My friend Sean and I were recently talking about how Thanksgiving can be almost like two separate holidays for kids and adults. While the adults enjoy talking and eating and watching football, the kids are often left to entertain themselves. I decided to do something fun for the kids this year and drag one of my few remaining arcade cabinets in from the garage and set it up in the back dining room.
This machine began life as a Williams cabinet — either Defender or Joust, I think. Someone converted it to a Buster Bros. machine many years ago, and I bought it at an auction for $50 in non-working condition. The problem turned out to be a faulty power cord, which was definitely the easiest arcade repair I ever successfully performed. The game worked for a couple of years and then the board inside died, so I replaced it with a “48-in-1″ multigame PCB. (“48-in-1″ means that the board has 48 different classic games included on 1 single board.) Then the monitor died and I replaced it with a computer monitor. Since the 48-in-1 is a vertical PCB, I mounted the monitor on its side.
The game was a success, I think. My kids broke the machine in for me before anyone arrived. Morgan’s favorite game is Centipede. Even though the 48-in-1 does not support a trackball she still loves playing it, blissfully unaware at how difficult and unnatural it is to play using a joystick. Mason on the other hand likes to go through all the games and try them all. I’ve caught him playing Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Zaxxon, and Galaga, to name a few. In the picture above, my nephew Griffin is playing Burgertime while my other nephew Phoenix climbs onto a stool for a closer look with Mason watching on from behind.
This morning on “Black Friday,” Mason was the first one to fire up the machine. I posted a fairly weak Donkey Kong high score yesterday of 39,300, but Mason watched how I did it and has been trying to beat that score off and on ever since. I’m sure he’ll do it eventually. Later, mommy got in on the action as well. Susan’s score was 400 and her question before they started was “Am I Mario or the Donkey?” which is funny because there’s no donkey in Donkey Kong.
This particular cabinet is too rough to keep inside the house for long. The coin door is rusted, the sides of the cabinet are gouged, and the control panel is all scratched up. And while the 48-in-1 board offers a decent selection of games, I’m already starting to get requests. (“Does it play Tetris?” “No.” “Does it play Dr. Mario?” “No.” “Does it play Gauntlet?” “No.”) This may be the nudge I need to finally put together a proper MAME cabinet, one that looks nice enough to stay inside the house permanently.
Until then though… back to that Donkey Kong score.
Just across town from the 1UP is the 2UP. While the space may be slightly smaller, the fun was just as big. My buddy Robb (you can see him in the picture there) and I spent several hours hanging out at the 2UP playing games and watching football. Like the 1UP, all the pinball games were set to 50 cents and all the arcade games were set to a quarter. Mostly we played pinball, flipping away at the Metallica, Playboy, and Addams Family tables, but we did manage to squeeze in a few rounds of Paperboy as well. The 2UP is a bar which means it’s 21 to enter (no kiddos allowed). The staff were nice, the drinks were good, and the games were great. The only thing not great about the 2UP is the location. Several people we told we were going to the 2UP advised us to “have a good time and try not to get stabbed.” The area didn’t seem particularly bad to me but there were quite a few homeless people hanging around outside. Fortunately we were able to park literally outside the front door, so making a safe escape to our cars wasn’t an issue.
45 miles north of Denver is Lyons, Colorado, home of Lyons Classic Pinball and Games. (We were underwhelmed by the “games” part until we learned they were next door in a bar.) In what once was a house sits 30 classic pinball tables. Some are old, some are new, some are unique, and all were awesome. The middle of the arcade features a room full of music-themed pinball tables. In the picture above you can see KISS, Guns N’ Roses, Monster Bash, Wizard! (Tommy), and Metallica (again). On the other side of the room sat Rolling Stones, Capt. Fantastic (Elton John), Ted Nugent, and AC/DC. There was also a gigantic Hercules table (it’s so big it uses cue balls for pinballs!), Banzai Run (the only table where you can launch a pinball up into the backglass!) and a head-to-head Joust pinball machine.
