I've collected things as long as I can remember. Coins, stamps, pins, cards, dice, games... I even recall having a collection of things I found in the yard like pinecones and acorns when I was a kid. I just like having stuff. It's not as interesting to me if I can own all of something by throwing money at it rather than having to chase down things I want though. You know... the hunt! Throughout high school and college it was mostly video games, with a focus on NES and older consoles. Growing up on the very tail end of NES, I still have a fondness for the 80s and 90s consoles and culture. Part of this collection in high school was my first arcade machine, a peice of crap JAMMA conversion running P-47: The Phantom Fighter, I spent $300 on it and thought I got the deal of a lifetime. The controls were mushy and I barely played it, but man having an arcade machine in my room was cool at the time, right!? I hoarded up a small pile of arcade PCBs, MVS carts, and Sega ST-V carts like Klax, Die Hard, Metal Slug, none of which I played enough to justify the behemoth, but again it was a neat toy. I didn't grow up in the arcade, my memories of arcades are Dance Dance Revolution and redemption games. I thought video games for $0.25 was a rip-off. Pinball for $0.50 was downright lunacy! Besides machines here and there, the main arcade I can remember was a birthday party joint called Our Place 3 full of 80s and 90s classics, skee-ball, the thing where you shoot an airgun at those stuffed heads, maybe even pinball. I got my time in on Gauntlet and Battletoads, but remember spending most of my time on a crappy little game from 1984 no one remembers called Chicken Shift. Really, I think the point I'm trying to make is that classic arcade games, even 90s arcade games for the most part weren't my childhood.
This is important because when I got my first job and some money, I got the itch to collect more because I could. I had thousands of console video games but now that I had some coin and an empty apartment I could expand into what I saw as the next frontier: arcade games! So began one of the most ridiculous phases of my life, but it's a phase that happens to all of us. I filled myself to capacity IMMEDIATELY. I had a 600sqft apartment...
The "Buy Everything" Phase
I saw that the local arcade had a $1500 for sale sticker on their Pump it Up: Zero machine. I'm a huge rhythm game nerd but they put me in a prisoner's dilemma. The machine was set to $0.25/4 songs. We all thought it was a mistake, and really it was no wonder the game made no money (in addition to being next to a nice DDR: Supernova). If none of us bought it, we could enjoy nearly-free Pump It Up forever on location, but if someone bought it only they would get to enjoy the machine. Natually, I tried to buy it immediately. I remember the owner saying something like "So, how much are you offering?" as if he knew the price was outrageous. I excitedly offered the $1500 and ended up taking a $900 loss on the game when I eventually sold it. Still a great purchase. No pinball yet, I get it, but the arcade games lead into pinball. So at this point in the story we just had a Pump it Up machine in the apartment. This is the DX cabinet, it's possibly the biggest (that is bulky and ugliest) dance game cabinet ever made, with a 2 player dance platform apart from the game. It's freaking huge on it's own. No sane person would have this alone in an apartment. It was awesome.
Soon after was the Winston-Salem arcade auction, just 90 minutes from my apartment. I rented a 16ft U-Haul, brought my girlfriend for help, took a bag full of cash and I was like a kid at a candy store. I had dreams of turning my small apartment into an arcade. Walking up and down rows of games rather than a living room. Being older and having a much better concept of how much space you actually need to play a game, let alone work on them, let's just say I had delusions of grandeur. I bid on tons of games. My worry wasn't money or space in the apartment, I just wanted to make sure I'd fill up that 16ft truck. I bid on coin pushers, mini 60-in-1s, standup arcades, drivers, light gun games, gumballs, anything. The scariest bid I put in was $275 for a Time Crisis I don't think was fully working. It was enormous and I was terrified to try moving it but no one was bidding and I got the whole fear of missing out in my head. Some sucker (maybe the owner) bid $285 and I had the sense not to bid again. Thank you stranger. I bought a Daytona USA twin after telling the girlfriend I wouldn't. I got a Fun-E-Ball redemption game as a sort of thematic arcade piece for my ultra-small apartment arcade (what was I thinking?). I got a cheap Area 51, maybe my only sensible purchase. I got a Silent Scope, again, not a game for apartment living. I even got some "catch the ball" redemption game that I never played. I waited 2 hours in line, excitement in my young collector eyes, paid the man for my games and prepared to learn a couple lessons about the hobby.
