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Funspot Report

Bob Lawton puts his beer down and gestures out of the bar to the huge arcade beyond. "In the mid-Seventies, we had a small arcade with pinball machines and shooting galleries. This Italian operator from Concord came in one day and started waving his hands around saying, 'Let me get rid of all this junk and put in some good games!' The first videogame we had was Tank 2 and it grew from there. One game could take as much as a whole room of pool tables! I loved that guy..."


We should all love him. From its humble origins as a miniature golf centre founded by Bob and his brother John in 1952, located a few miles from its current site, Funspot has grown into the biggest arcade in the world, a veritable museum of classic machines. Ask Guinness World Records if you don't believe us, or one of the several hundred garners who have journeyed from far and wide to New Hampshire, USA, to take part in the annual Classic Video Game Tournament.


"Coming in here I was blown away," says Brett from Toronto, Canada, half of 8-bit band Boss Fight. "This is a dream come true for me. My dad wouldn't let me come to places like this when I was a kid — people swore and smoked."


Now they just play all the arcade games you remember from your childhood and plenty you've only read about, for while Funspot is a glorious mixture of old and new — downstairs, rows of networked Daytona 2 cabs sit comfortably alongside vintage Fifties slot machines — RG readers will want to head up to the third floor, which houses the American Classic Arcade Museum. Here, you'll be dazzled by almost 300 classic games from the Golden Age. Eugene Jarvis's mighty triumvirate of Robotron, Defender and Stargate, all in a row; the shimmering vectors of Atari's Grayitar and Major Havoc; and ultra-rare treasures like Computer Space and Death Race.

Among the avenues of arcade cabs, we spy another unique exhibit: Walter Day. "Smarter people than me are now running Twin Galaxies," he explains, gesticulating wildly, as if defending his beard from bees. "What do I have to offer? Only my vision, which wafts and waves and wanders around the higher range of possibility and potentiality and creative embellishment, if you will. I'm chief evangelist, looking for the ethereal possibilities for Twin Galaxies."


"That pagan f*****," whispers Dwayne 'Nibbler Richard in my ear. "You can tell when he's lying: his lips move." A veteran of the scene and still setting records today, Dwayne proceeds to tell me about his forthcoming documentary, Triumph Of The Wilt The Perfect Fraudman The King Of Con And Other Arcade Legends, which will reportedly tell the truth about who really got the first perfect score on Pac-Man and who's cheating on Donkey Kong. Intriguing.


But then, wandering along the aisles here, it can feel like you're on the set of a movie. Key scenes from The King Of Kong and Chasing Ghosts were shot here, and faces from the big screen are everywhere. There's Brian Kuh, who this time isn't telling all who'll listen that there's a Donkey Kong kill screen coming up. He's trying to get there himself, and comes agonisingly close. We watch Todd Rogers trying to shave a tenth of a second off his Drag Race record and check that Adam Wood hasn't relapsed.


"No, I still don't drink, smoke or take drugs and yes, I'm still addicted to videogames," he laughs, referring to his memorable quote that opened the King Of Kong film. "The tourney is fun but I just love being in this arcade, playing the machines. The best part, though, is encountering all these larger than life characters that do amazing things, like spending ten hours on a single quarter."


Ah, we almost forgot about the tournament, a challenging event requiring players to put in their best scores on 15 machines, from Crazy Climber to the obscure Cheeky Mouse, That's partly because we're distracted by one of our British contingent doing amazing things. True to his word, Jon Stoodley, featured in RG 59, spends just under five hours setting a new British Pac-Man record of 3,227,000, reaching the mythical split screen and beating the score he set in 1983 by exactly 6,000.


"We bought that machine in 1980 and it's been here ever since," notes arcade manager Gary Vincent. "It's the one that Billy Mitchell got his perfect game on and lots of people have their picture taken with it, copying his stance. It's kind of gained a life of its own..."


Come and taste the good life at Funspot. We guarantee you'll give it the thumbs up.


  The Players Reflect On The 11th Annual Classic Video Game Tournament.

It was such a proud moment for me to achieve my score, mainly because I've used the exact method of play from the Eighties. One coin, one game, no backing out. I've never used any form of game 'enhancement'. If it wasn't available in '83, it wasn't being used in '09, period!

Reaching the split screen, like I did a few times as a kid, and beating my old score 26 years nearly to the day in front of the gamers at Funspot, was truly magical. When I finished, Walter Day passed me a phone and it was Bill Mitchell on the other end, congratulating me. You could have knocked me over with a feather. What a way to finish such a big game.

A lot of these guys I only know from the internet so I've been putting faces to screen names, schmoozing more than playing. I have an arcade store-slash-arcade in New Jersey and I used to be in Knuckle Sandwich, a hardcore punk band. When I started in this business, I thought 99.9% of the people were nerds and I wouldn't want to associate with them. But, you know, everyone thinks they're not a nerd. In their own mind, they're cool, And I know I am cool. At first I was a bit nervous about wearing it on my sleeve, but then I got out and started meeting other cool people and now I'm like, 'Hey I play these games, I'm right out there. I'm proud!'

I'm a senior referee for Twin Galaxies, so since the tournament began it's been constant hustle and bustle, running around, trying to log every score, getting yanked eight ways, which is almost impossible, but somehow Stephen Hawking working that quantum physics calculation proves it correct. Sure as heck felt like that. We've had records on Quartet, Robot Ball, Toobin'... The tournament is always of a high standard. Funspot does a great job making it possible. It's the event I will not miss. Even on my deathbed, I'll demand the nurse hook me up to the I.V., and if I have to croak setting world records, then so be it.


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