There were only two arcade games on site: an environmental Discs of Tron and a multicade. We learned that the rest of the games were next door at Oskar’s, so we went there next.
Prices on the tables vary, from a quarter (for the old ones) to a dollar (for the band new ones). Other than the Wizard of Oz table, all the machines were up and running and looked super clean. It’s a bit of a haul from Denver, but if you’re into pinball it’s a great location to visit.
(My camera phone pictures did not turn out, so here is a picture of Oskar’s arcade from Flickr member Wally Gobetz.)
Next door to the Lyons Classic Pinball Arcade is the Oskar Blues Grill & Brew. It’s a blues bar and so inside it looks like a bar, except there’s a back room that’s full of arcade games. Because it’s a bar and there was a band playing there was a $5 cover charge to get in. From what I understand when there’s not a band, there’s no cover.
According to the website, the back room is home to the following games: Battlezone, Centipede, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Galaga/Multi-cade, Gorf, Ms. Pac-Man, Out Run, Paperboy, Phoenix, Q*bert, Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Tron, and a Williams Multi-cade with Bubbles, Robotron, Defender, Sinistar, Houst, Splay, Moon Patrol, Stargate. I didn’t write them all down, but that seems about right. It was interesting that three or four of the cabinets (I remember Centipede, Dig Dug, Gorf, and maybe one of the Pacs) are cabarets, which you don’t see everyday. Maybe of the machines were in “played” vs. “restored” condition, but everything we tried worked.
At 5:15 A.M. on Monday morning, a Kansas state trooper pulled me over. By that time I had already been on the road for two hours, doing five over the whole time.
“The reason I pulled you over,” he said, “was because you were swerving a bit back there. Everything okay in here?”
“Oh yes sir,” I responded, “just a little tired. I left Denver this morning around 3 A.M. and I’m heading back home to Oklahoma City.”
“Mmm,” he said. “What were you doing in Denver?”
“Well sir, I just got back from attending the Kong Off 3, the only nationally sanctioned Donkey Kong tournament in the country.”
After staring at one another for an uncomfortable amount of time, the trooper suggested I pull over at the next gas station, have a cup of coffee and take a break. I told him I would and continued on my way, with the trooper and Donkey Kong both in my rear view mirror.
Due to a hectic work schedule I ended up with a few weeks of “use or lose” vacation to burn at the end of the year. Around the same time I was poring over a calendar looking for days here and there to take off I discovered that the Kong Off 3 was only a couple of weeks away. Under normal circumstances I probably wouldn’t have taken a few days of vacation to drive 600+ miles to attend a Donkey Kong tournament, but with time to burn and friends to see in Denver, I loaded up the Family Truckster last Thursday morning and hit the road.
My first stop in Denver Thursday night was to meet Mike Maginnis of the No Quarter Podcast and attend a screening of The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time, a 2013 documentary about people who love and collect vintage arcade games. Mike had purchased a few extra tickets to ensure the screening would happen and was gracious enough to give one of those tickets to me. Turnout at the show was low, which was disappointing as I thought the film was good and did a good job of portraying the passion many of these collectors reinvest into the hobby.
After the film ended, Mike and I got to chat with director Jeff Von Ward for about twenty minutes, and both Mike and I ended up purchasing the special collector’s edition of the film which not only contains a copy of the film on blu-ray, but also two additional DVDs containing 139 minutes of bonus footage, a director’s commentary track, and lots of other extras. Definitely worth the $30. My only regret was that I did not bring a copy of Invading Spaces to give to Jeff. In the future, when attending arcade-related events, I’ll bring a spare copy or two just in case.
The entire Kong Off 3 lasted three days, lasting from Friday until Sunday. Friday, noonish, my very good friend Robb Shewrin and I headed to the 1UP in Denver, the arcade where the Kong Off 3 was taking place.
