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Gavin's Underground

The Game Grid

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2008-06-19 -

When the majority of people think of arcades nowadays, they tend to think of that corner area in your local theater or mall that's filled with busted, sticky, no name title games. But one new locally owned arcade is looking to bring back the arcade experience to a new generation with some of the best and most hard-to-find arcade games around.

The Game Grid recently opened up at Valley Fair Mall and has peaked the interest of gamers looking for something better than generic fighter brands and pathetic ticket games, while also enjoying gameplay that rivals that of home systems. I got a chance to talk to owner Adam Pratt about his new place, as well as took some pictures and ask him some random game and arcade questions. All while shooting up zombies on his sweet version of House Of The Dead 4!

Adam Pratt

http://gamegridarcade.com/

Gavin: Hey Adam. First off, tell us a little about yourself.

Adam: Well I was born in Salt Lake and have lived here for most of my life. I have been an avid video game fan since I was a toddler and grew up playing Atari, Nintendo, Sega and PC games.  But I have other interests as well such as writing, I write for an arcade related blog and I write arcade reviews for
Hardcore Gamer Magazine which is published quarterly but on occasion I write fiction but I haven't published anything from that realm yet.  Reading fiction, and occasionally non-fiction. I have been married for four years and we have a two year old son who keeps us busy and I enjoy spending time with them when I'm not working. My favorite TV show is Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is always good for a laugh.

Gavin: For those unaware of it yet, tell us about The Game Grid.

Adam: The Game Grid is my new company that I just opened and it is a fulfillment of a childhood dream of mine. Many people that have known me for a long time recall me saying that I would one day open an arcade and it started when I saw the movie "Tron" when I was about eight and after seeing the character Flynn who owned an arcade and programmed video games from his apartment above. I'm not sure why that stuck with me for so long as kids usually go through different phases of what they want to be when they grow up, but it did and now I own and operate an arcade of my own (although I don't live in it like Flynn did). I describe the Game Grid as a fusion of several aspects of gaming into one place which includes classic arcades, new arcades, pinball, air hockey and a small LAN of gaming PCs. I also would like to create a small game console museum that people can play but I am still working on the other aspects at the moment. What I like about arcades is the social experience you can get there - I remember a time when I played Gauntlet Legends with 3 total strangers and we had a blast. It also is unique when you get to see someone play a certain game with real skill - such as when they clock a game on one credit and they do everything flawlessly, making the game look easy when it isn't. While that may pump that person's ego a little it's still fun to watch or do it yourself as showing off like that doesn't mean much at home if no one sees it and it's not the same online.

Gavin: How did the idea come about for you to want to open an arcade?

Adam: The movie "Tron" gave me the first inspiration that I recall, but I also am a fan of Atari and they used to be the greatest arcade company around, in part because they invented the video coin-op industry but also because they made some amazing games. I remember reading about these places called Atari Adventure Centers on the internet years ago and that fueled the idea of opening an arcade for me too.

Gavin: What was the process like behind getting it started?

Adam: Long and complicated. I began to actively pursue the idea while working at an arcade in West Valley. I was one of the managers there and I would have different responsibilities for running the arcade from opening to closing. That helped me prepare for the job today but it also fueled my interest in the concept even further as I had a realistic idea of what to do at that point. At the time it gave me some disposable income to play around with and after saving up some cash I purchased my first two games in 2000. 1942 (which is currently at my arcade) and Zaxxon (which has a broken monitor that I am still trying to get fixed). Since then I have been slowly collecting machines and I was able to get a couple for free or for really cheap but older games come with their own set of problems you need to fix. I still felt that it was necessary to find what I could as I never have had a lot of money and it takes quite a bit to get an arcade started as the games are very expensive. I still am far off from what I want to have for an arcade but I figure that it is good to start small and work up from there.  In 2003 I began writing up a business plan, which I am glad that I did. I used a template from
SCORE and wrote it myself and while collecting information for it was tough, it helped me think through my ideas and plan things out better than if I had just started the business up and decided to wing it. Anyone looking to start a business should sit down and write up a plan, even if it is hard because it will make you move out of the dreaming phase and into the planning phase. They say that you need a business plan in about every business book out there and for good reason - someone without a plan is usually unprepared for the reality that will hit them when they start up.

Gavin: Were there any real difficulties to getting it up and running, or did things just fall into place?

