The Home of VectorGamer

Blog


view:  full / summary

2010 Classic Arcade Gaming (dot com) Tournament

Posted by Rob Maerz on September 17, 2015 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Originally published in Classic Video Gamer magazine


The greatest classic video gamers in the world today travelled from all corners of the United States and descended upon Richie Knucklez Arcade in Flemington, NJ for three days of competition beginning March 19, 2010. CVG has exclusive coverage of this prestigious and competitive tournament organized by Mark Alpiger which featured 42 competitors including notables Donald Hayes, Jason Cram, David Race, David Nelson, Ken House, John McAllister and host Richie Knucklez.

 


“Classic games are where video games started. You have to bring it back to the roots and give credit where credit’s due,” said contestant JoJo Simoncelli, a Web Developer from nearby Manville, NJ. With teammate Michael Vacca, they are the current Double Dragon world record holders. This was Simoncelli’s second straight year competing in CAGDC at Richie Knucklez Arcade and had competed previously at Fun Spot.


“Richie Knucklez is a great guy and he’s bringing it back for everybody. Although a bit smaller, to me it’s just as great as Fun Spot. You have to know your roots: if you want to be good at these modern games you have to be good at something old, too.”

 

 Richie Knucklez Arcade is a showroom that also hosts birthday parties and is a part-time arcade. On Friday nights, the arcade is open for “Flashback Fridays” where the public can pay an admission fee for unlimited play on these museum quality cabinets.


“This will be the second year in a row that we did a tournament with Mark Alpiger for Classic Arcade Gaming (dot com),” said the 41 year old Knucklez. “We did our first tournament with Twin Galaxies about a year prior and it was a huge success. However, Twin Galaxies wanted to focus more on consoles and they wanted me to bring in the newer games. The whole idea of this place is classics and it was starting to dilute my vision. They wanted me to do Wii Punchout and Metallica Guitar Hero contests. I was on the fence, I was about to do it and at the last minute decided to not dilute the vision and stay true to the 80’s classics.”


“I decided that I wanted to start doing classic contests. Jimmy Linderman, who is a contestant here, put me in touch with Mark Alpiger and this will be our second year.”


Knucklez prefers the classic arcade over modern gaming for its social aspect. ”I’m a social person and I like to talk and meet people. Playing at home, sitting there, smelling your own sweat and drinking Red Bulls – that’s not me. Being out in public, meeting people and having fun – now, that’s me.”

 

One of the highlights of the weekend occurred on Saturday afternoon when local J.J. Cahill reached the kill screen on Crazy Kong.


“I started playing Crazy Kong in MAME about a month or two ago,” said Cahill. “My best on MAME was 479,000 which I got a few days ago. Coming here was the first time I got to play on a real Crazy Kong machine and on the second day I got a kill screen.”


Ben Falls would also reach the kill screen on Crazy Kong later in the tournament.


Louisville, Kentucky’s Mark Alpiger, event organizer and co-star of the film “King of Kong” commented on this unique feat:


”Things like that are relatively rare even if it’s because the game has been poorly programmed, which is what you normally have when you reach a kill screen or a screen that you cannot progress past. Whether it’s the split screen on Pac-Man, kill screen on Donkey Kong or in this case Crazy Kong which is a legally licensed version of Donkey Kong for release outside of the U.S. The rarity of this particular game, Crazy Kong, is because it was licensed to sell overseas and there are not many dedicated versions that were designed with the original parts, the original artwork and etc. So, because of that rarity there are not many players able to do it. Anyone reaching the end of any game is rare.”


“Anything that is unusual, rare or one of a kind and with this being the first documented case of someone reaching the kill screen on Crazy Kong it means a lot,” added Alpiger. “We can use that in promotion and congratulate the players because this is about the players. They feel good, they want to go for more records and it challenges each other to try to break other scores. And of course that is what is happening here with Hank Chien on Donkey Kong.”

 

Hank Chien, the current “King of Kong”, was onsite in an attempt to break his own Donkey Kong world record.


“I am attempting to break my own record because I feel like I have not maximized my potential on this game yet,” said Chien, whose record attempts were being filmed on Saturday and Sunday. “Unfortunately, I didn't accomplish my goal this weekend although I did not expect to break it so quickly.”


“Ultimately, I cannot blame anyone except myself. I think it was a lot of small things put together. Ironically, I have fallen out of practice a little with all the attention that I am getting. Also, I'm not used to playing live with all the noises and distractions surrounding me.”


“I did have a couple of games that had very good potential but came up short. I am point pressing a lot harder now so the amount of risk involved is a lot higher. As the scores get pushed up higher, there will be more luck involved. Specifically, on one game on Saturday, I made a lot of careless timing mistakes due to being out of shape. For example, I missed a "back" jump over a barrel which I am nearly perfect on when in peak form and I also lost track of which direction the conveyer was rolling on one board which cost me another life.”


“In the one game I had on Sunday, which had potential, the machine was just fighting me the whole way through. I also had a lot of bad barrel combinations in that game which didn't help. The current world record is high, but very beatable by several players. I don't think I will hold the world record forever, but at least I want to make it challenging to beat.”


Richie Knucklez believes that the tournament, although competitive, remains a friendly atmosphere.


“Mark (Alpiger) linked us to all the best gamers in the world. The first tournament was a huge success as we sold out all 40 spots. This is our second tournament and we sold out again. Everyone here knows each other and to me while money is fine, it’s more about making friends and having a good time. The mood in this place is ‘I want to win, but I’m here to have a good time.’”


“I’m just hoping John McAllister doesn’t beat my Bosconian score. Every time I see him over there I get the jitters,” said contestant Steve Wagner, whose high score of 340,000 on Bosconian prevailed.


“This year's tourney was very closely contested,” said tournament champion and multi-record holder Donald Hayes. “I knew Dave Nelson and Jason Cram were going to end up being near the top. I also figured Jimmy Linderman would be up there because he had mentioned on the forums before the event that there were a number of games he was good at and a couple of those he kept secret so it was an unknown for the rest of us. I had a couple of those secret games myself too, like Gyruss and Journey, so I think that's part of what helped push me to the top. And I can't leave out Ben Falls who flew in under the radar to take second place.”

 

“As far as games where the pressure was on, I think Hyper Sports was the big one for me,” added Hayes. “It was played a lot on Friday and Saturday and I finally managed to get the three perfects on the skeet event which raised my score up over the 100K level. I don't think anyone else managed to do the three perfects during the event. One game that drove me nuts was Mario Bros. I practiced on it heavily before the tournament and did manage 369K but fell short of reaching Jimmy's level on it.”


 


 

Xevious (2600) Prototype

Posted by Rob Maerz on September 1, 2015 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

The articles I read recently discussing the Xevious 2600 prototype state that the prototype cartridge was acquired by an organization called the Digital Museum but no additional information on how they acquired it.


Nevertheless, somebody sent me the ROM called "Fix_v0.03" which you can download here. Go ahead and play it in an emulator like Stella or copy it to your Harmony cart and play it on a 2600.


Overall, in its present state, I think this is a pretty decent translation of Xevious for the 2600. The audio effects and music are spot on. Your spaceship called the "solvalou" looks more like an upside down "v" so I think that could be improved upon. One thing you'll notice is the yellow horizontal line which is to represent your crosshairs doesn't seem to keep up with the movement of your ship.


There's more detailed information on the prototype at AtariProtos.com here.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.



Pac-Man 8K (Atari 2600)

Posted by Rob Maerz on August 14, 2015 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (0)

According to the developer, work on Pac-Man 8K for the Atari 2600 began in 2007. It's a project that was left abandoned until work resumed in 2013.


I played the latest release of Pac-Man 8K called version 5 on actual hardware and it looks and sounds great. In my opinion, this game has the potential to become the greatest home brew ever released for the Atari 2600. I would love to see a turbo option added to the final release.


You can follow the project on AtariAge here.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.


ReplayFX Expo 2015

Posted by Rob Maerz on August 13, 2015 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I originally posted this to the forum on ClassicArcadeGaming.com and thought it would be appropriate as a blog posted to my web site. These are some thoughts coming away from the ReplayFX expo that was held in Pittsburgh July 30 - August 2, 2015. Be sure to view the walk through video I did on my YouTube channel TheRetrocade.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.


Thursday and Sunday are the best days to attend. I'm guessing people who are traveling aren't getting to the expo until Friday at the earliest and Sunday is also a travel day. Plus, the pinball tournament is over by Saturday night so all the machines are available to play on Sunday.


I attended the event hoping to play uncommon/rare video arcade games and pinball. I got to play a lot of pinball on Sunday since the tournament was over. I didn't think there was enough uncommon video games on the floor to keep me interested for 4 days of the event. The games I played the most were Asteroids, Black Widow, Bosconian, Star Castle, The Pit and Crazy Climber. I think by Friday night I was tired of playing the same games over and over again with the exception of Black Widow which I played more of on Saturday and Sunday.


Understand that I didn't attend this event to play Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man, Galaga et al the common games that I could play at home. I gave them (ReplayFX) some feedback on Twitter recommending that more uncommon video games would be welcome.


If I were to do it over again I would do this: travel to Hopewell Township on Thursday and play at the PA Coin-Op Hall of Fame all day Thursday and Friday (they really have enough games to keep me busy for two days). Then travel to Pittsburgh late Friday afternoon and get a discounted evening pass (after 8:30 PM) to ReplayFX for Friday night for $20. Buy another discounted evening pass for $20 for Saturday night and buy an all day pass for $25 for Sunday. That's a $30 savings per person versus paying for the full 4 day event pass.


The wife and kids and I did the Duquesne Incline which in my opinion was a waste of time. You can get some awesome photos of Pittsburgh (shown in my YouTube video) while you're up there but other than that there's nothing else to do.


As far as food goes there's a restaurant called Crystals that is a few blocks from the convention center that is really good although their menu is small. They have a concession stand at the convention center but if memory serves food was available on Saturday and Sunday only. And as you can expect the food is crap like hot dogs, chicken fingers and french fries.


As far as lodging goes I stayed at the Hampton Inn which is a block from the convention center (but really you have to walk an equivalent of 2 blocks to get to the entrance of the convention center). They serve hot breakfast each morning and they have an indoor pool (didn't use) and whirlpool (used). There's also a Westin which is connected to the convention center.


If you're thinking about going to Pinball Perfection while you're in Pittsburgh I would say don't bother. They have a lot of machines there but there are enough machines at ReplayFX to keep you busy. I did a trip to Pittsburgh 5 years ago to visit Pinball Perfection and my son and I were the only ones there and as a result they left half the machines turned off.


I would say the same for another place called Games N At that I visited while in Pittsburgh 5 years ago: don't bother if you are already attending the expo.


Overall I thought ReplayFX was a good show but unless they get some more uncommon video games there I will have my fill in the course of one full Sunday admission and 1 or 2 discounted evening passes.


Hope this helps as a reference for those that plan on attending future ReplayFX events. For me, the highlight of the trip was the PA Coin-op Hall of Fame. If you're going to make the trip, make some time out there.


PA Coin-Op Hall of Fame

Posted by Rob Maerz on August 3, 2015 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

On my trip to Pittsburgh to attend the ReplayFX expo, I made it a point to visit the PA Coin-Op Hall of Fame in Hopewell Township, PA which is about 40 minutes northwest of Pittsburgh.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.


After my first visit to Funspot in 2010, I posted on social media and forums numerous times that if you love golden age arcade games then you need to visit the American Classic Arcade Musem (ACAM). Now I'm telling all lovers of classic arcade games that you must visit the PA Coin-op Hall of Fame. The PA Coin-op Hall of Fame boasts over 400 coin-op machines including pinball and video games. The rare titles in the collection rival those found at ACAM.


I was floored when I saw some of the rare titles that you may not see anywhere else in working condition. There were only a few games out on the floor that were out of order but that is to be expected with these aging machines. The games I did play worked well and I have no complaints regarding controls or displays.


I paid $30 for a family of four for an all day pass. I only got to spend 3 hours at the Hall of Fame which was not enough time to play and enjoy the pieces in this collection. All the games are setup on free play or there is a free play button installed to credit up the machine.


For more information, visit their web site coinophof.com


Be sure to view the YouTube video on my channel TheRetrocade which includes a walk through and play of some of the rare titles.


Here are some photos I took of some of the rare titles and personal favorites:



Game Bashing: Interview With Organizers of TooManyGames Expo

Posted by Rob Maerz on June 23, 2015 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Game Bashing


Behind the Scenes with Convention Organizers Chuck Whitby and Paul Truitt.


Originally published in Classic Video Gamer magazine


 

What do you guys do when you’re not organizing these conventions?


Whitby: Right now I'm working two part time jobs and just finished school and an internship for the local conglomerate of doctor's offices. During the week I work at Challenge Arcade, one of Pennsylvania's last standing arcades to feature classic arcade games. On weekends I work at Petco helping with inventory control and selling pets.


Truitt: I work at an art gallery in New Jersey by day and buy and sell classic games, toys, and other cool stuff by night. I sound like some sort of nerd vigilante! It is mainly an online business through eBay (http://stores.ebay.com/Video-Games-and-Clasic-Toy-Store) and a website that is a work in progress. I also sell at conventions.