Stepping into the 1UP was like stepping back into time. To be sure the place is a bar, except where most bars have booths or tables to sit at, the 1UP has games. Lots and lots of games. The entire left hand side of the bar has 20 pinball tables. The back side of the bar has arcade games, and the entire right hand side of the bar has a lot of games — at least 30, maybe more. Although the 1UP normally has a variety of games to play, most of them had been removed and replaced by Donkey Kong machines. I am quite sure I had never seen 22 Donkey Kong machines in one place until last Friday. As I stood before them, as a guy who owned 30 machines at one time and not once had all of them running all at the same time, I thought about the work involved in assembling and restoring 22 Donkey Kong cabinets.
The wires you can see being run in this picture were for the televisions and cameras. Every machine had its own camera which fed into a flat screen television mounted high above so that spectators could watch the action from afar.
Thirty-two of the country’s best Donkey Kong players attended with hopes of winning the tournament and possibly even breaking a world record. Because of their appearances in 2007′s The Kong of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, and Walter Day are all easily recognizable. Despite the “good guy/bad guy” dichotomy that was portrayed in the film, both Billy Mitchell and Walter Day made a point of making their way through the crowd, shaking hands and talking to people. Both of them made a point of standing around and talking to us for a good five minutes.
Walter Day, Rob O’Hara, and Billy Mitchell.
If you haven’t seen The King of Kong then you might not know what a “kill screen” is. Because certain values in many classic games are stored in 8-bit registers, if you play them long and far enough, some of them will eventually crash. Donkey Kong’s kill screen bug appears on the 118th screen, which takes roughly 2 1/2 hours to reach. Thus, the essence of the competition becomes, who can score the most points before the game crashes.
Prior to the Kong Off 3, the 20th highest score achieved in Donkey Kong was 903,400. As you can see, ten of the 22 KO3 competitors beat that score.
Here’s a shot of current world record holder Hank Chien, a plastic surgeon from New York who scored a whopping 1,138,600 points on the game back in November of 2012. There are about 5 people on the planet who can break 1.1 million on Donkey Kong. Last weekend, I was in a room with most of them.
Robb and I did not stay at the 1UP the entire weekend. In fact, we spent a bit of time at the 2UP and a bit of time in Lyons, Colorado at a couple of different arcades. I’ll write about those tomorrow. It is a little exciting to get to see some of the world’s greatest game players “doing their thing,” but the excitement wears off fairly quickly when you realize you are standing around in a bar watching people play Donkey Kong.
As the tournament began to wind down, I stood in the middle of tired gamers, listening to their tales of battle. One fellow talked about how a game of quirky fireballs ended his run early. Another complained that he should have brought his own control panel, although another player was quick to point out that it wouldn’t have helped him.
Sunday evening the contest ended. Jeff Willms, the reigning Kong Off champion, successfully defended his title with a score of 1,096,200, taking first place a second year in a row. Hank Chien, the current world record holder, finished third with 1,056,900. King of Kong subject Steve Wiebe finished fifth with 1,048,800, followed by current MAME world record holder Dean Saglio, with 1,033,000. Billy Mitchell finished in 22nd place.
Thanks to Robb and Mike for putting up with me throughout the weekend. I’ll write some more about some of the other arcades I visited in Denver tomorrow.
I’m home from Denver after attending the Kong Off 3. What a fun weekend! I’ll be writing more about it tomorrow, but to hold you over until then, here are a few recent podcasts I’ve appeared on.
You Don’t Know Flack Episode 145: About Podcasting
Episode 145 of You Don’t Know Flack is all about podcasting, literally. In this episode I talk about what it takes to start and run a podcast. On this episode I was joined by 8 fellow podcasters who also give their input and advice. If you have ever wanted to start your own podcast, this is a must listen!
Throwback Reviews Episode 22: Arcades Old and New
In this pre-Kong Off episode of Throwback reviews, Sean, Door, special guest Vic Sage and I talk about arcades (both old and new) and arcade games.
