Death of the Arcade Part 4 - So What to Do?

As arcades become more and more corporate-owned and homogenized, it becomes clear that the arcade culture of the past will soon have faded entirely and probably will not be back. Fortunately, there are some options available to those of us who wish to relive the halcyon days of youth drooling in front of coin-op cabinets.

Emulation - Naturally, the route that most people go when they seek to repaly games of yesteryear is through the wonders of emulation. Powerful emulators such as MAME can provide a faithful reproduction of almost every arcade game made before 2000 or so. Unfortunately, this is analogous to watching a concert video. The media is there, but the experience isn't.

It's missing the sound of other machines bleeping and booping , the atmosphere just isn't the same, and obviously one is playing with a keyboard instead of standing in front of a proper cabinet with joysticks. More dedicated retro-gaming enthusiasts will build MAME cabinets consisting of hollowed-out stand-up cabinets with the interior replaced by a computer running emulation software. This certainly takes care of the cabinet problem and makes other nerds drool with envy, but it's still not the complete classic arcade experience.

I'm hoping to market a special arcade atmosphere emulation enhancement kit. The kit will come with a looping audio CD of atmospheric arcade machine noises, as well as general murmuring and shouted expletives. Also included is an aromatherapuetic essence which, when poured into the included humidifier, will fill the room with the aroma of fermenting Twizzlers, industrial carpeting, B.O. and general nerd whiff. Add to this the bottle of my patented Joystick Funk, a solution of melted candy and potato chip grease, which, when applied liberally to your cabinet's console, faithfully imitates the tacky film that perpetually coats and gums up the mechanics.

Conventions - Thanks to alert reader Jen's heads-up, this weekend I will be attending the CA Extreme Convention at the San Jose Convention Center, which will be chock full of hundreds of classic arcade games set to free play all weekend long. I expect to spend a lot of time by the Two Tigers and Cliffhanger machines. Oh man, I am so there. I consider myself extremely lucky to be living in the same city that hosts this event, and I will be spending all of Sunday burning holes into my retinas with glee.

The only other classic arcade convention I've seen so far is the Philly Classic, which seems to be a general classic gaming convention, but has a collection of stand-up arcade machines as well. So if you don't happen to live in the Bay Area, it must really suck to be you. I've never been to one of these before, so I'll try to document the experience as best as I can, but I doubt I can put into words how much fun I will be having while you are not.

There is plenty of debate as to the legality and morality of using the arcade ROMs to power your MAME experience, but my take on it is, if you couldn't otherwise possibly find another way to repay the creators of the game for enjoying the game, go for it. Besides, I think I put enough freaking quarters into Burgertime to earn a few free plays on my computer.

Actually Going to an Arcade - There are actually still a few havens of arcade goodness remaining. I can only speak about what's around here, but we have Special Effects in Scotts Valley which is the arcade I would visit every Thursday as a kid. While my mom went to Long's to deliver handmade signs, I would head over here to spend my allowance money. It's still the same today, down to the early 90's posters high up on the wall, and the trompe l'oeil graff mural of someone skateboarding through a brick wall. The only differences are the games, and the fact that almost every time I go in there, it's nearly deserted. Sometimes I have the place to myself. There are few more saddening moments than standing alone in an arcade, dropping tokens into a Raiden machine, the only other person around a 15-year old girl minding the counter and talking on the phone.

There is also Nickel City, which has two locations in San Jose and works on a different and much cheaper pricing scheme from the typical arcade. It costs $2 to get in, and from that point on, you only need nickels. The games are all set to take those, and even the most expensive machine only costs 15 cents. Many older games are set to free play. Of course some machines are not in exactly what I would call pristine condition, but what do you expect for a nickel a play? Plus it feels a lot like the arcades I remember from being a teenager. Trouble is, they're typically full of today's teenagers, who are much rowdier than the sullen, pale misfits I recall arcading with. Dang kids.

DIY - You know what? I'm a grown up now, and I'm allowed to make my own decisions. I can decide what's important enough to spend money on, and what's not. If I feel that I really would rather have a cocktail Ms. Pac-Man table than a real table, then I can probably make that happen. After all, people spend thousands of dollars on a nice couch, or a dining room table. Why can't I spend a couple hundred on a piece of furniture that takes quarters? I might even be able to make some money off of it.

You're more likely to find an auction in your area than an arcade game convention where the point is to play. Typically you can pick up a machine for as little as $100. Of course, that all depends on what game you're looking for. There will be an auction coming to San Jose in December, and I'll definitely have to check that out. I think I may have been good enough to earn a Christmas present.

So there are a number of options to those with the time, money, and dedication to seek out a menas of re-creating that arcade atmosphere. Many people are still satisfied with today's larger arcades, but for me, it's simply not the same. It's fine and all, but it's not the same.

Maybe the commercialization of arcades is sending gaming on a path to mainstream mediocrity, or maybe I'm just an old fart who is eternally convinced that nothing is ever as good as it was when I first enjoyed it. Either way, it cannot be denied that things have changed in the arcade scene. As video games become more and more accepted by popular culture and are slowly elevated to the entertainment status typically held by film and, to some degree, bowling, it becomes more clear that it will never be quite as simple as before. Whatever the outcome is, I hope that today's budding gamers hear the same promise in a pocket jangly with quarters that I once did, and that I might hear it again.


