What were arcades like, Grandpa?

In this RPGNet forum, a youngster asks, "I was reading about arcades and how you'd have to queue to play popular games as well as follow rules like no throwing in fighting game or the others wouldn't let you play. This seems rather strange. The money cost must have gotten expensive pretty quickly as well. I'm not old enough to have been to them when they were around so I'm curious about what they were like."

Well, let me tell you Billy, when I was a boy, there was an arcade at the Sheppard Centre, and we would sneak off there at lunch and after school and during spare periods and when we should have been in class. There were older teenagers, 18 or 19, who more or less lived there. One of them sold hash on the side, but mostly they just seemed to be bums. Really, really cool bums. One of them was amazingly good at Gauntlet. He'd play it all day long, spending an hour carefully honing a character to an incredibly buff state, and then he'd sell you his game for a couple bucks (the proto-goldfarmer of suburban Toronto!). We'd all crowd around and shout encouragement. The guy behind the counter, George, in his 20s, treated us like lovable scum, like you see bartenders treating the barflys in a sitcom from the era. We all knew whose initials were on the leaderboards. We were allowed to smoke in the arcade and we smoked like chimneys. All the games had volcano-crater burns from our butts. The worst offense in our universe was to pull the plug during someone's game. That always meant fights.

Downtown, on the Yonge Street sleaze strip, we had giant arcades, with pinball rooms at the back. These places moved a lot of hash, and no one seemed to know anyone else except for the hustlers, and theoretically they wouldn't let you in during school hours, but they also always had the latest games. Walking into one of those places was like attending Comdex -- a tour through the gimmicky universe of faster-than-light technological innovation, only we didn't have hucksters, we had to pay 25 cents for our demos (or lurk over someone's shoulder while they played).

There weren't many girls around the arcades -- later, a standard ironic/nostalgic boyfriend-girlfriend joke in my social circle was "Let's go to the arcade and you can hold my skateboard" -- but they were often very, very good. And tough. You had to swear like a sailor at the arcade.

In arcades, you queued up for popular or new games, usually. You set down a quarter or a button or something on the machine (quarters were the popular choice), and you watched, and when the next round came up (in fighting games, this was when someone lost, but in other games, it was when they ran out of quarters), you jumped in. This usually meant you were playing against someone else, so you got to know everyone who was a regular quick.

The 'no throwing' rule was kind of a house-rule for a lot of places. See, the older fighting games had really wonky response and collision detection, and in some of 'em (Mortal Kombat, for one), a throw did pretty decent damage and couldn't be interrupted in a lot of cases. If you wanted to, you could just drain down the other guy's health like that, and since everyone was paying to play, it was a dick move to do so. I know in our arcade, there was a little sticky on the Street Fighter machine, reading, "M.Bison is an automatic forfeit of next turn", which meant that, if someone chose Bison (who, in the older Street Fighters, was dangerous as hell in an experienced player's hands), they got to play one round with him, and, win or lose, they had to hand the controls over to the next player in line.

What were arcades like? (via Waxy!)


  1. The arcade I went to as a kid wasn’t a video game arcade, although in its later years it had video games. It was a “penny arcade,” although at cheapest the games cost a dime or so to play.

    Until a few months ago I could point it out to you on Google Maps. It was on the beach strip in Bayville, NY. The property also had a tiny amusement park with carnival rides, and a miniature golf course. This was a clean, square, family-entertainment area. No drugs or unsavory characters.

    The arcade was a cinder block building with games along the walls and I believe in a center aisle.

    About half the games, maybe more, were mechanical pinball machines.

    There was a cheesy driving game, with two driving stations. The screen showed a scratchy B&W film of streets. You had to steer to avoid obstacles, but I’m not sure what the feedback mechanism was. I do recall hitting a clown.

    Several “diorama” type sports games, where you used a mechanical bat or such to slam a ball toward targets which represented home run, first base, etc.

    There were a few shooting gallery games.

    Hmmm. Let’s see. A flight simulator with a rear-projection screen. Not video . . . some kind of transparencies. Noisy and hard to control. If you did really well you got a plastic Ace medal.

    The SAM missile battery game. You turned a little lit-up missile to aim at projected flights of incoming bombers. A projected trace showed the missile flying. A hit was rewarded by red flashes and a bang.

    The two video games I recall: A driving game where you ran down zombies; the obstacles were tomb stones. And the venerable Tank, where you used two levers to move a tank through a maze and blast at your opponent.

    Another arcade opened up on the other side of the miniature golf course. It was taken over by the first outfit. It did specialize in video games. Just as square. The only game I recall playing there was Sundance, a trippy thing where you had to open and close gates in two grids to bounce a whooshing fireball around.

  2. man, arcades were the greatest thing known to all childkind.

    I remember my brother and I were taken to the one here locally every weekend and set free like bunnies to spend our $10 on whatever we liked – and the $10 would last the entire day, usually with money to spare because all of the games cost between 20c and $1.

    This probably sounds like I’m talking about decades and decades ago, but I’m only 25 this year, so this was the early to mid 90s – not all that long ago.

  3. Is that kid pulling our pud? There’s still arcades around, if only for DDR and other dance games, surely he’s seen those. Unless he’s, like, 6.

  4. Not that I frequented the “arcade” much, but there was one game I was enthralled with, Cyber Sled.

    It was one of those early 3d polygon games, 2 player vs, or vs computer. You had two joysticks which moved your robot much like a hat control does on a modern stick. I had some intense competition on it at times, and always had a blast. To bad it was at least $.50 to play (toward the end up to a dollar).


  5. Yes, EXACTLY! I stood in line for Street Fighter 1&2, and MK1,2,&3. I was the local king of GALAGA, held the top 4 slots on the high score list for YEARS. They have the old galaga/ms pacman combo machine at the cheap movie theatre here in town, so the wife knows anytime we go there we have to go an hour or so early so I can get the game going and then turn it over to some youngster to lose all 5 of my extra ships when my movie starts. LOL Anybody remember Primal Rage?!? Not much line there, but fun nonetheless. Oh, and I’m under 30 too.

