Meet the inventor of Whac-A-Mole and The Rock-afire Explosion

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Dennis Fechter is the creator of the Rock-afire Explosion, the animatronic band that made greasy memories at Showbiz Pizza throughout the 1980s. He also insists he's the inventor of Whac-A-Mole, based on a similar Japanese game that he saw in 1976, although the company that popularized it call bullshit on that claim. Now, Fechter has a new game in the works, Bashy Bug, and he's banking on its success to save his career, and his legacy. From Popular Mechanics:

Day two of the (International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions Convention) finds Fechter on the floor but with a non-working game. This is the first public debut of Bashy Bug.

As Fechter promised, the game is mechanical. The player operates a giant rubber flip-flop while a mutated cockroach skitters underfoot. If you can step on the bug, you earn a point. If the bug escapes when you bring your foot down, the bug earns a point. I know from experience that the system has been wired with a jerking intelligence to randomly stop the bug's run just short of the target that makes this harder than it sounds, and after the bug has scored a few points against you, you'll find yourself sucked in. But nobody here will have that opportunity.

"I haven't slept," Fechter tells me, standing in front of this monument of a purple machine with an animatronic roach face hovering above the scoreboard and Billy Bob painted on the cabinet. There is a mania in his voice that I would blame on fatigue if I hadn't interviewed him before.

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The Lost Arcade: doc about rebirth of legendary NYC arcade

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Changing technology made it a legend, then gentrification killed it. But Chinatown Fair, Manhattan's legendary video arcade, is open to players again in a new location. The Lost Arcade is a forthcoming documentary about a place best summed up in the line: "of course the best players went there. It was the only place still open."

Chinatown Fair opened as a penny arcade on Mott Street in 1944. Over the decades, the dimly lit gathering place, known for its tic-tac-toe playing chicken, became an institution, surviving turf wars between rival gangs, changing tastes and the explosive growth of home gaming systems like Xbox and Playstation that shuttered most other arcades in the city. But as the neighborhood gentrified, this haven for a diverse, unlikely community faced its strongest challenge, inspiring its biggest devotees to next-level greatness.

The premiere showings are on Nov. 14 and 18th, 2015, in New York City at IFC Center.

More from the description:

The story focuses on three members of the Chinatown Fair community: Akuma, a young man who found refuge in the arcade after running away from foster care; Henry Cen, a kid who grew up in Chinatown and became one of the best Street Fighter players in the world; and Sam Palmer, father figure and longtime owner of Chinatown Fair.

When Sam is forced to close Chinatown Fair, Henry and Akuma refuse to let the arcade community die and create Next Level, a modern incarnation of the classic arcade located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Brooklyn.

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The last arcades

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Polygon's Willie Clark finds out what it's like to operate a video arcade in an age of pocket supercomputers, of Dave and Buster, of booming rents.

"There really is an obsolescence factor with these things," Horne says. "There's going to come a point where they're just going to get more and more rare."

That just reinforces one of the most important points Horne stresses when it comes to opening an arcade bar.

"It's very important to have a very good video game repairman," Horne says. "It's very important. Probably the number one thing. And bring your patience when it comes to sourcing the games."

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See the original notebook sketches for Pac-Man

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Pac-Man's creator Toru Iwatani shows his original notebook sketches from the iconic arcade game that turned 35 this year. Read the rest

Methodically train your child to be an arcade whiz

Photo: Andy Baio

When writer and technologist Andy Baio had a son, he thought it would be a good opportunity for an experiment (as you do):

I love games, and I genuinely wanted Eliot to love and appreciate them too. So, here was my experiment:

What happens when a 21st-century kid plays through video game history in chronological order?

Start with the arcade classics and Atari 2600, from Asteroids to Zaxxon. After a year, move on to the 8-bit era with the NES and Sega classics. The next year, the SNES, Game Boy, and classic PC adventure games. Then the PlayStation and N64, Xbox and GBA, and so on until we’re caught up with the modern era of gaming.

It's a great bit of writing on nostalgia and games, but on a practical level, Baio's son Eliot is the envy of any score-chaser, finishing The Legend of Zelda entirely on his own by age six. Now eight, he could be the youngest person ever to completely beat Mossmouth's popular, punishing roguelike Spelunky.

Given that many people think esports as college athletics could actually become A Thing, start training your kids young, one supposes. Read the rest

Video: montage of arcades in movies

Arcades in movies, 1975-1994. Read the rest

When finishing Dragon's Lair was awesome

Steven Frank looks back on a triumphant 1980s childhood moment, when he beat the laserdisc arcade game Dragon's Lair to the astonishment of onlookers. Read the rest

Win a lobster in classic lobster claw game

We've all played one of those arcade "claw" games where a mechanical lobster claw is rigged to let go of prizes. But have you ever played with the prizes being live lobsters? [The Atlantic] Read the rest

The life and death of the American arcade

At The Verge, Laura June takes us on a beautifully-illustrated journey through the life story of the American video arcade:

If you’ve never been inside a “real” arcade, it could be hard to distinguish one from say, oh, a Dave & Buster’s. Authenticity is a hard nut to crack, but there are a few hallmarks of the video game arcade of days gone by: first, they have video games. Lots and lots of video games, and (usually) pinball machines. They’re dark (so that you can see the screens better), and they don’t sell food or booze. You can make an exception for a lonely vending machine, sure, but full meals? No thanks. There’s no sign outside that says you “must be 21 to enter.” These are rarely family-friendly institutions, either. Your mom wouldn’t want to be there, and nobody would want her there, anyway. This is a place for kids to be with other kids, teens to be with other teens, and early-stage adults to serve as the ambassador badasses in residence for the younger generation. It’s noisy, with all the kids yelling and the video games on permanent demo mode, beckoning you to waste just one more quarter. In earlier days (though well into the ‘90s), it’s sometimes smoky inside, and the cabinets bear the scars of many a forgotten cig left hanging off the edge while its owner tries one last time for a high score, inevitably ending in his or her death. The defining feature of a “real” arcade, however, is that there aren’t really any left.
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Atari Compugraph

Innovative leisure courtesy of the Arcade Museum. The reverse side explains the coolness for contemporary business operators; the arcade distributor it was addressed to appears to still be in business! Clearly, they bought ten of these babies and knew what to do with 'em. [Thanks, #8384!] Read the rest