I am sure for most of you it might feel like I’ve gone on ad nauseam about how wonderful it is working at a retro arcade. The simple fact of the matter is however that is 100% the truth. Constantly being around not just the shining and warm glow of the arcade games of the Golden Age. But seeing happy Players outweighs the few times it might start to feel like work.
In particular though there are those moments when the bar of awesomeness is raised even higher. Like last evening when we had very special musical guests drop into the arcade. Thanks to local musician Robert Baldomero aka LucioPro who performed at MagFest last year. He was able to get the ball rolling to have none other than the Bit Brigade perform at the arcade this year.
LucioPro has been a guest performer at the arcade in the past but last evening was the first time he actually revealed he was also secretly Soundwave of the Decepticons!
Now Bit Brigade as well as LucioPro had also just performed at PAX South four days previously. But they totally brought their A game to say the very least. One of the mind-blowing aspects of Bit Brigade is a member of the group is actually playing the game live. The band is playing the music for the level that is being projected behind them. In the case of this video for the opening level of the classic Castlevania!
I do apologize about my tablet’s inability to truly get a great image. I was standing on a chair holding it up over Sinistar while Bit Brigade was rocking out.
Now for those of you that have been or are now rightfully swayed by the power of the Bit Brigade. I have some very good news. They totally have an incredible amount of merchandise that you can purchase from their official store. Items include not just CD’s but Vinyl, T-Shirts, and digital downloads.
Now that you’ve seen the Bit Brigade entertain at the smaller venue that was the arcade. Check out this video from the 2012 MagFest to see some glorious Mega Man 2 action and music!
There is a bit of salty language from the legions enjoying the concert – just a heads up.
In the five previous installments of the Diary of an Arcade Employee I have revealed the beginnings of the Arkadia Retrocade, from the announcement by Shea Mathis of his intention to bring an arcade back to Northwest Arkansas for the first time in 15 years to the obstacles of getting things up to Code so the doors could be opened to the public. With the last installment I left off with it being the day before the grand opening. Many obstacles were overcome by Shea to bring the Arkadia Retrocade to life, lots of sacrifices to his original vision of what the arcade would look like and thousands of hours of hard work and planning brought to fruition thanks to his dedication and the help of family and friends.
On November 10th, 2012 the doors to the arcade were finally opened to the Players of Northwest Arkansas…and they came in droves to experience the thrill of once again being surrounded by other players while attempting the High Score on Donkey Kong and Galaga and so many others. Of course for some this was the first time to experience that electronic magic that can thankfully still ensorcell Players of all ages today.
Now as I said in the last diary entry, I had to work the day of the opening so I couldn’t fully attend and bask in the joy of seeing the Players appreciate the hard work that was put in to bring it to life. But I did make sure to stop by for about five minutes to just snap a few photos before heading to work. Just those few minutes made me feel not only proud for what little I did to help but relieved that Shea’s vision was already being embraced by the community. It was a stellar first day when it was all said and done with a Player count of just a little below 300.
This diary entry is going to be a little different as I plan on showing you how some of the things that have changed from the opening of Arkadia last year, as well as share some of the aspects of the arcade I’m most fond of. In the last diary entry I mentioned that we have a vintage TV and Atari 2600 setup with a wonderful old sofa that would fit right in with the decor of any basement from the late 70s!
The collection has grown quite a bit over the last year in no small part to the generosity of the community as well as Flack and the Retroist himself, I believe at last count we offer 110 Atari cartridges for the Players to enjoy.
When the Arkadia Retrocade first opened its doors this was the basic layout for the machines. Shea had the arcade wired up so there would be a ‘Showcase’ row of games for the Players to see when they passed by the windows. In the beginning as you can see in the photo we had Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, Mario Bros., Galaga, Centipede, and Ms. Pac-Man.
This photo was taken from outside through the window but you can see we had Sinistar, Gorf, and Phoenix in the corner.
On the opposite side of where we had Donkey Kong, etc. was Pac-Man, Dig-Dug, Mr. Do!, Milipede, and Burgertime. In this photo you can see Tempest in the background as well as Time Pilot and Pengo.
The machines continued along the wall until it reached the Snack Bar, with games like Tiger-Heli, Operation Thunderbolt, Jungle King, and Battletoads to name a few.
The opposite row from the wall included titles like Shooting Master, Street Fighter II, Double Dragon, Willow, and Astynax.
Then of course we had our cocktail games on the deck. At the beginning we had Crazy Kong, Pong (A four player model), Popeye, Centipede, and Frogger.
