Trading Card Spotlight - Ray Price

Our next Trading Card Spotlight is Ray Price who currently is displayed on card number 3084, from the Superstars of 2019 Collection.  Ray is the founder and owner of an arcade coming soon called “Arcade816 Museum”.  This new arcade located in the suburbs of Chicago, is different than any others.  The main games in the arcade are cabinets with consoles and games for the system.   He has been in the gaming business in 1991 as the associate editor for Electronic Gaming Monthly. Having lived 40 years of gaming history, Ray eventually started to open up a museum from all the gaming history he found.  For more information on his retro Arcade, you can visit www.arcade816.com

What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘arcade’?

It’s not something you can describe. It’s a feeling. A memory that is evoked by just hearing this question. The vision of seeing people talking, playing, enjoying themselves, the look of the cabinets, the smell of the wood and CRT monitors. The sound of Colossus yelling in X-Men, the sound of the Elephants in Dhalsim’s stage in Street Fighter II, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. It’s something I’m very excited to see recreated in a new way with my home console venue.

What does it take to be a retro arcade owner?

A lot of hard work, patience, and a focus on your love of video games. I think it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re all here. To focus too heavily on the work and not spend enough time actually playing games, I feel is a real loss. I always make sure I play test my cabinets extensively! It sounds like I’m making a joke here, but truly, I really think it’s important to not only test the cabinets, but to keep myself focused on the real purpose of opening a video game museum, which is because I love video games. I love the challenge of building and innovating this new hybrid of arcade and home console gaming, and I love sharing my knowledge and love of this hobby with others, despite being a classic introvert gamer. My passion for gaming transcends even that, and I’ve met all of my best friends in life, (who also happen to be my crew now) because of that. Never losing sight of why or how you got here is the most important part.

Do you remember your first arcade game you played and what do you remember about it?

That would’ve been two games. At the time, I lived in a tiny town, in a tiny house, in northern Arkansas, and I lived across the street from a tiny general store. That store had both Pac-Man and Frogger. It was always a fight to get quarters at the time (I was probably 8 years old). I would usually watch other people play if I didn’t have a quarter. I guess it would’ve been the 1982 equivalent of watching a YouTube playthrough.

Which company makes the best games and why?

Konami. Pre-Pachinko. In the golden age, Konami made all of my favorite games. Their innovations with Famicom add-on chips were unparalleled. Their VRC chips made some absolutely amazing things possible on the aging Famicom hardware. Gradius II, Castlevania III and LaGrange Point are the finest examples of this work. For the SNES, Genesis, and even TurboGrafx, their games were not as plentiful, but what they did make was always top tier. Memorable, enjoyable, well-made games with unforgettable soundtracks. A lot of their best work never made it to the USA. Make Konami great again!

What are your opinions about today’s generation of games?  How do you compare them to older, classic games?

There’s a lot of really interesting stuff coming out today. Independent developers are stepping up as certain corporations falter, and I think that’s refreshing. It’s pretty amazing when I can play a game where I’m a goose running around wrecking everyone’s day. I’m just not sure a AAA studio would’ve taken a chance on something like that. Still nothing beats what I consider the “golden age” of gaming, the 16-bit console wars. It’s disheartening to see what companies like Konami have become, but I’m given hope when I see games like Bloodstained, Shovel Knight, Cuphead, and even Streets of Rage 4. The folks my age, who played the games I love, are now making the games we all love. It’s not the same as the old days, but it’s not bad either!

What gave you the idea of making a console arcade venue?

It was an idea born out of laziness! I wanted to be an arcade operator, but without all the 30-year-old arcade cabinet maintenance. I would build modern equivalents of these old cabinets, with LCD displays rather than CRT, which allows them to be slimmer, lighter, while containing all brand-new parts. As for the home consoles, they’ve always been my first love when it comes to gaming. Don’t misunderstand, I love arcades, I spent a lot of time and money at many arcades. It’s just that my fondest memories and highest hours of playtime were spent on home consoles, and I just love each one in their own unique way. So much visual and auditory variety exists in the home console world. And I’m not sure there’s ever been a place where people could come together and share that home console love in a hands-on way, the way you can in an arcade. It became my goal to bring these worlds together, and it’s been anything BUT lazy! Overcoming the hurdles of putting old home consoles together with modern equipment inside arcade cabinets has been an exciting and rewarding challenge, and I can’t wait for everyone to see the venue I’m putting together.