Bad Boys II - The Fall of Rollins

Well, I admit I went to see the car chases, which I understood as being pretty over-the-top, and they were, in terms of ridiculous numbers of cars destroyed. The whole cars-falling-off-the-back-of-a-big-rig thing was a intriguing chase element, but the chases were still pretty poorly blocked. It's the same complaint I've got with most western action films, there's not enough flow to the sequences. In order to really communicate a sense of tension and demonstrate what the hero is doing in order to avoid the other cars and pursue his target. Simply showing a series of cars exploding intercut with shots of Will Smith looking all calm and determined while Martin Lawrence goes, "Ohmygaw! Ohymaw! What are you doin'?! You so crayzeeee!!!" doesn't do the trick. Although piles of exploding cars and great, each car has a story that needs to be told, namely location, trajectory and velocity. The action sequences played out more like a disaster movie than a carefully crafted action flick.

The only difference between the heroes and the villian was that the camera was more often pointed at the heroes. Martin and Will (well... Will mostly) commit more crimes in the pursuit of their cookie-cutter Cuban druglord villian than the villian himself commits, I'm pretty sure. They were operating in a totally consequence-free universe where the worst thing that happens is getting yelled at by the boss when one violates international treaties, endangers the cover of DEA operatives, recklessly causes untold amounts of innocent death and property damage, break and enter without a warrant and typically act like a psychopathic menace to society, as long as you stop the evil man from smuggling ecstacy. The clincher was the two driving a Hummer 2 through a shanty village in Cuba, demolishing dozens of homes, without even considering that there might be people inside. The whole end sequence was pretty much either an enormous ad for the H2 or a sly metaphor for rampant American egotism and the conveniently ignored suffering our consumer culture engenders, but I'm guessing the former.

Fortunately they didn't run out of gas before reaching Guantanamo Bay ("Look at how nicely all the prisoners are being treated! And their military tribunals are really fair and unbiased!") where there is a showdown in a minefield. What good a minefield where all the mines are easily seen does is beyond me, but it does make for a interesting dynamic. At gunpoint, the heroine is told to throw down her gun, at which points she says, I'm not even kidding, "Okay, I'll throw down my gun, righ onto that landmine!", which for some reason really insulted my intelligence. Fortunately, even though it's been clearly explained to the audience exactly what she is doing, the antagonist doesn't catch on and gets promptly exploded.

If a well-crafted action movie is like a taseful well-lit lingerie shot, Bad Boys 2 was like hardcore gangbang donkey scat porn. When you're so jaded on the other stuff and unable to appreciate subtlety and craft, you no longer go at your weiner with respect and consideration, but the it's more like when you're just too lazy and impatient to give it time, then find the nastiest ponro available and furiously pound at your junk until you reach an ultimately unsatisfying climax (or in this case, pound at your junk for 2 1/2 hours). It does the job, but it doesn't feel as good and you feel bad about it afterwards, plus then you snap out of it and realize you're looking at donkey porn, pervert.


Today's main story in Salon, Air Osama (gotta watch an ad for a day pass), is about the potential for terrorists to train themselves on flight simulators to fly planes into buildings. As cute as it is when uninformed non-gaming journalists try to write about electronic entertainment, this one is really pretty ignorant.

Although a flight simulator can certainly educate the player as to where all the switches are, and what they do, and in what order to flip them, etc., the games tend to leave out the part where you manage to get a weapon past airport security, storm the cabin, subdue the crew, maintain control over the passengers and crew while the FAA alerts the air force and has you shot down. I think the primary ingredient missing from the scenario is the willingness to run an airplane into a building, but maybe Flight Simulator will release a fanatacism patch or something.

Oh wait, it seems the FBI agents and actual airline pilots quoted in the article thought of this already:

"Generally, anything that's commercially available but doesn't have, by its nature, nefarious intent is not something the FBI would be interested in," he says. "Someone learning through a flight-simulator program with the idea of taking over an aircraft still has huge hurdles to surmount -- mainly gaining access to the cockpit."

"If you wanted to point an airplane at something on the ground and crash into it," Schiff says, "you don't have to know a hell of a lot."

So why is Salon, which usually has some pretty good and well-written articles, resorting to an article filled with fear-mongering speculation about flight sims training the next generation of hijackers? Beats me, but I hope they don't make a habit out of it.


There are few things more amusing than observing people on message boards argue fiercely and endlessly over subjective matters. My current favorite is the battle between those who hate Manos: The Hands of Fate and those who hate From Justin to Kelly in the battle to determine who will sit at the bottom of imdb's bottom 100 films of all time. People are encouraging each other to vote a "10" on the opposing film, just to keep it out of the bottom slot.

However, I know they're both wrong. The worst film I've ever seen is Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid (Zeisters), which not only features Aushwitz jokes, but gets my vote for the simple act of false advertising. The VHS box cover art features a bemohawked girl in a bikini and a helicopter, neither of which appear in the film, and, to top it all off, the titulat "fat guy" does not "go nutzoid". Worst. Movie. Ever.

