The Rise Of The Underground Arcade

warp warp

As commercial arcades have slowly gone out of business, there’s been a void left by their absence. For many of us, spending (or perhaps mis-spending) our youths in rooms filled with games is a memory that we’ll cherish our entire lives. While you may be able to emulate 1,000 games on a single machine it doesn’t really compare to the experience of seeing 40 – 50 games lined up ready to play. What’s interesting is to see how the collector community is stepping in to fill this void.

Case in point, Scott Leftwich. After getting bit by the arcade bug, he managed to amass a collection of over 60 working games. Instead of keeping these games tucked away in his basement just for him to play, he’s started to open up his basement on weekends to the general public, so that they can help support the restorations that he takes on. For $10, anyone can get a personal tour of his games and can play on free play for 3 hours. While it’s always possible that city hall could come down on this sort of endeavor, we tend to find that local politicians like to support these sort of private museums. I know that in our own community, there are a ton of kids who like to stop by to oohhh and awe over our games. More than once, we’ve recruited a few as “beta testers” and allow them to play our games before we deliver them to our customers. On a couple occasions, they’ve actually found some flaws that needed adjusting before our games went out.

Michael Wiseman wrote a great article highlighting Leftwich’s efforts to share his collection and posted an interview with him on YouTube. In the article he delves a little deeper into why Leftwich choose to start a private arcade that he’s affectionately dubbed Wieners and Losers,

“the goal of Leftwich’s greatest missionary endeavor at Wieners and Losers. He knows you can play any arcade game you want on a smartphone, computer, or home gaming system, and many times for free. But those are like Frankenstein’s monster – all the nuts and bolts, and none of the heart. So by opening the doors to his private collection, Leftwich hopes to raise money to restore more machines. He’s offering hot dogs and jukebox full of decade-perfect hits.

Most importantly, Leftwich is giving visitors an experience they can’t find anywhere else. A look back at youthful summers, or endless weekends with quarters and friends. He’s bringing back a cultural experience long since forgotten. And he couldn’t happier to spread the good word.”

What I found most interesting about the article was the fact that Leftwich considers Warp Warp to be be one of his crown jewels. We have a Warp Warp in our collection and while it doesn’t get a lot of play, we feel the same way. There’s something really nice about being able to save a game that is uncommon for future generations to be able to play.

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Pinball World Championship Hits Pittsburg This Weekend

Adams Family Pin

Calling all Pinball wizards. Think you have what it takes to go pro? If so you can win $10,000 this weekend at the 17th annual Pinball World Championships in Pittsburg PA. With a total prize package of over $45,000 available, you can still win big even if you don’t take first place. If the thought of competing is too much for you, simply stop by and you can play any of the 400 machines that will be there. Registration for the competition runs $5, but watching the event is free.

The doors open at 11am on Thursday August 14th, 2014 and the show runs until the award ceremony on Sunday at 5:30. Should be a fun event for all. Rumor has it that they’re going to be hosting a charity tournament to help bring a Wizard of Oz Pinball to the local Children’s Hospital. You can learn more about the event on the Professional Amateur Pinball Association’s website

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Here’s An Arcade That Has Gone To The Dogs

mug shot

Man’s best friend has made one then a few appearance in video games.  Duck Hunt, Paperboy, NARC, Bad Dudes, Rush ‘n Attack, Samurai Shodown, Mousetrap, Beast Busters, Wind Jammers, Ninjawarriors, CarnEvil, Strider, Mr. F.Lea, Domino Man, Thunder Jaws, Fire Trap, Arch Rivals, Shadow Dancer, Hydrothunder, Kyros and even Robocop just to name a few. Given how often our four legged friends show up in the games, it’s kind of surprising that no one has created an arcade that was dog friendly . . . . until now that is.

