Archive for the Arcade Category

After visiting barcades all over the country, we finally have our own right here in Oklahoma City: the FlashBack RetroPub. Last Friday, Susan and I attended the pub’s official grand opening.

That’s not my DeLorean, but it is my 8-bit tie…

The FlashBack RetroPub is at 814 West Sheridan, several blocks away from Bricktown. There are a few trendy businesses and restaurants nearby, but it’s also less than a block from the City Rescue Mission and right down the street from the scariest McDonald’s I’ve ever set foot in. It will be interesting to see how this part of town develops over time.

There are a few different business models for modern arcades: there’s the “pizzacade,” which combines food with arcade games, the “pay-at-the-door-cade,” where gamers can pay one entry price and play games all day long, and then there’s the “barcade,” establishments that combine arcade gaming with a full bar. FlashBack RetroPub is definitely a barcade, as we were carded at the door.

The front half of the pub is where the bar and arcade games are. Then there’s the dance floor, DJ booth and lounge area, the restrooms, and an unused area that I suspect will have seating in it soon.

A rough guess, I’d say the pub has 30 arcade games. The front right is loaded with classics (Robotron, Defender, Centipede, etc) and the rest of the machines run down the opposite wall. The oldest game I remember was Asteroids and the newest was NBA Jam, with most of the machines belonging to the awesome 80s. Directly across from the games was the bar, with bar tables standing between the two. Those tables became a problem later in the evening.

With a couple of drinks in hand, we took a few bills over to the change machine. “OUT OF ORDER.” We then went back to the bar and bought five dollars worth of tokens. Then we went back to the machines and found most of them had dozens of free credits on them. So, there was a little confusion there.

Beyond the bar and the games was the dance floor, the DJ booth (that giant boom box) and a lounge area. Some of the benches had signs on them saying they were reserved for VIPs. As the crowd piled in, all available seats were taken very quickly.

My biggest complaint with the place was with the games. Centipede and Tetris, Susan’s two favorite games, were powered off. Popeye couldn’t punch. Kung-Fu Master couldn’t punch. Player Two’s joystick on Mario Bros. didn’t work. Donkey Kong didn’t have sound. The joystick on Zaxxon was a little wonky. At least ten of the machines we tried had serious issues, which is 1/3 of their machines (and we weren’t able to try them all).

The other problem we had was this:

As people continued to file in, we got stuck. We couldn’t get to the games, we couldn’t get to the bar, we couldn’t even get out. It took us a solid ten minutes to make our way from the back of the pub to the front. Granted, the place will not usually be this crowded, but the bar tables in between the machines and the bar completely stopped foot traffic. Worse, it blocked access to the bar, which prevented us from getting more drinks or tokens.

One thing this place has going for it are the employees. We ordered drinks from two or three different bartenders and each one was super nice. The two doormen were also overly polite, thanking us for coming in. I suspect in the near future a few changes might be made to the floor plan to help the crowd flow. As long as they can get (and keep) the games in working order, it looks to me like they might have a winning combination.

FlashBack RetroPub, a great place to go party like it’s 1999. Er, 1989.

I like being involved in weird and unusual things. Sometimes I get involved in weird and unusual things by saying “sure” when I get invited to such things. Last week my friend Dean invited me to attend the inaugural Track and Field World Championships at a local private arcade. Dean told me a few well known competitors would be flying in from California for the event. He also told me that local video wizard Drew Stone would be documenting the tournament, and wanted to know if I would provide audio commentary for the proceedings and interview the competitors.

I said “sure,” which is how I ended up attending the 2084 Arcade in Beggs, Oklahoma with a wireless microphone system threaded through my shirt while watching some of the best Track and Field competitors in the world battle it out on the vintage game.

Track and Field is a classic arcade game, released by Konami in 1983. The game’s unique controls and social competition aspect (allowing up to four players to compete against one another) were enough to make it a good game, but the hype surrounding the 1984 Olympics (which took place in Los Angeles, California) certainly didn’t hurt the game’s popularity.