Adam: The greatest difficulty is capital - as I mentioned before arcades are a very expensive undertaking to start and I have never had a lot of capital to begin with. I ended up getting my capital from several sources - a little from my own savings, some from family members that decided to invest and an SBA loan. The SBA loan took quite a while to get as they required many different items to be ready and in place for it to go through and the amount that I ended up getting was much lower than what I had hoped to get as you need a lot of collateral. The whole process has given me more respect for small business owners as there are so many obstacles that get in your way but if you overcome them it's worth it.  Another difficulty was finding a location. I looked around at several different places and back in November I had attempted to get into a location in a strip mall owned by Sears. Finding the right location is a major challenge as there are many factors to consider - how much does it cost a month vs. how large the space is vs. how visible it is. Rent in many places can be very high and for a brand new business where you are not sure how well you may or may not do it's something you have to weigh carefully. But back to the Sears strip mall - the realtor they had was very unreliable and strung me along for months, rarely returning phone calls and never communicating what it was that they needed from me exactly and in the end they gave the place to someone else that had more money and an established name while telling me that I was going to get in so that was quite frustrating but in the end it worked out better for me. The whole time I was looking for a different spot but nothing came along until the last minute and so far I think it is far superior to what I would have had at the other strip mall.

Gavin: Did you pick Valley Fair for any specific reason, or just because it was an available space?

Adam: Valley Fair wasn't my first choice to go with but I had thought about it from time to time. I was uneasy about it as there are four other arcades within a few blocks of there - two very small ones within the mall and then two larger ones nearby. I had been looking for a space farther away from other arcade businesses but I approached the mall and they had a space available where the entrance was outside of the mall which meant that I could have more flexible hours than the rest of the mall. That was a bonus and the space was nice and quite visible and I got it for a decent price so I signed for it. The mall is going under a large renovation project and in a year I may have to move elsewhere depending on what happens with that but it will be to a larger space at that point and if I still am able to stick with the mall there will be many other good businesses that have set up shop in that area.

Gavin: What do you believe separates your arcade from places like Nicklecade and Tilt?

Adam: Every arcade is a little different than the other usually because of their selection of games but also by their prices, how they treat the games and by other attractions they have on hand. I can find something I like about all of my competitors to be honest and it's good they are out there as the more arcade businesses that there are in the marketplace, the more games come out. But I do have some differences from the others in that I have a selection of games that I can easily describe as unique - it is true that about every arcade can say that they have a game that one of their competitors doesn't have but I have a couple of very rare and hard to find games such as The Act, a game sort of like Dragon's Lair but much more advanced than that. Only 40 were ever made and out of those only 8-10 were actually sold to the public and as far as I know I am the only person in Utah to own one. I also have a brawler game called Oriental Legend 2 which is a lot of fun - it has a lot of Chinese text in it but you can ignore it and play the game just fine. Beyond that I also am working on a LAN of gaming computers which is not a common sight in arcades - some feel that the two can't combine but I disagree. Add to that a couple of pinball tables and an air hockey table as well as competitions which I will begin organizing soon, we are something different form the rest of the pack. We do use tokens so nothing unique there but I decided on six tokens per dollar instead of the standard 3. I only have one game that costs more than six tokens to play - I don't believe in charging $2-$3 for a game that might not last you 2-3 minutes if it's your first time playing it.  On top of that I am very optimistic about arcades and video games are a passion for me. There are some arcade operators who are rather pessimistic about the arcade industry and don't seek to go about changing what they feel is wrong with it or they could care less about improving it or trying out new ideas. I'm not that kind of operator.

Gavin: You actively decided not to do a redemption system, why is that?

Adam: I have received some flak for this by other operators online as the redemption sector is like the drive-in window for a fast food restaurant. There are a couple of reasons why I am not focusing on these games although I do have one called Movie Stop. I don't mind self-redemption games where you play a skill game to win a prize but I despise ticket redemption games. Part of that comes from working at a redemption desk which was never fun to handle but I never found it appealing to try and win all of these tickets so you could get a plastic ring that is worth maybe 10. I know that a lot of people have fun playing them and that is fine especially for the kids but redemption has become so much the focus of arcades that they nearly forget that there are video games there. On top of that redemption games can be just as expensive if not more than a video arcade game to purchase new and with little capital it's hard to squeeze them in but if they keep making games like Stacker and Movie Stop I'll probably get more of those in the future but it never will replace the video entertainment aspect of the business for me. That is one reason why I have the LAN, it has kind of replaced redemption for me.

