Saturday, January 14, 2006

Lost Quarters

As I type, scattered across the country, there are rarely seen sections in storage buildings, sheds and warehouses that are home to a generation of dusty, aging relics of my youth...the coin-operated video game. I turned thirteen the year that Space Invaders was introduced to the United States. As a teenager, these were the greatest games EVER. When the modern multi-level mall, called the MetroCenter, opened in Jackson, MS in 1978, the arcade was the highlight of my visits (along with Camelot Music and Spencer's Gifts). My fondest memories of my Uncle Larry are of us playing Gorf in the Whitehaven Mall (South Memphis, TN).

On into my High School years, I kept dumping cash into these quarter-eaters. In 1981, I started my first "real" job at ShowBiz Pizza Place at 71st and Memorial. At that point, I was constantly surrounded by the latest games...Space Duel, Star Castle, Qix, Star Wars. I took my lunch break every day, sitting at an Asteroids Deluxe cocktail (tabletop) machine, stuffing my face with Aloha pizza (pineapple, ham and shaved almonds) and blasting rocks. We would have long overnight inventory and maintenance parties there, where they would just hand out bags of tokens and let us loose after hours. It's amazing how good you can play a game of Centipede at 4am when you're really into it. I have some great memories of the short time I worked there. The Rock-afire Explosion were pretty creepy after they were shut down (they were pneumatic, so sometimes they would move or make noises long after the last show). The Billy Bob suit was extremely hot, but the belly did make for good groin protection from the ankle-biters during the birthday parties.

After High School, my buddy Greg and I used to play arcade games almost every night over at the 101st and Sheridan Quik Trip. They started with a Galaga, which we eventually got very good at (he always beat my overall percentage, though). Then they switched to a Moon Patrol, which we kicked butt at. The best period, however, was when they moved in a Robotron 2084. This is the ultimate classic arcade game. With only two moves you around, one fires your navigate a highly pixelated landscape with enemies that will draw sweat onto your brow and leave you shaking when you're done (argh...the tanks!). Greg and I went on to play Tag Team Wrestling and Punch-Out when we were working together at TJC Southeast (we helped open the LRC), and I got really good at Dragon's Lair at TJC Metro...but it was never as fun as playing at the Quik Trip and chatting with the interesting (and sometimes gullible) night managers.

Over the past 7 years, I've watched a resurgence of interest in classic games. Much of this has been driven by the success of the MAME project, which emulates most of the classic games on a variety of platforms. Despite the improvements in graphics and sounds of today's modern game consoles, gameplay is still what it's all about...and some of these relics were very strong on gameplay. They had to be, with the limited resources they had to work with. But when I saw that Target were selling a MAME arcade emulation cabinet for around $400 over the Christmas holidays, I knew that it had really hit the mainstream.

I'll be honest, these pictures were not taken in Tulsa. However, I've seen similar stashes all over the United States in places large and small. I visited a warehouse in Denver with over 300 games from 1978-1984, the Golden Age of Arcade Games. Sometime in 1984, the bottom fell out of the arcade gaming industry. With the increasing popularity of improved home consoles, coin-op games went into a huge slump that they arguably have never recovered from. The older games stopped bringing in the quarters that they once raked in on route, so they were pulled and either converted into newer games (boo...hiss) or put into cold storage somewhere. I'm sure that there are several hidden treasures like this around the Tulsa area. Most times you can find them just by looking them up in the yellow pages (vending or amusements). I haven't done so since I moved back here, as I already have more projects to complete than I have time for.