Each competitor in Track and Field must use three buttons to play the game. There are two RUN buttons that must be hit repetitively to propel your feet in the running events, and a third JUMP/THROW button that does just that. Not only does the game require quick reflexes and pixel-point accuracy, but also maniacally fast fingers (with tough forearms to match). While many classic arcade games only require good hand/eye coordination, Track and Field adds those RUN buttons to the mix. Literally, the faster you can mash those buttons, the faster your little man goes.

And Hector “FLY” Rodriguez is the fastest of the fast, although technically speaking he “flicks” the buttons instead of mashing them, as do most of the world’s top players. In 2008 Hector scored 95,350 on the game, breaking the former world record of 95,040 which was held by Kelly Kobashigawa for 23 years.

But Hector was not the only competitor in town. Jack Gale, also from California, arrived with his eye on the trophy. Gale is no stranger to winning — he is currently first in the world in games like Enduro Racer, Mad Crasher, and Vs. Hogan’s Alley, and holds (and has previously held) many others. Gale’s world record on Zoo Keeper stood for nearly twenty years.

Jack Gale and Hector Rodriguez discuss strategy outside the arcade as Mason looks on.

King of Kong did a disservice to the arcade community by prominently displaying the negative side of rivalry instead of the friendly competitive spirit I’ve witnessed at every single arcade competition I’ve attended. I’ve met several of the people featured in King of Kong (including Billy Mitchell) who have been nothing but polite and genuinely kind, not only to me but their other competitors. Anyone expecting anything less from a gaming competition (hosted in Oklahoma, no less) should be surprised. Rob Walker, one of the contestants and the owner of the 2084 arcade, cooked enough burgers and dogs to feed an army. My only complaint of the day was that so many people brought so many pops and drinks to share that there was no room in the ice chests for us to add our twelve pack. The vast majority of people I’ve met in this circle are generous and kind; in Oklahoma, doubly so.

(When some of the competitors noticed Mason taking an interest in the game, they began giving him tips and encouraging him to enter. While we all knew Mason’s chances of winning a tournament that included the world record holder were extremely slim, it was very nice for them to include him, a gesture that truly shows the real generosity and kindness of most arcade enthusiasts.)

With our bellies full of burgers and hot dogs, it was time for practice to begin. On any other day, everyone’s focus would have been on Walker’s immaculate collection of games… but not on this Saturday. On this Saturday, machines like Journey, Robotron, Joust, and Bubbles sat untouched as the contestants warmed up their chops on the three practice machines that had been moved into the center of the arcade.

As the sun went down, the competition lit up as nine hopeful competitors entered the qualifying round. Each qualifying round was played on the same machine. The machine had two cameras mounted on it, one rebroadcasting the screen to a large flat screen television mounted behind the player and another one recording each player’s face. Additional action was recorded by two or three additional cameras. All of this wizardry was concocted and coordinated by local television media Drew Stone.

After the prelims, the field was narrowed to five finalists: world record holder Hector Rodriguez, Jack Gale, event co-organizors Dean (owner of Arcade Sales and Rentals) and Rob, and Rob’s son Brad. Less than 10,000 points separated the top five scores.

Although Mason did not advance to the finals, he had another job to perform. Mason randomly picked each finalist’s name from a plate to determine the final order.

Although the competition was always friendly, it was also intense as each player flicked, tapped, and occasionally bashed the buttons as furiously as possible in order to propel their runners toward the finish line. Each competitor pulled out every trick they knew in order to obtain as many bonuses as possible. With gamers this evenly matched, a winning score could come down to earning a single 1,000 point bonus.

By the end of the night we were all hot, sweaty, tired, and having a blast. Dean and I, with our wireless microphones attached to our lapels, gave commentary on each player’s performance as they pushed their scores higher and higher. And while every competitor did awesome, at the end only one person could be the ultimate winner.

At the end of the night, pictures of the competitors were taken surrounding the Track and Field machines. The machine used in the competition along with a few additional Track and Field marquees were autographed. Trophies, leftover from the original Classic Video Game Tournaments in the 1980s, were obtained and distributed to the winners.