 

When did you get interested in video games?


Truitt: Well, I have photographic evidence that I was into Atari as a baby! But, like anyone born in the late ‘70s or ‘80s, I really remember getting into video games at the age of five or six when my family got a Nintendo.


Whitby: I've been playing video games for as long as I can remember. Growing up we always had games: Atari 2600, Intellivision, Adventurevision, Atari 7800, NES, SNES and from there on up.


 

Which of those systems is your favorite?


Whitby: The Intellivision always has a special place in my heart because it's the first system I have real memories of playing - hours of He-Man, Astrosmash, Burgertime, Q*Bert, Frogger and tons of other games. NES started my life-long obsession with Nintendo and I've been a diehard Nintendo fanboy since 1985.


 

Do you still have the Adventurevision?


Whitby: Unfortunately the Adventurevision is long gone. You know how it is - when you're a kid a toy is just a toy. When you stop playing with it your parents get rid of it.


 

What games are you collecting currently?


Whitby: I used to collect games but I've slowed up quite a bit recently. I collect Intellivision games, NES games and SNES fighting games and RPGs (and some other games here and there). Unfortunately when I'm running my conventions I never have any money to buy games from our dealers - it's a constant torture.


Truitt: I mainly collect for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Vectrex. I also collect systems and own roughly 50 unique! I collect games for other systems too, but just stuff that I like to play. As for NES and Vectrex, it’s my goal to own every game for those systems, whether I’m into the games or not.


How long have you been organizing gaming conventions?


Truitt: Two or three years now. My first was the May 2008 Too Many Games event, but I was doing behind the scenes stuff prior to that: helping with promoting the events, word of mouth and giving opinions etc. I was also a vendor at every event previous.


Whitby: I've been organizing gaming conventions since 1999 and maybe even earlier. When I was younger we used to hold small Magic: The Gathering tournaments where my friends and I would get local players together and put up prizes for everyone to play for.


In 1999 I paired up with David Newman, the original founder of Philly Classic, to help him with organizing and running Philly Classic. I worked on Philly Classic for the first two years then parted from the team. After a couple years off from Philly Classic I wanted to hold my own classic gaming convention in my area, started up East Coast Gaming Expo and held our first show in 2004.


 

Why the name change from East Coast Gaming Expo to TooManyGames?


 

Whitby: East Coast Gaming Expo is kind of long winded and not really accurate as Pennsylvania is Mid-Atlantic and not really on the east coast.


Another reason for the name change is that ECGXpo was really focused on classic gaming. As the show aged I realized that while my roots and the show's roots will always be in classic gaming, to expand the show and make it grow it needs to encompass modern gaming as well. TooManyGames.com was a domain I had registered ages ago so the con just became TooManyGames - simple as that.


 

What motivates you in organizing gaming conventions? Why are they significant?


Truitt: I love gaming in general whether I’m swinging my arms around with my wife with a Wii game or playing with 500 people at a convention - it’s just fun! I mean, someone has to do it right? I’ve been attending conventions as a vendor since Philly Classic 5 and always had a desire to get into this.


Whitby: I love getting gamers together to have a great time. There are so many different kinds of gamers. It's really amazing to see young, old, hardcore, casual, rich and poor get together and just enjoy the gaming culture together. It's awesome!


Truitt: Cons hold significance and value to me on a few levels. First and foremost, the communal aspect is essential to core gamers. A lot of us communicate on message boards or Xbox Live, but the chance to interact with one another in person builds lifelong bonds and strengthens our hobby and lifestyle. And while the new games can definitely be great, cons help expose younger gamers to the classics like Space Invaders or the original Donkey Kong. Kids need to know (and enjoy!) their history.




The conventions are not just about classic gaming, right? What can gamers expect from attending your shows?


Whitby: TooManyGames has always offered a great time for a great price. TMG always had a huge and diverse marketplace where gamers can buy not just games, but gaming art, music, clothes, novelties and tons more.


We're going to continue having great tournaments on classic and modern systems - games like Warlords up to Tekken 6 are always welcome events. Past TMG's have had live music and everyone's always loved that and we're going to start bringing more music to the show.


We're also expanding a bit into Japanese culture - beginning with our April 2010 show we're working with the Network of Reading Otaku (NORO) to bring anime and Japanese culture into the show. We've also recently teamed up with local comic and gaming superstore Golden Eagle Comics with them heading up our Magic: The Gathering events.


 

Why should a gamer attend a convention when they have eBay or GameGavel as a video game marketplace?


Truitt: For a collector it’s simple: a convention allows you to examine a game in person to ensure it’s right for your collection. What’s “mint” to you might not be “mint” to me.


Whitby: At a gaming convention you're right there with the item you want to buy. You can hold it, check it out and see its condition. There's nothing hidden, there's no risk and it's right there for you to see. You also get the opportunity to trade directly with the seller - maybe you have something he or she will be interested in and get a discount on the game you want. You also get the chance to haggle which is something you can't do on an eBay store.


 

What distinguishes your conventions from the others?


Truitt: With Game Core I am trying to incorporate all aspects of gaming including board games, arcade games, video games, collectible card games, miniatures, RPG's etc. We’re also trying to do celebrations of gaming milestones like last year when we did the 10th birthday celebration for the Sega Dreamcast.


 

Whitby: There's more gaming cons now than ever so it's tough to make sure that your con is more memorable than others. TooManyGames has kind of lost the ability to innovate over the years while we focused on offering a good value to both our vendors and attendees. I think we're going to start changing that quite a bit in 2010 as we start making plans for all our future shows.




Chuck, when you say “lost the ability to innovate” – are you saying that being innovative was cost prohibitive? Was the goal to keep TMG vanilla in order to keep costs down?


 

Whitby: Exactly. Gamers expect big bashes with lots of action and a party atmosphere. The backend costs of doing a huge gaming party are enormous (staggering really). We've always tried to ensure people have a fun time at TooManyGames, but really the show hasn't grown as much as I had hoped due to lack of funds from keeping the exhibitor and attendee costs down.


 

That's why starting in 2010 we're working at doing two shows a year: one that's less cost prohibitive with less flash and glam, and one where it may be a little more expensive to be a dealer at or attend, but will totally be worth the money paid. We'll have more info on that at the April show.


 

Roughly how many vendors attend your shows?


Whitby: We generally have around 30 different vendors at the show taking up from 50-65 tables selling all sorts of merchandise. I don't know if any of our vendors have come from outside the country (yet) but we have vendors from all along the east coast from New York to Florida.


Truitt: We get around 50 vendors on average and they come from as far away as the Southern United States, but mostly from the Tri-State area (PA, DE, NJ).




Have you attended conventions prior to organizing your own? Were they influential in any way that would have led you to organizing your own conventions?


Truitt: As I mentioned, I attended Philly Classic 5 and I was blown away that were all these other people into classic games like me. Then as a vendor, I started doing Chuck’s ECGXpo and TMG shows. I just wanted to help and have more say as I thought I had a lot of good ideas. Chuck has taught me so much about running a convention and how much actual work goes into it.


Whitby: I worked on Philly Classic (one of the best indie gaming cons ever) so I have that knowledge under my belt. I've also been to VGXPO and GameX, the two regional, more corporate events. Like other convention organizers, I visit other events to get ideas on how to improve our show, see what works for their show and see what doesn't.


Chuck, along with Paul Truitt as the Live Entertainment Director and yourself as the Executive Director for TooManyGames, you have Carlson Stevens onboard serving as the Marketplace Director. Can you discuss these roles in regard to the respective responsibilities that these individuals have in making these cons possible?


Whitby: I do all the backend stuff: getting the venue booked, handling all the money and the majority of the ideas and promotions. Paul's taking over live entertainment which is working on getting bands and guest speakers for the show. He's a lot better at talking with bands than I am.


Carlson is our newest TMG member. A long-time vendor, he's now putting on the organizer hat. He is a dealer at dozens of gaming and anime conventions all over the country and has made lots of great connections with other dealers at those shows. He's helping us expand our marketplace by bringing in new vendors that our attendees can shop at!


 

I have seen on both of your sites requesting volunteers to help out with the show. Roughly, how many volunteers typically lend a hand and what are some of things that they do?


Truitt: Volunteers do all sorts of stuff and are the reasons these shows can happen. We usually have five to ten volunteers (if we are lucky). It’s hard to get people to do work for almost free. They do anything from checking wristbands, setting up consoles, running tournaments, running out to grab lunch and running to Staples. There are so many things.


Whitby: Generally, no matter how many volunteers we get for TooManyGames, it's never enough. I'd like to have an army of twenty or so volunteers to help with everything during the show: setup, running tournaments, MCing panels, overseeing the game room, security, tear down, and any other miscellaneous tasks that pop up during the event. We usually have three or four people pitching in to help out (in addition to the organizers ourselves). That's a far cry from the number of people I'd like to work with at the show.


 

How far out do you have to begin planning the convention?


Truitt: A full year in advance would be optimal, but in my experience it takes between five and eight months.


Whitby: Ideally I'd love to have a year to plan a show, but that's never how it works out (and unfortunately sometimes it shows). Paul and I will actually be doing a panel in April about what it takes to put together a gaming convention so be sure to check it out!


 

How much setup time does the venue typically give you?


Truitt: That all depends on the venue that you go to. We have had as much time as 48 hours to as little time as 2 hours. It all depends on the hours of the show and what you pay for.


Whitby: For this April's show we can get into the room at 7 AM and the show starts at 10 AM - three hours. Sometimes we get lucky and if there's no event happening the prior day, or if it ends early enough in the day, we can get in to drop off equipment and get some of the heavy lifting done the day before, but that's the exception.


 

What are the biggest challenges you face in planning these conventions?


Whitby: Being taken seriously by some of the developers and publishers. As there are big gaming events that draw 50,000+ gamers it's tough to get big companies excited to participate in a show that draws under 5,000 people. There's nothing more that we would love than to have Activision, EA or Ubisoft there showing off new games that are coming soon, but it's an extremely tough thing to do.


Truitt: The right location at the right price is generally the biggest challenge. Since Philly is a pretty fertile market, you always have to keep the other shows in mind.


 

What are some of the mishaps that you may have encountered in organizing/planning or even on the day of the convention?


Truitt: There’s always something. For instance, the last venue Game Core was held at was unavailable on Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps and GPS devices. I didn’t think that was possible in 2009!


Also, there are always problems with vendors needing last minute items that they forgot at home, consoles for free play not working or we’re supposed to have a tournament on a certain game and someone forgot it at home. There are so many things that can and will go wrong but you kind of just take it at face value and figure out your way around it.


Whitby: Every show experiences growing pains. I think the biggest 'uh-oh' we had was not having our discount coupons printed for the May '08 TMG. For pre-registering on the website, we'd give a person a $3.00 discount coupon good at any vendor at the show. As we started letting the pre-registered people in someone asked 'When do we get our discount coupon?' We had 150 very understanding people accept the situation.


How were you able to resolve this situation?


 

Whitby: Really only a small handful of people complained (it was only $10 to attend and the discount coupon was for $3). But, those who did we made sure got a $3 discount coupon at the next convention.


How do you measure the success of each convention?


Truitt: First and foremost, did it look like everyone was having a good time? That’s my major goal for the convention. Then you need to make sure you got enough people to attend to cover costs and make the vendors happy.


Whitby: Two ways: attendance during the show and the amount of shit talk on various forums after the show.




But the forums can give you some valuable feedback on how to improve the shows, right?


 

Whitby: Oh, absolutely forums can give great feedback. The problem is that the people with the loudest voices often make it seem like mistakes were made maliciously and deliberately, which is never the case. TooManyGames constantly asks our vendors and our attendees for feedback, both publicly and privately. We want to ensure that everyone at the show has a great time with as few issues as possible.


 

Paul, how were you able to procure KITT and the DeLorean for Game Core 2009?


Truitt: Well, they were both not the originals from the actual movies. From what the owner of the KITT car told me there is only one actual KITT left in existence - all the others were destroyed. As for the DeLorean, it belongs to a buddy of mine and he made replica stuff for it like the flux capacitor and hoverboard.


 

One of the exciting features of the gaming conventions are the debut of new home brew releases for the classic consoles. In 2009, Prehistoric Times was released at TooManyGames and Shield Shifter debuted at Game Core. What is the process for a home brew author to get their title featured as a debut release at your convention?


Whitby: At TMG we actively look for home brewers who are going to be releasing their game near the same time the convention is. Sometimes you just luck into it. We're always looking to debut new games to the public, so any developers out there be sure to contact us if you want to release a new game at the show!


Truitt: Expect more from Game Core in 2010!


 

A few years ago, there was a 2600 home brew that debuted at a game con that a reviewer blogged as "the worst home brew ever." There was even a YouTube video that showed its monotonous game play and how bad the collision detection was.


Also, the blogger sited forum discussions where the home brew author was asking for help (only several months before the show) with Atari 2600 programming. Apparently, they were under the gun to deliver a product as a featured, debut home brew release for the con.


So, the question is: should the convention organizers be accountable for the quality of the home brews making their featured debuts at conventions?


Truitt: Absolutely not. If we only allowed AAA games to be sold at our events there wouldn’t be much to choose from! But on the flip side, we try to ensure the homebrew titles debuted contain finished code.


