Saturday, May 7, 2011

Poverty Attendant Part 3: The Games

A lot of kids from my generation probably thought of working at an arcade as some sort of dream job. You could just play games all day and get paid for it, right? Of course this isn't true. The companies that own arcades don't want to pay employees to sit around and play games, they should be helping customers. When I got a job working at a mall arcade in 2008, I had no misconceptions about this, and I didn't really mind because this particular arcade had absolutely no games I had any interest in playing. As it turned out, nobody at this arcade cared if you played games, and it was only a matter of time before the boredom broke me down and I ended up playing some of them. In this third, and probably final, part of this series I will detail just how broken almost every machine in the place was.  Part 1 and part 2, for those that are out of order.

Deal or No Deal

This machine was relatively stable, probably because it was relatively new. Since the machine was configured to spit out a ton of tickets, it would frequently need to be refilled, usually when some impatient person is sitting on that little stool instead of being polite and moving out of the way. When this machine did go down, it would stop accepting bills or something, I'm willing to bet the profits for the arcade dropped significantly. Still, the company would be slow to send parts for it, because they apparently hate money. The game was sitting right next to the redemption area, so I never really want to hear Howie Mandel's voice again. No, not even for Bobby's World.


We were lucky enough to have two of this awful game. These games would not need to be broken for me to hate them, but of course they both were in different ways. One would freeze all the time, I'd guess from overheating. I would usually have to go and give the player free credits on the other machine. This was the safest way for someone to play the other machine because it had a bad coin mech. If you ever wondered how much money a single person would put into a machine that is clearly not registering the quarters being input, the answer is about five dollars. Seriously, the coin door was heavy with coins, and when I unclogged it it was like winning at slots.

House of the Dead

This is one of the machines that never really had any problems. It's a solid game, I just never really had the interest to play any shooters when I was there. The only thing that was off about the cabinet was that it didn't have the original large Sega light guns, but those cheap boring ones that the arcade used for everything. Hey, at least they worked.

Spin To Win

Surprisingly, people stole the balls out of this game pretty infrequently. We had a few replacements, but I don't recall ever running out. Most of the time if the ball wasn't there, it was just stuck in the back of the machine. It just sort of confuses me that in this one small respect, society isn't quite as horrible as I imagined. I figured there would be hoodlums trying to steal anything that wasn't nailed own, even useless stuff like Air Hockey mallets, but apparently not. I guess this says more about my criminal mind than it does about others.

Street Basketball and other basketball games

I'm pretty sure all of the basketball games were designed to give out tickets, but all of them were broke in this regard. Street Basketball was apparently a big deal for the company because it actually held national tournaments for it. People could have easily gotten into the regionals for our area because nobody entered at our location. For a long time the high score on the machine was held by our store manager up until the point the machine's sensors started to go crazy. It started to not give points for some shots and give huge amounts of points for others, so getting the high score was complete random luck. There was a while when the machine completely stopped registering points, but the company wouldn't allow us to put an out of order sticker on it. This mostly led to customers being angry with us.

We had two of another type of basketball game, the name of which escapes me. These were of the type that had a net that moved back and forth, but the motors were broke or something, so they were always in the furthest back position. People complained that it was too difficult. The other basketball game was the most broken. It was a child-sized machine and for the longest time it just would not get power. When it finally got fixed, the mechanism to keep the balls in when there was no game going on did not work, and so the balls were always available. This was annoying because if kids, or adults sadly, could “play” for free, they wouldn't leave for quite a while. It got to the point where I kept the balls in a box and if I saw a kid put money in the machine I would run over and give them the balls before it started.

Gauntlet Dark Legacy

I don't remember if this game ever ended up working. It just sat at the back of the arcade for most of the time I was there. I think we ended up getting a replacement monitor, but then the game would overheat or something. It may have worked the last month the arcade was there, but who gives a shit really. If you're going to play a dated Gauntlet game you're going to play Gauntlet II, or maybe Gauntlet Legends, right?

