Terry couldn't sleep, not until they could play.
He and his older brother Jim had just driven to Pennsylania and back. They had sped through four states, loaded the object of their obsession in a trailer, turned around and white-knuckled it all the way back to Jim's house in west Omaha. Forty hours. No hotels.
Jim collapsed into bed. Terry went to the garage. He tinkered with the power supply. He replaced some bad fuses. He rewired.
By the time Jim awoke, it was ready.
On that Sunday night in 2006, they picked their favored robot football teams. They yanked the joystick to run robot sweeps and tapped buttons to toss robot touchdown passes.
Sometimes they fumbled because the ball exploded — in this game, for reasons not quite clear, you play with a bomb instead of a pigskin.
Hover over the photos to learn more about the games mentioned in the story.
The Omaha brothers who would come to be known as the Arcade Guys had fixed and christened their first classic arcade game.
Atari's vector-based shoot 'em up was difficult -- on the verge of impossible -- to beat. Following poor sales figures, Atari converted many units to the game "Black Widow."
Bally Midway's game taught players the many pressures of being a bartender. Serving everyone. Making sure the glasses don't break. Collecting as many tips as you can. Initially sponsored by Budweiser, "Tapper" soon dropped the brand, for obvious reasons, in favor of Root Beer.
In the year 2022, there's no sport more popular than robot football. Raising the stakes is the exploding ball, which goes from cool to hot to boom unless you make it to the end zone in a timely manner. You just had to hope your bots had time for the 1-point conversion. The four-player Atari game featured two screens, and Jim's better at it than Terry.
Bally Midway's enduring classic let you be the monster. Playing as either a giant gorilla named George, the Godzilla-like Lizzie or Ralph the arctic wolf, your job is to destroy various North American cities, your health depleted by hits from other players, National Guardsmen's bullets and accidentally eating dynamite.
They played their first game of “Cyberball” since childhood. Then their second. Then their third.
“Jim won, of course,” says Terry.
“Well, I'm a little bit better at that game,” says Jim, a little apologetically.
If Jim and Terry Kincaid were arcade brothers, like the Marios, you should imagine them hopping over dangerous turtles and stomping on furious mushrooms in hot pursuit of old arcade games.
They want broken versions of the kind of games they used to pump quarters into at DeeGees in Elkhorn and Aladdin's Castle inside the Westroads Mall. “Donkey Kong.” “Asteroids.” “Galaga.” “Pac-Man.” “Joust.”
You may remember those if you set foot in a Pizza Hut or a mall during the short but golden era of arcades — Jim and Terry place that era between 1979 and 1985, give or take. You may remember being dropped off at an arcade, five dollars worth of quarters weighing down your jeans pockets, and feeling a bit like a boy king with all the gold in the world.
If you remember that, you also probably recall spending all that money in 38 minutes and swearing off “Q*bert” forever.
Jim and Terry are boy kings who never swore it off.
Now they scour the Internet in search of broken games and use their degrees in electrical engineering to replace monitors and circuit boards.
Now they own 125 arcade games that fill both brothers' basements, pack their garages and sit in two storage units. They have repaired and resold hundreds more, a weekend hobby that earns them money for their kids' Christmas presents and money to buy more games.
Now Jim, a 41-year-old software expert at a local university, and Terry, a 39-year-old salesman for Nebraska Technical Services, don't need their mom to drop them off at the mall.
Now they don't even need any quarters. All their games are set to “free play” mode.
“Go ahead!” Terry urges me.
We are standing in Jim's basement, which houses five pinball games and four arcade games he rebuilt.
There is “Asteroids” — Jim and Terry have fixed up maybe a dozen different consoles of this classic game in the past seven years. They have sold most of them. They kept this one.
There is “Dragon's Lair,” an incredibly advanced 1983 game from famed Disney animator Don Bluth. Jim restored this “Dragon's Lair” from virtually nothing, rebuilding the water-damaged outer shell (or cabinet), replacing the laser disc technology, even redoing the artwork around the joysticks. He could resell it for $1,000 or more, but he hasn't.
But we are huddled around a game called “Gravitar,” which looks like a souped-up version of “Asteroids.” I've never seen it, much less played it, before.
“Go ahead,” Terry says again.
I press start. My little fighter plane collides with a rock-looking thing. It crashes into a spaceship-looking thing. It smacks into another rock-looking thing. Game over, in under a minute.
Then Terry and Jim tell me that “Gravitar” is known as one of the hardest classic arcade games. So hard, in fact, that Atari converted it into an easier game called “Black Widow.” This news makes me feel marginally better.
Jim and Terry have built their knowledge of arcade game history right along with their collection. They owned one game, and then three, and then they bought entire storage units filled with broken games.
They have fixed rare games, like a Japanese version of a game called “Crazy Climber.”
They have fixed shockingly inappropriate games, like a game for children called “Budweiser Tapper,” where the objective is to serve as many beers to customers as possible, and then chug a brew when you win a round. You will be shocked to learn the game eventually got changed to “Rootbeer Tapper.”
They have fixed a three-person game called “Rampage,” which is now the favorite game of Terry's three daughters.
They have fixed up games worth nothing and fixed up games they never intended to play, simply because it makes them sad when an arcade game gets thrown into a landfill.
Sometimes a fix takes five minutes. On average, they can take a busted game and get it working again in about four hours.
Heroic knight. Evil dragon. Princess trapped in a castle. You know the drill.
What made Cinematronics' game notable was its unusual gameplay. Instead of controlling the hero, you made his decisions, each action taking you to a different scene on a laserdisc movie made by Disney animator Don Bluth ("The Secret of NIMH," "All Dogs Go to Heaven").
In this Japanese game from Nihon Bussan Co. Ltd, you're just a guy minding his own business, fulfilling his dream of scaling a few skyscrapers, only to have your path obstructed by vindictive residents, falling steel girders and a King Kong-like adversary. A popular precursor to "Donkey Kong," which Nintendo released the following year.
Atari's game-changer remains one of the most popular arcade titles of all time, spawning countless imitators.
It took Jim a year, on and off, to fix a particularly ornery “Ms. Pac-Man.”
Along the way, other Omahans heard about the Arcade Guys — Jim and Terry had an email address proclaiming them as such — and started to call and email with questions. Why doesn't my “Tron” monitor work? Can you come out and fix “Asteroids” for me? Hey, do you have an old “Galaga?” I used to play it when I was a kid, and I'd like to buy one for my basement.
Now the Arcade Guys make house calls when they feel like it, usually to help pay for more games.
The Arcade Guys say there are two constants as they continue to buy broken games and turn them brand new.
The first is that arcade games will always break, especially the classic ones. Most were built to grab a quick buck from the grubby hands of a 1980s teen, not to last for decades, Terry says.
The second is that Jim and Terry can fix pretty much any broken game you can put in front of them. They will make a game work again, turn a piece of childhood back on.
And then they will play, and if the game they have just fixed is “Cyberball” ...
“We haven't played that game in eight months,” Terry says when I ask him.
“Who won the last time you did?” I ask.
“Jim,” Terry says, and he sounds just a little bit forlorn.
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