No Quarter Episode 58: Warrior
While hanging out in Denver, No Quarter co-host Mike Maginnis invited me over to join he and Carrington Vanston on the latest episode of No Quarter on which we discuss the 1979 vector video game Warrior.
Flux Capaci-Cast 13: Future Son
On Episode 13 of the Back to the Future themed podcast Flux Capaci-Cast, I join Guy Hutchinson and Jamaal Green to discuss the Data East Back to the Future pinball table, along with some of Michael J. Fox’s pre-BTTF roles. This episode also features an interview with Gavin Fox, the man behind the Hill Valley Project Twitter project.
Sprite Castle Episode 24: Donkey Kong
It’s on like you-know-what in the latest episode of Sprite Castle in which I play two different versions of Nintendo’s classic Donkey Kong for the Commodore 64: Atarisoft’s (1983) and Ocean’s (1986). Which is better? Watch the video and decide! http://throwbacknetwork.net/?p=1498
I am writing to inform you that effective immediately, my son will no longer be delivering newspapers for the Daily Sun. Additionally, I have grave concerns regarding the safety of the route he was assigned that I would like to bring to your attention.
I initially allowed my son to take this part time job due to its relatively straight forward route and small number of customers. Despite only having ten customers (on a street with 20 houses), my son must cross three busy intersections. Despite having crosswalks, cross traffic does not stop or even yield. My son has been run over multiple times by men on motorcycles and women in convertibles. Throughout the neighborhood, my son has to frequently switch between riding his bicycle on the sidewalk and directly in the street. In the street my son has been involved in more than one head on collision. He has also ruined more bicycles than I can count by driving into drains and open manholes. The sidewalk is not much better; it is littered with fences, fire hydrants and other obstacles.
While logic dictates that the sidewalk would be a safe place for a child to ride his bicycle, clearly in this neighborhood it is not. The sidewalk is constantly overcrowded, filled with punks on skateboards, women with shopping carts, and breakdancers. To avoid hitting a man with a purple mohawk riding a unicycle, my son swerved into the street and struck a man using a jackhammer (with absolutely no safety cones or warning equipment set up to warn others). When he returned to the sidewalk, he was run over by an unmanned lawnmower.
The residents of the neighborhood are as unforgiving as they are careless. My son is only given ten newspapers for ten subscribers. This is not acceptable as he must constantly use the papers to thwart burglaries and defend himself from other dangers. While additional bundles of paper are scattered around the neighborhood (presumably from previous paperboys!) most of them get used to repel all the stray cats and dogs that constantly attack my son. At no point did anyone mention to me or my son that his route would be filled with so many abandoned houses, some of them bearing gravestones. When my son missed delivering a single paper to a single subscriber, they cancelled their subscription. When attempting to deliver them a paper the following day, the homeowner backed over my son with his Hearse.
To be honest, I am quite surprised that anyone in this neighborhood subscribes to, let alone reads, a daily periodical. In an attempt to deliver newspapers the denizens of this town have attempted to set off bombs near my son’s path and chased him with remote controlled cars in an attempt to cause him to crash. He has been knocked off his bike more than once by winos and chased by both tornadoes and the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper! Yesterday he was forced to break up a fist fight between two grown men by hitting them with a newspaper!
After hearing all these tales from my son, I recommended that he work on his bicycle skills. He told me at the end of the neighborhood there is a training section filled with moving ramps and targets. My son said he did really well in the training area and was awarded bonus points. I don’t know what bonus points are worth. I know that our insurance will not accept them as deductible payments toward our multiple insurance claims, and they apparently cannot be traded in for bicycles.
Seven times this week my son has been struck by errant car tires rolling in and out of people’s driveways and down the street. I have never heard of anyone being struck by a car tire before, let alone seven times in the same week. This is absolutely ridiculous and I will not stand for it.
Please accept this letter as an official resignation for my son. I believe it would be in your best interest to warn future paperboys about the potential hazards lurking along this route. It would also be a good idea to provide pads and/or a helmet to any future paperboys. They’re going to need it.
