When we originally told our friends we were going to open a retro arcade way back in 2016, we got a lot of dismissals. Of course, they had every right to believe the business model wouldn’t work - arcades had been retired since the late 1990’s, and practically extinct by the early 2000’s. Between oppressive taxes and laws aimed at coin-op arcades, home consoles storming households, and the downfall of the American economy, arcades couldn’t keep up.
My husband and I looked at the days of ‘ol and thought, “What can we do to make arcades inviting again?” We traveled around the Midwest, meeting with other crazy folks who were clinging to their belief that arcades had something to offer. Galloping Ghost in Chicago, Game Galaxy in Nashville, Arcade Legacy in Cincinnati, and many, many more gave us great ideas of what to do and what not to do. We also asked ourselves, “What are popular gatherings for like-minded people and what can we glean from those?” We attended convention after convention and jotted ideas down.
Ultimately, we wrote up a business plan that involved an unlimited play arcade based on admission. All arcade machines would be on free play - no tokens. All consoles, retro and new, would be available for guests to play, even offering the true experience of the old CRT. We would offer those consoles and games for sale as a “try before you buy” experience, similar to the golden memories of standing in the electronics aisle of K-Mart playing through the newest video game before your Mom dragged you out. We believed a mall location would be the perfect location - the nostalgia of the “mall arcade” and the free foot traffic were both very appealing. The final cherry on top would be selling merchandise that tugged at the heart strings of adult millenials and Gen Xers. Plush toys from their favorite Saturday morning cartoons, coasters of their favorite video game characters, badges, shirts, etc.
We were a small convention open every day, located in a mall! A paid admission granted you access to SO MUCH and you could take home some memorabilia on your way out the door. We were the entertainment and vendors, all in one place. I remember spending so many late nights talking over the details with my husband - What would our business name be? Which mall should we look at? What games do we want to supply? There are many, many post-it notes scattered in old folders and binders with rough ideas. Of course, all of this seemed a far off goal - I had just graduated college and Dustin was working as a welder. We were putting money away every paycheck to save up for our ultimate goal, but we didn’t see it happening anytime soon. Especially just coming through the 2008 recession.
It seemed like things were going well as we worked and fantasized about our to-be arcade. Then the punches started coming. My mother died unexpectedly. I became very sick and lost about 6 months that I will never get back (as well as an organ). Then Dustin got laid off. Then I got laid off in the same week. We both scrambled to find a job in a piss-poor economy. I found a job - making $10 less on the hour. Dustin couldn’t find another job that would pay him even reasonably well.
“Let’s just open the arcade.” I remember telling Dustin as we sat silently in our living room wondering what the future held. I remember him looking at me like I was a clown. “We have nothing to lose. We’ve lost our jobs - let’s just take all our savings, open, and if it all falls apart, we’ll take our ball and go home.”
We went back and forth about the decision but ultimately we agreed - we had nothing to lose. We had just suffered through a few years of unimaginable loss and for once, we wanted something to look forward to. We began buying up any and all arcade machines we could find. Machines in garages, basements, warehouses, barns, and hell, even a horse pasture. Most were empty or broken. A lot of them had water damage or rats nests. We had 0 experience working on electronics but we did our best. I worked my day job to keep bills at bay while Dustin stayed home and researched books and videos.
I was always so proud of him when I came home and he would be eager to show me what he had fixed while I was away. It made the long days worth it. My days were spent working a 9-5 office job and spending the evenings helping him load machines in the truck, or dragging them up and down stairs, or helping him repair cabinets, etc. On my lunch breaks at work, I researched what it takes to legally open a business. What paperwork do I need to file? What laws do I have to adhere to? What fees am I going to need to pay? I quietly opened social media accounts and emails, made contacts, and filed forms. Meanwhile, Dustin was watching Randy Fromm videos, reading books, watching Youtube videos, collecting tools, making deals on machines, and picking the brains of folks that were in the industry.
We finally got to a point where we started looking for locations. We had been casually window shopping empty buildings and “for lease” strip mall spaces, but we never fell in love with any of those spots. During one of our window shopping days, we took a walk at the mall near our house, Washington Square Mall. A mall long forgotten by Simon and now in the hands of a small property management company. At the time, it was anchored by Target and Buffalo Wild Wings. The stores were a blend of mom & pop shops and large corporate chains. A pet adoption store greeted you in the main entrance. Victoria’s Secret was right around the corner. A small Black-owned clothing business neighbored it while Bath & Body Works sat across the hall. There was a jewerly store owned by a Muslim fellow down the hall and Dick’s Sporting Goods looming. It really was a melting pot of people and stores. The architecture of the mall had not been updated, but at the time, it was well kept. The mall never seemed “busy” but there were always people in the halls. It seemed like a safe starting place.
After talking with the leasing agent for the property company, they made us what was a hell of a deal compared to other leases we had been pitched. We would be in an old Spencer’s space that was approximately 2k square feet. It wasn’t much, but once we signed the lease, it was ours. I remember the night we moved in. A handful of friends helped us load machines, unload machines, push machines through a silent, closed mall. The sound of the wheels clicking over the tile floor really echoed through the entire building. We seemed so small in such a huge space. We were small fish in a very large pond.
We never made a big announcement of our opening - we never warned anyone. A few of our friends knew it was coming, but we were so worried it would fail out of the gate, we didn’t want to risk getting hopes up. We had a “soft opening” after announcing to our close friends that we were doing this. A few of them didn’t understand why we were chasing this dream. “Arcades died a long time ago. Now you’re opening a dead business in a dead mall.”
But we had nothing to lose.