How many consoles do you own and what is involved in keeping them working?

I have probably 50 or so sitting on shelves, many generously donated to us by folks in the community. I personally own at least one of all of the mainstream consoles, but nowadays I use either emulation via the recently released mini classic consoles, or FPGA equivalents like the ones made by Analogue, and yes I do still play them just about every day. I am extremely blessed to be surrounded by electronic geniuses, so if a problem is beyond my pay grade, I can always count on my teammates to step up and help out. We’ve been running many of the old home consoles in our cabinets that we have at Yetee Station in Aurora IL, and Pixel Blast in Lisle IL. These consoles are on every day for 8-12 hours a day, and we’ve had minimal problems with them.

Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?

Are you kidding? No way man, I am beyond honored! You know, back when I started, it was always a pipe dream to maybe make a game, or at least work on a help line, or even as the guy who takes out the garbage for some game corporation. At least I’d be there man, you know? This was all just the daydream of gaming’s biggest fan. Then one day I’m an editor for Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine, next I’m starting Gaming FM, the all video game radio station, next I’m hosting podcasts about video games, next I’m rubbing elbows with many of the people who made the games I grew up with, now I’ve gotten to know all of the local arcade owners who are all extraordinarily nice guys, and finally I’m shaking hands with Walter Day and receiving this incredible honor. Now in short order I’ll be the curator of a video game museum. Dreams do come true gang, even for gamers! If I die tomorrow, I can look back, smile, and say man, I lived one hell of a life.

When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?

I was at Midwest Gaming Classic 2019, we had a booth for Arcade816. I ran off to get breakfast for myself and my pal Jason. When I returned Jason said, hey man, you missed Walter Day by like 5 minutes. I was so bummed. He told me that Walter had said some wonderful things about the cabinets and wanted to talk to me about his trading card collection. Wow, how cool is that? And true to his word, Walter contacted me via Facebook within a few days. A few months later, I was at the Video Game Summit in Villa Park, IL and finally had my first face to face meeting with Walter. He was every bit the gentleman I’d been told about, he knew me right away despite us never meeting face to face and spent a lot of his time getting to know me. He even put me on the phone with my former boss from EGM, Steve Harris, who he knew from his Twin Galaxies days. I hadn’t spoken to Steve in probably 25 years. It was quite an unforgettable encounter. This is not me just saying nice things for an interview, I’ve met a lot of industry folks over the years and they unanimously agree Walter Day is a super cool dude. He lived up to his reputation in every way.

If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?

Kind. I spent only a short time with him, but he was very kind, and very interested in everything I had to say. It was a memorable day, and I look forward to the next time we meet. He’s a busy guy, I hope the opportunity presents itself soon.

What is your favorite console of all time and why?

Man, that’s a tough one. As I mentioned, I love each in their own unique way. I’d have a tough time getting off that fence. I have the fondest memories of NES, SNES, Genesis, and TurboGrafx. They were the ones I spent the most time on. The NES kickstarted my love of gaming. I’d owned the Atari 2600 and played the few arcade games I had access to, but I was no more hardcore than any average joe. Once I played Super Mario Bros., everything changed. I only wanted to play video games after that. I was particularly a fan of Konami. In my mind they were the best and could do no wrong. Once I found out later about all their innovations with custom chips that we didn’t get to see in the US, I only became prouder of their achievements. So, it’s extra sad to see what’s happened to them as I mentioned. Once the other consoles came along, they continued to impress me with their advancement. Genesis had that dirty grungy sound that embodies Sega, and even 90’s gaming as a whole. Super Nintendo had unparalleled audio and visuals. TurboGrafx was that strange outlier that introduced me to CD sound and system add-ons, as well as pushing me into another of my loves, anime. The TurboGrafx CD games had gorgeous cutscenes that could only be done as the Japanese do. Outstanding!

