I have some great arcade factory footage to share with you this week. Way back when on the blog, I wrote a piece called Tales from the Arcade Factory Floors, which proved very popular. If you missed it, do take a few minutes to check out the great collection of pictures from back in the day of some classic arcade factory production lines.
Since then I’ve been gathering video footage from the manufacturing plants from the arcade Golden age. The problem is there’s not much of it around, and most of what is out there, isn’t the best quality, and is buried deep across the web. But it’s definitely worth us taking a look at it, as it gives great context to the production requirements and challenges of the arcade manufacturers of the early 80s.
Talking of Pac-Man, let’s get started with Midway. In this first video, we can see the Ms Pac-Man assembly line at the Midway factory in 1982. This game of course, was the even more lucrative follow-up to Pac-Man. To get a sense of scale, pay attention particularly from the 2:04 mark – you’ll see row upon row of the full blue upright cabinet, and several rows of the cabaret design with wood grain sides. Other things of note worth taking in are the construction of wiring looms at the 4:00 mark, and the component parts of the control panel being built at around 13:00 minutes:
Some great clear footage there. Of course Ms Pac-Man was comfortably the most commercially successful classic arcade game of the era, with over 115,000 cabinets rolled off the end of this very production line.
Atari’s Pole Position, produced under licence from Namco of Japan, was released in December 1982. In North America, the game was a multi-million dollar hit for Atari, who rolled out over 20,000 machines from its Sunnyvale production facility. In 1983, it was recognised as the highest grossing arcade title of the year.
In this very rare eight minutes of footage, we can see the various stages of production. It starts with the early build stages, featuring both the cockpit and upright versions of the game. Check out the workers testing the analogue steering controls and initial set up of the game. We’re then shown the final production line, with cabinets being boxed up ready to ship. And then more testing, and some great internal scenes of the Atari production line. Check out the worker using a mirror to adjust the monitor!
Pole Position was actually almost not an Atari game. Namco, looking for a distributor of the game in the US market, presented Pole Position and Mappy to Midway in early 1982. Midway chose the latter, and passed on Pole Position. Ouch.
Star Wars is one of Atari’s most iconic titles from the Golden Era. For more background on the game’s development, take a look at this previous article on the blog. Here we see just some of the 12,000 upright cabinets being produced at the Atari production facility.
The video starts with a worker applying artwork decals around the plastic monitor bezel of the game, further shots of the production line with power bricks being built and monitors prepped. Then there are further panoramic shots of rows of the Star Wars upright cabinet being produced, and glimpses of Crystal Castles cabinets at various stages of production. Presumably both games were being built at the same time, which ties in their respective release dates. We then see highlights of component construction, from building power bricks to testing the yoke controller. Finally we see the silk-screening process used to create the glorious side art found on Atari’s Star Wars cabinets.
And finally, this compilation video shows the various stages of Pac-Man being assembled at the Midway factory again, more Atari footage, a brief glimpse at the Taito factory then back to Midway for some great footage of Tron being built:
What strikes me watching this early factory footage, is just how quickly the manufacturers had to get their act together and scale up production to meet demand during the brief window of the ‘Golden Age’ of arcade gaming during the early eighties. Most of the major manufacturers had runs numbering in the tens of thousands for the most popular titles. Although driven by market demand, the capacity had to be there ready, should a game really take-off. It’s all very labour intensive (as I guess it would have been back then).
Fast forward to today, and things are a little different of course. Pinball is still going strong, albeit with fewer manufacturers. I thought this video was cool – it’s a tour of the Stern factory floor from 2014:. Plenty of interesting things to see, including the manual creation of a wiring harness, just as it was done back in the day!
And same again, but this time at the headquarters of Jersey Jack. See how a Wizard of Oz pin is constructed:
Well, there you go for another week. Hope you enjoyed these videos.
See you next time.
A tip of the hat is due to:
YouTube user ‘Muttley Black’ for the Ms Pac-Man footage
Patrick Scott Patterson for the Compilation footage
Pinball News for the Stern factory tour
Arcade Hunters for the Jersey Jack factory tour
Thanks to all for making this stuff available!