Keeping the Past Alive: 

In the mid 1970's there were two groups of people.  Those who were busy with soldiering irons and wirewrap, trying to create the microcomputer revolution, and those that were not.  By the late 70's, however, the former group had started a wave of change that could not be stopped.  Computers were soon to be turning up everywhere and in everything.  One of the early areas where the pubic was exposed to the wonder of microcomputers was that of the video arcade.

My high school friends and I, like the rest of that generation, would get together at the video arcades and look the the newest machines that had not been there the week before.  (Do you remember the days when any old gas station could be gutted and turned into a profitable arcade seemingly overnight?)

Of course, by today's standards, these machines were primitive, but just like the fond memories we all possess of our first car, and our first girlfriend, if you were a nerd in the late 70's (even into the early 80's), the early video arcade games were magical.

As these machines quit being profitable for the arcade operator, they were relegated to the trash heap, the fate for most old technology.  Some of us who were fortunate enough, have saved some of these early games from that unenviable fate.  The "hobby" of collecting old video games is now common among aging nerds.  (I have 11 of the old machines myself.)  But it's a difficult hobby.  The average game weighs 300-500 pounds, cost on average $500 to $2000 each, requires making deals that frequently involve trucking these behemoths across the country, and keeping these old systems running requires an functional understanding of  troubleshooting and electronics repair.  But the collectors have won, and to date only a single arcade game manufactured in the US has been lost to time.  By the way, if your interested in participating in this hobby, a couple of great resources are the Video Arcade Preservation Society (VAPS) and KLOV.  And Ebay is a good place to find the old games if you want to go shopping.

For those less inclined to invest the time, money, and effort, but still intrigued by that era, there is the world of emulation.  Since today's home computer is thousands of times faster than those old machines it's possible to emulate the hardware of the old machine in software on a modern PC.  Thanks to the work of a large group of aging nerds, there is such a tool called MAME - <M>ultiple <A>rcade <M>achine <E>mulator.

MAME allows you to run the code that was stored in the system ROM's of the old machines on your home computer.  It's not a facsimile, but rather the actual program that was in your old Asteroids, or Pac-Man machine.  You even have to trick the software to seeing the virtual quarters that the machines required.  MAME can emulate hundreds of the old machines.

I decided to take it one step farther...

As a Christmas present for the kids a few years ago. (Actually 1997) I gutted an old Asteroids arcade cabinet, installed a PC, built a custom control panel and connected the system up so that the kids could actually play any of the old games they wanted on a real arcade machine.  (They even have to put in the quarters to get it to play.)  I called the system CASE - for <C>omputer <A>rcade <S>ystem <E>xtraordinare.

So now, the kids (and I) have about 400 of the old video games in a single system.  Here's a picture:

The up side is that it allows us to have an entire video arcade in a single cabinet, the downside is that because it was such a sweet step forward, I've kind of lost my zeal for collecting the old machines.  As a result I haven't bought a new machine for the collection in the past seven years, and am currently considering reducing the size of my collection.  Anyone want a good deal on a coin-op arcade game?

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All images & text 2003 Phil Case