Target: Terror

This may have been Target: Terror Gold, but I don't recall. It doesn't really matter, as it is an awful game either way. I don't know why, but a couple of the guys who worked there played the game, and the scoreboard was just a competition between them. The only interesting part of the game, to me, was the weird as hell mini-games where you swung your golf club at explosive chickens to hit them into terrorists in golf carts or some shit like that. The weird thing was, as good as both of them got at the game, neither ever figured out how to beat it. The last stage was in a hijacked plane, and they never knew how to not blow the whole thing up. You apparently only get one shot at it, with no continues, so it is just a mystery to us. If anybody knows the secret, feel free to share.

Skee ball

We had three skee ball machines, and there was never a period of more than a couple of days in which all three were up and running at the same time. They were positively ancient machines, and as such were constantly screwing up in various ways. Like the basketball games, people never really tried to steal the balls, but they would lose them in the weirdest places. The highlight of these machines for me was when kids would get a ball stuck, and while retrieving it, the players in the adjacent lanes would continue playing. This wasn't always terrifying, but you never knew when some jackass would try to play overhand.

Various racing games

We had a whole wall of racing games and they were all fucked. We did not have any working pair of racing games, so if you actually wanted, I don't know, race someone, you were out of luck. Basically, the company's classification of whether a game worked or not was that if the machine took money, it worked, so if half of a racing game worked, they wouldn't bother to fix the other half. We actually had two non-linked, mismatched Cruisin' games. I don't recall if it was USA or World. One was a standalone cabinet, and the other was half of a dual setup, so the marquee just had “2” written on it. Quality.

Soul Calibur II and Tekken 4

We had two Soul Calibur II cabinets. The smaller one would freeze all the time, but eventually got in decent working order. It didn't really matter if it worked because this was 2008 and nobody cared about the game anymore, even if it was the best in the series. The only time anyone cared about the series was when Soul Calibur IV came out, and enthusiasm for that lasted for all of a week. The bigger cabinet was more reliable, and it happened to have Tekken 4 sitting in it as well, so when the smaller machine was working it was turned into a Tekken 4 cabinet. Since it didn't have the marquee for that game, I wrote “Tekken 4” in marker on a piece of paper and taped it on the machine, but the district manager made me take it off because it didn't follow some corporate rule. At the end of the day it didn't matter, because it was still Tekken 4, and nobody was going to play it because it is terrible. Maybe I should have written “try to pretend this is any other Tekken game” on that piece of paper.


This wasn't really much of a game. It was one of those machines where you are supposed to hit a punching bag as hard as you can and it gives you a number quantifying your strength. In theory this is a test of strength, but from what I saw it was often a strength of intelligence that most players failed. Typically, someone would put their money in the machine, choose some setting, and then look around confused until I pointed them to the button to release the punching bag. If I was lucky, they would continue to stand on the platform under it, press the button, and then get hit in the face. This game made most of its money off tribal groups of bros who wanted to assert their dominance over the group. On one amazing occasion, a guy got a running head start, hit the bag, and rammed his body right into the machine.

Dance Dance Revolution

I don't remember which DDR game it was. Maybe Extreme, but it doesn't matter because I have good word from my dance game-playing brother that it was nearly unplayable. The screen was terrible. It was dim, and they had lights running right above it making it hard to see through the glare, and the colors were off, which I guess is also a problem. The pads were also unresponsive, which is bad for a game that is entirely about timing. Even if it had worked, I don't think anyone would have cared because it was 2008, and the average person had moved on to some other fad and the hardcore had moved on to In The Groove or something.

Various ripoff games

There were quite a few of those games that had big prizes like game consoles or whatever. Some of the lower end had depressing prizes like the GBA SP with the “new brighter screen,” or Gamecube with busted up box. They were all games that looked easy to win, but in actuality were very difficult, or possibly rigged. I'm fairly sure Lighthouse will not allow the player to progress to the top unless some quota is met by simply not responding when the player hits the button at a time that would cause them to win. I actually witnessed a guy win on a big Stacker machine and when he chose his prize it didn't drop. This doesn't seem particularly nefarious until you realize that these machines are usually standing alone in malls, and your only way to complain about this is through a phone number pasted on some corner of the machine. I seriously doubt the guy would have gotten his Wii or 360 or whatever if I had not been there to call corporate and testify that I did, in fact, see him win. And he didn't even get it that day, he had to wait for the district manager to come out at a later date, because not even the store managers are trusted with the keys to open machines that have anything of value in them.

