By: Steve Zachmann
The other day I was lucky enough to spend some time with Doc Mack, proprietor of the Galloping Ghost Arcade in Brookfield, IL. The Galloping Ghost is the largest arcade in the U.S. boasting over 400 games. As evidenced by the interview below, Mack is passionate about arcade gaming, and the Galloping Ghost. In addition to running the arcade, he also has a production studio currently working on their own arcade game, Dark Presence. The interview was dense so I’ve split it into three separate parts. Stay tuned tomorrow for part two.
Our blog focuses on the Chicago scene, so to start out with, what’s your background with Chicago.
I’ve lived in Brookfield my whole life. When we started the production company, and later when we started the arcade, we had such great ties with the developers. One example, we had approached the actors from the original Mortal Kombat game to be in our game. When we opened the arcade it was such a natural thing to have those guys come out for our events. We’ll have Dr. Phil Bahn who played Shang Tsung, and Daniel Pesina who played Johnny Cage, Scorpion, and Sub-Zero. All those guys come hang out here and you don’t get the chance to meet those guys, but here they are sometimes just walking around. Going even further back Larry DeMar, Eugene Jarvis, George Pietro, Brian Colin, John Tobias. All those guys have been in, and they stop in once in a while. You get to meet the creators of these great classic arcade games. That’s just made it such a great place because of their involvement with it. Being so close to Chicago and there being such a great history of game developers here has just worked out so well.
When did Galloping Ghost actually open?
The production company opened in 1994, the arcade actually opened in August 13, 2010. It was Friday the 13th.
And you’re the biggest arcade in the USA?
Easily the US, Funspot was the previous, and they billed themselves as the largest in the world. We really have done a lot of research and teamed up with Aurcade.com which tracks what games are at what arcades. They track arcades in Japan and we’re not sure how complete that list is, but so far we’re the largest in the world as far as I know.
The arcade opening in 2010 means that obviously it wasn’t an entity in the 80’s when that was kind of the thing to do, so what made you decide to open an arcade now?
It’s kind of a two part thing. I had wanted to open an arcade for a long time and had almost pulled the trigger on it back in 2008. I was doing an initiative called “Support Your Local Arcades” through the production company. We were in development of the Dark Presence arcade game and I wanted my staff to be able to go out and play Mortal Kombat at a traditional arcade. I went to any arcade that I could remember, spent a lot of time using Aurcade finding out where the arcades were. I’d drive out, just wanting to have my guys play a game of Mortal Kombat. I could not find a one-hundred percent, totally functional game of Mortal Kombat in Chicago, in 2008. This was incredible, this was terrible. So , Through Support your Local Arcade, I offered to fix arcade machines for free. [They would] just cover the parts, we’d fix them up and get them working one-hundred percent. I offered to give free websites, buy the domain, pay for all the web space, do the web design. I just want arcades to be more known about. I talked to distributors, told them which places wanted arcade games so they wouldn’t have to cold call. We weren’t taken up on anything, and it was just so impactful to me. There shouldn’t be an arcade scene with the way these people are going about it. Everybody is so complacent about game repair. I wanted to play Double Dragon somewhere; I couldn’t find a place. That was when I thought, ‘I know I’m not the only one who want to go play all this stuff’. I have machines in my basement, but that’s different than being out in a public area. It was like, this should be done, and done well, and done big. One of my friends and I started looking at spaces and then because we were working so much on the production end, it kind of got pushed aside. The goal was always to open the arcade after the game was out. Then in 2010, one of my actors, Jerry Cantu wanted to start a new business. He knew that I write up a lot of business plans so he asked me what I’d do if I were him, with a little bit of cash to work with. I told him that I planned on opening up an arcade pretty soon and he asked if he could use that business model. I told him ‘yeah, if you want to open up an arcade, go for it, but these are the key points’. He didn’t really know much about arcades so he asked if I wanted to partner up. I said, ‘sure, we’ll open it, I’ll help you out, find the games, do the maintenance’. So we partnered up and it just was kind of a whim for me and then it just snow-balled into this giant thing. We initially bought one hundred and fourteen machines, which we got out in Iowa. Me and all my production guys loaded up into trucks and we drove out there. The price was excellent, but we didn’t know specifically what games we would be getting, and we didn’t know the condition. We got there and it was like somebody had dumped bags of dirt and Coca-Cola on top of every machine. I was like, ‘this is going to be a lot of work’.
