Thursday, May 18, 2006

Stage 9: Immovable Object vs. Irresistable Force

Heh heh heh ... "Stage Nine". Everyone not in Halifax: "Huh?"

Anyways - the trip back from Cole Harbour was pretty uneventful. Cee and I were kind of concerned about how we had lashed the two cabinets into the back of the van. Meaning, because we didn't lash them up at all, we expected to hear a gargantuan "KERBOOM" and then the screams of doomed motorists as they swerved to their fiery deaths while trying to avoid the gigantic WrestleFest cabinet that was rolling down the street towards them.

Our fears were misplaced, as the cabs barely shifted during transit. Of course, this wasn't thanks to our positive chi, it was because they both weighed a bloody ton. This was to become extraordinarily clear to us within the next few minutes.

The rain started to pick up again and I made the executive decision to haul the Tetris cab into the house first. Because the Allan Street HQ has a small five step front porch, I reckoned the smaller Tetris cab would be a good primer for the big haul yet to come.

Having somehow had the foresight to scorch a path into the spare room beforehand, Cee and I managed to strap this cab to a dolly and get it into the house without resorting to crazy schemes. It wasn't easy by any stretch of the imagination, but the dolly made it physically possible to pull off. My girlfriend Holly was good enough to pose with it in this really unflattering picture of the cab in it's new home in the spare bedroom.

The larger cab was a markedly different tale. Even as we wrestled this behemoth around in the van, the sheer mass of this thing was overwhelming. At one point, I found myself unexpectedly bearing the brunt of the whole thing on my forearms - while the twin "snap" noises of my ulnas being halved like twigs would have been cool to hear, I chose instead to frantically scream at Cee to help me before I was killed by this machine landing directly on my sternum. The experience left me with multiple bruises on my arms which were extremely painful, but I was able to milk them later for extra affection from Holly. Score!

After 20 minutes of zealous effort, we managed to walk this goddamned machine to the foot of the steps of the house. The tape measure I was keenly wearing on my belt like a moron had told me previous that the smallest doorway we had to traverse was 26" wide. This Wrestlefest monster was 25 1/3" wide, which for all you people out there with spatial dysphoria, means we had about the width of your index finger to wiggle this fridge-sized object inside.

Unfazed, I gallantly suggested we just "haul this bitch in", the bitch referring to the rain-soaked 65-stone object that was now leering at my neighbors from the front of my yard like a bloody Easter Island head. The attached picture really does this one some justice.

Drunk with power and possibly Powerade (2 for $2 at the Robie Street Irving!), Cee and looked at one another and nodded grimly. The time for a crazy scheme was upon us.

Summoning our inner Mythbuster, we jerryrigged a crude sled out of the moving dolly with the intention of "effortlessly" sliding this elephantine object up the slick stairs and into the front porch of my house. The following discourse was a lot like this:

Me (as Adam): "This idea is pure genius! There's no chance this will fail!"

Cee (as Jamie): "I have grave reservations about the safety and plausibility of your plan."

Me (as Adam): "Wheeeee! Arcade games here we come!"

Cee (as Jamie): "Nrrrrg." *fiddling with mustache*

And not unlike many of the myths these two bozos bust, this sounded a lot easier to pull off on paper. We literally shoved this thing with all our might only to have it lurch upwards like a drunken bear and damn near fall on us. Strike one.

But unlike baseball, there would be no other strikes. The steadily increasing rain was making this cab almost impossible to get a grip on, our shoulders and backs were already screaming in pain from the first cabinet and common sense decided to make a rare showing - if this thing fell on one of us, that person would be be killed. No Neil-esque hyperbole here, this thing would literally end a person's life if it slipped and toppled onto them. Legs and arms would be broken, ribs flattened and skulls opened if we made a mistake. This was becoming a dangerous task. We lay the cab on it's side like a wounded rhino and I threw a tarp over it to shield it from the downpour while we debated what the hell we were going to do.

At this point, an unexpected interloper made the scene - Otis Wien, former Allan Street roomate, closet redneck and general all-around good guy. He definitely had the quote of the day as he inquired as to what in blazes were were up to, uttered as I dramatically tore away the tarp to reveal the cabinet laying on it's side on the lawn:

Otis: "Holy fuck ... you KILLED an arcade machine!!"

We pleaded with him to help us drag this ponderous corpse of a cab into the house, and he begrudgingly agreed. Thankfully, that common sense I spoke of earlier was still floating in the air and we quickly abandoned all hope of actually getting this thing into the house in one piece. Discharged from his task, Otis fled.

