Our next Trading Card Spotlight features George Spanos, who currently is displayed on card number 3333, from the Superstars of 2020 Collection. George is one of the great arcade mechanics in the Chicagoland area. He has serviced machines at all the top arcade including Galloping Ghost Arcade, Underground Retrocade, Pixel Blast Arcade, and among others. George has been repairing machines since he was a kid. He even does house calls and fixes personal machines. He is well known in the gaming community and has traveled all over to conventions and hung out with many gaming celebrities. George has also written several technical articles referencing power supplies, monitors, and game boards. You can see more at http://www.arcaderepair.net/
If you could only have one arcade game or pinball game, what would it be and why?
I started collecting video games back in 2008, if I was going to be working for my family 7 days a week for months on end. I figured it would be good to find some kind of cool niche novelty to dedicate my time and (lots of) money to. I consider Smash TV to be my favorite game ever. I have that in my Total Carnage now but haven’t even turned it on in years. For pinball it’s a toss-up between Black Knight 2000 and The Getaway: High Speed II.
What was the very first arcade or pinball machine you worked on and where was it at?
My grandpa bought a few games from the previous tenants, one of the guns on House of the Dead quit working and I had no idea what I was doing. It wound up being one of the legs to the optic in the gun broke off from it getting dropped so much, so that was officially the first thing I ever soldered. Eventually I made those nearly indestructible.
Do you remember your first arcade you played and what do you remember about it?
It was Ms. Pac-Man, about 1984. My then-babysitter would hold me up to the game and put my hand on the joystick while they controlled it. I was huge into all things Pac-Man in my youth, fairly certain I drew pictures all the time.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of arcade games? How do you compare them to older, classic games?
The business is always evolving, in the early 2000s is started to trend more towards redemption games. Those don’t really appeal to me as a player, so of course I prefer my roots in video games. A ticket game you play once and win a prize, a video game I always envisioned as being like an elaborate conquest. It’s like comparing a fidget spinner to reading a novel.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?
If by younger you mean when I was 31 years old, no I really didn’t ever think I would wind up on a trading card.
Have you ever received any media coverage for your appearance on the trading card? If so, where?
None, in the pandemic times I haven’t really been able to go anywhere to even distribute them. They’re still sitting in the same stack on my desk. Maybe that will change someday when things get better.
When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?
It was Galloping Ghost Arcade’s first T20 tournament in 2015. Talk about something you never imagined would ever happen.
If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?
I’m not good at assigning one-word descriptions to people but watching him interact with people at that first T20 I would probably say “gentle”. I even got to eat some of the celebratory cake with him. That was wild.
When did you first work on arcade machines and where was it at?
The repair odyssey began in 2007, at my grandparent’s place Crete Family Fun Center.
Do you prefer the original arcade or MAME gaming and why?
I got into MAME back in 2000 in that off period where I was away from it all. The tenants had opened a nickel arcade in the place back then, there was always a certain thrill of going out to a place and meeting people and playing games that you can’t duplicate with MAME at home.
Do you remember your first pinball game you played and what do you remember about it?
It was High Speed in 1987, I wasn’t able to achieve it back then, but watching someone else get multiball totally blew my mind.
What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?
I still dabble in the old video games, because I like to reminisce what it was like playing them when they were new, but in that off period was when I got into PC gaming and was playing Quake online in tournaments for a time. I have a couple mobile games I play on the tablet, Flow and Flow Free Hexes, I suppose I always liked puzzle games like that too. So First-Person Shooters, Beat Em Ups, Head to Head Fighting, and Puzzle genres.
What does it take to be an arcade engineer?
It definitely takes discipline to fix games. It’s something very lacking with the current crop of collectors getting into it now that thinks they’re as simple to maintain as blowing into an NES cartridge. I have a luxury being born into it and wanting to always learn how to do it since I was 4 years old. I think that’s what drove me to want to know as much as I do now.
What has been the hardest arcade machine to repair and why?
Galaga is the only game that’s ever really eluded me. The board design by Namco employed the use of 3 separate Z80 processors that all have to be working in sequence, and they were able to trim down a lot of the logic by using custom chips. The custom chips basically fall apart and the technology available in the early 80s was a little hit or miss to begin with. I have 2 Galagas at home here I have been seemingly unable to get working.
Do you believe some arcade games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?
It was 15 years ago I was enrolled in a documentary course at NIU and was intent on trying to prove that violence in video games didn’t make people more aggressive or lead them to commit violent acts. The research available back then didn’t quite have a handle to prove or disprove that, so I had to change the narrative to something that was arguably much better. As noted above, I was an online FPS gamer in the 90s, when Columbine happened and then-ancient Doom came under fire, it genuinely offended me. We were playing graphically violent games every day and we weren’t going on murderous rampages.
Do you prefer playing arcade games alone, against friends and why?
Back in the day when Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat were new, I always got something of a thrill as a 10-year-old kid playing against other people. I was also yelled at frequently for not letting the customers play. Today though, I think I enjoy playing by myself more, I got out of multiplayer gaming as a regular thing about 20 years ago.
Which company makes the best arcade games and why?
Williams is #1 in the world. They had a series of hits in the early 80s and when they rebranded as Midway in 1991, I don’t think anyone can argue their market dominance. Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam alone took over the universe.
Who is your favorite arcade game character and what makes that character special?
I think Ryu from Street Fighter is my favorite game character. I got a way better handle on how to play those games as an adult than when I was a 9-year-old punk kid, doing shoryukens is always fun. Ryu is special because obviously he’s the main character. I always found his journey around the world to find suitable opponents and to never really plant his roots anywhere and just keep looking for the next challenge to be intriguing. His rivalry with Akuma is particularly the stuff of legend.
What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘arcade?
I think of it as my home next door to home in Crete. I practically lived there, especially in the summertime. In contemporary times though, it’s a place with video games, I never thought of games as “arcades”. I don’t know where that came from!
If you can design your own game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?
I always wanted to make a beat’em up game where the characters were people I know, but they’re each made like a foot taller and can really thrash stuff like Battletoads. I would have to be one of the characters too, I think that would be hilarious.
What is your favorite arcade game of all time?
Smash TV is my favorite game ever. It blends the frenetic gameplay of Robotron with a really cool setting with an interesting cast of characters. I have to give a major thumbs up to Mark Turmell, John Tobias, Jon Hey, and especially Eugene Jarvis for crafting that.
Where do you see arcade games in the next 20 years?
The fact they have survived 40 years is pretty astounding, I worry about where it will go in 5-10 years as it is. That’s a whole other discussion for another day, but in 20 years it might finally fade away because the people that are a generation or two older than me that have been keeping it alive this whole time will probably be gone by then.