Oh, and speaking of winners, at the end of the night the points were tallied and the winner…

…will be revealed when the video is released. Sorry, I’ve been sworn to secrecy!

Thanks to all the competitors and spectators who attended the event, and special thanks to Dean and Rob for organizing the event in Rob’s wonderful private arcade, and Hector and Jack for coming all the way from California to attend the event. Talks are already underway in regards to a bigger event next year. Mason is hoping they do; he spent the morning practicing…

PS: If you want to hear me talk about the Commodore 64 version of Track and Field, I covered it a few months ago on my C64 game podcast, Sprite Castle.

A friend of mine tagged me with the following challenge on Facebook:

10 games that will always stay with you. Rules: Don’t take more then a few minutes. Don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be great works of the gaming industry, just games that have affected you in a positive way. Then tag 10 friends including me so I can see your list.

If you know me you know simply making a list isn’t enough, so I added some additional information and links to videos. Although many of these games appeared on many different platforms, I included the ones that my memories were most closely associated with. I also extended my list to 12 games, and you’re lucky I didn’t make it 50. Without further adieu…

01. Wizardry / Bard’s Tale (Apple II/C64)

Wizardry was one of the first dungeon crawlers to be released for home computers, and the first one I ever played for the Apple II. According to Wikipedia it was the first color dungeon crawler and the first true party-based Dungeons and Dragons-style game. Released in 1981, this was one of the first games I can remember my dad and I playing at the same time. He would play at night and make maps of the game’s dungeons on graph paper, maps I would use the next day to advance further in the game.

Just a few years later, my buddy Jeff and I would spend an entire summer playing Bard’s Tale in largely the same fashion. Although the graphics were slightly better, the gameplay of Bard’s Tale is largely identical to Wizardry. RPGs in the 80s got too large to keep my interest, but I greatly enjoyed (and miss) this era of dungeon roaming.

02. Lode Runner (Apple II)

The recent passing of Doug Smith has this game on my mind. Lode Runner was an early platform game with just enough tricks to keep it interesting. The goal was to collect all of the packages from each level while avoiding the “bunglings.” The game’s original gimmick came in the digging of holes, which could be used to bury your opponents or dig your way out of trouble. The original game only came with 50 levels, but there were sequels and also a level editor that allowed you to easily create your own levels. Lode Runner was fun in 1984 and it’s still fun in 2014, and I still play it occasionally.

03. Gauntlet (Arcade)

The first arcade games were one-player only. Then there were two-player games that required the players to take turns. Then came two-player head-to-head games. Gauntlet may have been the first four player game I ever played in an arcade, and unlike most games at that time, the goal of Gauntlet was for players to work together. Sure, occasionally Warrior would shoot Elf in the back while Wizard stole the food, but ultimately gamers learned they could get deeper into the dungeon (and more bang for their buck) by working together.

I have many wonderful memories of playing Gauntlet with my friends. Because of this, Gauntlet II was one of the first arcade games I purchased when I began collecting arcade games.

04. Dragon’s Lair (Arcade)

I will never forget the first time I saw Dragon’s Lair in an arcade. If you were there in the 80s, I doubt you have forgotten it either. Seemingly overnight we went from blips and bloops to actually controlling a cartoon. It was awesome! It was incredible! It was… not that much fun. And it was hard to play. Several laserdisc games (including Dragon’s Lair II and Space Ace) came and went over the next few years. Ultimately they did not change the gaming industry in the way they had hoped to, but it was still pretty awesome. The takeaway from Dragon’s Lair ultimately was that graphics aren’t everything; gameplay is king.

05. Doom II (PC)

While I had experimented with playing games online with other human beings, Doom II was the first game I ever played against other people on a local area network (LAN). I actually learned how to network computers together just so we could play Doom II. The graphics in the video below make me cringe a bit, but back them the gloomy dungeons and atmospheric sound effects set the tone for an amazing game. It took what worked from Doom (and Wolfenstein 3D before that), added multiplayer, and delivered an unforgettable gaming experience. Doom II was so good that the gaming industry has been applying new coats of paint to the concept and re-releasing it for 20 years now.

