The 1984 Arcade
August 15th, 2010 by Ice Cream Jonsey

(For another look at the weekend trip to the 1984 Arcade, please visit Rob “Flack” O’Hara’s blog post on it here.)

It was a trip that wasn’t supposed to work.

One of the Bruces had wanted a bunch of us from Jolt Country to go the 1984 Arcade for a little while. This thread was started by Flack, and in that thread, we were talking about going to the 1984 Arcade, but at first I thought it was a different arcade (in Nashville) and then Flack also mentioned an arcade that burned to the ground in a wholly seperate thread. I had no idea where I was going. I was just leading my normal, everyday life and throwing quarters at anything made of wood, hoping I was “doing it right.” There are, what, fewer than six real arcades in the American mid-west, and I managed to confuse them all? It all came together for me when I bought my ticket for St. Louis, although it was disappointing that when I bought my airplane ticket, I then had a good idea of how the trip was going to go. An unknown was slain. I much, much prefer the policy of PAX to not fucking tell anyone who’s going to be speaking on what days three weeks before that venture.

So with a heavy heart I arrived in St. Louis.

Bruce has his beard back, so if you play the IntroComp version of Cryptozookeeper and get into the second room, you’ll see a pretty good likeness. Of the beard. I added 300 pounds to him in the game, so don’t take anything from that. I was also able to say hello to his dog Golem, who plays the part of “Puzzle” in Crypto – and of course, I took a downright uncomfortable number of photos of Golem, because he is the best boy ever, and possibly the most chill and laid-back doggie I have ever met in my life.

We loaded up the van with One of the Bruces, his wife Amy and then Tracy Jo, Martin and Rupert. Flack and Jeff were leaving that day from Oklahoma. On the way down, we played along to the text adventure Bruce is working on, Stiffy Makane in Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosi. I was given gummi bears by my girlfriend for the trip, and those lasted about five minutes during the ride to Springfield. It was a gummiocaust. There’s gonna be a candlelight vigil down at the park where people cry into each other’s shoulders, trying to make sense of what happened.

My party parked and walked a block over to the arcade. A goateed dude in a black truck rolled down his window and shouted something at us, which Martin took as a random guy identifying us as arcade players and basically shouting, “NERDS!!!” But it was Flack and Jeff – all of us were at the arcade within a minute of each other. Flack had, earlier, written the following in an e-mail:

“I will be parked as close as possible to the front door in a big black Chevy Avalanche[.]”

And this was true, he parked as close as humanly possible to the 1984 Arcade.

The arcade’s fantastic – I didn’t really run into any of the control panel issues that Flack and others had, although this is probably because I played a lot of games where I had no idea what was going on in the first place. I actually use an extremely light touch on my Gyruss at home, so I thought the fire button wasn’t too bad. (It’s completely indefensible that I play games I own at remote arcades, but – wait. Wait! Stay with me for a sec. Bear with me for a sec, then: if you only play the games you don’t own, then you inevitably suck at all of them. If you DO play the games you own, you get to be a big shot and set the daily high score on one, and… and – well, this defense sounded better in my head.)

The 1984 arcade had a nice Nintendo row with Donkey Kong, DK Jr. and Popeye. I can’t say enough about how fun the atmosphere is – there’s a TV played 80s music videos, with the music piped into the speaker system, a pinball row (the only things that took quarters – a $5 fee covers everything else) and a few hilarious touches, like framed and signed photos of some arcade characters. The entire place is air-conditioned nicely although one of the reasons the place was so cold was due to the sheer amount I was sucking at Mappy and Robotron. I should have been a little better at those two. I drew some conclusions on a few of the other games, although my note taking wasn’t much more than going into the “Notes” app on my 3G iPhone, waiting two minutes for it to load, and then giving up and shutting the thing down with the button, accidentally hitting it twice, and bringing up the godforsaken, motherfucking global search function. So a few of my notes may be “tained” by what an unusable piece of shit the 3.x iPhone operating system is.

Defender: I’ve got jrok’s circuit board. The Williams Multi-System board gives you most of the games from that publisher, and the only thing he’s really emulating is sound. The games on this board are arcade-perfect because he’s using the chips they used originally. However, there’s a problem for me, personally, because the board is on my JAMMA cab – it was a converted fighting game of some form, and there’s two joystick and six buttons per player.

This is not perfect for Defender.

I can figure it out… I can play it… it works just fine. But God, the control scheme on Defender itself was designed for Defender and Defender only, and trying to play Defender in any other configuration sucks. The design… the artistry… the cheese…. the sauce…

I knew that it makes it a completely different game, and I knew (having played it before) that the scheme is soooo perfect… but it was nice to play it again and refresh my memory.

Karate Champ: This I’d never played before! Not even in MAME! Flack actually owns it, and he waved me over at one point to give it a shot. The Player One joystick didn’t go “up,” and the controls mirror, so on one hand Flack wanted to have the joystick he was familiar with, on the other, he was missing a good portion of his possible moves. I couldn’t have been beaten worse by Flack if he had a third arm and copper pipe. I got a few shots in when he was telling a story, or pointing out something about the game I didn’t know, or when my unyielding, white-hot anger towards the judge in Karate Champ (whom I do not care for) bubbled over and gave me a “20 seconds of the Force in The Empire Strikes Back on the 2600”-like skill to get some special moves down. But those are rare. I just really don’t like the face of the judge. Is that a Fu Manchu or a scowl? I don’t know that we ever determined what it was. Other than smug.

Donkey Kong: I will probably play it again without an authentic Nintendo joystick, but I won’t ENJOY it. What a joystick. What a perfect moment in time for that game.

That church filled with cretins was in Springfield that evening, but we didn’t encounter them. I did eat one of the worst chips in the world, however. Our two groups split up at 11:00 PM, with Flack and Jeff heading back to Oklahoma. With any luck I’ll be seeing Flack before too long because he has a nice Centipede cabinet I’ve wanted to purchase, and hell, I’ve never been to Oklahoma, so why not? We played more of Bruce’s text game on the drive back and I fell asleep twenty seconds after hitting the pillow.

On Sunday, I was able to geek it up on Bruce’s MAME cabinet, depicted above. It is really what you hope for when you get a MAME cab – four joysticks, pointed correctly (thus giving it the advantage over Gauntlet, where they are NOT aligned to benefit the player). A beautiful 25″ monitor, spinner and trackball are included, and shitty extraneous buttons are not. Bruce and I also played his Atari 2600 text game “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” via emulation on an Atari 7800. Bruce has a fantastic retro-computer setup in his basement – I am pretty sure I saw versions of Apple Computers down there that I had previously only ever seen in commercials spreading lies about the IBM PC. I held a 2600 Indy 500 controller in my hands for the first time ever, and Bruce drove me back to the airport in a bright yellow Smart Car. I had a great time with everyone, and can’t wait to see everyone again for the next adventure.

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