Do You Watch Your Friends Play Games?

Not everybody enjoys watching others play videogames, just like not everybody enjoys others play sports. There’s something about games that demands that hands-on experience.

Of course, a big part of it depends on the style and personality of the person you’re watching. If you’re a stealth gamer, you probably wouldn’t enjoy watching a brawler barrel through levels, for example.

But assuming you’re watching someone who plays like you do, or perhaps faster than you do (!), do you enjoy watching them play? Or are you itching for them to get an urgent call from their significant other?

I don’t love watching gameplay video, but I’m watching theRadBrad on Youtube right now. He’s got a pretty good style, he moves quickly, and he’s got a friendly, funny energy to him.

Hey, if u liked this article PLEASE share!

How Do You Meet Game Writers and Designers?

meet-game-writers-designersI got an interesting question recently on Quora and thought it might be useful to repost the Q&A here:

How do I meet game developers?

(I titled this post targeting game writers and game designers because that’s a little more relevant to this blog.)

Here’s my answer:

That’s not hard.

1) Find a local meetup for game developers and attend. Be courteous and research your questions before you ask them. Never ask anything that you could’ve read on Wikipedia. (Not so easy if you’re in a remote area.)
2) Go to the Game Dev Conference in California: GDC 2016.
3) Arrange a tour or informational interview with a local game studio for your school or interest group. (Not so easy if you don’t live near a studio)
4) Find the game developer group at your local university and join or support as best you can.

And of course be wary of the wannabes. There are a lot of “developers” who are just gamers with vaporware dreams.

See the Quora thread and feel free to weigh in.

Videogame Indictment: Dragon Age Inquisition

A Dragon Age Review with Bugs Attached

Been playing this popular game on PS4 recently and man, am I disappointed. I really want to love it, but instead I just think about how Bioware shipped this thing about six months before it was finished, with some bad design decisions baked in. I’m also a bit irate to see how badly they’ve evolved in the storytelling process while Bethseda has leapfrogged them handily with titles like Skyrim and Fallout.

It looks and sounds lovely and there’s clearly a heapton of backstory and thought. The characters are interesting and well-acted, when you can figure out what they’re saying*. You can see that, as Ray Muzyka said in a Wired interview, they “aggressively checked out” Skyrim and tried to borrow some concepts. Some of them have good conflicts with each other while all pursuing common goals in their own ways. All of this merely adds to the disgust and tragedy of this buggy, burdened, burdensome game: I think of all those game developers who poured their hearts into this damned box and all they (and we) got for their inspired labor was a shining turd.

What’s Broken in Dragon Age: Inquisition

The key bugs that annoy me in DA:I are clear A-class bugs in combat, especially in the time-stopping Tactical View, which is a necessity in tough fights, when the AI’s decisions can quickly decimate your party (and frankly, there’s really no AI that can handle a tough fight as well as a person can). What kind of bugs? Party members going completely AFK. I give them an order, and they just stand there. Forever. I have to pop out of Tactical View into real-time and jump with that character to wake them up. Why? Who knows. It might be a terrain issue; I have seen party members fall through gaps and occasionally stick on terrain until their deaths.

Oh, did I mention that the Tactical View camera traverses the terrain like a person? So when you want to attack an enemy from up on a rock ridge, you have to guide the damned thing down a walkable path to target the enemy. And then back up again anytime you want to check your guys or adjust them. And Maker help you if you’re fighting in a narrow gully with trees roofing it. The camera will hop around like a bullfrog on crack as you move it, and positioning a spell effect area precisely is hopeless when you can’t get high enough or low enough due to ceilings and obstacles. Bioware, here’s a hint: Please don’t do detailed collision detection with the damned camera. Make stuff translucent when the camera goes through it. It can be done. It has been done. Please.

Or I hit the button to switch characters and nothing happens. I can only control one character until I finish the fight or get to a menu somehow. I tell someone to stay out of danger, and they inexplicably start wandering. (Yes, I am double-tapping on the target location to see the little shield icon for HOLD POSITION.) Rubberbanding foes that teleport across the area in Tactical View (no, they weren’t being yanked by heroes’ grapples). And yeah, it’d be nice if the AI didn’t cast fire spells on the fire demons… sigh. The latter is a rarity in RPGs, I know, but one that wouldn’t be all that hard to code.