  6. Ocean City, NJ boardwalk. My parents took us kids to the beach, and all I wanted to do was go to the arcade. (Given that my pasty Irish skin gets sunburned if I stand too close to a 100-watt bulb, who could blame me?)

    Star Wars, the one where you just fly around in a line-drawing X-wing — I feel like a kid again just thinking about it. Dig-Dug, silly as it was, took up hours. Gauntlet — yeah, Gauntlet. That was, like, the real sophisticated game. That and Dragon’s Lair (I think was the name of it), which had really great animation but absolutely sucked for game play.

  7. #5 Antinous, :D beautiful – were the gods ever young? I grew up in an arcade – well with an ‘-ia’ instead of and ‘-e’

  8. Never had an arcade but we had two machines at the local swimming pool. For a long time they were Street Fighter and Double Dragon. I remember a friend would boat that he could “complete Double Dragon with £1”. After a while one of them was replaced with The Simpsons.

  9. My uncle used to franchise arcade centers, and i had a couple of memorable birthday parties with free credit.

    There was also a big druggie vibe around my local one, I was too young to really understand it though. I just remember the backwards baseball caps and smoking youths.

  10. Gauntlet was the crack of my day. This one pizza place right by my house only had one machine, and it was Gauntlet. Peter, Mike, Kevin, and I would go in there when they first opened, with $30 each. Pizza, cokes until we puked, and Gauntlet all day until we ran out of money.

    Even today, “Elf needs food badly.” haunts my nightmares.

    Seriously though I remember the first time I played Pong at these batting cages and the minature golf course – in Fountain Valley in the OC in California.

    They still have an arcade there.

    Robotron 2084
    Wizards of Wor
    Ms. Pacman
    of course Astroids –

    probably my old favorites I’d say.

    If anyone went to Disneyland in Anaheim when the movie TRON came out – you know what I’m about to say – right next to Space Mountain was this HUGE two story arcade. Downstairs when you walked in they had I think at least 6 TRON machines with giant video monitors on top so you could watch the game each player was playing.

    Of course when you have to wait in line for Space Mountain for 2 hours on a hot summer day – what did you do – one of us kids got stuck in line while the rest played games – switching off.

    Still the 80’s pure arcade ‘I have died and gone to heaven’ moment was for my 15th birthday in 1982. My parents took me and three of my best friends to Las Vegas for two days. None of us will ever forget walking into the arcade at Circus Circus for the first time. I will never ever forget that moment. Pure Bliss.

  11. My earliest arcade memory is of “playing” a game called time pilot. I would go in with my big brother and just continually hit the fire button for him while he moved the plane around and aimed. I was about six or seven and he was about thirteen.

    We had a few arcades in the local malls, but there wasn’t any real gamer “scene” that I ever noticed. The one in particular that I liked was like a cave. It had no lights except the glow of the machines and combined that with black walls and a short, black ceiling. It was unlike any other place in the mall and felt like the only place I belonged. It lasted until the early 90’s. They moved it to a cheaper location at the crappy end of the mall for a few years, but I’m pretty sure it was gone by the time I finished high school in ’95.

    The newer location was a wide open, two-story affair designed to be popular with teens. It was, but they all went there just to hang out. Few of them ever actually played any games. The older joint was all about the games. The machines were always occupied and most of the kids were there to play. Anyway, that mall (and the city) has been arcadeless since it closed due to that poor business decision.

    The closest thing to an arcade we have now is a little room with a half dozen crappy, half-broken, overpriced games at the movie theater.

  12. The summer camp I grew up at had a “rec hall” — a dusty, musty old room with no door, a jukebox, a pool table, a ping-pong table, an air-hockey table, and various pinball machines and arcade machines.

    Whenever we got tired of swimming or hiking or laying around coloring, we’d take a stack of quarters and go to the rec hall. I got pretty good at pinball, and really good at air hockey, but I *loved* Digdug. To this day there is a special place in my heart. Filled with an airpump and a little rock.

    I’m lucky enough to have a few arcade machines in my basement that friends and roommates have picked up over the years. It’s great fun at parties: glowsticks in a claw machine!

  13. A little over a week ago, my friends and I went to an arcade in the Chicago suburbs, and we were by far the oldest folks there who didn’t have kids. As someone who frequented arcades a lot when they were more common in malls (I spent a small fortune on 720°), it was definitely interesting to go back as an adult, playing games I used to play some 20+ years ago.

    I posted a few photos and videos from the trip on my site.

    I also highly recommend Joystick Nation by J. C. Herz, a great book that documents a lot of the early days of videogames. In particular, there’s a section where she discusses how over time, arcades transofrmed from this dark, dungeon-like environment to the more family-friendly prize redemption centers of today.

  14. i used to go to the arcade mostly because it was where the cool kids were and i could show of my smoke rings. also there was no other place to go if you jumped school.

    i was always short on money what with the cigarettes and the occasional beer so the best game was the one you managed to cheat. i had a string of fishing line shaped in an U form (paid for it 2 packs of marlboros and the promise to not talk about it) that would give you infinite credit when moved in and out in the coin slot. that’s how i finished bubble bobble and raiden. sometimes i even sold remaining credit for half the price though rarely. a 99credit in bubble bobble easily raised eyebrows.

    other cheaters?

  15. Okay you whippersnappers, I want a GPPS plugin for Google Earth; Global Playable Pinball Service; Arcade Tracking And Review Information, as well.

    Myself, I’ve got a Galaga tracked down to the living room, but eventually one of my spare video games will go away to make room for a pinball.

    Methinks Steampunk should adopt pinball games as ‘Ye offical amusement device’.