Auction truck nightmare
Games are hard to move. The big wooden cabinets with top-heavy monitors are especially a pain. I wouldn't recommend a U-Haul with a ramp to move them... ever. A Daytona USA twin and Silent Scope are another story entirely. I felt utterly defeated this night, on the verge of tears because I didn't know what I was going to do with $1000 worth of games I wasn't able to take off the property. Ada and I were able to get the Area 51 game up after much effort. Daytona USA is one of the earliest drivers, it was not made to be taken up U-Haul ramps. If fact you can't disassemble each cabinet at all, the monitor and seat are one big piece. Of course we didn't know this at the time and after a while of failing to get it up the ramp, we started disassembling it. After removing all the bolts, it awkwardly fell apart into two pieces in a "This isn't supported to be taken apart ever" kind of way. Really, this was a nightmare for a newbie. Not only was I scared I wouldn't be able to transport this home, I might not even keep it in one piece. It was way too heavy to lift, I couldn't even put it back together. Some guy came along who saw that we were stupid kids who had bought too much and had no idea what we were doing. He told us to stop taking the game apart and must have helped us for half an hour lining up the bolt holes and putting the game back together despite the tedium and frustration of it all. He took his fancy hand truck and huge upper body strength and helped us truck both gargantuan machines up the seemingly 45 degree U-Haul ramp. No doubt this guy had a fancy 30ft long truck with a life gate to avoid such feats of strength. There's no way I expressed enough gratitude to him, it was both emotionally and physically one of the biggest weights I can remember being lifted off my shoulders. It's one of the first displays of kindness I received and I try to pay it back where I can.
After some not-quite-Daytona-level loading effort, I made it home around 3am. Now the U-Haul was due back at 7am, and I wasn't about to pay $30 for an extra day, so I woke my friend up and we unloaded the games at dawn. He said I was dumb. It was dumb. Above is a picture of my ridiculous apartment. In this configuration, you had to step over the dance platform to get into the living room and squeeze past the driver into the kitchen.
Finally, some pinball
OK, I need to get to pinball. I was playing Pinball Arcade around this time, 2012 or so. It was my first major experience with pinball. I'm just another one of those Pinball Arcade scrubs, this game has to be a big part of the pinball resurgence we're currently seeing. The first game I ever played was a Big Guns that my friend's dad from elementary school owned, but it was "his dad's" and he was clearly bored of it having been around it his whole life so I didn't get a lot of time on it. Despite being perhaps the only game I could be nostalgic about, I have no love for Big Guns. Sorry Big Guns. The only other game I remember playing as a kid is Star Wars: Episode 1. I remember loving it because I thought it was so easy and I felt like I could play forever. I remember thinking it was my favorite pinball machine. I was a dumb kid. Anyway I needed games now, which is what led me to Pinside. I found a for sale post a mere 5 hours away in South Carolina with a Taxi, T2, and HS2 and very reasonable prices. Figuring this will be my only chance ever to own a pinball machine (how often can people sell these anyway?) I prompty rented a van and made the long haul to pick up T2 and HS2 in a package deal. I thought Taxi was some lame, old, non-DMD game. I was new, give me a break. My first pickup ever was an 11 hour single day round trip, maybe that's why I'm so willing to drive crazy distances for these games now. I wound up sort of hating Terminator 2. Another lesson learned: Play games before you buy them. But seriously, try telling that to anyone about to pick up their first haul of games and see if they listen. Both games had a bunch of problems but were nice enough. It was the perfect lot to cut my teeth fixing WPC resets, repinning GI connectors, and doing all the sorts of standard pinball maintenance stuff. I think both games together were $3400. Considering I was completely new to the hobby, prices were on the rise, and I had a history of overpaying for machines by $100s, I'm really surprised I got myself a decent deal.