A view from the office would have showed you this. You can see Shea Mathis with his back to the camera as well as his right hand man, the esteemed Andy Pickle leaning against Final Blow, and one of our regulars to the arcade, John M. who is probably looking to see if he still had the high score on most of the machines.
This is how the main floor of the Arkadia Retrocade looks today.
One of the first things Players requested at Arkadia was a Foosball table as well as an air hockey table. Shea was too happy to oblige them. In fact we’ve gone through two Foosball tables and three Air Hockey tables since the doors have been opened.
Does the ‘brick wall’ behind the air hockey table look familiar to you? That would be because Shea had selected that section of the building to showcase a machine he had hoped to obtain before the doors opened, but a month late is all well and good when the Arkadia Retrocade could offer this…
…as well as this.
I’m going to end this diary entry here for now, this is not the end of the series though, I hope I’ve given you a glimpse behind the scenes of what it took to bring such a wonderful place to life through these first 6 entries. With the next entry I will begin to share what it is like to be an employee in a fully functioning arcade!
Thank you all so very much for reading these diaries and I hope you will hop on over to the Arkadia Retrocade Facebook Page today and give Shea and the arcade a mighty congrats on its first year anniversary.
I will leave you with what is my favorite photo…this was taken just a few days after Shea’s announcement and you can see myself flanked by Shea on my right and Shannon on my left. It was the beginning of a time where the arcade held so many promises…and thankfully delivered on them.
In the four previous installments of the Diary of an Arcade Employee I have revealed the beginnings of the Arkadia Retrocade, from the announcement by Shea Mathis of his intention to bring an arcade back to Northwest Arkansas for the first time in 15 years to the obstacles of getting things up to Code so the doors could be opened to the public. With the last installment I left off with it truly being crunch time, we had been fortunate enough to get the deck for the cocktail games up and ready as well as the walls for the party room and the basic layout for the arcade machines that would greet the Players when the doors to the Arkadia Retrocade were finally open to the public.
So the brass ring was within reach at this point for Shea Mathis and the Arkadia Retrocade…there was just a whole ton of sanding and painting left to accomplish. At this point in the construction I learned that on November 1st, 2012 the arcade had truly reached a point of no return. Shea had exhausted all of his available finances with the purchasing of paint and various pieces of furniture, such as tables and chairs for the Players to sit and relax while looking out across the shopping center, as well as the vintage TV and couch for the Players who wanted to give the Atari 2600 a spin. If we didn’t open in nine days…all of our hard work would be for naught.
So I immediately requested my vacation days from my day job, which I’m lucky enough to work at a place that would allow that, and Shea with our friends and family got down to brass tacks. For Shea and I that meant 12 hour days filled with one monotonous chore, sanding down drywall. For those of you that have worked with the accursed stuff you know how it finds a way to get into and onto everything…on top of the arcade games and inside them…on the people working with it and sadly inside their noses, ears, and lungs.
I would go home at night and take a long shower and it felt like I had a pound of the stuff inside me. Thankfully Shea was smarter than I was and took the precaution of wearing a mask while working on the walls…not that he didn’t feel like Q*Bert now and again while doing so.
To be honest it wasn’t all backbreaking labor even if I might have felt it was at the time. It especially helped when we would get awesome artwork to hang on the 1980s Memory Wall from fellow Retroist writer and artist, Christopher Tupa!
During the early stages of building, Shea and his older brother Shannon, when he wasn’t helping with the construction, was giving a lot of help in regards to finding even more machines than the 50+ Shea originally started with. So before the task of painting began the arcade machines that would be ready to play grew in number in a matter of a few weeks. There wasn’t a point in the workday that the arcade now didn’t have 3 to 5 people at the very least doing something to get the Arkadia Retrocade up and running.
Jeremy Bright would be working on installing free play buttons on the machines, you can see that gosh darned drywall dust on the machines in this pic by the way.
Now Jeremy could have easily drilled holes in the machines but Shea rightfully wanted to make sure that everything was done to be unobtrusive and limit any true damage to the original cabinets. Most of the time that involved removing the locks on the coin door of the machines and replacing it with the free play buttons and a backing so that they couldn’t be pushed too hard and drop into the coin box. Though I can tell you that does happen from time to time no matter how hard we tried to stop it.
