No quarters given
May 21, 2014 10:40 PM   Subscribe

Arcade Story - the co-founder of innovative OS X and iOS software outfit Panic reminisces about learning how to beat Dragon's Lair in the pre-Internet age, but that's not the fun part...
posted by Blazecock Pileon (17 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Great story! It reminds me of the time I spent several hours watching Gauntlet II at the 1986 Origins gaming convention in Los Angeles.

Not only was this a new version of Gauntlet, but you could pick your character. Wow! Red Valkyrie! Even better than that was the sign that appeared on the machine on day two of the con.

"$100 Gauntlet II Play Session with Steve Jackson and friends. 9 P.M."

Steve Jackson--my gaming hero who created Car Wars, GURPS, Ogre and many other great games. I was there an hour before, perched near the right joystick (red position) waiting for the grand game to start.

While I did not play in the game, just watching Steve Jackson and his game designer pals chat strategy before starting the game was ambrosia. Seeing the gang dropping $10 in quarters (each) to start with their characters health at unheard of levels (bong-bong-bong to 20000 health) was staggering to my 13-year old brain.

Picking up the discarded quarter rolls and exclaiming "Wow! These rolls were touched by Steve Jackson!" got an appreciative chuckle from the crowd. Seeing them roll through the levels powered by hundreds of quarters, quipping and jibing with each other, backed by a cheering crowd was a terrific experience, gawking at the weird levels after 100.

I did get called back to the hotel room by my folks after midnight, but it was a very memorable session that evoked similar feelings described in the article. Great community gaming experience!
posted by JDC8 at 12:13 AM on May 22, 2014 [20 favorites]

"Like the nerd version of the world’s greatest hip-hop act dropping the mic and walking off stage, I just walked away from the game. I’d made the last move."
posted by fairmettle at 4:04 AM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm trying to envision my parents allowing Princess Daphne into my house at that age and it's just not happening.
posted by darksasami at 4:33 AM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fun story. I was always intrigued by unique games like Dragon's Lair and Time Traveler, but mostly just got frustrated by them. I would have definitely been one of the kids looking over his shoulder.
posted by bwilms at 5:39 AM on May 22, 2014

Oh man, this post brings back so many memories. I was the right age to be an obsessed kid with Dragon's Lair, but I had to do it the hard way two quarters at a time at the local grocery store. I remember seeing the end of the game but I don't think I ever got good enough to get there myself, maybe I used to watch another kid play. Oof, what a terrible game, but it was magic.

It's really hard to imagine life without the Internet. That kind of slow social learning with videogames almost never happens now. Although Twitch plays Pokemon has a similar feel.
posted by Nelson at 7:10 AM on May 22, 2014

I smiled reading through that.

I had a similar youth. After 8th grade in 1980, my dad took me and my brother on a cross country drive from New Jersey to California and back in my dad's new craptacular Oldmobile Cutlass Diesel (that car would freeze up in the summer in the Sahara). I knew that everywhere we stopped there would be a couple games, almost assuredly one of them was an Asteroids. I didn't have much money, but I made a habit of looking the coin return slots of pay phones and enough of that would help me make change.

When I was in college, I bought an Asteroids machine from a failing Arcade for $150 and jammed it into the back of my parents' craptacular Dodge Omni 024 (a car manufactured to fail in very specific ways at very specific times). It was mostly in, but still hung out the back and it felt like I was driving up hill. I fixed it up and got it back in good shape. The mechanical coin counter read 30000, meaning that the machine easily paid for itself. That game followed me around for years and eventually I moved it into my cube at work when I was at Adobe. Thing is, I didn't really like Asteroids all that much, although I was good at it.

I really got hooked on Defender. It was a game that I played enough as a kid that at one point I was hallucinating landers. My top score was close, but not quite to the "trip the Defender score bug" and I had a hard callous on the first knuckle of my left middle finger and another on the heel of my left hand. My friends and I mapped out pretty much all the Defender machines in driving distance and had a pretty good feel for which ones were and set to easier settings. During spring break in high school one year, we took a trip to a mall that had a substantial arcade and my friend Karl played one game of Defender and scored just shy of 8 Million, which took over 7 hours.

Around that time, I was a budding game programmer and had tried to get a summer job at Williams (and failed). While at a sub shop, one day the game operator came by to tweak the games and while he was working on Stargate, I asked if I could have a look at the internals. He did better - he gave me the manual with the schematics. I had a half hour to read and take in the content and learned so much - how the color mapping worked, how the game was 4 bits per pixels, what the clock rate was, how the sounds were managed, and so on. Illuminating.

At Adobe, I still had a collecting itch, so when an Arcade in Oakland was shutting down, I rented a truck and showed up with cash and a friend. We had the opportunity to buy a Defender, but I chose to pass - instead, I bought a Robotron machine (side note - for a while after owning that game, I was probably in the top 10 Robotron players ever - I could play as long as I like). We pulled the roms, disassembled the code and worked out the inner workings of the game (detailed here). I ended up meeting Eugene Jarvis, which was a joy. We ended up making control panels so that the Robotron could be set up to play Robotron, Stargate, and Joust and bought the ROMs to run them. Defender was theoretically possible (at that time) to run on Robotron hardware, but it needed at least one patch for hardware differences.

