By Kunal Kohli and Lei Takanashi
For almost five years, Brendan Bailey has invited arcade game enthusiasts to his office once a month to play and share their hobby of refurbishing arcade games.
“They are pretty much just old computers,” Bailey said. “A computer runs a video game and a computer runs a pinball machine.”
Arcade refurbishment is not something that is taught at colleges. “Professors wouldn’t know [about fixing arcade machines] private collectors are your best bet,” said Raiford Guins, a professor of culture and technology at Stony Brook University.
Long Island boasts a strong retro gaming scene. The Arcade Club has 217 members and the Long Island Retro Gaming group on Facebook has 1,232 members. There is even a retro gaming expo held in Long Island every year.
Arcade refurbishing has increased in popularity because the generation of kids that grew up with arcades now have disposable incomes to make their own collections, Bailey said.
Other arcade enthusiasts believe that the basements in Long Island’s homes have a lot to do with arcade’s popularity. David Lee Wolper, a pinball machine collector, believes that arcade refurbishment is popular in Long Island because homeowners have large basements that they can fill with these machines, he said.
“You don’t have to know electronics to repair the games,” Wolper said. “You don’t have to know why something does something, you just have to follow its trail of what could go wrong.”
Wolper, who is a UPS employee and a self-taught pinball refurbisher, said that when a machine leaves his basement, it comes out better than it did in the factory.
Like in any computer, the main component of an arcade game is the motherboard where all the commands go, Bailey and Wolper said. When you push the left button on a pinball machine it sends a command to the motherboard that tells the computer to move the left flipper. When a pinball passes over a switch or sensor, it sends a message back to the motherboard that the pinball passed over that part of the field and gives the player points or unlocks game modes. Video game arcade machines work the same way with the joystick and buttons inputting commands to tell the game what to do.
With nearly half a mile of wires and so many parts that activate different functions of the game, pinball machines are hard to fix. But Wolper uses the computer in the machine to find what’s broken. Behind the quarter door on the front of the machine are buttons that service the machine. When the buttons are pressed, they send commands to the machine to test switches and lights and point out the ones that are failing.
“They built these games with a pretty good level of quality but there was no way to build something so complex without it breaking and needing repair,” Bailey said.
Although video game arcade machines and pinball machines have similar technological components what makes a video game arcade machine different is the CRT monitor that shows the game, Bailey said.When repairing arcade CRT monitors it can be difficult for two reasons, Bailey said.
One reason is because of how much electricity builds up. Improperly handling the monitor even when the machine’s off could trigger a deadly electric surge. Another reason is because companies like Nintendo made the games but didn’t make the monitors or tubes. Nintendo had to tailor its circuit boards and machines to work with their specific monitor distributor. This means that when a CRT breaks down you can’t just replace it with any other CRT. It has to be the one made for the game.
However, one of the most important aspects of an arcade machine is the artwork and design. CJ Saulle is a member of the arcade club who specializes in making the outer cabinets of the games look good. Replacing buttons and joysticks, sanding down wood, repainting the graphics, putting in new plastic moldings and rejuvenating the marquis signs is needed to fully complete a restoration.
The time, refurbishing cost and resale value of an arcade machine varies said refurbisher Harry Dods. If the condition of the machine is poor it will cost more time and money. The resale value varies because some games are more desirable than others. Bailey said that his “Baby Pac-Man” game, which is an arcade video game and pinball machine in one, is only worth $700 to $800. However, Wolper after 100 hours of work to fix an destroyed “Champion Pub” pinball machine, is putting it on sale for $5,800.
But even when the machines are fully restored and ready to be shown to the public, they are still prone to error.
“Even tonight, people coming into play these games later, something will break” Bailey said. “Something breaks every time that people play them.”