As a kid growing up in the 80’s it was almost inevitable that arcades would be a major part of my childhood. What I didn’t realize up until recently was the impact one man, Brian Colin, would have on it. When I think back to the great games of my youth, and the life lessons I learned through them, it’s amazing how many of them involved Brian’s games. Whether it was learning how much teasing is too much, the importance of detail, or not quitting something before you even start it, Brian’s games were a huge influence on my life. What follows are some experiences I had with Brian’s games, all of them true.
When you’re done reading take some additional time to read my recent interview with Brian. In addition to discussing his recent General Chaos 2 Kickstarter campaign, he talks about the future, and even drops some poetry.
But for now, let’s take a look at the past…
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n an early 80’s Friday night my big brother Brian agreed to take me to Royal Skate with him for his weekly hangout session. Food, girls, buddies, underage smoking, you know, the usual. But the sweet smell of tobacco and hormones wasn’t why I had begged for weeks to go with him. The great thing about Royal Skate was that the arcade seemed to take up almost as much room as the rink itself; in fact, unless you were out on the floor skating you couldn’t help but be in the arcade. This was due not only to the large number of machines, but also to a number of oversized cabinets, the most popular of which was an environmental Discs Of Tron. The Discs machine was so popular that they had to have an attendant stand outside the machine to keep the line in check, while a monitor mounted on top of the machine showed the anxious crowd outside how things were going.
Just waiting to play in this sort of environment was a rush on its own. The crowd cheering as players progressed to the next level. The pushing and shoving as people fought to get closer. One player after another stepping out from the other side of the machine as they finished their turn. The attendant slowly pulling back the jury rigged door curtain to usher you in. The explosion of black lights, graphics, and sound as you stepped in.
It didn’t matter that no one cheered me on as I stepped in, or that I didn’t even make it past the first level. I didn’t mind the deafening silence as I stepped out to a sea of eyes narrowed with contempt. I wasn’t even angry that my brother refused to acknowledge me, and that he practically ran away from me on our way to the car. I had failed spectacularly in my time on the stage, but it was still spectacular.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here were two things I loved more than anything growing up in the 80’s, arcade games, and sitcoms. So imagine my excitement one sunny summer afternoon when dad took us to Malibu Grand Prix for a day of fun. Although the place had a pretty boss outdoor race track, the real action was in the sprawling arcade inside. It had tons of games, all of which worked and were still a quarter; it was right up there with Chuck E Cheese’s. As I approached one of my favorites at the time, Spy Hunter, I noticed there was a kid already playing it, although abusing it might be a better word for it. As he stood there the game shook under the impacts of his kicks and shoves. After assuming the classic “next game” stance I looked at his face. My TV riddled brain immediately recognized who it was, Arnold from Diff’rent Strokes! I couldn’t believe it, one of my best TV buds right in front of me playing one of my favorite games! Best. Day. Ever!
Standing next to Arnold I imagined us becoming best friends, going to the same school, and hanging out the in arcade every day. I didn’t realize at the time that Arnold was actually Gary, and he was nearly 10 years my senior. I wish I would have, because it may have been prepared for what came next. As Gary fought with the game he let loose with the most unbelievable verbal onslaught my 10 year old ears had ever endured. I wasn’t a sheltered as a kid, I’d heard things, but this, this blew my hair back. As Gary kicked, jerked, and shoved the machine he said “I’ve got this same game at home, and it plays way better, this one is broken!” Now imagine that sentence buffered to three times the length with every A, B, C, D, F, and MF curse word in existence. I backed away silently, found my dad, and went for a race outside. I never to watch another episode of Diff’rent Strokes the same again.
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y best friend Izzy and I were similar in so many ways. The Killer Bees were my favorite wrestlers, and they were his too. I knew Batman was better than Superman, and so did he. We both preferred Airwalks over Vans. We also had a shared philosophy of kill or be killed when it came to competitive arcade games. This included trash talk, physical violence, and stealing; whatever you had to do to win the game, you did.
