Like the video store, the video game arcade seemed destined for the scrap-heap, wiped off the map by a wave of technological change.
Unlike the video store -- and a little more like the record store and bookstore -- it seems to have unexpectedly found new life. People like to play games together, in public, as it turns out.
Pittsburgh might be the epicenter of the arcade’s resurgence, due to the return of ReplayFX, from July 26 to 29 in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
ReplayFX won’t just be the biggest arcade in town. It might be the biggest in the world.
A massive collection
“We won’t know exactly until they show up,” says ReplayFX organizer Mark Steinman. “It’ll probably be 1,000 full-size pinball and arcade machines. Then there’s more than 250 consoles. And tabletop stuff. Substantially more than last year.”
The Replay Foundation -- a nonprofit that manages the festival and pinball tournaments --hefts in its own massive collection from a warehouse in Carnegie, where it all started with pinball tournaments.
Those tournaments grew and grew, drawing pinball wizards from all over the world. Now, the Convention Center might be the only room in town -- besides, say, Heinz Field -- that can hold them.
Their pinball collection ranges from lovingly-restored examples from the late ’40s and early ’50s, to the very latest machines. It’s the same with video games.
There’s no need for a pocket full of quarters -- all the games are on “free play” if you pay admission.
Restored retro games are ReplayFX’s specialty. However, every era of gaming will have ample representation, including some of the very latest machines.
Giant projection screens will show the tournaments in progress.
Microsoft is running four tournaments on XBOX, including the apparently immortal series of “Madden” football games. Fighting games like “Tekken” seem to lend themselves perfectly to tournaments.
Others, like “Tetris” and even “Oregon Trail” -- which hammers the nostalgia buttons for a whole generation of ’80s kids -- are going to be a little more unusual.
There will be some games that simply can’t be found anywhere else.
“We have ‘Tattoo Assassins,’ a prototype of a fighting game meant to compete with ‘Mortal Kombat,’” Steinman says. “It’s one of only two in the world.”
Another rare game is Stern’s “Armored Car,” which they found during restoration -- thinking it was another game entirely.
“We (the Replay Foundation) always try to put games into their original condition,” Steinman says. “We try to fix games and get them back into circulation. We had a game that we were stripping the paint from, and found that it was actually a really rare game.”
Steiman expects to see at least 20,000 admissions to ReplayFX, a substantial increase over last year, due to strong pre-sales.
“There’s people traveling from 15 different countries,” he notes. “The percentage of people from out of town is probably at least 30 percent. The furthest this year is New Zealand. There’s a real big contingent from Sweden. People from Europe come for pinball. There’s big groups from New York City and San Francisco.”
Though arcades -- particularly in malls and truck stops -- were usually aimed at teenagers or adults, a significant portion of ReplayFX visitors are families.
“There’s multiple generations of pinballers together,” says Steinman. “People who went through the first arcade boom have kids now. Dads get to show kids the games they used to play. Then they can walk 20 feet away and the kids can show the dads or moms stuff that they play, like Fortnite or Minecraft.”