It was also time to begin the painting process, earlier in the construction it had been planned to be a multiple color scheme but those budget cuts that I’ve talked about meant Shea had to go with one color and he decided on a Nintendo Entertainment System gray. I had burned through all of my vacation days so I reluctantly had to go back to work, 2PM until 6AM, so Shea put out a call to pretty much all of his friends and family for one evening of everyone gathering and painting the arcade. I was working of course so I didn’t get an awesome shot of everyone pitching in, but early that afternoon I did snap this photo of John Hillier and his family getting a start on the painting.
When I got back to the arcade it looked totally different. Almost all of the painting had been finished but thanks to a friend of Jeremy there was a sign to be constructed at the back of Arkadia. It started out looking like this…
…and by the end of that night it looked like this!
That wasn’t the only sign work to be unveiled that night. Shannon had obtained the Arkadia Retrocade banner to hang on the outside of the building so the Players could find us, which by the way was destroyed many months later due to a massive storm. Their is a permanent sign on the outside of the building now I am happy to report, still this banner was the first and that makes it special…which is why we’ve kept it in the back room even if it is in tatters.
The black paper you see on the inside of the windows in this pic is what Shea and his brother came up with to combat the setting sun making all of the games on the showcase row unplayable because of the glare.
The Snack Bar got a sign from an old diner that we were happy to accept, that helped to let the Players know what snacking and beverage options the Arkadia Retrocade offered.
To give you a sneak peek the Snack Bar like the arcade continues to go through improvements, so when the doors were open you just had the diner sign, it quickly gained decorations of its own however…
…and then more decorations.
My friends, we had reached November 9th, 2012 and Shea had declared the doors would open the next day…they absolutely had to…now sadly I had to work that following day so I was only able to drop in for about five minutes to celebrate the Arkadia Retrocade opening…but that I will save for the sixth chapter of the diary.
In the three previous installments of the Diary of an Arcade Employee I have revealed the the beginnings of the Arkadia Retrocade, from the announcement by Shea Mathis of his intention to bring an arcade back to Northwest Arkansas for the first time in 15 years to the obstacles of getting things up to Code so the doors could be opened to the public. With the last installment I left off with the hard work that Shea as well as his friends and family were putting into the arcade with the building of the party room and cocktail game deck.
So we had most of the dry wall up and secured by this time in the birth of the Arkadia Retrocade which meant it was once again time for us to direct our attention back to the cocktail game deck. Due to the surprise cost of obtaining a three compartment sink the original idea for the deck had to be scaled back. As originally planned it would function as a 3 foot island in the middle of the arcade where the Players could take a breather and look out over the games and other players, enjoying a soda or snack while playing our cocktail cabinets. Of course the budget cut changed that but in this particular case it turned out to be for the better in the long run, while we naturally still needed to build a wheelchair accessible ramp we didn’t require railings on the edge of the deck.
In this second photo you might notice the amount of Dr. Pepper and Mt. Dew resting on the snack bar along with all of the bags of nails and other building materials. Somehow Shea stayed rail thin while I ended up gaining ten extra pounds during the construction phase!
At about this time we had a very lucky break. Shea knew that he was going to have to learn to repair the machines as they went down, which when dealing with sometimes 30 year old games is something you have to prepared to accept, but he still wanted to find someone local we could count on to help keep the games up and running. I mentioned before that we did everything we could to make sure that people didn’t know what Shea was working on by putting up butcher’s paper in the windows, word though still got out on the streets and that word reached the ears of Jeremy Bright…who just so happened to be a high-school friend of Shea and myself.
Besides being super excited about the idea of an arcade opening up again…he happened to be a student of electrical engineering. A quick talk with Shea one afternoon while we were working on the deck and the Arkadia Retrocade had its ‘mechanic’!
Within two days Shea and I had completed the construction of the deck, though we still had to paint it of course. Before the sun went down on the second day, Shea had begun to move the arcade games to roughly where he wanted them to be when it was time to open the doors to the Players. That evening we celebrated of sorts as Shea revealed another decoration design, this time to the deck. Blue ‘Tron’ lights that would run the entire length of the deck so that when Shea lowered the lights in the arcade the Players would still be able to see and not trip on it.
I’ve documented nearly 100% of the entire process of the building of the Arkadia Retrocade. I’ve over 3000 photos of the construction ranging from the few you’ve seen in the diaries to under the stairs of the office to the inside of every arcade machine on the floor. The amount of work that Shea put into the arcade not to mention his blood and sweat and occasional tears demanded to be preserved (I admit I had always planned to make these arcade diaries as well). When we dimmed the lights that night I took some of my favorite photos so far…the machines glowing in the dark just itching to be played by a new generation!
