into classic gaming?

Riley: Maybe Rip Off was the first one I really remember. I think I actually have a picture of me playing the game. Maybe the picture helped me remember that time more clearly.


My first home console was the Commodore 64 which I got when I was 10. Unfortunately a few months later it was stolen when we moved. I have no idea what happened to it, but I did get another Commodore 64 years later.

 

You are also a classic console collector. When did you get into the hobby and any significant finds in the wild?

Riley: If you want to get technical, I guess I was a collector when I got my first Atari 2600 at the age of 17 in 1992. I would go to thrift stores from time to time and pick up an Atari 2600 game. I would only go for the popular games that I knew of though. Boy, if I had insight about the fact that the rare games would be worth a ton one day I may have tried to pick those up as well. I started actively collecting for the Atari 2600 in 2001.


I have had a few good finds in the wild from time to time. I found a Pengo loose in a thrift store for $2 once and I also was able to find a Starpath game player for the Atari 2600 at Salvation Army about seven years ago. About three years ago I bought about 25 mint condition Atari 2600 boxes. Some were rare like Basic Math and they also had around 4 different gatefold games. I also have found Sears and Atari Heavy Sixers in the wild along with a few Atari Joystick Heavy Sixers. It is easy to get Heavy Sixer Joysticks where I live. I don't think anyone besides me really knows what to look for in my area.


I believe you had an Atlantis II up for sale. Do you still own it and how was it acquired?

Riley: I actually had two different Atlantis II carts at one time. It was a freaky coincidence. Both were loose, but one had extensive documentation. I posted on AtariAge (a site for classic game collectors) about this auction with great documentation. The seller had a reserve that was insanely high. I mentioned how I had bid that up to $2,000 and it still had not broken the reserve.


Later on someone had posted about how he would sell his Atlantis II for $1,500. It was loose but had the box sticker stuck to it. I jumped at the opportunity and bought it.


The guy who had the Atlantis II with docs had his reserve super high and no one had a high enough bid. He tried again with no success. Then, out of the blue, he contacts me with a second chance offer through eBay for my original $2,000 bid. I decided that although this was going to hurt me financially it would be worth it. Through the years I sold both of them: one was for college and the other to go after the Donkey Kong Junior record.

 

You are currently the record holder on the Atari 2600 translation of Galaxian. How would you compare the quality of the 2600 translation of this classic against the arcade game itself along with the other ports released to e.g. the Atari 5200 and ColecoVision?

Riley: Personally, I prefer the Atari 2600 version. Usually arcade ports are nothing compared to the original, but this title seems to be an exception. First the colors are livelier on the Atari 2600 and for whatever reason the sounds are not as annoying. And finally I am just good at the Atari 2600 version while the arcade version rips me apart. It is fun to play games that are challenging yet still allow you to dominate it.

 

If I recall, you first broke Todd Rodgers' 2600 Galaxian record and then subsequently broke your own record by doubling up Todd Rodgers’ score.

Riley: Yes, that is 100 percent correct, except I also broke the record live with a 1.955 million game. I just was not able to send that one into Twin Galaxies.


How much playing time was spent on Galaxian until you broke the record? What were your average scores on the game before you went on the run to break the record? Did you have a "breakout" moment in your game progression that built your confidence in knowing that you could break the record?

Riley: AtariAge has a high score game of the week contest - they so happened to have Galaxian as one of their games of the week three different times.


At first, I really was not that good at this game - I would get scores of around 25,000 to 35,000. Then, the first time they had it as a game of a week I found out I was really adept at it and got a third place score of 89,000+. Then the second time they had it as a game of the week I had a score of 201,000+ which was good enough for first place.


I noticed that some really good players were having trouble with this game. I am talking about a player who would regularly break Atari 2600 world records could not even get 100,000 points on this game. They had the contest a third time and I had a score of 217,000+.


About a couple of months later I saw Steve Wiebe play Donkey Kong at E3. It was during the summer time of course. And I thought that the idea of going after a record for a short period would be a fun thing to do. It was an easy choice for me to pick: Galaxian. I am a substitute teacher and I’m single so I have more time on my hands than the average person. So I thought to myself, what the heck? Why not go for Todd Rogers’ record?


Of course, his record was 1,343,700 points. Like I said, my high was around 217,000 points so I really did not think I even had a shot. So, I posted that I was going to give myself two months time to go after this record. I decided I was only going to play three games a day at first, because I did not want to burn myself out. At first the progression was slow but at a steady rate. Soon 300,000 was hit, then 400,000 and then 600,000.


At first I had no intention of submitting this tape, but soon enough people started posting how that was a dumb thing to do and no one would ever really know you did it unless you submitted a tape. At first I thought you needed a camcorder, so I used that as an excuse. Once I found out though that they accepted VCR submissions, I decided to go for it. At the time I hit 600,000 I decided to actually send in the score. At first I did not use a printer and just used a hand written copy of the agreement.


I actually sent the 600,000 tape to the world record holder Todd Rogers himself. I could have sent it into Tom Duncan at first but, I just wanted to write to Todd telling him how I really thought he was probably the greatest game player out there and that he was really an inspiration to me. For whatever reason, that game was never verified and so I sent my next tape into Tom Duncan. I found him extremely quick in verifying - I mean within a matter of a couple days. So, from then on I stuck with him.


As far as when I thought I had a legit shot at getting his record was probably when I hit the 800,000 mark. I was now at an area where I was only a few hundred thousand away. Another time I really knew I had a shot was when I flipped the game, and actually got another extra man at 7,000. In fact I took that game up to 30,000 points of the record. So, I was definitely on the doorstep when that happened.

 

In the game that you broke Todd Rodgers’ record, was there any anxiety when approaching the record score? What about during the game after you eclipsed Rodgers' score?

Riley: For me there was a ton of anxiety. I had come close to Todd's score and then for two straight weeks I did not even come close to his record. I was suffering a mental block or a slump and it was really getting me down. Then I had my run.


It was actually the day before my deadline of July 31st. I knew if I did not do it this run I would not be able to do it by the deadline. I was about to drastically cut down on my game play to only one game a day instead of three or even more like I was pushing myself the final two weeks. As I broke it, a huge smile came on my face and I was able to push it 300,000 points further.


I am a man who very rarely cusses. But, for that one time I actually decided to unload the F-bomb to express my excitement and said “I F'ng broke Todd Rogers’ record!” And I used caps with all big letters in bold to express it.

 

Was there any difference in your performance when you broke your own record? Was it relaxing knowing that you were just improving upon your own record with really nothing to lose?

Riley: Well yeah, once you break the record, then a lot of the doubt fades away. When I first broke the record the main obstacle was freaking out, making the wrong move and dying right away after I just had died. When I doubled Todd's record my main challenge was no longer of fear but of focus.


Galaxian, as far as the game is concerned, does not let up. It is a constant barrage of enemies one after another - there are only 3 seconds between levels. There are no bathroom breaks because there is not a continual giving of men like other games. You get 3 men to start, another man 2 minutes later and then you have to wait about 2-1/2 hours before another man is given. So, because of the constant barrage you need to be always focused on what you are doing.


At about the 5 hour mark I noticed I was actually starting to get mentally fatigued. I was starting to miss ships that I usually can get easily. For most marathon games the game play is at a level where it is not that mentally taxing. Galaxian is very mentally taxing. And so concentration was the biggest thing.


Later on after I set the record I found out that Twin Galaxies seems to allow for a person to park their ship or character in a safe spot and take 5 minutes off per hour if the game is over 6 hours. My game was 7 hours so I could have used this trick and possibly reached a much higher score. Most likely the person who will break my record is going to use safe spots and take time to rest in order to break the record.


As far as doubling Todd's score: at first my goal was not 2,696,100 (which is a little more than double Todd's record) but to get 3,000,000 points for the year. When in less than a week I got to 2,696,100 (it took me 7 hours to get that score), I realized that I could be spending a ton of time just to increase the score another 300,000 points. So, for me that was good enough and it was time to go after bigger and better things.


