The International Arcade Museum: A Private Viewing

There’s only a handful of places that serious collectors of classic arcade machines congregate online. There’s a few Facebook groups, and a smattering of collector websites catering for enthusiasts around the globe. But arguably the mecca for all things classic videogames related is the forum section of the Killer List Of Videogames (KLOV for short).

KLOV has quite the history. Essentially an online encyclopedia of somewhere approaching 5,000 video games, its heritage can be traced back to the days of dial-up bulletin boards and CompuServe forums in the late 80s. Arcade enthusiasts started building a literal “Killer List” of arcade videogames, and this continued in various guises through the 90s. During this time, curation and ownership of the list changed hands several times and grew to almost 2,000 entries by the year 2000.

Then things got serious.

Enter Greg McLemore. A succesful internet entrepreneur and passionate devotee of all things coin-op, McLemore saw an opportunity to acquire and develop the information held within the KLOV archives. As the new custodian of the list, his plan was to grow the database, allow users to submit new information and entries, and ultimately share this gaming history for everyone to browse and enjoy – both online, and where possible, in the flesh.

KLOV LOGO

Starting with the registration of http://www.klov.com, Greg quickly added forum functionality – this brought more collectors from around the world into the ecosystem he wanted to create, and the awareness of KLOV grew quickly. The forum itself is now a treasure trove of technical information, how-to’s, opinions (my god are there opinions!), restorations, sharing and stuff for sale. There’s occasional drama too, which tends to distract from the goings on, but it’s usually in context of a group of people coming together to share a passion for a subject. Simply put, if you’re into this hobby, you need to be a part of KLOV as a minimum. Grab a foil hat and you’ll be fine.

Further development came two years later in 2002 with the creation of The International Arcade Museum (IAM). Describing itself as the world’s largest educational center focusing on the art, inventions, science, and history of the amusement, coin-operated machine, game, and videogame industries, the Museum plays host to several distinct sections and ongoing projects. KLOV sits under the IAM umbrella alongside several other parts, including:

Vintage Arcade Preservation Society (VAPS)

The Arcade Flyer Archive (TAFA)

The Arcade Manual Archive (TAMA)

Arcadia

McLemore has also established the nonprofit International Arcade Museum Library for preserving research material and hosting exhibitions on the history of coin-operated games.

It’s worth pointing out that whilst we are interested in the classic arcade video game portion of IAM here on the blog, the collection and scope of The International Arcade Museum goes way beyond just that. Penny Arcades, mechanical games and rides all form part of the archive that Greg has built up over the years.

As a regular donator to KLOV each year, it got me wondering exactly what The International Arcade Museum actually is in a physical sense. From the outside in, I was really just seeing the forum, with some other info to browse. But what about this “Museum”? Was there one? What did it look like, and where was it exactly?

I read on the KLOV forums that Greg had conducted occasional tours of his collection for a handful of enthusiasts. Earlier this year I had a trip to Las Vegas planned, and wondered if there might be an opportunity to visit Greg and see what was what. I reached out to him, and he was happy to oblige. So along with a fellow collector friend of mine, feeling rather jet-lagged, we found ourselves knocking on the door of an impressive house in a leafy suburb of Los Angeles on a rainy evening.

LA at night-min
Los Angeles

Meeting strangers from the internet late at night, some 5,000 miles away from home isn’t a regular pastime of mine, but the prospect of a private viewing of a videogame arcade collection that had so much promise, was something I was willing to make an exception for. Greg answered the door and invited us into his home. Any trepidation I might have had was quickly put at ease. This curated collection was very real and very impressive.

In short, Greg was the perfect host – he was very welcoming and shared his enthusiasm for the subject with a huge dose of passion. We learned that Greg has been fascinated with coin operated machines from an early age. Specifically, the video game seed was planted in his mind at 8 years old, when his parents purchased a Pong-style TV console for him. Now older, and with the means to fund a collection, things have grown significantly. We sat and shared stories and discussed the merits of collecting until Greg announced it was time for us to take a look at what he had.

The hallway and several other downstairs rooms displayed a variety of vintage, turn of the century coin operated amusement machines of various types, from kids rides, early mechanical roulette machines (that even calculate odds and pay out according to winning numbers), strength testers, “shocker” machines and Mutoscopes – units that use a series of cards to create moving pictures to anyone prepared to part with a coin.

