Thursday, December 06, 2012

Ground Kontrol Arcade, a Great Place for Video Games and a Bad Place for Comedy

Occasionally I get to travel for my job. I like that it's occasional, but on the other hand I would hate to never get a chance to travel. I've had jobs where I went nowhere both figuratively and literally. In this case, we're upgrading to SQL Server 2012 (from 2005), so some training was in order. Fortunately one of the cities where training was taking place was Portland, OR, a place I've wanted to visit ever since I learned that the Dream Of The 90s Is Alive In Portland via Portlandia, a show I have a strange relationship with. What I mean by that is though it is a comedy and funny and it's supposed to be making fun of Portland and its residents and what absurd liberal hippies they are, in my case it makes Portland look like a really great place to live, possibly like Bloomington, but bigger. Everything that's supposed to be one of Portland's foibles is actually endearing to me. Even the dumpster divers are kind of charming. So I had to check it out now that I had the chance.

I knew I had to see Powell's, the multi-level bookstore the size of a city block (plus a science and technology building across the street), and I did. I went there twice, even, and may post about it more later. A friend of mine, Bloominglabs' Jenett T., told me about a place called Ground Kontrol Arcade. It turns out Ground Kontrol is an 80s style arcade, full of 80s games, mostly classic 79-84 era games. There are mostly pinball games upstairs, but I'm not too into that.

For the most part I think the 80s really sucked: Cold War paranoia, that doddering old fool Reagan, really bad drum sounds and dated production, and I had really out-of-control acne. I did love the video games, though, so when I found out about this place, I had to go. I had some fool idea that I'd hang out for just 2 hours or so and have dinner after, like 2 hours would be enough at what would probably be my one and only chance to re-live the glory of Flynn's Arcade in the movie Tron.

I got there about 7, which was cool because that's when they switched to being 21 and over, and yes they serve beer and a couple goofily named arcade themed cocktails (e.g., Vodka Tronic). I had a local beer (Black Butte Porter) and made change. Having a pocket full of quarters when you are over 40 ordinarily would be a damned weighing down your pants in a lopsided way nuisance, but this night it felt great. I started out with Dig Dug and made the rounds, spending more time with Frogger, Tempest, and Asteroids than with the other games, and spending considerable time playing 1986's Rampage, the game where you play a monster destroying cities in the Chicagoland area. In 1986, I was starting college and video games had gone off the radar. I missed Rampage altogether, so it was new to me and I liked it a lot.

A couple observations:

  • Burger Time, while whimsical, is so slow it's painful.
  • For a game from 1979, Asteroids holds up. One thing I'd forgotten was how satisfying the rumble is when you turn on the thrust. In general, like other good games from the era, it makes the most of the technology available.
  • I miss vector graphics (Tempest, Asteroids, Star Wars). The really sharp bright lines are missing in emulators like MAME. Sometimes emulation just doesn't cut it.
  • These games were hazardous after all. I hurt my shoulder with some overzealous joystick work.

I should also mention the sink in the bathroom is outlined with a glowing line, like it's Tron's restroom.

My plan to stay for 2 hours went out the window pretty quickly. Screw it, I could (and did) pick up something at Burger King on the way home. Hours passed, then I heard an announcement from a woman who turned out to be an emcee for an open mic comedy thing they were doing. They don't have a stage, so she was standing in the middle of a few tables near the bar where people drink local beers and eat nachos and other video game arcade bar food. It seemed a very awkward setting for a stand-up performance.

I wasn't exactly there for comedy, and by the crowd's reaction neither was anybody else. Of course, it didn't help that the comic was doing jokes about elderly relatives dying (Too soon! Even if grandma is 90.). She was followed by a guy who did some 'I'm reading a journal entry' conceptual thing who went over about as well, who in turn was followed by a loud 'wacky' guy with a hipster mustache who at least tailored his material to the venue, starting off with a rant about 'Burger Time' which I was receptive to. Apparently they also hold 'Rock Band Karaoke' nights, which I imagine are a bit more fitting and go over well.

Eventually I did go home and eat cheap fast food. Just like the old days and all that. It was a very fun place, highly recommended to anybody wanting to indulge in a couple of hours of nostalgic quarter-wasting.

Oh yeah. The link. Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade.