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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.


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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

 

 

Review: Gulkave (ColecoVision)

Posted by Rob Maerz on February 1, 2014 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Gulkave is a 1986 Sega horizontal space shooter ported from the SG-1000 by Eduardo Mello and released by Team Pixelboy. This game is another example of  “what could have been” had Coleco not snubbed the ColecoVision in favor of the disastrous ADAM.

 

In a nutshell, you pilot a spaceship called the Zaiigar that shoots anything that moves. Your adversary is the Gulbas Empire who throw everything but the kitchen sink to see you destroyed. Your goal is to destroy the eight fortresses of the Gulbas Empire. Pretty easy, right?

 

Wrong! This game is tougher than tough. There are no cookie levels in this game – it’s an onslaught from the onset.

 

Your Zaiigar ship is protected (temporarily) by a shield barrier that loses energy with every hit you take. When you run out of energy on your shield barrier, the next hit you take means you lose a ship.

 

There are thirty levels known as “acts.” When you complete an act, you earn bonus points for any energy remaining on your shield barrier and you move onto the next act. The eight Gulbas fortresses that you are to destroy are located at the end of acts 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, 22, 26 and 30.

 

Along the way you can receive power-ups for weaponry upgrades, and of course, you lose the additional fire power once you lose a life. Some of the weaponry is pretty awesome like the “Screen Eraser Blaster” that shoots five beams so you can give the Gulbas thugs some payback.

 

The cartridge features a high score table, a game demo screen and (thankfully) the ability to continue the game. Music plays throughout which is typical for this genre of games of the mid-1980s.

 

The graphics are superb and if you didn’t know it you’d swear that this wasn’t a ColecoVision title. On the first act your ship is flying over nicely rendered ice capped mountains with a sparkling star field in the background.


 

The level of difficulty has its positives and negatives. The positive is that it can entice you to explore the game further by using the continue feature (if needed). The negative is that there are players that would have preferred, at a minimum, two difficulty levels (e.g. Novice and Standard) for the purpose of practicing and discovery of the game at higher levels without having to use a continue.

 

Players that seek a challenge of this magnitude in the genre of horizontal shooters will enjoy this game. It’s a hit or miss for players that don’t.

 

Grade: B-

 

 

Review: Yars' Revenge (2600)

Posted by Rob Maerz on February 1, 2014 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

A programmer at Atari was asked to develop a port of Star Castle for the Atari 2600. He said it couldn’t be done “but, here’s Yars’ Revenge.”

 

You are Yar (Ray spelled backwards – as in Ray Kassar), a fly that must destroy the Qotile (the equivalent of the cannon in Star Castle) that lies behind an energy shield on the right side of the screen. You must chip away at the cells in the energy shield by shooting them or nibbling away at them. All the while you are being chased by the guided destroyer missile (equivalent to the sparks in Star Castle) in your attempt to tunnel a path through the shield. Once you have a path through the energy shield, you can then launch your Zorlon cannon from the left side of the screen to destroy the Qotile on the right.


 

In the middle of the playfield is the neutral zone where you are invincible to the destroyer missile but not to the swirls blasted off by the Qotile. Additionally, you cannot fire from within the neutral zone.

 

As you kill off more Qotiles, the destroyer missile increases its pace and Qotile’s swirls are launched more frequently. As you advance further in the game, there will be a couple of boards sans neutral zone.

 

None of this stuff makes sense but that’s the imagination that makes games from the classic era great! This is definitive Atari 2600 of the early 80s.

 

Graphically, Yar looks pretty good as a cosmic fly and the Qotile looks like some kind of demonic cannon that constantly changes hues. Machine code was used as graphic representation of the neutral zone and the destruction of the Qotile. All this action is set to the sounds of the Qotile swirls, Zorlon cannons and an insect drone as the backdrop.

 

From a game play standpoint, thisis one of the finest titles in the 2600 library. It’s one of the few moments in Atari’s history where they made the right decision in that they released a title that was influenced by an arcade port instead of releasing a blocky flickerfest masked inside seductive box art and calling it Star Castle.

 

Grade: A+

 

 


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