Video gaming in Vegas (part 2) – Retro Game Stores

June 7th, 2013

Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on May 17, 2013

Previously in Video Gaming in Vegas, I covered the local arcade scene. This week, another subject near and dear to the nostalgia (or curiosity) driven gamer: the retro video game store.

Gamestop, Ebay, and other online venders have made life difficult for many of the mom ‘n pop retro stores (and like arcades these days, retro game stores are almost always a mom ‘n pop affair). Not only do online sources wreak havoc on pricing, both lowering and raising game and hardware values based on national collecting trends, they also drain potential inventory, as a savvy seller can now offload their used wares directly online rather than visiting a local store to exchange their games for credit or a comparatively paltry sum.

While local store owners combat this by building up their local communities, buying bulk lots, and offering warranties, repair services and other goods (such as the ever popular collectible card games), a retro video game shop is not one of the more lucrative business ventures one can get into. In many cities, having just a single quality retro shop in town can be considered a lucky break – Las Vegas has been blessed with three.

You can’t go wrong hitting up any of these stores. Each offers merchandise from the entire range of gaming history, from classic consoles such as the Atari 2600, SNES, and Genesis to modern Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo systems and releases, and each has their own specialties and charm. My suggestion? Make a day of it and visit all three.

A GAMER’S PARADISE

Originally known as Sean’s Game Repair, this retro/repair shop has since undergone a rebranding and a mid-2011 expansion, with a second (and larger) storefront located immediately west of the Pinball Hall of Fame.

A longtime arcade and console collector, owner Sean LaBrecque is font of classic video game history, knows what to keep an eye out for, and often seeds his store’s selection with various odds and ends from his own collection, resulting in the occasional obscure encounter or gem of a find that one wouldn’t typically find in another shop.

Both A Gamer’s Paradise locations feel as much like a museum as retail space, with boxed titles and rare hardware on display along the periphery, surrounding shelves full of cartridges, discs, and arcade cabinets set to free play. Visit either location, but I give the edge to the newer Tropicana space due to its greater selection and proximity to the Pinball Hall.

1550 East Tropicana Ave #4
1000 North Nellis Blvd, Suite C
http://www.agpvegas.com/

WII PLAY GAMES

Tucked into the corner of a Nellis Blvd strip mall and owned by Mickey Tenney (who recently returned to the scene after originally opening Gameworld and Gameland Arcade a decade ago), Wii Play Games caters to geek culture in general, featuring a large assortment of video games (both classic and modern), card games, anime, and collectible figures.

The used video game selection is outstanding, and there’s always a crowd in the evenings, with Magic The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Uh tournaments held frequently. Dedicated gaming tables are open for anyone to jump in and play when tournaments are not in session.

Additionally, the Wii Play Games team posts buy & sell price lists for wanted games and cards online, making it easy for the collector to loosely plan a trade or purchase prior to visiting the store.

3310 South Nellis Blvd, Suite 10
http://www.wiiplaygameslv.com/

GAMEWORLD

Another retro game store with a heavy emphasis on card gaming, Gameworld is split into two distinct sections, almost to the appearance of being two completely different storefronts: video games and DVDs in the front room, collectible card games in the back. For card gamers, Gameworld is heaven, with large room filled wall to wall with Magic The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Uh, and other collectible cards.

The shop has either an extremely gracious clientele or a fastidious team, as Gameworld’s selection tends to be the best organized. Individual titles are well maintained and rarely outside their intended alphabetical order.

Like Wii Play Games, collectible card game tournaments are held regularly in the evenings and on weekends, and plenty of space has been allotted for both casual and tournament play.

5620 West Charleston Blvd
http://gameworldvegas.com/

Update! I dunno what it is with retro game stores and alternating primary color logos, but we’ve got a new addition in town. Gamers Center just opened its doors last week, and while the full stock is still being added to shelves, the store will be carrying a range of titles, from Atari 2600 to modern systems, along with collectible card games. The import selection is quite good for a brand new store, and may be what ultimate sets them apart from the others.

3720 E. Sunset Rd #108

Video gaming in Vegas (part 1)

April 29th, 2013

Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on April 17, 2013

If you grew up in Las Vegas, chances are you may recognize such names as Mary K’s, Ted, Ned, & Freds, Star-Cade, Pinball Palace and Jeanie Moore’s Arcade. During the heyday of the scene in the early 1980s, dozens of arcades were located all across the valley, and wherever there wasn’t an arcade nearby, there was a Poe’s Pizza or some other seedy establishment with a handful of cabinets sitting in the back just waiting to be played.