I stood in the rain, staring at the green tarp, wondering what in blazes we were going to do. Cee was on the horn with his brother Jamie, the van had to be returned and I was beginning to feel the dull ache of my shoulders and knees beginning to swell. I thought to myself "how was I going to get this thing off the lawn into the house?"

The answer, as it almost always is for all of life's problems, was surprisingly simple - hammers, and lots of them.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Stage 8: The Pinball Wizards

In case you haven't already, I suggest a thorough perusal of Classic Playfields website, which details this really cool business that I had no idea existed in my own backyard. This is really an example of a couple of guys who are doing something that they really enjoy and turning a nice little profit while they're at it.

I first made contact with Kevin over email several weeks earlier, and after the clusterfuck with U-Haul I was happy to finally meet him and check out his operation first-hand.

Kevin and his pal Mike were just about to start print work on their Centaur Project, and they were happy to give myself and Cee a guided tour of their playfield workshop, located in the basement of Kevin's immense luxury home.

I could spend a full hour detailing the coolness of the work they're doing in there, so just visit their site and take my word for it that they are printing some awesome shit down there. The investment of gear and time they've put in is really incredible, and if there are any pinball fans out there, you should really contact these guys and see if you can visit them for yourself.

Having already been tantalized by some of the wicked pictures from their website, Kevin then treated us to a tour of his awe-inspiring game room upstairs. To say this was impressive would be the understatement of the year.

I found myself agog as I stood in 1,700 square feet of checkered floor and pinball machines. The tented ceilings and wicked lighting only helped me to appreciate someone who was really, really into their craft. These pictures really don't do it justice, you have to stand in this room to truly breathe this shit in. Fantastic.

Anyways, after fifteen minutes of wondering how brilliant it would be to play groundhockey or throw a massive party in this room, we moved back to the task at hand - pickup up the two cabs Kevin had for me.

The first was an old Tetris-clone that Kevin had courteously already slapped onto a dolly for us. Cee and I managed to negotiate it onto the U-haul with a minimum of difficulty.

But the second cab was considerably heavier and larger, an old WrestleFest 3-player JAMMA cabinet. Mike suggested I back the U-Haul up to the garage where this beast was being housed and after some amusing antics I managed to slowly weave our craptacular van backwards up to the garage without ruining Kevin's lawn or smashing into the other cars in the driveway.

The four of us managed to wrestle this cab into the truck with some concerted effort. The sheer weight of this thing was incredible, and I began to have concerns about how exactly myself and Cee were going to lug this thing in the front door of Allan Street by ourselves - concerns that, unbeknownst to me, Cee was harbouring as well.

Unswerved, we made our goodbyes and set forth rolling back to Halifax with our precious cargo in tow. The real test of our mettle - and the perilous brush with the breaking point in this project - was just around the corner.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Stage 7: Kings of the Road

After waiting patiently for a week, the day arrived to lay claim to my arcade prizes. I convinced my roomate Colin "CeeDawg" Campbell to come along to not only make sure this wasn't another ninja-orchestrated trap, but to help me wrangle these machines into the confines of Allan Street.

The weather was grey and rainy. Normally I don't care about the weather, but today it would play a fairly signifigant role in our operation.

We took off for Green Street and I found myself standing in a ramshackle used furniture store that also doubled as a U-Haul rental office for some bewildering reason. The staff were friendly, if not a little shady looking, and soon I was given the keys to my transportation.

The van we had been assigned was in a sorry state of repair, and that's being kind. This thing was filthy, the outside totally covered with graffiti and muck. The inside was little better, with stale cigarette smoke seared into the off-blue seats and crushed butts littering the ashtray. I knew it was bad when Cee, a chronic smoker, commented on the stench. Huzzah.

The mechanical condition of this wreck was little better. The wipers only had two settings, off and near-light-speed, which made negotiating the steady rainfall most entertaining.

The turn signals appeared to work, but were tempermental and needed coaxing to activate. The windshield leaked a near constant stream of water directly onto Cee's lap, which did little to inspire confidence, although the steady flow of profanities emitted from Cee as he tried in vain to escape this uninvited pissing-upon was rather amusing.

The pedals were in shambles. The brakes were extremely sticky, requiring almost all my weight to activate and a mere touch of the accelerator sent the van lurching forward wildly. Not exactly what you want to deal with when driving in the fog and rain in a vehicle you've never used before.

The engine gasped like an old man on his deathbed, eliciting worried looks from myself and Cee. At least the horrendous cacophony this beast made as it ambled about the parking lot assured me that if the turn signals did eventually fail as I predicted, any neighboring motorists would surely hear our catostrophic approach and swerve to avoid certain death.