Whitby: While we have zero reason to be accountable, some of it does fall on our shoulders. People will relate the show to the game and if they see that someone released a poor game at a convention, they wonder why the convention didn't play a larger role in the game's development and release. Really, we're just a conduit for the promotion and sale of the game - we're not the developer.


 

But in the end, it’s a win-win for the con organizers and the home brewer. A fresh brew that debuts at the show is a little extra to lure collectors through the doors. The home brew developer gets the exposure and traffic to move the product.


Although the onus of the home brew product quality is not on the convention organizers, shouldn’t quality standards be established? After all, con organizers are in effect associating themselves with the product by promoting its exclusive debut release at their shows. In the example I sited where it was painfully obvious that it was not a quality product by any stretch, shouldn’t the convention staff have looked at the game, denied its promotion and looked elsewhere for a quality home brew to promote?


 

Whitby: Programmers are artists and as such many programmers don't want to reveal any aspect of their creation at all during the development cycle. At TooManyGames when we debuted Prehistoric Times, we had to beg to get a screenshot just so that we could show attendees that the game is indeed real and will be ready to purchase at the show. We don't get the chance to see or play the game until the public does.


 

Which gaming systems do you currently see as highly collectible today and which modern systems do you see as being highly collectible 25 years from now?


Truitt: Right now some of the most collectible systems are the NES, original Game Boy games complete and PS1 games.


Whitby: NES is still hot, SNES is picking up but I don't ever see it being as collectible as the original classics or NES. Prices on a lot of the golden age games have dropped significantly in recent years. Games which used to fetch $100-150 only bring $30-50 today.


Playstation collecting is starting to become hot and I think PS2 collecting might become hot soon.


Truitt: In the last five years, I have seen prices jump for PS1 games.


Whitby: I don't ever see Xbox or 360 collecting becoming popular. The main demographic for Xbox is concerned with the latest and greatest, not dinosaur games from generations past. As for Nintendo, I see GameCube, GBA, DS and maybe even Wii becoming collectible but never worth anything (except of course the rare short print run games).


Truitt: 25 years from now the system that will probably be most collectible is the Wii and one of the next generation consoles. The reason I say this is that the Wii is huge - everyone has one and plays it with their parents, grandparents, etc. There will be very fond memories of the Wii and that’s one reason why these things are collectible (as the NES is for me).


The reason I say one of the next gen consoles is because stuff usually becomes very collectible when people are old enough to buy back their old toys. Someone who is born today will be around five when the next wave of consoles come out. So, they will be old enough to buy back their old toys when that system is 20 years old.


 

Do you have any concerns with the current economic climate? Is there a potential for another correction in the video game industry as was seen in 1983?


Whitby: I don't see a crash coming this generation. There's already an enormous population invested in this generation of gaming and, while there are some turds coming out now, they're generally greatly overlooked for the real gems.


Truitt: I think games are pretty good in general as is the industry. But like I said before, games are lacking replay ability like Space Invaders has. That game is 32 years old and I can still play it for hours. Yet something like Borderlands, which I am currently playing, I don’t see going back and playing it after I beat it.


Whitby: My only concern with the current economic climate is our vendor base not being willing or able to put out extra money to participate in conventions. But I think that's something TooManyGames has always handled well - pricing our dealer space well below all the other conventions so that all our vendors are able to maintain a great profit margin.



 

After the show is over, everything is packed up and you're ready to call it a night, is there a sigh of relief? Are you anxious to get started on the next show or do you need to take a break?


Truitt: I think most show organizers will disagree with me on this, but I am always hyped with tons of new ideas, looking at how we could do things better and I want to get started. But I am just crazy - most people need a good month where they don’t even want to hear the word “convention.”


Whitby: It's a little of all three. At the end of the day we're absolutely exhausted - often times we set up and tear down the same day. There's always that rush of happiness after the show's over, it's like 'Whew, we made it and put on another great show. Everyone had a great time and the vendors were all happy with the turnout!'


It then turns into a little bit of depression - we say goodbye to our friends and fellow staff members and we all head our separate ways. Sometimes after the show is over we have our best ideas and we want to start planning right away. Most of the time everyone just wants to take a couple weeks away from organizing the show just to get some down time in.

 

 


 

The Chuck (Interview With GameGavel.com's Mike Kennedy)

Posted by Rob Maerz on January 14, 2015 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

THE CHUCK

Mike Kennedy is Determined to Get You to Kick the eBay Habit and Go For a Ride on the GameGavel Wagon

Originally published in Classic Video Gamer magazine


 

 

An eBay member since 1997, Mike Kennedy saw the online auction giant losing focus of what had made it successful. Knowing that video games are a large niche to support a dedicated auction environment, Kennedy decided to take a chance and start his own auction site, ChaseTheChuckwagon.com, in 2008.


The concept was to create an auction site dedicated to gaming and charge significantly lower fees than eBay. This combination of cheaper fees and dedicated gaming environment has paid off as the site, now named GameGavel.com, has grown to over 3,000 members in its first year and a half.


To instill a community feeling, GameGavel features member forums, chat rooms, a classic gaming radio station at RetroArcadeRadio.com and most recently a podcast at RetroGamingRoundup.com.


Mike, you call yourself a gamer first and foremost. So, first and foremost, tell us about the arcade collection you have in your garage.


Kennedy: I started collecting consoles, games and handhelds about the same time I joined eBay in 1997. Moving to Southern California from Nebraska in 1999 also helped in my hunt for classic gaming relics as I discovered the reoccurring weekend swap meets all year long. Between eBay and the swap meets I was in retrogaming heaven, easily finding about anything I could have ever wanted.


Both were responsible for a very large collection of gaming artifacts that soon grew so large I had to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with myself and make the hard decision to start selling off all this stuff I had amassed. It was then that I decided I didn’t need everything, but only the things I had as a child or wanted as a child but never had - things that had some meaning to me. So, I went through years of finding items at the swap meets and selling them off on eBay for a profit. This also helped finance my small but sustained collection of things as I would buy everything cheap at the swap meets, sell off much of it at a profit which would in turn pay for the items I kept for myself. I basically had a collection of items that essentially cost me nothing. Since then, I’ve greatly reduced my collection to only a small cabinet full of systems, games and electronic handheld games.


There was one day at the swap meet where I came across a Venture arcade game for $75. This was probably around 2002 or so. This started my love affair with having arcade games in my home. The problem I have is I only have a small single car garage to use as my arcade and it also happens to be my office - it’s packed to say the least.


As of this writing I have a Hanaho Arcade PC MAME Cabinet, a Zaxxon cabaret, Atari Battlezone, Atari Video Pinball, Omega Race cabaret, Tutankham, Midway Stunt Pilot mechanical game, Super Moon Cresta and two pins: Williams Taxi and Stern Stars. I have decked out my arcade with black light carpet, a laser star projector, an iPod jukebox and various black light and 80’s movie posters. My arcade is named Yada’s, which was the name of the childhood arcade I spent lots of time in Millard, Nebraska.


All my games are original, dedicated and working machines. I am not a fixer-upper so I tend to buy games that are working and then cross my fingers that they continue to work. So far I’ve had great luck. It’s really amazing how well these continue to work for being so old. My favorite of the bunch and one that I will never get rid of is my Midway Stunt Pilot. This was the first arcade game I ever remember playing and I had to have one. It took me years but I did find one on eBay for $400. Amazingly it was working and is still working to this day. I’ve not seen another one since.


I really love trying to recreate the arcade experience at home, but it could never duplicate the feeling of being in a real 70’s or 80’s arcade. It was a magical time to grow up, to say the least. Since I love my existing game lineup, I try not to look for new games too often because if I find one, I need to consider removing one to make room. That sucks!

 

If you had to make room in your garage for one more arcade cabinet, which would it be?


Kennedy: That’s always a tough question. There is never any one particular game I am looking for, but when I see it, I know it and I want it. For example, I just came across a beautiful BurgerTime locally that hasn’t been posted anywhere, so I have a line on it. And the price is a nice $400. Now I have to figure what to get rid of and right now it looks like the Tutankham has to go.


What recollections do you have of Yada's?


Kennedy: Yada’s, like most early arcades, was a very vibrant, noisy place that always had a good smell of pizza and popcorn coming from the small snack bar. What I remember most are the sounds that emanated from that place as I was opening the door and about to step in: a mixed up symphony of arcade theme songs and attract screens all greeting me and wanting my attention (and my quarters). It was magical. I always went straight to Star Castle and then migrated to Astro Blaster, Carnival, Missile Command and Battlezone. It is also where I learned the Pac-Man square pattern and could routinely get to the 9th key before the pattern changed to something else. The next best thing was meeting your buddies there and watching each other take on the latest games.


In the spring of 2008, you launched the video game auction site ChaseTheChuckwagon.com. What was the biggest challenge in getting this venture off the ground?


Kennedy: The biggest challenge was day one. Thinking to myself, “How do I get people to use a site with no buyers, no sellers and no nothing?” Well actually, I was on a camping trip the day we turned the site on. I was setting up the categories using the Internet on my cell phone. It was crazy but most of the site was formatted and set up on my phone during this weeklong trip.


Then, I needed to figure out how to get a few people using it. My plan was to start hitting the swap meets hot and heavy, buying up everything I could and then listing it on my site. I figured if I loaded it up with a constant stream of new items and offer them cheap, I would at least get a few gamers from the forums looking to buy things. Then I started to comp people into the site - basically give them a lifetime membership where they can sell for free in exchange for listing items. It was a combination of me populating the site with my own items and persuading others to list theirs that allowed us to at least get out of the starting gate and we just built on that.


I distinctly remember one forum post from someone saying something like, “Wow you already have 100 items listed. I think this is going to work.” I look back on that and it seems like so long ago. As you have seen by reading the pages of forum posts, I was met with tons of criticism. I really felt like I was doing something good for the gaming community, but most people really thought this wasn’t going to work and it would fizzle out. Some responses were downright mean and I always wondered why it wasn’t met with more enthusiasm in the beginning. I guess because it had been tried before (Vidiots.com) and failed so fast that no one thought going up against eBay could be done. Thankfully, the praise far surpassed the negative vibes, I pressed on and I think we have come a long way to surprise some of the disbelievers.


A constant battle is convincing people they will be as successful selling on GameGavel as on eBay. eBay really has people fooled into thinking their items will sell 100% of the time. But, a search for items “ending soon” quickly disproves this. Don’t believe me? Simply type in “Nintendo NES” into the search and look at all the items ending without a bid or being purchased. There are considerably more items not selling than selling, and with eBay’s new rules this will be a continuing trend and that is a fact.


I believe that if people use GameGavel in the same way they use eBay, they will see equal success selling their items at or near the same selling price they will see on eBay. One thing that plagues both GameGavel and eBay are sellers that overprice their items. One thing I really think eBay is good for is price checking your items before you list. eBay has a good history showing what items should sell for and if more sellers would educate themselves on the value of their items it would make their selling more successful on either auction site.


It's interesting to follow the ChaseTheChuckwagon thread on AtariAge, which begins the day after ChaseTheChuckwagon.com launched. You can see the Chuck growing as you read through page after page of posts.


Kennedy: Reading the threads on all the forums is quite amusing to me now. But early on, it was difficult to remain positive as most of the comments were negative. It always made me wonder, why all the negativity? A lot of it stemmed from the fact this had been tried before and failed. Many early comments read, “It’s a great idea but will most certainly fail.” This really added to my determination to press through the start up period and grow this thing. And I knew I had to grow it as fast as possible.


I started out selling things from my personal collection and also from items I found hitting the weekend Southern California swap meets. I literally had to fuel this thing with my own items in the beginning and somehow I managed to bring in buyers. These buyers eventually started to see it working and then started to sell things of their own and the site just started to snowball. Thankfully, I have been blessed with some true believers who have continued to stock the site with a few thousand auctions.


Not only did you surpass your target of 2,000 members in one year, but you added yet another 1,000 members just five months later.


Kennedy: Many small, underfunded websites like GameGavel have a first year goal of 1,000 people. My goal was to hit 2,000 members in our first year and we hit that on the bull’s eye - even surpassed it a bit. Like you say, our second year is far outpacing the first year, not only with membership but also with listings, bidding, searching, etc. which is a good sign. But I can never let up. Once you let up the site starts to dwindle off, thus my love affair with the forums. I try to use them to my advantage but at the same time try not to annoy everyone. Sometimes it’s a fine line to use the forums as a gamer and also a business owner. Sometimes I say things I shouldn’t or get involved in discussions I shouldn’t have. The bottom line though is I am a gamer first and foremost and a site owner second.


Why do you suppose the naysayers said that you couldn't succeed and that this venture would fail?


Kennedy: Easy: “No one can compete with eBay”, along with the fact that there have been a few other gaming auction sites try and fail. But, I can tell everyone that no one is as determined as me. My goal is still to be the number one online destination to buy and sell video games. That means overtaking eBay, GameStop and all other large online gaming stores. I think I will achieve this, but the question is how long will it take? That is anybody’s guess.


But I can say this: by the end of 2009 we will have entered into a strategic partnership with a large international gaming community with significant marketing muscle. This has the potential to turn GameGavel into a household name for a hundreds of thousands of gamers around the world. 2010 is going to be one hell of a year!