Gavin: Tell is about some of the games you got for the Grid.

Adam: I have already mentioned a couple including The Act. It's really worth checking out because there is nothing like it on a home console. You control a cartoon character named Edgar who must put on an act in a hospital to save his brother from death. The game uses a knob controller where you actually control Edgar's physical or emotional response to a given situation. By turning the knob it changes his reaction gradually and you can be disinterested or overbearing or in some situations move him around the screen. Dragon's Lair and Space Ace never got to this level of interactivity although they tried.  I also have some brand new arcade games - some people are amazed when they find out that there are still several companies out there who make brand new arcades and I thought that it was important to grab a few of them. I have Big Buck Safari which is the sequel to the very popular Big Buck Hunter. I've seen people who don't care for hunting at all and even despise it a little have a blast with this game. I also have Blazing Angels - yes this came out on the consoles first but everyone who has played the Xbox 360 version of the game has said that the arcade version is superior and it's easy to see why. They changed the game a little bit to play better in arcades and the controls are more fitting to a plane game. The seat also reacts when your plane gets shot and it's a very cool experience. On top of it all it comes with a 42" HD screen so every one gets the same experience with the arcade version, no need to go out and buy an HD set and a special seat to get the same thing as someone else.  We have the 62" version of House of the Dead 4 which is a fun game in a huge cabinet - I was happy to get this one as well as a little lucky. I have two Tokyo Drift's a game that is like a cross between Crusin' World and San Fransisco Rush 2049. It was actually developed by the same guy who did Crusin'. It's a little over the top which means that it's perfect for arcades.

Adam: I also have some older games that are still fun to play including CarnEvil, Gauntlet Dark Legacy, Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Rally X (with new versions of Pac-Man and Dig Dug where you can play with two players at the same time), Crystal Castles, 1942, King of Fighters '98, SNK Vs. Capcom, Mars Matrix, the original Ninja Gaiden and a new beat 'em up game called Oriental Legend 2. I have Warlords and Asteroids Deluxe but both of those have come up with some problems just the other day that I am still trying to resolve. I am expecting to get a couple more games at the time of this writing, including a unique racing game called Chase HQ2 where you chase criminals down and smash their cars up (I ordered this one weeks ago and it still hasn't arrived even though it is a new game), Aliens: Extermination, an excellent light gun game and Marvel VS. Capcom. Those might come in any time and if I can fit more in I will. I would really like to get Street Fighter IV which comes out next month in Japan but we'll see if Capcom is going to play nice or not as they have not confirmed when it's coming to the US in arcades. If I have the money I'll find a way to import it so people can enjoy the arcade version.   I have an air hockey table and two pinball tables - Indiana Jones and Shrek. Both are a lot of fun and have been popular, especially Indiana Jones. It is a cool game and has elements from each movie (including the new one) integrated into it. One of my favorite parts is when you open up the Ark of the Covenant. Not everyone knows about pinball and I've seen some people not want to give it a chance which is too bad because it is a lot of fun to play and game console can never emulate the same feeling you get with a real pinball table.  I am still hammering out a list for the PC games and I hope to have it up and running soon but it will have to go without internet for a short time as it has been a chore to get service set up at my store. We've tried out games like Unreal Tournament III and Call of Duty 4 and I plan on getting more like Team Fortress 2, Starcraft, Halo 2, etc. I want to run WoW but until I get the internet that is a moot point. 

Gavin: Now some of these are either foreign or out-of-print. Do you believe there will be an appeal to them by hardcore gamers, or do you think it will appeal more to people who have "seen it all" at arcades?

Adam: I think it will appeal to both. It will be interesting to see what people think of Oriental Legend 2 as that has some Chinese text in it but I played it for the first time today and you can ignore all of that and still have fun. My wife played it with me and she is not much of a gamer but she still liked it. It's interesting because in addition to being a scrolling fighter like Teenage Mutant ninja Turtles or The Simpsons, it has some RPG elements to it and it has a one-on-one fighter mode to it can appeal to a broader base of people. I also like the 2D graphics, which is something you don't see often these days.  The Act is definitely appealing to many kinds of gamers, casual or hardcore and so far it has been a hit. When people sit down and give it a chance they find it hard to put down so to speak as in addition to being a new kind of experience for the genre that it is a part of, it also is quite funny. It's one of the few games I have seen people sit down and play to the end because they want to see what it next. There is a certain level of risk involved in getting rare or imported games but I want to do it because I think that people get a little tired of seeing the same thing over and over again in arcades and that is why I have tried to vary my selection as much as possible. On top of that these rare titles can't be found in emulation yet so they remain unique.