On Friday, some friends and I went to see Tiffany perform live at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Yes, that Tiffany.

She wasn't all that great, doing mostly derivative female-artist rock or covers, but a good time was had.

Now we can honestly say, "I saw Tiffany perform live in concert".

That's the reason I went.

My love may be tainted, but my hatred is pure.

Learning to play the didgeridoo is tough. The most difficult parts are circular breathing, wherein you manage to contort your diaphragm so that one lung is inhaling, while the other is exhaling (harder than it sounds), and getting over the fact that you are essentially just making fart noises into a big tube. Slobber factors heavily as well.

In place of working hard to master the traditional soudns of the didge (so hip), I'm working on perfecting my comic timing.


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (or, as the drive-in marquee put it, "League of LXG") - Not nearly as disturbing or violent or engaging as the remarkable comic-book series. Pretty much the only thing it has in common with the source material was the names of the characters and their professions, but since the comic book took liberties with the original literary characters anyhow, that's somewhat forgivable. Dorian Gray's character I actually found a welcome addition to the film, though I wouldn't have missed Tom Sawyer.

I found it odd that the writers chose to add in still more characters, rather than eliminate or replace them, considering how numerous they are and the stories behind them (However, another comic-book movie about a group of unusual do-gooders, which also features the letter "X" managed to handle a large cast well). Of course, all the characters were severely simplified and had a lot of their less palateble aspects removed (Jekyll/Hyde is now merely hiding in Paris, as opposed to murdering prositutes there, Quatermain has lost his opium addiction, and the invisible man doesn't even sexually assault one schoolgirl). The film actually seemed to assume a lot about the audience. Many of the characters explained themselves, but many of their back stories are left out on the presumption that the audience are already familiar with them, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Quatermain, Sawyer, the Invisible Man, and surprisingly, their main nemesis.

The art direction was pretty damn cool, especially their Batmobile-esque 6-wheeler sedan and the Nautilus, which had lots of impractical, unnecessary, but tasteful ornamention, as Victorian-era sci-fi vehicles typically did. The action sequences left a lot be desired, while the cinematography did have plenty of flying scraps of paper and great sets in which the fighting took place, the action was shoddily blocked, and jumped from one fighting character to another. Since there are so many, it's quite jarring and doesn't flow well. Captain Nemo has picked up a fari amount of kung-fu and swordplay in the film version, and it's just so interesting to see a man in his beturbaned rajah outfit doing spin roudhouse kicks and leg sweeps that I was enthralled.

All in all, it was a candy bar movie. While you're watching it, you can enjoy it, but its ultimately forgettable. They would have done well to pare off a few of the characters rather than re-write them in PG-13 mode. Unfortunately, the ones this would have applied to were the biggest SFX vehicles, so that was out. Worth a matinee or drive-in prices, I'd say.

In-joke: Lobster Bear


Fensler Films - Not your usual G.I. Joe PSAs.

2Fast 2Furious - Neither Fast nor Furious enough. There were two or three worthwile car stunts, most notably the part where the sports car gets totally run over by a big rig, and another where this one car is jumping over a drawbridge, but then this other car jumps over the first car, both of which were given away in the preview, the other, a car jumping onto a boat, was done before in Jackie Chan's First Strike.

The main problem with the film is, of course, the big Vin Diesel-shaped hole in the cast, which has been hastily plugged with a bunch of unappealing minor characters, most notably Benihah heiress-turned crappy actress Devon Aoki as Suki (pronounced "Sucky"), who can't even manage to deliver the line "Smack that ass!" convincingly.

However, watching the two lead characters rhetorically lick each other's nutsacks was pretty entertaining. It was more of a fuck-buddy movie than a buddy-cop movie, from playful wrestling to general jealous cattiness, it had all the earmarks of a great man-on-man romance story. If only the studio had had the balls to simply have the leads get it on with each other in the passenger seat of an Evo and finally make the gay action movie that I'm waiting for. Hell, they wouldn't even have to change the title, I think "2Fast BiCurious" would be too much of a dead giveaway. Even the taglines require very little manipulation:

If lines must be crossed... If shirts must be torn... Do it fast, do it furious
When the sun goes down, another world comes to life.
Live life 8 inches at a time.
How fast do you like it?

Yyyyyyeah. So a plea to the Fast and Furious creators: Drop the whole hyper-macho cocky hi-octane action buddy-cop crap (I'm willing to bet that Bad Boys 2 will prove superior on all counts) and make a gay hyper-macho cocky hi-octane gay action movie already! There appear to be only gay romantic comedies and gay dramas. Even the gay romantic comedies have drama. However, lacking in all gay films, whatever the genre, is car chases, which is something that desperately needs changing. Once the American public sees that a gay dude can do a handbrake 180 turn and flip a car into reverse doing 110mph, only then will homosexuals begin to be perceived as equals. Mark my words, the year that a gay man skydives from an exploding plane on the silver screen is the year that the U.S. will allow same-sex civil unions, and the Fast and Furious franchise is in a position to make it happen.