Undaunted, we set sail aboard our decrepid rig for parts unknown. Cee was manning the maps and I was doing all I could to not murder passing cars and pedestrians. The game was officially afoot.

For some reason, we were barred from using the Angus L. MacDonald bridge (aka, the Old Bridge), as the crone at the U-Haul office indicated that "U-Hauls ain't allowed on there". According to the official bridge website, the bridge is open to all vehicles under 3,200kg. I had neglected to pick the van up over my head to gauge its weight before heading out, so I had to take her word for it.

Since our printed directions to Kevin's place were predicated on using the Old Bridge, Cee had to bust out his sextant and compass and plot us a new course through deepest darkest Dartmouth. Oh, and as an FYI to anyone who tries to drive a van across the New Bridge, the toll is a full $1.75, as we were so pleasantly informed by the cancer-ridden gargoyle working at the booth. Shudder.

Despite almost no visibility and an increasing feeling of dread, we managed to zip through Dartmouth pretty quickly. We resisted the natural urge to drop in on the weekend buffet at Ralph's Place - my recent visit to Kama Sutra in Montreal has turned me into a strip club snob, anyways.

Not long after that big "wheeeeeeee!" hill on the road out towards Lawrencetown, we found ourselves perilously close to our ultimate goal. Deftly maneuvering through the sculpted landscapes of this suburbia, we rolled up at the address in question.

We stepped out of the van at the foot of a monstrous gravel driveway which rolled down the hillside like the giant grey toungue of the mansion that perched ontop of the crest. As we contemplated the increasingly heavy rainfall and marvelled at the size of the house we were staring at, a man appeared from around the back of the house, cigarette in hand.

This is where things got interesting.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Stage 6: The U-Haul "Guarantee"

A small digression to explain to the uninitiated about why contracting the Hantavirus is preferable to dealing with U-Haul:

Thinking that I would need more than a pickup truck to haul my pair of treasures back to my cave on Allan Street, I took up a phone book and tracked down a moving company in hopes of securing a small cube van. Having almost been killed by a maniac in a U-Haul van some time previous, that company was the first on my mind and I soon located their website.

The site is well done, and reserving a van for the weekend proved to be a painless experience. The confirmation emails that "guaranteed" my van would be waiting for me at a place of my choosing were very comforting indeed.

My liberal use of quotation marks around the word "guaranteed" has likely tipped you off as to what occured next.

I reserved the van on a Wednesday for a Saturday jaunt to Cole Harbour. Around Friday at dinner time, I received a call from U-Haul informing me that there was a "shortage of vans" in the Halifax area and I could either reschedule for next week or cancel my booking with the cancellation fee waived.

Now, I was just trying to get some arcade games from Cole Harbour, so this wasn't a huge deal to me. But this was all happening on April 30th, when presumably many people were actually relocating their entire house to another place. So I pressed the U-Haul peon a little on the issue:

Me: "So, there's no vans to be had then?"

Peon: "That is correct."

Me: "Even though I had a reservation?"

Peon: "Yes, I am afraid there are no vans to meet your reservation."

Me: "So the word 'reservation' is a bit of a misnomer then isn't it? I mean, it appears there was no 'reserving' done at all here."

Peon (likely confused at use of word 'misnomer'): "Uh, well, we're very busy at this time of the year."

Me: "Yes, I kind of presumed you would be. That's why I paid a deposit and, you know, RESERVED a van ahead of time."

Peon: "Um, well, would you like to reschedule?"

Me: "I guess I'll have to, won't I? How's next Saturday?"

Peon: "Let's see ... *clacking of keyboard* ... yes, next Saturday is fine."

Me: "So I will have a van for sure next Saturday?"

Peon: "Yes, we can guarantee a van or a larger van at the same price for next Saturday."

Me: "Guarantee? But you already 'guaranteed' me a van for tomorrow and this conversation is the result."

Peon: "Er, uh ..."

Me: "I mean, I just need to move some stuff INTO my place, but what if my lease was up and I had to move my junk across town?"

Peon: "Well, you see, we ... um ..."

At this point I grew weary of raking this wretch over the coals and agreed to the new deal. I sauntered out the door and down the block to the Superstore to pick up some dinner, where I passed not one, but TWO U-Haul vans during the 200m walk down Monastery Lane. That's one hell of a van shortage indeed.

Stage 5: The Proverbial Greco Sweet Deal

Having been sufficiently wooed by the Classic Playfields website, I contacted them via email and explained my plight, including the details of my failed trip to Darrell's Coin Machines.

