Released in 1987 (1988 in the US) Midnight Oil‘s Diesel and Dust was one of my favorite of the 1980s. It opened up both a sonic and political world that I deeply associate with a kind of popular coming of age, it is delivered with the earnest belief that music can change the world, and for that alone it was unbelievably compelling to 17 year old me. I talk a bit about the VHS tape of their impromptu performance in front of Exxon’s NYC corporate offices to protest the Valdez oil spill, a major event in 1989 and an environmentalist awakening for many a Gen-Xer I am sure.
But the major theme of reconciliation with the aboriginal population in Australia is the lifeblood of this album, and the attempt to not only wrestle but compellingly communicate this struggle and legacy of anguish is everything. It is far from perfect, but there is a spirit of anger and guilt, culpability and disgust that come across quite adeptly. And while bands like INXS, AC/DC, and Crowded House came from Australia, you got the sense from their music, much like Men at Work, that Midnight Oil was Australia—and unlike Men at Work they were mad as hell and weren’t gonna take it anymore!
Now that Reclaim Arcade is up and running I find myself looking for other things to dream about. My life has come to a beautiful moment wherein the things I imagine can actually come true, not sure how I got here, but I never want to leave. And one project I think would dovetail beautifully with Reclaim Arcade would be a quick reclaiming of the abandoned drive-thru coffee kiosk in the parking lot of our fine establishment. Tim grabbed a few images of it for me as it currently stands via Google Maps:
Out of business drive-thru coffee shop in the Reclaim parking lot
The drive-thru coffee shop in the Reclaim parking lot when it was still operating
I’m not positive, but if I was a betting man I would venture this modest edifice was once a Fotomat. I mean every self-respecting 1980s strip mall (which is our situation) had one, you can read more about its interesting origin story here.
But what happened to these ubiquitous drive-thrus? There is a great post I discovered last week that documents a number of zombie-like re-animations of these Fotomat kiosks that is entertaining, here’s a few:
That last bit with the converted coffee shop drive-thru is pretty similar what we are looking at in the Reclaim Arcade parking lot. So I think the obvious and natural question is how do we turn it back into a Fotomat?
I mean it’s time, right? That gorgeous yellow roof beaming out its colorful siren song to all those nostalgic Gen-Xs and Boomers who have nothing better to do than pretend what they experienced in 1982 was the apex of kitsch culture. That said, I still want to do it. Even more so after I learned that Fotomats were one of the the earliest locations for renting VHS titles:
Besides developing (and selling a lot of Kodak film), Fotomat also became one of the first places to offer video rentals. For the steep fee of $12 (in 1970s money, no less), you could browse through a catalog, then call a phone number and order a movie of your choice. The next day, you could pick up the video cassette and enjoy it for a full five days before returning it to your local Fotomat.
Think about it, we could have folks call ahead to reserve their VHS title from Reclaim Video using a mail order catalog, and then have them drive-thru and grab it at the Reclaim Fotomat. We may even be able to do better than the $12 rental fee. Here is a clip of the Fotomat logo playing before one of the tapes they rented, so wild!
I don’t know why this all excites me so much, but the idea of bringing a Fotomat back to life as another piece of art in the Reclaim universe seems as about as meaningful a project as any of them, and whether or not there will be an employee bathroom in the building will surely be an object of conjecture for the coming generations. This was the advent of “tiny” culture before tiny anything was cool!
I finally returned to the #vinylcast, my favorite way to do #ds106radio. This was an impromptu show after listening to Alex Masters and Lauren Heywood doing their regular Friday show, which I am a big fan of. In fact, ds106radio has been inspiring recently with Tim Clarke jumping on as well, and that cat can radio. This was a quick show with little fanfare featuring the Cocteau Twins’s 1990 record Heaven or Las Vegas. The album speaks for itself, it is truly its own unique amalgam of sounds and vocals like nothing else I had heard until I did in Long Beach, California in 1992.
Felt good to get back on the #vinylcast train, should be more to follow!
This is a weird issue that I have not seen happen on any other Reclaim Cloud environment, but I wanted to quickly document it before I forget what I did or, given long enough, that it ever happened at all. As a result it will probably be useful to me alone, but so it goes.
This is the ridiculously overdue to-do list item that sat for almost 9 months in Asana:
Figure out SSL issue on bavatuesdays and fix main URL getting over-written
The issue was that every time my Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate for bavatuesdays would update my site URL would get overwritten throughout the database. So bavatuesdays.com would become bavablog.uk.reclaim.cloud (the Reclaim Cloud environment URL that I map to bavatuesdays.com). After way too much procrastinating, earlier this week I set aside some time to actually try and fix it. I also took impartial notes on what I did, which are copied below:
1) Custom SSL for bavablog.uk.reclaim.cloud not working
2) When I disable Custom SSL on Reclaim Cloud for bavablog.uk.reclaim.cloud the site goes down with cloud flare error
3) SSL through Let’s Encrypt Addon for bavatuesdays.com is working
4) But when I update the SSL certificate through Let’s Encrypt all links in database to bavatuesdays.com are re-written to bavablog.uk.reclaim.cloud
1) Turned off Let’s Encrypt Addon in Reclaim Cloud
2) Added bavatuesdays.com as a CNAME entry in Custom Domains in Reclaim Cloud (it was previously an A record pointing to the environment IP address)
3) Added bavatuesdays.com as a CNAME entry pointing to bavablog.uk.reclaim.Cloud in Cloudflare
4) Turned off SSL in topolgy of Reclaim Cloud server environment
As a result, bavatuesdays.com is working and loading over SSL without Let’s Encrypt Addon [this was not actually the case, it was cached, which confused me].
