Reclaim Arcade is Art!

I’m just coming off an extremely intense and creatively gratifying trip back to Fredericksburg, Virginia to work with Tim to dial in Reclaim Arcade. And dial it in we did! I will try and use most of this post to document what it is we did specifically, which will quickly get weighed down in details, but before I do I just want to say that the side projects leading up to Reclaim Arcade (the UMW Console, CoWork, Reclaim Video, etc.) all came together in some crazy cosmic alignment over the last two weeks to become something transcendent. It’s truly the best work we’ve done thus far, and I’m truly trying to be humble here. Reclaim Arcade is epic!

Obviously pulling together 60 classic arcade games and pinball machines has its immediate appeal, but add to that a 1980s living room and a fully operational VHS store and you got yourself a set design worthy of a Kubrick film:

Let there be no mistake about it, Tim and I brought our A-game to Reclaim Arcade, and Fredericksburg is about to be home of one of the sickest arcades in the US of mother trucking A! It’s part arcade, part conceptual art, and all awesome. It’s more than an arcade: IT’S ART, dammit!

OK, that should be enough of a victory lap for the time being, now let me get down to some details of the trip and the work. I took a flight over from Verona, Italy on November 1st at 6 AM (CET) and arrived in Dulles (via Rome and NYC) at 4 PM (EDT) that same day, after a quick dinner at Chipotle I drove from Northern Virginia to Upstate New York to pickup Ghosts ‘n Goblins from Ben Harwood, who was absolutely clutch and both picked up and stored this gem for several months. Why fly into Virginia only to drive 7.5 hours to NY? Well, the two week quarantine for any incoming travelers to NYC from Italy was the main reason, the other was a better deal on my two week car rental of my go-to game hauler the Chevy Tahoe, my preferred vehicle for picking up classic arcade games.

Getting ready to return the Tahoe at Dulles after it served me well for yet another Reclaim Arcade run and gun

I made it up to Saratoga Springs by midnight completely exhausted, but still in one piece. I pushed myself because having to make a trip like this in the middle of my two week trip would’ve made it harder to gain momentum with the work ahead of me for the living room and the VHS store. I woke up early and met Ben for a big American breakfast (I miss those) and then picked up the game and was back on the road to Virginia by 10 AM. That was the first of the three games I would pick up (and by far the longest drive), and it was worth the trouble because it is a gorgeous cabinet. The monitor picture and color are crisp, the sound booms, and the side art is in very good shape. There was an issue with the power switcher that we had to replace, but that was just the beginning of a bunch of work to get almost all of the arcade machines in working order, but more on that anon.

By Monday evening I was back at the Reclaim Hosting strip mall and the next thing I remember doing is starting my sprint to get as much work done as possible in two weeks. For some strange reason I started in Reclaim Hosting’s new offices (which was where we had initially thought the arcade would live). Given the pandemic and remote work the new office space was never really lived in entirely, so I started with an easy win: hanging the vinyl records of the various bands that are, or have been, the namesakes of Reclaim Hosting’s shared hosting servers. That was fun and relatively fast. But I knew the hard work was 3 strip mall doors away at Reclaim Video and the soon-to-be 1980s living room. Oh yeah, all the while there was a Presidential election going on in the USA that was a bit distracting and at times unnerving….needless to say building out the 1980s living room was the perfect antidote.

And it came together pretty well, I took a bunch of time on the AV setup, which I am pretty happy with. And it might make sense for me to break that down in more depth in a separate post, but for simplicities sake the VCR, betamax player, and laserdisc are all plugged into a switcher that runs into the TV. We are splitting the audio out for all those video players to the Fisher component stereo (using the Aux input). The Selectavision was not liking being converted from RF to RCA, so that is currently running into the VHS using the coaxial “in from antenna” and going out over RCA. The trick is as long as no VHS tape is playing the Selectavision signal gets pushed out to the TV cleanly, and the audio goes to the stereo as well (all video signals come in on channel 4).

I was also able to get both the Atari 2600 and the 5200 up and running, and they are being pulled in to the TV via an OG Atari switcher that is connected via the 300 Ohm screw-tight connector pictured above. I do enjoy Berzerk on Atari 5200, the fact the game has to stop when the robots talk smack on the humanoid is awesome.