06. Donkey Kong (Arcade)

Donkey Kong is a light-hearted game starring a pre-Mario Mario in which he climbs ladders, jumps barrels, and saves his girlfriend level after level. It’s simple… or is it? Once you start to learn how to “control” the barrels, how to control where fireballs appear from and how to run up your score thanks to several glitches, it becomes and entirely different game. Adding to the pressure is the game’s infamous “kill screen,” a point where Mario dies for no apparent reason and the game ends. Suddenly the goal switches from “how high can you go?” to how many points can you score before the game crashes. For someone who doesn’t play a lot of Donkey Kong, a respectable score is in the 20-30k range. My high score is just over 100k. The current world’s record is 1.2 million. If you have a couple of hours, you can watch a recording of it below. Donkey Kong is an example of a seemingly simple game that is still revealing secrets 30 years after its release.

07. Paradroid (C64)

This game captured my interest back in the mid-80s and I still enjoy it today. In Paradroid you control a floating helmet and your job is to take over other robots by challenging them to a game of electronic switches which… eh, it makes more sense when you play it, I guess. This game has been ported to a few other machines including the Amiga and Windows, but the C64 original is still my favorite. There’s no other game like it.

08. 720 (Arcade)

In the futuristic Skate City, one must learn to “Skate or Die” and do it quickly. There are so many great things about this game: the boom box mounted to the top of the cabinet, the one-of-a-kind joystick, the awesome music, killer bees, exciting levels and challenging competitions. If you were into skateboarding in the 80s, this was the game to play.

I fell in love with this game in the 80s. When I began collecting arcade machines in the 90s, I put this on the top of my “must have” list. It took me fifteen years to track one down, but I finally found one. It’s still out in my garage today, calling me.

09. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

If I had a dime for ever minute — heck, every hour I spent playing Super Mario Bros. 3, I would be a rich man. Jeff, Andy and I played this game for so many hours that we could navigate some of the levels with our eyes closed. One of the greatest platform games of all time.

10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (PlayStation)

THPS2 did what no other game had done for me; it accurately portrayed skateboarding. I lost myself in this game for months, chaining together huge combos and pushing the points on every level to the max. There have been several sequels, but none of them captured my attention the way this one did. For years I owned two PlayStations and one had this game in it at all times.

In addition to gameplay, THPS2 had an incredible soundtrack, a new concept in games back then. It’s so good that I still have it on my phone today.

11. Impossible Mission (C64)

“Another visitor. Stay a while… staaaay forever!” This was one of the first (if not the first) game I ever saw for the Commodore 64, and what an introduction to the machine it was. Puzzles aside, the speech samples and smooth animation was enough to capture a kid’s imagination, and it did. For years I didn’t know what the goal of this game was and it really didn’t matter. We had fun running around, avoiding the robots and the “killer black ball” and couldn’t have cared less about “winning.” When it came to graphics and sound, this game set the Commodore 64 apart from the competition very early on.

12. Rogue (DOS)

Ever heard of a “rogue-like” game? This is where the term came from. Originally designed for mainframes, Rogue made its way to home computers in its original, ASCII format. The combat was rudimentary (you just ran into creatures to attack them) but the game offered a ton of things to discover, from magic scrolls and rings to cursed items. The game’s maps are randomly generated every game and items are randomly placed, so every game is different. You’ll need patience and skill to make it all the way through the dungeon, but you’ll also need a bit of luck; since all items are randomly placed, that includes food. Occasionally, through no fault of your own, you will die of starvation.

Rogue taught me three things: sometimes success depends on luck, a good game doesn’t need good graphics, and sometimes life isn’t fair.

I’m on a quest to visit as many retro arcades as I can. We’re lucky to still have Cactus Jacks here in Oklahoma City. Four hours east of me is the Arkadia Retrocade and five hours north of here is the 1984 Arcade. I’ve been to lots of others as well, and the latest notch in my belt is Pinballz Arcade in Austin, Texas.

Unlike most of the retro arcades I’ve visited recently, Pinballz does not charge a cover and the games are set to take tokens. All the arcade games I played were 50 cents. The majority of the pinball machines I played were 75 cents with a few minor exceptions.

