Funspot's American Classic Arcade Museum fundraiser

Posted in News by on Jan 24th, 2011 11:00 AM

For nearly thirty years, I have been pumping quarters into arcade machines at Funspot. This vast entertainment complex, located in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, has long offered amusements for all ages, from bumper cars to crane games to indoor mini-golf. But their largest attraction by far has always been their extensive collection of coin-op machines.

No longer modern, their collection is now retro, and intentionally so. Literally the world's largest arcade, Funspot has adapted itself into the American Classic Arcade Museum , the first non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and play of vintage arcade games. Hundreds of machines, all still a quarter each, make this into a living museum, prompting nostalgia in its older visitors and education for its younger. The arcade has been featured in multiple documentaries, including King of Kong and Chasing Ghosts; it is host to the annual International Classic Videogame Tournament; and its wares are regularly transported to Boston for the enjoyment of PAX East attendees.

Now the museum needs your help. Despite the ACAM's considerable lineup of classic games, just as many are unable to be put on display, due to needing expensive repairs or a lack of space in which to present them. To overcome these limitations, the ACAM is holding an online fundraiser. Proceeds from this drive will allow Funspot to add a 5,500 square-foot expansion to the existing 7,500 square-foot game room, acquire the hardware and accessories needed to make the rest of their collection presentable, and present new displays commemorating the heyday of the arcade.

ACAM is a destination any gamer should treasure. With so few modern arcade games being developed, and most of them costing multiple dollars per play, the amount of enjoyment offered by ACAM is a bargain. My annual pilgrimage costs me only $20 (extended by a generous coupon) for an entire day of play, making a fundraiser seem a reasonable request.

More important, Funspot is a rare opportunity to be reminded of gaming's humble yet fun origins — of the potential for the medium, and of the goal that's supposed to be enhanced, not obscured, by the intervening decades' advances in technology. Just as fledgling programmers have much to learn from retrocomputers, so too can today's gamers and game developers benefit from familiarity with what has come before.

Funspot and the American Classic Arcade Museum are about more than just fun — they're dedicated to preserving an important part of America's history. Documentaries and emulators can capture only so much; to actually understand and be a part of this tale, you need hands-on experience. Nowhere else can you get that as comprehensively as at the ACAM. Gamers deserve for this institution to realize its vision.

A Very Pac-Man Christmas

Posted in News by on Jan 25th, 2010 1:45 PM

Here we are, a month since Christmas, and I still haven't shared with you my favorite gift. Although the first two seasons of Big Bang Theory comes a close second, tops still goes to this handmade present:

Pac-Man scarf

A handmande Pac-Man scarf, from one geek to another.

The lovely lady seen here stayed up until 4 AM on Christmas Eve, crocheting this gift just for me. I'm not sure which of the two I love more! Apparently the ghost was originally going to be a cherry, but a lack of red yarn led to this superior alternative. Not only does the scarf perfectly fit my interests and personality, but it's stylish in all settings, especially the ones I frequent, such as the Funspot arcade in Laconia, NH:

Pac-Man at Funspot

Pac-Man is coming at me from all sides!

I guess there's hope for us geeks, after all!

(Photos courtesy Steven Kahm and Andy Molloy)

Funspot's Champions of Classic Arcades

Posted in News by on Jun 2nd, 2008 1:59 PM

This past weekend was the 10th Annual Classic Video Game and Pinball Tournament at Funspot, aka The American Classic Arcade Museum. At this event, gamers with a penchant for coin-ops of old gather to make and break records from Arkanoid to Zaxxon. Not about to miss either this landmark event or an opportunity to indulge in one of the biggest and best retro arcades in the United States, I made the two-hour trip across state lines this past Saturday to see who and what would be making headlines.

Immediately noticeable upon entering the dim hall were some significant rearrangements. I had wondered how accessible the arcade's 200+ cabinets from the Eighties would be during such an event, but the arcade staff hadn't shirk in their preparations. Along one wall of their indoor minigolf hall was lined each cabinet featured in the tournament, having been wheeled there from the general game floor. Admission to this roped-off area came with a $30 entry fee, but anyone not competing could ignore this hall entirely and enjoy the Funspot's other offerings, albeit sans the competition titles.

It was the people sitting at those units that were my initial attraction. I'd brought my copy of King of Kong with me but was unsure of the propriety of asking for autographs, as the film had represented only one person favorably, and its other stars might take offense. I asked the arcade supervisor if Steve Wiebe was in attendance. "He's not," she lamented, "but several people from the movie are." She rattled off a list of names, including Mark Alpiger, and I myself had spotted Walter Day. Ultimately the most I could muster was to grin foolishly as Referee Day walked by, which he acknowledged wth a hello. I decided, even if these gamers are celebrities, they weren't here to be famous, and I did not want to distract them from their high-scoring goals.

From across the minigolf terrain, there was little expert gaming I could witness, so I repaired to the amateur hall to enjoy some gameplay of my own. Several new machines had been added to the collection just since my last visit in September, prompting me to marvel how even a historical museum can remain new and exciting. With just a fistful of quarters, I didn't spend much time at the arcade, knowing I'd be back soon and in more gaming-oriented company. But being even a momentary witness to the stars of this niche realm made it worthwhile trek.