On March 26 2008, two days after opening the Chuck, you said “It will take time to catch on and grow.” With over 3,000 members in a little over 17 months, has it caught on?


Kennedy: That is a good question and one that is hard to answer. The site has definitely gone above and beyond my expectations since the launch, but it still has so far to go. But, I guess it is catching on because when I wear my t-shirt into GameStop and local gaming stores frequently I am approached and asked if I own the site. That is a great feeling and shows it is reaching further into the gaming community. But, taking into account eBay has around 300,000 video gaming auctions running at any one time; we have light years to go. But, like I said earlier, it will get there. How long it will take is anyone’s guess.


It seems like you can’t make anyone happy with the auction site name. ChaseTheChuckwagon allegedly was hard to identity with gaming - people associated it with dog food or it was just too long of a name. Changing the name to GameGavel.com is viewed as an unpopular move based on bad experiences some may have had with the old GameGavel.com while others just have a fondness for the ChaseTheChuckwagon name. How did the GameGavel deal come about and then why the subsequent name change to GameGavel.com?


Kennedy: In my mind the name really isn’t that important - it’s what you do with the site. It’s functionality, features, advantages and benefits. The name association will come. I could have named it anything and after a while the name would stick. I mean, eBay means nothing (well, maybe East Bay as that is where eBay is located - East of the bay). I had people say I should have named the site GameBay. I still laugh at that one.


To understand why I named the site ChaseTheChuckwagon we need to travel back about a year before I launched. I was always an avid listener of Shane R. Monroe’s RetroGamingRadio show. So after meeting Shane at CGE 2007, I pitched a segment for his show where I hit the Southern California swap meets, negotiate bargain buys on classic gaming items and then make them available to our listeners for the same price I negotiated at the swap meet. Shane loved the idea and my segment “Chasing The Chuckwagon” was born. I soon purchased the domain name, ChasingTheChuckwagon.com and at the same time I also noticed the domain name “ChaseTheChuckwagon.com” was also available so I bought that as well. You never know when you may need something like that.


For about a year I was scouring the swap meets finding great deals and passing these great deals onto our listeners. It became a small, but popular part of RetroGamingRadio and was part of Shane’s show until he ended it back in early 2009. After the show came to an end, I figured I had built up a small dedicated following that would then be called upon to help me populate the auction site, which of course became known as “ChaseTheChuckwagon.com”.


At the time I launched CTCW, a fellow gamer started another auction site, GameGavel.com. We continued to bang heads for months. Looking back, it was a great thing because it pushed us both to outdo each other and add more functions and features to both our sites, which really benefited the gamers that used our sites. In the end, the owner of GameGavel had other commitments that kept him from growing GameGavel the way he wanted and he posted in various forums he was going to be closing down. I had always thought GameGavel was a good name for a gaming auction site so I made the decision to contact him and make him an offer for the name. We agreed on an amount and I became owner of the domain. I figured sooner or later I might need it as finding short, decent gaming domain names are next to impossible these days.


The decision to change the name from CTCW to GameGavel was a very difficult one, because as I mentioned above, I think it could have worked and been successful with any name. I had a constant battle within myself but in the end, I felt I had to do it. CTCW had deep meaning with me and in video gaming lore but it just didn’t resonate with modern day gamers, who, love it or hate it, are a core demographic I need to grow this site and take to the next level. It would be great to just be a big classic gaming site, but in the end we need the buying and selling activity of the modern gamers to help us grow the site so us old-timers can continue using it.


Why do people prefer GameGavel over eBay?


Kennedy: eBay is in a transition period - a period that I frankly don’t get. They are moving away further and further from what made them unique. They have lost their vision of what made them great. I think people are looking for new places to take their business. And for gamers, what is better than an auction site dedicated to gaming and the gaming community?


I think our members like dealing with people they know through the hobby and have met through the online gaming community. Combine that with a dedicated gaming auction environment and cheaper selling fees, GameGavel will continue to be a favorite online destination for gamers, to not only buy and sell, but to buy and sell with people they know.

What exactly is your day job and how many hours do you typically work per week between that and GameGavel.com?


Kennedy: I am a regional sales engineer for a manufacturer of material handling products back East. I handle the Southern California area for them and work out of a home office, when I am not traveling around within my territory. This tends to work well as I can still, from time to time, catch my emails and keep an eye on the site during the workday. After five o’clock, I am online the balance of the evening to about 11:00 PM. I figure I spend roughly five hours each night trying to promote the site or simply keeping up to speed with what’s going on in all the forums.


Weekends are obviously also spent working on the site: tweaking things, talking with my developer about suggestions for improvement, etc. My mind is always going 24/7. I am always thinking of ways to promote the site, companies to partner with and those types of things. I have had discussions with companies like GameStop and Play N Trade, among others. So, to directly answer the second part of your question: I work more than 80 hours per week.


Another thing that will soon be available, that was born out of one of my late night think tank sessions, is a new flash and iPhone tile matching game that will be a new and inventive way for people to search our site. Someone can now play a tile matching game where the tiles are randomly taken from our pool of photos from live running auctions. They will attempt to match up tiles before a timer runs out. Points will be scored for matches, consecutive matches and finding all matches before time runs out. There will be a few cards scattered in there like a “thief” card that will steal 100 points from you and take one of your three lives. A “Warp” card will randomly shuffle all remaining cards and a “clock” card will add more time to the clock. With each wave completed the time to complete the wave is reduced. The game ends when you flip over three “thief” cards or run out of time during a level.


Once the game ends the player will be able to register their high score and also have the opportunity to bid on any of the items they successfully matched during their game play. It’s really a new way to search the site disguised all in the form of a cool little game - like I said, always thinking. This will be offered as a Flash game that can be played anytime on the site and also a free iPhone game that I think should bring in significantly more memberships to the site.


Is there any one auction that sticks out in your mind that has been listed on the Chuck or GameGavel since the site's inception?


Kennedy: We have had some auctions for rare items, but the one that sticks out the most is a boxed Atari 2600 Chase The Chuckwagon game. I remember it fondly because it was the first time I had ever seen a boxed one. It ended up selling for a little over $500 and I really wanted it but didn’t get it. I always love seeing rare items get listed, because they can bring lots of attention to the site and always seem to sell well.


A response to the word “community” in a word association game may be “Mike Kennedy.” It’s a word that I see repeatedly in every interview you do. So, let’s talk about community for a bit since it seems to be something you emphasize. It’s a big deal to you, right?


Kennedy: Community is what it's all about especially since I am also a part of it. It is very important to me to uphold high standards for this community and cultivate a community that I, too, would have wanted to be a part of if I hadn't been the one who created it. On eBay, the community feeling has been lost, mainly because it is all encompassing.


GameGavel has the benefit of targeting a single niche and this helps create a community feeling. We are all in this together, taking on eBay and other commercial gaming websites and stores, if you will. There are business simulation games and this to me is like a video game. I am trying to grow this site in real life and against all odds. If I compare this to playing a video game, it makes it even more fun and a lot less daunting.


You recently announced your Gaming Community Affiliations initiative getting ScrewAttack, CheapAssGamer, Digital Press, AtariAge, NintendoAge, Sega-16 and KLOV onboard. How will members of these communities benefit from these affiliations in the short and long-term?


Kennedy: I was extremely lucky and grateful to have the support of some of the premier classic gaming forums like AtariAge, DigitalPress, NintendoAge, KLOV and Sega-16 among others. I asked their owners for permission to start a single thread in their forums and they obliged. Without their support, starting a gaming auction site would have been much more difficult.


I needed to make inroads into the community I knew best - the classic gaming community. So, because of their support the site has prospered with classic gamers. Classic gamers are the ones that account for the largest percentage of users at the moment. In order to move the site forward, I felt I needed to now embrace the younger gamers – the NES Generation. At the same time, this really helps me target the modern day gamer.


I asked Cheapy D, founder of CheapAssGamer.com, for permission to start a thread in his forums and he was cool with it. That started me in the direction of courting the modern day gamers and now it is extending into another popular gaming website, ScrewAttack.com (more news forthcoming on this relationship).


In order to build on these relationships, I started to think of creative ways to separate GameGavel from other gaming store or auction sites. What better way than to magnify a level of integration with these other communities. So, I made the decision to add what I am calling “Gaming Community Affiliations” into GameGavel.com. Once this integration is in place, GameGavel members will be able to have a graphic Avatar representing their community memberships which will be displayed next to their GameGavel User ID.


Taking this a step further, members can then do a custom search for items for sale by members from a particular community. For example, if you are a member of AtariAge.com you can search for auctions only being run by other AtariAge members. This helps convey that GameGavel really is an auction site created by gamers for gamers. Associating with some of the top gaming communities will always be key to the success of GameGavel.com. Gamers will feel safer knowing they will have the opportunity to know who they are buying and selling with.


What about the Twin Galaxies community given that they are one of, if not the, most recognizable names in video gaming?


Kennedy: I know Walter Day and I have asked about how we can work together. Unfortunately, he is not in charge of their website but has passed my information on to the powers that be with Twin Galaxies. I think sooner or later we will be working with them in some form or fashion. For now, GameGavel is struggling with the arcade gaming crowd. That is still a community I am trying to persuade to use the site. They, after all, have the biggest upside as the cost to sell higher priced arcade games is significantly less on GameGavel than on eBay. Sooner or later I will get the arcade community to use the site. You can bet on that.


As the GameGavel community grows, won’t it lose the intimacy? When does it get too big?


Kennedy: When compared to a site the size of eBay, we will always have an intimate community. That is the beauty of a niche auction site. I think gaming is a close-knit community. Add to that, gamers are very passionate people and I think it takes a passionate person like myself to run a website like GameGavel, as that gives confidence to its members. We are all in this thing together. We all want an alternative to big business and eBay. If we all use this site there is no reason why we can’t overtake these larger companies that have lost any sense of community and commitment to their members.


I think I can speak on behalf of our sellers and say the site can never get too big. The more people on the site, the better the chances of selling their items at higher prices. The way I look at it, I work for our sellers. It is my job to continue growing the site so it draws in more buyers. I can never stop my attempts to grow GameGavel and it is something I think about each and every day, all day. As we grow, I intend to always keep the site grounded no matter the size. I think a lot of this depends on how the site is run and the accessibility of site management and owners by community members. As long as I am in charge I can always be reached by anyone very easily. I am not too hard to find.


What are your plans to reach those outside of the AtariAge, KLOV et al communities? Any plans to expand advertising outside the Internet medium?


Kennedy: There are really three different types of gamers I need to focus on. In the beginning I’ve focused on the classic gaming community because, as I said before, I know it best. Starting in 2010, I will be focused on two other gaming demographics: the hardcore gamers and casual gamers. For GameGavel to make it big, it needs to go mainstream by targeting these next two types of gamers. The question is, how do I target them and how much is it going to cost me?


I’ve tried getting involved with some of the hardcore gaming sites like IGN, Gamespot, Destructoid, Kotaku and Joystiq but am not getting anywhere with them. They all want me to just spend an arm and a leg on advertising. At this stage in our development, I still can’t afford any significant advertising on sites like those. I have used Google Adwords, Facebook Advertising and other pay-per-click advertising, but the amount I can budget for is not enough to really keep the ball rolling. So, I am still looking to partner with other companies while looking at other ways to compensate them, like sharing in the revenue of GameGavel. This is something that I will be doing more of because it doesn’t cost me anything out-of-pocket initially and the companies I am working with will then have a vested interest in our growth. In a sense, it is trading a percent of our revenue for their effort to promote the site to their population.


At this point, advertising outside the Net in gamer magazines or trade publications is not something I can afford. But, it would be nice to make enough money to promote this outside the Net and through different channels to reach all demographics of gamers, young and old, male and female, all around the world. This will come as we grow.


On October 26, 2009 you announced that sales were down, bidding was down and registrations for the month were off 50% at GameGavel.


Kennedy: October was a weird month and our stats were down. This didn’t jive with the rest of the year which for the most part saw increasing statistics each month throughout. Maybe it had something to do with the site name change and change over.


One other thing that added to the less than stellar month was that our Google Feeds were down due to some items being listed that were against their policies – something to do with modded systems and such so they stopped our feed. In a sense we were losing out on significant Google Search traffic during the month and it has since been reactivated. As I thought, November is back on track with our yearly averages. I think there was a combination of things that led to October’s poor performance, but GameGavel is back on track and I expect the holiday season to be a big one again this year.


I read an article recently where a video game store owner commented that "There is a whole nostalgia thing going on" in regard to sales of NES and other classic game titles. Is there a nostalgia thing going on?


Kennedy: Nostalgia is something that is always “going on”. As far as video games are concerned people are playing games they enjoyed in their youth. It brings back memories and transports you back to that first time you loaded a Kaboom! cartridge into your Atari 2600 or Super Mario Bros. into your NES.


It turns out these are much simpler games and can be picked up and played for short durations unlike the games of today. I split my time between my classic systems, PS3 and Wii. It breaks things up a bit and gives you something to do if you are stuck in a modern day game or just need to take a break from a marathon gaming session to play something you can finish in a few minutes. I think both have their place - at least in my house.