The menu system is a mess too. Inventory’s complicated if powerful. But you can’t equip items in the shop interface, which means you have to hop in and out of menus to buy an upgrade (buy new item, switch to inventory, unequip old item, equip new item, switch, sell old item). Nor can you discard item crafting patterns (“schematics”) for useless low-level items; instead you have to scroll through an ever-growing list of junky schematics, comparing their numbers, to find the good stuff. Feels like work.

And when you’re crafting items, you can’t compare the proposed item’s attributes with what you’re currently using. I actually wrote a bunch of numbers down on paper to figure out whether crafting was a good use of my resources. Uhhhh… really? Feels like work.

The final insult: you also can’t switch a character between melee and ranged weapons during a fight. I certainly understand penalizing a character with a delay as they swap weapons, or keeping someone from swapping between a dozen weapons like Duke Nukem, but utter inability to switch between a bow and a sword? Unheard of. This from the company whose heritage extends back to the original tactical party RPG, Baldur’s Gate. Just freaking shameful.

So Many Unique Lootz That You Hate Lootz; So Many Quests That You…

The game also manages to make loot uninteresting. There are so many unique items that you never know when you’ve found something cool. Instead, everything’s different and 99% of it is junk. (Granted, the latter’s true of any real RPG.) As a result, you don’t care about anything you pick up.

In Skyrim, you run across dozens of iron swords. When you get another iron sword, you immediately know it’s junk. But when you see an mithril sword of cleaving, that name gives you an obvious tip-off that it’s your lucky day. Also, it glows because it’s magic and you light up like Christmas.

But no, in DA:I, everything’s got a different name and you can’t see it physically unless you take the special effort to pop through a few menus and equip it to view it inventory. All you see is a loot item that, when opened, shows a list of the items within. Rarity is indicated by color (blue and purple being rarest), but there are useless purple items and good common items. And crafted items are generally the best of all, which means new item designs (“schematics”) can be valuable, but you’ll have to drag your butt to a crafting station to figure it out.

So it all sits in your bag until you have a chance to sort through it. Kind of like your bank statements. Congratulations, Bioware. You’ve managed to nerf one of the primary joys of RPGs.

I think they went the opposite (and wrong) direction of Fallout 4 on loot in this game, a grave error. In Fallout 4, you don’t even have to press a button to see what’s inside a container — you just look at it and the text appears showing contents. This avoids the annoyance of opening empty chests when you’ve doubled back on your path. Bethseda’s gotten rid of the opening action entirely.

There’s a minor innovation in the form of a war room where you can commit points to unlock abilities (like larger inventories) and new map areas. You can also send your war council on errands to solve problems and expand your influence, giving a nice impression of a larger international conflict (and challenges of leadership) that compliments your individual adventuring. Too bad the UI is tedious to navigate and the tasks apparently can be completed in almost any order, with few conflicting tasks and no time-dependent tasks. The UI is a lot like scrubbing a scene in a pixel-hunting adventure game; it’s littered with icons that are irrelevant, and positioning the cursor is onerous. Feels like work. A little snap-to-POI algorithm would go a long way here.

And of course there are meaningless quests galore. Find the pisspot you lost in the Sewers of Despair? Sure, I’ll do that in hopes of getting 5 gold and another item that looks like all the other junk in my bag. Heck, maybe it’ll be a multi-part quest. Love those.

Other Gamer Grousing

In addition, the multiplayer mode is dumbed down and unstrategic. No Tactical View, and the one time I tried it, my friend and I were killed repeatedly in the first scenario such that it felt hopeless.

*And as mentioned earlier, the dialog is oddly oblique and obtuse. All of the heroes are apparently politicians. No one says, “I hate demons and I want to see them all dead.” Instead they say something like “Demons are offensive to the Maker. When I am inclined to consider action, I find my aims aligned with the Maker.” Uhhh, right. As a purported wordsmith, I admire the artistry here, people, but this all feels like work.

I will give unadulterated praise to one feature of the game, though. There is a throne that you can sit in to decide what happens to various prisoners and defeated NPCs. The options are thought-provoking and I appreciated the effort to create a “heavy is the head that wears the crown” effect, presenting the player with moral decisions.

