Category: MAME'd Millipede :: 1. Background
A few years ago I had this sudden desire to start collecting the arcade games I remember from my childhood in the 80's. I'm not completely certain why this notion suddenly took hold of me seemingly out of the blue. Maybe it was the nearly mint Pac-Man machine I kept walking by at the Bistro at Sweet Briar College where I work. It wasn't getting a lot of play there in the late nineties where it had lived a fairly sheltered existance for nearly 20 years.
To some extent I'm certain I had the sudden realization that it might be possible to actually own an arcade game now. I was older and had an income higher than I did when I was ten years old and had to think twice about spending a whole quarter in such a fleeting manner. As a child in the 80's the thought of owning an actual arcade game was somewhat akin to the likelihood that I could take a ride on the space shuttle just by asking nicely. This was a time when the height of excitement was a gradeschool friend having a birthday party that included a set number of FREE tokens for the gameroom at the local Chuck E. Cheese knockoff. The choices and spending power in that couple of hours was overwhelming.
Maybe it was the fact that I grew up immersed in computers and did play a lot games on the Atari 2600, my Commodore 64 or a friend's ColecoVision. This was the era when finding a console version that came close to the real game was a challenge that made the genuine arcades a luxury for their graphical prowess if not the big screen and the neat lighted marquees. There was a certain ambience to an 80's gameroom filled with noisy arcades that added a lot to the experience.
Right about the time I started eyeing the Pac-Man machine I had discovered MAME and was having a nostalgic blast not only with the games I remembered (or knew about and never got to play) but with the very concept of emulation. Those involved in the "emulation scene" will know what I'm talking about here. It becomes addictive in a very strange way. At the time, though, this fascination with emulation simply fueled my desire to own the real thing and fulfill a childhood dream.
In very short order I was absorbing everything I could find online about arcade collecting and was avidly pursuing my first classic machine. I expressed my desire to purchase the lonely Pac-Man machine in the Bistro which likely led to it being added to the next silent auction the college periodically uses to divest itself of various items. In the few months it took before I was able to get the Pac-Man I managed to score a Q*Bert machine from a guy outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. A little while later I located a BurgerTime machine in Richmond, Virginia, then a Gauntlet and a Space Duel cocktail somewhere out in the sticks southwest of here. I was calling various arcade operators all over the place and seeing what they had sitting around from the arcade heyday. Some were being thrown out and others I bought for a song. Unfortunately, I lost count of the number of operators I spoke with that had literally taken dumptruck loads of machines to the landfill in the days or weeks before I got a bug in my butt to obtain them. Afterall, one man's garbage is another geek's nostalgic obsession. It didn't please either of us that they had to pay to dispose of them and I would have paid to obtain them had my wild goose chase begun sooner.
To make a very long story shorter, I owned just over 30 machines by the time that Pac-Man that started it all came into my posession. In the meantime I had bought, repaired, sold and brokered tons of machines.
Now where does one put 30 arcade games? Well, a few of your prized ones you put in your house and try to find a tasteful way to fit them into the decor. They are most definitely not furniture and are hardly compact. Your project machines you stash in your parents' large cinderblock shed/workshop rendering it virtually unusable since the average woodworking endeavor requires more than five square feet of space between refrigerator-sized boxes covered in strange artwork.
It turned out that half the fun was locating the games. It was a bit like archaeology for numerous reasons, not the least of which was getting some lame mid-90's fighting game called something like "Double Mortal Ninja Street Kombat Whoop-Ass Gaiden Twelve" or "Smack The Crap Out Of Each Other With Nine Buttons Instead of Just Seven" and finding out it originally contained Zaxxon or Galaxian. With a little luck the operator who converted the machine in his constant quest for more quarters hadn't completely destroyed the possibility of returning it to its original configuration (with the help of fellow collectors and eBay).
So does this mean I had 30 neat 80's titles I could plug in and play until I threw up? Uhm... no. It meant I had about fourteen tons of a combination of beautiful gems, some rough stones, and quite a few pieces with as much in common with gems as colored fishtank rocks. Unlike gems or even fishtank rocks, though, the average arcade takes up space on the scale of your larger household appliances. Restoring and repairing games was frequently fun... but certain aspects of the process can be pretty tiring. Find any avid arcade collector and ask them their opinion, for instance, of old arcade monitors. When they stop cursing and that vein on their forehead stops throbbing, wipe the stray spittle from your face and quickly find another topic. Oh, and there are a few of them you likely can't ask because they fried themselves to death after forgetting to discharge what is, afterall, a large glass capacitor that holds a wicked shock. Trust me, it will do more than take the curl out of your hair.
About a year or so into the arcade collecting frenzy, I bought a house. This had both a positive and a negative effect on my arcade collection. On the positive side, this roomy old former hunting lodge had plenty of space for a gameroom to house my collection. On the downside, this roomy old former hunting lodge had plenty of space for a gameroom to house my collection. Most of them fit in the gameroom. The others fit in the back (future) guestroom. And a few of the others fit in my office. Oh, and a few more of those fit in the closet off my gameroom. And yeah, a few more fit in the closet off my office. A few found their way to the garage outside.
Life got busier. I did a lot of work on various games, sold a few, bought a few more and shuffled them around the house from time to time when the mood would strike. Eventually the time came where I realized I needed to thin out the collection and get down to the bare necessities (not least on the list of necessities was a closet without the carcass of an arcade in the back of it). I bit the bullet and sold the bulk of the collection in one shot. I parted with some beloved machines, but they were necessary partly to counterbalance the questionable machines that didn't immediately appeal to people not looking for a project or parts.
I kept the Pac-Man for various reasons including the fact that it is in marvelous condition, has a history and is something of the epitome of the 80's arcade era. My office at work still has a Marble Madness in it because I love it dearly. Last, but not least, I kept a gorgeous Millipede machine. It's fun, but more imporant is the fact that my
fiance' wife would likely do very cruel things to my person if I even speculated about selling it. Besides, it recently occurred to me that it had certain other possiblities...