One day while we were playing Demolition Derby at Lamppost Pizza I found myself in a rare position. He had positioned his pizza and soda too close to the edge of the cocktail style cabinet. With a violent shove of the machine his meal leapt into the air and crashed onto the carpeting. While he was distracted I took the opportunity to continuously ram his car in a corner until it exploded into a giant oil slick. Looking up in savage victory I saw that he had already walked out. Chasing him down the sidewalk I mockingly asked if he was crying. Although, to be honest it may have come out more like “I’ll bet you’re crying, you baby!”
After not speaking to one another for what seemed like an eternity (two or three days) we finally made up in the way boys do. Not with an apology from me, but an invite to get some pizza and play some games.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he best thing about birthdays growing up wasn’t the cake, the presents, or the love and affection from your family; it was the trip to Chuck E. Cheese’s. Heading to C&C, as it was known, for my birthday didn’t involve stupid hats, frolicking in the ball pit, or snuggling with someone in a suit, no, it was obviously the arcade. Thankfully my father knew this and whole heartily supported the idea of a trip to a place that let him eat pizza and smoke while I went off and did my own thing.
Normally the birthday trip to C&C involved a twenty dollar bill and a few hours of playing random machines, but this year was different. I had played their Rampage machine a few times, but didn’t have the cash on hand to play through to the end. This year I had the cash from my dad, and two week’s worth of lunch money I had squirreled away ahead of time. Skipping lunch every day would be worth it once I finally saw Ralph’s triumphant victory screen.
I got my twenty bucks in quarters then loaded the change machine with an additional thirty one dollar bills. Surely this pile of cash would be enough to see me through to the end. Hours later, after putting my two hundredth quarter into the machine, I was on the verge of tears. I had gotten further than I ever thought possible, but it just kept going. Level after level. Quarter after quarter. It never stopped. There was no end, I would never find what I was looking for.
[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ike most kids growing up in the 80’s I dreamed of one day owning an arcade machine. You can take your dreams of stardom, going to space, or hitting a home run in the World Series, and stick it, owning an arcade cabinet was a sign that you had arrived, that you were an adult.
- Find a local arcade distributor and take a tour of their facility.
- Find one of their less expensive, but not hopelessly out of date, arcade machines and get a quote on it.
- Do something awesome to get money.
- Live in luxury with my own arcade machine!
I found the distributor fairly quickly in the yellow pages and convinced my dad to take me there for a look. He was fully briefed on the plan and gave his full support. No doubt this support was due to the fact that it involved me actually going outside.
When we arrived at the warehouse my mind was blown. As I remember it now there must have been about a million cabinets in there. The manager was surprisingly cool and didn’t kick me out immediately. In fact, he took us to the back and told us to look at all the machines and let him know which ones I wanted him to turn on, as they were all set to free play. Mind blown I “inspected” as many machines as I could for the next couple hours, but I always came back to Xenophobe and its cartoon quality graphics. As we left I cooly glanced at the Xenophobe machine and its 399 price tag, telling the manager “I’ll be getting this one. See you soon.”
With phase two of the plan complete I put my master money making scheme into action. Every week I would take my $15 in weekly lunch money, and $10 in allowance and buy as much candy, soda, and junk food as I could. Since our school didn’t supply anything young kids really wanted I would be the one to meet the demand. In short order I was making $50 a week selling all manner of sugary sins to kids in line for lunch. Sure, I got in trouble a couple times, but this was for Xenophobe!
After a couple months this pusher man was ready to make good on phase four of the plan. I let my dad know I had the money for the arcade machine and would need a ride to go pick it up. Surprisingly enough he didn’t punish me for the embezzlement. Maybe he admired my entrepreneurial spirit, or maybe he felt bad for me when he explained that the price tag actually said $3990.