Located in Bellevue, Nebraska, B&B Classic Dogs has taken everything wonderful about the classic arcade has has wrapped it in a generous layer of your favorite pooch. They’ve set up a restaurant, an arcade to keep the kids (young and old) entertained and an outside area where your dog can play while you enjoy your time there. No more guilt hanging out playing video games while Bowser sits at home, now there’s a location where your dog will enjoy going as much as you do.

The restaurant is of course dog themed. They serve over 20 different styles of hot dogs ranging from your standard Coney Island dog to the more obscure Slaw Dog. Recently they’ve added a 5lb Hot Dog that if you can eat in less than 20 minutes, you don’t have to pay the $25 for the dog. My first thought when I heard about the challenge was that this had to be pretty easy to do, then I started to do the math and realized that a 5 lbs hot dog would be equivalent to eating 28 regular sized dogs!

Their current list of games includes:

-Galaga
-Spiderman Pinball
-Metallica Pinball
-Basketball Shootout,
-Skeeball
-Candy Crane
-Plushbus Crane
-Ms. Pacman
-Supercars Racing
-Big Buck Hunter
-Guitar Hero
-Mini Basketball
-A Football Throwing Game

When I asked B&B Classic Dogs about where they got the idea for the restaurant, Diane said “The inspiration behind the restaurant was and is that we want to bring some Family style fun to Bellevue and the surrounding communities. I was working in the Defense industry and got laid-off 3 years in a row, so we just decided to take our future into our own hands and take a chance.”

We’re glad that they did take a chance and hope that their success allows them to expand. There aren’t a lot of pet friendly places in this world and even less pet friendly restaurants. For many of us, our dogs are an extension of our families so to be able to take them with you, it adds to the enjoyment that you get. We wish B&B Classic Dogs the best of luck and look forward to taking them up on their 5lb hot dog challenge the next time that we’re in Nebraska.

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Changes At The Federal Reserve Threatens To Wipeout The .25 Cent Game

quarter slot

When I was a kid, I loved going to the neighborhood arcade. It was dark, seedy and had all of these fascinating games that I had never seen before. My problem, was that I was never really any good at playing the games. Even today with unlimited free play, I’m still pretty bad at the games. Some people can master certain games for hours and I remember watching kids do just that, but my games were always over quickly, so I would take my time when it came to choosing where I’d spend the money.

As I walked around the arcade, I’d be clutching a fistful of quarters in one hand, shuffling them like I was at some kind of a poker tournament. Feeling the quarters roll across the palm of my hand and the anticipation I would get when I would drop one in the slot is something that I will never forget. It’s part of the classic arcade experience and is a huge reason why these games are so special.

Even 30 years later, there are still operators who only charge a single quarter to play an arcade game and while there may be less and less games in public locations, a simple change proposed by the Federal Reserve could mean the extinction of the 25 cent arcade game.

Now I know what you’re asking yourself, what the heck does the Fed have to do with video games? Aren’t they the ones who control interest rates? The answer has to do with how money is made. The Federal Reserve is responsible for the actual printing of currency. Due in part to increases in the cost of metals, we’ve quickly reached a point where creating currency outweighs the value of it.

In 1983, they changed the composition of the penny, so that it would use less copper. According to the website Coinflation, the value of a pre-1984 penny is currently worth .021 cents in copper. The cost to make a quarter runs .045 cents just for the metal. Immediately, losing 20% of the value from a quarter isn’t very good monetary policy, so the Fed has proposed changing the composition of a quarter to something that is less expensive to produce.

While the intentions are noble, the result for the arcade games could be disastrous. Without the right weight and shape, a newly minted quarter won’t be able to trip the coin mechs that are used to operate an arcade game. As is, arcade operators hear a lot of complaints about a game eating their quarters, but after a few years of circulation, the games won’t be able to play on quarters. This isn’t just a problem for arcade operators. Parking meters, vending machines, and old timey newspaper racks all are sensitive to the weight and size of a quarter. Because the arcade games earn so little on location, it won’t justify upgrading them to accept dollar bills or the new coins. This puts an entire industry at risk, if the proposed changes by the Fed actually go through. Right now, it’s too early to tell what the final decision will be, but the Arcade Amusement lobby has already issued a call to arms and is clearly worried about the impact that this will have on the games. Fortunately, all of our games are set to free play, so that you can play as much as you want, but it would certainly make me sad to see the thrill of dropping in a quarter completely replaced with a free play button.

