Arcades occupy a unique place in video game history. In the late 1970s and 1980s, a string of hits like Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong ushered in new gameplay mechanics and bright, crispy pixel graphics. The 1990s featured the fighting game boom with Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, and Virtua Fighter demonstrating cutting-edge graphics and gameplay.
It was the place to be, a time when the cutting edge in video games, from texture-mapped polygonal graphics to peripheral control inputs (including steering wheels, light guns, and dance-mats), could only be found crammed into immaculately designed cabinets, complete with their showy bezels and marquees. Arcades dodged hardware limitations largely due to their ability to optimize the hardware specifically to play one single game. Home consoles and computers hadn’t yet caught up.
But as technology advanced, the cutting edge found its way to a new generation of console hardware—most notably in the late 1990s with the launch of the sixth generation of consoles, including the PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, and Sega Dreamcast. Then online gaming took off, further fueling the demise of arcades. These days, you’ll still find some arcade cabinets in Dave and Busters and Chuck E. Cheese. Of course, the real arcades were often dark, cramped, and sweaty, with the odor of overheated circuitry. Trying to find one nowadays proves a difficult task, but there’s hope!
In the quiet suburbs outside of Chicago, Galloping Ghost Arcade aims to preserve this unique period of gaming history by collecting an impressive lineup of cabinets. It makes sense that Galloping Ghost Arcade found its home in Brookfield, Illinois. It’s right in the middle of a burgeoning arcade gaming scene, with people passionate about retro games. Chicago had once been the headquarters of arcade heavyweights Gottlieb, Bally, Midway, and other prominent arcade publishers of the ’90s. As of this publication, the arcade offers upwards of 851 games (and counting!).
Galloping Ghost began in 1994 when Doc Mack, owner and founder, had a chance encounter with Mortal Kombat cocreator Ed Boon. A lifelong gamer at heart, Mack wanted to become a game developer. “[Boon] told me how hard it would be to get into the industry,” Mack says. “So I went off and did my own thing.” That same do-it-yourself attitude would prove the essential fuel that drives his company. He was only 18 years old when he founded Galloping Ghost with the intention of developing his own fighting game, Dark Presence. Though the title hasn’t been released to date, Mack’s company never slowed down, contributing to multiple projects, including Galloping Ghost Arcade.
The arcade’s origin story began on an arcade location tracker website called Aurcade. Mack thought joining in on local Chicago arcade culture would be a worthwhile endeavor. “We thought we’d contribute a bunch of data, which would help our own production by finding out where we’d be selling our arcade games.”
Mack scoured bars, restaurants, and various other businesses looking for arcade cabinets. In his search, he made a sobering discovery. “So many of the machines weren’t playable—buttons and sticks didn’t work, the cathode-ray tube monitors were all faded,” Mack says. Most of the cabinets were in a state of disrepair, once-prized technology left to fall apart in the corner of a laundromat or shoved near the restrooms of a family restaurant. But, Mack says, “It got me writing the business model for what would become Galloping Ghost Arcade.”
Mack found a Craigslist advertisement selling 114 machines, all stored and neglected in a warehouse in Dennison, Iowa. “We drove out there, talked to the guy, and found out he had another warehouse full of games in Tennessee.” Mack added another 87 machines to Galloping Ghost’s collection; these cabinets formed the basis of the arcade’s August 13th, 2010 grand opening. “We opened with 130 machines, and since then it’s been nonstop, constantly expanding the arcade.”
One of a Kind
Among Mack’s 851 acquisitions (and counting), there are bound to be some rarities and one-of-a-kind machines, including prototypes of unreleased titles. Primal Rage was a one-on-one dinosaur-themed fighting game developed by Atari Games in 1994 to compete directly with Mortal Kombat II and other fighting games of that time. Its success led Atari Games to quickly jump into developing a sequel. That game would have been Primal Rage II, but it was shelved after Midway bought Atari Games. Midway developed Mortal Kombat, and the Primal Rage II’s cancellation was likely a move to squash any competition with the company’s pride and joy franchise.