Our first day of opening to the public, November 6th, 2015, was very awkward. We didn’t know how to approach customers and we were worried they wouldn’t understand our vision, our concept. All of that awkwardness and nervousness washed away almost immediately. The first customer to come in quickly handed us admission cash (that we honestly never thought to frame) and ran to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He was so excited to play the game and sat there for an hour, playing the game from start to finish. He came over and shook our hands, saying he absolutely loved it and would tell his friends. Later, two very eccentric men wandered in and lost their minds. Double Dragon! Spy Hunter! Donkey Kong! TMNT! Their thrill and excitement is still burned into my memory. They ran through the small arcade taking video and commentary. “We’re going to share this with all our friends!” We had no idea what kind of snowball we had created.
A couple months into opening, I was laid off my “new” job. Two lay-offs in one year. I gave up. I decided to pour everything into the arcade. If I was going to fail professionally, I wanted it to be due to my failing, and not a company I have no control over. So now Dustin and I were both full-time arcade owners. It was absolutely terrifying. Some weeks, we did great and we had some money left over after bills were paid, however, some weeks, it was slow and we were having sleep for dinner.
There was never a day off. Even the days we were closed, we were at the arcade, day and night, fixing machines, processing video game products, merch, etc. I even made pixel magnets that ultimately fed us. Luckily, our hard work was noticed and customers seemed to double every day - even becoming friends and volunteers. It was an experience we weren’t use to - being helped. We had fought so hard to get where we were and to have people we had never met stick out their hand and say “Let me get that for you” - Man, what a humbling experience.
After about 6 months, the mall made us an offer to move. We were having issues with our space that were insurmountable by both parties, but the mall saw potential in us and didn’t want to lose the attraction. We moved from a space of about 2,000 square feet to a space of about 12,000 square feet. It was an old Gap/Baby Gap location that seemed to go on forever. There were rooms upon rooms, a back stock room that was the size of a warehouse, a hidden office, and so much potential. It was also a huge step up. Dustin always says that’s when we started punching above our weight class.
We decided to start incorporating tournaments and events into our “convention style” arcade. One side of the store was all arcade, console, and merchandise, and the other side was saved for events, Super Smash tournaments, LAN parties, Fighting Game tournaments, and many, many birthday parties. This was also about the time my father’s health took a steep turn. I had moved him into my home so I could try juggling taking care of him and running the arcade. He was always impressed by the crazy things Dustin and I did and although he couldn’t really do much to help, he would show up for moral support.
We hosted a huge Super Smash Bros tournament, Outfoxx’d, that had over 400 people in attendance. We packed the venue space with people and TVs. Dustin and I balanced on a table with a ladder to install projectors from the ceiling so people could watch stream stations live. We hosted an overnight LAN party - we didn’t sleep for two days, but we had so much fun. We took our show to conventions to spread the word about the arcade and events. We had arcade personalities visit for tournaments, like Brian Colin and Daniel Pesina. We ended up bringing a couch to our office as we many times stayed over night - it was easier when we had one event after another. We also still had to run the arcade and keep the machines working. We met hundreds of people through the arcade we now consider beloved friends. It seemed like the snowball wasn’t stopping.
The last birthday I celebrated in that venue was with my father (our birthdays were just days apart). He was diagnosed with lung cancer a couple days later and I lived at the hospital and ultimately hospice with him for two weeks while he died slowly and painfully. Dustin was alone to keep the arcade afloat during that time. We weren’t comfortable hiring anyone, so we were the owners and employees. The show had to go on, with or without me there.
The weekend after my father died, we hosted another huge tournament that was scheduled months in advance. I had to show up, put on a smile, and keep the arcade rolling. I look back at the pictures and I’m there, but I honestly don’t remember a single thing from that weekend. It was like I was on autopilot and unfortunately, that’s where I got stuck for a couple years. I suffocated my grief with work. It went from working hard because I wanted to see Dustin’s dream succeed to working hard so I wouldn’t feel anything. It was really straining on our marriage - Dustin had a shell of a wife and I felt nothing but sadness and anger.
The arcade kept growing, more machines were making it to the floor and collecting in the warehouse. More events were being booked for the calendars and I stopped sleeping. I stayed up all night going over spreadsheets, editing photos, or working on control panel overlays. Sometimes I just drove around on country roads listening to music. During the day I would run the arcade desk or TO an event. I started having seizures from lack of sleep. Dustin had to take me to the ER on multiple occasions due to grand mal seizures that would cause me to bite my tongue, drool, and lose complete grasp of reality. That’s really when I hit my rock bottom and unfortunately, I was dragging Dustin down with me.
At the same time, the arcade was still thriving. It was starting to become recognized from people states away and now even catching the eye of Simon. I remember the day the two leasing men stopped by the arcade. They quietly toured the arcade and I nervously watched them, wondering what they were thinking. When they circled back around to the desk, they said they wanted us at their malls. They had two locations and were willing to bid against each other to give us a deal that would work for us. We were stunned. We were the prettiest girl at the prom and these two men were fighting over us. Wild. They courted us at both malls, offering us different spaces at different price points and always trying to undercut each other. Eventually, we made a deal with Castleton Square Mall and our new lease was on the books. We only had a few months to get our shit together and get moved in.
At the time, we had money saved up, but not enough for what we wanted to do. We wanted this space to be THE space. We wanted to blow the socks off these guys who had given us the Golden Ticket. This was the largest mall in the state and we wanted to make a big impression. We were put in contact with the Small Business Association, the SBA, and jumped through flaming hoops to take out a small business loan that would get construction going. We were supposed to sign the paperwork the week of Christmas and have the last week of December to get construction started, however, Trump was pulling stunts that caused the government to shut down, including the SBA. Our paperwork was put on hold indefinitely and we were left out in the cold. Castleton was very gracious and let us kick the can down the road but it was insanely stressful. We had already closed our previous location and now had zero money coming in.
