On both the Diary podcast as well as on a daily basis over on the Diary of An Arcade Employee Facebook Page – I do my level best to provide little glimpses into what it is like working in a functioning arcade. For almost seven years now I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working at the Arkadia Retrocade – like any job there are obviously moments of real work – for myself that generally occurs when the arcade has closed for the night and I go about cleaning up the place. There is actually a great deal of enjoyment at putting everything back in shape – plus being the only one left in the arcade with 137 games going through their attract modes… it’s incredibly comforting – relaxing even. I can say that I truly feel that anyone who has worked at the arcade shares this exact feeling and since I am only able to work a couple of nights of a week – Shea Mathis, the owner and manager as well as my co-workers are the ones who really put in the effort to keep everything on track. I have always felt that I am little more than a glorified historian – documenting in photographs and the podcast the beauty of the arcade – how and where we get a particular game, etc. Say like 1985’s Tiger-Heli by Taito – famed game developer who unleashed Space Invaders on an unsuspecting World back in 1978. Tiger-Heli is a vertical scrolling shooter where the Player controls a helicopter – blowing up ground based targets… it’s a little like 1982’s Xevious in some ways.
At the arcade, Shea has as with nearly all the games chosen it’s position based on genre – so Tiger-Heli is sandwiched between Capcom’s 1942 and Tecmo’s Silk Worm. We obtained Tiger-Heli in the first batches of games before the arcade opened it’s doors – which if I’m not mistaken was at an auction in a closed mall in Texas. Is it the most popular game we have on the floor? No, not in the least – I believe it’s fair to say the likes of 1942 and Silk Worm see far more play, with the latter probably because it’s a two-player game. Still when doing our rounds we will see a Player stepping up to Tiger-Heli and giving it a shot a couple of times a day.
Now here is a fact that you probably already know – at the arcade we are dealing with equipment that is over 30 years old… or in the case of our Computer Space – currently not on the floor – it is 48 years old. So there are times that an arcade game will just go down and can’t be resuscitated by Gary Burton or Adam Jenkins – our current techs at the arcade. That is just part of the game… no pun intended – but something occurred over the weekend that we’ve never had happen before, the possible destruction of Tiger-Heli courtesy of a carelessly placed Strawberry frappe!
Gary Burton was kind enough to write up his experience with what occurred and the hope that Tiger-Heli might not be 100% dead:
“Around 1:30pm on Sunday, I had just returned home after working at the arcade all morning. The snack bar attendant texted me that “Tiger-Heli is calling you… or its participating in a test of the emergency broadcasting system.”. She said the game was making a VERY loud siren sound – that drowned out nearly everything else at the arcade.
Assuming something finally gave out on the 35-year-old circuit board, I told her to shut it off and I’d look at it when I came back in on Monday afternoon. The arcade is closed every Monday, so it was just men and Adam, our other game tech. I asked him to pull out Tiger-Heli from the wall while grabbed some flashlights so we could peer into the silent machine to diagnose what caused the ‘scream’ it made the day before. As he pulled it free from the wall, my flashlight caught a glimpse of something bright pink – a color not normally associated with the internal workings of an 80’s arcade game.
I knelt down behind the game and motioned for Adam to join me on the other side as I stood pointing at the game’s internals.
“Oh, no” he said. “That looks like a drink cup.”
Indeed it was.
Twenty-four ounces of strawberry frappe or some such beverage. Looking at the top of the machine, the scenario from the day before became obvious. A long streak about two inches wide tracked down from the top of the game – leading into the machine’s guts. A Player’s beverage cup had been placed at the top of the game – expecting there to be a flat spot. But no – it is very, very slanted. The drink slid down into oblivion without the customer ever realizing where their cup went. When the full cup impacted the game’s main circuit board, it split open and leaked half its contents everywhere. The antique power supply, cabinet interior, cables, wires and the main board had been coated with Strawberry frappe.
After getting a second opinion from a fellow game guru, it was agreed that a thorough wash and drying could save the game. I took the main boards home, stripped off the ROMS and gave them both a long hot bath in my kitchen sink. Later, I set them out to dry in front of a box fan. The boards have been re-assembled and we will see tomorrow if the surgery was a success.”
Friends, we do have security cameras at the arcade and have found the time and Players responsible for the accident – that is what it is of course, just an accident. The one thing that upsets me about what happened is not the accident itself but the fact that it is clear that after the frappe slid down and splashed all over the inside of Tiger-Heli – when that siren sound began… that the Players didn’t immediately seek assistance from one of my fellow co-workers but quickly walked away. I truly hope it doesn’t sound like I’m being too harsh and in all honesty we should have stopped them at the door when they came in with the drink – this is a lesson for us to be sure and hopefully with a little luck, thanks to Gary’s hard work, Tiger-Heli will take flight once more.