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.



New England Tournaments, New and Old

Posted in News by on Feb 19th, 2008 6:37 PM

Those of you in New England looking to prove your mettle should know about two upcoming events:

If you can't wait for the March 9th release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, then head to Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Saturday, March 1st, for a Nintendo-sponsored Brawl tournament. This event is hitting only four sites in the entire country — Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City being the others — with gamers competing for home theater systems, crystal-coated Wiis (whatever those are), and a thousand dollars in Best Buy gift certificates. (Hat tip to nightskyre)

For those who eschew such modern offerings in favor of classic hits, head up to Laconia, New Hampshire (as I do every summer) to Funspot, a "non-profit corporation… established to promote and preserve the history of coin-operated arcade games" — through hands-on experience, of course! With nearly 200 machines from the Golden Age, Funspot offers an annual tournament to challenge the current high-score holders; it was there that Billy Mitchell achieved the first-ever perfect Pac-Man score. Funspot's tenth annual such competition will be held May 29th to June 1st — so break out the quarters, get your Dig Dug on, and kick some classic butt!

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."

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August 14, 2006

Posted in News by on Aug 14th, 2006 12:00 PM

This past weekend, I made a pilgrimage to one of my favorite destinations on Earth: Funspot, located near Weirs Beach on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, USA. This place was a popular vacation spot for my family when I was younger, but it didn't hold quite the same appeal then that it does now. Indeed, Funspot got a lot of flack from 1988 to 1999 – but they knew that, in time, sticking to their guns would produce for them a unique attraction.

That attraction is a room filled with more than a hundred arcade games from the Seventies and Eighties. This is the arcade where Billy Mitchell achieved a perfect score in Pac-Man on July 3rd, 1999. He is one of many whose pictures are framed on the Wall of Fame, while nearby are hung original posters advertising new games such as Dragon's Lair and Space Ace. Along the perimeter of the main room are dozens of pinball machines, from Superman of 30 years ago to more recent devices such as The Addams Family and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The games cost what they did back then: a quarter, unadjusted for inflation. I went to Funspot with someone who had never been to an arcade before – in fact, before last month, she had never played any video game whatsoever. We split $10 in tokens and squeezed out more than two hours of entertainment. We then played air hockey and skeeball, exchanging our tickets from the latter for a Chinese finger trap and some Pixie sticks, before heading from the cold, dark hive of electronic activity out again into the glaring sun of midday to take on Funspot's go-kart track.

Throughout the weekend, I neither stepped foot onto Weirs Beach nor spent any moment of the fading hours of summer sunlight in the waters of New Hampshire's largest lake. I am home again now, thinking to myself of all that I've missed – not the natural wonders of New England, but the 20 years of arcades that have witnessed increased expense and decreased popularity. Fortunately, the fall of that empire can be, at least temporarily, reversed as decades past rise once again by this simple trek to Funspot – made possible by the determination and passion of people such as manager Gary Vincent, technician Randy Lawton, and donors like Curt Vendel, who detached themselves from their own precious gaming artifacts so that they could be made available to all generations at this living museum.