Having a horse on call to speed through maps is good. (Also in Skyrim.) I did genuinely enjoy the tavern songs by Raney Shockne, which were pleasant and also distinctive. I’d have to say this is one thing that Inquisition did better than Skyrim.

And the skill trees and the skills themselves are quite cool and generally make a clear difference in combat. Also in Skyrim, and probably the one thing that kept me going as far as I did. In retrospect, maybe I should’ve just played Skyrim.

Storytelling is Not an Afterthought, People

Especially in a text-heavy RPG. And text-heavy is one of the problems: Bioware continues to think that quantity is a substitute for quality. Just like older Bioware games such as Planescape: Torment, the landscape is littered with characters who want to tell you their life story, but the core experience is buried under all that excess… especially when most of them speak in that same constipated manner I mentioned earlier.

Maybe the name Inquisition itself should’ve been a warning. Any game that chooses a title so closely tied to an oppressive, murderous, and inhuman movement as the Spanish Inquisition is going to be a little tone-deaf.

I don’t want to know why the gardener is sending me on this FedEx quest to take his stupid broken trowel across the treacherous swamp; I want solve the mystery of my hero’s talent and beat the big boss. And when I don’t get tapped into that big conflict in a regular and meaningful way, I feel like the game is simply throwing chores at me while I grind my character toward advancement. I could be playing a game. In my leisure hours, why should I bother with all this work?

I’m sure an apologist would mention the rifts you have to close across every new map. Each rift is a reminder of the main quest and your special ability, and they do spawn new and tougher creatures as you progress. (Sometimes well beyond your ability, and much tougher than anything else in the map, with no indicator of difficulty.) But there’s a real lack of panache in the presentation. For example, I ran into a new beastie at one rift – a Pride Demon about forty feet tall and tough as nails. But no one in town was talking about him, and none of my party reacted to this obvious challenge. Opportunity missed.

A Modest Proposal for Books in RPGs

Actually, both Skyrim and Dragon Age fail with the many books you encounter in their worlds. These are amazing opportunities to enrich and entertain the player, but instead the developers are treating them like easter eggs, fodder for the completists. FAIL. How come these books almost never have anything related to the current quest that you’re on? How come they rarely mention anything useful or funny about characters you have encountered? Weapons or spells you’re using? Journals of people who are facing the same decisions as you are? How come we never start a quest or finish a quest by reading a book? How’s that for a way of telling the player that these things are just window dressing?

Here’s my simple proposition: make these damned things fun. I don’t want to read 14 volumes about ancient lore, in random order. I want to see the same number of books around, but 75% of them are dull-colored so only the completists will read them. Or maybe they’re even empty: when you pick them up the game says “You’ve read this one before in school” or “Yet another advice book on how think positively about the bubonic plague.” However, the brightly-colored books are always funny or relevant to your immediate situation. Make it so, people!

Videogame Field of View

I came across an interesting inquiry on Quora recently, and thought I’d share it with you folks. The question: “In 1st person video games, why don’t they introduce peripheral vision? The angle of sight seems to be a lot less than our own angle of vision.”

I’ve had this complaint as well, in both first-person and third-person games (assuming we’re not talking about something exotic like a “peripheral vision mode”). Gears of War frustrates me because I feel like I can’t see the world since I’m zoomed so far in on the asses of the protagonists.

(I historically have the same complaint about Madden, although for different reasons: I find it ridiculous that I have to contort myself to see near-sideline receivers who are by default off the edge of the screen. Something tells me that Tom Brady doesn’t have this invisible receiver problem. Less of an issue in the HD era.)