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Classic Arcade Games Stand The Test Of Time

valentinesmspacman

Over the weekend there were a pair of articles that caught my eye. Both had similar themes in that they were asking the question of whether classic arcade games can stand the test of time. Our answer is of course a resounding yes, but it was interesting to see the thought process that each journalist used to come to the same conclusion.

The first article was a retrospective trip down memory lane and took a look at Ms. Pacman. With it being one of the biggest commercial successes in the history of arcade games, it’s not surprising that the game is loved by many. It’s one of the games that we simply can’t keep in stock and we have at least a half a dozen Ms Pacman cabinets that we own at this point. It was originally created without the permission of Namco, but after discussing things over with it’s creators, they decided to release the bootleg version as an official game. I think part of the appeal has to do with the protagonist being a female. There aren’t a lot of video games that were designed for women, let alone that have their main character as a female. This helped to expand the audience for Pacman to both sexes. In his article for Gamezone, David Sanchez writes “Even after playing the superb Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (which I consider to be the absolute best incarnation of the series), I couldn’t help but become enamored with the fruit-gobbling, maze-running antics of Ms. Pac-Man.”

He later goes on to write “Ms. Pac-Man includes a total of four mazes. Not a whole lot, sure, but still more than the original game’s singe level. Additionally, the ghosts that give chase don’t follow a specific pattern. Instead, their movements are slightly randomized, forcing you to rely on quick decisions rather than memorization. Not only is that a big game changer when compared to original Pac-Man, but it keeps the game interesting longer.”

Modern video games are often judged by the complexity of the game, but there’s something about a game being simple that adds to it’s replayability. I think Ms. Pacman hit this formula on it’s head. The ghosts giving chase fuel an adrenaline rush, but limiting it to 4 mazes allows a player to become familiar with the game. No buttons to mash or complex combos to pull off, just one 4 way joystick and a maze to overcome.

The second article that hit our radar this weekend was on VentureBeat. In it they compare the original Frogger game with the recently released Sharknado game. If you’re not familiar with Sharknado, then you’ve probably been living in a bus. It’s a campy thriller that combines sharks with tornado. Hard to go wrong with that formula no matter what you end up producing. To help raise awareness of the sequel coming out they created a iOS video game that plays suspiciously like Frogger. In it you must dodge other sharks, cut things up with a chainsaw and jump from shark to shark.

In her article, Heather Newman compares six features from both games and ultimately crowns Frogger the winner. The categories that Frogger won were Main Character Likeability, Biggest teeth and Death scene drama. They tied on replayability and Sharknado scored the advantage on Road Realism and Transportation,

Despite the obviously lead in from the article, she never told one of my favorite jokes growing up . . . What’s red and green and goes 175MPH?

Answer: A frog in a blender

All joking aside, I think it’s neat to see the classic games inspire a new generation of video games and to see journalists still writing about them nearly 40 years later. We’ve got a lot of cool games in our collection from the 90′s and 2000′s, but its the games from the 80s that seem to be the best. Whether it’s zapping aliens in Galaga or taking on Donkey Kong, 40 more years from now, these games will still be worth dropping a quarter in to play.