The bavablog.uk.reclaim.cloud domain is not loading over SSL and it would be ideal if re-directed to bavatuesdays.com, but believe this might be a nginx.conf setting. [This is still something I need to do]
We will see if the errors from Jelastic about the certificate for
bavablog.uk.reclaim.cloud stop, not sure they will given Custom SSL is still enabled in [they did not] the environment and the certificate is still expired 18/2/2021 [this, I believe, was the larger issue]
Redirection plugin allowed me to create redirection of the alias
bavablog.uk.reclaim.cloud -> bavatuesdays.com [this was a false friend, it works once you are on bavatuesdays.com, but does not work coming from bavablog.uk.reclaim.cloud ->bavatuesdays.com]
I wanted to record my check-list as I was troubleshooting because I think I went down a few dead-ends. I needed the Let’s Encrypt Addon in Reclaim Cloud, but it was not updating properly. The Custom SSL area was pointing to bavablog.uk.reclaim.cloud not bavatuesdays.com, and I am not sure how and when that happened. But as a result the Let’s Encrypt Addon certificate was not renewing, and I was getting an error for the bavablog.uk.reclaim.cloud domain even through the bavatuesdays.com domain was loading over SSL. It was all so confusing.
What seemed to work, at least for now, was creating a CNAME for the custom Domain in Reclaim Cloud, and then updating the DNS in Cloud Flare to point to that CNAME. After that I removed the Let’s Encrypt certificate and re-installed it for both bavatuesdays.com and www.bavatuesdays.com, after that the domain that showed up in the Custom SSL area of Reclaim Cloud was bavatuesdays.com not bavablog.uk.reclaim.cloud, and the expiration was June 1, 2021 rather than the outdated February 18th, 2021—which was very good.
Also, as another note, the SSL in the topology of the environment remained off, but I did have a public IPv4 that was enabled that I believe gives me the option for the Let’s Encrypt Addon.
This was a case of trying so many things and not being entirely methodical that results in me having the fix, but not exactly knowing all the moving parts that got me there, hence the post to try and remember at least some of them and what did work in the event this happens again. The biggest pain was the updated SSL certificate overwriting my domain URL, but I can confirm that issue is solved, although I do wonder what combination of original mis-steps I made setting the environment up almost a year ago resulted in this unfortunate issue I have lived with every few months for a year.
My laziness knows no bounds when I realized a quick database find and replace could fix the domain over-writing, but it was still a bit unsettling to live with since last March. What a year, what a year.
While I love the video store and living room to no end, I have to recognize they’re not enough by themselves to bring folks in. They certainly help define the aesthetic for the space, giving it a distinct identity, but in the end people come (and hopefully will return) because of the games. And that’s fine by me, because it’s the games that not only sustain the living room and video store, but also allow me to keep coming back as well 🙂
Getting some Wizard of Wor time in
The games in Reclaim Arcade is a fairly big topic given we currently have 62 classic video games and 8 pinball machines, and those numbers just keep growing. So I want to focus this post around which games we got up and running for opening day, which will include discussions around board repairs, monitor work, and other maintenance we did to get the main attractions dialed-in.
A revived Battlezone looking as beautiful as ever
When I got back to Virginia we had a several games offline: Missile Command, Battlezone, Q*Bert, and the perennially down Space Invaders (which has yet to see the light of day). We also had a few games that were showing some graphical issues, such as Track and Field, Phoenix, Crystal Castles and Smash TV (there may be others, so fill-in the gaps if you read this Tim given I am spitballing here). So, 3-4 games totally offline and a few with sprite issues–keep in mind this was only upon my arrival back, more always crop up along the way. One of the best pieces of advice we’ve gotten as we were starting the arcade was from Darryl of DNS Games & Parts (a truly gifted game restorer who was quite local to us as we started collecting), he told us we should have a working back-up PCB (a CPU game board) for as many of our games as possible. We took his advice to heart over the last year, and we now have back-up boards for more than half our games, and keep buying more every day. I believe 10 of our games are from Darryl, and they’re 10 of our nicest ones, in fact the monitor colors of the Donkey Kong we bought from him may be the sharpest in the entire arcade, and that came from the Aracde Buffet himself—but more on that anon.