Gavin: You also plan to add computers to the store for LAN parties, how will that system work out?

Adam: I have some software that is supposed to manage the network and it creates an interface that is something like you get on a game console so it's easy to find and play a game. We'll charge by the hour, $2/hr but you can buy hours in advance and we'll have deals to where if you buy so many hours in advance you can get some free. I'm still testing the system out and trying to eliminate the bugs so it is not up an running at this time of writing but I hope to have it ready this weekend.

Gavin: Are there any plans to possibly add standard game systems for online play?

Adam: This is something I am looking into but I still need to find out more information on running modern consoles as I have heard that some companies like Microsoft and Sony don't look lightly upon that sort of thing. For the present time I am looking to create a classic console museum where people can play some classic systems or check out a rare system to play. I have a system called NUON that few have heard of and I would like to showcase that along with the old Atari's and a few others. One company is planning on releasing an Xbox 360 arcade machine with coin mechs and everything in the next week or so and I am looking closely at that to see how it will work. 

Gavin: Okay, putting you on the spot a little, which system out there do you think is the best one on the market and why?

Adam: Hehe, this is a tough question as there are things I like and dislike about each system. I used to suffer from a little fanboy syndrome but these days I don't care much for that anymore as if it plays a fun game than that's what matters. I really like the Xbox 360 - it has a solid library and the online experience is great (well, depending on who you play with). The Wii is fun and if you know what to look for it has some nice games although it is suffering from a lot of shovelware - but that is standard when it comes to the most popular system on the market when you look at it historically. The Atari 2600 had that problem as did the NES and the Playstation 1 & 2 as developers who want a quick buck flock to the popular system of the moment and release a lot of crap on that system. But that doesn't make it a bad system as it also will get some great games on it. Wii online sucks however and isn't worth the trouble from what I have tried with it, minus the Virtual Console. Nintendo has dropped the ball on that under the guise of protecting the kids but I find that hard to buy. It's not like they don't have the money and resources to figure it out. At the very least I have River City Ransom for the NES on it which is a great game. The PS3 is a nice system and has seemed to have a slow start and is catching steam but in the end I think I like the 360 the best for now. I used to care about who has the best graphics and all that but it doesn't matter so much anymore as someone will always have better graphics than the other every couple of years (or every few months with PCs) and overall the quality of graphics is pretty good now. There are days where I still will break out my old Atari 2600 and play that more than any of the new ones though.

Gavin: What are your feelings on the video game market right now, both good and bad?

Adam: There is the shovelware problem - too much garbage, too little innovation. I was excited about the Wii because it would force developers to really think outside the box but many of them have squandered the opportunity to do it right. I don't usually buy into franchises where there is a new version every year but as long as people do in general they will keep making those kind of games. In part as long as the game is fun and they improve on the fun factor then I don't have a problem with it but when the only "innovation" is that this year the grass blows in the wind and the characters eyelashes look a little more realistic then I could care less about that. Still video games are more popular than ever and that is good but the industry needs to be careful - the crash of '83 didn't happen solely because of E.T. but was a combination of things - there were 7 or 8 game consoles you could buy at the time, a lot of shovelware, which included clones of popular games and rampant piracy. Could it happen again? Perhaps but video games will never go away as long as people like to be entertained. I know that some gamers have a problem with the growing number of 'casual' games on the market but for the market to be as large as it is, it has to appeal to many tastes and not everyone is going to be 'hardcore' and they don't have to be either. As long as there are hardcore games out there to satisfy those gamers then I think that the industry will continue to do well but if they blow off that base then they are in trouble. Take for example Nintendo's comments on extra storage for the Wii recently. I think that they learned a quick and hard lesson about disrespecting the hardcore crowd and hopefully they will live up to the promise of delivering more storage for the system which is sorely needed for any of us that bother to download games off their servers.

Adam: I think that if anything will hurt the industry it's arrogance from any side. The game media can be a problem too. It's great that you can find out details about just about any game coming out these days via the internet but it's disappointing to see how game companies will demand changes to a review or demand a different score and the media will bow to their wishes because they don't want to loose their freebies. This bias makes it so it's hard to trust any big site on what their thoughts are about a game so I personally try to read reviews from smaller sites, blogs or users on forums, etc.  But as a final thought, getting back to casual and hardcore games I have heard arguments about how casual games should be done away with but the people that make those arguments don't realize that not everyone wants to spend hours and hours playing through a game, sometimes you just want a short burst as you move along your busy life. In the end there is room for both casual and hardcore games. 