So once the AV and consoles were set up I could start focusing on some lighting. I was lucky enough to snag a groovy pair of lamps from the nearby second hand furniture store Restore. I also ordered a 12′ RCA cable to run the audio from the video switcher to the stereo (which is housed in a different entertainment center). I also grabbed a preliminary selection of vinyl/laserdiscs/beta max tapes for the living room, hung some art on the walls, and Tim removed the automatic light switch to make sure the florescent lighting was only on as needed. The carpet was a left over from the McDonald’s training facility this space used to be, and we really couldn’t have bought a better pattern for the space.

Took most of the first week to get the living room to a place I was happy with, and I’m thrilled with it!

Yeah, we nailed it. The the front loading Panasonic Omnivision VCR was an attempt to find a replacement for the top loading Omnivision VCR I grew up with, but it was not working either. They both eat tapes. So I looked up a TV Repair shop in Fredericksburg and I’m having them both repaired, because while the Super VHS player in the living room right now is a work horse, it’s not the right era at all.

The 1980s K-Mart velvet Elvis is on loan from John Heyn, the director of the legendary Heavy Metal Parking Lot. That alone is just insane to me! With the living room polished off I had to get serious about the video store, which was harder than I imagined. You see, I wanted to touch every video tape and weed out as many tapes from the 1990s (and later) as possible in order to make the collection on display that much tighter. I also wanted to do a thorough check and try and weed out any broken or moldy tapes, and fortunately there were very few of either. That said, I now understand why video stores insisted so stridently on rewinding tapes because when you have a ton of tapes it takes a shitload of time. I spent more time than I care to admit rewinding tapes, I had two rewinder machines going at any one time. Ridiculous, I know, but to be kind one must rewind.

While I was painstakingly going through tapes and checking them for tape rot and making sure they were rewound, I did have fun tweeting out a few:

My constant tweeting may have had something to do with my slow progress on the VHS store, but I’m still gonna blame all the DVD fad-chasers who wouldn’t deign to rewind their lowly VHS tapes before discarding them. But nevertheless, progress was made in my second week.

In fact, I got a pretty solid selection of VHS tapes on display:

What’s more, Tim had a brilliant idea to clean-up and hang this crazy “Now Showing”/”Coming Soon” movie poster sign someone had dropped off at Reclaim Video because that’s what awesome people do!

So it looks like I’m gonna have to start collecting movie posters too now, dammit! We still have to get some counters for Reclaim Video, and we have designs to mount a 27″ or 32″ Sony Trinitron from the early to mid-1990s in the back right-hand corner of the shop (they weigh over 200 lbs, so that is gonna be a feat) and then run a cable through the ceiling from the living room to Reclaim Video so that we have some syndication—a nice touch that simplifies things significantly and also avoids me re-creating the AV mess I’ve made in the living room. I also added back some of the movie figurines, toys, and a few wood block VHS cover art pieces I picked up from VHSGirl.

In the end it came together quite well, and once we have the counter setup and move the iMac in we should be all set. Keep in mind that both Reclaim Video and the living room are simply a bit of foreplay. You might enjoy checking them out, and you may even get a kick out of browsing the VHS collection or lounging in the living room and watching a laserdisc (we also moved our 2000+ laserdisc collection and I built another shelving unit to hold them all, but as you can see this post is already bursting at the seams), but in the end you came—and will keep coming—for the arcade! And I am not gonna lie, it’s a masterpiece:

In fact, the strip mall office in general is amazing as you can see from the first series of images above, but the work Tim did with the lighting in the arcade space is magical, and once we added the “neon” sign (it’s actually LED) it was absolutely the finishing touch it always needed:

It might make sense to chronicle some of the work we did on the arcade space given we made a ton of progress there as well. To begin we put a set of shelves in the arcade workshop and organized that into a space that works for repairing games, which Tim put to almost immediate use:

We put the shelves along the back wall to store arcade boards, marquees, monitors, etc, as well as added a wall organizer for hanging tools and such. Between the two it really finished off the maker space/arcade repair shop and right away Tim started making some real headway on fixing some of the games that we’ve been planning to get around to, and I am going to try and document some of that below:

Ghosts ‘n Goblins was the first of three games I picked up on this trip, and the switching power supply shorted out (a common issue we are finding) that was a fairly cheap repair given you can buy a replacement for $20 on Amazon. We had no replacements on hand, so Tim swapped out one from Smash TV, which was also having some monitor graphic issues at times given it has to be dialed in just right (Tim can elaborate on that issue for the record, but if the flow of power is not regulated just so, the image goes south).