This video from TotalBiscuit does a stellar job of illustrating the point. Skip to the three-minute mark to get right to the good stuff:

Here’s a shot from Gears of War. Your protagonist eats up about a sixth of the critical foreground screen real estate. If you played the game, you may remember the annoyance of larger levels where foes were shooting you from every direction while you felt like you were looking for them through a shoebox.

field of view gow

Compare GoW with this shot from Infamous 2. The avatar is smaller, the camera position is further back from the action, and you can see more of the world.

fov-screenshot

TotalBiscuit feels claustrophobic FOVs like GoW’s are due to game developers not caring enough about PC gamers. I think he’s on the right track, but IMHO studios do this extreme zoom-in/narrow field-of-view — and fail to provide options to alter it — for four reasons:

  1. Money (aka complexity). It takes a fair amount of risk for a developer to put in a feature that lets gamers change the field of view. Sure, a few lines of code could change the way the renderer works, letting you see more of the world. Sure, it’d be fairly easy to support that in the game UI. However, adding this option is a significant and fundamental alteration in a very complex system. Your game has to work equally well at all field-of-view settings, in multiplayer, on all sorts of wonky PC systems with wonky chipsets. This is kind of like making a game and a half instead of one game. And you’re doing this to satisfy PC gamers (large fraction of total market) who care about field of view and know what it is (much smaller fraction of the other fraction). Sadly, when the test department starts toying with the FOV option during crunch and filing dozens of bugs on how it crashes this mode and that mode, and causes everything on screen to look weird and skinny, and makes text in the game unreadable, your producer is going to ditch the feature like it’s covered in flaming flatulent warts. Assuming it got that far.
  2. Money (aka framerate). When you widen the field of view, more stuff renders. Guess what? This means that your hardware has to work harder and your silky-smooth framerate goes in the toilet. You can’t fit as many players into multiplayer matches. The big cinematic moments cause the game to choke. People definitely care about framerate. (People are a lot more blase about field of view.) Lousy framerates and stutters cause your game to tank.
  3. Money (aka marketing). GoW wasn’t exactly a critical or commercial failure. People loved the in-your-face action, and the screenshots look like an action blockbuster because you can see all the pimples on Marcus Fenix’s well-rendered butt. It’s annoying to those of us who are accustomed to seeing the game world, but GoW’s other innovations and high-quality graphics were enough to win over the others. Here are some reviews, emphases mine: “Huge, muscular combatants move like giant men wearing heavy gear, fine details are everywhere, and splattering blood never looked so beautiful… It just looks incredible.” – GamesRadar+. “…better than Halo… It’s a fantastic-looking, riveting, fire-first-ask-questions-never third-person shooter that manages to show you things that you’ve never seen before on a console.”- Entertainment Weekly. And, well, this one: “The camera is so good in Gears of War that I never once thought about it while playing. I can’t recall a single instance where it did not frame the action right, or hide anything I should have seen. – Electric Playground
  4. Gameplay. Grudgingly, I admit that GoW was a damned fine game, and that the tight field of view showed off those stellar graphics and made some of the action more fun, like close environments and melee attacks. A game like Infamous 2 requires a wider field of view because of the acrobatic nature of the gameplay.

That’s my take. I like to see the world in these kinds of games, and in the era of hi-def, we can have our cake and eat it in many situations. At the same time, we still see a lot of close-in cameras and narrow FOVs as new games try to out-scream the competition by putting you “in the action.” Hopefully that’s a trend that will die as we move forward.

Oh, and here’s the link to the original Quora conversation: http://www.quora.com/In-1st-person-video-games-why-dont-they-introduce-peripheral-vision

Man Walks Miles in the Snow to Honor Qbert

See this fellow? He walks miles in deep snow, for hours, for a noble cause. To honor the arcade game Qbert.

Here’s what that snow art looks like:

I can hear Qbert jumping from cube to cube right now! Spoing spoing!

Okay, maybe it isn’t actually Qbert-themed. Simon Beck is our snow artist and apparently his work changes appearance when viewed from different angles. Find out more here.

Hulu Plus Review-ette

Hulu Plus Sounds Useful

You know, it’s not hard to like Hulu Plus. One of the big wins for me is that Hulu Plus has a huge catalog of Criterion collection movies. These are classic arthouse movies and canonical cinema landmarks from a wide range of eras. And they have some essential TV shows that Netflix doesn’t have. But fyi…

Hulu Plus Is Currently a Dreadful Beating on the PS3

It’s no fun when you curl up with your significant other or your father’s cat and you get this message. Incessantly.

hulu-plus-review

Or you don’t even get the message – just a gray loading screen while you wait for the service to respond.