That said, we did not have backup PCBs for Battlezone or Missile Command, and our backup for Q*Bert was having issues. So we needed to get them repaired. In fact, getting a hookup for board repairs was essential to sustaining the arcade, and thanks to Darryl (yet again) we got an awesome connection with East Coast Arcade Repair. I spent a fair amount of time during this recent trip running arcade boards back and forth to Petersburg. I enjoyed the time in the car, nothing beats a jaunt on the I-95 in a rented Suburban. On the first trip down I brought the Battlezone boards (as well as the power-related ARII board), Missile Command,* Elevator Action, Make Trax‘s back-up board (graphic issues), both Q*Bert PCBs, Gauntlet (assumed board issue), two Pac-man boards, the CPU for Pengo, two Track & Field boards that had graphical issues (we have a third board we since sold), and our non-bootleg Yie-Ar Kung-fu (that we realized was having sound issues the morning I headed out given the working board was having minor graphical issues). That was the first batch for repair, but there would be more.
After dropping the boards off I headed out to Powhatan, Virginia to pickup a a pretty mint Zaxxon machine I bought on Facebook a week or so earlier. I love to find these 40 year old games in someone’s basement looking as good as they did in 1982. After that I drove by the Bionic Teacher’s house for a road-side chat 🙂 It was a good day.
The prognosis on the boards is always interesting because even if we learn the PCBs were not having any issues when tested, knowing that helps you isolate for the actual issue(s). For example, the Battlezone PCBs were fine, but the ARII power board did have an issue, and that fixed Battlezone and got it back online. We brought down the Pengo PCB (a game we just received) because we could not figure out the issue, but the board tested fine.† Same goes for the Gauntlet board we sent down that was showing red before we swapped it out with a backup, so that remains a mystery. The Missile Command PCB did have an issue and when that was fixed it was also back online and reliable. Yeah! Yeah! In other good news, both Q*Bert boards were fixed and that brought yet another game back to life. That’s 3 if you are following along at home. The Pac-man‘s were repaired so we now have two working backups, and the Make Trax took a bit longer cause I forgot bring the ARII board (the Williams PCBs are complicated), so they had to make one for us to get it repaired. Also, the Yie-Ar Kung-fu sound issue was fixed, so that meant we were finally making headway with our backlog of board issues.
I drove down the Friday the arcade opened to get Missile Command, Battelzone, and the Q*Bert boards which meant they would be online for opening weekend, the others were backups, so they waited for my next trip. The next round of boards I drove down were a Crystal Castles that was having graphic issues (in fact both boards we had were), Double Dragon went down unexpectedly (as they do), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spare board needed repair, and after the first week Tutenkham was having what seemed like graphical issues, so I brought that down as well. That’s 4 more boards to repair, after dropping those off I picked up Elevator Action, both Pac-man boards, and the two Track & Field boards I dropped off previously were already working—turns out that the graphical issue is linked to flipping a dip switch (we have a third board we since sold) so that was an easy fix—but how else would you know this?‡
One of our Track & Field PCBs
After this trip Double Dragon was back online, we could swap out Yie-Ar Kung-fu with bootleg board to fix the graphical issues on our main board, and Crystal Castles could be swapped out so we could fix the graphical issues on the currently working board, and finally the Elevator Action board could be swapped and that fixed the color issues the game was having, which was awesome given it is a personal favorite. So, things were getting tighter and tighter, but the maintenance is never ending. After my two trips down I still needed to get Make Trax and we had issues with Wizard of Wor‘s sound chip, the sound in one of the Q-Bert boards seemed to be acting up, and our Phoenix boards were all having graphics issues (we have 3 boards), so I brought two of the three down—you get a sense of the whack-a-mole that is maintaining an arcade full of 40 year old games.
The Tutenkham PCB I dropped off previously was not having any board issues (turns out it was a power issue Tim fixed), Wizard of Wor’s sound chip was repaired and will be picked up this weekend (I also purchased a working backup board last week), and the verdict on the Phoenix boards is still out, will be interesting to hear what Tim learns when he gets them today. Both Crystal Castles boards were fixed, (I found a third in the office, which is crazy), so we put that one up for sale given we just need one backup, the only exception to that rule is Pac-man given I want to buy a machine for myself and ship it to Italy so I’m saving the one of our two back-up boards.
Crystal Castles PCB
Close-up of a Crystal Castles PCB
I think that’s everything, but I’m sure it’s not the last of it. The good thing is with such a solid PCB repair hook-up, we can start getting untested PCBs on the forums which are far less expensive, and take our chances with getting them fixed. The bigger lesson is without a community of folks who not only buy and sell but, equally important, repair these boards the retro arcade phenomenon would be dead in the water. So a special thank you to both DNS Games & Parts and East Coast Arcade Repair.
