RIP Masaya Nakamura

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Masaya Nakamura, founder of Namco - passed away today.   The news today, wanting clickable headlines billed this as he death of the Father of Pacman.  

As an engineer I consider Toru Iwatani (the engineer who actually created PacMan) to be Pac's father figure.

Still, though Namco has been a pioneer in the amusement industry and Masaya Nakamura's vision for amusement gaming was felt in Namco throughout the golden age of arcade and even after he officially stepped down as CEO in 2002.   

Our thoughts and well-wishes are with his family & friends.   Thank you, Masaya Nakamura. Rest in Peace.

 

A New Year! - A glance back and looking forward

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Looking back at 2016 and my arcade / pinball activity.  What a year!   In 2016, I decided to re-center my arcade & game room activities a bit.  Prior to 2016, I had sought out games that were highly-rated or hard to come by in our region.  

While not on purpose, I think I fell into that trap of hunting trophies and building a collection, which really wasn't the intent for my game room.

The intent for my game room was to build a fun space and in 2016 with the help of good friends, I think we did just that, sacrificing a few pinball machines that are generally regarded as collectible and opening up the room with a new layout that has a little something for everyone in our family and friends circle. 

This year, I bought-and-sold: Ruby Red Wizard of Oz, Hobbit, Monster Bash, Scared Stiff.

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The progression of this hobby very often takes people from Arcade machines to Pinball machines and many collectors I think have a tendency to step away from Arcades in favor of Pinball.   The reasoning is sound since many arcades can be emulated well enough on your console, phone, Multi Cade, etc.    But for me, I still enjoy owning arcades.  I enjoy tinkering with them and the experience of playing games in the arcade format.   Nostalgia, I guess. 

So, part of our arcade activities this year, I tried to strike a balance of arcades to pins and picked up some games that were special to us though the year.    

This year, we picked up:

Bud Tapper (from some dude in Ohio via KLOV) - I learned alot about MCR games and spent a good portion of the year trying to locate a suitable monitor for this game.  After several misses, a Vision Pro finally hit-the-spot to make this game feel right.

Q*Bert (from ArcadeShop.com) - I picked up a reproduction Q*Bert cabinet, running the Mylstar FPGA board and one of the three monitors that I bought attempting to re-CRT Tapper.    Super happy to have a Q*Bert in the lineup, it gets played daily!

Tron (from a pawn shop in Saraland) - A friend in our local club brought this game to my attention and I checked it out during lunch one day.   I spent about 2 months thinking about it and eventually came to an agreement with someone at the Pawn shop.   We moved it in at the end of the year and cleaned it up over the holidays.    It seems to be very original and is in pretty good condition.  A few small areas on the cabinet and a few electrical gremlins but nothing too terrible.

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Part of our 2016 basement reorganization was to give the kids (all of us) a place to hang out and play console games.   The loves eat and chair and TV area is getting lots of use: the kids getting their Minecraft fix and I've gotten to get reacquainted with a few console favorites.  

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For Pinball, I decided to pick up pinballs with specific themes and gameplay that resonate with my childhood and general geekdom.   I added Ghostbusters (after a lengthy preorder) and Revenge from Mars from a collector in Chicago.

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I also added back a HUO Data East Star Wars (from a comic book shop owner in Tennessee) and created this Star-Wars themed nook in the corner of the basement where can play the Dome(usually Star Wars Battlefront or the new Playstation VR mission) and enjoy Star Wars Trilogy & Data East Star Wars.    

The Data East pin has a particular nostalgia for me, being the first multi-ball pinball machine I ever played traveling with my dad as a kid and being the first pinball that owned when I started in this hobby 4 years ago.  This particular pin is in a good bit better shape than my last one, sports a ColorDMD/ LED and Pin sound running a custom soundtrack.

Over the holidays, I got to spend a little time setting up wifi-enabled smart plugs and Amazon Echo / Echo Dot to control game room activity.    

The setup definitely could use some refinement but being able to control individual games, or groups of games with Star Trek-like voice commands is super-nice.  