The SBA finally reached out on January 3rd, Dustin’s birthday, ready to sign all the documents and get the money straight to our contractors. Now we were on a time crunch to move over 100 arcade machines during one of the worst cold snaps Indiana had even seen. We could only move machines after the mall closed, so we were working in the dead of night, in several feet of snow, with negative temps. All the volunteer help we had acquired previously backed out, and I didn’t blame them. A couple very determined people stuck around and helped, but I would never wish that experience on anyone. Between machines slipping off an icey liftgate, pushing machines through snow that kept accumulating, and losing the feeling in our hands and faces, it was miserable. All we could do was pray that this would pay off.
We eventually got the new space “installed” and ready for open two weeks late of our originally planned date, but my God did that space look awesome. Graffiti on the walls, LEDS lights creeping up the brick, and arcade machines packed back to back - it was amazing. Opening day at Castleton brought back that awkward feeling, like being the new kid at school. Are people going to like us? Are people going to follow us here to the new mall? Will new people understand our concept? We re-opened in March to a huge line of people eagerly awaiting the opening of the arcade. I remember vividly hearing a guest in line “sing” the Space Odyssey theme while the gate slowly crept up. It was insanely humbling.
Knowledge of the arcade began to spread like wildfire and we were now open every day. No days off. No down time. I was still never sleeping, struggling with seizures, and at this point stopped eating. Dustin & I knew I had to get help if I was going to keep the arcade running smoothly. I ended up starting therapy, doing EMDR, taking anti-seizure meds, and eating on a schedule so I couldn’t forget to eat. In fact, I am still doing most of those things, 3 years later. It’s not an overnight fix, but it helps when you stick to it. A lot of the first year at Castleton is simply a blur to me, due to the autopilot and anti-seizure meds.
As soon as we felt we had a handle on things - our marriage was stronger than ever, our business was booming, and we finally hired a couple employees - COVID hit the United States. Almost a year to the day that we had opened in Castleton, we were the first business closed in the mall. We had just started proving to all the nay-sayers that an arcade doesn’t have to die in this climate only to get shut down. Like everyone else, we assumed the shutdown would be a couple weeks at most. But it slogged from a couple weeks, to a month, to a couple months, to the point where we had no idea when we would re-open.
Although Simon was very gracious to us, not every company was that way. We had to pay all our bills at the warehouse even though we were not allowed to go there. We had to pay all our utilities at the arcade even though we were not allowed to go there. And on top of that, we still had to pay our bills at home. We had money saved but burned through it within a couple months. We watched businesses shutter all around us. We felt surrounded by a looming cloud of bankruptcy. We were one of the thousands of businesses to scramble for grants and loans, all of which were given out randomly. There was no rhyme or reason to who got what. It was purely a lottery of luck. We had several inside sources that would tell us when grants or loans would start accepting applications and we would have ours submitted the minute it opened, but alas, it never seemed to matter. It was a mad scramble.
We sold everything we could to make sure the arcade could stay alive. We basically gave it CPR selling our personal collectables, consoles, games, or time. Dustin began offering service work to folks with arcades at home. I spent most of my time filling out loan application after application. Come June of 2020, we were starting to believe it was time to put the arcade to rest. The SBA was in constant contact with us and they were always so empathetic to our struggle, but their hands were tied by red tape and a useless government.
“Maybe it’s time to take our ball home, Dustin. Maybe we just sell off all the arcades and call it quits. It’s been a good run.” I remember feeling so desperate.
In the final hour, a friend loaned us money. “Don’t let it die.”
The SBA finally came through and got us a loan. “Best of luck.”
We got a second wind and we weren’t going to waste it. Simon was finally allowing us to enter the mall, even though we couldn’t open, so Dustin and I decided we would have to make a strong comeback. After all bills were paid, we spent the rest on renovating the arcade. You thought it was cool before? We’re going to make it even cooler.
Let’s make it darker and let’s make it louder. Let’s offend everyone.
We added neon lights. We added more arcade machines. We added the new Playstation 5. We expanded the merch we offered. We upgraded all the lighting in the store. We bought pinballs. We took a complete gamble and spent all the loan money making the location something people would want to come back to once we were allowed to re-open. We went back to working every day and every night to make sure everything was perfect.
We re-opened a dead business during one of the worst economic experiences the world had ever seen, but we were determined that people would want to forget their woes and would get lost in the reality that is the arcade. Boss Battle Games re-opened on July 4th of 2020 to a very lukewarm reaction. The government had us in a choke hold for restrictions. Customers and employees must wear masks. Businesses can only allow a handful of people at a time. Surfaces must be sanitized constantly. Hand sanitizer must be available every so many feet. At the same time, half of our customers were too scared to enter and the other half were boycotting us for mandates we had no control over.
Ultimately, for the rest of 2020, we did 20% of our normal business while bills stayed at 100%. We had to let our employees go, we just couldn’t afford it. We went back to working every day by ourselves. We ran the arcade during the day and stayed overnight to do repair work. I went back to not sleeping.
Then one of our friends took his life. It was absolutely devastating and shocking. He had been our friend for years. We watched him grow up from our very first arcade location, when he was just a young teen. He had grown into an adult and spent so much time at the arcade, it was only fair we gave him the job when we moved to Castleton. Unfortunately, he had demons no one could or will ever know about. The isolation COVID caused and the seemingly desolate future broke him. Losing him broke all of us. It was unexplainable and didn’t seem real.
At that point, the end of 2020, Dustin and I were ready to pack it up. It seemed like we had gone from having nothing to lose, to losing everything. I had lost both of my parents, our arcade was taking on more water than we could handle, we had lost such a great friend, and we had lost time we would never get back. We agreed that we would live out the last of our lease and if we didn’t see a heartbeat by then, we would officially declare the arcade dead. We would sell everything, pay off the loans, and start from scratch.