  16. I tell my nephew all about how we lived there (Aladdins Castle) back in the day. Sure we had Atari 2600 systems at home, but we knew the best games and graphics were in the coin-op machines sitting lined up in a dimly lit room with VanHalen blastin away. Todays kids have great graphics and games, but they just sit at home like a hermit. Nothing is new to them. To us back then, it was all new and we saw it happening and growing. I now have a collection of 22 arcade games and 6 pinballs. Check it out here… http://www.flickr.com/photos/22136797@N00/

    And for a real flashback, check this out…http://www.cinemarcade.com/arcade84.html click on the mpeg or qtime movie.

  17. A university pub had this old Joust game that I played regularly. I was competing for the high score with this other guy and it went back and forth for a few months. I never did see the guy; I only knew him through his initials.

    By the end of the term you needed to go very deep into the game (20 or 30 levels) to register a new high score. The game moves so fast at those levels that you need to fall into a sort of trance-like state to keep up, and invariably that would seem to attract a crowd who would huddle around to watch the action.

    Eventually some slack-jawed yokel would always break my trance with a comment like “Woah, dude. Did you, like, play that game in the 80s?” and I would be killed off shortly after.

  18. @teufelsdroch – glad I’m not the only one who loved Addams Family pinball. There was just something about that game. I loved it when you could get the vault open and it would say ‘GREEEED!’ Brilliant.

    I miss arcades. My uni had one for ages (the Cave), but the games got more high tech and there were less of them. Pinball, my favourite arcade game by far, seems to get pushed aside.

    When I was a kid (11yrs old) my mom would take us to the arcade at a local mall, where I learned about the awesomeness of the Addams Family pinball machine. She was addicted to it too, so we had to take turns. When I was waiting for my turn I’d watch the bigger kids (teens and prob. some adults) kick the crap out of each other on the Mortal Kombat game. They had a huge video screen up, and I wish I’d gotten up the nerve to play at least one game there. (They did have a second machine for those more shy.)

    If I could find an Addams Family pinball machine to buy, I’d be in 7th heaven.

  19. You make me all misty-eyed thinking about the old arcades. The best part of my Grade 12 year was having a spare next to lunch so that I could drop loonies into Crazy Taxi again and again.

    Even Funland on Yonge Street’s gone now. The entertainment center in Union Station is the only arcade I know that still exists in the whole city now.

  20. I’ve never heard of the “no throwing” rule. Although in my youth, fighting games weren’t all the rage yet. Unless you count Karate Champ.

  21. I was one of those girls who was really, really good in the 70s and 80s — nice to know some of the guys still remember us. :)

    Family, job, and tendon problems have kept me from playing for a long time, but thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  22. Arcades were too expensive! You guys could have easily paid for a few PS3 I’m certain. Mom would always give us $5-10-15-20 depending where we were at, waiting for a movie or at circus circus for a few hours etc. I would play one or two games thinking I would get good at em and last longer than a minute.

    There was a point where a lot of arcade games were making their way to console games, what a relief that was. I spend much more quality time without any distractions.

    I love hearing about the cheats, any of em work in todays machines?

    Good documentary to watch is King of Kong.

  23. In the mid-80’s, when I was dating my wife, one of our favorite cheap dates was to get a roll of quarters and head to an arcade. Our primary game was Centipede and a bit later, the variant, Millipede. We got good enough that we could go for a couple hours on a couple bucks.

    I keep an eye on my local Craigslist for a good machine at a reasonable price. I’m really hoping the recession will shake-out the right one from someone’s gameroom.

  24. In Tempe, AZ rumors began swirling around my elementary school about an arcade that only charged nickels instead of quarters. Imagine that! 20 plays for a dollar, not just 4! It was the mythical “Nickel Palace.” My dad is a pinball wizard, so he took me and my brother once and we all fell in love with it. Dad would stay by the wall of pinball machines (his favorite was Funhouse) while my brother and I explored the arcade. They had a scene of regulars playing Street Fighter, then Mortal Kombat, then MK2. TNMT and The Simpsons were also popular.

    And each game cost a nickel. What a great cheap way to kill a few hours. There was a 3 dollar admission fee too. It was amazing. The legends were true. Ah, Nickel Palace.

  25. About 20 years ago, I was playing a game at the local arcade. I don’t remember which one…Galaxian(?).

    In any case, I was “playing away,” concentrating on the game. I wasn’t making any noise or fuss; I was just playing the game.

    I guess I was “in the groove” that day. The game’s logic seemed easy to outwit, and I moved my spaceship all over the screen, attacking and eluding.

    In any case, after I lost my last spaceship, the place erupted into applause. As I kept playing…and playing….and playing…on my measly 25 cents, people (apparently) started watching me defeat the game. Probably 25-30 people, all strangers, cheered my “victory.”

    One of the stranger things that has happened to me. I couldn’t believe all of these people were watching me; I was completely unaware of them when I was playing the game.

  26. first there was the ice cream parlor with the pinball room in the back and the haze of hash smoke out the back door where “onward through the fog” was spray painted on a support column. Next door was a pool hall with more machines but they didn’t really encourage kids to be there. Later there was an establishment in a basement room in the middle of downtown. The guy that ran that one now has the Pinball Hall of Fame in Vegas. Somewhere around the time a machine came in that had a tv screen and a square that bounced between two moveable rectangles and I began to lose interest. No body english with a video machine and no TILT. These days I’ve been known to lose an entire weekend to WoW.

  27. Straw Hat Pizza and the bowling alley were the only two places in my town that had arcade games. I was never any good at any of the fighters, but I could play Ms. Pac Man for an hour on a single quarter. And I didn’t mind being one of the few girls to play – met most of my boyfriends that way.

    My all time favorite was Mr. Do’s Castle. That game is awesome, and I’m glad to see that they integrated it into one of these new-fangled arcade games where you can scroll through a list of 100 or so titles.

    Anyone else know the joy of Mr. Do?

  28. I used to work in an arcade. Well. OK. Not really. My boss told me to go to the shoplot where the illegal arcade was, collect the money, and put it in the bank. I did this a few times each week, on the days that the guy who ran it bothered to come to work.