And that might be a good segue-way to talking about the other maintenance work we did on the arcade games, dialing-in the monitors. In general our games are in pretty good shape, but there are a few monitors that needed some love. And as it turns out we have another pillar of the retro arcade community, the aforementioned Arcade Buffett, local to us (we really are lucky in that, but I’m imagining there are great folks around in just about every region). Tim went to the Arcade Buffet a year and half ago when he was having issues with the Smash TV project he was working on at the time, and that trip is something akin to Reclaim lore. The folks who work on these machines are intriguing in many ways, and the Arcade Buffet is no different, he has containers full of arcade parts alongside a literal garden of CRT monitors (they can be stored safely outside in all weather without their chassis), and he is an absolute wiz with the various varieties of CRTs for the old school games. I was jealous that Tim had gotten to meet the Arcade Buffett (Buffett for short) and I hadn’t yet, so we reached out to see if he might have the time and inclination to visit the arcade and help us dial in some monitors, and lo and behold he was available and I was able to meet him, which was an absolute highlight of this trip.
The last of the LCDs are gone from Reclaim Arcade with CRT upgrade to Dig Dug thanks to the Arcade Buffett
There were several monitors we wanted him to rejuvenate, Defender (which recently started getting washed out), Galaga (which has been dim for some time now), Karate Champ (which Tim and I spent some time trying to salvage to no avail), swapping out the Dig Dug LCD for a CRT (our only LCD which is no more), and rejuvenating our Gyruss monitor which was also dim. Buffett got right to work, and he used a tool called the rejuvenator that, to quote Tim, “can measure the output from the cathode and …. they have the ability to boost the heater and apply positive voltage that will clear any oxidation in the cathode and boost the signal.” In addition to this, Buffett is able to adjust the settings on the monitor chassis to further fine-tune the colors and alignment, it is really an art.
Image from Tim’s post on the Rejuvenator, click image for link
While he was working I was picking his brain about the various monitor types, and a few major ones we came across in the games he was tuning were the Wells Gardner 4900, the 4600, and the Electrohome G07. The Nintendo games all have Sanyos, and from what I understand those are considered the best of the early 80s CRTs. The vector monitors for the Atari games like Battlezone, Tempest, Asteroids, and Star Wars are a whole different beast from what I could gather. After his visit, Buffett fixed both a 4900 chassis as well as a G07 for us, which went into our Galaga and Dig Dug straight away, which means our monitors are pretty dialed in at the moment. Buffett also makes a short video for all his clients describing the work he did, which is pretty smart to let them know the monitor is working in case there are any issues when shipping, as well as damn good advertising.
Getting to hang out while Buffett went through our games was a treat, and the fact he gives us a shout-out in the videos above was doubly cool. Folks like him keep this hobby vital, carrying the CRT tradition forward is no small feat and for that I’m particularly appreciative. We were joking about a documentary wherein he goes around the country visiting private and public collections of retro arcades to meet community members, help folks dial in their monitors, share some of his expertise, etc., and I kinda want to do it. A road trip around the US to visit arcades would be a blast and getting to hear peoples’ arcade tales would make for some compelling content, or at least I think so—so we’ll see if the “Jimmy Buffett Arcade Roadshow” has any legs—I mean Tim and I are gonna need a new project now that the arcade has successfully launched. Reclaim the documentary! 🙂
Moon Patrol arrived today, and it is a mint game. It could have been made yesterday. We now have quite a collection of gorgeous Williams games all in a row @reclaimarcade (Defender not pictured) pic.twitter.com/jpQ98OkYyC
So, that catches us up on the video game repairs, luckily the pinballs are relatively new, so there were no major repairs, but Tim did give them a good cleaning and they’re not only gorgeous, but quite popular. We have another on the way too, but I’m not one to steal Tim’s thunder 🙂 In fact, as I alluded to in my last post, having extras has proved invaluable. Extra PCB boards, extra games, and extra parts, they all eventually come in handy as we’re learning. We went on a bit of a game buying spree in December and early January, picking up Double Dragon, Atari Football, Vanguard, Mousetrap, Pleiades, Frogger, Congo Bongo, Zaxxon, and Super Cobra and I’m glad we did because we needed them to fill out the space, and with games regularly going down there needs to be extras to swap to avoid having 3 or 4 games on the floor down at once. Plus, I love building the collection, and as someone said to me while I was talking about the 60 classic videos games we had, “80 is a near perfect number,” indeed it is, for now 🙂
Oh, it's Tuesday? That must mean two more games for @reclaimarcade! A nice Pengo and near mint Wizard of Wor will soon be on the floor at the might Reclaim Arcade! And to be clear, I don't care if you come or not, just means more play time for me…YEAH!!! pic.twitter.com/T94eovzAwM
There is a lot more to say about the arcade, like Tim’s ridiculously awesome video wall that you can see featured above in the picture of the Asteroids marquee above the pinball room. But these posts run long because I’m trying to capture as many details as possible so we can have a kind of snapshot in time of where we were and what we were thinking. I think right now, weekend 4 of Reclaim Arcade being fully operational, that folks are coming out, slots are selling out, and we’re absolutely blown away that this is proving to be successful beyond our wildest COVID dreams. And success can be cut a lot of ways, but for us it has everything to do with sustaining the maintenance of the games and being able to provide a truly unique experience for those that come out to support us.