The photos were taken in a small two-story warehouse. At some point during the mid-'90s, in order to consolidate from two to one warehouses, they took approximately 250 old arcade games and dismantled them. Upstairs, the the monitors went onto metal shelves, the control panels were stacked up haphazardly. Mountains of wiring harnesses and coin doors and stacks of marquees, bezels and locks and so many keys, grew as they stripped the games bare, broke down the wood cabinets and threw them away! Very sad indeed. All that wonderful sideart...gone. They did, however keep a small percentage of the original batch, including many classics like Centipede, Galaga, Pac-man cabs of all flavors and even a Star Wars. In a closet off to the side, there are shelves stacked full of neatly boxed and labeled motherboards. Most of these are brand-new (what they call "New-Old Stock" or NOS) boards that have been stored in perfect condition for over 20 years. Some came out of the machines that they scrapped, but they appeared to be in great shape as well. This is pure gold to a arcade game collector. I stood and drooled as my eyes scanned across labels...Scramble, Dig-Dug, Tempest, Robotron, Moon Patrol, Punch Out, Satan's Hollow, was almost more than I could take. Asking the owner if he'd sell me a Asteroids Deluxe board for my cab at home, he quickly says "Nope." It was not up for discussion, apparently. This guy knows what he's sitting on. This was over 3 years ago, but he was looking to sell the entire place, lot, building and all inventory for a single lump sum.

These days, I'm a grown man with a 25" MAME cabinet (built in 1999) to the left of my computer and a 1981 Omega Race to the right. In my garage, I have a Star Trek, Asteroids Deluxe and Rastan (Robby Roto cabinet) waiting for my time and attention. Somehow I doubt that I'll ever make time to work on these as much as I used to before I became a Daddy. Besides, as a hobby, photography is much lighter than moving around 6' 250# arcade cabinets. If anyone is interested in talking arcade stuff with me, please comment. Where in Tulsa did you play your favorite arcade game? Even if you don't care about arcade games, comment anyway and tell me what you think about Lost Tulsa so far. This is a two-way medium we're working with here...I'd love to hear more from you readers.

holy crap, my parents live(d) right by that QT. I too would go and play a lot of games there. Also at the Mazzio's there too! I eventually got my first job at that Mazzios.
I don't have much to say, but I have your blog on my RSS reader and I love your posts! I've lived in the Tulsa area off and on for most of my 51 years and it's great to see all the pictures and the history. Thanks for doing this.
i wanted to tell you i appreciate your enthusiasm for our fair city.

I vividly remember frequenting ShowBiz pizza as child and crawling under the stage to the secret strobe light room that smelled like wet sneakers.
Yeah, I dont have a MAME cabinet but I have just about every ROM concievable. I think the time is ripe for someone to open up an arcade museum of sorts. Kinda like a consignment shop of everyone's arcade mahcines that people can come in and play.
I'm only 15 but i've been reading your blogs and they're absolutely amazing. I used to frequent Eastland mall, and it means a lot to me that you spend time doing this.

You rock my world.
I moved from Skiatook to New York City (via a few cities along the way), where I lived in Queens. In Astoria, Queens, there is the Museum of the Moving Image. Very cool place to go if you are ever in NY. The first time I went I was amazed and delighted when I found, as the last exhibit in the museum, a video game exhibit, complete with working Centipede and Pac-man, for which you could buy tokens and play games. And at the center of the exibit? Pong. An ancient stand-up version of Pong, which visitors were not allowed to play, unfortunately, but which was protected like, say, the Mona Lisa, by a ring of red velvet ropes.

I'll be in Tulsa during August and September, and I just want to say thank you for your website. I'll be using your information to re-visit the sites of places I loved. Ah, nostalgia.
Just wanted to let you know Im restoring an original Robotron 2084 cabinet right now that was converted into a street fighter 2 cabinet. I'll be selling it as soon as it is done if you would be interested
I had similar experiences in the later part of the eighties at the same QT. I remeber playing tigersharks and ikari warriors religiously. That QT was about the only fun thing in that immediate area! Wow the memories!
Anybody remember the old crazys arcade? I think it was on Lewis or somewhere, it was around the corner from Skateworld.
The Coolest kids in Tulsa used to hang out there and play foosball. Video games were just becoming big than, and they had them all. They even introduced Pong and later pac man to Tulsa!
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