Do you prefer the original Arcade or MAME gaming and why?

Interesting question, because they both have their pros and cons, right? I mean MAME is great because you don’t need a giant, hundreds of pounds box in your personal space, nor do you need to worry about the upkeep of 30-year-old hardware. Arcade is great because you don’t have to worry about setting up button mapping or whether you’ve got a tough enough rig to run MAME in the first place. If I had to pick though I’d say arcade, because I consider the whole experience. The experience of walking into an arcade and hearing the ambient sound of all those games. Arcade cabinets themselves I believe are just as much an art form as the games themselves. The unique shapes of the cabinets, the backlit marquee art, side art, and control panel art, even the t-molding. I love old arcade cabinets. So as convenient as it can be in this day and age to have a game library in your pocket, something of the experience is lost.

Do you remember your first console game you played and what do you remember about it?

Showing my age here, we actually owned a Fairchild Channel F. That’s the very first cartridge-based home console, kids! So, at four years old, I was playing the likes of Spitfire, Shooting Gallery, Hangman, and Tic-Tac-Toe. I just remember loving the fact that you could do something else with the TV via these controller thingies. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to play it, and fun fact about the Fairchild Channel F, the sound came out of the console rather than the TV speaker, and there was no volume control. It had one setting, loud. So, I would play it with a stack of pillows over the console to muffle the sound so my parents wouldn’t wake up. Probably totally safe to do with 1977 electronics, right?

What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?

Today it’s either stuff that evokes memories of my youth, or innovative stuff I’ve never seen before. So something like that for me is the aforementioned Shovel Knight, Cuphead, Streets of Rage 4, also Freedom Planet, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game. This would also include sequels, pretty much any Mario game, I’m a huge Nintendo fan. Still enjoying Mario Kart 8, and now I play levels designed by my kid in Super Mario Maker 2. As far as new and innovative things, I’ve recently played some VR games for the first time and I was very impressed with Astro Bot and Beat Saber. I also enjoyed Untitled Goose Game, and I’m having an absolute ball building Nintendo Labo with my kid. That’s some proper innovation in gaming, very cool stuff!

If you could only have one pinball game, what would it be and why? 

NES Pinball. My favorite pinball game of all time. It’s simple and easy, and I stink at proper pinball.

How does music influence games past and present?

As the founder of Gaming FM, I think I can safely say that yes, music is one of the most crucial elements of a game. As the years have gone on, I have definitely seen a shift in the types of music I’ve heard in games, which runs in parallel to the music we can hear outside of games. The earliest soundtracks I enjoyed were on the NES, which were primarily put together by Japanese composers, who were clearly listening to a lot of rock/heavy metal at the time. The Sega Genesis in particular had a sound that totally embodied the 90’s. There’s no more plain evidence of this than in Yuzo Koshiro’s efforts in the Streets of Rage series. As we’ve moved into the modern day and our movies and TV shows have become more elaborate, so too have video games. Sweeping orchestral pieces that are composed by the same folks responsible for your biggest movie soundtracks. This goes back as far as the Harry-Gregson Williams Metal Gear Solid 2 soundtrack.

Do you believe some games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?

I don’t believe there’s any truth to the notion that video games cause real-world violence. I’ve been exposed to every facet of gaming over the past 40 years, from the tamest to the most violent, and in my experience, video game violence is done either tongue-in-cheek or for the sake of pushing narrative boundaries. I’ve never seen anything in a video game that made me feel like I needed to commit real world violence. Maybe we lose in Super Mario Bros too many times and throw the occasional controller, but it’s out of frustration, not because the game pushed a violent agenda on us. The earliest violent game I remember was Narc in the arcade. My reaction was, “Oh wow!” That was pretty much it. I think any sane gamer realizes that the violence in games like Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto is so over the top, it’s meant to make you laugh, or at the worst shock you into saying oh jeez! I think if we tried to trace any violent act blamed on video games, we could find root causes that existed long before that person ever picked up a game controller. I’ve always believed that folks who blame real-world violence on video games may not have done enough homework on video games. Luckily video games are protected by the First Amendment, and hopefully that never changes, because it would be a tragedy to stifle this art form in any way.

