Creating an Online Information Resource
by Kevin Steele
Reprinted with permission from the June 2005 issue of GameRoom Magazine
Where to begin? Well, how about the beginning? I’ve been a lifelong arcade junkie; a true child of the 80’s who would walk for miles after school just to get to the local mall and play the latest pinball and video games. I can still remember my first glimpse of Space Invaders and the first time I ever played Asteroids.
While the glory days of the arcades have long since faded into pop culture history, the games have never lost their thrill for me. While I enjoy more modern gaming, something about those simple, addictive arcade games has always called out to me. As the cliché goes, you can take the boy out of the arcade, but you can’t take the arcade out of the boy.
The Dream is Born
I had dreamed of owning my own arcade games since the day that I nearly won a Flash Gordon pinball machine back in 1980 as part of a local radio station’s promotion for the movie. Even though I didn’t win, the seed had been planted. I wanted my own game.
Unfortunately, it took me nearly 25 years to actually begin to work on my life-long goal. Life intervened, as it is prone to do, and it was only with the completion of the finished gameroom in our home’s basement that my dream actually began to take shape. In fact, it was less than a month after we finished our basement that I purchased an old game cabinet and started building my “dream machine.”
RetroBlast! is a direct result of my ongoing attempts to recapture that perfect “arcade ambiance.” The site was created as a way for me to share my enthusiasm about retrogaming. Billed as “Home Arcade News and Reviews,” RetroBlast allows me to share my discoveries and opinions as I continue my quest for the perfect arcade game room.
Originally, RetroBlast focused primarily on products related to MAME (short for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), an open-source software community project dedicated to accurately emulating nearly every arcade machine ever built. I realized right away that, with an old arcade cabinet and a PC, I could use MAME to build the arcade machine of my dreams.
My original MAME cab was an old gutted Atari System 1 cab (it was originally a RoadBlasters game) that I found and retrofitted with a PC and a SlikStik MAME controller. I dubbed the cab “The MAMEframe,” and the game marked the official beginning of my home arcade. While having thousands of games available to play on one cabinet was intoxicating to an arcade junkie like myself, I soon found that I had had more fun building the cab than I did playing on it.
As I collected and tested more gizmos, parts, or gadgets to expand or improve on my retrogaming experience, I wrote about them on RetroBlast. Soon companies began sending products for review, and while I had originally thought that I’d run out of material for the site in just a week or two, I suddenly found myself with a backlog of reviews that could easily last months.
In fact, I’ve never had a day since starting the site back in July of 2003 where my “Review To-Do” list has been empty. Some of that backlog has been due, no doubt, to my own sometimes leisurely pace at cranking out new reviews (RetroBlast is a hobby site, and being a stay-at-home dad sometimes means that reviews and site maintenance take a back seat to taking care of sick child or being a “room dad” at one my son’s school parties!)
I have a background in video and film production, having had an apprenticeship with the Pittsburgh Filmmakers Association in high school and majoring in communications in college (where I helped teach video productions as an intern), so adding video to my site was probably inevitable. As soon as I had a DV video camera and could easily capture and edit video in digital form, I was looking for a way to put these capabilities to use.
Product reviews on RetroBlast were an ideal venue for video, and the popularity of the site’s video reviews soon forced me to move to bigger and bigger hosting plans as demand for the videos quickly outstripped my site’s meager bandwidth allowance. I’m now on my third hosting company, and for now demand seems to be manageable. RetroBlast averages about 110,000 hits and about 1.5GB of traffic a day.
The video reviews are a lot of fun for me, combining my two loves of video production and arcade games. I’ve tried to keep the length of the videos short (around 5 minutes), both to allow me to produce the videos quickly and to keep the file sizes manageable for distribution via the Internet.
Pinball and More
The focus of RetroBlast has shifted slightly in its short life (the site will turn 2 years old in July), moving from near-exclusive coverage of arcade emulation (via PC-based programs such as MAME), to a broader coverage of retrogaming in general, including pinball restoration. The concept of the “home arcade” has taken on a more primary role on the site, especially after I acquired my first pinball machine, a 1992 Bally “Dr. Who” machine which I bought on eBay in December of 2003.
With my sudden immersion into pinball collecting, pinball reviews were quickly added to the RetroBlast mix, and soon other machines joined my home arcade: namely a Bally “Attack from Mars” pinball machine as well as Pachinko and Pachislo machines. My arcade collection is slowly continuing to grow, as is the variety of articles on RetroBlast: software reviews, book reviews, even interviews are now a part of RetroBlast. The only “hard and fast” requirement? Everything on the site must be arcade-related in some way.
One of the more exciting aspects of running a site such as RetroBlast is meeting and talking with both people in the amusement industry and fellow enthusiasts. The Internet has made it much easier to find people with shared interests, and I always find it fascinating to hear from collectors in countries such as Brazil, Italy, or Great Britain. It’s great to be able to chat and share tips with someone on another continent!
Back to the Future
My latest game room acquisition is a unique “console arcade” machine called the Quasicade 2, from a company called Quasimoto Interactive. It’s an arcade cabinet designed for game consoles such as the Xbox, a unique fusion of “old skool” arcade design and controls with cutting-edge modern video gaming.
In fact, I look at the Quasicade as the future of arcade-style gaming, and in many ways consider it symbolic of the RetroBlast mission: the use of modern technology to recreate the classic thrills of the arcade in your own home.
The arcades may never return to their glory days, but nevertheless, whether through emulation or preservation, RetroBlast is devoted to keeping the arcade experience alive.