After spending many hours scanning at Steve Meretzky’s, house, I got a small amount of sleep and hopped a flight down to Washington, DC to drive over to Peter Hirschberg’s Luna City Arcade. I’ve gushed about this place quite a bit, and the family that is willing to open their home to complete strangers on a regular basis to enjoy a mortgage-swelling personal project that has inspired many.
The impetus for this particular event was a visit from an NPR reporter, and sadly, I didn’t get the chance to be there before the reporter left. I had many things in mind to tell that NPR reporter, things which I had hoped to get into the final story. I know how these things go, so the chances of this were not so great. So I guess I’ll just have to tell you in here.
What I wanted to stress was the style inherent in how Peter’ s gone about his creations; how his Vector Dreams emulator was an attempt to not just emulate the gameplay and program, but the actual behavior of a vector machine, the sounds that came with it beyond just the stuff on the circuit board, and the variations in the machine that would mean the difference between an echo for someone looking back and an intense memory. I wanted to tell the reporter how much this guy sank into this project, and to then turn around and not charge one thin dime for its use for people, how wonderful that is. A lot of people have private arcades or game rooms; Peter built a living shrine, a temple of video arcades, and invites the world to come by and pay respects. That’s special.
I played a number of games (Q*Bert and I like each other) and twirled some knobs, but I mostly like walking around soaking up the ambiance of the place while dozens of people are milling around. It feels so right, in there. (The windows are all blacked over, giving the impression of a late summer night and trying to get those last few games in before you have to go back home.) A choice phrase I overheard, multiple times, was “Wow, this is so much better than the emulator.” The emulator brings the core functionality of the arcade game into a realm of ease and accessibility that is hard to overcome, but it has to do so at a great sacrifice of environment. Even a custom cabinet running an emulator has a lot of potential to miss both the intensity of a dedicated game (especially with custom controls), and the better-than-the-sum feeling from standing near a row of such games. Obviously it’s not realistic for every person who desires the feel for the old arcades to have one in their homes, which makes a place like this that much more special.
After taking a few shots of the place, I went upstairs where he had snacks and chairs, and hung around talking with folks. Peter and I made the acquaintance of a set of people stopping by to congratulate the Hirschbergs on having such an incredible place. This is the payment they choose to get over turning this into a profit-garnering concern; you play all the games for free, games that in some cases predate the people playing them, and then you stop by the thank them for the opportunity. A lot of people did just that.
It was an excellent trip.
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