I received a response from Kevin Wayte pretty quickly. He told me in no short order about how I was lucky to have missed Darrell as he was apparently an asshole of some repute in HRM video gaming circles, and explained how he had screwed them around with the sale of some pinball machines when his shop went belly up some time ago.

Kevin then said the magic words: "I have a couple of old cabs if you want one, $50. Just come on out and take it." Booyaka.

I immediately jumped at his offer, and tried to sweeten the deal with a celebratory case of beer for his generosity and helpfulness. Kevin took me up for a case of Smirnoff Ice instead, and then revealed that could I avail myself of BOTH arcade cabinets if I had the means to collect them. For the bargain price of $50, this was the proverbial Greco Sweet Deal. All I needed now was a way to get these beasts from Cole Harbour to Allan Street. Back to the Yellow Pages I went.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Stage 4: Fortune Favours The Bold

Trolling the net using Google for things like "halifax games" and "nova scotia arcade" and the like wasn't getting me anywhere fast. I did learn all about how to rent bounce-castles and neon signs, which was very enlightening to say the least.

Just when I thought Google was going to actually let me down, I came across Classic Playfield Reproductions, a Cole Harbour based company that appeared to refurbish pinball machines and the like. Nifty, I thought, as I dug around their site for a contact who might put me in touch with an arcade machine vendor in town.

If you haven't already, I suggest you go and check out the People link on their site, as there as some great pictures of the pinball collections of Mike and Kevin, the two local spigots in this company. I can't help but lure you in with a picture of Kevin's incredible gameroom, pictured at right. One glance at this, and I knew I was dealing with the right people.

Stage 3: Wookin' Poo Nub In All Da Wong Pwaces

Now, for any MAME purists out there, I know that overhauling a vintage machine for MAMEing is considered verboten. I'm all for restoring and archiving classic games, and if there was some other way to make this project happen without gutting a classic machine, I'd be all for it. I was hoping to find someone who had an old curbside-bound machine somewhere in the local HRM area, so I'd feel less bad about ripping a piece of arcade history apart for my selfish desires.

The Yellow Pages were decidedly non-helpful. The one place I did want to peruse was this shady-ass joint on Gottingen Street called "Darrell's Coin Machines", a sooty nightmare of a place that usually had 3-4 vagabonds and/or drugdealers slumped over in the doorway. Mike Drake eluded to this temple of gloom in a comment on a previous post.

A phone call put me in contact with the oldest sounding answering machine I have ever heard on a telephone. Convinced that I would not be getting a phonecall back, I showed up at Darrell's in person one day, and after awkwardly deflecting several solicitations for spare change and cigarettes from the colourful locals, I pressed my face up against the filthy windows only to see that Darrell appeared to have flown the coop. I considered calling the police, as from the level of disarray and offal on the inside, someone appeared to have set off a small explosive device recently. My search would have to continue elsewhere. And by elsewhere, I mean the Internet.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Stage 2: Build or Pillage?

The next big step was to actually construct a cabinet in which to mount these great controls. I wanted something that looked nice, a true upright arcade box that would become the centerpiece of my living room (a function currently occupied by the hideousness that is my fireplace mantle).

But herein lay a choice: rely on my untested carpentry skills, buy an outrageously expensive prefabricated cabinet or hunt down an old arcade machine and gut it out.

Pricing the costs of building materials, tools and psychological counselling after what would be a guaranteed loss of limb at my own hands, I decided the building option was right out.

Pricing the prefabricated cabinets was equally fraught with horror. The shipping alone was going to put this project waaaaay into the red.

So that left me with trying to track down a cabinet in town. I know there are/were arcades in this city, so those games and their tantalizing cabinets had to go somewhere. The hunt was officially on.

Stage 1: Getting Control

The first piece of gear I laid actual money out for:

The X-Arcade Dual Joystick

Got this on eBay for $170 CDN taxes and delivery in. FedEx sent me a nice "you owe us $11.17 for brokering this across the border for you" invoice, those bastards. Anyways, it was all worth it.

This is where any MAME project must begin. It was a lot cheaper than I imagined, and was a big hit around the office when it arrived.

Hooking this puppy up to my PC and tooling around with MAME Roms and Front End software really got my juices flowing about the project. I can't wait to throw a few RYUKEN fireballs with this badboy once my machine is complete!

Let's Do This Thang

Blog created. Hopefully this will allow me to chronicle this whole MAME experience properly. Otherwise, I shall have to destroy all that is good in the world. That, and learn HTML again. Screw that.

Here's a link that will help you figure out what in blazes I am talking about here.

Pictures of other MAME Cabinets