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Share Your Arcade Memories and Win an Atari Arcade

The Gameroom Blog has an Atari Arcade to give away. What’s an Atari Arcade? Well you best go read this and then come back.

Share your favorite arcade memory with us in the comments section below. One person will be selected to win the Atari Arcade from all of the entries.

Here is my favorite arcade memory…

During the 80’s we lived in the Washington DC suburbs of Northern Virginia. Malls were big back then and the nearest mall to us was the Springfield Mall. The great thing about the Springfield Mall to me of course was the arcade — only the Springfield Mall actually had two arcades. There was the original Time-Out upstairs and the even bigger Time-Out 2 downstairs.

On my birthdays, my mother would usually just ask me what I wanted. One year I wanted a catcher’s mitt, another year it was baseball cards, and so on and so forth. It was 1982, the height of the arcade era and I was a total arcade junkie. The problem was I never had much money to play games. I was too young to have a job, and allowance money was few and far between.

My visits to the arcades were usually very brief, as I was not particularly skilled in any one game — and was pretty terrible at pinball back then too. Games like Defender, I would not even try as I knew my quarter would disappear in less than a minute. That game was just too hard for me…and I still avoid it to this day.

Time-Out: History of a Small-Town Arcade

Well for that year’s birthday, I asked for arcade money. It was one big blast of a day. My mother gave me $20 to spend and it seemed like a million to me. I was used to having two quarters (if I was lucky) to spend at the arcade and had to carefully determine what two games I was going to play. The rest of my arcade time I would spend watching others play or hoping to catch someone leave a credit on a pinball machine.

But not this day! I was able to try games I had only seen others play. I finally even played some Defender (yes it kicked my butt, like I knew it would)! I also tried every single pinball they had at the time (Gorgar and Haunted House were my favorites) and just had a total blast of a day.

If only I could warp back to the Time-Out arcade and do it all over again! But I guess that is kind of what we are trying to achieve with our game rooms.

So what is your arcade memory? Please share it in the comments section below.

Chris

When I was a kid, we lived near a major airport. My buddies and I used to ride our bikes up to the airport and roam around, ride the people movers, etc. We discovered that you could turn in the luggage carts back to the racks, and every time you did so, you got a quarter! Well we scoured the airport, asked people, and gathered up as many carts as we could and returned them all for tons and tons of quarters. It just so happened that the airport had a great arcade. They had a sit down Star Wars, Taxi, Fire!, and Dig Dug. We’d make a whole day of playing games, and then going out to find carts to return to get more quarters. Great times!

admin

Wow…if only I were smart enough to think of that. Awesome!

Ben

I used to go to Aladdin’s Castle arcade at the local mall. We weren’t rich by any means and the operator there knew my father. He would always open up what we wanted to play and give us credits. They didn’t have a lot of pinball machines, but I remember playing Ring King and 720 a lot.

Steve (MM)