It was a magical moment to be sure and still continues to be every night that I get to visit the arcade. When the business day is done and the music is turned off…you hear only the siren’s call of electronic nirvana and the glowing machines have a way of making the stressful day just slip away.
While there was one more monkey wrench thrown into the bathroom construction…when the laborers up and vanished for two weeks…the arcade was really taking shape. We had missed our October 31st opening date and now it was getting down to brass tacks, Shea was being forced into a point of no return. If we couldn’t get the doors opened in the first few weeks of November it would be if you will pardon the pun, Game Over.
There was still much to work on and very little time to take care of sanding down the dry walls, the painting, and a whole ton of clean up.
But that will be discussed in the fifth chapter of the diary.
My friends, in the previous two installments of the Diary of An Arcade Employee I have touched on the announcement by my friend, Shea Mathis, of the dream of the Arkadia Retrocade as well as the beginning of the construction for what would become the first arcade in Northwest Arkansas in over fifteen years.
When I last left off, the hard work of bringing Shea’s vision to fruition had just barely begun. The contractors had been hired to transform the one tiny bathroom and storage room into Code approved bathrooms, with double stalls for the Women’s restroom and handicap accessibility.
Watching from the sidelines during these early days I saw Shea handle business matters that would resemble the fate of Sisyphus. Agreed upon construction costs were changed it seemed to me from week to week, starting dates slipped by and worst of all the promised completion times were not upheld.
Please bear in mind that Shea didn’t have access to an infinite amount of money, he had been smart however and did his homework and had budgeted the cost of everything down to the last nail used in the construction of the cocktail games deck. That is where the sage advice from the other arcade owners really helped, to lessen the burden somewhat of Shea having to find out the hard way on his own, though there was still a steep learning curve.
But for everything that changed in the construction plan something else had to be put on the back burner or sacrificed for the time being to reach that proposed opening date at the end of October. So what could we do in the meantime while we waited for the bathroom construction to begin?
We began to work on the pony walls at the entrance of the arcade as well as the party room. During the construction period Shea and I worked from seven in the morning until ten at night every single day, except for the weekends when I worked my 48 hour shifts at the Hotel, that is when Shea would typically be doing everything himself. Thankfully we also had the aid of our group of friends and associates that we knew in our other jobs that could be counted on to lend a much needed and appreciated hand with the massive amount of work.
So within a few weeks what was just tape on the floor to mark the areas of the pony walls and Party room went from resembling this…
At the same time as the party room construction had begun we had to work on repairing nearly all of the insulation as it wasn’t up to par for health reasons, Shea did that all by himself on a single weekend. Many of the ceiling tiles had to be replaced as well or worked on to allow speakers to be inserted and for new wiring to facilitate appropriate lighting as well as Code specific emergency signs.
We learned quickly that sometimes the most valuable thing you needed when starting your own business, the thing that was even more important to have than the aid of your friends…
…was a good hacksaw!
The building of the deck was the next project and the one I ended up helping with the most. We started off with just placing the planks of wood atop the masking tape, so that we could get a picture in our mind’s eye of how it would look when finished.
In this photo you can already see some of the 50+ games that were moved from the storage locker and that Shea had already begun to paint the Super Mario Bros. pipe!
Like many times as we were working we found that the best way to not lose our minds was to take a quick lunch, in our case there is a local bakery that sells doughnuts and strong coffee that in my opinion must be crafted by angels. Shea and I would talk through the problems facing the arcade and then bounce the solutions off of each other as we slowly would get hopped up on the sugar and caffeine. Which helped when you get back to the arcade and find that you had to put the deck on hold to begin putting up the dry wall for the party room and pony walls.
Before we actually started putting up the dry wall though, Shea revealed a neat little adornment design he had planned to the outside of the main party room wall…
Thanks to one of Shea’s brothers he was able to get his hand on these three pieces of actual arcade games and we installed them into the wall.
Now weeks into the construction we were fortunate that the bathrooms were well on their way to completion and the electricians as you can see in some of the photos had already laid most of the work for the new power outlets. Little surprises of course continued to pop up such as suddenly needing to budget in the purchase for a three compartment sink for Arkadia to have a snack bar. We were only going to be selling bagged chips and candy as well as canned or bottled cokes but the type of business that was being opened necessitated the need of the sink.
These continual surprises led to these continual looks on our faces…the exhaustion gaze. In this photo Shea is discussing some of the changes to the plan of the deck with one of our friends.
Still we were getting closer and closer to the prize.
But that will be discussed in the fourth chapter of the diary.