January of 2021, we saw a glimmer of hope. A small heartbeat. We had a normal month. In fact, we had a great month. We assumed it had to be a fluke. The next month was the same. And then March we had our best month ever. EVER. Our best month ever after being open 5 years. It was like a medical drama. We had given the arcade CPR for months and months with no signs of life, only for it to spring back, seemingly out of nowhere. A miracle.
Our lease was up and we had to make a decision. Do we gamble again? Do we sign another year? Do we risk it?
We have nothing to lose. We’ve lost it all already.
We signed on for another year. For Benson. We agreed we would keep the arcade going for him - he wouldn’t want us to give up.
We brought on a couple employees and began kicking ass and taking names. Every month, better than the last. Each customer that found us told their friends. Their friends told their friends. It was a snowball and it was gathering mass fast. You would think we’d be ecstatic. We did it - We survived. But survivor's guilt is a real thing. We watched so many arcade owners close their business. We watched other small business owners close up shop. And we wish every day that our friend would have just held on a little longer.
As I write this, in August of 2021, there is still political turmoil occuring and the Delta Variant is burning it’s way through the population, but Dustin and I are firmly millennials. We grew up during a great economy, only to watch it crumble when we watched 2000 people die on live TV. The economy never really got any better. In fact, most things didn’t get any better. So, we’re accustomed to disappointment and trauma at this point. We are hardly optimistic about the future, but we are working like hell to make sure Boss Battle Games survives.
And every single person that walks through the gate is a blessing to us. Every dollar made keeps the arcade going. This isn’t just our livelihood, this is a safe place for the outcast kids. This is a meeting place for long distance friends. This is a place where people have gotten engaged. This is the place where tournaments were won. This is a place where life-long relationships are made. This is the last place I spent a birthday with my father. This is the last place Benny visited before he died. This is a place where everyone can escape the cruel current reality and enjoy the safe, exciting childhood they had in the 80’s and 90’s. We created the place of welcoming we had intended years ago.
Thanks for sharing the past 6 years with us. There are a lot of details I missed, but I could write a book about the adventures we’ve been on. I know Dustin has his own side of the story too. I hope to see you at the arcade sometime soon and we can chat about anything. Games. The future. Movies. Whatever.
It has been a whirlwind of madness in the arcade life. Between wrapping up projects, considering new ones, fighting off illness, celebrating birthdays, trying to maintain cursed machines and a semblance of a social life - summer of 2019 was a myriad of insanity.
The event hall wrapped up at the start of summer and we were excited to begin hosting tournaments and events once again. The space is breathtaking for anyone who has an appreciation for Nintendo culture (or graffiti art in general!). The warehouse has undergone such a transformation from when it was signed into our possession. We're really thankful to have worked with very talented people who helped bring the space to life! We now regularly hold Super Smash Bros. tournaments every Sunday, folks are celebrating birthdays weekly, and other sporadic events have graced the new hall. I'm really looking forward to what's on the horizon!
We've also been busy adding/swapping machines on the arcade floor! Over the summer we acquired a new warehouse location where we are now storing our overflow machines and where we can really tear machines apart when the need arises. This was very beneficial after losing all the built-in warehouse space we had at WSM. This summer, we saw some new arcades hit the floor such as the new Initial D 8 and Jubeat, both imports. We also brought Joust and Ghost Squad to the arcade to spice things up. Indianapolis Pinball kept everyone on their toes with a great summer selection as well! Not only did we have Circus Voltaire but we were graced with the brand new Munsters pin!
As winter approaches, we have plans in the works to do some machine swapping. Jurassic Park needs some TLC and will be coming off the floor VERY soon to be replaced by a game of similar size. Power Stone needs a monitor swap and because of the nature of the monitor bracket, it's going to be complicated, so it will have to leave for awhile, to be replaced by another fighting game. We also hear Indianapolis Pinball has some swaps coming very soon as well.
Some of the most personally exciting things for me have been Pokemon related! Early summer, we were able to host a Detective Pikachu event where we teamed up with The Owens Group to pass out tickets for the new movie, held trivia games, played Pokemon Stadium mini games, and handed out Pokemon goodies. Everyone had a blast and we made a lot of great friends! It really reminded me of the early 2000's when Burger King would host events when they were giving out Pokemon toys and those sweet gold Pokemon cards. Blissful memories indeed!
At the end of the summer, we were happy to announce we were accepted as a PokeStop! Castleton Square Mall has several stops and a gym, so we were very pleased to join the ranks. If you find yourself at the arcade on the weekend, ask if the Empress is in and I will be happy to trade or battle with you! I'm also quick to throw lures on the stop to help fellow trainers.
A LOT of people have been asking us when and where we are going to open a second location. That's a great question. The mysterious second location is confirmed in the works. We are saving up machines, money, and sleep to prepare for the day, but at this time, we're still scoping locations. There's a lot we are keeping our eye on - the economy, the health of retail (we depend on malls to thrive), and the eruption of other entertainment options. We've had offers from malls in other states and a couple from in-state. It's all very humbling and a little overwhelming as we reach our 4 year anniversary. One thing I can assure you is that this hypothetical location won't be announced for awhile. We want to make sure our Castleton location is settled and we're happy with the game selection before making any moves. Keep touching base with us and we'll be sure to make an announcement once the time comes. We don't want to disappoint anyone!
The holidays are quickly barreling down on us - sure it's November but that's prime holiday season in the retail/mall world - and we have been busy stocking up on consoles and games. We want to be sure we are prepared for this buying season. What would be better than getting your significant other that boxed retro console they never got as a kid? As I mentioned previously, we're also trying to get all the machines maintained and swapped before the bad weather hits, so expect some changes coming soon! We hope to see you around soon!