Growing up in Northern Illinois, I would have to admit that most (if not all) of the fondest memories from my youth centered around the arcade or around videogaming in general. Nearly every day, I would search through the bottom of my mother’s purse fishing around for three or four quarters so that I could play a game or two on my way to school. Years later, Mom admitted to me that she knew that I was doing this and always made sure there were at least four quarters in there for me.
Each day, on my way to school, I would stop by a very popular local store called The News Depot. The News Depot was always filled with adults drinking coffee, reading the daily newspaper, and preparing for the busy day ahead. I guess it was very much like a Starbuck’s of today … except for one very important thing. If you walked past the ice cream counter, past the racks of magazines and newspapers from all over the country, and into the very rear of the store you could uncover the real treasures of The News Depot – the arcade games. The News Depot was small, but had room for two pinball machines and approximately 6-8 upright cabinets. Even today, in my mind, I can clearly see the lineup of video games against the left wall, the two pins against the back wall (right next to the bathroom door), and the change machine and one or two cocktail games flanking the right side of the bathroom door. My hometown was rather small and “behind the times” when compared with BIG cities like Chicago or Milwaukee. We didn’t have an Aladdin’s Castle or a Time Out Tunnel or even a Tilt! We had The News Depot and one or two “other” arcades that, now that I am older and less naive, were probably fronts for illegal activities of all kinds. The News Depot was different from the other arcades in town for three reasons!
1. The News Depot was never dark or smoky like the other local arcades. This generally kept the teenagers and troublemakers away from The News Depot.
2. I was actually allowed to go to The News Depot! Even though I occasionally snuck into the bigger arcades in town, it was a well known fact that I was not allowed in them and had my parents found out, it would have been quite unpleasant for me. Again, now that I am older and have children of my own, I completely understand why I shouldn’t have been in those places at nine years old. At any rate, it certainly didn’t make sense to me at the time.
3. Lastly, and most importantly, The News Depot had a way of wrangling the newest of the newly released games into their little shop. Not sure how they managed to beat out the larger arcades in town, but The News Depot had Tempest before anyone else, they were the only place in town one could try out Ms. Pac Man for several weeks after its release, and I’ll never forget the day that Donkey Kong showed it’s face in The News Depot and changed my life forever.
And that is where my story begins …
Before Donkey Kong showed up, I was careful to spread my quarters around pretty evenly between Defender, Robotron 2084, Asteroids, Ladybug, and Space Invaders. I was never the best player at any one game, so I didn’t really feel the need to practice or improve – I was simply having fun playing as many different games as I could afford to play. That all changed when that beautiful, little blue Nintendo cabinet showed it’s face at The News Depot back in the Summer of 1981. I was obsessed with jumpman, the monkey, and rescuing the girl. I played nothing but Donkey Kong for months. I talked about Donkey Kong constantly, I drew girders and barrels on the front of my notebooks at school, I dreamed about Donkey Kong when I went to sleep at night, and when my pockets were empty I watched others play Donkey Kong endlessly in hopes of picking up a new trick or possibly catching onto a pattern that I hadn’t already learned on my own. Through all of this, I improved a bit week after week. I had the highest score on the Donkey Kong machine at The News Depot – 85,100 – and was pretty much on top of the world. Adults were actually standing behind me (just a 9 year old kid at the time) watching me play the game that I was absolutely certain I was the best in the world at. I started thinking about setting World Records and competing in Donkey Kong Tournaments and winning the World Championship of Donkey Kong, even though of course no such thing existed at the time. It didn’t matter. No one could possibly be better than me at this incredibly difficult game, could they?
Then, the inevitable happened …
I probably shouldn’t have, but at some point I ventured into one of the larger, scarier arcades in town to see if they had a Donkey Kong machine. I had a couple of bucks worth of quarters in my pants and I was planning to put the initials SRM onto the high score slot of their machine as well. (Yes. I had quite a little ego on me even at nine years old.) As it turns out, they had not one, but TWO Donkey Kong Machines at the teenager arcade! I was impressed, but undaunted. I marched quietly and anonymously over to the bank of video games where the two Donkey Kongs were parked. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and the jukebox was blasting Jack & Diane by John Cougar (that’s John Cougar, not John Cougar Mellencamp thank you very much). I was anxious to see how much higher my current DK high score was than the scores that were being achieved by the delinquents that frequented this arcade. You can imagine my utter shock and dismay when I looked at the top row of pixels and saw the score 121,800 ……. What?!?!
How is that even possible?
I sidled over to the second Donkey Kong machine, terrified of what I might find at the top of the screen. This machine had a current high score of 141,500! What made it worse is that every high score in the bank of 5 high scores for BOTH machines was over my current personal best of 81,500. Could this get any worse?
My mind was reeling. Maybe these machines were on an easier setting? Maybe there is a scoring error on the Donkey Kong machine back at The News Depot that makes it impossible to break the 100,000 point mark? In my 9 year old mind, this Donkey Kong conspiracy was actually plausible and I was prepared to defend my perceived Donkey Kong superiority. I decided to try my luck on these two ghastly Donkey Kong machines. As you have probably already guessed, I blew through about 8 games of Donkey Kong that afternoon and achieved a high score of somewhere around 60,000 points. I was crushed. I ran out of the arcade muttering something ugly at the attendant as I crashed through the front door, tears already beginning to well up in my eyes. I grabbed my trusty Mongoose BMX and tore off into the woods near my house where I proceeded to cry for what seemed like an hour, but was probably only ten or fifteen minutes.
You are probably thinking to yourself what a sissy I must have been, but try to remember being nine years old and how important things seemed to you at the time that now seem relatively unimportant. Or … just cut a nine year old Donkey Kong phenom some slack, OK? I was a sensitive little guy back then – have a heart.
The surprisingly sad story you are reading is not over. It does have a happy ending and I implore you to keep reading if you can find the time.
The nine year old boy in this story continued to play Donkey Kong at The News Depot, but became less and less obsessed with it and eventually moved on to enjoy other games. With great pride, that little boy even managed to crack the 100,000 point barrier before the year 1981 ended. No small feat – I am guessing that some of you reading this now still haven’t scored 100,000 points on Donkey Kong. See? Still competitive after all these years. 😉
But … the real joy came a little over twenty years later when that same nine year old boy, now almost 30 and a husband and father of two children of his own, typed the words “Donkey Kong” into his business computer’s search engine during a rather boring afternoon at the office.
What he found was beyond anything he could have dreamed then or now – Donkey Kong machines still exist in 2001!
And … you can own them! They are bought and sold on eBay, of all places!!!
And … you can purchase them play them in your own home!
This started me down a path that most of you reading this now have also journeyed down, an obsession that is collecting, repairing, restoring, and playing the classic arcade machines of our youth. For the past 10 years since I first googled the words “Donkey Kong”, I have been enjoying the hobby that is classic arcade game collecting. I have bought and sold hundreds of arcade games and pinball machines, including more than 10 original Donkey Kong machines. I have uncovered buried arcade treasures left for dead in dusty warehouses for thirty years or more. I have improved my Donkey Kong scores to more than three times what I was able to achieve thirty years ago.
And most importantly, I have made lifelong friends that I otherwise would likely never have met and I have passed on my love of classic video gaming to my colleagues, my friends, and my family. It has been a journey that I have very much enjoyed and hope to continue to enjoy for as long as I am able to hold a joystick or press a button. I owe it all to … Donkey Kong!
Thank You Donkey Kong. Thank You News Depot.