This stuff is amazing:

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This remarkable looking horse was secured by Greg from an internet auction a few years back. After researching his purchase, it was discovered that the mechanical beast dates back to the 1920s, and was the first ever coin-operated kiddie ride. It is fully working and very noisy!
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Made by EAM Co Ltd of Scotland, this two player mechanical cricket game is in stunning condition
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Manufactured by the Regina Company of New Jersey and dating back to around 1915, this Regina Hexaphone is an early coin operated Jukebox of sorts. The discs that are played are cylindrical. Remarkably, it is fully mechanical and requires no electricity!
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This is an early “Test Your Strength” punching machine. Drop in a coin, and punch the red pillow as hard as you can
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Two Mutoscopes. Drop a coin, turn the handle…

These were just some of the machines on display at Greg’s house. Other examples included a Love Tester (offering to “Measure your sex appeal”), a fortune-teller, vending machines and an amazing “Play The Derby” horse racing game. Particularly interesting was Greg explaining how close the relation is between some of these old mechanical exhibits and modern-day video games. Take Sega  for example. They started life distributing Mills mechanical games many years ago, and now are one of the cornerstones of arcade hardware and game production. Nintendo’s video game Duck Hunt, can trace a lineage way back to early mechanical coin operated machines offering similar game play but in physical, non-electronic form. These connections are abundant across many manufacturers and game genres, and Greg was able to share many examples.

In relation to the International Arcade Museum Library, Greg shared with us some Atari concept artwork he had acquired over the years. Here’s just a small selection of what we saw:

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Mock ups of what would become Atari’s Firefox cockpit cabinet, its only foray into laser disc arcade gaming
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Industrial engineering concept drawings of Atari’s Championship Sprint, released in 1986 on the System 1 platform

There was so much to see that space doesn’t allow me to share here. Suffice to say, the collection of artwork is extensive and deeply impressive. Perhaps sensing that we were chomping at the bit, Greg asked “I suppose you guys want to see some video arcade games, right?”. I thought he’d never ask. To see this part of the collection, we had to make a short drive to another building. Greg explained that the museum was in a state of flux presently, as he was in the process of acquiring new premises to house and display everything. So it’s fair to say that the machines didn’t have their ‘Sunday Best’ on, during our visit.

Given what we were about to see, I wasn’t about to start complaining.

We drove across town and Greg unlocked the doors of an innocuous office unit and led us through. Again, space doesn’t allow me to share everything we saw, but I’ve picked out some of the highlights here for you:

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Released in 1973, just 20 Pong In A Barrel machines were produced by a fledgling Atari. They had a tendency to fall apart once on location, hence the low numbers. This particular example acquired in 2004, not only works, but also turned out to be serial number 001, the very first one produced!
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Check out the early Atari logo
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An original Nutting Associates Computer Quiz. A remarkable piece of history, and impressive tech for its time. Released in 1968, the game promised to be “A Proven Money Maker That Educates As It Fascinates”
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Although wrapped in protective vinyl, this Missile Command cockpit is probably the nicest I’ve ever come across. Pretty much mint condition all round. Less than 150 of these were made, and most have now been destroyed or simply disappeared. It’s weight and size made it very undesirable once its shelf life had passed
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I’ve not seen one of these in the flesh before. Atari’s two player Orbit. It shares the gameplay mechanics of Space Duel and Space War. Check out the huge number of buttons (over 20 Atari cherry-style switches!), used to select one of multiple game types and ship control. Inserting a coin effectively buys play time. It’s a totally unique looking machine
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Atari’s Pinpong – video pinball. One of the first coin operated video games to include an algorithm to simulate gravity
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Sega’s Ixion. Pencilled for a 1983 release, the game performed poorly during public testing and was pulled from production. This is the only known complete prototype cabinet known to exist. Gameplay footage has surfaced which you can watch here
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Not the best photograph I’ve ever taken, but this is a two player Space Race. A real unique piece this. Most Space Race cabinets used traditional wood and plastic materials, but there were a handful of early fibreglass prototypes produced, of which this is one. The issue with the fibreglass production method was one of quantity and scale – it was only possible to make one each day using the molds and techniques available in 1973! It is thought only 50 were ever produced, with the vast majority now missing in action. (Better picture of a complete cabinet here)
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I’ve shared pictures of this cabinet before on the blog, here and here. It is a prototype sit-down cockpit version of Atari’s Pole Position. This machine was tested at Malibu Grand Prix Arcade. To finally see it in the flesh was a real thrill
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Atari’s SUBS released in 1979. This game is actually great fun, but sadly a couple of factors led to it having a short run of cabinets, and therefore now highly collectable. The additional monitor required for this two-player game increased the retail price of the machine, which most operators were unwilling to pay; and during that year, many video games were set in space – terrestrial themes like Submarines were seen as somewhat passé by this time
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Created by Tim Skelly of Cinematronics, and based on the classic novel by the same name, War of the Worlds is something of a vector-based holy grail to arcade collectors. Another game poorly received during testing, it is believed just 10 of these cabinets were ever built. This one owned by IAM is in mint condition and fully functional
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This was a highlight for me. I wrote about this exact cabinet some time ago on the blog. It was discovered and acquired under rather dubious circumstances, but eventually ended up in Greg’s custody. Cinematronics’ Sundance. Another vector game with a very limited release run. it looks utterly stunning in the flesh
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Williams Blaster. This game was released in four cabinet styles, but this is the rare “Duramold” version. Highly rare and very sought after. This isn’t a game you’ll find in any form easily. Gameplay footage here.
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Here’s something you are unlikely to have seen before (or ever see again). Twelve Computer Space cabinets lined up under one roof. All colours covered!