And of course… the advertising is dreadful. Once you’ve seen the same ad ten or 15 times, rage starts to bubble up from your gut. This is not a feeling you want when you’re trying to relax. So my tip for today is “it ain’t ready yet.” There are rumors that Hulu Plus may someday go ad-free, albeit possibly for a higher price than Netflix. Hrm. Interesting strategy, Hulu: deliver less but charge more. Good luck with that.

Free Game Rentals at Redbox, and More

free game rentalsJust a Few Days Left of Free Game Rentals

Zowie! The free game rentals deal at Redbox is no joke — all week, they’ve been letting you rent games for free if you just reserve the game online before picking it up.

At first I thought it was just a neat one-time promo. But I looked more closely at the fine print and… there isn’t any. In other words, this isn’t a “one free game rental per person” deal. This is a “free game rental Wednesday, and free game rental Thursday too” deal. There’s no silly pretending you’re two people, or using different email accounts and credit cards. Redbox wants you to have a lot of free game rentals. And that is not a bad thing. It’s just too bad I didn’t figure this out earlier so I could share it with you folks.

Unfortunately, this is only good through tomorrow (3/1) UPDATE! Redbox has extended the free game rental deal through 3/8/12! Act now, and you could get a rental tonight and another one tomorrow. You’ll need to sign up for a free Redbox account.

How Game Rentals Work at Redbox

Redbox movie and game rentals are simple: rent today, return it by 9pm tomorrow. “Today” begins at 12:01 am today, though, so if you’re crazier than I am, you could drag yourself down to the nearest kiosk at midnight on a Saturday morning and get a good 45 hours in before returning it at 9p on Sunday. The selection ain’t the most expansive, of course, but they’ve got most of the titles that everyone’s buzzing about right now.

And Check Out NBC’s New Show “Awake”

Turns out an ex-Austin resident is the brains behind this new show, which tells the story of a police detective who survives a terrible car crash that kills either his wife or his son… but he’s not sure which. In one of his realities, his wife lived, and in the other it was his son, and he can’t tell when he’s waking or dreaming.

I just watched the first episode online (embedded above; you can fullscreen it) and it’s the best thing I’ve seen from TV this year. The acting is top-notch, the puzzle-solving police work brilliant, and best of all, this thing has tremendous heart. You really feel for this guy who’s torn between two half-lives and is trying to reassemble himself in the middle. Just don’t blink, because the dialog is fast and polished and the whole thing feels cinematic. Highly recommended.

Senior MMO Programmer Needed

Triple-A MMO Team Seeks Senior MMO Programmer

If you’re an MMO programmer of the senior-ish variety, listen closely: our contacts have tipped us to a hot opportunity with a top company that logged more than 15 million registered players in three years. They’re working on a new, family-friendly AAA MMO title and obviously they know what they’re doing.

Here are the details on this MMO programmer role:

Job Location: Austin, TX

Responsibilities

  • Ability to work with a diverse and experienced team of developers in a creative and fast paced environment
  • Collaborate with other MMO programmers, designers and artists
  • Create, test, debug and maintain game code and scripts
  • Mentor and lead other members of the programming team

Requirements

  • Verifiable proficiency with C++, Object Oriented Design and Design Patterns
  • Architectural experience (client/server preferred)
  • 5+ years of relevant experience
  • Good communication skills
  • Ability to contribute to and work within schedules that are assigned
  • B.S. degree in Computer Science

Preferences

  • Real-time and Multi-threaded environments
  • Prior distributed system development experience
  • Network programming experience (TCP, UDP, optimization, security, NATs, etc.)
  • Prior shipped game titles and/or MMO programming experience
  • Database development experience
  • Knowledge of Linux, Windows, SQL and XML

If you’re an MMO programmer and this sounds like your kind of role, please contact us and we’ll expedite your information to our decision-maker contacts.

 

Game Writer Central Interview: Pinballz Arcade

Surviving in the Stand-Up Arcade Business

by Game Writer Central‘s Michelle B.

game-writer-interview-pinballz

I’m over forty and female which I think is a bit unusual in the gaming industry itself. [I think you’d be surprised :) – Game Writer Guy] I do think female gamers are one of the fastest growing demographics for games and what appeals to me will probably be different than what appeals to others. I also am having to learn new terminology – first person shooters, platformers, scrolling, etc. I find it a new and exciting world so please excuse my enthusiasm.