    That was only 16 years ago. It was already a dying business though. After I’d done this only a couple of weeks, he shut the whole thing down and sold all the machines.

  29. I always preferred the puzzle games (BlockOut, Tempest, Columns, Qix) to the shooters or fighters. My boyfriend at the time would come in with a roll of quarters and hand me 2 or 3; I’d go to the BlockOut console and he would head for Cyberball or Street Fighter. An hour later, he’d be tired and ready to go, but I’d still be nursing the last quarter…

  30. The mall down the road in Danvers had the arcade that I spent my formative years in and I can still hear the obnoxious electronic bloops and goings of Ms. Pacman and Galaga. At least in Salem MA we still have the Salem Willows arcade.

  31. @Key,

    Ocean City, NJ!

    My favorite place on the OC Boardwalk was Simms, an old seafood palace that was transformed a giant arcade. Every summer the latest games would be laid out in rows, but even with a dozen or more of each game you’d still have to put your quarter up on the machine to save your spot in the queue.

    I’m with you, Key– despite all of the sun, sand, and fun the only thing that mattered to me during our two weeks “Down the Shore” was that arcade. The greatest feeling in the world is when you’d just changed that five dollar bill into a pocket full of quarters and the world was your pixelated oyster.

    We still make an annual pilgrimage to the O.C. Boardwalk. Simms is now long gone, but the Skee Ball is still cheap and uses the original wooden balls, by gum, and Mack and Manco’s continues to serve up the best plain pizza in the known universe.

  32. To #1 Stefan Jones: “A driving game where you ran down zombies; the obstacles were tomb stones.” This sounds like Death Race, which incidentally is the first video game that was controversial for its violence.

    My arcade story: Back in the mid-’90s we had a place in town that bought used cabinets from other arcades, set all the games on free play, and charged you $5 for three hours. It didn’t get much traffic so there wasn’t a long waiting period for the most popular games. All told, it was a good place to waste an afternoon and it made going to the arcade affordable.

    The first arcade game that fascinated me was Mr. Do (here’s a GPL’d clone for Linux) which I found in a grocery store when I was about 6. My town didn’t have many dedicated arcades, but it was not uncommon for a place like a restaurant or grocery store to have a couple of cabinets. The games would keep us kids busy and, while not quiet, at least out of our parents’ hair. In short, you didn’t have to go to an arcade to find an arcade game. You could find them anywhere. That has changed because arcade cabinets are still expensive, competition from home gaming systems has gotten too good, and quarters aren’t worth what they used to be. Arcade cabinets also attracted trouble; the people who would carve curse words into the cabinet and stick gum in the coin slots were not unlikely to damage or walk away with other store property. Griefers IRL.

    The same grocery store that had Mr. Do later had a Dragon’s Lair type game where the player guided a Prince Valiant type character by moving the joystick or pushing the button when a direction or picture of the button flashed on the screen. I forget the name, but I have never found it in any online list of laserdisc games and I wonder if anyone here has heard of it. The player started out by fighting bats with a sword, would later be jumping between crumbling rocks and logs on a flooding river, and finally fought a main villain in a castle chamber where, if I recall correctly, the damsel in distress was being lowered by rope into some impending doom like a pit of lava. If you won, the game would replay itself from the start and show every single failing video for every branch.

    The one arcade our community did have was (and still is) attached to a miniature golf course. The best and most-used games tend to be out of order with one control or button not working or the game turned off because it is even more broken than that. With most of the games there broken or just boring, the better games tend to be occupied.

    Instead of using quarters, the arcade makes you exchange money up front for tokens that work only in that arcade’s machines. The upside is that it is easier to limit how much you choose to spend that day if you spend it all up-front. The downside, of course, if that you’ve spent it all and you don’t keep the change if you beat the game or lose interest. In addition to the video games, one wall of the arcade was/is dedicated to physical skill games where you roll a ball up a ramp and try to land it in the innermost of several rings. Win the skill game and you get tickets which you can exchange for a teddy bear if you have enough tickets to show you spent enough on the game to make it worthwhile for them to give you one.

    When my family picked up an 8-bit Nintendo with its arcade-quality graphics and I found I could rent a game for a weekend for a buck, that ended my desire to play arcade games until Street Fighter 2 came out. That game was so superior to everything else out there that people paid 50 cents to play instead of a quarter. It probably by itself kept arcades alive a few years longer than they would have lasted otherwise with 16-bit consoles being produced and computer shareware starting to get good.

    And for all this talk about video games, I got a lot of enjoyment out of a good pinball table.

  33. “an arcade that only charged nickels instead of quarters”

    this kind of thing happened a lot back at my days when coins changed frequently in the pre-euro era. i remember in Greece when they changed the 20 dracma coin with a new smaller one. some machines took the 5 dracma coin as a 50 dracma (that gave yu 3 cradits) until they opened the machine to take the cash and a technician would fix it. same thing happened to some automatic vending machines in Italy (they used to have 3 different coins for 50 liras circulating at any time). there was a small 50lira coin that some machines would take as a 500 one.

    but that was not a real cheat. the urban legend of all arcades was the coin with a hole that you would drop in the machine and retreive. we tried but we could never retrieve the coin. either the cord would brake or it would jam (in the case of some “genious” using wire instead of string).anyone had success with this trick?

    and is it possible that noone has ever used the fish line trick? damn i feel cool for never paying for arcade games :-)

  34. WE never had a no throwing rule. People did get annoyed with Bison in Champion editon Street Fighter but people just wouldn’t play with you. Vega was like that for a while too till folks learned to counter him.

    No one ever had a problem with you playing an all throw character like Zangief.

    I really miss the days of arcades and playing others in SF2. Lucky japanese had SF4 in arcades and Samurai Showdown 4 or 5.

  35. Ah, the Coral Springs Mall, the smell of stale popcorn, flat sodas, and the glorious noise noise noise of the arcade!