Gavin: If there was something about it you could change, anything at all, what would it be?

Adam: I would like to change the situation with the media - in particular with arcades. You may have noticed that there is practically no arcade coverage in any game magazine or online news source. The reason for this bias is that in part arcade companies don't buy advertising in their venues and you can't send the reviewers a copy for them to own at home, which they are accustomed to with consoles. I write for one of the very few sources of arcade news out there, Arcade Heroes and we cover plenty on the arcade industry including new releases. We broke coverage on the new Sega Rally 3 recently along with the first footage of the game in action as well as footage from the upcoming Rambo from Sega and Power Boat from iMOtion. I also have been getting coverage on a new fighter called Dark Presence that might actually do a location test at The Game Grid later this year. There are many more new games coming to arcades but you hear about only one or two of them in mainstream coverage. In part the arcade development companies need to do more to get the word out so I am not placing all of the blame on the game media, it does go both ways. As for the console industry, I would change the rule of where retailers have a say in how some games are made. It's ridiculous that companies like Wal Mart or Best Buy can have the final word in what does and doesn't make it to a game as these decisions are not made by developers but by marketing departments who maybe play Mahjong but little else.

Gavin: Do you believe arcades are slowly becoming extinct, or do you believe there's still life in them yet?

Adam: There are issues that the arcade industry faces and the arcade itself is certainly not as popular as it used to be but I want to do what I can to change that. As my business grows I will seek to my my company better as one would naturally expect but I also want to get into arcade game development and create some unique games that can only be played in an arcade as well as being a ton of fun. Arcades need to get the word out more - point out the benefits of playing at an arcade but they need to provide a venue that is good to play in first. Arcade developers need to be more open about their games, most of them don't say anything about a new game until it is released and then they only release a flyer about it and a small bit on the internet but little else, and start coming up with more than just racing, light gun and dancing games. Once this year is over there will have been at least 10 new racing games come out in arcades. It's good to see so many games coming out but it would be better to see them branch out into other genres. Of course this is one reason why I do not believe that the arcade industry is dead or is dying - if that were the case then there would be no companies making any new games yet there are at least 8 developers that I can think of off the top of my head that release games here in the US. In fact I just got an e-mail while writing this about a brand new company that is developing a new game for release in the US soon, so make that 9. There are more in Japan, Taiwan and Europe and I even found one in Brazil recently that created a new game for release there.

Gavin: If you had to make a list, name your top five arcade games of all time.

Adam: This is tough to answer to be honest and my list always seems to be changing but at the moment I would say:

1. SF Rush 2049
2. T-Mek
3. Warlords
4. Star Wars Arcade Trilogy
5. The Crystal of Kings

Gavin: What can we expect from The Game Grid the rest of the year?

Adam: I hope to get in a few more unique games including one that involves controlling robots but I will have to wait and see about how that will turn out. I also hope to get the word out a little more - I will be doing a lot of stuff online and I have already posted videos to my blog,
Arcade Heroes, Vimeo and Youtube and there will be more. I also plan on holding some competitions which should be a lot of fun.

Gavin: Anything you'd like to plug while we're here?

Adam: I already mentioned it but
Arcade Heros is the best resource on the new for arcade news right now and I'm not just saying that because I write for it (I don't own the blog actually, I'm just one of several writers, I post under the handle Shaggy. That's why the site says "The Saviours of Coin-Op" as it's owned by a guy in the UK) but because if you take a look out there, it really is the best resource for arcade news. We scour the web for news and put it into one place and post our own thoughts on games and the industry from time to time. I love writing for the blog but lately I haven't been able to do that much with all the work I've been putting into the arcade. I also have a site for The Game Grid. It's not much to look at right now and I need to fix the game list but soon I will be having the site re-designed so it will look more professional. You can watch some videos of my progress on the place under the Take a tour link and I will have more there soon. I also write for Hardcore Gamer Magazine so if you can find one (they have PDFs of it for free at their site) I get one arcade article into those every time they publish it. And on top of that just drop by my arcade, I'm at the Valley Fair Mall next to the Red Robin Restaurant, it's an outside entrance so you won't find us inside the mall where you might expect it.

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