And the crowning glory in the whole collection was this:

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Greg described this cabinet to us as “the baby”. Computer Space was the first commercially released coin-operated video game. This particular example is serial number 9003 and is the only one thought to have been produced in a pure white fibreglass (rather than the spangle colours of later variants). It was used to showcase the machine at a trade show in 1971. It is believed to be the earliest coin-operated video game ever produced.

As the only white Computer Space cabinet, there is some speculation that this same cabinet made an appearance in the 1973 sci-fi movie Soylent Green:

Soylent Green Movie Still

Soylent Green Movie Still 2

Greg was able to talk to Nolan Bushnell about this, and he did recall the producers of the film approaching him about the placement of a Computer Space within the movie. He was unable to confirm if this white cabinet with serial number 9003 was sent out for the film, or whether another was quickly resprayed white at the request of the production company. But he was certain that serial number 9003 was the only white Computer Space ever built in the factory, using the same techniques as the other machines.

Here’s some great footage from the movie:

Whatever the truth about Soylent Green, there is no question that the white Computer Space cabinet is an amazing piece of history.

There was more in IAM’s archives. Much more. An Asteroids Deluxe upright cabinet, serial number 001, with a unique control panel; early production cabinets including an Atari Kangaroo in mint condition. And other rare machines, including Taito’s Space Dungeon (just 6 of these are in the hands of collectors according to VAPs), and a Williams Varkon – a pinball machine inside an upright video game cabinet. I could go on, but I really wanted to share the stuff that caught my eye.

So I guess the obvious question is where is IAM heading? Well Greg has made strides towards making the collection more accessible to the public. He hosts regular open house events, where, by appointment, visitors can view some of the exhibits held under the custody of the Museum – in fact a series of events were put on to coincide with E3 2018, and there are rumblings of a much larger event taking place later in the year.

Ultimately, it would be great to see IAM as a permanent exhibit – one that can be visited by the public to view and get hands-on with the wide range of machines, consoles and documentation currently held in the collection. Should that day come, it will be very impressive based on what I saw during my couple of hours in Greg’s company.

I would like to thank Greg McLemore for allowing me to share some of these pictures, and his hospitality and willingness to open his doors for us. If you ever get an opportunity to view the exhibits, make sure you do!

See you next time.

Tony

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. ringadingding says:

    WOW. i didn’t even know a white Computer Space model existed. it’s gorgeous! it reminds me of the 1970s Logan’s Run for some reason, and also (of course) 2001. what a treat to see that collection. i hope he gets it rehoused soon… i’d love to go down to LA to visit it.

    and oh, the KLOV — i used to frequent it back in the early to mid-1990s. it’s nice to see it’s still around. it’s an incredible resource!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andrew says:

    Finally someone’s got an Orbit game. Look at all those cone buttons!

    Liked by 1 person

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