    I was one of the few girls who hung out at the Arcade, the guy who collected change on the weekends knew my older brother so he racked up free games on the less popular machines for me.

    Consequently I learned how to drive on Pole Position and kicked butt on Centipede but never got the hang of Galaga.

    King of Kong is a fairly recent movie but it captured the 80s nerdfest that was a mall arcade pretty perfectly. It was nerdy! We wore parachute pants, Def Leppard shirts and some people thought that speaking like Yoda was the height of cool.
    Totally Nerdy.

    Now that I’m all grown up and own vintage/antiques store (still a nerd), on occasion I come across old machines.

    So far my husband has received a 4 player X-Men console for Valentines, a Bally Pinball Machine Vampire/Dracula themed for a birthday, and a Galaga machine that was hosed but would have been a good case for a MAME set-up as a ‘hey it’s Friday and look what I found” present.

    After the X-Men console, I was asked to refrain(banned) from giving full size arcade games as gifts. They’re a pain to move. I love the older arcade games but since we stick to Pre-1970 at the store I can’t justify buying them for resale. You need a lot of room to own them.

    Now that a true recession of some sort is fact, look forward to the resurgence of 80s culture in the next 10 years.

    (the game) Crystal Castles Rulz!

  36. So who remembers 4 player Rampage? Or 4 player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? or 4 player Alien Vs Predator.

    4, hyper (cause 7-11 slurpee’s were the fuel of choice) strung out kids all whacking away manically…. I can still see the bosses in TMNT Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang… We never did manage to get to Shredder though.

    Probably cause we were burning through a dollar a minute.

  37. Ah, yes, the old arcades with the stinky cigarette smoke, the girly posters, and the slightly ripply pool table, where you could buy hash and learn about making free payphone calls and swearing with real poetic force.

    I just cannot imagine that DDR and its brethren could produce the same sort of environment.

  38. Sigh. The good old days when dying in a video game meant losing your money. I still remember getting really good at Chiller because the local arcade had the “free game” setting enabled. If you cleared the whole game just right you could win a free credit. We could play for an hour or two before our movie started all on a single quarter.

  39. Go back further, and you will find…the pool hall.
    Mortal enemy of the school
    Trouble with a capitol T
    Rhymes with P
    That stands for Pool

  40. Folks, your dream games can be had easier than you think. Besides keeping an eye out on ebay, you can go to arcade auctions around the country. Go check out http://www.superauctions.com or http://www.auctiongamesales.com and see when/where an auction will be coming near you. Timonium in Baltimore is the biggest on the east coast. Held twice a year, there can be around 600 games for auction. Or even go onto rgvac (a google coin-op group) and ask around whos got something to sell. But be warned, it can be VERY addictive. :)

  41. @49, Rampage was 3-player. The only arcade I ever had semi-regular access to as a kid was at a campground. I’m pretty sure all the games in there were bought used. They had a vector graphics Star Wars game, Golden Axe, Rampage, and a maybe a dozen or so more. They had Street Fighter II at one point, but it was a weird bootleg version where if you played Zangief and did his spinning special move, fireballs would shoot out of his legs.

  42. not only was there the No Throw rule, there was honor as well…

    On a quarter you get best of 3 rounds in most fighting games. So if the winner of Round 1 was about to win Round 2, that person would throw the round, so everyone could play longer.

    That was the way we played it on Yonge St, and in Scarbro at the pizza joints.

  43. ive never seen a no-throwing rule. that’s lucky for me because there were plenty of times i just wanted to beat someone quickly in SFII-CE, so I’ll do nothing except aerial throws & wall jumps with Vega. usually someone is lucky to even land a hit on me when i’m doing that shit

  44. most of my favorite childhood memories are being at arcades in various malls. when my grandparents would visit (or me visit them) we’d all head to a mall, eat at Morrison’s or some other awesome, long-gone place and then they’d give me a few bucks in quarters and set me loose in the arcade..

    but yeah being born in ’80 i got to experience the most exciting games, mostly in the mid-late 80s and early 90s, and they’re still the most exciting games I’ve played to date:

    After Burner
    Spy Hunter
    Bad Dudes
    Golden Axe
    STUN Runner

    I can still play any of these for the better part of a day thanks to MAME, it’s not the same of course but I at least have my memories of all the real cabinets, back when the mall arcades had actual video games instead of ticket-spitters & cranes

  45. yep, glad we have ground kontrol still in effect here in portland. sometimes i’ll step inside while passing, find a corner, and just close my eyes and listen, conjuring up the halcyon days of custom blisters and early onset tendonitis.

    when i was a kid growing up in east texas, my stepdad would take me to the poolhall and i’d play galaga for hours. one night an old guy walked in, plopped a quarter on the screen, and called next. for the next hour i watched in amazement as he beat the game. he then informed me he’d worked on the actual coding of galaga, and taught me the various cheats. to me, it was like finding elvis playing an acoustic set in some swampy jukejoint and having him show you some chords.

    thank fsm i finally learned about girls. i could still be there today, going slowly broke, one quarter at a time.

  46. Even if it was geeked-out trance-like obsession, it was also a social scene. The arcade enabled a person to interact with others and progress in skill by observation as well as game play. Playing in your darkened basement just isn’t the same- the arcade was actually a place to go. And others were there, too. Ha! Alladin’s Castle was the one out by the mall, but we had a more local one that was better.

    I spent hours on end watching and playing the classics, but Missile Command was by far my favorite. And a lot of others’ as well, because there were always at least four quarters lined up on the screen. Sometimes I would put my money up and then have to take it back because my turn hadn’t come up and I had to leave…

    And there were cigarette burns all over the edges of the cabinets. Class joint!