Last weekend the family and I drove to Bentonville, Arkansas to attend my buddy Brian’s 40th birthday party. The next morning on the way out of town we swung through Fayetteville and stopped by the Arkadia Retrocade.
Arkadia has changed a bit since our last visit. There are more games now (close to 95, I think) and they’re laid out more logically now. All the Mario games are up front, all the space games are in a small island together, all the military games are in a row, and so on.
On Sundays Arkadia is open from noon until 6pm. We arrived right around noon and essentially had the place to ourselves for around an hour. The last time we were there was on a Saturday and the place was packed, so it just depends on what time you go and what you want to experience. Some people like it when there’s lots of people there. Me, I prefer the elbow room and the ability to play whatever game I want for as long as I want. The arcade’s business model of $5 to enter and play all the games you want still seems to be working for them.
Both kids had a blast this time. Mason spent some time playing air hockey with new friends while Morgan spent her time working on her Frogger scores.
I, on the other hand, spent some time on this red leather love seat playing Atari 2600 games.
The arcade’s collection of memorabilia has grown significantly since we last visited. This is just one of many display areas toward the rear of the arcade.
I am so happy that the Arkadia Retrocade continues to succeed! I enjoy talking with owner Shea Mathis every time we visit Arkadia and you can tell by the way he talks with each customer that running Arkadia is truly a labor of love. The kids and I all had a great time (and I even caught Susan giving Centipede a quick spin) and we are already planning our next visit out!
1478 N. College Ave.
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72703
Phone: (479) 445-7844
In the comments of my last Raspberry Pi post, reader Ben politely pointed out “you’re doing it wrong.” And I was. Along with a couple of other helpful suggestions, Ben also pointed me toward PiMame, which comes as a precompiled image — simply download, extract, boot, and play. Now that the raspberry Pi is out of the box and connected, I only had two goals:
01. Download/extract/configure PiMame
02. Play games.
Would this one work better than my first go ’round with RetroPie? Read on!
Using WinSCP I connected to the Pi over my network and copied the Mario Bros ROM for MAME over into the ROMs directory. I rebooted the Pi, selected MAME, and there was Mario Bros. I chose that, and got this:
Honest to goodness, that’s all there was to it. It even recognized my USB gamepad with no additional configuration. The biggest initial problem I had to overcome was the fact that there was no sound coming out of my television. Unmuting my television fixed that.
For the most part I’d say I’m pleased with PiMame. The sound is not 100% accurate but it’s certainly playable. I thought the samples sounded low in Shinobi and some of the explosions were missing in Galaga, but the thing played just fine. PiMame comes with a ton of other emulators so I’ll be experimenting with those as well.
My next Raspberry Pi project will be a hardware one, not a software one. I detest the case that came with this thing and so I’ve had my eye out for something else to use, even if it’s temporary. I had Raspberry Pi on the brain the other day at Big Lots and ran across this.
It’s been a few weeks (apparently) since I announced my new podcast episodes here.
Episode 127 is about BASIC programming. This one has old stories about programming in BASIC, a few new stories about Visual Basic, and some new forks of the BASIC programming language that are still being updated.
Episode 128 is (fittingly) about the Commodore 128. Packed in and around stories about the C128 are a couple of stories about S.A.M., the old voice synthesizer for the Commodore.
Episode 129 is all about the collection of arcade games I owned while I lived in El Reno, Oklahoma. The six machines I owned back then were Elevator Action, Mat Mania, Shinobi, Street Fighter II – Championship Edition, Power Instinct 2, and Star Wars.
Here’s the second post that got gummed up in the system.
Episode 125 of You Don’t Know Flack is all about the video game crash of 1983. “It was a dark and stormy night…” or was it really? In this episode I talk all about the causes of the video game crash of 1983, and why I missed it. From the voice mail box I answer the question, “what’s the worst arcade conversion I’ve ever seen?”