Many companies are playing the nostalgia card now. It’s big business and really responsible for the record growth of the casual gaming market that is now close to becoming the leading gaming genre.


What's in store for GameGavel.com and any other ventures you may have for 2010?


Kennedy: I can guarantee 2010 will be an exciting year for GameGavel. Dare I say, maybe even a real breakout year. I am aligning GameGavel with a couple other very large gaming entities and have some big announcements forthcoming. Depending on when they are made, it may be old news at the time this is going to press. But, the bottom line is that GameGavel will be making a big splash in 2010 and all members will see the benefit.


Why the disdain for eBay, the company that in effect paved the way for all auction sites?


Kennedy: Despite what you read and see others saying, I really don’t have any disdain for eBay. I just think they are shitting in their nest. I share this with many of their longtime users. I still use them for buying and selling things other than video games and will continue to use them. I hope they can iron out their vision and get back on track.


Unfortunately, I think that bad decisions are being made at the top and until the top is shaken up they will continue their downward spiral. But, I’ve used them since 1997 and wish them the best. I think GameGavel will thrive with or without them. Once GameGavel is significantly populated it will be the best place to buy and sell games online.


Do you own stock in eBay?


Kennedy: Nope. Thank God.

 


 

Brewskis: Quenching the Thirst for Fresh ColecoVision Titles

Posted by Rob Maerz on December 29, 2014 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Brewskis: Quenching the Thirst for Fresh ColecoVision Titles

Originally published in Classic Video Gamer magazine


In the summer of 1982, the ColecoVision’s release meant doomsday for the Atari 2600 and Mattel’s Intellivision home consoles. Coleco’s “Arcade Quality Video Game System” was released with the smash pack-in game Donkey Kong and solidified the system as an instant success selling out all 500,000 units in its initial production run. The most advanced home console of its time sold six million systems in just two short years.


Unfortunately, the ColecoVision was released only about eighteen months before the Video Game Crash. The crash, the disastrous ADAM computer and the passing of the Cabbage Patch Kids forced Coleco to declare bankruptcy in 1988.


Only around 125 titles were released during the ColecoVision’s production run. Arcade perfect ports like Mouse Trap, Frenzy, Carnival, Pepper II and Zaxxon have left ColecoVision enthusiasts thirsty for fresh new titles ever since.


Scott Huggins, a Math and Computer Science graduate of Southwest Texas State University, is a Software Engineer with Lanvera, LTD., a document outsourcing company. Huggins began programming for the ColecoVision in 2002 and has four titles to his credit: Cavern Rescue, Astro Invader, Spectar and Terra Attack.


Eduardo Mello is a programmer for Opcode Games. He began programming for the ColecoVision in 1998 and has six home brew titles to his credit with Space Invaders Collection, Sky Jaguar, Yie Ar Kung Fu, Magical Tree, Road Fighter and Pac-Man Collection.


These are the ColecoVision home brew meisters. It’s not a lucrative business, but a labor of love. I sat down with them to discuss the ColecoVision and home brewing for this historic console.


In its heyday, the arcade not only showcased the hottest games but also served as a hangout, meeting place and some even hosted competitions. There are those that say that the arcade is dead and that they simply are no longer profitable. Will we ever see people getting out of their homes and back into the arcades? And what is it about the modern console games that have lured people away from the simpler, two-dimensional classics?


Huggins: I don't think we will ever see it like it used to be. Certainly it will not have the feel that it did back in 1980-83. I guess we can blame technology for taking away the simplicity and charm that those old arcade machines delivered. I am not sure what exactly killed the feel of the classic arcade.


The classics were meant to be played for a maximum of fifteen minutes per quarter - very quick and you move on to something else or put in another quarter. I think the fast twitch factor is lost.


Mello: Technology became so advanced that it now requires large teams to develop both the hardware and software which translates into higher costs. Considering that the average arcade sells probably no more than 50,000 units, it isn't hard to figure out why we do not see many arcade games released anymore.


Huggins: It's an adventure to start playing a modern game nowadays. The games last forever as you can stop and continue a single game for over a period of days, weeks or months. They are all time consuming and require a lot of studying just to figure out how to play. I guess to many, that's called evolution.


Mello: The most traditional entertainment industry in the U.S. is Hollywood, so I believe that is why Americans like their games photorealistic and cinematic. If you think about it, the search for realism isn't anything new - get a copy of any video game magazine from the eighties and you will find reviewers describing how the graphics looked "almost real". The problem was that the technology wasn't there until recently.


The first person shooter games are the number one genre in the occident. For some reason our culture seems to enjoy extreme violence. In contrast, FPS games aren't as popular in Japan, an eastern country that hasn’t been involved in any war since World War II. Also, in Japan mangas and animes are the dominant form of entertainment. Thus, Japanese gamers aren't as concerned with photorealism and are more open to graphic abstractions.


Huggins: I would prefer to play Defender for ten minutes and then move on to Qix or something else. Some of my younger friends just cannot understand why I would waste time on those games versus an XBox 360 game.

What was the historical significance surrounding the release of the ColecoVision and how did its release influence the future of video gaming?


Mello: The ColecoVision was released during the Golden Age of Arcade Gaming and offered the closest to the arcade experience in the comfort of your own home.


Huggins: I am 40 years old. So, in late 1982 I was the perfect age (thirteen) to "get" the ColecoVision’s relevance when it was released. It looked so sleek. The television commercials and magazine ads made the console and games look state-of-the-art. I couldn't believe it.


Mello: The Expansion Module #1 (the Atari 2600 module) was a huge advantage back then and I think most people today just don't realize the importance of that. The success of the ColecoVision with its pack-in Donkey Kong cartridge convinced Nintendo to enter the video game market the following year in Japan.


Huggins: I had an Atari 2600 with about twenty games at the time. I remember in December 1982, all the guys in my school were nuts over the possibility of getting a ColecoVision for Christmas. I was envious because I knew I wouldn't be getting one.


You could certainly feel it immediately - people forgot about Intellivision or any Atari product as being the “cool system.” I still enjoyed my 2600 and playing my friend's Intellivision, but those that owned a ColecoVision were viewed as being in another league.


I think the ColecoVision came and went too fast. It never saw momentum since the video game industry crashed only eighteen months after its release.


What set ColecoVision apart from the competition at the time was arcade-like graphics for the home console. If you were to pick one game that looked, sounded and played like the arcade on a ColecoVision which title would it be and why? Additionally, what is your favorite ColecoVision title?


Huggins: My favorite ColecoVision title is Pepper II. Talk about a great translation of a very unknown (as was their M.O.) - Pepper II has it all: great sounds, nice graphics, perfect controls and perfect game play. It's one title I never got sick of.


Obviously, picking Donkey Kong as the pack-in cartridge was brilliant. It's arguable whether the game was done as well as it could have been done, but it was good enough and it played well. Just seeing it as it was on a regular television set with the theme song, graphics and sound effects was thrilling at the time.


Mello: There are many examples of very close ports. Games like Venture, Mouse Trap or even Turbo. Atarisoft also produced many first-rate ports like Galaxian and Defender. In fact I find it ironic that Coleco's biggest competitor was the one releasing the most polished games for the ColecoVision. All Atarisoft games were very well programmed and in some cases were using some very advanced techniques. I wish I had met the team that created them.


Some of my favorites like Zaxxon, Tapper and Mr Do! were not arcade perfect but were a lot of fun nevertheless.


What was the most damaging blow to Coleco and what could they have done differently to stay afloat during those down years in the video game industry?


Huggins: At the time of the crash there was an immediate shift towards home computers. You could program your own software, buy non-game software and also buy great looking games. It seemed the more versatile way to go.


Mello: The ADAM was their worst decision, but I understand why they were putting all their chips on it. The video game market was collapsing and the word was that video games were a fad and computers were the future. So they were doing what everybody else was doing, switching from video games to computers.


We know how the ADAM ended: being rushed to the market, full of bugs and other problems. But, even if they had missed their release window in Christmas 1983 and waited until 1984 to have a more stable product it probably would not have made a difference. By then 16-bit computers were all the rage and 8-bit computers started to fade away.


Another issue was software quality. Do you realize how amateurish game development was back in the early eighties? Companies were not applying the most basic rules of software engineering. A programmer leaving a company most of the time would spell the end of a product.


I believe that Coleco should have stayed in the video game market only, improved their overall quality (both hardware and software) and focus on designing unique products.


After the market crashed, Nintendo released the Entertainment System in 1985 which in effect revived the video game industry and has grown into the behemoth that we know of today. If Coleco was financially stable in the late 1980s [they declared bankruptcy in 1988] what challenge, if any, could it have presented to the NES?


Huggins: Games will always look better on the NES because of its color palette and better sprite hardware - it's just a more capable machine. However, the ColecoVision was not “pushed” until then and I think it could've evolved nicely had it been given the chance.


Mello: I believe the ColecoVision was a viable platform. Sure, it isn't as powerful as the NES as it lacks a few important features like hardware scroll. But, you can still produce some quality games for it and the hardware could be produced at a very competitive price.


A unique advantage of the ColecoVision was the expansion port which is unusually complete and flexible for a video game (or even computer) system. The ColecoVision expansion port basically exposes the whole system bus to the outside world allowing you to add more memory, peripherals and replace the video, sound and even central processors. Because of that, Coleco would have released a “ColecoVision II” between 1985 and 1987 yet still allow ColecoVision users to upgrade without the need of buying a new machine.


In Japan, two systems similar to the ColecoVision evolved into far more powerful machines during the eighties. The Sega SG-1000 used the same ColecoVision hardware with just a few differences in memory and I/O mapping. In 1985 Sega created the Master System which was basically an SG-1000 with an improved video processor. It was even backward compatible with the SG-1000. That is something Coleco could have done.


Then there’s the MSX - a standardized format for home computer. Also very similar to the ColecoVision, yet it evolved not one, not two, but three times - all backward compatible.


Additionally, in Japan Konami was a major player in the MSX software market. Had the ColecoVision stayed around, Konami would have ported most of their MSX games to the ColecoVision in the US and I am sure a few other Japanese companies could have done the same. In fact, three games that Konami created for the MSX were ported to the ColecoVision: Antarctic Adventure, Cabbage Patch Kids (Athletic Land in Japan) and Monkey Academy. More were planned like Video Billiards but cancelled because of the crash.


Why the significance of home brewing for classic consoles like the ColecoVision and what do you “get” out of it?


Huggins: Nostalgia is part of it. The feeling of late 1982 came back when I had a working version of Phoenix that I had been developing for the ColecoVision. I then wanted to port an obscure arcade title in the same traditional vein that Coleco had previously. Astro Invader is certainly not an arcade classic, but I thought it might translate well to the ColecoVision.


Mello: I believe that home brewing helps keep classic consoles like the ColecoVision alive. In the 1990s, people like me started to rediscover classic consoles and collect them. Fifteen years later, most of us had already completed their collections. I believe that eventually we would all get bored playing the same games for decades. Home brewing is here to fill that gap and to offer us something new to play from time to time.


It's very rewarding to be able to create or port a game for such limited machines. The sense of accomplishment is out of this world.


What motivated you, Scott Huggins, to port obscure titles like Astro Invader and Spectar?


Huggins: That’s one thing that I am attracted to regarding the ColecoVision. Space Panic, Pepper II, Cosmic Avenger, Looping, etc. aren’t exactly classic arcade titles. But, Coleco made them available on their console, which I thought was great. So, I wanted to try to continue that tradition.



 

 Is there any competition between each developer? For example, is it race to stake claim to writing a particular arcade port?


Mello: It is more a matter of who wants to do what. Once someone announces that they are porting a given game then that game is taken and we will look somewhere else. But I don’t think it’s really competition.


Huggins: When I was roughly fifty percent complete with Phoenix, Opcode expressed interest but they let me try to finish it. I told Eduardo I was abandoning that project but I don't think he wants to pick it up. I think all ColecoVision developers help each other out a lot - a very friendly group of guys.


Mello: I toyed with the idea of porting Phoenix and I actually even exchanged a few emails with Scott about that. But, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was stealing someone else's project.


What technical background is required in home brewing for the ColecoVision and what type of person home brews for the ColecoVision? How different is it to program for the ColecoVision versus the Atari 2600?


Mello: The ColecoVision is actually very easy to program for. Although it is less powerful, in many ways its architecture is similar to a more modern platform like the Super NES.


Huggins: It's totally different from the 2600. We have Video RAM which is really nice. All the cycle counting on the 2600 makes it very challenging to code for that machine. Those 2600 developers who have been doing it within the last five to six years are incredible.


Mello: The 2600 is very hard to program because the hardware is completely unusual: there is no real video processor therefore the CPU must create the whole video on the fly which is very complicated and requires precise timing in software.


I believe that what is required to program the ColecoVision is first of all a good understanding of the machine along with a good understanding of what you can and cannot do. A good starting point is to play as many games as you can, including games on similar platforms like the SG-1000 and MSX. That will give you a good sense of what can be done.


Then try to learn Z80 assembly. While you can program the ColecoVision using C language, Z80 assembly is the way to go if you want to extract the most out of the machine. It can be a hard and slow process in the beginning, but later on it will prove a very useful tool and will give your games a technical edge.