Despite its name, Pinballz has a decent selection of arcade games. There are a lot of games to choose from both old and new, from Gauntlet, Q*Bert and Burgertime to newer games like Mario Kart and Batman Arcade Racing. Like all arcades a few of the older games were out of order, but that’s to be expected with machines of this age. In the picture above my daughter is playing Battlezone (which came out 26 years before she was born), after which I killed her at a game of Marble Madness. Good times, good memories.

Also before someone points it out, Pinballz did have two or three multicade (60-in-1) machines, purists be damned. I would be curious to find out what kind of money they bring in as everyone I saw walked past them to play the original machines.

The layout of Pinballz greatly reminded me of the old Bally Le Mans in Crossroads Mall by having multiple levels. There was always something cool about going up and down mini sets of stairs to move into different areas of an arcade. To the right of the front door was the redemption area — an area my kids love and that I typically avoid. Susan found skee-ball machines down there and played a few rounds.

While playing one of the games, Mason somehow won thousands of tickets. Mason says the machine malfunctioned; based on the fact that he recently disassembled his toy remote controlled boat and re-purposed one of the motors for his latest invention (self-tying shoes) I’m not sure I 100% believe his story, but whatever. With his new-found wad of tickets he managed to purchase a whoopee cushion, a set of false teeth, a wind-up set of chompers, some candy, and a switchblade comb (which I know he loves because he opened and closed it 900 times that day).

And finally (no surprise here), Pinballz has pinball! Lots and lots of pinball — 100+ pinball machines to be exact, including the top 25 rated pinball machines! Those of you who know me know that I’m more of an arcade guy than a pinball aficionado, but here’s what I know. Off the top of my head, here are my favorite pinball machines (in alphabetical order): Addams Family, Avatar, Baby Pac-Man, Back to the Future, Cyclone, Earth Shaker, Fun House, Guns N’ Roses, Indiana Jones, KISS, Metallica, Pin-Bot, South Park, Star Wars, TRON, Whirlwind and the Wizard of Oz. And, guess what? Pinballz had every single one of them! They also have Banzai Run (with the vertical pinball action) and Hercules (the table that uses billiard balls for a pinball), two fairly rare machines. Despite the fact that I saw a few arcade machines here and there that were out of order waiting for repairs, I don’t remember seeing any pinball tables there offline or in need of maintenance. All the pinball machines I played were in perfect condition, both mechanically and physically.

Pinballz has a snack bar with a public seating area and another one that was reserved for a party. Susan bought a couple of bottles of water that were reasonably priced. They also had drink holders attached to microphone stands scattered around the arcade that kept people from setting their drinks on top of machines or on the ground where I’m guessing they get kicked over a lot — great idea!

We had a blast at Pinballz and are already planning our next trip south so that we can visit again!

Here is a link to all the pictures Susan and I took while visiting Pinballz.

Whenever I start a new project it’s not uncommon for me to dump all of my spare time into it and neglect my other projects, at least temporarily. Whenever my blog and podcast output wanes, you can bet I’ve been sidetracked.

My latest project is a Facebook page called Vintage Videogame Ads. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account (who reading this does not have a Facebook account?) you can access the page here:

Back in the 8-bit days of computing, advertisements in computer and videogame magazines were a great way to discover new games. Each time my mom would take me to the supermarket with her I would hand out at the magazine rack, skimming through computer magazines to find the game reviews and the latest ads.

This project started several years ago with the purchase of a Plustek OpticBook scanner. The OpticBook scanner is specially designed for scanning in books. I have a couple dozen computer and videogame magazines from the 1980s, and this scanner allowed me to scan them all into the computer. I love reading the old articles and game reviews, but I found I loved looking at the old ads even more — so much so that I pulled all the ads out and placed them in their own folder.

After going through all the magazines I owned I ended up with around 400 ads. Roughly 200 of those were ads for games or game companies and the other 200 were ads for hardware or services. I’ve been wanting to share them for a while but hadn’t quite figured out the right venue. It hit me the other night that a Facebook album would be perfect, so that’s what I did.