That score has been very good to me. I was able to have it featured on Twin Galaxies Parade of Champions and the score was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records: Gamer's Edition. Heck, I even signed a couple of books as autographs which was a pretty cool experience.

 

The Donkey Kong 3 record is, at this time, the one you are most famous for. What is it about DK3 that makes it special?

Riley: Well, for me, it has to be the multi-tasking that goes on in the game - from spraying the worms, Donkey Kong and bugs to defending the flowers and dodging Donkey Kong's coconuts - there simply is so much you have to do all at once. If you let one thing go everything falls apart. Most other classic games from this era are not multi-tasking games.

 

If memory serves, you were playing DK3 on a Java app before you purchased a DK3 machine, is that right?

Riley: OK, yes, I went the extremely unusual route of playing Donkey Kong 3 on Java. I found that this really helped later on.


One main reason is I could not rely on any sound clues - it was all on visual clues. Sound plays a very important part of the game. Also, I was using a keyboard with Java. I decided to then search for a Donkey Kong 3 machine in the area but there was none.


But, I did find an Ultracade. I found that playing with a joystick was way easier than playing with a keyboard. Within a week I was getting to 3,000,000 on easy settings. At this time I knew that if I could get a Donkey Kong 3 machine I would be able to have a great chance at breaking the record. I took a leap of faith because I had no idea how the game would play on Twin Galaxies settings.


I looked around and found nothing. So, I went online and decided to enlist help. I offered $50 to the person that could find me a Donkey Kong 3 machine. Shortly after, someone posted about this party supply place in L.A. I called them, and they offered to sell the Donkey Kong 3 machine for $775 shipped. I knew this was overpaying, but I was desperate and believed I could break the record. So, I took the plunge and bought the machine.


Upon receiving the machine the joystick played a tad bit stiff and the monitor was not perfect. But, I gladly paid and went about going after the record. I soon found out the joystick was really bad and deteriorated. I still could play but I had to put effort in moving the joystick and it was starting to put blisters on my left hand. Soon the monitor was also having problems and would go out of whack if played too long.


How was your score progressing? And at what point did you breakout, giving you the confidence in breaking the record?

Riley: I had no clue as to what Twin Galaxies settings were going to be like. I decided to put the machine on 5 man settings first which is the Twin Galaxies Tournament Settings (TGTS). On the third try I broke the TGTS record without even recording. At that point I knew that I would eventually be able to get the Tournament and Marathon records.


I felt so confident about the Marathon record that I actually told you I was going to go after the record for the AtariAge Memorial Day weekend tournament. I think within two days of the tournament I broke the record. Then I just gradually moved up that score until I hit the 3,000,000 mark.

 

Some feel that Donkey Kong 3 has nothing to do with the Donkey Kong series: it's missing Mario and it's a shooter instead of a platform game. What are your thoughts on that and does it have anything to do with the perception that DK3 does not get the attention it deserves like the previous two titles in the series?

Riley: I always point out one thing: Shigeru Miyamoto was the lead programmer for this. Among Nintendo fans this man’s name is extremely revered and just bringing his name up in an argument is pretty powerful.


Well, if you think about it Donkey Kong Junior was also extremely different. I mean you are playing as neither Donkey Kong nor Mario but as Donkey Kong Junior (another character that disappears after that game). True, it is a platformer, but there are no hammers - just fruit.


Most people who are really, really good at Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior are primarily platform gamers. I think the biggest problem with DK3 is that it is a shooter first and foremost and a very hard shooter at that. So people don't really want to spend the time needed to become really good at the game for so little glory. Dean Saglio is the current record holder for Donkey Kong on MAME and has also been dabbling with Donkey Kong 3. I saw a game he played on Donkey Kong 3 just a couple of days ago and unlike the other games he was playing, he really seemed extremely frustrated. He even said words to the effect of "this game is going to be hard to get good at."