Huggins: To get into ColecoVision programming at an entry level, you should carefully and patiently read Daniel Bienvenu's C-Programming Tutorial document. You could then get going pretty quickly if you have a decent amount of C-Programming experience.


How do we keep alive classic console home brewing for the next generation of developers?


Huggins: I'm not sure but it seems to be flowing along well. I joined AtariAge.com in 1999 when it was called Atari 2600 Nexus. It's every bit as strong now as it was then.


Mello: I am about to be a father of a baby boy and of course I will introduce him to video games eventually. What I think I can do is to introduce him first to Atari and ColecoVision. This way I hope he develops at least some respect for those old consoles and games. I will also try to get him involved with classic gaming activities, like gatherings and such, so hopefully he feels like he is part of the whole thing. And of course in the future, if he expresses a desire for home brewing I will be there to support him.


How long does it take, on average, to reach completion on a given project? Which project was your easiest and which was your most challenging and what made that project challenging?


Huggins: Astro Invader was by far the easiest as it only took three months. Spectar was the most challenging in that it took roughly one year to complete. I find the sprite limitations on the ColecoVision to be very hindering. So, in the later levels on Spectar to get that many moving objects on screen at once without flicker was a challenge.


Mello: A game can take from a couple of months to many years. So far I have authored only arcade ports.


Porting an MSX game is fairly simple and quick, while porting an arcade game can take years. Pac-Man was ported from an arcade game and the hardware is quite different from the ColecoVision. That means I must convert all routines to simulate the arcade hardware. The MSX on the other hand is very similar to the ColecoVision hardware as it uses the same CPU and video processor.


Pac-Man Collection started in 2003 and was released in 2008. While I cannot say it took five years to complete because I was actually working on many different games during the same time, it surely took hundreds of hours of programming effort. So I would say it was the most challenging so far.


Strangely, Donkey Kong, a game that would be perceived as a bit more complex, has been progressing at a far better pace, perhaps because I am more experienced now.


The VideoGameCritic.net review on Sky Jaguar questioned "why bother on this old relic" calling it "bland" and "generic.” They then go on to state from a technical standpoint that it "scrolls in a jerky manner." How do you react to negative reviews and in retrospect do you say "yes, there is a way that I could have fixed the scrolling issue" or is it an instance where any possible solution had been exhausted?


Mello: Reviews are always a matter of personal taste. If a reviewer hates RPGs, no matter how good an RPG is that reviewer will always say it isn't good enough.


While this particular reviewer did not like Sky Jaguar, I have heard a number of people saying the opposite and that Sky Jaguar is the best shooter they have played on the ColecoVision. It is also fair to mention that Sky Jaguar isn't a game that I created as I only ported it from the MSX. The reason I ported it was because on the MSX it is the best shooter available that requires only 1KB of RAM which is the amount available on the ColecoVision.


From the technical point-of-view the problem with the scroll isn't related to the game but to the ColecoVision itself. The video doesn't offer a scroll smooth function, so we have two options: tile scroll, where the playfield is scrolled 8 pixels at a time or smooth scroll by software. Smooth scroll by software requires that you define the same tile four or eight times (1 or 2 pixels scroll) for each tile instance with an increased number of pixels shifted. The problem with that solution is that the number of tiles available is reduced by four or eight. The other problem is that the video has a color limitation where each character line can have only two colors and when you start to shift pixels that just gets worse.


So, games that use the software scroll solution get severely limited in terms of tile variety or color or both. That is why Sky Jaguar doesn't use it - it is a design decision and I honestly prefer it that way.

Eduardo, you wrote Pac-Man Collection which has been auctioned off on eBay for as high as $350. Do you see this as a form of flattery or is there resentment as to what may be perceived to be others profiting from your efforts?


Mello: I think it's more of the latter, unfortunately. What I believe is happening is that a lot of people outside the AtariAge.com circle do not know about the game and think they are getting a “one of a kind” deal when actually it is widely available. Sure, we have been slow to ship, but it's just a matter of waiting a few months at most.




What is the reason for Space Invaders Collection not being available at this time?


Mello: We ran out of manuals and boxes for the game. But we have plans for it, stay tuned.

 

Do you have any additional games planned for development or currently in progress?


Huggins: I am about 95 percent complete with an original game called Frantic which is best described as "Frenzy on steroids". Joe Kollar, who does the label and box artwork for my games, designed it while I did all the programming. When it is complete, I think it will be my best programming feat thus far as I pulled some stuff off that I didn't think I could.


Pixel-to-pixel collision detection is one thing I had to do. I needed to do that in order to let your player get out of the tight sports he can get in with robots, missiles and the cannon laser fire. You have to be dead accurate with your firing to destroy your intended target. In the past, if you were "close enough" (for example three or four pixels within target) you were awarded the kill or you were killed. Again, some of those levels have so much going on. Lots of sound, lasers, robots, missiles, and Heinous Hank (equivalent to Evil Otto in Berzerk) all going at once and the game does not slow one bit.


Also, I tried to really break the mold graphic-wise and not look so much like a computer game but more like an arcade game. The game just needs more polish and a couple bug fixes and it should be ready.


Mello: I have many games currently in development:


Donkey Kong Arcade is a port of the original Donkey Kong arcade game. The idea is to produce a more faithful version of the game than the one shipped with each ColecoVision. For example, this new version includes the conveyor belt stage, all the intermissions and a permanent high score table. Some would say that the ADAM version offered all of that too, but graphics in the new version are much more faithful and game play is as close to the arcade version as possible.


Arkanoid is a port of the Taito classic. All the small details found in the arcade version will be present, and some kind of analog controller will be offered so the experience is as arcade-like as possible.


Rally-X is a port of a Namco game and is in very early stages of development. The final game should offer fast and smooth scrolling.


Then I have many MSX ports in different stages of completion:


Knightmare is one of the best (if not the best) shoot-em-up for the MSX. It features fast action, smooth sprite animation, eight different stages, bosses and many different weapons and special powers to choose from. The ColecoVision version will include an easy mode (because the original game is so insanely hard) and permanent save of high scores and warp zones.


Goonies is a Konami game based on the classic Richard Donner movie. It offers five different stages with dozens of screens each. The ColecoVision version will replace the password system with saving points for easier access.


Yie Ar Kung Fu II - The Emperor Yie-Gah. This is the follow-up for the first YAKF featuring more fighters, more scenarios, better sound and graphics and more challenging game play.


Zanac is a version of the classic Compile shooter. This game was actually first released for the MSX in Japan, and then ported for the Famicom Disk System (which later was ported to cartridge for the US release). The game is very long and the final boss is one of the coolest ever.


There are more, like Gradius, but they are still in very early stages of development. All the games above will require the Opgrade Module, a small expansion module for the ColecoVision that will increase the memory of the system.


What exactly is the Opgrade module?


Mello: The OM is still under development so specs can change. What we have for sure is 24KB of additional main RAM, 128KB of Flash memory for the new BIOS and to save games and 128KB of RAM for the MegaRAM which is a device that simulates a bank-switch capable cartridge.


I have a number of games in development for the OM, including ports of Donkey Kong and Arkanoid, as well as many MSX ports, like Knightmare, Goonies, Yie Ar Kung-Fu II, Kings Valley, Zanac and more. The module should be available later this year or early next year with two games: a pack-in (Donkey Kong Arcade) and a standalone game which will probably be Knightmare. Developers will be able to use the OM if they want and will be welcome to do so.


How will the ColecoVision stock controller work with a paddle-based game like Arkanoid?


Mello: We are planning to offer two control options: one based on some kind of analog controller or perhaps an adaptor for Atari paddles and the other using the regular ColecoVision controllers. The problem with the regular controller is that you lose speed control, but we will try to offer some speed control thru the second action button. For example, press the button to go faster, release it to go slower. Not perfect but better than nothing for those who don't have an Atari paddle. The spinner on Super Action Controllers and track-balls won't be supported since they are too CPU intensive.


Which of these arcade titles would you or would you not consider porting to the ColecoVision and why: Satan’s Hollow, Galaga, Turtles, Moon Cresta / Eagle, Tazz-Mania, Make Trax and Magical Spot II.


Mello: Never heard of Magical Spot II. What is that - a porn game?


Huggins: Satan’s Hollow is very doable and would translate very well to the ColecoVision. However, Galaga would be very challenging to pull off.


Mello: Moon Cresta is kind of a classic of the shooting genre. Not high in my list but still a possibility.


Huggins: I seriously considered Moon Cresta at one time but instead I opted for Spectar for the vaporware aspect. Spectar was shown as an upcoming game in 1982 but never saw the light of day.


Mello: Turtles I played a lot on the Odyssey 2 and is also a possibility. Galaga is a no-brainer although I have been trying to figure out the best way to port it.


For more information on purchasing these home brew releases, visit www.AtariAge.com and www.opcodegames.com.


 


 

Game Over: 30 Years After Pac-Man Fever, Arcades Struggle to Stay Alive

Posted by Rob Maerz on December 10, 2014 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (1)

Game Over: 30 Years After Pac-Man Fever, Arcades Struggle to Stay Alive

Originally published in Classic Video Gamer magazine


 

I was fortunate to grow up in the arcades during the classic gaming boom. Those old black and white games like Tank, Pong and Speed Race could be played on cabinets found in bowling alleys and department stores. To play Space Invaders and Death Race in a packed arcade on a Friday night or Pong and Space Fury in the back of a Two Guys department store was nothing short of awesome. Arcade cabinets were everywhere and it was, in fact, history in its infancy.


My local bowling alley started out with a few games in an area against the wall across from the lanes - Robot Bowl and Breakout amongst some pinball machines. After renovations, they moved their games into a dedicated game room where you could play classics like Asteroids, Tron, Jungle Hunt and Sea Wolf. They featured about ten arcade cabinets, two pinball machines and three pool tables in a smoke-filled room where folks would think nothing of resting their cigarette down onto a burn-hole infested control panel while firing away at Asteroids.


In 1981, there was no comparison between arcade and home console graphics. Gamers regarded the home consoles as a “better than nothing” alternative to the arcade. There were many nights where I closed the arcade and the first thing I did when I got home was pop Space Invaders in my Atari 2600. Later on, home console games were becoming (literally) a dime a dozen and a lot of them of poor quality.


This was Coleco's M.O.: bring the arcade experience into the home, which they did in 1982 with the release of the ColecoVision and its pack-in game, Donkey Kong. No other console at that time had anything close to arcade quality audio and video - barring games like Video Olympics (Atari’s port of Pong) and Breakout which were not graphic intensive.


Some will argue, however, how “arcade imperfect” ColecoVision’s port of Donkey Kong is, with missing intermissions, levels etc. But the fact is at the time of its release, the majority of gamers found these shortcomings to be forgiving amidst the awe of finally having graphics of this quality in their own home.


In 1980 Atari released its port of the video game craze catalyst, Space Invaders, for the 2600. It was not even close to arcade perfect, but still an excellent title that was reason alone to buy a 2600 console. Both the arcade and home console releases of Space Invaders were a huge turning point in video game history.


The video game phenomenon picked up steam with the 1979 releases of Asteroids and Galaxian. But it was the 1980 release of Pac-Man that stirred the video game industry into a frenzy and packed the arcades. To a ten year old, video games were larger than life itself.


In retrospect, 1981 was the most prolific year for arcade releases with Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Gorf and Satan's Hollow, to name a few headliners. The games were unique and imaginatively rich. Even the titles that may have been considered Pac-Man clones, like Lady Bug, were original enough in their own right.


Look at the artwork for the arcade cabinet Tron, for example. The Tron experience is what we have lost in the evolution of gaming. You will never be able to duplicate the controls, the audio or visuals of this Bally Midway classic if ported to a home console or even on a desktop computer running MAME. Tron was only one work of art in the arcade exhibit.


It’s a typical Friday night in 1982. From the top step of the escalator in the JC Penney wing of the Park City Mall in Lancaster, PA you see the indoor roller rink straight ahead. As you descend, the sounds of space battles, pinball machines, air hockey and billiards increase in volume from the left as you near the end of the ride.


Exiting in a dash from the escalator, you stand in front of the arcade’s left entrance and take in the scene. The arcade is laid out in a horseshoe with two large entrances at either point. Asyou walk through the left entrance, you pass three billiard andtwo air hockey tables on your left and a row of ten pinballmachines to your right. Making a right hand turn at The Safe, you stop at the arcade operator’s station to your left, which is located dead center of the horseshoe. Wearing a bright yellow polo shirt and donning a change pouch, he exchanges your dollar bill for four quarters.


After waiting for an eternity at the operator’s station, you walk past the next row of pinball machines on your right and the cockpit games Monaco GP and Star Wars in the middle aisle. You proceed towards the cabinet located against the opposite wall sandwiched between Sea Wolf and Carnival. With one hand on the steering wheel and one foot on the gas pedal, your objective is to run over as many people as possible in that game your parents love to hate: Death Race by Exidy.


Looking for the next fix you notice a crowd gathering around Pac-Man only a few cabinets away. As you stand on your toes to catch a glance, you notice seven quarters lying side-by-side on the monitor glass just above the control panel. But with the run Player 1 is on right now, you know that you will not be playing this game any time soon.