I’m on a bit of a roll capturing some reflections of a recent trip back to the US to open Reclaim Arcade. You can read more about getting the Arcade open in this post or, if outdated media formats is your thing, I wrote a bit about the arcade entry point which is a 1980s VHS rental store in this post. This post will be about another space in Reclaim Arcade, the 1980s living room.
The living room in the arcade is a direct descendent from the UMW Console Living RoomZach Whalen and I created back in the Spring of 2015. None of the furniture was re-used from UMW (I picked most of this furniture up either on Facebook or at a second hand furniture store in Fredericksburg for a grand total of $300), but a ton of the technology was re-used. The Emerson 19″ TV, the Sanyo Betamax, the Fisher component stereo system, the RCA Selectavision, the Atari 2600, and many other pieces that were collecting dust in a storage unit. So Tim had the brilliant idea to re-create the living room as part of the arcade experience over a year ago, and during my trip back in November of 2020 I completed the revival of the living room, and I must say it looks pretty awesome.
I even printed out more vinyl/laserdisc wall-holder mounts to create a wall of laserdiscs above our 2000+ laserdisc collection, which in many ways is much more at home in the living room than in the video rental store because laserdisc rentals were few and far between. Those cinephiles who had the money for laserdiscs often bought them at places like Tower Records rather than renting them at video stores given they were a niche product. The fact they were more likely to be owned by collectors might account for the excellent condition of almost all of our laserdiscs.
I heard on many occasions folks asking us about our large vinyl collection to see if they were for sale, when they were, in fact, referring to our laserdiscs. Our vinyl collection in the living room is paltry at best, but our laserdisc collection is pretty rocking. I spent an evening actually organizing the laserdiscs into the categories of desirables and undesirables, the movies I want to highlight are all in the top 24 1′ x 1′ squares, and the duplicates and run-of-the-mill films are in the bottom 24. It’s not organized in any other way yet, save that I isolated our burgeoning karaoke collection. You can also see from the image above that the top of the laserdisc storage area is a showcase for toys, dolls, random VHS paraphernalia and our backup Atari 2600 console, which Tim soldered the split RCA wire back together and it worked beautifully—which was pretty cool. You can also see one of our many VHS rewinder units if you look close enough 🙂
I had some fun playing with the laserdiscs, and our AV setup allows us to run the laserdisc audio (as well as the VHS and Betamax audio) through the over-sized Fisher speakers that bookend the living room entertainment center. Laserdisc audio is pretty awesome, and we have a fairly good collection of laserdisc music videos that are fun to play. I spent an evening doing just that lest the laserdiscs feel neglected given all the regular VHS love they overhear in Reclaim Video.
I even unearthed some NFL Films laserdiscs, which gave me an idea for the OERxDomains21 conference I’m helping organize this coming April, so that was fun. Plus it was timely given the Super Bowl was just a few short days away, and Tom Brady won it again—which helped me feel young.
I do love the oddities of some of this older media, like the fact that many of the music video laserdiscs only occupy one side of the disc, so if you put it in the wrong way you get a message something like the one featured above. You can almost feel the glow off the CRT on this one, and there is no question how much an upgrade the quality of laserdisc video is over VHS and Beta.
Another highlight during my time in the living room was sharing more information about the RCA Selectavision with anyone that would listen. I’m intrigued by this format to no end, it uses “a special needle and high-density groove system similar to phonograph records” to playback video discs. Basically vinyl for movies, and it was a total flop because if you so much as touched the disc it would skip and effectively become unusable. The limits of this format are apparent on just about every videodisc we have, and we have about 70-80, but I still love to watch them, if only for the unique visual and audio glitches. I watched The Love Bug, First Blood, and The Eyes of Laura Mars, which I discovered was mistakenly housed in the Godfather Part 1 videodisc holder. It’s effectively impossible to know what disc is in what holder until you play the disc, so there’s that—which is another oddity I love about this format. The covers are truly like protective turtle shells that prevent you from ever actually seeing the disc given how fragile they are—a failed design through-and-through.
But I think my favorite part of the living room was hanging out there during the arcade’s off-hours. I watched The Slumber Party Massacre and Slam Dance during the evenings of the working-week to get my VHS fix, and that was a blast. But most days I simply setup shop in the living room and dis my day job at Reclaim Hosting from the comfort of our faux wood veneer 80s furniture. The living room is comforting to me on an almost primal level; I have fantasies about being buried underneath the coffee table in a glass coffin should I come to an untimely end—is that strange?
Telegames Atari 2600 Storage Kit
Anyway, there is still more goodies to come. I recently purchased an Atari 2600 storage container, as well as an Atari 2600 Video Game Brain that allows you to switch between 6 cartridges without ever removing a game 🙂 Oh yeah, I just remembered I also picked up an Atari 7800 with quite a few 7800 games, as well as a load of 2600 games given the 7800 console was the first backward compatible gaming console, which is also pretty cool.