We keep getting asked the same questions...
"When is Salty Sunday coming back?"
"When can I host a party here?"
"WHEN IS FIGHT CLUB RISING FROM THE GRAVE?"
It's all coming in due time. We're just on our last HP and still running. The opening of the arcade didn't go exactly as planned and it put us way behind schedule, so we lost a lot of sleep playing catch up.
We DO have an event room that we are renovating... However, all the arcade machines that did not make the final cut are currently stored in that room. We made some big sacrifices and sold them all as one big lot to a large arcade group. We are just waiting for these folks to come collect their goods so we can clear the room out completely and begin painting and cleaning it out.
This room was originally a storage room and it really looks like it. As much as the FGC is used to being stuffed in a closet or basement to play, we feel they deserve better and want to make this space just as welcoming and fun as the arcade.
I don't have an exact date when this is going to be done. I don't know when people are going to be done collecting their goodies. I don't know when our contractor will be ready to start painting (he's currently on Spring Break in Florida!) and how long it will take to finish. I don't know how long it will take our graffiti artist to accomplish what we have in mind.
All I can say is I promise we're working on it and it will happen...soon? Once it's done, we'll have a really cool space for weekly tournaments and private events. The room is just a little over 1,000 sq ft so it's not nearly the insane amount of space we had at Washington Square, but it's going to look like a really cool backstage arcade hangout rather than a clothes shop with some tables.
So please, just have some mercy on us!
On my last post, I went over the first half of my TOP 10 games in the arcade so now I'll lay out the real hot tickets. My TOP 5 machines and where you are most likely to find me if I've got some down time. These are the machines I don't get tired of playing and no matter the sequel, reboot, etc., I'm always having a great time.
5. Karate Champ
Each player has two joysticks, one to take in each hand. By maneuvering the joysticks in different directions (i.e. L+R, L+U, D+D, etc.), your character will output different moves. Instead of a health bar, there is a referee that will award a point or half a point depending on a successful hit which will end the round and the first player to score 2 points will win. To folks that play fighting games regularly, it might feel a bit alien, but as someone that is pretty awful at fighting games, I find it really strategic and comfortable.
This game makes it into my TOP5 because of the unique controls and the learning curve. The long list of moves available make the game very interesting and the need to learn them through practice is a great quality in an arcade game. It keeps you coming back and keeps you interested. There's nothing wild or flashy going on in this game because it doesn't need it. You're focused on you and your opponent so the elementary graphics fit well into the gameplay. Even the movements of the characters seem purposeful and powerful.
Playing through the game solo is a good time and I would recommend it, but playing with a friend is always better, in my honest opinion. You're both learning the game together and a human is much less predicable than a computer. Plus, celebrating a victory or suffering a loss is much more enjoyable with a friend.
4. Initial D
Unlike your typical racing driver, in which you are driving around a somewhat straight or circular track, Initial D tosses you onto the side of a mountain somewhere in Japan and you are suddenly in the story arch of a teenage boy/girl street racing. The skill lies more in drifting than speed. Going up or down the mountain, the road twists and turns sharply and you have to be careful not to slam straight into a guard rail or crowd. Each track/setting has it's own song but they are all incredibly upbeat and very "Initial D".
The version we have on the floor currently released in 2003/2004 but it's still loved and played as if it was just released last year. This is a game you can always come back to and get better at, either solo or with a friend. From an operator perspective, this game is an absolute nightmare to work on. It's a Naomi 2 boardset and it dies all the time for no good rhyme or reason. What's wrong with it? ~shrug~ Why did it stop working? ~shrug~ This is a game we've had to repair many, many times, but luckily, we love it enough to keep doing so.
Initial D will always stay in my TOP5 because of it's back story, great game play, and honestly, great music. We do have plans for our Initial D machine in the very near future, so be on the look-out. I think you will all be pleasantly surprised!
3. Dance Dance Revolution
Dance Dance Revolution is a rhythm game in which the goal is to step on directional arrows as indicated by the game in time to music. The cabinet is complete with a small stage where you play/dance and a large CRT monitor where the directions are given as an overlay to some background images of your avatar dancing. Each correct step lands you points, and depending on timing, you are awarded more or less points. If you continue to step correctly without losing a beat, you can build up your combo and multiply your points. There is a type of "health" meter that must be monitored. Too many missteps, the meter falls, and you fail the song.
DDR is high on my list of favorites for a variety of reasons. To start, it's just fun to play. You'll always find songs you like, no matter the version. We have SuperNova2 on the floor, but my holy grail is to own the Disney DDR board so I can stomp my way to glory while Mickey scratches records. It's also fun to watch. If the person playing is REALLY good, great! You can stand back and wonder how they get their feet to do that. If the person has no idea what they are doing, good! You both get to laugh together about how absurd of game this really is. The community is great too. And yes, there is a DDR community and they've been around a long time. They are very welcoming, they are happy to teach you things, and they are amazing to watch. I will say, from an operator's point of view, that machine isn't great to work on. The pads have spacers that get stomped into nothing regularly and need replaced, the neons are hard to find if they need replaced (and expensive), and the monitor is fairly large. But, like Initial D, it's a really good game and we're always willing to put in the work (and you easily find the operators that don't feel the same and don't put in as much love).
So next time you are thinking about stepping up on a DDR machine but you're worried about looking silly, don't worry, we all start there and we all still look a little silly. It's a silly game with wild music and flashy lights. Just find the confidence in yourself to love your silliness and you'll find yourself enjoying this game as much as the next person.
2. Jurassic park -motion theater-
This game is a type of rail gun game that uses joysticks instead of guns for shooting (tranquilizing, according to the game instructions) dinosaurs that are all out to attack you as you drive by in the Jeep. What really stood out about this game were the pneumatics in the seat that simulated the movement of the Jeep you were riding in. So when you were driving over a bumpy road, you felt it and when a dinosaur slammed into your car, you felt it.