Pushing your way through the meandering throng of thrill seekers, you make your way to the cabinet at the end of the row located at the mouth of the arcade’s right hand entrance. The glowing cabinet marquee reads Eagle. Another machine is fed 25 cents.


A few minutes later, your battle against the bird-like aliens comes to a close. Quickly, you snake your way to the opposite corner of the arcade to play on one of three Galaga cabinets. After a perfect score on the Challenging Stage of level 3, you step back from the cabinet, exhale and take a good look around the room.


The place is packed with young and old. Crowds gather around the Frogger and Donkey Kong cabinets. The sounds of Space Invaders’ missile fire, ghosts gobbled up in Ms. Pac-Man and the thunderous sound of exploding rocks in Asteroids resonate through the arcade lit only by pinball machines, monitors and marquee’s glow.


Ruining the moment is Dad who sneaks up behind you and tells you that it’s time to go. You plea for more time as you still have two ships left but there is no bargaining at this point. You ask the stranger that assumed the visitor’s position at your Galaga cabinet to take over.


A fifteen minute drive through the suburb in the back of a maroon, four-door ’72 Chevy Nova is only like halftime in your gaming extravaganza. As soon as you reach the home base, you dart down the steps into the rec room and fire up Space Invaders on the 2600 for a night cap.


Flash forward to 2009 – almost thirty years after “Pac-Man Fever.” Those images of the arcade in 1982 are now ancient history.


Long gone are the crowds. The days where profit could be turned by simply plugging in an arcade cabinet to a nearby electrical outlet are just a distant memory.


The simple, yet challenging games played within the arcade walls are out in favor of the cinematic graphics and sophisticated controls found in modern home video games.


Arcades that have held the same street address for decades are closing their doors forever.


Joe LeVan, a former college professor, is the owner of the Challenge Arcade at the Berkshire Mall in Reading, PA. A passionate gamer, LeVan has been in the family run business for over seven years. In addition to the mall arcade, LeVan has a smaller location at the Reading Airport, where he really enjoys the staff and providing games for the pilots and guests that frequent it.



Last May, my son and I visited the arcade after attending the Too Many Games Expo in Leesport. There was a fantastic mix of current and classic titles, although we opted for the latter playing Donkey Kong, Mr. Do!, Pac-Man Plus, Ms. Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros. and Pole Position. I marveled at how the arcade was “done right” – the décor, the layout of the cabinets and the game selection. I was shocked to read that the Challenge Arcade was prepared to close its doors for good only two months later.


Two months prior to the Challenge Arcade visit, I made the 90 minute trek from the Pennsylvania state capital to Southampton, PA, home of Todd N. Tuckey’s TNT Amusements, Inc., to purchase my first arcade cabinet. What I found in his warehouse was a classic arcade paradise: Tron, Pac-Man, Tempest, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Galaxian and the cabinet I purchased, Satan’s Hollow to name only a few.


The customer service at TNT Amusements was fabulous. Great care was taken loading Satan’s Hollow in the van and I was invited to stay in the showroom for a while to play the cabinets which were all on free play. The Arkanoid cabinet in the showroom was a museum piece. Everything about the game – controls, audio and video were in pristine condition.


TNT Amusements boasts the largest used game showroom in the world, reselling pinball machines, Skeeball, air hockey, jukeboxes, shuffle alley and of course, video games. Additionally, the showroom can be rented for parties - all the games are set on free play and the kids can venture through the maze constructed of cutouts in the walls.


Todd has been in the business for thirty years. The commercial arcade sales and services which were so prevalent in 1979 now only account for a minority of his business in 2009.


I met with Todd Tuckey and Joe LeVan to discuss the boom, the bust and the challenges currently facing arcade owners.


############################################################################


When you look at the arcade titles released for a given year, which year do you think was the most prolific for new releases of the Golden Age?


LeVan: I think 1980 would have to be the most significant year in the classic video game boom. Groundbreaking games like Pac-Man, Defender, Centipede and Missile Command paved the way for many great titles to come in the early 1980s.


Tuckey: Probably 1980 to ’81 with games like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position, Frogger, Defender, Centipede, Tron, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Jungle King and Crazy Climber.


 

Which game of the classic era do you feel was the most groundbreaking?


LeVan: This question could be argued in a number of different ways. One could argue that Computer Space, Pong, or even Space Invaders paved the way for the classic era of video gaming.


Tuckey: Space Invaders - I really think it got everyone hooked, although mostly men. The Invaders were orderly in their descent and anyone could develop their own techniques for killing them off. Pac-Man was the game that hooked both men and women equally.


LeVan: I would have to say Pac-Man was the most ground breaking due to its overwhelming popularity in sparking interest towards the arcades at the beginning of the Golden Age of video gaming.


 

Are there any titles of that era that come to mind that you feel are underrated or considered “hidden gems?”


LeVan: I think several classic sequels were underrated for their quality of game play. Games like Q*bert's Qubes, Donkey Kong 3 and Discs of Tron.


Tuckey: Sega's Astro Blaster comes to mind. This was the first game that featured "secret bonus features" and even numbered them so you could attempt to find them all. For instance, if you dodged all the meteorites moving left and right without firing at them, that was one secret bonus. If you were able to hit all the enemies that flew from one side to the left without any of them making the other side, another bonus was awarded. Great voice and sound effects too.


 

What are some recollections you have of an arcade on a Friday night in 1981?


LeVan: I remember going to the arcade back in 1981 to a huge and very full arcade in a local mall. It seemed like back-in-the-day people were more focused on their public gaming experience than today.


Tuckey: Dark hallways just the glow from the marquees, two to four people crowded around each and every game, lots of mixed sounds and rows of quarters lined up on each game.


LeVan: As a young teen I was rarely bothered by the older kids and businessmen that frequented the arcades of that time. The only time I had problems is when I tried to shove my way in to play a new release at the arcade. I was often shoved to the back of the line because I was quite often the youngest and the last to play the new titles.


I also have fond memories of the difficulty of most of the classic games. They were very frustrating for an adult let alone a young kid. Thankfully, I came from a generation that was willing to learn the strategies of the game and hang in until our skills improved at many arcade games.


 

What cannot be duplicated with Compact Disc or digital download is the charm of the album artwork found with the 12-inch vinyl record. The same can be said when comparing the home console to the arcade cabinet. What is your favorite arcade cabinet in regard to the design, lighting and artwork?


LeVan: This question is easy for me. My favorite game – Discs of Tron. This game provides an experience you will never be able to duplicate with MAME or by other means. You have to play the original to get the full experience of the controls, lighting and sound.


 

What experience does the arcade offer that a home console cannot?


Tuckey: Full sized controls and being close to the screen.


LeVan: There are many things that the arcade experience can offer that the home console cannot. Original, commercial grade arcade controls and showing them off in front of the general public are still some of the best reasons to come to an arcade. There are several games that cannot either be played or properly experienced in the home setting.

 

Todd, tell us why you won’t sell The Safe?


Tuckey: Sadly, The Safe is sold. I was offered $1000 for it and out it went. I originally had it because I made a hole in the wall below it and the kids could crawl under during parties here. I now turned a pinball machine sideways so the hole is still used.

 


When and what were the first indicatorsthat the business of video gaming wasgoing to be huge?


LeVan: The first indicator to me was the long lines of people that were gathering at the arcades to play the new releases back in the early 1980s. I had no doubt that video gaming was here to stay at that point.

 

Tuckey: Perhaps when arcade games started springing up anywhere there was an electric outlet. Games were placed in roadside stands, any spare space in stores or restaurants and even in the waiting area for pickup of packages at Sears - all in 1979-1981. Crappy, little stores would somehow squeeze in at least one game to try to make their cut of the quarters.


 

 

Nolan Bushnell envisioned the arcade as a complement to selling a product which he realized with Chuck E Cheese pizza restaurant. During the boom, were the games good enough that they themselves could act as the sole source of arcade income? Was it as simple as finding a location and having the capital to fill the space with the most lucrative arcade titles?


Tuckey: In the right places, yes you could survive just as a neighborhood arcade. However, all the arcades I tried to operate all failed because you get the same local kids all the time. They started to get bored quickly with the games.


LeVan: I think this was the case at the time. Rent and mortgages were cheaper as was living expenses and overhead. Games were making more money so it makes sense that, at the time, you could do more with the income. I have often heard of operators having problems with the coin boxes being so full that the games would not credit up (ala Nolan Bushnell’s Pong) – a nice problem to have.


Tuckey: I remember putting the new laser disc, Mach 3, in an arcade we had in North Philadelphia. The first week it grossed $200, second week $100 and then less than $75 per week afterward. "When is the next game coming?"


You did not get any new kids to the arcade as they did not go outside of their neighborhoods. The only place an arcade could get new, fresh people was in a mall or on the boardwalk. We must have tried twenty arcades in all different places - even one in Wildwood, but not on the boardwalk - all were disasters. The Chuck E Cheese and Dave and Busters idea of mixing food with games has proven to be the only reliable way to keep such an arcade open.


 

What is the best location for an arcade?


LeVan: The only spot that I feel is a good location for an arcade today is a vacation destination. You might have a small chance of catching people away from their full sized consoles.


Tuckey: The only viable locations for arcades are the boardwalk and the mall to attract as many different people as possible. Other locations would be “Artsy Fartsy” towns where a specialty arcade or museum would have a fighting chance.


 

What were some of the obstacles faced and overcome in starting up an arcade business and what are some of the challenges you may have faced in day to day operations?


Tuckey: Regular arcades are losers - here's what's against you:


Basically, no local towns want an arcade - they always felt they are a den of kids hell bent on selling drugs.


License fees per machine are ridiculous - just try to get an arcade license! Try to get a center that would rent a store to you to open an arcade! Only in a rotten part of town, maybe.


Attracting a changing crowd every week is imperative - locals will not support it. They will get tired of whatever game you have within a few weeks and stop coming.


The rotten, lousy quarter - it was a quarter in 1979 and still is. A Coke at the arcade was a quarter in 1979 and now its $1.50, so why is the game still a rotten quarter?


If someone is good at a game, they will play it for an hour on a quarter. You lose money on that person.


LeVan: In today's world almost everything in the business is an obstacle. You, as an arcade operator, have to face a public with little respect for your equipment, very little patience and/or concentration and little interest in playing coin-operated games due to the power of today's consoles. These reasons alone cause problems with day to day operations. This along with the general headaches of running a business and the growing difficulty in finding parts for games manufactured as late as the 1990s can make for some frustrating days.


Tuckey: Regular arcades are finished - they are closing everywhere. Specialty arcades are the only way to go.


I have seen some mini arcades in video stores - a line of pinball machines for instance, all in nice shape. These machines are usually owned by a collector and pinball enthusiasts come in to play them. The collector is there probably every other night wiping them down, changing bulbs and making endless adjustments as he is reveling in the fact that the pinball players are complementing on how nice the games play and are maintained. But, those players are putting 50 cents in a game and popping many free games. The collector is in fact making $200 a week gross for ten games, splitting it with the owner of the store and spending hours fiddling with them! There is just no way someone can make a profit this way.

 


Because the home console hardware just simply could not compete with their arcade brethren, there are many that feel that the home console merely augmented the arcade experience. How then could the lackluster quality of home console games, like the often cited E.T., possibly take down the arcade sector while innovative laser disc games like Dragon’s Lair were just coming to market?


LeVan: In this era of gaming, I don't think that consoles could have taken down the arcade titles of the time. The home gaming technology just didn't measure up.


Tuckey: By playing the inferior game at home, the kids were getting their game fix and settling for less quality, but they didn’t have to beg for quarters. Parents were cracking down on the money spent on the games.

 


In retrospect, were there any early warning signs that you recognized indicating that the video game bubble had burst?


Tuckey: Too many games - oversaturation, plain and simple.


LeVan: Yes, very obvious signs. For the inverse of the reason I mentioned as a sign for the classicvideo game boom. I noticed somewhere starting in the late 80's early to early 90's that people were not coming to the arcades like they were in the early 1980s. I didn't have as much trouble playing the new releases. I thought games like Mortal Kombat were going to revive the industry. For a time they did - but it turned out to be short lived in the overall timeline of video gaming.


Tuckey: The games would be strong for two weeks and then die - and fast. Super Pac-Man was supposed to be huge and it was terrible. The first week it made $75, while Ms Pac-Man was still making $100.

 


In the bustling Mid-Atlantic beach resort of Ocean City, Maryland, out of the two largest boardwalk arcades there was only one classic arcade game present and that was the “Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Class of ’81” cabinet. The most classic cabinets I could find in any one location was four (Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug and Track and Field) at the Arcade Family Fun Center on 136th street. After notifying the operator that I wore out the fire button on Galaga, I brought up the fact that his arcade (about 1/10th the size of the boardwalk arcades) had more classics than the two largest in the city. His response was “I have ten classic arcade cabinets sitting in storage but nobody plays those games anymore.”


I found many still operational at the Hersheypark arcade [Q*bert's Qubes, Galaga, Pole Position (two cabinets and one cockpit), The Safe, Berzerk, Millipede, Monaco GP and Operation Wolf]. But many games like Dig Dug, Mr. Do!, Joust, both Ms. Pac-Man cabinets and two of my favorite pinball machines, Comet and Cyclone, were all out of service.