[dropcap]G[/dropcap]rowing up there were three places within walking distance to play arcade games; Lamppost Pizza, and 7-11 had the best games, but those were on the other side of a busy street that could be a hassle to cross, and they typically charged fifty cents per game. Closer, and more cost efficient, was the liquor store just three blocks away. When I say liquor store, I mean that the name on the sign outside simply said “Liquor Store.” You can imagine the type of place it was just based on the name. Barred up windows, lowlifes loitering outside, and an inventory that consisted of nothing but liquor, Chore Boy scouring pads, and roses in glass tubes. In an interesting twist they had a pretty solid selection of 4 arcade machines right by the front door. While Time Pilot, Track & Field, and Bandlands are all great games, the one that took our attention and money was Arch Rivals. Maybe it was the great two player gameplay, the violence, or how long you could play with a single quarter. Whatever it was, playing Arch Rivals was as much a physical experience off the screen as it was on. Pushing and shoving were the order of the day, you had to be tough to play this game.
One day Izzy and I go into the liquor store to waste some money. We get some quarters from the perpetually hostile cashier and head over to the machines for a bit of the ultra violence. There was already an older kid playing so I put a quarter on the screen indicating I was next. Once his game ended he casually took my quarter, put it in the machine, and played again. Wanting to see the good in people, especially when they’re bigger than me, I figured it was an oversight. So I put another quarter up and quietly said “next game.” Soon enough his game was over and I got ready to slide in, except he took my quarter again. This time I protested, telling him it was my quarter and my turn. He turned to me slowly, and inflated himself like a puffer fish, or so it seemed, and quietly said “I don’t think so.”
With that, we crossed the street to 7-11, where the lights were brighter, and snacks were in more ample supply.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’ve always been someone that enjoyed my sleep. I always had a hard time getting to sleep, but when I did I enjoyed every minute. However much I loved gaming, sleep was always first in my heart. I could play a game for several hours at a time, but when it was time for my 8 hours to start, I always put the game down and hit the hay. Anything less was not an option, and no game would changed that.
That was until I got General Chaos. The first night my friends and I stayed up until sunrise playing meant I called out sick to work that day… and then kept playing. Later that week, the same thing happened. Play all night, call in sick. It happened a few more times until my boss finally told me I’d be without a job if I kept it up. Although the job didn’t mean much to me since I still didn’t want the humiliation of losing my job. It was time to change the tactics. I learned that I could play a game as long as I wanted, sleep for a few hours, then go to work and do a poor job while half asleep. 8 hours of shut-eye was a thing of the past. The lesson I learned was that it was more difficult to fire someone for doing a bad job than just not showing up. The rest of the summer was a blur of General Chaos all night, sleeping a few hours in the day, and vegging out at work until I could play some more Chaos that night.
Years later, when I joined the Army and got to basic training, I discovered something remarkable. I was able to follow the crazy sleep deprived boot camp schedule with no problem. Through months of sleep deprivation I had trained my body to fall asleep within a couple minutes of hitting the pillow, no matter what time of day it was. Unlike my previous job, checking out during my waking hours in training wasn’t an option, I had to be aware of everything at all times. Thanks to the General I can now sleep for a few hours a night, feel fully functional the next day, and fall asleep on a dime when given the opportunity.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] have to admit something. I’ve never played Rampage World Tour in my life. When I saw it in an arcade in the late 90’s I was crazy excited. There was Ralph, my old friend! Things hadn’t changed, but they had changed, how lovely! Then I had visions of starvation… men in mouse suits… pants weighted down with quarters…. then, nothing. I couldn’t see the point of playing a game that had no ending. I didn’t play games for points, I played them to accomplish something! I moved on to another machine, all the while stealing glances of the new Rampage with a nagging feeling in the back of my head.
Thanks for taking the time to read these ramblings, and thanks to Brian for the childhood, even if it wasn’t always fun, it was certainly memorable!