My sister Linda is the best Tetris player I have ever watched play in person. Tetris is simple. It consists of seven different rotating pieces (trivia fact: “Tetriminos”) that must be placed in rows to prevent them from reaching the top of the screen, thus ending the game. When the pieces are dropping slowly and you’re getting the ones you need, anyone can play the game; it’s when things start speeding up and you hit a “drought” (a long period of time in which players do not receive straight pieces) that separates the men from the boys — oh, and the women from the girls. If I’d had any since at all I would have pulled my sister out of school and driven her cross country, hustling Tetris players for cash in seedy 80s arcades.
Even at her prime, I’m not sure my sister could have out-Tetrised the players that appear in the 2011 documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, which follows Robin Mihara’s attempt to find the world’s best Tetris player by establishing a national tournament.
The documentary begins with Mihara tracking down the country’s best Tetris players, who have all declared the NES version to be the de facto version of the game. This is done by searching Twin Galaxies (not getting a quip from Walter Day seems like a glaring omission). Unsurprisingly, most of the country’s best Tetris players look and act exactly what one might imagine adults in their 30s and 40s who have dedicated their lives to mastering a Nintendo game might look like. Along the way we meet a guy who mastered solving Rubik’s Cubes “in order to pick up women,” a girl who often ignores her spouse while playing Tetris, and another girl who plans on wearing a sweatshirt that says “I > U” along with Nintendo-branded pajama bottoms to the tournament. None of the potential contestants come off as annoying, but none are particularly charismatic either.
The dark horse of the tournament is Thor Aackerlund, one of the winners from the 1990 Nintendo World Championships who became a spokesman for Nintendo before turning into a recluse and walking away from the industry. For a while the film teases a Billy Mitchell “will he or won’t he show up,” but eventually he does and although a bit hesitant to reenter the limelight, he turns out to be a nice guy.
Like the Donkey Kong kill screen from The King of Kong, Tetris too has its own mythical achievements: one involves maxing the game out at 999,999 and the other involves reaching level 30. Thor claims to have done both but doesn’t feel the need to take or share any photographic evidence of his achievements. A few of the other competitors timidly hint that they have their doubts about Thor’s achievements, but no one goes as far as to call him out. In fact, it turns out that for the most part people who spend 10-12 hours a day mastering a Nintendo game tend to like one another.
After establishing the fact that there’s going to be a tournament, Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters spends the next 45 minutes introducing us to the contestants. During this part of the film you’ll be exposed to a lot of people who play a lot of Tetris, and also a lot of Tetris. Along the filmmaker’s journey he got to watch a lot of Tetris footage, and you’ll get to see some of it, too. Some of the footage is impressive and a lot of it goes by too fast to tell what’s going on. All the footage made me think (a) all these people deserve to be in a Tetris tournament, and (b) I hope it happens soon.
The final third of the film covers the tournament itself. Some of the players do well and some don’t go as well as they had hoped. Will one of our new friends win the tournament or will Thor reclaim his former title?
During one of the film’s interviews, Thor explains that shortly after winning the 1990 Nintendo tournament, his house burned down and his family became essentially homeless, their only income being his endorsements and paid appearances. “In one way life is a lot like Tetris,” he says. “It throws random things at you, but what you do with them is up to you.” For me, this was the film’s takeaway moment.
While The King of Kong transcended Donkey Kong and perhaps video games in general in its simplified (and in many cases, forced) “good vs. evil” theme, I don’t think Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters does the same. While it’s a good film, I’m not sure it would appeal to those not interested in Tetris or at least video game tournaments. If you’ve ever played Tetris so long that you’ve dreamed about the game or attended a classic video game expo, no doubt you’ll enjoy this film.
In 10 minutes I’m about to go wake my sister up, get her out of bed, and start her Tetris training regimen for the inevitable sequel.
I didn’t have a phone line in the first apartment I lived in, which cut my BBS/modeming habit when I moved in drastically down from “many hours a day” to “nothing” very quickly. In regards to computers, it was a transitional time for me. When I first moved into that apartment, my primary computer was a Commodore 64. When I moved out of the apartment and in with Susan I bought my first PC, a 386/25 PC that my friend Josh helped me assemble.
The minute I moved in with Susan and got that PC I plugged it into the phone line and pretty much monopolized it around the clock. When that became a problem, we purchased a second phone line. When I set up my own BBS, we added a third. That’s true. We had three phone lines in a mobile home. Two of them were used exclusively by computers and sometimes I used the third, too. I spent a lot of time connecting to people and things electronically (still do).
One of the big differences between the Commodore and PC worlds was that there weren’t a lot of good shareware software titles for the Commodore 64 (and for the most part, the free stuff sucked). The PC was different though. It was the era of “shareware” — try before you buy software. Most shareware titles included a few levels you could play for free with the option of buying the full version to get all the levels. This worked great for me because I was getting new games every day. I’d play the shareware versions of these games and long before I tired of playing them the next shareware game would come along and off I’d go. One of the gifts of ADD is that you’re never in the same place for long.