(Especially where kids are concerned, where they tend to leave games on or don't know how to turn on specific games)

Looking ahead

As we move into the new year, I think my arcade-pinball related resolution is to buy / sell, less and play, more.   To spent less time tinkering with games and more time playing & hanging out with friends.    Do you have a 2017 arcade-pinball resolution?

Game Room Voice Control w/ Amazon Echo

One of the (minor) annoyances in Arcade and Pinball collecting is that over the last 40 years the amusement industry hasn't really build up a great deal of standards around common things, simple things: like the power switch.  

On Tron, the power switch is on the Top / Right.   On Donkey Kong, the power switch is on back- bottom right.   On many pinball machines the power switch is located on the bottom right, near the front of the game though annoyingly Revenge from Mars put the toggle switch half-way down the middle of the cabinet where I have to crawl underneath to power it on.    More recently, Stern Pinball puts the power switch under the lip of the head of the machine.

(GAH!)  - First world problems, I know.  

For Christmas, Dina bought me an Amazon Echo, a couple of Amazon Dots and some wifi enabled switches.  Having attended an Amazon Developer's conference just last month and knowing this is the direction I'd like to go, I've been planning for this for quite awhile. 

This video shows a pretty stock setup, just triggering devices by grouping and playing music and I'm pretty darned happy with the result.  I am playing with some custom Alexa skills to do a bit more, though...  

More on that later :)

A couple of things of note.. The 2nd generation Amazon Dot is fully functional. You can have a Dot only and still get most the features you want.   I used a combination of iHome plugs (like them for their size) and Belkin WeMo wall-switches connected to switched outlets.   You could potentially save a little money by going with a hub-based solution like Z-Wave, Zigbee but I found the savings versus convenience was sort of minimal, at least for my uses.

The WeMo software seems to be more mature.  iHome is integrated with HomeKit and installs pretty quickly but I did have a few snags getting it married up to the Alexa app.   It is almost as if you end up with two iHome accounts, one with a userID, associated by the app - and one with an email as the username as part of the OAuth handshake when you enable the skill.   The secret sauce, in my case - was to set up Device sharing in the iHome application, to basically share the {MyUserNameAccount} on the app devices with the {MyEmailAccount} on their portal.  Once I did this, Alexa was able to discover all of the iHome devices without a hitch.

The WeMo plugs work really well but they are big, generally blocking part of the outlet or at least preventing to WeMo plugs from going into one outlet.  The iHome plugs, however - have the added benefit of being the size of a standard plug, so you could have two iHome plugs in out outlet, if you wanted to.   WeMo has the better wall-switch offering, however.    

Being split across the two ecosystems is annoying if you plan to use their apps to control things but Alexa is the glue for the end result - since you can group devices regardless of manufacturer.

Echo also supports integration with Nest and IFTT, though my IFTT recipes for triggering the lights on Nest motion sense - seem to be spotty, at best.

All in all, being able to enter the room and saying things like "Alexa, turn on the Pinball Machines only" or "Alexa, turn on Mario Kart" or "Alexa, turn on the classic arcades" - is very-very nice.   Now, if I can just keep Miles from saying "Alexa, turn off the pinball machines" - while I'm in the middle of a game... :)

 

Halloween Party 2016

A quick clip showing some of the awesome level of activity from our Halloween block party / outdoor movie.

Full clip of some of the video feeds from the gameroom during the party. 

I've gotten a little tongue-in-cheek heat from friends in this hobby about scaling back on pinball in our gameroom but watching these clips reinforced to me that I made the right call. Moving away from 'how many more pins can I fit in this room?' and towards, "how can we make this space fun and inviting for a variety of arcade-nostalgia seekers" paid off in a big way!  

For Halloween 2016 we had a great turnout for an outdoor halloween movie and some arcade goodness. :)

We watched Hocus Pocus on the outdoor screen.  There is something just fun and magical about outdoor movies in the cooler fall evenings!

