My Story or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Arcade

Sherman, set the Wayback machine for 1977. The place: The arcade in the North Grand Mall, Ames, Iowa.

This is where it all started. I was seven when Star Wars came out, and my first video arcade memory is of a cockpit Star Fire.

Whenever my parents took me to the mall, I would frequent the arcade. Eventually, my Star Fire game left, so other games were explored, like Pac-Man, Phoenix, Warlords cocktail, and Space Fury. That alien really irked me!

And I would return over and over again, and the arcade would morph from game to game. Vanguard, Bump 'n' Jump, and my favorite game, Eliminator. Eventually, Eliminator left, and Tac/Scan appeared, along with Time Pilot, Donkey Kong. Sinistar was the first game to really scare me, so I spent many hours battling him.

In 1981, I had compiled my own list of video arcade games (a KLOV of sorts), totalling around 132 arcade games, typed out by hand. In my estimation, I had spent $300 on arcade games by the time I was eleven. I went to sleep wishing I had a Star Wars arcade game next to my bed (it would have gone so nicely with my Empire Strikes Back bed set :-)).

Even my small town of Randall, Iowa (population 176) was affected by the video arcade game revolution of the early 1980's. The local bar, but 3 blocks away, had Hangly Man, which was eventually replaced by Astro Blaster.

I would bike 4 miles to the nearest town to play Donkey Kong Jr, Thief, and an Omega Race cocktail in the back of a grocery store.

By 1982, I was thoroughly addicted. On trips to South Dakota, we would stay at campgrounds and I would beg for quarters to go down to the campground lounge to play Space Invaders II or Pac-Man Plus. Mom would have me swat flies for 1 penny a fly, around our camper, for video arcade game money. These were the sad times of my addiction.

In trips to amusement parks, I would head right to the arcades, where they always had the latest and greatest...Marble Madness, Demolition Derby 4-player, Anteater, Food Fight, Dragon's Lair, Popeye...and I would be chastised for dropping the entire allowance of $20 of my parents money on arcade games, having rode hardly any rides at all and left to starve. But at least I was easy to find :-).

In 1983, at the height of arcade boom, entered Dark Star; a huge space ship shaped arcade in the middle of Iowa State University's campustown in Ames, IA. DarkStar was a huge, multi-level arcade with thousands upon thousands of sequenced lights in the entrance, filling a hexagonal walkway that split into the two larger areas. The interior walls were filled with mirrors and blinking lights and control panels simulating space ship controls (some of them actually did things, as I found out later). Dark rooms were lit only by marquee lights and black lights (and running floor lights so you wouldn't trip on the stairs from one level to another). Lifesize glass-incased movie aliens from Aliens and Star Wars. Large screen projection TV showing MTV all day (Oooo ...Madonna's belly can be *my* Lucky Star) and an arena for battling robots you could control for a mega 50 cents! DarkStar was the arcade version of Studio 54. I went to Dark Star for my 14th birthday, and I remember my sister's boyfriend giving me $5 worth of tokens, with the tokens overflowing my cupped hands. I shoved what I could into my pockets, and spent the rest of the night mesmoried by the arcade games...Moon Patrol, Space Ace, Donkey Kong 3, Gyruss...any game that was open!

After school football games, we'd head to the local pizza parlor and play the arcade games in the backroom; Terra Cresta, KickMan, Robotron, Mikie, cocktail Scramble. We spent countless hours trying to replicate urban legend tricks on Tempest and Galaga, but could never get them to happen...

Around 1986 when my friends and I started driving, we'd head down to the arcades in Ames for a while between cruising for girls and eating pizza. The Dark Star spaceship had crashed along with the arcade industry, and only Zap! arcade remained...Time Soldiers, Forgotten Worlds, R-Type, Terminator 2, Star Trek, Toobin', etc. However, as cruising girls became more enjoyable, we frequented the arcade a lot less often.

Fast forward to 1990...Freshman year of college, I would go down to the campus arcade to escape the dorms. I played the classics like Star Wars, Battlezone, etc. Through 1993, I slowly became more open to the newer games (due to the classics always being taken). I would go there to play games like Metamorphic Force, Block-Out, and the evil Street Fighter II game that drained $5 out of my pocket EVERY SINGLE TIME I WENT THERE! I actually called a place about renting a Street Fighter II game for my dorm room. But you know how budgets in college are :-).

Rochester, Minnesota, early 1994. Working at IBM on a co-op. Up there all by myself, unfamiliar with the territory, I cruise to a local mall one day to do some shopping, and find an arcade. Killer Instinct. Countless hours lost. I really sucked at that game.

Back at IBM, I figure there must be somewhere that tells me how to play this game better. I am introduced to a tool which allow me to view "newsgroups" (which I didn't know about at the time; I didn't even know about the internet at this point). I find! After lurking for a while, I came across a KI FAQ, and printed it out. After careful studying, I was able to actually beat a few of the patrons of the local arcade (which wasn't too smart).

In August of 1994, I returned back to school to finish my Bacholor in Computer Science. By this time, I can complete Street Fighter II with the Blanka character. Such skills are surely to be appreciated by technology companies!

In January on 1995, I start working for Motorola. I once again visit the newsgroup and read it for a few days, then stumble across What? I can buy these things?? The ball starts rolling; the dreams are achievable (now that I'm making the big bucks :-)). The newsgroup leads me to VAPS, which leads me to the list of Illinois collectors. Searching down the list, I see Rick Schieve is the largest Illinois collector. Seconds later, an e-mail is composed inquiring about buying some of his games. Send Mail. Seconds later, I read the VAPS disclaimer about NOT asking members about selling their games. Seconds later, an apology e-mail is composed. Send Mail. Later, I receive a very polite letter from Rick, saying that it's ok, and that he occasionally does have stuff for sale. He mentions an Asteroids Deluxe cocktail. I'm so there.

A few phone calls later, I arrange for a friend to help me pick up the Asteroids Deluxe cocktail (bad monitor tube, rough cosmetic shape, but lots of potential). I buy it for $100. The rest, as they say, is history.

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