When the cream of UK arcade players headed across the pond to compete against their US rivals, retro gamer set Paul Drury along to report on where you should be taking next year's summer holiday.
As you ascend the stairs to the top floor of Funspot Arcade, you half expect St Peter to be handing out quarters, because this is truly Retro Heaven. Rows of mint cabinets stretch out before you - Red Baron cockpit, Atari Drag Race, the shimmering Star Castle, a full-motion Space Harrier.. every turn brings a fresh jaw-dropping discovery. You simply never want to leave.
"That's pretty much what happened to me," smiles manager Gary Vincent. "I took a summer job here in 1981, supposedly for four weeks, and I just stayed. And the place is pretty much how it was back then. We took Double Dragon as a cut-off point and the games, the posters, the decor, even the music we play is all pre-1987."
Such sweet music. Pac-Man's familiar wakka-wakka; the timeless hollow blip from Pong Doubles; the obscure Stratavox, like the bastard offspring of Kylie and a Dalek with its chant of 'lucky, lucky, lucky': and then a new sound punctuates the digital symphony...
"You motherf***er," screams Greg Bond, slapping a Centipede machine hard across the face. Greg has the Mappy and Make Tray records and Tony Soprano's disquieting mix of charm and menace. "I'm kind of a perfectionist and get a little angry when I fail. I've been kicked out of arcades for beating up on a game a little too much, you know what I'm saying...?"
As I envision Greg leaving the severed head of a Sunset Riders cab in a rival players bed, I spy the equally unsettling image of Kentuckian Mark Alpiger ceremoniously donning a single black glove, O.J. Simpson-style, before treating me to a virtuoso performance on Crystal Castles. A veteran of the Videogame Masters Tournaments in the Eighties, he praises the role of the Internet in ushering in a second Golden Age. "It restarted Twin Galaxies, it let people rediscover the classics through MAME and it helped these tournaments come back. We should all bow down and worship the Internet for what it's done for videogames. And porn. Now, do you guys want to see me play this with my feet?"
Twinkle-toed Mark isn't the only one showboating here. On the way to setting a new Burgertime high, Brian Wagner from Pennsylvania accumulates so many extra lives, he finds a half-hour window to simultaneously break the record on Rolling Thunder.
Then there's Brooklyn-ite Robert Mruczek, who does a convincing Norris McWhirter to our Roy Castle, as he reels off the top scores on any game we can think of. A senior Twin Galaxies referee, Robert has set his sights on the Holy Grail of playing a single credit for 100 hours straight. He has a disturbingly thorough knowledge of how to best handle human waste and avoid hallucinating during such a marathon game.
"I've been forcing myself to play games for days on end. I know I can stay conscious for over 80 hours now and next time I play Star Wars, I'll play it till I collapse," he states, dispassionately.
Compared to Robert's determined nihilism, spending 13-hours breaking the seven million mark on Tron might seem like child's play. David Cruz from Florida takes that literally and has his ten-year-old son Kevin by his side throughout, the lad loyally guarding the machine whenever daddy makes a dash for the bathroom.
Robert Griffen is also doing it for the kids. He spends eight hours scoring over 13 million on the notoriously difficult and super rare Joust 2: Survival Of The Fittest, demolishing the old high of 2.6m. "I wanted to show my little boy that whatever you set your mind to - my thing just happens to be videogames - if you put enough time, effort and practice in, you can be the best. Whatever he chooses in life, I want him to remember that if his dad can do it, so can he."
Robert phones six-year-old Kal-el back in Washington to say he's put his son's initials at the top of the High Score table and lip quivering, says, "I love you too, son". I wipe away the tears and wonder if it's all down to practice. I resolve to test the theory and begin a concerted effort to reach the concluding stage of Gyruss - Earth -- a feat that eluded me as a kid.
Three hours later I'm clearly improving but struggle with the dizzying speed of the aliens in the final approach. I'm in need of guidance, when a dishevelled chap resembling Emo Philips' granddad ambles over and instead of trying to sell me a copy of The Big Issue, gives me a masterclass. It's Richard Marsh from Conneticut, Gyruss champ and Tempest wizard. "I like the perspective of those games," he mumbles. 'I like being on the outside, looking in. I suppose I feel like that sometimes..."
We share a poignant silence. Maybe being obsessive about old videogames won't win you friends and influence people in the rat race, but here, in this retro temple, everyone's family. Our band of Brits are made massively welcome and are even presented with commemorative bottles of Billy Mitchell's Hot Sauce bearing our gurning faces by the ebullient Walter Day. We're genuinely touched and profoundly uncomfortable.
We kept the British end up, mind. Mancunian Gary Whelan set a new World Record of over half a million on Galaxian and Greg Mott from Poole chalked up a new high on Buster Bros. Tony 'TT' Temple, whilst scoring well over a million numerous times on Missile Command, didn't increase his Tournament record of 1.9m, but then his battles were off-screen - former champ Roy 'Mr Awesome' Shildt pushed his psychosis to new levels by sending a hapless private investigator to trail Tony and then bombarded our lodgings with phone calls demanding he be given the cabin next to his nemesis. In the States, you're no one if you haven't got a stalker...
And me? Well, I finally made it to Earth on Gyruss.
Now I'm just planning how I can get back to Heaven next year...
Go to www.youtube.com and search for 'Funspot' to see TT's walkthrough of the arcade and while you're there, tap in 'Roy Missile Command' for some comedy gold.