As I pondered which game I should review first, I found myself asking: why am I qualified to review computer games? The answer: I’m no more qualified than anyone else but I have been playing since video games came out in the early 1980s. I can remember being thrown out of my local grocery store for playing Galaga for over two hours. I have several high scores and MLB (my initials) has appeared on Galaga, Qbert, Pac Man, Space Invaders, Phoenix, and Tempest all over the Southwest? East Coast? needs something a bit concrete to give flavah. I have, sadly, been playing video games longer than most young people in the computer gaming industry have been alive.

There’s a new reviewer in town… and she knows how to play Donkey Kong with the best of them.

Given my background, I decided to sit down and talk to the Pinball Wizard, Darren Spohn, the owner of Pinballz Arcade at 8940 Research Boulevard just south of Burnet and 183. — Michelle B. (aka MLB)

MLB: When did Pinballz open?

Spohn: We opened November 2010. We’re coming up on our one year anniversary.

MLB: How did you pick this location?

Spohn: We wanted a good drive by for cars. We have 186,000 cars a day come by the road out front and we wanted a place that was in central Austin so we could reach both northern families as well as the downtown area too.

pinballz-arcade-logoMLB: What were you doing before you started Pinballz?

Spohn: We have three technology companies we’ve had for about 14 years now. They’re data communication companies and this was more of a family business on the side that we started.

MLB: What made you decide on this business?

Spohn: It was kind of a collection gone awry. We just started collecting them and I have sons that are 13 and 15 and wanted to get them into working hard and learning business ethics. Our goal was to put a few pieces of equipment on route <what’s this mean?> and once we started looking at doing that, we decided we wanted to open a small arcade. And then my wife wanted to do a cafe which she’s doing downstairs. We decided to get something a little larger. Our goal of 5,000 square feet turned into 13,000 square feet.

We started out looking for 5 or 6,000 square feet and then we figured we needed enough games to hit all different audiences. When you’re looking at covering that broad a spectrum of people, you need to have a lot of different games. Our company was finishing up a seven-year lease in the Arboretum so we put all the companies together and rented out almost the entire building.

I saw a business need if you run it like a business. The problem is people run it like a hobby. It’s a weird hobby. It’s somewhat of a niche hobby. There’s a variety of reasons why they don’t succeed but a lot of people start off too small with a hobby in mind and don’t approach it from the standpoint of how to actually make money doing it.

We had to get into various things to make money. We sell games, we put them on route, we rent them out to locations, we do church events and other things like that so we do a lot of things to generate revenue. It’s not just coin operations downstairs.

Let’s say you have a doctor’s office and you want to put a game in your doctor’s office, We share revenue with you and you can entertain people and make some money too. All those things help make it a bit more profitable.

pacman-cabinetMLB: What was the hardest game to find and get?

Spohn: We’re trying to get the top fifty games of all time. There’s a couple games that are still out there that are like $12,000 each. They’re a bit expensive so not that they’re hard to find; they’re hard to find at the right price. I guess the answer is finding all the top games at the right price. I could go buy them and collect them but I would go bankrupt trying to buy all the games I want. I’ve got to be smart in how I buy them.

MLB: Were any of the games difficult to maintain or hard to repair?

Spohn: The pinball machines are high maintenance. That’s probably the reason why a lot of arcades went out of business. Flippers go bad, play field issues. I mean you got a bunch of metal balls running around on a play field of wood and plastic so bad things are going to happen. You have to clean them constantly, you have to fix parts. You really don’t make a ton of money off the pinball machines. They’re more there for the uniqueness of the place.

We have party events – arcade rentals. People play redemption games – they like to turn in tickets for prizes. Selling games. There’s other things we do that make money that help us fund the arcade aspects of it.

MLB: How large a staff do you have for repairs and how much time do you spend on repairs?

Spohn: We’re constantly repairing machines. We have four technicians dedicated to repairs. It’s one of our largest expenses.

MLB: Do you have plans to open nationwide?

Spohn: We’re talking about multiple locations. Plans are in process. We have a lot of people in different cities saying let me know when you’re coming here, I’d love to help. We have a bit of a cult following in just one year. I don’t know if cult is the right word. We have a good following. We have a lot of members and a lot of regulars that come in. People come in here and say “oh my God” and then we see them every week.