  47. Gotta get out of this classroom
    Can’t solve this equation
    Earth is threatened by an alien invasion!

    Where do they get these teachers?
    How can they be so blind?
    The aliens will reach us
    If I can’t get to the arcade on time!
    -Something or other on “Dr. Demento”

    – I don’t know about all this druggie stuff in arcades. I always assumed that those guys with the high-scores all gave up heroin so that they could play video games. I mean, some of them had pit-crews to feed them pizza slices as they played!! I remember one pair working on a outer-space motorcycle game where one kid rode and operated the bike (the little rear-view video screen on the handlebar was so cool) and the other had a freak’in three-ring binder with the results of their previous games in it. Binder boy would read out the instructions to get to their furthest point yet (“Left now, hard-right, two second booster burn, fire laser now”) and bike boy would improvise after that to fill in another page or two.

    – I started out on 25-cents for three games baseball pinball games in camping grounds.

    – I remember the first “computer” game to invade Yonge Street here in Toronto. It was a black-and-white oscilloscope thing where two ships battled around a sun in the center. You could alter the laws of physics (negative gravity and the like) and other options (space-wrap so that if you left the right side of the screen you’d come back on the left) with a real set of real chrome radio buttons on the front during setup.

    – The only pinball/video arcade left in Toronto that I know of is also the oldest: the Amuse-O-Matic in the basement of Union Station. It still has the latest and greatest: the “Family Guy” pinball game rocks!

    – There were a couple of places, notably in Kitchener-Waterloo, that tried to charge by the amount of time that you spent in the arcade as opposed to a per game basis. All of the games were hot-wired to just give you a game when you pushed the “credit” button. The idea was to cut down on the cost of coin handling and avoiding the whole problem of slugs and the slug detector mechanisms in the machines giving false positives to real quarters. Didn’t work out. Kids would come in a play without any funds and trying to hold them hostage at the arcade until their parents came to bail them out didn’t go over well. People always wanted to “just finish this game” too and that always started an argument. The hot-wiring of the credit buttons removed too much urgency from the games too.

    -The best pinball game ever was the “Doctor Who” game – although I reserve the right to give the nod to the “Family Guy” game after some more research. I totally went “Tommy” on that game and was starting to scare some of the arcade operators due to the number of hours at once that I would park in front of it. It took a lot of maintenance to keep each of the gizmos for each of the 7 Doctors working and a fully functional one got to be quite rare. I think that the last ones were in the bar at the “Mr. Greenjeans” in the Eaton Centre and in the lobby at the now dead Westwood cinema in the west end.

    – The video guys originally asked some scientists about the fastest possible human reaction time and set the machines to require more than that once they decided you should have to put another quarter in to use their machine. But the human, and especially the adolescent, nervous system adapts wonderfully and kids were playing at twice the “fastest possible” speed in no time. Led to a lot of interesting work on rehabilitating people with nervous system damage.

    – Like Sherlock Holmes, you could tell which games people played by looking at their hands. I had the “Star Gate Callus” on the top of my middle left finger due to that little screw that brushed against your hand as you yanked on the steering handle.

    – Loved the almost-never-repeated features of “Marble Madness”: the bowling ball sized trackball (also on “Missile Command”) and the “Mood Music”. This latter would react to your marble’s actual situation on the board at the moment instead of just a Tetris-like theme song looping in the background. So, if a vacuum-cleaner was sucking you in the music would built up to a suspenseful crescendo and the musical sting at the end of the sequence would depend on whether you escaped or not.

  48. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Casino.
    I worked there for 3 years. They have one of the best collections of games in California. At least 18 different pinball machines, a Laser Tag arena, a shooting gallery, and a TON of classic games. The employees who work there for the most part are underpaid college kids, so they dont care too much about the place. But the people who work on the games are fanatics. They have their own crew who does nothing but repair and rebuild the machines. One of them even restored and rewired a original PONG cabinet. I was friends with the guy, and he told me that if I saw anyone f***ing with his game, to call him and not security and he would come and kick their ass. I loved working there.

  49. Ooh boy, I’m old enough to have played on pinball machines that only cost a dime (I was very young though). The only video game I remember from that time was Pong. Seriously, we had to pay to play Pong!

    When I got a little older, Asteroids was the “sh*t”. The level of attention and energy I put into Asteroids is commensurate now with my focus on getting enough fiber in my diet. Pfff…that’s pathetic.

    How much says this RPGNet kid’s own children will want to know what “Malls” were?

  50. I am yet another person to add their “never heard of no throw, but heard of three rounds guaranteed”

    for the person asking about other cheaters, I knew the two teens who ran their dad’s sub shop under my appartment so they showed me the free credit button on the back of the unit.. as well as where to punch the sit down unit which didnt have the button. Fond memories of being told not to go overboard else people will wonder how I did it.. now that place and other stores and arcades in town were serviced by a little troll of a man who drove an austin mini stationwagon. he would take his tools out of the back and waddle into the sub shop and fix the machines and I didnt know which I loved more the fact he owned a gazillion machines (no joy for him to repair though) or the little itsy bitsy car he owned to haul his little tool box in.

    used to be three (or four?) arcades in hamilton ontario (canada) downtown but then slowly they disapeared. the one that disapeared first had the more rare stuff (for this town). turkey shoot, wacko, donkey kong, baby pac-man. The other two had whatever was newest and flashy.. bah.

    place called “The lounge” which was a small diner just outside of delta high school. they had a huge leaderboard where you got your name up and could win prizes. as a kid living a coupla doors down I would go in their and when my parents moved me across town I would ride the bus all day to get there and then when I moved back into the area with my wife I introduced her to the place she fell in love with the food and the games so we started going there again. place never heated itself with a boiler since the games kept the place nice and warm… aaah the warmth!

    off and on “the lounge” had fights with the high school since people would skip to go play. for a time they had a membership policy to keep out riff raff and get away with things you can do here in ontario if you are a ‘private club’.

    its been dead for five or more years. I still mourn it as I ride the bus past its decayed corpse.

