It's a cool November Saturday morning in 1990 as I make my way across the 14th Street bridge over Interstate 90. My friend John strolls beside me. He had slept over at my house the night before, a fairly common occurrence. As we walk, we talk about the more important things in life. Can the Fresh Prince actually make a sitcom work? Could Herschel Walker make a difference for the Vikings? Would they ever stop playing that "Pump Up the Jam" song on KROC?
We're approaching our destination: Austin's sole shopping complex, Oak Park Mall. In the days before we were let loose driving, this is where you could find us. Where else would we want to go? The mall had everything. We would eat at the Taco Shoppe, wander through Musicland looking for the new Bell Biv DeVoe tape, see King Ralph at the theater... But mostly we'd spend our hours at the arcade, pumping quarter after quarter into the array of video games stationed there.
These memories rushed back as I found myself strolling through the mall over the Turkey Day break. I wondered what had happened to the place. First, many of the stores are now empty. Second, if you subtract the legion of gray-haired mall walkers, the mall was nearly deserted. On the biggest shopping weekend of the year, no less. How was this possible?
Several years ago, the space formerly occupied by the arcade was taken over by a NASCAR memorabilia store. (If there's a better social commentary about Austin, I don't know what it would be.) The "arcade" now is located in the former home of the ice cream / pizza shop, about 25 percent of its former size. While waiting for my companions to finish their shopping, I strolled past the arcade... and was aghast to find one lone sole inside, getting ready for a chip shot on Golden Tee.
This just wasn't right. Twelve years ago, I had to wait in line to play games. Now the place was deserted?!?! My entrepreneurial mind began to calculate-- I know how to get this mall going! Revive the arcade! And I know just how to do it-- find the abandoned warehouse that has these games:
Maybe the best. This game allowed up to four players and featured the greatest WWF starts (of that time, anyway): Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, Earthquake, the Big Boss Man, and others. It even had the wrestlers' feature moves-- as Jake The Snake, you could perform the DDT on your opponent; similarly, if you were Mister Perfect, you could house someone with the Perfect Plex. I think the greatest part about this game was the multi-player ability-- with the amount of people that we knew running around the arcade, we always had enough for a tag-team match.
John Elway's Team Quarterback
There were a couple of cool things about this game-- first and foremost was the spring-return joystick that allowed you to feather your passes into your receivers. Second, by using your initials and birthdate, you could play an entire season with the same team-- something that Playstation and Nintendo users have taken for granted for a while.
Ironman Ivan Stewart's Super Off Road
Oh, the quarters I spent on this game. The controls for Off Road were simple-- a steering wheel, a gas pedal, and a Nitro button. Pressing the Nitro button gave you a quick speed burst if you needed to overtake an opponent. At the end of each race, you could spend your winnings on upgrading your truck-- tires, shocks, etc. One of the best parts was doing 360s on the course if you were too behind to win. The hardware on this game was very solid-- it was rare that a kid could walk by this game when it wasn't being played and not spin the steering wheel as hard as he could.
Your standard shoot'em game-- the difference was the digitized voices from the movie. I sometimes wake up at night hearing Robocop say "drop it"-- it's been seared into my brain.
Now these controls were revolutionary-- bike handlebars! You could control the "throttle" of your dirtbike with the right grip, and also pull up for wheelies. The purpose was to get as many newspapers in customers' mailboxes as possible, but what fun was that? The real joy was breaking windows, hitting pedestrians, and causing as much damage as possible with thrown newspapers. Knocking down the breakdancer was my personal favorite.
One of the first realistic "street-fighting" types of games, Pit Fighter was memorable because it seemed to be the first to simulate blood splattering everywhere.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
A very cool game with great audio-- whipping people didn't kill them but made them make fun sounds. My favorite part was the minecart, which generally went so fast I had no idea what was happening.
The first laserdisc game, Dragon's Lair was quite cool indeed. However, it was the first game to cost fifty cents to play. It never caught on in Austin.
Just think, an arcade full of these classics will draw teens in by the dozens! Right? Well, they'll probably stay home with their X-Box and high-speed Internet access. But I know I'd start hanging out at the mall as much as I did in 8th grade if they brought these games back. Thanks to the Killer List of Video Games for screen grabs. Visit there, it's a trip.