Do you prefer playing arcade games alone, against friends and why?

It depends wildly on the game. I’ve been equally glad and frustrated to have someone alongside me. In the 90’s I was a huge Street Fighter II player, to the point of hustling folks for cash at FuncoLand and being accused of using a trick controller. So, at those times, I loved the thrill of playing against unknown opponents, mapping their play style and formulating a win strategy in a matter of seconds. I’m also a big fan of Super Contra in the arcade, and my score is very close to the world record. I find it’s not as easy to set a high score when there’s someone on screen with me. Conversely, I’ve had many fantastic rounds of Jackal and Rush’n Attack with a second player along with me.

Who is your favorite arcade game character and what makes that character special?

Mario. The guy has timeless appeal. He’ll be around long after we’re gone. My favorite video game of all time is Super Mario Bros. I believe it’s a near perfect game. I’ve been following him since he went by Jumpman, and I’ve never played a game of his I didn’t like.

Do you find boss battles to be the best part of a game?

I enjoy taking the journey over reaching the destination. I guess I’ve been conditioned to be disappointed by short, bad endings in old video games, so to me the boss represents the end of a great journey and the beginning of the end, where I won’t be adequately rewarded for my efforts. This has changed over time and video game endings have gotten much better over the years. So now I look forward to the boss battles more than I used to, but I still relish the level design and music. The boss is simply the door I need to kick down to experience more of that.

What is your favorite arcade game of all time?

Super Contra or R-Type are my two favorite arcade games. One day in 1992, I was presented with the opportunity to purchase both games at an arcade that was closing. They were literally right next to each other, both the same price, $330. I couldn’t afford both at the time, and after about 20 minutes of thinking, I went home with Super Contra in the back of my friend’s van. So I guess that answers that question. Super Contra was such a huge upgrade from the original Contra, at the time (1988) it was way ahead of its time. The visuals and soundtrack were second to none.

If you can design your own game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?

I actually designed a Gradius clone in 8th grade called Battle for Dakrilon. I had a backstory, level and ship designs, crudely written on notebook paper. A few years later I developed a game featuring a cowboy main character, which would have had similarities to Sunset Riders, but the twist was before you could play the game, it shipped with a virus. So the cowboy character had to run around levels inside the cartridge and it’s code to eradicate the virus bosses and make the proper game playable. So it would’ve been like two games in one. I have no plans to ever attempt to develop or release this game so you can have that premise for free, gang.  You're welcome!

Where do you see arcade games in the next 20 years?

I’ve discussed this at length with friends as I’ve moved forward with this project. We’re already seeing this shift to simpler, modern, solid state hardware. Out of necessity, we’ll be forced to come up with ways to keep arcade machines going. I think these old games have a timeless appeal and will still be played long after old buzzards like me are gone. As the younger generation takes over the reins, they’ll be unfettered by the attachments to the old arcade experience, and we’ll see smaller arcade cabinets, which we’re kind of already seeing in the efforts of Arcade1Up. I think we’ll also see old boards replaced by FPGA equivalents. Folks from my generation may see this as sacrilege, but in 20 years we’ll be too old to stop these young punks. I personally welcome the change to modern hardware, as I’ve already shown in my cabinet designs. For purposes of the museum, we’ll absolutely have original home consoles on hand, but like arcade machines, they’re aging. How long can it all last? I think we’re starting to see a change in the gaming community, as home hackers are coming out with amazing ways to preserve our hobby and art form, and I think it’s a great time to be a gamer.

www.arcade816.com