For me, that is probably one of the greatest compliments I have ever been given: the world record holder on the most highly competitive game admitting that this game was hard to get good at. I have seen this man play Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior and Zookeeper. The man completely owns these games and does things that are simply amazing.

 

You discussed that you discovered a "blue screen" in DK3 - can you discuss what that is and how you discovered it?

Riley: The Blue Screen: basically that is where the game repeatedly gives you the same blue screen over and over again. Strangely enough, I was just playing around with Java one day and was able to get to it. I decided to see if the same thing happened on my arcade machine and sure enough it did.


As a side note, Donald Hodges later found out with save mode that the game actually loops back to board one on board 257. As a challenge I decided to see if I could do that with Donkey Kong 3 on default settings in MAME which, ironically enough, are the easiest settings. I was able to do that and I achieved a score on MARP of 6,689,400 on Easy settings. I also found out that the game does not give out extra men after you loop the boards. I was really hoping this would happen because then the game can be marathon’d for a very long time. But alas, that was not the case.

 

Do you think that your DK3 record is one that could stand for ten years or more due in part because of it being less popular than DK, DK Jr. and the fact that your score is so high?

Riley: Well, some very high profile names have tried to go after this record or have had the record. Dwayne Richard and Shawn Cram are usually mentioned among the greatest gamers of all time and they were the former world record holders. John McAllister also toyed with the idea of going after the Donkey Kong 3 record. So did Steve Wagner, Justin Knucklez and Brian Allen. And like I said Dean Saglio has been trying his hand at this game as well.


Yes, the game is less popular than the other games, but some very big names in the arcade world have had their go at this game. One thing I have learned is that no record is safe. At the moment I am sitting pretty, but someone out of left field could come and knock me off my perch. Heck that is what I did to Dwayne Richard. Also, let it be noted that the Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior records changed hands a bunch of times in 2010. So, I believe that no Donkey Kong record is truly safe - even the Donkey Kong 3 record.

 

What attributes do you possess that allowed you to crush the DK3 record?

Riley: I think the biggest thing for me is the fact that I love to play this game. I mean I really, really enjoy what I do in the game. I really believe that in order to become great at something you need to have the love.


But besides that, I also think you need to have a chess-like mind. You need to be able to see three or four moves ahead at all times. The ability to constantly focus is also a must. And lastly I think you need to have a strong will. This game will at times kill you off a couple of times very quickly. It can be really mentally discouraging if you let it get to you. The key for me is to mentally stay in the game when this is happening.

 

How are you progressing on Donkey Kong Junior? Do you foresee yourself being the first gamer to achieve the Donkey Kong Triple Crown?

Riley: I have been stuck at 1,161,100 for about a month now. I have had a couple of games that were within 10,000 of that mark in the past week. To be honest, my highest official goal really for this game was 1,000,000 points which is something I have far exceeded. I think 1,200,000 is possible for me.


My goal really isn't to get the Triple Crown with these three games. My goal is to be the all around best on all three games. A lot of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior players do avoid Donkey Kong 3 like the plague and the ones who play Donkey Kong 3 generally don't go super hard after Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior. So, basically what this means is that my competition in being the all around best is not that huge.


I believe if I can get 1,000,000 on Donkey Kong then I will have the title wrapped up. I am almost done now with Donkey Kong Junior. In about a month and a half, I will move onto Donkey Kong as my primary game and I understand the commitment this is going to take. Unlike Donkey Kong Junior where I devoted a year of my time to this game, I will devote two years of my time to Donkey Kong. Based on most people’s experiences, it seems that the learning curve is about two years of hardcore practice in order to become an elite player.


Now of course if somehow I stumble upon all three records than obviously I would be on cloud nine for a very long time.


 

I had Space Jockey back in the day and it’s currently in my VCS collection. Some may view it as a terrible VCS title. What are your thoughts on the game itself and what was enticing for you to break the Space Jockey world record? How long was the game play to achieve the score?

Riley: OK, I will admit that this is by far my least favorite game of any of my records.