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Eastbourne Pier Burns Down After Suspcious Arcade Fire

The video embedded above is heartbreaking, even if you don’t live in England. A small blaze that was initially blamed as an electrical fire in an arcade turned one of Great Britain’s most popular tourist attractions into ashes. The footage of the fire was caught by several onlookers and uploaded to YouTube. While blaming the video games may be convenient, we were a bit surprised to see them listed as the source of the fire. Arcade games have been left unattended for over 30 years now and even the really old ones almost never catch on fire. It’s extremely rare for them to catch fire. Their long history of being run without incident is really a testament to how they were built. Unsurprisingly, the British police are also skeptical that this was the result of a simple accident and are investigating the incident as arson. The owners of the pier have pledged to rebuild it and insurance should cover the bulk of the damages, but it’s sad to think of all the games lost and that one of the premiere arcades in England is now just another footnote in history,

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Ride High You Mustangs, Cal Poly Opens New Arcade

Mustang Lanes

Need more proof that classic arcades are making a comeback? It looks like Cal Poly just opened a new arcade for their students to enjoy. Hosted at the Mustang Lanes, they are featuring an interesting mix of Pinball, Air Hockey, and a side of bowling to go with their arcade games. Located on the bottom floor of the Julian A. Mcphee University Union, you’ll find some of the more recent hits like Big Buck Hunter HD and Terminator Salvation, as well as classics like Pacman Arcade Party (includes Pacman, Dig Dug, Rally X, Galaga and More!). They also have a couple of basketball games, a Mustang themed pinball game to go with their mascot and Beer Pong Master, which I’m sure will be popular on a college campus.

If you really want to show off, check out their Spider X game. It’s a boxing game that measures how hard you can punch. They’re aren’t a lot of details on their website just yet, but you can keep an eye on their blog for updates if you’re looking for something to do in beautiful San Luis Obispo.

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We’re Betting The Future Of The Arcade Industry On CNG

CNG Fillup

Starting a business is always a gamble. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. When we came up with the idea of renting out classic arcade games by the month, we knew that getting them to and from our customer’s locations would be a pretty large component of our costs. With gas prices continue their steady climb to $5 per gallon, we’re fortunate in that we’ve been insulated from these increases by an early bet on natural gas. We think that there are a lot of benefits to adopting the technology and while we don’t know whether or not there’s enough demand for it to go mainstream, this particular gamble has paid off for us.

There are really three key benefits to natural gas technology. The first is that it’s a very green friendly technology. I don’t want to go too environmental with this post, but we think that everyone has a certain responsibility to help protect the environment. Every time we rescue a game or old CRT from the dump, it feels good to know that someone will get to use it a bit longer before it ends up being recycled. I’d be willing to bet that we spend more on used parts then we do on new materials. When CNG powers an engine the exhaust is basically water. It’s fun when we go to get smog checked because the techs always say that it’s the cleanest reading that they’ve ever seen. The lack of soot also benefits our truck in that it provides less wear and tear on our engine and will ultimately allow us to go a lot farther then we could on a diesel or gas.

The second major benefit to natural gas is the carpool lane :) Because the state of California wants to encourage drivers to reduce pollution they’ll allow you to drive in the carpool lane solo as an incentive. If you have a long daily commute, this alone is reason enough to consider a CNG vehicle. Not every vehicle qualifies, but with as much driving as we do, it saves a lot of time on the road and allows us to fix games instead.

Of course the biggest benefit is the cost involved. We get about 14.5 miles to the gallon in our truck. Not great, but not so bad for a work horse either. According to GasBuddy.com, the average price of fuel in Antioch runs about $4.00. Currently we’re paying $2.59 per gallon for CNG at the local station in Concord. This means that we would have to get 23 MPG with a regular gas vehicle before we’d be better off paying for regular gas. With a liftgate and a couple of arcades in the back, we think this would be a hard number to hit. If you compare the $2.05 that we pay in Ripon, it boosts our MPG (miles per gasoline gallon) to over 28 MPG.