Video Game Brain for the Atari 2600
There was even some suggestions on Twitter for paneling on the wall, which would be the perfect finishing touch, but I’m not gonna lie—I’m shot, and I am sure Tim is doubly so. We resurrected the arcade from what seemed a certain death when COVID ruined most of the world’s best laid plans, and that happened in 4 short months. It’s amazing that it looks as good as it does. Luckily we’ve accumulated so much stuff in our office over the past 4 years, and we’ve been joking while getting the space ready that nothing we’ve gotten has gone to waste. And nowhere has that proven truer than with the arcade games, but more on those in my next post.
One of the many highlights of getting Reclaim Arcade out into the world was turning the lights back on in Reclaim Video. As I noted on Twitter, Reclaim Video is the gateway drug to Reclaim Arcade, and oh what a drug it is!
It’s a pretty curated, eclectic collection of VHS and beta tapes I like, and given we needed more desk space for check-ins and merch, we had to box-up close to half the collection, which is stored in the bursting back closet. I decided to cull predominantly 90s films given that was a fairly easy way to cut the collection in half. What’s more, we can use them eventually when we build a 1990s themed arcade that will have to recognize the horrific fate of video rental stores with the onset of the the Blockbuster cancer. I really can’t get behind the current excitement around the whole “last Blockbuster,” I would rather celebrate the long overdue death of the last Blockbuster. That chain was a scourge on mom and pop video stores around the world, much like Facebook and Twitter were (and are) a blight on the blogosphere—none of it was inevitable, it’s just laziness dressed-up as convenience and community.
Anyway, I digress. What I really wanted to talk about were a few of the details in Reclaim Video that I really enjoyed. First up is the Gyruss Cocktail cabinet that is one of two cabinets we bought that never worked. This one was used for parts for our stand-up Gyruss, and it may see life again some time in the future, but for now we needed somewhere to put the 27″ JVC TV in Reclaim Video. Yeah, what’s a video store without a constantly playing video? I mean that’s why I wanted to work at one in the first place, the prospect of watching actual movies while working was everything (another tradition of the small video store Blockbuster killed, for them it was simply an endless ad running non-stop). I like the way the Gyruss cocktail links to the arcade, yet at the same time it’s literally supporting the video store, which in effect is what is also happening figuratively. Reclaim Arcade inspired new life into Reclaim Video, and for that I am really thankful because without the arcade Reclaim Video would have inevitably slipped into oblivion with me on the other side of the Atlantic.
Also, one of our awesome employees Shane decided to dig into the 7-tape Beatles Anthology that Michael Berman sent us just a week or two before opening, and that made for a great watch over the first two weekends, we polished it off in the afternoon hours on Saturday and Sundays.
So the Gyruss Cocktail cabinet as stand for the JVC TV which is running a fairly recent Sony stereo VHS player was a huge win. You can also see in the image below of The Shining and a WWF Saturday Morning cartoon that there are rabbit ears on the VHS player. Those are not simply decorative.
We are doing this using Plex and a Raspberry Pi that we had in Reclaim Video previously, but now it is wirelessly broadcasting from two store fronts down in the Reclaim TV Studio.
It is broadcasting to channel 12, which means we can pick up anything pushed from the Raspberry Pi to the RF Modulator on that channel, it is pretty cool, and allows us to re-visit the brilliant work Michael Branson Smith did at the UMW Console Living room in the Spring of 2015. What’s more, this means channel 12 of the TV in the living room can also pickup the signal, and we used a strange looking antenna shaped as a white box to get that channel 12 over the air.
I want to get at least 2 or 3 more RF modulators, but Tim might be right that it is over kill. But I would love the idea of folks figured out there were 3 or 4 full days of programming running one the living room TV on channel 2, 4, and 7 (which would have been CBS, NBC, and ABC for me growing up on Long Island in the late 70s and early 80s). One can dream, right?
And finally is the pretty obvious joke on opening Reclaim Arcade during a pandemic, the Now Showing Contagion poster in the front window, which has the Coming Soon complement of Outbreak on the other side which you can see once you enter the store. I thought more folks would pickup on it, but just a few commented, but I like those little stupid details, they make me happy!
Another thing about Reclaim Video is I am getting some of our posters so badass frames. For example, we got back our framed posters of Videodrome and Creepshow 2, and they look quite gorgeous. I originally got the Videodrome poster for the UMW Console back in 2015, and the Creepshow 2 poster is an original from the 80s I had as an adolescent, so that one is kinda special. In fact, Creepshow 2 is actually hanging in the arcade, not Reclaim Video, which is all part of trying to link the various spaces, although it’s not that hard in the end, I just love the details and I have developed a frame fetish.
