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    Retro Column - Penny Arcades
    Thursday, 11 September 2008
    I had the pleasure of visiting Weston Super-Mare a few weeks back. The reason for the trip was to take pictures of the spectacularly burnt pier. Although all that went out the window once I had found a goldmine of classic mechanical arcade machines. Also known as a Penny Arcade.

    The arcade in question doesn't just belong to any old pikey convention, but Carters Steam Fair. A professional group who tour the south of England with their immaculate classic vehicles, rides and attractions. They tour for 7 months of the year and then spend the remaining 5 obsessively restoring the rides and vehicles back to mint condition ready for the next years tour. To quote their website: "Some of the family have even been known to wander into the shed on Christmas Day just to finish some work off!!!"

    Of course the main attraction for any retro gamer was the arcade. From the moment you set foot in the trailer-come-arcade the atmosphere was distinctly retro. Apart form the obvious classic machines there was retro sign writing on the walls and a quiet rock and roll soundtrack playing in the background. Other than the rocking sounds of classics such as "Tequila" and "Yakety Yak", the arcade was almost silent. No noisy arcade cabinets desperately trying to lure you in, just silence.

    The machines still required an old skool penny and luckily there was a lovely lady in a booth who would exchange 4 penny shaped tokens for a pound. Now anyone expecting an epic storyline or complicated levels will be sadly disappointed since both of those things are beyond the capabilities of a humble ball bearing and various metal shapes. What the games do feature is more difficulty than Mega Man and Contra combined.

    The games came with various goals. The first type required the player to use a flipper to hurl a ball round a loop and add just enough oomph to get it to drop into a hole. This requires a high level of judgement since the holes are quite small and the flipper is quite powerful for something that's older than most peoples dads. And at 4 goes for a pound, you won't get many attempts without spending a fortune. The second type of game requires the player to guide a ball bearing through a course by tilting the display. The player normally starts at the top and has to guide the bearing to a hole at the bottom whilst avoiding either falling off the track or falling into the wrong hole. The third type of game was more mechanically advanced than the rest. These normally involved shooting objects with a pellet gun or operating a crane of some sort. These games varied in their goals but were always pretty straight forward.

    The games were all very difficult and have no "extra lives" or second chances. One coin, one try. I honestly don't know what happens when you manage to get the ball bearings in the right hole as I never actually managed it! If anyone has ever won a Penny Arcade game let me know what happens. Do you get your coin back or just the smug satisfaction that you have completed a "real game like what your granddad played"?

    More information on Carters Steam Fair can be found at their
    website. To share your experiences of Penny Arcades visit the forums.

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    posted by goaferboy @ 11:00  
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