Jurassic Park is one of my absolute favorite games for the game play and seat mechanics. The graphics are so nostalgic and the wide array of dinosaurs that are chucked at you keeps the game interesting. The joystick is much more comfortable for me than a plastic gun and you can just hold the trigger down for a constant stream of ...tranquilizer darts... rather than worrying about reloading off screen. The music and sound effects are all spot on from the movie (in 16 bit of course) to really bring you into the scene. I do have to say, my biggest complaint about this game comes from an operator perspective: it's awful to work on. The seat pneumatics are goofy and don't want to talk to the board, especially after almost 30 years. Our machine was working just fine until we moved it, now it only works when it feels like it. So sassy.
If you want to be propelled back into the 90's, play this game. If you ever loved Jurassic Park as much as I believe you did, play this game. If you believe the Jurassic Park remakes are garbage, play this game. If you've already played this game, bring a friend and play it again.
1. Lunar Lander
I can't emphasize how sad this is. Lunar Lander is a type of simulation game. You are the pilot of landing module and your mission is to land as softly on the moon as possible. There are a few details regarding your module that are reported that you must keep track of, including your fuel level, speed, etc. You must also consider how gravity effects you (something that can be changed based on the difficulty you choose). Of course, the surface of the moon is not smooth and you must watch for jagged mountains and deep valleys. The game will prompt you with landing spots and each spot is worth a certain amount of points. You can get more or less points depending on how hard or softly you land (or crash). Your controller is a thruster that will propel your module forward, but also burns through fuel. If you get in a pinch and are coming too close to crashing, there is an emergency "ABORT" button that will propel you straight up, but also burns up a significant amount of fuel. The monitor is a black and white vector screen and the landscape is outlined as a white line.
The very first time I came across this machine was at Galloping Ghost arcade in Chicago. A man was playing it and he was really frustrated with it. He said it was unnecessarily hard and walked away. I tried it, and landed! I tried it again, landed again. People came by and my husband took a video to send to our other arcade friend. Everyone says this is a very hard arcade game, but I honestly believe you just have to be in the right mindset and look at it for what it is - a simulation game. Consider your resources, plan your future wisely, and move accordingly. I love nothing more than burying my head into the cabinet and closing off the world. Lunar Lander is a quiet realm where, if you concentrate enough, all you can hear is your breathing and the sound of the thrusters. I really hate that these machines were cannibalized for a game I think is overrated.
You'll notice my Lunar Lander is currently missing from the floor and we can all thank UPS for that. We sent the monitor chassis through UPS for repair and they immediately lost it. So until we are able to come up with a replacement, it will be await repair. Lunar Lander - the game that can't catch a break!
As we settle into our new location at Castleton Mall, I get asked the question over and over again... "What are your favorite games here?" I will admit, what I want to play at that very moment depends on the situation (Am I playing with a friend? Am I playing solo? What's my mood?) but I do have my arsenal of games I always turn to at Boss Battle Games. These are the ones I always recommend and you'll most likely find me at if I've got some free time.
Beastorizer is a 3 button/joystick fighter with some really interesting game play features and fun characters. Each character has their own backstory and their own "beast" or "zoanthrope" they can morph into during game play. As you fight, you build up your BEAST bar that once fully charged, you are able to morph into a hybrid beast character (for a short amount of time) with increased abilities and different specials. Beastorizer is a fighting game that is nonthreatening to approach, fairly easy to pick up the controls, and honestly it's just incredibly satisfying to initiate your BEAST mode and send your opponent flying from the energy released.
This falls into my TOP10 because it's easy to approach, easy to understand, and just really satisfying to play. However, I have placed it at the far end of the list for a couple reasons. Firstly, the gameplay is a bit laggy and sometimes slow to respond. This is no Street Fighter. This can be a good or bad thing depending on your level of skill. Another reason I've placed it here is for it's arcade cabinet design, or lack there of. Beastorizer did not have a dedicated cabinet, so you're lucky to find one with the side art decals and bezel art. I understand Raizing may not have wanted to risk too much on it's development from the get-go, but I personally feel like this could have gotten some really great cabinet art considering how in-depth the character stories are. I understand this was at the end of the arcade age and all efforts were put toward the console version, so this is just a disappointment for me, as an operator.
Don't let these minor complaints scare you away! Find your spirit animal, get hyped up, and mash buttons while you learns combos. Trust me when I tell you it's a blast body slamming your buddy as a warthog hybrid beast.
9. Time Crisis 3
Time Crisis is a pretty simple game to grasp. This is a two player game in which each player has a pistol and a foot pedal that acts as a shielding mechanism. It has a fairly solid story line that it blasts at you during the attract screen. As you progress through the game, you pick up a wide array of different weapons that you are able to rotate through. Similarly to Beastorizer, this game was ported to PlayStation, however, I honestly believe this game is best played in arcade.
This is a favorite for me for a lot of reasons. Of course, it has sentimental value to me. It's like our first child that has grown up with us and followed us along for the ride. The game itself also has great play-ability. It's easy to pick up, but it takes a bit of skill to aim well for those hard shots like taking out paratroopers. This game is also a bit of an endurance run if you're in it for the long haul; From start to finish, you're putting aside about 40 minutes. One of the things that really stands out to me about this game is the cabinet itself. It's REALLY impressive. The color scheme is on-point, the neons are bright, eye catching and well placed. The guns are Namco pistols with recoil, so they feel good in your hand. The cabinet itself is large and the marquee is massive and well lit.