Doom (the original) was released on December 10, 1993 — 21 years ago, today. Computer bulletin boards didn’t operate at the speed of light like the internet does today and I’m sure it took a while for Doom to make its way across phone lines to the BBSes in Oklahoma that I called. Weeks or months, likely, but it did eventually arrive and I did eventually play it. And I was amazed.
I tend to think about first person shooters (FPS) in the following eras: there was Wolfenstein 3D, which was a game, and then there was Doom, which was a franchise. Then there was Quake, and everything else since then has been a rip off of Quake. That’s my opinion. It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of the FPS genre, partially because they give me motion sickness headaches, and partially because they all have that “been there, done that” feeling.
Around that time my friend Josh had introduced me to Laplink, a piece of software that allowed you to copy files between PCs through the use of a Laplink cable. As it turned out and as I learned at Best Buy, you could also use those same cables to connect two computers for the purpose of playing games. And that’s what we did for months. Every night after the doors closed, someone would connect the two fastest display computers via a Laplink cable, load Doom up on them, and blast away at one another until everyone else was done restocking shelves and vacuuming.
They say Doom sold over a million copies, which is an amazing number considering that most people (including myself) just played the free shareware version. I never bought Doom, but when everything in the world got released on CD-ROM in the mid-90s, I picked this up out of a bargain bin:
This CD is not special. There were a million collections of WADs (custom Doom levels), skins, graphics, sounds, maps… you name it. These were created by people all over the country (world?) and then loaded to BBSes. Every now and then some company would download them, organize them, and release them on CD. Each CD included the shareware version of Doom so that you could play all of these things. Doom was much more than just a game. It was an infrastructure that let you create your own games.
When I think back to those old ID games, I tend to think of Wolfenstein 3D as single-player, Doom as introducing player-vs-player, Doom 2 as introducing LAN (local area network) gaming, and Quake as introducing internet gaming. That’s not technically correct, but that’s how I mentally sort those games out.
In the summer of 1995, I think, I held a computer gathering in the guest area at our trailer park. Several of my friends brought their computers and, using a stack of old 10 megabit network cards and hubs, we wired them all together and played Doom, Doom II, and a bunch of other games.
The one thing that will always stick with me in regards to Doom was that feeling of “I’ve been here before” you got after playing the game for so long. In 2D games you might recognize a level you had previously encountered, but in FPS, I got the feeling that I had been to that physical place before. It was a weird feeling, to think of video game levels as real places.
So, happy birthday to Doom. Now that you’re finally 21, let’s go get a drink and talk about being Knee Deep in Hell while everyone else watches this video.
By the time I began purchasing the seventh generation of video game consoles in the mid-2000s — the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii — I already had a wiring nightmare on my hands. Even before I owned those three consoles I had at least twenty other gaming systems wired up to my television and ready to play.
You’re probably familiar with those old manual RCA switch boxes that allowed you to hook four different things up to a single television. To wire up that many televisions, I had eight 4-way switch boxes connected to a big 8-way switch box. All of these switch boxes were numbered and I had a cheat sheet mapping out all the connections next to the television. To play the Nintendo, switch box 1 needed to be on 2 and the big 8-way switchbox needed to be on 3 (2-3). The Super Nintendo was on 3-3; the Commodore, 4-1. The 8th 4-way switch box was reserved to those all-in-one joysticks. I had quite a few at the time and was constantly unplugging and replugging different ones in.
The only way to power this monstrosity was by daisy chaining power strips. I had a plug in the outlet that split the two existing sockets into six, all six of those had power strips plugged into them, and a few of the power strips had additional power strips connected. There’s no part of this configuration that would have passed any kind of safety inspection. Every time I left the room I was worried something was going to spontaneously combust in the middle of the night and burn the house down.
Unhooking all that stuff was a lot simpler than hooking it up, I assure you. After we sold our last house and bought our current one, all of those consoles, controllers, power supplies, power strips, wires, and switch boxes went into big plastic tubs.
That’s where most of them remain today.
The PS3, Wii, and 360 are all still hooked up. In another area I have a Retron 3 (that plays NES, SNES, and Genesis cartridges) and my Atari 2600 hooked up. To be honest, most of them are collecting dust (if it weren’t for Mason, all of them would be). Upstairs I also have my Commodore 64 and Apple II hooked up, but to be honest most of my retrogaming these days is done through emulation. Between the Raspberry Pi, the MiST, the emulators on my PC and the 60-in-1 arcade cabinet downstairs, most of the games I enjoy playing are just a click or two away. I never said emulation was better, but it darn sure is convenient.
I don’t know what to do with those tubs of consoles, so for now, they sit. I paid too much money to get rid of them, but lack the space or interest to hook them all back up. So, in the tubs they’ll stay for now until I can figure out what to do with them.
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 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.
A few of my video game friends and a lot of my non-gaming friends have sent me links to this news story about Michael Thommason who just auctioned off “the largest video game collection” (per the Guiness Book of World Records) for $750,250.
