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Road Trip to Arcade Nirvana 2010 – Part 3

Here it is, the final installment of our “Road Trip to Arcade Nirvana 2010”, documenting the amazing road trip I made with Jeff Rothe back in the summer of 2010. If you aren’t familiar with our exploits from that summer, refresh your memory by checking out the first two legs of our trip here: Part 1 and Part 2. After all the fun we had at the Freecade, and the awe we felt viewing so many rare laser titles at Morgan’s house, I wasn’t sure we could top it. Jeff had told me very little about our next stop, or perhaps I just didn’t remember the details, but we were on our way to see long time collector James Marous in South Vienna Ohio. I didn’t know much about James or his collection, but Jeff told me that he liked vector games and was also a big fan of Showbiz Pizza…hmm, this should be interesting. Here is a map of the final leg of our trip.


On the drive out to visit James’ place, Jeff filled me in on some of the details. Not only did James like vector games, but he has a bunch of super rare titles in his lineup. Some of them I had never seen or played before. The kind of games that just can’t be played in MAME. Rather than ramble on about his stuff, I’ll just let the game list speak for itself:

Armor Attack, Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Aztarac, Battlezone, Berzerk, Black Widow, Blaster, Bubbles, Computer Space (yellow), Crazy Climber (deluxe), Cyberball, Death Race, Defender, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong, Dragon’s Lair, Food Fight, Frogger, Galaga, Gravitar, Gyruss, I,Robot, Joust, Lunar Lander, Major Havoc, Missile Command, Moon Patrol, Quantum, Reactor, Robotron, Space Duel, Spy Hunter, Star Castle, Star Wars, Tempest, Tron, Wacko, Warrior, and Zookeeper. That is 40 amazing games in one space, including every Atari vector (right? I’m not missing any?). I was truly going to be in Arcade Nirvana.

We arrived at James’ house late morning, in a little subdivision with modest homes and well kept yards. His was a neat little house, hiding one of the most amazing game collections I will probably ever see. I couldn’t wait. James greeted us at the door and I liked him right away. Friendly, courteous and eager to talk shop. We wasted no time heading into the arcade and immersing ourselves in the sights and sounds of the glorious 80’s. The games were organized in long rows in the one main room, with a bar and access to the backyard close by. A handful of games were in an overflow area adjacent to the main space, with all possible floor space used up. Excellent. Not only were there a TON of amazing games, but every single game was WORKING. Let me repeat that so it sinks in. All 40 games were working. Enough babble, here are some pictures.

The Wacko, Food Fight, and Death Race were placed in the little overflow area near his hvac and water tank. I was so in awe of the rest of the collection, I forgot to go back and play Death Race! I have played Wacko and Food Fight before, but I really wanted to try Death Race. I guess I have an excuse to go back for another visit 🙂

Jeff and I stepped up and played Two Tigers for a bit as I had never seen or played a dedicated cab in person. The game has some amazing artwork, but the game play was a little lacking. I wanted the planes to react more like the ship in Time Pilot, but it just wasn’t happening. Maybe a little more play time and some strategy would have helped, I try not to judge any game on the first play. Still amazing to see one in person. I also gave the computer space a try, it felt odd playing that little bit of history! I like simple black and white games so I actually enjoyed this one. I can understand why it didn’t do well though, as it isn’t very engaging. The yellow example that James has is in beautiful shape and a real treat to see. Let’s not forget the Reactor, I, Robot and some MCR goodness. Moving on…

We played a little Crazy Climber in a beautiful Nichibutsu Deluxe cabinet, some Warrior with its stunning artwork and black light backdrop. Warrior game play was OK, just a little tricky to maneuver at first. That game is definitely about the wow factor, it is truly amazing to see all lit up in person. Then there was the Williams row with a couple of duramold cabinets, some Cinematronics vectors, a Berzerk with the bat stick, and a Tournament Cyberball 2072. I should have given that one a try, but just kept moving, we had so much to see!