Honestly, the best thing about this game is the co-op. It's so much fun playing with your friend/spouse/parent/whoever. Not only are you standing side-by-side, but you're working together and your characters are moving separately. It's a really great experience and I highly recommend giving this a try next time you're at Boss Battle with a buddy.
8. The Grid
What makes this 3rd person shooter so unique is the joystick and trackball controls. Your joystick is used for shooting and jumping and the trackball for aiming; it's very reminiscent of computer gaming and as someone that grew up as a PC gamer, it's a very comfortable control scheme. If you've ever watched the movie The Running Man and enjoyed it, imagine that plus a splash of Smash TV. Your character is thrown into an absurd and ultra violent television show where the aim of the game is just to survive. Weapons are strewn all over the play field and you are desperately trying to get to them before your opponent so you can blast them away in a shower of body parts and blood. It sounds incredibly dark and demented but the art style and the announcer are very cartoony, the art is bright and colorful, and you almost forget that you're murdering your friends for money.
It's really disappointing to me how hard it is to find this machine. I currently only own 3 but I'd love to have at least 6. This is one of those games that is much more enjoyable when you are playing it with a group of people. As I mentioned before, the control scheme is really neat and very comfortable for me to play, but as an operator it sucks to work on and replace. The parts are impossible to find/replace but thankfully it's a Midway cabinet and they do hold up well, so I'm not replacing them often. The cabinet has a really neat design and I love the green on black color scheme.
The fact this was the last arcade game Midway put out in arcades is truly bittersweet. A well designed game, interesting cabinet, and really fun co-op feature tie everything together beautifully. Next time you're at BBG or even Galloping Ghost or Game Galaxy, play The Grid and try to chuck in some cheat codes to find the sneaky Mortal Kombat characters the developers hid in there.
7. Atari Football
The controllers are very simple (from a very simple arcade time): you have a track ball (similar to The Grid) and you have a select/pass button. That's it. Very simple. Even more simple are the characters on the screen. They are X's and O's. Your ball is a thick dot. Name of the game is getting the "ball" in the goal and keeping the other player from getting the ball in their goal. Easy. Not easy: running your X/O with the track ball as fast as you can, maneuvering them around other X/O's without getting tackled, making sure you pass the ball in time without it getting intercepted, not running out of breath or giving yourself a blister because OH MY GOSH HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN PLAYING THIS GAME?!
I love the simplicity of this game. It's such a simple control scheme, simple graphics, and yet it takes a lot of effort and skill to really play the game well. There are different "plays" you can choose each round for your team and only you can see them, so your opponent doesn't know what's coming until the round starts. This game really draws a crowd as they hear your hands slamming against the track ball, you and your friend yelling at each other (or just yelling to hype yourself up), and the style of the cabinet allows for people to stand to the sides and watch the game play out.
We've had this game in storage for a couple years now and I'm REALLY excited to bring it back out. We're still trying to figure out exactly where we are going to put this in the arcade as we are pretty much at capacity, but I'll make the room. And once I do.... You bet I'll be there!
The controls and game play are so straightforward, a child can learn this, and honestly, that's why it's so imprinted on me. I remember playing this as a child with my parents. You have a 4-way joystick that controls a frog. Through trial and error, you learn your goal is to cross the road and a river, landing in coves. The trick is to do all of this while avoiding obstacles. Dodging left, right, running forward, falling back, it's all taught to you slowly and each level increases the difficulty even more slightly by adding speed or other obstacles. It has a steady incline of difficulty and I appreciate that. There's no sudden "pay wall" where you would be pumping quarters to get past a completely unfair jump in hurdles.
Aside from the nostalgia, I really appreciate how recognizable this game is. I think the cabinet itself is really well designed. The wood grain SCREAMS 1981. The tire thread on the control panel and bezel leading up to the colorful marquee is such an iconic note. The game itself is also very colorful and contrast from the grey and browns of the cabinet. From an operator perspective, it's a good game to have as it has a small footprint. This cabinet is fairly small and fits very easily into a row of games or into a tight corner. You also won't risk death moving it (it's a thing with big machines, trust me).
I'm sure you've played Frogger, so I probably don't have to suggest trying it. But if you're ever feeling overwhelmed and want a game you can chill out with, may I suggest Frogger. This game tends to be one of my meditative spots for many reasons. The music is cute and catchy, the jumping noises are methodic, and the scene is very static. For me personally, it also takes me back to a good place in my memory. I'm sure everyone has that game that does that for them.
A lot of people ask for the story of Boss Battle Games but I'm sure they don't want to sit through a detailed story that spans 4 years of ups and downs, so for now, I'll give you the SparkNotes edition and later we can run down some gritty details of points in time should you ask for them. (But I'll warn you, this is still pretty long, so hold on tight!)
The concept began in a spiral bound notebook sometime in the early 2000's. It was a pretty popular thing in our friend circles in high school to pass around notebooks that we would jot down ideas, comics, notes, etc. You see, we are old and cell phones weren't a thing yet. In this sacred notebook, Dustin wrote out a detailed business plan he created after being inspired by the lock-in at an arcade. The idea of going to an arcade and paying a flat rate rather than messing around with coins seemed much more appealing than jumping through state taxes, messing with coin mechs, etc. He drew out an entire floor plan, what games he would offer, etc.
Fast forward a decade later, and although the notebook was just a conversation between us, the plan was still alive. I graduated college, got a job, Dustin was leveling up in his welding career... Things were going smooth and we felt like it was a good time to start collecting arcade machines and learning about the industry in depth. We traveled to other states, met other arcade owners and got their advice on what to do and what not to do. We took a lot of notes, met a lot of really great people, and collected a lot of arcade machines a long the way.