Shot of 60+ videos I will talk more about that were sent from a collector as part of a year-long influx of VHS tapes to Reclaim Video
There is much more to talk about, like the 60+ videos I got from a collector that I plan on doing monthly VHS hauling videos about, as well as the tub someone dropped off filled with 100+ tapes and a working VHS player. The riches! You can now see why I have to break these posts up, don’t you? Suffice to say, Reclaim Video is not only back, but arguably better than ever. It makes for a gorgeous entry to the Arcade experience, and it allows me to continue collecting and watching these anachronistic gems from a time gone by. Long live Reclaim!
Last weekend made it three weeks that Reclaim Arcade has been open to the public, and it has been pretty rewarding to have folks appreciating the space and all the thought and detail that went into it. It’s a space that has been in development for more than 4 years now, even if we didn’t know exactly what we were building towards when we started.* We opened on January 29th, with a sneak preview for friends and colleagues on the 28th, which was the first real taste of how cool it was to have folks in the arcade actually playing the games and enjoying the “awesome vibe.”
The above images highlight scenes from the soft opening wherein we tried to get a sense of what we might have missed in terms of details. It is one thing to imagine an arcade, it’s another to actually run one, and inevitably you will forget things. Turns out we didn’t miss too much, that said we did need a coat rack given it’s winter and folks had nowhere to hang their jackets. The other thing we still need is a slop sink for the mop, but we are working on that. Besides that, I can’t think of too many things we missed, which is truly a testament to Tim’s remarkable ability to both create and operationalize the vision. The opening weekend went quite smoothly, save the fact that we got the first of 3 consecutive snow/ice storms over our first three weekends of being open. The weather gods were not with us.
*Winter Weather Advisory* We are OPEN today from 10-9pm and have snow removal services clearing our parking lot at regular intervals. We are also happy to rebook or refund any customers that aren’t able to make it out today and want to enjoy the arcade at a later date. pic.twitter.com/fKbl6sEsdY
We did have a few last minute cancellations in an otherwise booked-out opening weekend, and we were able to lean on some of our customer support experience at Reclaim Hosting to ensure folks were well taken care of by providing refunds or coupon codes to reschedule a visit at their earliest convenience. Almost everyone took us up on the coupon codes or simply chose to reschedule for an upcoming date, which was cool to see. Probably the coolest thing was to see how quick and able our two hires were at running the space by themselves. One of the things Tim and I wanted to get a sense of right away was how much would the daily operations depend on us being there. As of right now we are only open 3 days a week: Friday from 4 PM to 12 AM; Saturday from 10 AM to 12 AM; and Sunday from 10 AM until 9 PM. What’s more, we have the schedule organized in two hour blocks limited to 20 people with an hour in-between sessions so that we can do a deep cleaning. A few questions we had were:
Are two hours enough for folks to enjoy the arcade? Definitely, that seems to be a sweet spot for folks, and no one has complained about it being too long or short.
Is an hour enough time to clean the space for one employee? Turns out one person can wipe down all the games, sweep, vacuum, and generally reset the space in 20-30 minutes, which was awesome for us to realize.
Is 20 people too many for the space to feel safe? This was absolutely not the case, 20 people in the 3000+ sq. ft. arcade still makes the arcade seem empty, there are really no issues with folks being able to social distance and play games without concern.
Do we (Tim and I) always need to be on-hand? No. Thanks to the fact that both Tony and Shane rule, they were running the arcade without our help by the end of the second week. We spent the first two weekends trying to show them everything we knew about the space, the various issues with the arcade games and pinball machines, the living room AV setup, the VHS store, etc. There is quite a bit of odd-ball knowledge about old school AV inputs and 40 year old arcade game wonkiness, but apart from that it was possible for Tim and I to take the second Sunday off, which was almost unbelievable given we did not feel like we could both take a day off Reclaim Hosting for the first 5 or 6 years!
Can we keep the games adequately maintained? This is certainly a developing story, and we’re resigned to the fact that we’ll always have games down, but that’s simply part of running an arcade. Games will go down, and we’ve learned a few key things, namely have as many extras on hand as possible: extra games you can swap out, extra PCB boards to quickly replace, and a spare monitor chassis or two for the inevitable monitor issue. We also have excellent local contacts for monitor repairs with the Arcade Buffet as well as someone who repairs boards that is within an hour’s drive, a trip I took more than a few times while I was in Virginia this time around. So, in answer to the question, yes, we can maintain the games, but it will be an ongoing process that will require time and patience, but luckily with the 3-day schedule we’re currently running we have time to troubleshoot any issues with the games during the week.
Those are a few of the questions that we could not answer until we actually opened, and it feels so good to be open! Tim and I make for pretty good partners, and the fun part about Reclaim Arcade is that it is so different from everything else we’ve done together.
We’ve had great success with Reclaim Hosting, and a lot of that was tied up with our incredible edtech network. But the arcade is a different beast all together—no one in edtech really cares all that much about an 80s arcade in Fredericksburg, which is entirely understandable. Reclaim Arcade is hyper-local in ways Reclaim Hosting never was, or could have been. It’s also first and foremost a material venture: the main attractions are by-and-large 40 year old cabinets that need constant TLC, so there’s very little that is virtual about this experience, at least so far.