This isn’t to say that CNG doesn’t have it’s downsides. The first CNG vehicle that we bought had been converted from gasoline to CNG. This made it very unique. Ultimately when the computer unit inside the van died, the entire car was worthless over the failure of a silly microchip that you can’t find. Even finding a mechanic to work on CNG can be a challenge. There’s only a handful of them that are qualified to work on them and the only one we actually trust to work on ours is in Fresno (6 hours of driving) There’s also the issue of finding gas stations that support CNG. We had to spend one night sleeping in the freezing cold, at the airport in Lake Tahoe because their pumps froze up and they couldn’t get a technician to service them. Another time we missed a TV interview because the pumps were down and we didn’t have enough fuel to get to another station. There was also the time that we had to pass up a $50 Stargate game in Paradise California because it was 10 miles too far from the last CNG station. In order for CNG to have a robust future, they need to expand the network of fueling stations beyond Los Angeles and the Bay Area and into something more national. Every time I see the suggestion box at Costco, I always tell them that they should add CNG refill stations. The adoption by a national chain would do more to propel the technology forward than any incentives that the government gives for carpooling or to keep the prices low.

Overall the pros outweigh the cons and while higher gas prices could ultimately put pressure on our margins, we think that we can maintain our low price point for our arcade rentals for a very long time, thanks in part to the savings that we get from CNG.

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Our Spidey Sense Is Tingling

Unrestored game

Every time we pickup a new game, it’s always an adventure. We never quite know what we’re in store for, but the first 24 hours after we have a game is a critical window in determining whether it will be fixed or if it will end up at the back of the queue with the rest of our games that need restorations. Tonight we scored a sweet Spiderman game and I’m optimistic that we can restore the game and have it in the hands of one of our customers within our 24 hour time window. Join us live on the blog as we update our progress and write a bit more about what we’ve done to help bring life back into this game.

old control panel

T-Minus 2130 hours – We’ve only just started and have already run into our first roadblock. I always like to start with the control panel. Rebuilding one sounds easy in theory, but it’s almost always the most time intensive part of the process. On our Spidey it has the original artwork that was installed at the factory, but as you can see mother nature hasn’t been so kind. The glue that they used to put it on has bubbled up from being exposed to heat and there are several places where there are noticeable tears in the artwork. Before we got the game, it looks like another collector tried to paint the exposed wood black to try and cover up the defects, but it’s still pretty bad. Since we picked up some repro art in a bulk buy, we’re going to go ahead and install it instead. It has a few subtle deficiencies compared to the original, but it will look much cleaner overall. You’ll also notice that the control panel is missing it’s plexiglass overlay. For home use, this isn’t as important, but since this Spidey is going back into service, we need something sturdy to protect it and will be making a new one for it. Before we can do any of this though, we have to strip the control panel of the joysticks and buttons so that we can peel off the old overlay. Unfortunately, the original joysticks are very rusty. We’re going to try and see if we can refurbish them because they originals feel really smooth thanks to the rubber grommets that they used in the sticks.

rusty grommet

One of the sticks won’t let us take it off because the metal on the grommet has rusted to the joystick. This will take some time, but luckily we have a really harsh corrosive acid that we keep in the shop for just these situations. This acid is so intense that it pretty much destroys metal, rust, teeth and anything else if you let it soak overnight. We won’t tell you the name of this particular chemical, but trust us it works ;) We’ll check on it in the morning to see if we can save the stick or if we’ll have to dig into our inventory for another joystick.

do the dew

T-minus 930 hours – So our attempts to rescue the joystick have fallen flat. Unfortunately, this guy is stuck on there, so we’re going to have to bolt cut the stick and salvage as many of the parts as we can. Now that we have the control panel clear the next step is to strip off the old sticker and prepare our plexiglass overlay.

plexi

In order to make our plexi we use a Dremmel to cut the plastic. We’ve experiemented with a lot of ways to do this and while the Dremmel does take a little while to do the job and usually goes through at least one blade per project, the heat from the saw causes the plastic to melt instead of crack. A lot of alternative methods end up cracking the plexi and very few things are more frustrating then to spend a couple of hours and $50 in materials only to see it fall apart right before you’re done. We’ll still need to drill our button holes, but so far so good.

plexi cut

T-minus 630 – The next step in our restoration is to address the water damage that the cab has experienced. In the industry we call this particular cab a particle board cab. In order to fix it we’re going to have to flip the game on it’s back. Arcade games hate to be flipped upside down, so we like to do this before we troubleshoot the guts.

