Being born just a few days before the United States’ Sesquicentennial, I was fortunate to have spent a large percentage of my youth in the 1980s. We had wondrous things, like Saturday Morning Cartoons, mall creatures, big hair, neon clothing, Garbage Pail Kids, and a MTV which actually played music videos. Also, we lived in the golden era of arcade gaming. While the arcade still lives today, it generally can only be found in forms that consist of poorly maintained systems that are drowned out by horribly loud music. At one time, practically every mall in America had at least one arcade. No doubt, considering the amount of cabinets that could be fit in a relatively small space, they were making money at an incredible rate. Arcade culture also could be found in a large number of convenience stores and pizza parlors, albeit usually just in doses of one or two games at a time.
The latter is where I found myself, more often than not. Growing up in a small town in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley area, the nearest arcade was nearly twenty miles away. For a pre-teen, that might just as well been on another continent. Trips to the mall were a special occasion, not because there was the allure of getting a toy, but for the hopes of putting a crisp ten dollar bill in the hand of a change attendant or the mouth of a finicky change machine in exchange for a pocketful of quarters. I vividly remember the three places in my small hometown that had arcade games. One was a convenience store that had a Donkey Kong cabinet, while both of the others were pizza parlors. The place with the better pie had a Tron cabinet, which I found myself playing quite often, seeing as the argument for having a lesser-quality pizza so that I could sit at the Ms. Pac Man cabinet was never as convincing as it sounded in my younger mind.
Life began to intervene with gaming for me, in the 1990s, or at least the time spent visiting arcades decreased. Home consoles were around in the 1980s, but the arcade games were usually more advanced than what the consoles had offered. That tide began to shift when Nintendo introduced the Super Nintendo in 1990. That same year, Neo Geo released their own home console, which was superior in many ways. It actually was the experience of playing the same games in the arcade at home, while costing an exorbitant amount of money. Adjusted for inflation, a Neo Geo cost well over a thousand dollars in today’s currency, at $649 for a Gold System. Even more insane was that games cost over $200 each, or around $370 after adjusting for inflation. Not surprisingly, it was Nintendo and Sega who emerged from that generation as the two leading brand names.
Even more staggering than the shift of technological advantage to the home console, was the change in format to the games, in general. Arcade games are meant to balance the fact that you paid for credits to play, with keeping play time minimized to maximize profits. Even starting with the previous console generation, home systems started to bring in long-format games that were not purposefully introducing shortened gaming sessions. Coupled with the decreasing costs of home electronics, it could reasonably be argued that the availability and format of games available to the home gamer led to the slow decline of the traditional arcade. In retrospect, the Super Nintendo did probably play a direct role in my own waning interest in arcades. Most likely, I was not alone.
Proving that time passes in the blink of an eye, it is hard to reconcile that was all nearly thirty years ago. As time progressed, I have found myself to still be a gamer. With each generation, I tend to have each console to go along with an ever-evolving gaming computer. While I do enjoy the modern gaming scene, to an extent, there is just something that feels sterile and uninviting to a lot of it. Part of what made the arcade experience what it was only had been partially related to the games, themselves. There were no trophy or achievement systems, but when you were about to break a high score at the arcade, you somehow magically had a dozen friends that you never met standing over your shoulder to cheer you on. More and more, I found myself turning to “retro” gaming, be it through re-releases of classic games or through emulation. Even playing the exact games from then, the experience is still what is missing. Wanting to recapture that aspect I have sworn that I would have my own arcade cabinet for the better part of the last ten years.
There was always a reason that I never got the project off of the ground. When the bug would hit, I would not have the time one time, or I did not have the space another time. Over the last five years, I have been a work-from-home, self-employed software architect. In one corner of my office, sat a recliner that only had one purpose in life. That purpose was for one of my dogs to sit in and bark at each passerby who was unfortunate enough to use the sidewalk. Recently, I transitioned from the world of being self-employed to going back on the someone else’s payroll, while still working from home. Almost in celebration of the fact, and to the joy of all pedestrians, the recliner left my office within a matter of days. The urge to jump right in and start building crossed my mind, before a rare moment of clarity. These do not come often for me, and I decided it would be documented for prosperity in this blog.
Ideally, I know that I am not the only person who has a corner of a room and a desire for an arcade system. To that end, I want to document not just a simple build log, but to discuss the issues that I come across, the decisions that I make, and the lessons that I will invariably be forced to learn from. In addition to the ultimate goal of my own corner of my room having my very own bit of 1980s-esque nostalgia, I have already decided that it will not be my only project. Instead, I am going to show same equally rare restraint, and start small with a bartop arcade cabinet. As much as I have figured out, so far, these will be two entirely different builds. Size aside, I plan on having a bartop experience that is largely identical to my upright cabinet experience, all while using different hardware, software, and control configurations. When I am done, I am hoping to accomplish a nearly identical gaming experience on each, with as little to remind me that these cabinets are actually made up of modern technology inside of a scratch-built case.
Next time, I will start to dive in on what makes these two builds different and start to establish my project goals.