Time Crisis 2 and Time Crisis 3

One of the games had the wrong type of light guns, and the other had the right ones, but the recoil didn't work. The first player side of 2 didn't work at all, but the side that worked was fine. Both side worked on 3, but there was something off about that game that I don't remember. I know it had a blown out speaker that rattled and sounded terrible, and the district managers fix for that was to turn the game's sound down.

Various ticket games

I am no fan of ticket games, but the arcade was full of them because they are what can still extract money from children. I still get annoyed when I see a Wheel'M'In machine. That busted old piece of shit didn't work half the time and it just needed to shut the fuck up. At least MvC2's acid jazz soundtrack was catchy. Wheel'M'In just says its name all the goddamn time. A lot of these machines were in terrible shape. Jungle Jive had some unusual light bulbs, so instead of ordering the kind that would fit, the company bought some cheap light fixtures that had more common bulbs and ran them off a power strip they put inside the cabinet. The wiring on some so many of their cabinets were monstrous. The wheel on the Wheel of Fortune machine wouldn't spin for the longest time because the machine had a bunch of lights that were of too high wattage, and the machine didn't have enough power for both those lights and the wheel, or something like that.

There was only ever one guy I saw that was actually good at a ticket game to the point where he could win all the time. I can't remember the name of the game he'd play, but it was a cocktail cabinet with a timing based spin game. It wasn't one that had a mechanical wheel or anything, but was just played on a screen. The game actually ran off of some old dusty windows PC that was actually in an old beige ATX case sitting inside the cabinet. I remember this because the game would frequently not boot right and I'd have to skip SCANDISK sometimes. Anyway, the guy could always stop it on the highest numbers and he had thousands of tickets, to the point where he actually got all the most expensive prizes we had. You know, those things you never expect anyone to get, like big RC Cars and shit. I wonder how many tickets he had on receipts in his wallet that became useless when the place closed.

Marvel Vs. Capcom 2

I went into the job having never put any serious time into MvC2 because I can be pretty snobby when it comes to fighters, and MvC2 is a broken mess. In the less than a year that I worked there, I went from not playing the game at all to beating it at least once a shift. This is mostly because almost everyone who worked at the arcade and at the nearby GameStop played the game to kill time. Some of the guys were old veterans of the game from when it was popular and arcades weren't completely dead, but mostly we played the game now just for something to do. Sometimes the better players would play as the top characters, but mostly we played mid-tier characters, and it was actually pretty fun.

The machine was a mess for about half the time I worked there. Buttons would just not work or fire off randomly. If you wanted to do a fierce punch, for a while you could just slam your fist on the top of the control panel. At some point, a manager convinced the company to send us some microswitches and things actually worked the way they were supposed to up until the place showed. Even so, the cabinet was still kind of falling apart. There was only one screw holding the control panel down, and most of the time nobody bothered to put that in because if it wasn't there it allowed us to just open top and put in service credits.

At some point, access to this was blocked off by a piece of metal. It seemed that the only way to play MvC2 for free was to use the manager's keys to get in through the coin door. This was a problem for only for a brief while, as we quickly discovered that access to the Naomi board wasn't actually blocked. It was one of those big screen cabinets where the board is in a compartment under the monitor. To access it, all you had to do was remove a metal bar, that was supposed to have a lock on it, and then remove a panel of wood, that was also supposed to have a lock, but instead had a whole in it. I guess it was smart of the company to not give us warning that they were closing the arcade, because if we had known beforehand I probably would have stolen the Naomi board, and if I hadn't, someone else from the arcade or GameStop probably would have.

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