A certain dark-side force user got to stop in for some pinball action to many of our Star-Wars themed guests' excitement!

Arcade Move

For about 6 months I've been thinking about a major re-work of our game room and about what direction I'd like to take the room.  

Generally, the notion that I landed on was that, for me anyway, chasing the Pinside top 10 or 20 list of pinball machines isn't a (reasonably) attainable goal.   Part of the challenge is that I am my own worst enemy in terms of maintenance.   When the lights turn off and everyone leaves, I go back to work cleaning and wrenching-on games.  

Just one more cool mod, just one more coat of wax....

I do like working on pinball machines and arcades but it would be cool to get to play them now and again, too!  Plus, the pins get most of the maintenance time while the arcades were a little more neglected.

I came back from Southern Fried Gameroom Expo with this personal revelation that space is always a limiting factor.   Even at a big expo like that, there were games that weren't present and there will never be enough room (in my house or in my checking account!) to feed that one-more-again urge.   As in a lot of things, the chase is (often) better than the catch.

Do I want a gameroom to play in or a room full of trophies?

On one hand I had rough plans for adding a pool-house (eventually).   A place with bathrooms, shower, a kitchen / bar - and of course the arcade would move there.   But, would it stop with the $90,000 remodel or just keep going...?   On the other hand it wasn't lost on me that my home arcade was larger than the arcade at our local movie theaters.   

Then there's the idea that I personally enjoy arcades as much as pinball, yet one pinball machine like Wizard of Oz is equivalent financially to about 10 Tron Arcades..  

This was my quandary. 

I like pinball, I like arcades.   At peak, I've owned 8 pinball machines at once and 5-7 arcades in the same amount of time.   Yep, I know there are folks out there with (much!) larger collections and even a few people who even beat my level of maintenance OCD.   Family, demanding work schedule along with this and other hobbies - I probably won't ever be in the 20-pinball-machine upper crust of collectors. (And that's cool)  So, I decided a couple of months ago to start trimming back on Pinball games and to make some changes.

For pins, the number that I landed on was no more than 5.   I looked at each game in a duck-duck-goose-reminiscent way to determine what games would go and what games were safe for now. My guidelines were:

  • These are games, not trophies: keep what me and family find fun to play
  • Nostalgia
  • Make the space more comfortable
  • Allow for themed-areas or general theming opportunities
  • Represent a balance of arcade, pinball and console gaming

For the pins, these were my thoughts:

Williams Indy - Love the theme, love everything about the gameplay. - A Keeper.

Stern Indy - Love the theme, game is fun but enjoy Williams IJ more - Sold it.

Wizard of Oz - Like the game, not into the theme. Love the lightshows and sound.   Shot geometry could be better /  the outlanes are vacuums. In the end, more trophy than game.  Sold it. 

Scared Stiff - Love the game, love the suggestive nature of the theme.  Fast game / short ball gameplay will be represented in Ghostbusters  Harder decision but landed on selling it in favor of making room. Sold it.

Ghostbusters - Who the hell knows, Would this damned game ship already? :)
Current estimate is Oct1.  If it slips any more, I'm switching my order to an MMR or a TOTAN.

Monster Bash - Love the theme, enjoy the game but it is easy.   Keeper but potential trade bait for something later.

Star Trek - Love the theme, love the light show, love the gameplay.  Classic Steve Ritchie.  It stays.

And pin number 5 well - stay tuned, it might surprise you.  Hint: I've owned one before.

Several friends from the local club popped in to help with the move and even provided some up-front design and sketch ideas as we were going through layout ideas.   This video is a timelapse over a couple of weeks using the Nest's motion-detection keyframes to create segments.  In a few places you will see they get out of sync, because some cameras got unplugged temporarily during the move.  

Still, kind of neat to see it happen in front of your eyes over the course of a few minutes..

In the end, I think what we ended up with turned out pretty well.   Pins, classic arcades, contemporary arcades, even consoles all represented in a more comfortable, open and inviting arcade.   Because in the end arcades are as much about fun with friends as they were about gaming.