Just as we felt like we were making a good plan for our future, life made a new route. We both got laid off our respective jobs. I thought I would side step this hurdle and got another job but 6 months into it, I got laid off that job too. My mother always told me, things happen for a reason, and I'm not sure if that's completely true but looking back, I'm pretty happy that things turned out the way they did. After several "JUST DO IT" memes, I convinced Dustin that the universe had made the decision that Boss Battle Games needed to open.
We took all the money we had saved up, did some location hunting, bought some more arcade machines, and with super short notice, opened our very first business. During our soft open, Dustin's friend brought him a gift... It was the business plan he had wrote out in that notebook that had been long since lost to time. It's funny how life works, how it can come back around for a reprise sometimes and remind you that you're on the right path. That ancient notebook paper is framed and sacred to us; That's where it all began.
In beginning, we caught a lot of flack for picking Washington Square Mall as a starting point, but we felt confident that it would be a good stepping stone for us. We didn't take a loan to start our business, just the money in our pocket, the clothes on our back, and a little bit of hope, so we didn't want to take a huge risk in an expensive location to begin with. We've always approached major life decisions with cautious optimism. At the time, WSM was owned by a company named JLL and they were very kind to us and the mall. They kept up on maintenance, they had 24/hour security, and they kept the property clean. We never felt unsafe and although there wasn't much foot traffic, one thing we were told by our arcade senpai was "if you build it, they will come", so that's what we did. We started in a reasonably sized 3200 sq ft space that once housed a Spencers years ago.
Low and behold, Indy loved the concept! We ended up being the flashing light gem in the quiet mall. Word was spreading that we existed and things started moving faster than we ever expected. Due to a structural problem with our unit, we were approached by the leasing manager of JLL and offered a 12,000 sq ft space in a more prominent location. They offered us a very good deal but we were really worried about how we would utilize the space. We were just getting off the ground and the new location needed a lot of work. It was very dirty, it needed THOUSANDS of feet of electric ran, and the water company was completely incompetent and could not sort out turning the water on.
We decided we would try to put our foot into the tournament scene that seemed to be lacking in Indianapolis at the time. We wanted to make a space that people could enjoy playing competitive games in at a reasonable price. We took the plunge and moved down the hall. The anxiety was high but we came into it with high hopes and caution. The gamble paid off and in time, we became the base locale for the Indiana Smash Scene. We met a lot of really great people, watched them grow up as people and players, and saw them move on to bigger things such as college, jobs, etc. It's a wild ride watching people grow.
While at this location, Washington Square Mall was sold to Kohan Reality and a LOT changed at the mall. I'll save all the details for another post on another day, but we were bracing for impact and began collecting arcade machines. We starting filling our warehouse, our venue, etc. We wanted to be sure if anything changed and we moved locations or expanded, we had the assets to make it memorable.
We spent 3 years at this location and really sunk our roots in. We hosted massive tournaments, we had arcade personalities visit, and we hosted high score events. We even met other companies and worked with them under our roof, such as Player One and reBOOT LAN. We stayed in touch with our friends that ran other arcades, we supported other friends that were trying to grow their own businesses, and spent holidays with arcade regulars. I grew up in the country and something I often heard was "If you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, he didn't get there on his own" and although I'll admit we put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into Boss Battle Games, it's nothing without all the support that spread the word.
Just as we were getting into a groove and feeling like maybe we finally understood what we were doing, we noticed things were taking a turn at Washington Square Mall in the beginning of 2018. Due to a lot of negligence by the property owner and various other things out of our control, many stores were starting to leave and foot traffic was taking a dive. We were informed in the summer that the mall would be going up for auction due to unpaid property taxes and we felt like this was the dark cloud we had been seeing on the horizon for the past few years coming to fruition.
We began scouting for a new location casually, as we felt we had time to spare, but to our surprise, things moved faster than expected. Simon properties were very excited to have us aboard and wanted us to move in faster than we were ready to move! It was really humbling to feel so wanted by a reputable company. We weighed our choices between malls and decided on a location and a move-in date. The move-in date wasn't ideal (middle of winter) but it was the soonest we could do and the latest the mall could wait on us.
For the first time since we opened our store, we did have to take out a loan to make the new location happen. It required renovation, machines needed repair, and we knew we would be closed a few weeks so we wanted to ensure we would survive without an income. It was a pretty terrifying prospect. We shopped around for loans and chose to go with an SBA loan. However, we signed on our loan in the midst of the government shut down and this led to delays. Luckily, we were blessed with a very good friend that limped us by until everything was sorted out so we could continue forward.
We wanted this space to be the arcade we had been dreaming of - that arcade Dustin had drawn up in his notebook years and years ago. So we made sure to make this one look great! We just had to cross our fingers that Castleton would feel the same way and support us to make it all worth it. We were incredibly pleased with the final result when everything was done. Our contractor (123 Steps Contracting) did excellent work on the electric and walls, and Nick Moon blew our minds with the graffiti art on the walls. It made moving hundreds of machines through subzero temperatures worth it!
Now we're somewhat settled in and it's a whole new world! We love our new location and Castleton has been great to us. We have a lot of new arcade machines on the floor and one of the great friends we made along the way has been kind enough to place pinballs in our store. We have plenty more arcade machines in our storage so we'll be switching things out from time to time once we get our lives together. We also have a back storage room we are converting into an event room where we will be hosting Salty Sunday, Fight Club, and private events again. We have so many plans in the work, just not enough time in the day!
Thanks for supporting us and reading this blog entry. I'll be sure to post more soon! I promise the next ones won't be this long.
My name is Phylicia! I also go by Arcade Empress if you find me online in games or other forums. I am the Empress of Boss Battle Games (I'm serious, it's my legal title!) and wife/best friend to Dustin/Zoex/Emperor of Boss Battle Games. Together, we've been cutting years off our life to keep this arcade running as smoothly as possible and while growing it and adding new and exciting things.