Moon Patrol arrived today, and it is a mint game. It could have been made yesterday. We now have quite a collection of gorgeous Williams games all in a row @reclaimarcade (Defender not pictured) pic.twitter.com/jpQ98OkYyC
I think seeing folks react so favorably to what we built has been some great reward for the focused work we have put into building this space. And it has only gained momentum since opening weekend. We’re now seeing the coming weekends fill-up, and from all reports people are digging the arcade, which is the reason why we did it. So, while still early on, the arcade is already a smashing success in my mind. It can pay for the employees, the strip mall space, utilities, and at least part of our arcade game buying habit. Thankfully, it really only needed to cover one or two of those things—so we’re also feeling vindicated in terms of the arcade as an investment. Not necessarily financially, although also that, but in terms of an investment in Fredericksburg and the surrounding area, the idea that there is hope and possibility in a good, fun idea well-executed: our faith in the seed that was Reclaim Arcade is blooming in the winter of everyone else’s discontent 🙂 And you can’t do that without a local community supporting you, so thanks to everyone who has come out and shared the love!
On that note, it is worth noting that our Facebook page has been crucial to building awareness and support locally for the arcade. We recently passed the 2000 likes/follows threshold, and a lot of folks reference Facebook when letting us know how they discovered the arcade. I’m not a huge Facebook fan for all the reasons, but at the same time it’s hard to argue with its efficacy in this case. People find us there and then come, what’s more Facebook is also where we have found a fair number of old school games that populate the space, so I have had to try and come to terms with my Facebook demons when it comes to the arcade.
Finally, I posted it already, but the above Reclaim Today episode is a 20 minute reflection Tim and I did 10 days or so ago to capture some of our first impressions around opening and operating the arcade. My favorite part about the video is how damn happy we are talking about the arcade. I have more to talk about, in particular specific repairs we did, the evening we spent with Arcade Buffet, the TV antennae we setup, as well as the TV stand we improvised for Reclaim Video, which is amazing, and much more, but this post is already too long and rambling, so I’ll stop here, but know there is much more to come on the Reclaim Arcade front in every way!
*I have a separate post in the works about the metamorphosis of our little bit of strip mall in Fredericksburg since 2016, but that has proven quite an undertaking, but I’ll link back here once it is done. Blogging ain’t no job for the dilettante.
At the end of January I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Jolie Tingen about Duke University’s unique project Kits for episode 28 of Reclaim Today. I am intrigued by this project because Kits is a concrete example of what the oft-referenced Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) might actually look like. In other words, a learning environment wherein faculty and students can use a variety of tools including, but not limited to, the learning management system for the various courses they teach. The magic of Kits is the way in which they’ve worked through granular user management and single sign-on in order to make access to various teaching tools like Slack, WordPress, Box, and many others seamless and intuitive for their community. It’s the most fleshed out vision of the NGDLE that I have come across yet, and it was a real pleasure to hear Jolie frame Duke’s thinking around this tool.
Tim and I sat down on Saturday to talk about the grand opening of Reclaim Arcade. You can see the joy and excitement on our faces, which is my favorite part of the video. I have a lot more to write about the last two weeks working on the arcade, but given I am currently in Paris waiting for a connecting flight to Milan I’ll save the details for a longer post, but this video talks about our first impressions and underlines the fact that people are coming out to enjoy Reclaim Arcade and that’s why we did it, so it feels pretty good.
Reclaim Arcade was also featured on a local Fredericksburg vlog Freehling Finds, and Bill Freehling did a wonderful job highlighting the space. What is cool about Reclaim Arcade is that in many ways it is hyper-local and almost exclusively place-based, which is the opposite of Reclaim Hosting.
And it helps that Tim has been masterful at promoting the arcade on Facebook, Instagram, and in interviews like this one. It’s interesting because this venture has little cross-over with our Reclaim Hosting community, so in many ways we were starting from scratch in terms of generating buzz. I also dig that I have a cameo in the Freehling Finds video playing Elevator Action, which has been restored to its former glory once we got the board fixed.
The last two weeks has been a complete blast, and in many ways exceeded our expectations. It will be a lot of fun to see what comes next, but for the present I think we can rest assured that Reclaim Arcade is a hap-hap-happening!
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“Reverend” Jim “The Bava” Groom, alias “Snake Pliskin” is a charlatan and a fraud, a self-confessed “used car salesman” clawing his way into the glamour of the education technology keynote circuit via the efforts of his oppressed minions at the University of Mary Washington’s DTLT and beyond. The monster behind educational time-sink ds106 and still recovering from his bid for hipster stardom with “Edupunk”, Jim spends his days using his dwindling credibility to sell cheap webhosting to gullible undergraduates and getting banned from YouTube for gross piracy.