Pac-Man: Championship Edition

Posted in News by on Dec 15th, 2007 5:14 PM

I'd previously outlined the many online wares available for the three major consoles. Here, I'd like to review my current favorite: Pac-Man: Championship Edition.

Now, this may be blasphemy around here, but I was never a big fan of the original.  This isn't to say that I disliked it — I liked it just fine — it's just that for me, it was nothing more than an occasional five-minute diversion.  Dodge the ghosts, eat the pellets, eat the power pellets for a bit of revenge, and repeat: quick cheap fun while you're waiting for your food at the local recreation center, and that's about it.

Pac-Man: Championship Edition changes all that.  The game is still simple fun, but by making a few changes, it's also added levels of depth for those who really want to get into it.

What changes are those?

  1. Evolving levels.  Instead of eating all of the pellets to proceed to the next level, the level morphs as you eat pellets.  Levels are split into a left side and a right side.  Clear all the pellets on one side, and a piece of fruit will appear on the opposite side.  Eat the fruit, and the cleared side will refresh with a new layout, more pellets, and maybe some power pellets.  No pesky level transitions to interrupt the action.
  2. Adaptable difficulty.  The longer you stay alive, the faster everything gets; die, and the speed slows down a bit.
  3. New scoring system.  Eat many pellets without dying to increase the points given per pellet.  Chain power pellets together (eat the next power pellet before the first one runs out) to gain more points with each consecutive ghost eaten.  Eat a lot of fruit to unlock higher point fruit.
  4. Time limit.  The goal is no longer to last as long as possible, but to get as many points as possible within the allotted time, thus encouraging more aggressive play and maing the experience that much more exciting.
  5. Five additional modes, each with a different level style and time limit.  The standard Championship Mode has a wide variety of level designs and a five-minute time limit.  There's also a speedway mode (five-minute time limit, long straightways, all sprites are on maximum speed all the time); a dark mode (10 minutes, only the walls immediately around Pac-Man & the ghosts are lit up); feast and famine (the stages go back and forth from having a ton of power pellets to having none); small to big (10 minutes, stages start out confined and steadily become more open); and variety (10 minutes, variety of stage designs).

Throw in some subtly enhanced visuals & audio (improved but with plenty of retro appeal) and online leaderboards to track your scores, and you have a game that appeals to both casual and hardcore gamers.  The casual gamer will enjoy trying out the different modes and just trying to survive for the entire time limit, whle the hardcore gamer will spend hours mastering the different modes, trying out new strategies (do I focus on ghost chains or try to clear the pellets as fast as possible? focus on one side of the screen or both sides equally?), and trying to get the best scores on the worldwide leaderboards.  Pac-Man: Championship Edition is the perfect example of how you successfully update a classic game.  At a mere $10 to download, there's no excuse not to buy it if you own an Xbox 360 and if you don't already own an Xbox 360, it's a good incentive to get one.  It's easily one of my picks for one of the top 10 best games of 2007.

King of Kong

Posted in by on Sep 29th, 2007 11:02 AM

The King of Kong wallpaperIn 1982, Billy Mitchell set the Donkey Kong world record high score of 874,300. He quickly found fame and fortune when LIFE magazine splashed his face alongside those of other elite gamers considered the greatest of their generation, in a photo-spread in their January, 1983, "Year in Pictures" issue. Many felt his amazing score would never be bested. Then, in 2003, an unassuming science teacher from Redmond, Washington, shattered the long-standing record. In a video-taped performance, Steve Wiebe posted a staggering 1,006,600 points. But there was a problem: the score only counts if it's certified by Twin Galaxies, the self-appointed official keeper of classic video game records. And TG founder and "World's Video Game Referee" Walter Day puts it succinctly: "Twin Galaxies does a lot to promote Billy, because it's to Twin Galaxies' advantage — and very much to the whole gaming hobby's advantage — for Billy to become a star."

Mitchell, a larger-than-life character with a world-class mullet, is a hot sauce mogul and successful restaurateur from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He's also the self-proclaimed "World's Best Video Game Player". Unfortunately, in The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, the new movie from director Seth Gordon (now in limited release), Mitchell comes off as something of a very big fish in a very small pond: in fact, the only thing big enough to match Billy's legend is his ego. Mitchell's opening line in the movie not only sets the tone for the upcoming competition between Billy and his challenger, lovable loser Steve Wiebe, but also gives us a fascinating glimpse into the psyche of an egomaniac. King of Kong is littered with priceless Mitchell one liners: "He is the person that he is today because he came under the wrath of Bill Mitchell"; "Since I so-called debuted on the scene at LIFE magazine in 1982… there hasn't been anybody who's played even close"; and "Maybe they'd like it if I lose. I gotta try losing some time." With a gaggle of video gamer disciples at his beck and call, including one who considers Billy "the champion" and himself "the prodigy", it's clear that Billy Mitchell is very invested in maintaining the mystique of his image. "Everything about him is perfect; Billy is just that person," proclaims one. Even Walter Day seems entranced by Mitchell's charisma: "There's no reason why Bill Mitchell couldn't end up on a Wheaties box someday."