  51. just thought about it.. of the three ‘cades downtown I think of the two flashy crappy ones – one was just the cool one with baby pac-man but relocated to a better location. bah.

    ya know, thats a porno booth place now? geeez my town is sleazy!

    the wife tells me “the lounge” closed 15 years ago.. argh!

    and into my late teens i would take bus trips into neighbouring toronto to:

    a) ransack army surplus stores for cool crap
    b) watch hong kong jackie chan movies 10 years before being badly dubbed and released in america

    and c) spend the rest of my money on yonge street at the neatest arcades around at the time (I didnt get around much).

  52. These conversations make me feel warm inside. I was just old enough to experience the full impact of Space Invaders and everything after, and every single of of my quarters was doomed. I could go on and on about the unstoppable obsession I shared with almost every other kid in those days. GREAT stuff, never to be forgotten.

  53. Yes Starcadia, way back in the late seventies/early eighties I remember being somewhat disgusted by the Arcade operators’ decision to open right next to the Welfare Office in our town, with a sign in the window saying “We Cash Cheques”.
    Sure enough, they’d always be busiest right at the end of the month.

  54. Ah, the 80s. We’d all head to Captain Video’s and blow $20 for an afternoon of fun.

    The fun part was learning the secret tricks — like for Track & Field, which had two buttons you had to hit in sequence (left right left right etc.) to run; my friend Robert showed us how to hold a pen or pencil in your fingers and have it teeter-totter back and forth between the buttons if you just tapped one end repeatedly, making it a lot easier to run really quickly, and then hit the “fire” button to jump or throw your javelin or whatever.

  55. Both the Dr. Who and Addams Family pinball games are at the aforementioned Ground Kontrol.

    I might go there tonight after reading this…

  56. I had no console and usually no quarters, but when I played games with my friends, the only rule was “Life or Level” — hand over the controller if you die or beat a level, so everyone gets more or less equal time and doesn’t have to wait forever.

    I kind of wonder if anyone else played by similar rules.

  57. The coolest thing about getting my California driver’s license at 16 (back in late ’77) was being able to drive my friends to the arcade. They had pinball machines at first, but as the next couple of years passed there came a big tabletop video football game with trackballs and very, very crude graphics; Space Invaders and Pong, some tank combat video games (equally “vintage” graphics), and a real Space Wars cabinet, two minutes for a quarter.
    When I was on my own at 17 in Phoenix, Arizona, my geeky friends and I would eat mescaline and play Space War (only 1:30 for a quarter) until the tracers were too intense to play, or the minutes were all gone, whichever came first.
    And though I didn’t know it, spacewar! is actually older than I, by a matter of months…

  58. I used to get in trouble as a paperboy because my dad would send me out to collect subscription money and I’d spend 45 minutes collecting money and then go to the mall and spend a bunch of it at the arcade. Come time to pay the paper company, I’d be short money because I’d spent it all playing Defender and Asteroids. Boy Dad was pissed!!

  59. I guess “old enough to remember Pong” qualifies me as a geezer.

    My heart belongs to pinball, though. Always has, always will

  60. im only 20 but i remember growing up in arcades. our mall had 3 of them. one opened up when i was 6 or 7 and was there for a few years. then it closed down because of drugs/violence.

    then another one opened about a year later i think i was 10 or 13 or so. and that one closed after it was open for only a year. for the same reasons as the first. and one just opened this year in the mall but its mostly kiddy games. the only decent games in there are : DOA, tekken 3 and 5, area 51 and one of those awesome look down airplane shooter. and thats about it really. other than that its those ddr and ddr clones. or games like deal or no deal that mimic the tv show games.

    the best game they have is skeeball but they charge .50 cents for that.!!! i think ill take myself to Chucky Cheese please.

  61. I remember riding my bicycle 4 miles to the mall once each week, where I had only two objectives, ever. First, to troll around the Radio Shack for about an hour looking at all the cool stuff and finally (maybe) buying a couple of 99-cent bags of electronic components (and getting a free 9-volt battery by having my Battery Club card stamped); and second, to enter the dark, slightly smoky and intimidating mall arcade and blow the rest of my $5 weekly allowance on Star Wars, Tank, Asteroids, and Joust. I got reasonably good at all of these games, to the point that I partially credit my later career success as a fighter pilot to playing those particular games so much. I envied the older kids who could afford the outrageously-priced 75 cents for a game of Dragon’s Lair, a game which, for about six months, was the epitome of cool. Crowds of kids four-deep would form around anyone playing that game. Even my uncool parents thought it was a fun one to watch.

  62. If anyone is ever in Springfield, Missouri, be sure to check out the 1984 Arcade. The first time I walked in I had such a nerdgasm. It’s $5 for all you can play. They have basically every game you would expect to find in an arcade from any time period. If you see a twitchy looking guy playing Galaga with an obviously ready to go home woman standing next to him, that’s me. Be sure to say hello.

  63. Theres still arcades exactly like that, same que, same deal, cept the no throwing rule, game are much better response-wise now :D

    If you’re in the valley in California, go to the family fun arcade on the corner of Balboa and Devonshire.

    Its the real shite, where the fighters go on the weekends.

  64. Oh, good times!

    We still have some old arcades hidden here end there in Brazil, but it’s not the same thing…
    The throwing in fights got on my nerves, the one I used to go had this big older guy hanging around the whole day and he just waited the younger ones to insert their coins to jump in like a snake and prey on them, I hated that, there was a lot of real fighting because of that.

    Not to mention a pinball machine that you could literally lift up and it wouldn’t tilt.

  65. Arcades were yet another mostly-North-American phenomenon (like drive-ins) that greatly confused me as a British adolescent.

    I still remember the line from the War Games novel where David Lightman (hacker) looks lustfully at Jennifer (love interest) and thinks:

    Maybe I’ll take her down to the arcade sometime. Teach her everything I know about Joust.

    I spent some time thinking that arcades were actually good places to meet girls.

  66. Tron Deadly Discs.

    Where you stood in that glowing blue booth.