After that we (always royal) got ambitious, and Tim was ready to take on Pac-man, which has been giving us issues for quite a while. We swapped out the monitor and chassis a year ago but it kept having issues with the graphics/monitor hold. We swapped out both CPU boards we have this time around but both still had issues (one was having the issue captured above and the other was playing blind). We struggled with this one a bit, but we realized it was not the boards necessarily, but an issue with a connector on the monitor chassis. And given we have two we were able to identify and fix the issue, which was a huge win personally given Pac-man is far and away my favorite video game of all time.

Next up we tried to tackle the Pac-man knock-off Make Trax, another favorite. This was clearly a board issue, and we have a back-up board so we swapped it out, but we knew the sound on the second board was not working, but at least the game plays. We are going to have to send in one of the two Make Trax boards (as well as several others) to get repaired.

Q*Bert was another game giving us issues, and we had an extra board for that one too, but both seemed to suffer the same issue. We will have to send one of those two out for repair, but it is odd both boards have the same graphics issue. The game does play for a bit, but over time it starts descending into graphical chaos.

Dig Dug was a win, but like Pac-man it was hard won. This is the only game we have that has a computer LCD, and we’ve flirted with switching that out, but there were deeper issues with the power. In order to get the cabinet to turn on a few wires needed to be forcefully adjusted to get it just to power up. Tim identified the issue—it was awesome to watch him troubleshoot, he’s a natural—but try as he might to get at the power supply issue fixed, it seemed like there was a deeper issue that by-passing wires was not fixing. At that point he switched out the power supply with the one from Battlezone (which is only one of two games not working at all—the other is Missile Command) and Dig Dug was back up and running cleanly. So now we need another power supply for Battlezone.

Another win was getting Gyruss up and running. This one had a dim monitor that eventually went black, and as luck would have it I bought a second Gyruss cocktail cabinet that was also not working. So, we decided to use the cocktail for parts and swap out the monitor and chassis from the cocktail (which we had to remove and rotate 180 degrees from its chassis, which was a PITA) into the stand-up cabinet. It worked, and we were fired up, but the power connector was reconnected incorrectly and the power switcher burnt out, so we had to replace another one ($20 fixes for the win), we even bought a spare power switcher given this seems to be a common issue.

So, if you are keeping count, that means Tim got five games up and running, and he wasn’t done yet. The final fix of the trip was swapping out the fan for the Synthwave darling Outrun to make it so Reclaim Arcade has 47 of our 49 classic arcade cabinets working (and if know anything about these machines you know that’s a damn good percentage). And we just confirmed acquisition of a working Double Dragon this weekend, so that brings the numbers up to 48 working games out of 50. Amazing! Tim was en fuego, and I think we both were reassured by that percentage that this arcade, like the Deathstar, is all but fully operational!

I also should mention the other two games I picked up while I was in town, the under appreciated Yie Ar Kung-fu, which the awesome person who sold it to me held onto for almost 8 months given I was unable to get back to the US during the pandemic. I bought it in February 2020 and picked it up in November, but it was everything I hoped it would be!

And the final addition was a Tutankham cabinet, which was as gorgeous as the Ghosts n Goblins machine, which says a lot. Both were in as mint condition as a 40 year old game can be, and the gameplay on Tutankham is as peculiar as I remember it.

In fact, the Tutankham game was so good that the same seller was also selling a Double Dragon cabinet, and I jumped at it given it will round out or fighting game wall quite nicely.

I would like to say that’s all, but there is still more, I have not even touched on the call we had with surrogate.tv that resulted in the delivery of a raspberry pi kit from Finland that allowed Tim to connect his Avengers pinball game to the internet, but not only is this post already way too long, but the whole surrogate.tv awesome deserves its own post, so let me stop here and wrap up this post almost exactly two weeks from the moment I left that gorgeous arcade to travel back to Dulles airport and jump on a plane back to bella Trento.

The last thing I will say (in fact, repeat) is that Tim and I brought our A-game to Fredericksburg! I knew it was going to be cool, but after seeing the huge “Reclaim Arcade” sign go up on the wall it occurred to me that this is not just an arcade or simply another side project, Tim and I are making art, dammit—and I’m not afraid to admit it 🙂

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2 Responses to Reclaim Arcade is Art!

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