On an unusually warm afternoon for the first of October, Main Street's air of peace and calm was broken by the loud squeals and low sampled effects of vintage arcade machines coming from the open entrance of the Nucleus Gallery in Alhambra, California. Stepping inside, it was as if I were transported back in time: the gallery had been turned into an arcade, a pocket of electronic entertainment that, sadly, you just don't see anymore. All the hits were on display: Dragon's Lair, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Track and Field, TRON and the list goes on. Tables were set up that offered attendees to play on working Ataris, Colecos, Intellivisions as well as a Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Even Rock Band made an appearance. And the best part about it? Fifteen dollars got you free plays on everything from noon to midnight. For many, it was as if their childhood memories were brought to life and welcomed them back home.
This is the second time the Southern California Classic Collectors have held their gathering in a public venue. Initially, the group began as a small collective of enthusiasts who wanted to get together with those who held a similar passion for the games of yesteryear. I spoke to Steve Hertz, one of the individuals responsible for the event about why they would devote the space and time for older games, especially when companies like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have made gaming at home a mainstay. “It's the nostalgia,” said Hurtz, speaking over the chatter of people buying copies of old Atari games. “It's a chance to relive the glory days of gaming.” During our conversation, it was really easy to tell just how passionate he was about the subject. William Cassidy, another of the SC3 team, talked to me about the group's history and how it initially began with a specific focus on consoles like the Atari 2600 and Intellivision. “It wasn't until we expanded to arcade games that more people wanted to join.” SC3 became a home to both console and arcade collectors who, through their own connections, introduced more and more enthusiasts to the group.
What amazed me about the event was that all the arcade cabinets were not on loan from some sort of rental company or business that deals in gaming equipment, but represent the personal collection of a few SC3 members. The quality condition of the machines just goes to show how serious they take their hobby. All the arcade cabinets were in such beautiful, working condition that one would almost expect to see David Lightman, Kevin Flynn or Alex Rogan turn away from them after nabbing the high score. Although there were a large number of familiar machines, there were several I had no idea existed. Turkey Shoot was an arcade shooter that tasked you with using a light gun to shoot, well, turkeys as they robbed banks or attacked the police. After completing a stage, a fan within the cabinet would blow feathers in front of the screen. A Discs of TRON cabinet allowed the player take on Sark one-on-one and there was an original Tapper machine complete with original Budweiser branding. I experienced my own sense of nostalgia as I made my way around the room. I piloted an X-Wing through the Death Star's trench, steered my lightcycle to victory, became the primary cause of death for poor Dirk the Daring and I would have gotten a good score in Paperboy if it wasn't for the hearse that pulled out at the last moment. There was one machine that had been the cause for much hooting, hollering and cheering. Warlords, developed in 1980 as a four player version of Breakout, tasked each player with breaking down the walls of an opponent's castle and as the barriers got thinner and thinner, players and onlookers were sucked into the delightful spectacle of competitive play. When the game was over, the room sounded like a baseball player had just hit the game winning home run.
The event drew a large crowd of mostly twenty and thirty somethings who were either reliving their past or introducing their children to the games they used to play. Attendees Diego and Sasha, fresh off an intense Dragon's Lair session, were enjoying their time at the show and felt an affinity with the older games because of the memories attached to them. Diego, twenty-six years old, finds value in classic games because current titles lack the spark and simplicity of those developed twenty years ago, a sentiment that Sasha quickly and enthusiastically shared. No matter the age, everyone in attendance was smiling and having a great time, something Hertz was happy to see.
Game-inspired art was on display featuring a great range of talent that drew upon classic heroes and villains to inspire them. There was a large mural painted by one of the SC3 crew spotlighting famous faces and catchphrases, pin-up style art prints, a hand knit sweater bearing the SC3 logo and even a hand knitted blob from the NES classic A Boy and his Blob placed atop a mountain of jellybeans. As the night wore on, guests were treated to musical performances by chip tune artists 8 Bit Weapon, ComputeHer and virt, their music adding to the symphony of blips, beeps and squeals.
It's unfortunate that arcades just don't exist anymore. But thanks to the minds behind SC3, the classics will never be forgotten and always have a home. It was fun to spend an entire day with people who I didn't know, but instantly shared a connection with. Despite the emergence of classic gaming on Xbox Live, Playstation Network and Virtual Console, arcade games like Satan's Hollow, Dig Dug, Mr. Do!, Mad Planets and Sinistar run the risk of fading into obscurity. It is this reason why classic gaming groups like SC3 are so important because they preserve the memory and respectfully maintain the roots that have allowed video games to flourish into the billion dollar industry we know today. Additionally, SC3 gives the older generation an opportunity to relive their past and share it with their children. If you're interested in more information about SC3, visit their website at http://www.sc3videogames.com/
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.