News sites get excited when they hear the words “biggest” or “best” or “fastest”. Nobody wants to read about the thirteenth largest video game collection being sold. Of course thanks to the internet, our boundaries have grown larger. When I was in high school it was enough to have the fastest car in town. Today you have to have the fastest car on Facebook. Or at least say it’s the fastest.
I’m no expert when it comes to buying or selling bunches of things in a single lot, but I do know two things about it. The first is, when it comes to price, aim low. With a little rounding, 11,000 games selling for $750k comes to $68 per game (not including shipping and/or renting a box truck to go pick up your new collection).
According to the auction itself, the seller has several complete collections. The first one that caught my eye was the Atari 7800, mostly because I know it’s a fairly small collection (just over 80 games). I went to PriceCharting.com and checked their list of Atari 7800 games. Looking at the loose cartridge prices, there are only three games that sell for more than $68. Most5 of them sell for much less than that. In fact, over a dozen of the games can be picked up for less than $5. I’m not just picking on picking on the Atari 7800. Most disc-based systems have dozens if not hundreds of games that sell for a penny each on eBay. For every 9 games in that collection that are worth a penny each, there had better be a 10th one that sells for $671 to get that average price per game back up.
That brings me to my second point. Nobody yet has paid that price. Yes there was an auction, yes there were bidders and yes the auction ended with a bid of $750,250… but until somebody shows up with a dump truck full of money it hasn’t technically sold. I have dealt with “buyer’s remorse” from people on eBay who have bought things from me for a dollar. I’m not saying someone who would bid three-quarters of a million dollars for a bunch of video games might back out on the deal, but it’s likely possible.
Although nobody has identified the buyer yet, I hope he does end up paying for the auction and enjoys his new game collection. We’ll see if that happens.
Get ready for another picture-intensive post that documents my family’s visit to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California! The Computer History Museum is divided into 20 numbered rooms, which advance their way through the history of computers chronologically, and starts with a pretty old computer — the Abacus.
From a historical perspective this makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t do a good job in convincing a couple of kids that this museum is not going to be boooooring.
At least the first 10 rooms of the museum cover computers that were made before I was born. There were large sections of ENIAC…
…along with a large UNIVAC…
…and several other old computers. One room covered the development of transistors and another showed old analog machines designed to track trajectories. Again, all these things were historically interesting but did little to keep the kids’ attention.
One of the things that I found really interesting was this Enigma codebreaking computer from World War II. There was a short video playing next to the machine and the kids did think that was cool.
Another historical computer on display at the museum was this Cray 1. When I was a kid all I knew about Cray computers was that they were used in creating the graphics in The Last Starfighter. It’s cut off in the picture, but this Cray contained 32k of RAM and cost between $6 and $10 million dollars.
If you are a lady and think this museum sounds boring, then check out this computer from 1969!
This computer was designed to appeal to women and was designed to store recipes and live in your kitchen! For $10,000, owners would get the computer, an apron, a cook book, and a two-week course on how to program the thing. All the recipes were stored and presented in binary, which might explain why these kitchen computers from Neiman-Marcus did not sell well.
Also on display was this IMSAI 8080 computer. I don’t think anyone knows what this machine actually does. People only know it as “that computer from Wargames!”
The first room that really captured the kids’ attention was the one that focused on robots. There were several robots on display, from small toys to industrial machinery.
Then, as my dad would say, “this is where I came in.”
Starting with this Apple 1 (signed by Woz), the museum got into what I think of as the birth of home computers. While I know hobbiests dinked around with Altairs and other home machines, it wasn’t until they had monitors, keyboards, and simple storage that home computers came in to their own.
TRS-80 Model I
More Retro Machines
This was the first point in the museum where I could say, “I had one of those!” (Or in some cases, “I still have one of those!”)
One room contained a large display of peripherals, from early mice and keyboards to all kinds of controllers. Here are a few I recognized! Of course I owned (and own) Atari Joysticks and that Wico stick on the right, but that Archer joystick in the middle is the one we had for our Apple computer growing up as well.
The next part of the museum focused on computers in arcade machines. Two very famous arcade machines were on display at the museum.
This was the first Pong machine (a prototype) that was put on location at Andy Capp’s. If you have ever heard the story about how the first arcade machine broke down because it was so jammed full of quarters that it would no longer operate, this is that very machine.
This room got more into computer software. As you can see by these games on display, this area focused on text adventures. A kiosk running Zork was on display and Mason spent a few minutes working his way through the first couple of screens.
There were three playable machines in the “computer game” area running a text adventure, Pac-Man, and Pong. All three were noticeably running emulators.
As quickly as the tour began, it ended. The last room focused on the “dot com” revolution. The coverage felt a little uneven with a lot of focus on early machines and not much on modern history. The kids would have liked more interactive exhibits (kids love pressing buttons and watching videos). Overall the museum was very enjoyable and we did learn some things. Seeing the old historical machines was exciting.
There was one last exhibit on display at the museum but I’ll be saving that for a separate post of its own.
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: www.facebook.com/VintageVideogameAds.
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!
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.
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.