Casinos, of course, also had their own arcades, but aside from the rare exception, most of those were afterthoughts, meant to keep the kids busy while mom and dad whiled away the day on the slot machines.

These days, finding a local arcade is much harder, but luckily, Las Vegas has had a bit of a resurgence over the last few years. Here are some of the standouts.

GEMINI ARCADE PALACE

First, a suggestion. Visit Gemini this weekend.

The family-owned arcade has been a rhythm gamers’ mainstay for three years, featuring rarities such as the taiko drum game Taiko no Tatsujin, Sega’s quirky light-based Flashbeats and multiple iterations of DJ simulator Beatmania IIDX and Dance Dance Revolution.

But hurry — the arcade will shut down on Monday, April 22.

All is not lost for Bemani fans, however. While Gemini has chosen not to renew its lease at Sandhill Square, word from proprietor Juli is that they will reopen in a new location sometime in the future.

And a heads up to Gemini: The former home of the venerable Jeanie Moore’s Arcade and Mary K’s, smack in the middle of Commercial Center, is vacant. There’s a long-standing tradition of arcade history in that suite, ya know.

4180 S. Sandhill Road

PINBALL HALL OF FAME

Some arcades you wander into after dropping off the dry cleaning. Others are the kind vacations are planned around. Tim Arnold’s Pinball Hall of Fame is one of the latter.

After a successful stint running Pinball Pete’s in East Lansing, Michigan, Arnold packed up his extensive Gottlieb pinball collection and made his way to the warmer climate of Las Vegas. He would occasionally hold charity events called Fun Nights, where he’d open the doors of his warehouse and allow in-the-know members of the public to experience and play his historic collection of machines.

In 2006, Tim and the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club secured a spot in a Tropicana strip mall, moved in the machines, and opened the doors daily. Three years and the purchase of a building later, the Pinball Hall of Fame settled into its current location.

By far the largest arcade in Las Vegas, PHoF has a playable showcase of more than 200 machines, featuring everything from electromechanical parlor games to modern pinball and arcade cabinets.

1610 E. Tropicana Blvd.

INSERT COIN(S)

Opening two years ago this week, Chris Laporte’s Insert Coin(s) is the most visually impressive arcade in the city, if not the country. Billing itself as a videolounge gamebar and drawing inspiration from both arcade nostalgia and the Las Vegas club scene, Insert Coin(s)’ event lineups feature everything from video-game tournaments to performances by a rotating stable of resident and guest DJs.

Aside from an impressive list of arcade cabinets (with games priced at 50 cents a pop), Insert Coin(s) also offers access to the newest console titles along the expansive lit bartop. If you’re club-minded, head to the row of high backed couches and consoles against the wall, where bottle service is offered alongside the arcade quality fightsticks and Super Nintendos.

512 Fremont St.

HI SCORES

Take the concept of Insert Coin(s), add a dash of PT’s, throw in one of the best craft beer selections in town and you’ve got Hi Scores. Nestled against the less gamey and more cocktail-focused Player’s Club (both owned by Incredible Technologies founder Richard Ditton), Hi Scores features a casual atmosphere and a solid assortment of entirely free-to-play arcade and pinball machines, including Namco’s elusive Pac-Man Battle Royale, a simultaneous four-player take on the arcade classic.

Last I heard, Hi Scores was doing so well that Ditton and his team plan to open several new locations across the Las Vegas valley.

A heads up to Ditton: Have I mentioned that there’s a Vegas-historic arcade space available in Commercial Center?

65 S. Stephanie St.

In These Perilous Times

February 19th, 2013

Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on February 13, 2013

“Badly drawn, badly written, and badly printed – a strain on the young eyes and young nervous systems – the effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant. Their crude blacks and reds spoils a child’s natural sense of colour; their hypodermic injection of sex and murder make the child impatient with better, though quieter, stories. Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the `comic’ magazine.”

— Sterling North, Chicago Daily News, 1940

“Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about Rock n’ Roll!”

— Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Super Mario Bros.

In the winter of 1574, early in the days of English theatre, the Common Council of London issued a statement censoring and restricting theatrical performances within the city limits of London, complaining of their great popularity among youth and, as they described it, “the inveigling and alluring of maids, especially of orphans and good citizens’ children under age … and many other corruptions of youth and other enormities.”

While fears of plague and the resultant risk of large gatherings also played a role in the ruling, chief among the reasons for the declaration was the danger that this form of entertainment posed for the young, lower classes, and the overly susceptible.

This was followed by an outright ban within the city limits of London and further censorship, lasting until the Restoration era of the 1660s.