admin

Wow…what a great post! Thanks for sharing Steve and I admit — I have never beaten 100K on Donkey Kong in my life! So you have me there!

George Roush

I wrote this a couple of years ago for IGN.
http://retro.ign.com/articles/959/959387p1.html
Figure it still rings true for a great arcade memory:
“King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” is one of the coolest documentaries ever made. The heated Donkey Kong high score battle between Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe is positively epic. It took me back to my youth, when achieving high scores meant everything in the world.
A couple of years ago, Wiebe was making an appearance at Westwood Arcade in Los Angeles to promote the DVD release of “King of Kong.” And in the old-fashioned spirit of gaming, a competition was held to see who could get the high score on Donkey Kong in five minutes. I signed up as soon as I got there, but when it came down to barrel-jumping time, I feared I would crumble under the pressure.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
One of my favorite childhood memories is going to an audition for the videogame show Starcade. I was just 12 and Starcade was the show to be on if you wanted to prove to the rest of the country just how awesome you were at videogames. Since I was an avid gamer and played in the arcades at least three times a week (much to my parents’ chagrin), I begged my folks to drive me up to San Francisco for an audition to be on the show.
The process was pretty painless. I filled out some paperwork as we sat in a room with a bunch of other families while the casting producer explained a bit about the show and the type of gamer they were looking for. We had to answer some questions to show the producer that we could speak in complete sentences and we wouldn’t clam up once we got on the air. After making it past that (and some kids didn’t), the next round was designed to find out who could actually play games. So, the producers let the kids battle it out over timed games of Q*bert.
I wasn’t even very good at Q*bert, but a lot of other kids were either. Despite my relative inexperience with the game, I beat most of the competition in this round. In fact, I don’t think I died once. But after that, there was another round of competition to whittle the field of contestants down even further. Come on, how many times did I have to beat these kids?
For some reason, this time the pressure got to me. The cool and collected kid that crushed the competition earlier was now a sweating, shaking mess. Was it because I was so close? Was the pressure of being on TV getting to me? I don’t know. What I do know is that death came from the left and right. I was unable to get even a fraction of my previous score. I placed in the top three, but I did not advance to the next round because of all the lost lives. I was pretty bummed out. After all, every kid wanted to be on that show, and the possibility of being crowned Starcade champion and winning my own stand-up arcade machine was something I could brag about to my friends for years. But I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
Fast-forward to that day in Westwood Arcade. It was now my turn to compete against over twenty other people that signed up for the competition. The memories of my past Starcade experience as a child started creeping back. Like Q*Bert, I wasn’t very good at Donkey Kong. Some guy from G4 had a camera right in my face as I was playing the game while other players, publicists and even Wiebe himself looked on. Would I fail once again? After an early death, I pulled it together and scored over 30,000 points in five minutes. Nobody was even close to my score. Wiebe handed me a giant bag of DVDs, shook my hand and announced in front of everyone that I had won.
Sure, it’s nothing to really brag about. I don’t even know if other people were even paying attention when I went up and shook Wiebe’s hand. It may not have been in front of a national audience and I may not have won a stand-up arcade machine, but it didn’t matter. I had finally accomplished as an adult what I failed to do all those years ago: become a Starcade champion.