particle board

As you can see from the photo this Spiderman lost it’s legs at some point. While that’s not a big deal if it just sits in your basement, it becomes a big deal when said basement floods and the cab soaks up a gallon of water or so. The wood is so damaged that it flakes off in our hands. This will only get worse over time and leaves really gross particle board flakes on our customer’s carpet if we don’t seal it up. In order to stop the decay, we must first sand down the damaged area. After that we need to seal it. We used fiberglass resin to do this and it’s very effective. The particle board sucks up the resin and when it dries it creates at linoleum strength surface that can handle the rigors of being moved from one member’s location to another without breaking down. After applying the resin we’ll need to wait for it to dry, so now is a goo time to go back to working on the control panel.

particle board resin

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Ask All You Can Arcade: Does Buying Arcade Games In Bulk Make Them Cheaper?

Game Storage

Periodically we get questions from readers that relate to the arcade industry. Whether you’re looking for arcade repair tips or want to know what it’s like to be an arcade operator, we hope that this column helps to provide answers to your arcade and pinball related questions. To kick off our new Q&A series on the blog, we thought that we’d address the topic of buying arcade games on the cheap. If you have your own question for the All You Can Arcade staff, feel free to contact us at the following link

Contact us here

Today’s question is does buying arcade games in bulk make them cheaper?

Our answer, undoubtedly! In our experience the market for arcade games in a binary one. What we mean by that is that games will either go for very cheap or very expensive, but almost never anywhere in between. Part of the reason for the binary nature of arcade game sales is the fact that individual titles have a huge impact on the value of a game.

Take our Tron for example. It’s considered one of the most collectible games by collectors. Not only did they make a great movie from the 80s, but they made a remake more recently. In the game, they built four different mini-games for you to play. The cabinet itself uses an innovative flight stick that is hard to replicate on MAMEs and mutlicades. Just looking at it glow from the blacklight can leave you speechless. Because of these reasons, if someone is a Tron fan and really wants that game, the supply is extremely limited. As a casual arcade fan, they likely don’t have the skills to repair a broken game and because they are only interested in that particular title, they either have to wait for years to find one or go up in price. If you wait long enough, you tend to be willing to bid even more for a title. If we tried to purchase an individual copy of Tron, we never would have been able to add it to our library of games, but when we bought out Tron we only ended up paying $200 for it, because it was part of a bulk lot of games.

The operator who sold it to us had a couple of really good games, but he had some less than spectacular ones as well. He certainly could have pieced out the Tron, but because he was in need of space, lived in a geographically remote area and needed a large sum of money, he was willing to throw that game into the mix, in order to entice operators like ourselves to make the long drive for the games. Ultimately, our Tron needed a little bit of work, but when you have a lot of games to work on, fixing them gets to be easy. Instead of searching the internet for a specific title, we were looking for any games at the $200 price level. From our perspective, we may have overpaid for our Sly Spy that was included in the lot, but we got a fantastic deal on Tron, Asteroids, etc. etc. etc.

Ultimately we’ve found that buying in bulk gives you access to the lower end of the binary market. Typically prices will be 75% – 80% lower in bulk then what you would expect to spend for an individual title. Even our Sly Spy has managed to catch a $300 bid since we purchased it, but we like keeping it on hand because Data East made Karnov their unofficial mascot and included advertisements for Karnov in the game. We think that there would be something special about owning every game that Karnov makes an appearance in and already have several available for rent on our website. Whether you’re buying broken games or working ones, paying in bulk also limits the number of qualified bidders on a lot. There are a lot of people who have $1,000 that there willing to spend for a game, but there aren’t that many who are willing to put down $5,000 plus storage for a hobby. Less bidders mean better deals for operators who have the cash. Hopefully, this helps to answer this question from one of our readers. Feel free to submit your own questions and we’ll be happy to answer them on our blog.

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