We’re also cost effective. That’s the balance point – keeping it cost effective. Main Event and Dave & Busters are really expensive. People go there and take their kids and spend $100 bucks and feel like they broke the bank playing. Here you can come and spend $20, play with your friends, family, or whatever and not feel that you didn’t break the bank and still have fun.

MLB: What is your favorite game?

Spohn: I have a couple. Swords of Fury is one of my favorites. It’s a very hard game to play. I like the faster games like Tron and Star Trek because of the theme. Scared Stiff is probably my favorite – that’s my wife and I’s favorite. It’s an Elvira machine. It’s Elvira Mistress of the Dark and it’s got all these different deep modes to it and it’s really hard to beat.

MLB: What was a unique and challenging find game-wise?

Spohn: I got a Banzai Run prototype model which was hard to find. It’s the one that has two play fields. It’s got a horizontal and vertical play field to it. It’s only one of ten made. There’s only ten in the world and six of them were shipped overseas. So there are only four in the US and I negotiated and finally pried it out of the hands of one of the collectors.

MLB: I’ve heard that some games can be dangerous due to wiring and problems. Have you noticed anything like that since you opened Pinballz?

Spohn: We check them out before we put them on the floor. I wouldn’t say they’re dangerous but they’re dangerous to work on and they’re just poor designs. For example, one of them will have the transformer which is where the high voltage is at right behind the backglass area. If people decide to open that backglass to look inside of it, the transformer is right there. In any of these machines, you don’t want to open them up and stick your hands in them because they’re all high voltage. The older machines don’t disable the high voltage when you open them so you have to be really careful. We also do in home video and pinball repairs. That’s another business.

MLB: What has been the most difficult thing about running Pinballz?

Spohn: Working with the city on what we can and can’t do. For example, we want to serve beer but we have to work on the bathrooms and everything. We’ve been dealing with the city for almost a year to just build our basic infrastructure. That’s been the biggest challenge is working with the city of Austin. All the rules this city has on what you have to do to be able to serve alcohol. If you change the structure of a building, you have all these environmental rules and city rules. All the unions have basically gotten together and driven up the requirements for bathrooms, environmentals, to the point where you almost can’t do business.

We didn’t know it until we got in because we wanted to add some bathrooms and do some other stuff but to do all this stuff… it takes $100,000. It’s just brutally expensive and it’s time consuming. I think one of the reasons you see so many vacant stores in this town is the city rules are far too strict for how to do business. It’s too hard to start a business in this town. It’s so much easier to do business in Houston than in Austin just because of all the regulations.

MLB: What is the easiest thing?

Spohn: The easiest thing is if you have a passion for it. It’s coming to work everyday. It’s working in this business because the people are so cool. You run a retail business in this town and you get a broad swath of people through here and it’s easy to come in and work. It’s kind of like a Cheers bar – it feels like that sometimes.

MLB: What is the funniest thing?

Spohn: The funniest thing is buying new machines. I’ve touched now at least 200 different types of pinball machines and a total of 400 different types of games. It’s buying and playing the machines. It’s enjoying the fruits of your labors.

MLB: Any closing comments or things you’d like people to know?

Spohn: Pinballz is targeted for all ages. It’s a cool Austin place to play. We’ve created what we call a classic gaming experience or classic arcade experience because it’s tokens and quarters. It’s not the swipe cards. It’s real tickets. It’s not zip cards where you have to figure out how many credits you have. You see faces shine. The kids come up with bundles and even adults at night have their bundles of tickets buying their handcuffs or coozies or toys. It’s neat to build a place like that in this industry. It’s something Austin really needs more of. You have to appeal to a broad enough audience but still have things you do for each of the different audiences.

Austin Humane Society is our chosen charity. On [November] 20th, we’re doing a big fundraiser for them. We’re going to invite all the press here on the 20th and have a big tournament with the new Transformer pins. We’re going to have a new Transformer pinball machine and transform lives through adoption of pets. We’re going to re-release the company with all the media there.

[Pinballz also has a Boombox Arcade event on December 2nd from 9p to 2a. This cool event combines music from four Austin DJs, BYOB drinks for those with ID, and of course the full Pinballz arcade experience.]