Chad Krueger

“Hey everybody you got it made/you got it where?/at the Ice Arcade!” ~Ice Arcade by The Chilly Kids
1982. Sharkey’s Arcade in Eureka, Ca. Those precious tokens, five for a dollar, but money didn’t grow on trees. It did come from collecting empty bottles around the neighborhood; ten cents each. So you could say my first real job was “recycler” at age 11.
Ten bottles for an afternoon’s bliss at Sharkey’s was all I lived for. And what game grabbed me almost everytime? Williams’ “Joust”. Single player only, since doubles always got me distracted, killing me with friendly fire. That second player almost always managed to blotch my stride, sending itself or enemies right on top of my precious character. Damn!
But on a good day, it didn’t take long to rack up points, witnessing the ‘safe zones’ falling away with each progressive level and opponents turn from red to white to the dreaded blue knights. And that “unbeatable pterodactyl”? Not so unbeatable when you knew where to stand valiantly in place, letting it run right into your lance without breaking a sweat.
Sharky’s held a monthly competition as well; if one could keep the highest score on a machine for 30 days, they won $5 in tokens. That was 25 credits (this WAS before a credit became .50 cents *shudder*)!
I tried, and tried, and tried. 100,000 points became 200,000. Then 3, 4, 5…One fateful day, 734,000+ was my high score. I proudly approached the counter where some unhappy college-aged employee sat and announced with sheer electricity that I had the highest high-score on Joust. He shuffled over to the machine, wrote the score down with my name and the date, hanging it upon the wall of videogame fame.
My name! Up there!
The very next day, it still stood, that amazing score. The grand experience of blowing away all previous challengers burned a bright fire in my ego, which for a nerdy kid meant the world.
A week later, I was still the champion! Two weeks, three…and on the very last day, it remained. My best friend and I felt like the coolest people in town. Techno-guru, Joust champ, I was the unbeatable pterodactyl for an entire month!
After the 30 days were up, I gathered my hard-earned reward and headed straight for TRON. It was sad to see the Joust high-scores erased, but the heaviness of those 25 tokens were bliss in my pocket, pure hard-earned gold. And that was 50 less bottles I needed to scrounge around for. At least that week.

admin

Thanks for the comment! Here is my King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters story — the producer of the film, Ed Cunningham is an old buddy from high school. We played high school baseball together. He played 1st base and I was at short. Thankfully he was a very tall fellow and he saved me on several of my errant throws!

Matthew James

Birthday parties at the Dream Machine. Dream Machine was a chain of arcades in the New England area in the 80s and 90s. Dream Machines were in any mall worth its salt along with the arcade boardwalks up and down the coast – Salisbury Beach, Hampton Beach, Old Orchard Beach, etc. The one I most frequented was the Methuen Mall one in Methuen, MA. The arcade itself was just your typical 80s/90s arcade: games, pinball, pop-a-shot, skeeball, etc.
The best thing about them is that they would do birthday parties. The party consisted of unlimited tokens for 90 minutes for the entire arcade. If that wasn’t good enough, they would be scheduled before the arcade actually opened on Sunday mornings (hello Massachusetts blue laws) at noon. So to repeat, you had unlimited tokens, the whole arcade to yourselves, and all of your friends. Oh, and it gets better, to get additional tokens, you just had to go up to the ticket prize counter and get an extra 8 at a time. So you’d play on 5 or 6, pocket 3 for later, then grab 8 more. If you planned it right you’d be walking out the door with $15 bucks in extra tokens to come back later.
I had to have gone to at least 5 of these growing up and they were a blast. It was the era of the 4 player beat-em-up, so I remember bonding with my friends over TMNT, Xmen, Wrestlefest, Avengers and NBA Jam. For the kids who weren’t into games, they would just go ape on the skeeball and pop-a-shot and would come out with hundreds of tickets and the huge ass prizes that would never be worth what it took to win them (unless they were free). And here’s where my love of pinball started with Funhouse, Simpsons, Twilight Zone and Addams Family. Once the mall opened at noon, the free tokens would cut off, the doors would open up, and we’d all scatter down to the food court or Papa Gino’s for lunch.
As with almost all arcades, Methuen Mall’s Dream Machine met its fate in the late 90s and now ingloriously is a Applebees, where never a birthday has been a birthday had like one at the Dream Machine.

admin

Thanks for the great story. I still absolutely love Joust to this day and hope to have one in the game room some day!

admin

Wow that sounds like a complete dream. What a great memory. Unlimited tokens for 90 minutes sounds just amazing. The places that do that now usually cap credits at like 10 or so. I see kids at parties that are just standing around the arcade — as the credits do not last very long.

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admin

The winner of the contest is Steve (MM). It was a close call, but Steve’s reply was the most epic.
Thanks again for everyone who participated.

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