Pinball in apartments is no fun
Back to the tiny apartment. It is loaded to the brim with arcade games and 2 pins now. Also, pinball is loud. Did you know that? You don't really notice in the arcade, but put it up against a shared wall or under someone's bedroom in a quiet apartment and you'll notice pretty quickly. I worked late hours at the time and most of my playtime was at night, but I'm a very respectful person and didn't want to disturb the neighbors. I imagine most people go through a phase where they play the snot out of their games or shop them out and learn about repair. I didn't do either, I spent the early months of pinball ownership going on a soundproofing adventure. In the face of constant failure and $100s of spent testing soundproofing methods, I look back fondly on this time. I ended up making a PVC "blanket fort" around my games using acoustic blankets after nothing else worked. So now, 600sqft apartment full of arcade games, with an 8x8x8' cubic blanket dungeon in one corner. Can you tell I didn't have a wife? Here's a pic of the resulting monstrosity in my apartment, but I can tell you it was sweet. I played pinball at 4am and never got a complaint. The full journey is documented here.
Sometime after I was able to actually play my games is when I fell it love, it sure took a while though. I didn't get the bug right away. I was at a crossroads, either build a ridiculous blanket structure for each new game, or fix the situation. This was not an easy choice, I did consider more blanket forts. But I decided I needed a house, so pinball was really the impeteus for me buying a house. Not my life situation, financial situation, job situation... pinball. I wanted a house with NO STEPS and a game room big enough for 6 games (Yeah, 6! All the space I would ever need!). These were my only qualifications for a house. My realtor kept showing my houses with "only 3 steps" or "nice open floorplans" with no gameroom. Houses in nice neighborhoods, houses in nice school districts. I eventually found my house and let me tell you, a ground floor game room with no steps is sweet. You don't know what you're missing out on basement guys. Before I moved I ended up selling almost all of my arcade games. The fire marshall was coming around my apartment complex for a fire inspection and rather than have my apartment declared a death trap I just got rid of a lot of games. It turns out 90s arcades are terrible for home ownership. I literally played through Silent Scope and Area 51 once and was basically done with them. Zero replay value. Maybe if i got an Out Run or Donkey Kong it would be different, but I just firesaled them all and was very happy to reclaim a bit of sanity in my life.
At this point my gameroom slowly grew to capacity. Nothing crazy yet. I picked up a Black Knight 2000 and Breakshot, two games I specifically wanted this time. I've outgrown my phase of picking up what's available or picking up what's cheap. It's nice only owning games that you really want to own, let me tell you! I slowly stocked up on parts and tools, only repairing things as necessary. I put in some ugly LEDs, did my first basic shop jobs on all my games, played them a bunch, browsed Pinside a lot, but I wasn't up to my eyeballs in pinball yet. I was up and down on it like any other hobby.
Getting deep into the hobby
Later in 2014 is when the bug bit the hardest. Browsing Pinside I saw a nice shopped, LED'd Shadow priced reasonably a mere 9 hours away. People 20-30 minutes away were like "I don't know... should I get it?". Frustrated with the lucky nearbys not understanding how great their situation is and stricken with that FOMO, I made a 20 hour round trip to pick it up with a close by ST:TNG. The same month I picked up a WCS. I also got a flipperless United Mexico game, a Gottlieb Flipper Clown, and I went back to the auction (this time bringing a trailer rather than a truck). After none of the pins struck my fancy, I bought a cheap Dixieland bingo because I didn't want to come home empty handed. I had some urge to have sort of a game from every era including flipperless, bingos, and pure mechanicals at this point, but I'm mostly over that now and realize that I like the early solid states and 90s WPC games best. The pinball disease is in full effect. There is pertually a game in pieces being shopped in my dining room. At its peak, I had 3 games in the kitchen instead of a kitchen table. My house was getting dangerously to the point where it was going to be like my apartment. If my girlfriend hadn't moved in, forcing me to clean up my small disaster, I would likely have converted the living room into another game room.
I'm still currently on a pinball high that's lasted a little over a year now. I've picked up some more games, learned a ton about repair and restoration, and am even at the point where I'm comfortable buying dead games to fix up. I've refinished the garage so 7 games, a bowler, and a tiny workshop can fit out there now, leading to a much happier girlfriend and more sane life. I've always been worried about "coming down" off the hobby and realizing I have have all this space and money tied up in 13 stupid games, but I don't see it happening anytime soon. I love playing the games, I compete in monthly tournaments, I love fixing them, I love keeping up with the news. It's way more than that $300 arcade game that was more of a collection showpiece. Pins won't be the last thing I collect, but so it has been the most fun and rewarding journey. I dig "normal guy" arcade origin stories, so I hope you've enjoyed mine.