From the 1690s until 1710, both Pope Innocent XII and his successor, Pope Clement XI, following previous bans on female singers, whistling, and shouting during performances, outlawed opera entirely, a sinful and seditious form of music at odds with the morals and spirituality of the Church. The Teatro Tordinona, a place where “extravagance, gluttony, and every other most guilty form of intemperance triumphed, so that the resources of families were squandered, youth were corrupted, and pilgrims were scandalized,” was torn down, only to be rebuilt several decades later with opera’s later resurgence.

Pope Clement XI did however go lax on one previous Papal view: cats, traditionally seen as a symbol of Paganism and often exterminated as a result, were finally allowed back into the homes of God-fearing Christians.

With the popularity of jazz in the 1920s, so grew opposition to the so-called devil’s music (not the first to be labelled as such, and not the last). Within a decade, over 60 communities in the US (and Germany in its entirety) enabled prohibitions against the public performance of jazz, with the music seen as “the accompaniment of the voodoo dance, stimulating half-crazed barbarians to the vilest of deeds.”

Sixty years later, the 100th Congress of the United States passed Resolution 57, designating jazz as “a rare and valuable national American treasure.”

It never stops.

And then there’s film, immediately after its rise in popularity and again and again throughout its history, most notably with the moral censorship guidelines of the 1930 Hayes Code, which stated among its goals that “the important objective must be to avoid the hardening of the audience, especially of those who are young and impressionable, to the thought and fact of crime.”

Television, every couple decades since its invention. As FCC Chairman Newton Minow put it in 1961, a procession of “blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons.”

Comic books, particularly during the 1940s and 50s. Portrayals of superheroes, crime, and horror led to the 1954 publication of psychiatrist Fredric Wetham’s Seduction of the Innocent, an alarming screed warning of the dangers of lowbrow sequential art. This was followed by the formation of the United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in the same year, which held hearings on the potentially deleterious impact of comic books on young readers.

Role playing games in the 1980s. Dungeons and Dragons was believed by some to promote devil worship and suicidal behavior, with opponents often tying unfortunate events involving young players to the demonic influences of the game.

Don’t get me started on rock and roll.

So we arrive at the present, and with it a new target. Video games, a normative form of entertainment with over 90% of youth and the majority of adults playing, are the new opera, the new jazz, once again stimulating half-crazed teenagers to the vilest of deeds.

They’ve been connected to Sandy Hook (Adam Lanza was said to have played in his “underground bunker,” normally referred to as a basement), Aurora (James Holmes, alongside 10 million other players, was a fan of World of Warcraft, a fantasy adventure game), and the Virginia Tech massacre (shooter Seung-Hui Cho hadn’t played a video game since Sonic the Hedgehog in the early 90s).

During a press conference held the week after the Sandy Hook shooting, Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the NRA, called the game industry “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.”

On January 12th, following outcry against the industry, the Vice President of the United States met with the heads of several prominent video game publishers as part of a task force looking at the role of video games in mass shootings.

Last week, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, when asked about supporting universal background checks for gun purchases, replied that video games were “a bigger problem than guns.”

Never mind that murder rates have fallen in the United States over the past twenty years, while video game sales have skyrocketed.

Never mind that the largest video game markets in the world, per capita, also happen to have some of the lowest reports of gun violence.

Never mind that this same sort of hysteria has happened many times before.

During the rise to prominence of any new form of media or pop culture, there follows a cadre of misguided do-gooders, armed with misinformation and loose correlations, ready to lash out at any perceived potentiality for harm. They take to the streets with the notion of protecting the youth, publishing anecdotal evidence as fact, pointing to unrelated ties and exclaiming “This! This is that which we should repress, for surely it brings no good!”

When tragedy happens, the new medium is hoisted onto the platform, threatened and mocked, examined and dissected because somewhere, somehow, there has to be a link between it and our woes. Because it’s the easy way, because it’s the new, it must be at fault, lest we pause and find fault in ourselves.

Over and over again, until the new is no longer new and another arises to take its place.

Video Game Cover Project

November 19th, 2012

Slowly cataloging my older games, and as I’ve got a handful of random burned oddities and a load of discs without their original cases, I decided to trash the cheap paper sleeves, etc and put them all in slim dvd cases. These are the cover art templates I designed.

Classic Gaming Expo 2012 schedule

August 8th, 2012

If you’re heading to the Classic Gaming Expo this weekend, here’s a schedule of speakers and panels I whipped up:

http://bit.ly/CGE2012

My conference plan is to meet old-school game devs, get my Halo 2600 cart signed by Ed Fries, and burn way too much money on retro hardware.