After I got the Galaxian record, I really had this thought that I did not want to be known as a one trick pony. So I searched for the game I had the best chance at breaking a record with. Sure enough, Space Jockey fit the bill. The only thing I really needed was an 8 hour tape instead of a 6 hour tape because the game play was going to take at least 6 hours to break the record. As far as the game it took me 7 hours and 45 minutes to set. To be honest it was pure torture to play.


It felt like this was pure hell on earth to play. The game is super easy and super repetitive. There is only one screen and it kept going on and on and on and on and on. I would rather be on a road trip with a couple of kids “saying are we there yet?” every 10 seconds than to play that game.


By the way, two of the previous record holders have also stated their disdain for this game. Most games are a game of endurance or skill. This is a game of tolerance for such horrible game play.


Have you considered going for 1,000,000 on Laser Blast?

Riley: Thankfully, Laser Blast stops at 1,000,000 and thankfully enough people have done it - like ten or so where the relevance is meaningless. If Laser Blast did not stop, I might think about it. Same goes for Megamania. I love that game, but ten or so have maxed that game out as well. i

 


Review: Scramble (Vectrex)

Posted by Rob Maerz on February 1, 2014 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

If you were too busy pumping quarters in Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Galaga back in 1981, then you probably missed this great shooter released by Konami that same year.

 

Cited as the influence for the Gradius series, this horizontal shooter puts you at the controls of a cool looking space ship dodging missiles, destroying bases and bombing fuel tanks through various terrains. There are five terrains to get through before you meet the objective of bombing the enemy base on the sixth level.

 

So, how does this all translate to vector graphics on the Vectrex?

 

Pretty darn good!


 

I was skeptical about how this would play out on the Vectrex, but was pleasantly surprised.

 

The terrain drawn up in vector graphics looks sensational. Your space ship actually looks more like a vector version of the Cosmic Avenger craft, but that’s just nitpicking. Explosions appear as large asterisks on the screen and sometimes I crash my space ship accidentally on purpose just to see it break into pieces.

 

There are some collision detection issues in this release but they seem to work in your favor. You can dip your wing into the terrain without losing a life and I’ve even went through a missile without dying!

 

Aside from that, the game play is “all that.” Maneuvering through the tight spaces takes some practice and that’s even on the easiest of three skill levels.

 

It’s all about the fun factor and this port of Scramble delivers.

 

Grade: A

 

 

Review: Life Force (NES)

Posted by Rob Maerz on February 1, 2014 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

I remember my local bowling alley getting this arcade cabinet in their game room. I played it several times back in the day and to this day I find it to be a bizarre horizontal space shooter.

 

Konami ported their 1986 arcade release to the NES in 1988. The game can be played by one or two players simultaneously with one piloting the Vic Viper and the other the Road British Space Destroyer. Like many games in this genre, you can power-up your weaponry throughout the game.

 

The space monster Zelos has gone on an intergalactic buffet. Zelos needs a whooping in the digestive tract from the star fighters to save civilizations. Along the way you battle enemy defenses and bosses to your ultimate goal of destroying Zelos’ heart and soul.

 

At the onset, this game looks like same wine, different bottle. You’ll see similar enemy craft travelling in similar flight patterns as in Gradius. After that wave, things get interesting.

 

You travel through caverns facing enemy Death Hands, Belbeims (which look like ribs or horns – take your pick) and other universal scum. When you finally plow your way through all the obstacles it’s time to face the first boss.

 

Golem is a brain with Death Hands and an eye protruding from his frontal lobe. I’ve found that you can simply do circles around him avoiding the Death Hands and just start wailing on his eye.

 

I like the dynamic of this game. Once you get to Terror Zone II, the game turns into a vertical scrolling shooter and that’s pretty neat!

 

Graphically this game looks good and at the same time bizarre – appropriate for the story line. The music doesn’t fit the game, however – I would’ve chosen a jingle to the tune of Public Image Ltd’s “Albatross.”


 

There is no randomness in this game so you basically have to do repeat plays and memorize the patterns. It’s still a challenge, nonetheless.

 

This is a highly addictive game –one you can play for hours on end.

 

Grade: A

 

 


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