ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Arcade Documentaries —

You might have heard I’m making a documentary about arcades. I’m pretty excited about it, although obviously the work on the text adventure documentary is a little more pressing.

That said, I have been doing the occasional bit of work on it: conducting some interviews, gathering some data, getting names, e-mails going out to the right parties. All those bits of back-channel work one needs to do. I have five interviews in the can and two of these are of actual arcades. I wrote weblog entries about both of these, the Pinball Hall of Fame and Lyons Pinball. Still, it’s at only about a dozen hours of shot footage and GET LAMP is past 40. So it’s definitely the second-tier work.

But more notably, it’s not a subject that hasn’t seen some amount of attention. In fact, shows, documentaries and fictional works that encompass arcades or at least games in arcades are pretty plentiful. I realize this and I am simply going about my business of interviews and footage-grabbing hoping that what I end up with be unique, special, and worth watching. People are always sending along some pretty enjoyable ruminations on arcades; Rob Flack sent me this excellent essay by Wil Wheaton on the emotion and history of the video arcade, posted just this past Wednesday. There’s still quite a bit of traction going over the history of those places!

So I figure I’ll occasionally pepper this weblog with thoughts on arcades, events or likewise, related to either my documentary or the idea in general. I expect, actually, to do this a lot. But right now, I wanted to mention the other arcade documentaries you can see shortly, instead of waiting the years for my own.

There are five that I am currently aware of. Three have broken loose from the madhouse and are running around the world’s yard, while two others are locked in the basement, screaming about the bugs. (I’m not counting my own in this tally.)

The current front runner is Chasing Ghosts, which just played at Sundance and is likely going to hit art theatres and DVDs in the coming year. Here’s the IMDB entry, here’s the Sundance brochure, here’s a review, here’s a review, here’s the hometown angle, another review, and one more half-ass review. With that much verbiage out there about it, I probably don’t have more to add other than to say that it’s a catch-up with the 1982 video game champions, and one that bridges the heady times of 1982 with the present day perspective on same. I found out about this documentary when I was talking with a fellow who had some old arcade photos and he said, basically “Cool, I don’t mind helping you or those other arcade documentary guys.” This was an excellent way to find out about it.

As a side note, this documentary already gets my vote because it uses the master-level talents of Peter Hirschberg. I will talk about him next week in his own entry, which he deserves. He is, without question, one of the most astounding people I’ve never met, a failure on my part I hope to correct.

The chipper “other” arcade documentary making the big push to the screens this year is The King of Kong. Here’s the IMDB entry, the loving GameSetWatch mention, the local angle, the boring Cinematical mention, and the dorky mention at the end of this breathless rant.

Neither of these suckers needs my love, support or mention; they’re both sure-fire-sold things, with King of Kong not only purchased but possibly about to be remade (into a fictionalized version, I’m sure). So you go, guys.

There’s a third documentary out there called High Score which has actually been out there for some time, basically last year. It tells the story of a man and his Missile Command machine and the urge to become the world’s best. I just linked to the website for it, and here’s a review, here’s an overview, here’s a short interview, here’s a fun screening that happened.

As for the other two…

Well, there was a film that was supposed to be out some time ago called The Joystick Generation, the director of whom I talked to for tips and to bounce off ideas on before I even started the BBS Documentary, so you can imagine how long ago this was. Here’s the website, here’s the synopsis, here’s the production company broadsheet, here’s the director’s biography, and here’s the director’s website. Is everything OK, Andrew?

And I guess the last film, Bang the Machine, is technically finished and out… but good luck finding out where to see it! I’ll leave that one as an exercise to the reader. I repeat what I said just this past Monday about films with no firm plans on how to make money from them: RELEASE IT OR GIVE IT AWAY.

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  1. zen says:

    “Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball”

    This didn’t make your list, but it seemed like it should have. The trailer is up on the site, and I think the DVD is available for preorder. It seemed to be genuinely interesting, and at least somewhat well funded.

  2. Jason Scott says:

    It didn’t make this list because it had already been given its own weblog entry:

  3. Chris Gordon says:

    Just noticed this “old” article….

    I can’t wait for Get Lamp and would love to see your Arcade Documentary — is it still in the works?


  4. Geoff Graham says:

    If you are still working on the arcade documentary and are looking for 3D animations and graphics, please feel free to contact me. I’ve done some cool things for Leo Daniels who stars in Chasing Ghosts. Here is a link to a recent video I created for fun using some 3D art work I created for Leo. I have other examples available if you want. I currently teach 3D.