On to the next row of games which included an Aztarac, Missile Command cockpit and the Atari vectors. I have to say that Aztarac was the standout game for me during this adventure. It was a blast to play and the funky bubble plexi bezel made it that much cooler. I’m told that it gets ridiculously hard at higher levels, but I thought it was just loads of fun to play. The MC cockpit was another surprise for me as I really enjoyed playing it wrapped inside the cab with the booming base. Much more fun than the upright. As for the Atari vectors, what can I say? Incredible to see them all lined up looking so pretty.

Whew! That is one heck of a collection and having them all working at the same time seems like a small miracle. How is it even possible? It turns out that James has a knack for fixing the games, both the electronics and the cosmetics. He’s a bio-medical engineer by trade and the electronics repair came easy, the restorations he just takes his time with. All his games were immaculate, and his dedication to the hobby really shows. Of course the only thing that could possibly match such an amazing collection is an equally impressive bank of electronic test equipment. Let’s check out his “work bench”. His work space is adjacent to the arcade, you actually walk through it to get to the game room. I suppose that makes game repair a little easier, having everything so close. It certainly was neat, well organized, and loaded with the kind of test equipment most of us can only drool over. So drool away…

At this point we had spent what seemed like only moments, but must have been a couple hours down in James’ basement arcade and workshop. I thought we were done, until I looked up and was reminded that James also liked Showbiz Pizza memorabilia, or more specifically the Rock-afire Explosion show. But what was the rest of that stuff up there?

So James is an avid collector of Showbiz Pizza memorabilia, but not just any type of memorabilia. He collects Rock-afire Explosion stuff, that funky animatronics band that used to play at all the Showbiz Pizza resturaunts. For James, some of his fondest memories were playing the games and watching the shows at the famous Showbiz Pizza. I won’t get into too much detail about Showbiz Pizza and its history, if you’re a collector you know all about it. If you want more information, there is a great website called showbizpizza, check it out and you’ll get all the info you care to read. So when I asked what the labeled cases were on the top shelves, James said, “They’re the shows for the Rock-afire Explosion.” Hmm, I didn’t realize there were any DVD’s of the old show, let alone that many. I was wrong, they are actual show tapes for the animatronic sequences. Oh my.

Of course you can’t have all those animatronic show tapes without something to use them with. That’s right, he’s got some of the actual animatronics as well. James took us for a short drive to a storage unit that was packed full of characters from the famous show. It was a little eerie because they were lacking “skin” and looked more like the movie robots from I, Robot (how appropriate). He had signs, compressors and other accessories for the show, blips from my childhood memory. James explained that the character costumes were safely packed away, along with more parts. His ultimate goal? To expand his arcade with enough space to have a fully working Rock-afire Explosion show! Think he’s a little ambitious? Perhaps, but have you seen his game room? I would say that if anyone could pull it off, James certainly can.

And what good is a storage unit if you can’t tuck a few games into the corner? Hidden among the robots was a nice looking Atari X-O football and a cinematronics space wars, two great games waiting for a little TLC. We finished up at the storage unit and went back to the house. James mentioned he had another character in the garage, so we decided to take a look. Whoa! Not only did he have a wild Uncle Klunk animatronic, he also had a bunch of classic arcade projects that any avid collector would love to have.

So the projects consist of an EDOT, Tailgunner, Solar Quest, Tapper, Red Baron, Space Invaders, Space Invaders Deluxe, XO Football, Space Wars, Rip Off, Gyruss, Starhawk, Space Fury, and Qbert. 15 more impressive games for his list. I look forward to visiting again and really hope he can do the expansion to fit all of these games and the Rock-afire Explosion, what an amazing space that would be! I didn’t want to leave vector heaven, but it was time to get back on the road and head home. I had a great time, made some new friends and really enjoyed seeing and playing such a variety of classic games. I’m looking forward to the next road trip…maybe we’ll head West next time.

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