On September 2nd, The Coliseum Entertainment Megaplex in Camp Hill, PA was acquired by its main creditor, Members 1st Federal Credit Union, at a sheriff’s sale for $1.


Are there any surprises with these findings?


LeVan: As an operator currently that’s no surprise at all.


Tuckey: No and here's why:


When I do trade shows I will set the classic games on 25 cents to play. Tempest, Stargate and Pac-Man - people will sometimes be thrilled to find one. "I used to play this all the time." They would plunk in a quarter, play and then when the game was over they were done. One game is all they wanted to play - one lousy quarter and they were happy. You cannot open an arcade and get a few quarters per person and expect to operate.


 

What are some strategies an arcade can deploy to stay in business?


LeVan: I think the best strategy is to have a variety of games from many different eras of gaming.


Tuckey: Specialty angle is the only way to go - a museum for instance. A flat charge to enter -say $10 and everything is free. Most people will get their fill after one hour and leave. At 25 cents a game and an average game at two minutes, you would only make $7.50 or much less if they played continuously. In a resort town or in a quirky village or street, you may pull it off. I always thought of opening my own museum with my cabarets and minis.


LeVan: Also, I would recommend supplementing operating games with another business such as snacks, food or selling other products. It is very difficult to exist today on operating games alone.

 


I read an article where a Toronto arcade owner stated that years ago they were able to, in a sense, secure profits as video games were exclusive to the arcade for some time before being ported to the home console. If today, a video game developer would either write titles exclusively for the arcade or delay porting titles to the home, would this help arcade owners?


LeVan: This is the key to saving arcades. Arcades need exclusive titles to survive in today's world – period.


 

When adjusted for inflation, is it cheaper to manufacture a video game in 2009 versus 1979?


Tuckey: Absolutely - a new game in 1979-1980 was $2000 to $3000. It was just a wooden box, monitor, power supply and game board. Nowadays, it’s a wooden box, a monitor, and a $400 Dell computer. The cabinet may have some extra flourishes, but charging $3500 and more is insane.


LeVan: This is a sore subject with me. Yes, but there is a problem.


While inflation has run its course over the years, businesses have adjusted their prices while the amusement and gaming industry has had a tough time with this concept. What other business can you think of that has not adjusted its prices consistent with the rate of inflation since 1980? It is not uncommon for an operator to pay $15,000 to $20,000 for a single video game today. New games are difficult to purchase under $5000 today.


If the manufacturers continue to raise prices with the combination of people complaining about increased prices and playing the games less, the future is grim for arcades.

 

In a conversation I had with Todd Tuckey earlier this year, he stated that “a quarter is what it was thirty years ago – a lousy quarter” and “arcades are not going to be profitable unless the owner owns the building.” Maybe I’m in a minority but I still feel that 25 cents is the fair pay-to-play price for an arcade game and seldom will I pay more than 50 cents per play. With all that has been discussed, how can the arcade business model of 1979 possibly make any sense in year 2009? Furthermore, what would drive anyone to venture into an arcade business today?


Tuckey: What drives them in? Insanity!


LeVan: I agree with Todd as far as the idea of owning your own building. Rent and overhead will drive you out of business with an arcade in today's world. But, a quarter is worth much less than it was in 1980. By having the mindset of not wanting to spend more than 50 cents on a video game, you will contribute to the eventual downfall of the arcades for the reasons stated in the question about manufacturing.


Tuckey: Every week, someone calls me up and knows where there is an empty store and wants me to fill it with games and we will "split" the money. Wow! A game grossing $20 a week nowadays would be amazing. So, thirty games each grossing $20 brings in a big $600 and I will get $300. And then my service guy will be there three hours every week, regardless of how little money it made, unclogging coin mechs from paper wrappers and sticks, changing a monitor chassis, replacing a ripped off joystick and etc.


Then the owner would demand different games because "the kids say they played x game down the street or at the shore and they said that it was a great game" and "the kids say these aren’t good games - that's why we aren't making any money etc. I heard those lines for thirty years now!


LeVan: With inflation, 50 cents was a reasonable price to pay to play a game in the late 1980s. Namco was charging $1.00 per play for some of its games in the early ‘90s. It is like going into a retail store and saying “I am not going to pay $20.00 for that shirt because I didn't pay $20.00 for a shirt in 1980” - and still expect the store to give it to you for less just because you don't like the price. I went into the business because I have a passion for gaming. If someone wants to get rich, they need look elsewhere for business opportunities.


Tuckey: Remember, I got in this business in 1979. I have operated longer than most people that are still out there. When I got in this business, the Yellow Pages had three pages of vendors with four columns per page. Three years ago, we had barely half of one column! Nowadays, of course, the Yellow Pages are history. But, we still get calls from folks who "want to open an arcade".


Another blow to the arcade industry is that, in fact, there are maybe a handful of new games made just for the arcade each year. I am not counting the endless ticket redemption games where you put a token or quarter in, the game play is 20 seconds at best and you play to win tickets to redeem at a counter.


Even pinball machines are limited to, at best, two new titles a year of which there are 3000 of each made. At its height, there were five pinball manufacturers in 1980 making six to twelve different games each year and making 2000 to 20,000 of each!


The biggest game this year was Guitar Hero which featured the exact same music as the home version. The manufacturers have abandoned the arcades for good - it’s more profitable to design games for the home when you can sell ten million copies. A best seller in the arcade industry nowadays is 2000 units while Pac-Man sold 100,000 units for the arcade.


New games are not selling because there are fewer places each month to put them since more vendors close up or merge. A local ice skating rink near us had their vendor pull out because he wasn't making money and he had trouble finding anyone to put games in. Three games would, at best, gross $90 a week. Split that 50/50 and what's left?

 


If I go charge up a swipe card I wouldn't think twice of putting $25 on it to start off with. Points seem to blur the actual cost per play and when I see e.g. "4.5 points per play" I don't bother to compute the cash value. Do you think card readers are a viable solution to assure that the arcade owner gets their fair share and can they be retrofitted into the classic cabinets? Is calling a quarter a "fair price" to pay per play more to do with what we were "trained to do" in 1979 versus rationalizing that a quarter is obviously worth less in 2009?


LeVan: You bring up a good point about the people that were part of the arcade boom being "trained" to put a quarter in an arcade game. I think most people expect to put a quarter in an arcade game. It relates to putting hard currency in a machine versus charging up a card in a reader. That is a good way for operators to make money.


The problem with the transition to card readers is that you have to convert every machine in the arcade to that technology. This is expensive for any arcade and can affect the resale value of the machine depending on how the reader is installed.


 

You mentioned lower machine costs and the prices you mentioned are mind-boggling. Have you calculated how long it takes to break even on a $15,000 machine? How do the manufacturers justify these costs and is there anything that they can do to reduce these costs?


LeVan: Most people don't realize how much a new arcade game costs. I think if they did, they would complain less about the price to play them.


Yes, we have calculated how long it would take to earn $15,000. As an example, you would be looking at 30 weeks at $1.00 a play at 500 plays per week. There are several issues with this math.


First, you have to assume that your location will support 500 plays per week on the game you buy. Second, keep in mind that you are just paying for the game. In theory, that machine is not paying the bills and overhead until it is paid off. Third, and probably most important, unless you move the machine around to other locations, you have to expect a decline in earnings over time with any arcade game.


So instead of 30 weeks, you are most likely to be looking at more than a couple of years to pay a $15,000 piece off. What many operators are doing today is selling a new piece off after only a few months of operation. This makes much more sense financially.


I really don't know how manufacturers justify these high costs. Many arcade games today are PC-based and often employ Linux or slimmed-down versions of Windows as their operating systems. One would think this would greatly reduce the cost of games. I have spoken with at least one distributor that has been after some of the arcade game manufacturers to lower prices. I guess time will tell if the manufacturers get the hint.


 

Joe, you were prepared to close the doors of Challenge Arcade on July 31 but Stride Gum stepped in with a $10,000 cash infusion. Did Stride Gum indicate why they have such an interest in saving the arcades?


LeVan: The last few years have been a rough financial period for many businesses and we have been no exception. August 2009 was the end of our very long five year contract with the Berkshire Mall. We were planning on closing the arcade due to financial struggles and other personal issues.


Around July, we were on the verge of entering Stride's Save the Arcades contest which we had been preparing for over a month. Stride knew of our financial struggles and stepped up to the plate with $10,000 in exchange for using our arcade as a media location for their event. People at Stride are serious about gaming and are huge fans of arcades. They are obviously serious about saving the arcades.


 

What is trendy or “hip” in arcade gaming today?


LeVan: I would have to say that the dancing and music games are popular in the arcade setting today as well as in the home. I think some of the dancing games that were released in the 90's are more popular today than when they were new.


Tuckey: Food and liquor seems to sell at Dave and Busters. The card swiping also makes for more convenience, although, you are spending a lot more than you normally would if you were putting quarters in. It’s not hip to carry around pockets of quarters and try to impress a new girlfriend.

 


What is the significance of restoring and reselling arcade cabinets or running an arcade that mixes a hefty amount of classics with the latest titles? In other words, why do you do what you do?


LeVan: The reason I "do what I do" essentially is two-fold. First it involves being part of a business that I have intense fond memories of as a youngster. The other part of the equation is being able to pass along a small piece of the arcade atmosphere that I experienced when I was young. I can't bring back the 80s for people but if I can put smiles on people's faces, I have done a successful job in the amusement/entertainment business.


Tuckey: I got into the vending business in 1979 and started exclusive home sales in 1984. I have been doing this longer than anyone else in the USA with over 14,500 machines sold mostly into the home market. It was all business for me.


However, when I started a family, I decided to have a large game room at my home. My wife let me convert the two car detached garage into just a game room. I filled it with games but then discovered I could fit more in if I put in mini or cabaret size games - thus started my collecting of the dedicated small versions of their full size counterparts.


So, my collecting started in 1996 and continues to this day. Now I have more dedicated cabaret or mini arcade video games than anyone in the world and many are one of a kind. I have set up over 40 in my game room at home for my kids and friends to play. And I am going to will these machines to any museum that will display and keep the collection complete. So, you see that I have become a collector also.


 

You are the expert on the front lines. What changes are necessary for an arcade business to succeed?


LeVan: In order for the arcade business to thrive several things will have to fall into place. The cost of the arcade equipment will have to be reduced. Game pricing will have to be on par with inflation and cover the arcade owner's costs while still being reasonable enough for people to pay per play.


One of the biggest things that need to happen is that arcades need exclusive releases to get people back to the arcades. Manufacturers need to keep pace with technology. Joysticks and steering wheels have been around since well before the arcade boom. Manufacturers need to be progressive and creative for the games to earn - thus selling more games. Motion sensing, body feedback, and holographic/full immersion technology needs to be pursued to get console gamers to the arcades.


############################################################################

I purchased a new house a little over a year ago that finally provided the space I needed to restore arcade cabinets. It wasn’t difficult to decide - if I can’t play the classics in a local arcade then I will bring the classic arcade to my own home.


For me it is about nostalgia and preserving a piece of that historic era of video gaming. It is something that my 5 and 7 year olds can experience for themselves in my best attempt to recreate that environment augmented by the "Retrocade" parties that I host several times a year.


The key point is that it was always more than just about the games themselves. Arcades were social havens, rendezvous points and arenas of competition. The arcade gaming experience is something that cannot be duplicated on an Xbox or Wii - all for that "lousy, rotten quarter" for a few minutes at a time.


Dating as far back as Pong, there has always been the desire to have arcade quality gaming in the home. Ironically, the demise of the arcade is in part a result of the gamers’ endless desire to bring that arcade experience home.

 


 


 

 


 


 


Five Questions With CollectorVision Founder Jean-Francois Dupuis

Posted by Rob Maerz on December 2, 2014 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Five Questions With CollectorVision Founder Jean-Francois Dupuis

Originally published in Retrocade Magazine Volume 1 Issue 1


Why port Mario Bros. to the ColecoVision?

Dupuis: At first, Opcode was supposed to make it. But in 2008, Eduardo Mello announced that he was quitting the homebrew scene (which he didn’t do). So, I decided to make Mario Bros. because I did want to see this title on the ColecoVision since the 80s.


What were some of the challenges faced in developing and porting this title to the ColecoVision?

Dupuis: Flickering! That was the biggest challenge. We did our own flicker engine to manage all those sprites on the screen. At first we were supposed to use a 32K board but the game could simply not fit in 32K so we ended up using the MegaCart. A prototype of the 32K version exists. We took almost two full years to make Mario Bros. That is our biggest involvement in the homebrew scene.


How does the CollectorVision release stack up against other console ports of Mario Bros.?

Dupuis: We have all the intros which are missing in most if not all console ports. I also think that our version is much closer to the arcade version than any other ports.


I read that you have some type of cartridge that is being released that includes the Mario Bros. ROM?

Dupuis: Mario Bros is distributed free with the Atarimax SD Cart. But, we also have developed a multi-cart PCB which we'll soon use for some projects.


Will there be another production run of Mario Bros?

Dupuis: We'll have another batch soon and with a lower price. I'm just too much busy right now with new and upcoming releases. But, rest assured Mario Bros. will be back in stock soon.



Rss_feed