Now, many years later I now own a Defender although currently I have it running on a reimplementation in a PAL since there is something wrong with the video clock and I haven't had time to sort it out yet. I also have a Golden Axe which I bought for near nothing because (1) it was a Jamma rig and I have a stack of Jamma based games, but more because I knew that there was a Joust cabinet underneath the default black spray paint that was waiting to get out.
posted by plinth at 7:43 AM on May 22, 2014 [15 favorites]

In 83/84 I worked in an arcade. I was reciting that attract scene in my head as I scrolled down to find it embedded in the article. Indelibly marked. That and "Body blow. Body blow"
posted by humboldt32 at 9:32 AM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Great story! I smiled all through it...Dragon's Lair was a very hard game...I could never get the timing right for pushing the joystick or the sword button, so I gave up after a few cracks at it.

Humboldt32, you just triggered a flood of good memories. I used to have Punch out! on my MAME emulator, and I couldn't get enough of it! "put him away! Left hook, left hook, uppercut... He's down for the count! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (ding! ding! ding!)....KNOCK OUT!"

Sadly, I could never get past Mr. Sandman....maybe it's time I fire up the emulator again!
posted by KillaSeal at 10:45 AM on May 22, 2014

The game at the arcade near me cost four quarters instead of one. After being killed nearly instantly the first couple of times I played, I gave up and just waited (sometimes for a long, long time) for another, older kid to come along and play the game so I could just watch. Nobody ever made it very far, though, so I never saw the ending. Worth watching on YouTube?
posted by Thoughtcrime at 10:55 AM on May 22, 2014

Worth watching on YouTube?

Having just watched it on YouTube, no, not really. Kinda amusing until the princess appears, but then you find yourself rooting for the dragon.
posted by YAMWAK at 12:11 PM on May 22, 2014

If you are curious about these games, Dragon’s Lair, Dragon’s Lair 2, and Space Ace are available for your iOS device for a few bucks each

I think buying Space Ace was one of my first acts after buying an iPad. After about 3 minutes all I could think was, "Admittedly it's been a couple of decades, but I can't believe I let those assholes steal more of my money." Those games are hardly worthy of the name. If we're going to talk arcade cabinets with movie-like graphics, let's talk "M.A.C.H. 3".

Damnit, now you have me thinking of building a MAME cabinet again.
posted by yerfatma at 12:49 PM on May 22, 2014

Hah, i was just about to post this and hadn't seen this post.

I have some childhood memories that this story really reminded me of, and it made me smile more than once.

The first was becoming awesome at this space simulator full-motion arcade game, at the improbably large "how the fuck did this place survive the 80s?" arcade near my childhood home. The newest machines they owned were probably that hilarious full-damage 90s NASCAR game, and nearly everything else in there was from at the latest the early 90s, and slightly falling apart. Google fails me as to what game it actually was, but you sat in a horizontally hexagon shaped pod with a roll cage over the top that slowly rotated and tipped forward and back a bit. There were 3 CRTs(at least) facing you, and the graphics were super primitive 1st gen 3D where everything was just solid, flat surfaces shaded in a single color. The goal was to fly through a bunch of tubes, holes in asteroids, etc and dodge enemies flying the other way through them. The cool part was that you weren't just starfoxing through a forced track, there were objects/enemies in three dimensions in every direction and you could kinda just keep going any one direction and keep running into stuff.

Most kids who sat down at this game died repeatedly, and had gotten a game over within like 30 seconds... then they gave up, because it was like twice the price of any other game. I, on the other hand, was determined. I never actually beat the game, but i'd play for long enough that other kids would hop on the side and watch me fly around blowing shit up for 4-5 minutes. And usually i didn't die of getting shot or ramming something either... the game was buggy as hell, and it was easy to just glitch halfway into a wall and get stuck only being able to pivot a bit and shoot, but no longer move forward. Then you get to the wall of enemies level of intensity and... boom.

I really wish i could remember the name of that damn game.

The other memory though, is a bit fonder. My across the street neighbor was a glass blowing hippie... lawyer. He was around 30, had a huge house to himself that he let his friends crash at all the time, and had an entire HUGE dining room he had converted into an arcade. Defender, robotron, pole position, battlezone, galaga, ms pac man. It was the creme de la creme, and there must've been at least 20 machines. It was all on free play too.

He'd occasionally have an open invite BBQ or party and i'd stay in there all afternoon well into the night just playing games non stop while all the adults got shitfaced. I always lusted over that room, and wished that i could go over to his house more often. I had almost gotten really good at ms pac man just from visiting there every couple months and having massive marathon sessions.

Then my college apartment had a ms pacman machine that was instantly broken, but that's another story...
posted by emptythought at 2:08 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I poured so many quarters into Dragon's Lair as a kid. Then one of those "news magazine' television shows of the '80s showed the entire game from start to finish along with all the possible death animations. I don't know if it was Daphne or just the fact that I had already seen it all, but after watching the final sequences I never had any interest in playing that game again.
posted by dances with hamsters at 2:33 PM on May 22, 2014

...but after watching the final sequences I never had any interest in playing that game again.

Annnnddd now you know why that game never lasted in the arcades like the others. Now if you'll excuse me the Robotron in my garage has finished warming up...
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:14 PM on May 22, 2014

Empty thought, you're probably trying to remember S.T.U.N. Runner.
posted by plinth at 3:18 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

This article reminded me that of buying one of these "How to Beat Pac-Man" books and memorizing the shit out of the five or six patterns. I used to visualize the pattern at home so I didn't waste so many quarters. I used to regularly get a small crowd during my 45+ minute games in my small town arcades.

I can no longer remember the full patterns, but I can still beat the shit out of my kids and their friends on my MAME cabinet. So there's that.
posted by Dirjy at 3:47 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

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