    I can still hear Sark’s condescending laugh…

  67. @Anon #75: Well, any time period prior to 1990 or so. 1984 doesn’t stock the more “modern” games. Just stuff from the heyday of the original arcade. Tron, Pole Position, Sinistar, P.O.W.s, Vindicators, Elevator Action, Space Invaders, Pong, etc. Their website is 1984arcade.com.

    And when you’re there, be sure to check out their coffee bar.

  68. @Jennsweb:

    Yup, this Salemmite remembers arcades. Used to play at the Sack Theatre arcade in the East India Mall during college in the mid-80’s, taking a few rounds of Gravitar on the way home. I stopped going there when they took that machine out; it was one of the only games I could play (think slow and deliberate, rather than twitchfesty.)

  69. I’m mildly boggled to realize that I probably remember some of the same Toronto arcades that Cory does, albeit about a decade earlier (unless he was hanging around in Yonge Street arcades when he was four).

    I never knew about the hash, though. I’m so out of touch.

  70. hwerd! arcades here (socal) had two gangs it seems. the old schoolers, then the fighter addicts. course, the true fans never left, but the arcades packed like nothing else once street fighter 2 hit.
    and once mortal kombat dropped? forget about it.
    even for a small town, we had two seperate, decent arcades. old school Futureway/Video 2001 (when 2001 was the FUTURE). then later, family fun zone, with every thing that came before of course, silently glowing, plus line abound for any fighter. seriously, EVERYthing got notice, if it was a fighter.
    World heroes?? TIME KILLERS?!?

    but every once and a while, we’d go out to see my step bro in santa monica. WESTWORLD anyone? or the pier? first played sf2 at the pier, heard news of MK from westworld and didn’t believe it til we got it here in podunkington.
    now i have a SF2CE courtesy of the wifey, and i built a shameful, so-dope MAME cab out of an old double axle.
    mad arcade boner over here…

  71. Yes Ian it is a N. american thing.
    Perhaps some here are aware of the japanese analog, the pachinko parlour?

  72. Space Invaders at the Fish and Chip shop, then into Downtown in Hindley Street for the latest games, Galaxian, Moon Cresta, Pleiads, Galaga.

    I believe they made some games that didn’t involve shooting at swarms of aliens but I doubt they caught on. I certainly hope not.

    And where was all the hash? Got short changed on that in my town, thats for sure.

  73. 5¢ Double Dragon at the 5th Street Market Wonderland in Eugene. mmmmm. Nothing said happiness and eventual splitting headaches like my and some friends and bulging pockets of nickels.

  74. By far, this is the most nostalgic comments thread on BoingBoing that I’ve ever read! I used to go the Thornton Town Center in Colorado. 15 years ago, it was the only place in town that I knew of as a kid to play arcade games in the area. The Thornton Town Center also featured a vast array of Ski-Ball and water gun racing games. I was a racing-game fan, myself. I’d trade the tickets I won playing Ski-Ball to the younger kids for tokens to feed my Pole Position addiction.

  75. P.S.,

    What with the whole scumbag 1980’s look coming back into style, I’ve seen a whole slew of Pacman and Donkey Kong machines in quite a few nightclubs in town. God praise fashion, if not just for this.

  76. There’s an incredibly authentic old school arcade in Lyons, Colorado along with an amazing pinball machine hall (some of their pinball machines are only one of 200 made). Check out their website here. Well worth the drive and the town itself is beautiful in the Summer.

  77. I can’t believe after all these comments, no one else has mentioned… (Drum roll please…)

    The Neo*Geo.

    4 different games (usually) all on one machine. they turned up just about everywhere when I was growing up; pizza places, gas stations, grocery stores… If I had a penny for every quarter i spent playing Metal Slug, Fatal Fury & Samurai Showdown, I’d be rich!

  78. I remember the old Arcade etiquettes… No Fatalities on female characters, no throwing (except for Zangief) and the mercy round(this is where if you won the first round, you were obligated to let the other guy win the second. This made games last longer and you get more play time per quarter).

    Mind you etiquette changes from place to place. I recall getting in to a bit of trouble for giving my opponent a mercy round when I was visiting relatives in the States. The other guy wasn’t that good, and thought that I was making fun of him or something. He ended up slamming the keys with his hands and storming out of the arcade after wasting about two dollars.

  79. Cyber sled! Wow, I’d forgotten all about that game. What I wouldn’t give for a two-player machine now.

    Just found out that it was released on Playstation thanks to this article. Found a copy on ebay. Purchased for 99p! Thank you Cory.

  80. I recall going to the arcades on Portage Ave in Winnepeg. We always marveled at the size of bell-bottom pants and age at which kids started smoking (typically about 11 years old). Back in those days, videogames were relatively rare so your typical arcade had about 40 pinballs.

    You can look up your favorite old pinball at this site

    You can _buy_ your favorite pinball at this one


  81. Did anyone’s family who visited Wildwood in the 80’s remember “Hollywood Casino Arcade”?:


    (At bottom of page)

    I remember they had an amazing collection. Everything from Space Ace to old B+W games like Night Driver, a sit down version of Tail Gunner, and some 70’s rear projecion color shooting game. Almost all were is working order.

    Somewhere on the bordwalk there was a semi-outdoor arcade that even had working mechanical games from the 50’s.

  82. well, i went to Ground Kontrol and learned a few things:

    Addams Family pinball game isn’t as good as I remember.

    The Dr. Who pinball game is awesome, but hard as hell.

    The big surprise was that the Star Trek TNG pinball game was quite fun and worth the few bucks I pumped into it. Distant memories of playing it way back when resurfaced.

    I can still beat Soul Calibur II with ease.

    Smash TV is still amazingly fun.

    720 still makes me want to punch people.

    Being in an arcade still brings out the same kind of joy, frustration, and later buyer’s remorse that it did when I was a kid.

    Good that you can buy beer at Ground Kontrol to make it easier on the soul.

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