If I made any mistake at all it’s that I uploaded all of them at once, dumping 300 new photos into the group at once. By doing that, I ran myself out of new material almost immediately. After searching the garage I found another half-dozen magazines. Now that the well is dry, I’ve begun phase two of the project. I have hundreds of old computer and videogame magazines in PDF format. I spent the past three evenings converting every issue of RUN Magazine from PDF to JPG and pulling all the ads out of that stack. I have runs of lots of other magazines too, so I should have source material to pull from for years to come. Because they’re coming from different sources the ads are of varying quality. If I find better scans I’ll replace them as time goes on; if I run across the actual magazines, I’ll scan in better copies myself. I’ve also throttled the number of pictures I’m uploading to 2 or 3 at a time. It’s a much more enjoyable way to appreciate the ads.

Along with the game ads, I’m also really enjoying the hardware ads. As you move through time you can watch prices drop. I have ads with Commodore 64s ranging in price from $299 to $99. There’s a series of ads selling Sanyo monitors that drops $10 in price every month. It’s one thing to tell someone you remember when hard drives cost thousands of dollars, but it’s another thing to see the advertisements for yourself. Technically these aren’t “videogame” ads but so far I haven’t received any complaints about posting them.

The only bad thing about projects like these is that there’s no end, ever. My biggest hurdle at the moment is making sure that all of my scans are named properly to ensure that I don’t end up with tons of duplicates. That will come with time I suppose. What I have the most problem with are ads from game companies that feature multiple games. For example, I have “Heroes of the Lance (AD&D, SSI).jpg” along with “SSI (3 AD&D Games).jpg”. I’m trying to include enough information in the file names to be able to search and find similar ads (all SSI ads, for example) and that may take a little work — but that’s work on my end, not yours. All you need to do to enjoy the ads is to head over to the Facebook page where you can browse through the photos or “like” the page to receive updates whenever I post new ones. Feel free to post any you have as well!


Shortly before Christmas, the 48-in-1 multicade arcade machine I had set up in the kitchen died. I didn’t even get the satisfaction of letting the smoke out of the thing. It just quit working.

Whenever troubleshooting an arcade machine, start at the beginning — power. My machine plugs into a power strip that plugs into the wall. I knew the wall outlet was good, so I tested the power strip using my multimeter.

116 volts — perfect. The next place to check power is at the power supply itself. Most switching power supplies put out +5, -5, and +12 volts. The board runs off of the +5v, so I checked that first.

For you math nerds, +2.28 is less than +5. I checked the +12v lead and it was putting out just under +6v. This power supply was toast. Fortunately, out in the garage, I had a spare.

With the new power supply connected to the wall, I checked the +5v rail. +5.07 — perfect! The +12v also looked great. With the two power supplies side by side, I transferred each connection (one by one) from the old power supply to the new one. After all the wires were connected to the new power supply, I removed the old one and mounted the new one into the machine.

Success! While I was inside the cabinet I took the opportunity to clean out the bottom of it.

Those are some of the tokens and coins I found lying around. I also found the cabinet’s original serial number.

Originally, this cabinet was a Williams Robotron, serial number 567487.

While I was in the mood, I did one other cheap upgrade as well.

The bezel around the monitor doesn’t match up very well. The original monitor had died and I replaced it with a computer monitor.

Susan found these sheets of poster board that fade between colors. She picked up two sheets: yellow-to-pink, and blue-to-green. Either one would match the color scheme on this cabinet’s marquee and control panel, so I decided to go with the yellow-to-pink one. I spent five minutes cutting the square out of the middle using a ruler and a razor blade and trimming the edges down with a pair of scissors. If I upgrade to a larger monitor, I’ll make the hole bigger.

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.

Earlier this week I wrote about the time I spent at the 1UP Arcade in Denver attending the Kong Off 3, but my buddy Robb Sherwin took me to visit a few other local arcades over the weekend as well.

717 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, Colorado

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.

Lyons Classic Pinball
339-A Main Street, Lyons, Colorado

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.

Oskar Blues Grill & Brew
303 Main Street, Lyons, Colorado

(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!