At the same time, we were having problems finding a location to be in. All the towns were like, ‘no , we don’t want arcade in our town, there is too much bad history with it’. It was very discouraging. I ended up talking with Steve Campbell who is the guy I rented all of my filming studios from for my production company. He worked everything out and got us into our location here. We got the space the same day we got the games. We loaded up the trucks with one hundred and fourteen games, drove them out here, and wheeled them in. It was like this massively long, thirty-six hour process. Nobody slept. Off-loaded all the cabinets. We had all these games sitting there and I just started fixing them. Nobody on my staff knew how to fix an arcade machine so it was kind of like, ‘I’ll be back [to my production company] in six to eight months because I’m going to fixing these games forever’. Of all the games, eight turned on. We gave everything new buttons, new power supplies, new wiring. Fixed a lot of boards, fixed a lot of monitors. Fortunately a lot of boards worked, but I had started buying boards and converting some of the cabinets to cooler games. We had Street Fighter 3: New Generation, but I wanted Third Strike so I swapped that out. We picked up another 87 games from Tennessee in the same condition. On that Friday we opened up with one hundred and thirty working games, and from there we just kept growing and growing. Now we’re up to four hundred and seven.
This is a silly question, but when you’ve got a business that’s got 407 electronic devices, do you have special electrical equipment?
We went heavy with our electric. Even now we’ll blow fuses now and then. It’s not as bad as most people think it would be. It’s a lot of power going through the place, but it’s not terrible. I was always expecting the bill to be a lot higher, and I was relieved when I saw our first few. It does constantly grow though. When we opened with one hundred and thirty, to the next year when we had two-hundred and thirty, it was like, ‘what am I doing, someone should stop me’, but it just kept growing.
What are the games that mean the most to you in the arcade?
Honestly, most everything here. One of the more selfish things about this place is that I buy the games that I like to play from back in the day. I do a lot of importing from Japan, which has really enabled us to have so many unique games. I think we have about seventy-five games that we’re the only arcade in the US with. Surprisingly, that’s the stuff that people come in and really want to play. People are more apt to know someone that has a Donkey Kong machine. They’re not as willing to travel to go play a Donkey Kong machine, but you show them that we have a Dragon Ball Z game, or a Godzilla game, or Time Traveler — the old Sega hologram game — and that’s why we have so many people who are willing to travel to come here. Not just from out of state, but we have lot of people that know about us from out of the country. We have people travel in from London, Japan, Australia, Germany. We get people that see this as a destination place. We love hearing about how much these games mean to people. One of the cool things is that you see these people that have traveled so far; they’ll come in and take a quick run around and come back up to the front and just want to talk about this old stuff. It’s not uncommon for someone to talk to myself or one of our other guys for two hours before they even go out onto the floor. Another thing that’s made it so different is that the staff is so knowledgeable with the games. There’s always time to talk to the customers. It’s not like a lot of the newer arcades that open up where you see someone standing at the door, you buy your card from them, and you never see them again. We have thirty regulars that are here five times a week, and those guys have made such a strong gamer community here that it’s really just expanding on itself. They always make the new players feel so welcome. Growing up back in the day, I lived in arcades. For me it was a very solitary experience. But now our regulars, none of whom knew each other before coming here, they have amazing friendships that have formed from this arcade. That means so much to me. It’s not ever even like going to work. I just get to go do a bunch of stuff that I like to do and hang out with a bunch of cool people.
Are there any games that have eluded you?
There are a few. Most everything is still obtainable though, a lot of it comes down to cost. I was looking for Gradius, the original. I knew it was out in Japan for a thousand dollars, but didn’t really want to spend that much. I saw one for five hundred dollars later on. It was a steal, so I picked it up. There’s definitely some stuff that’s harder to find than other stuff, but it’s all out there still. I was a huge Godzilla fan, and did not know that there was a Godzilla game. Once I knew it was out there, it took me nine months to track the board down in Japan. Once I found it, I had it shipped in. But right now there are always a games I’m looking for. Sometimes there are games I don’t know I’m looking for until I stumble on them. It’s difficult to get everything all at once.
It seems like a labor of love.
Absolutely. We joke on the production side that I end up here on my days off, and I don’t get very many days off. But I’m going to be here, this is where all my friends are. Fortunately my girlfriend likes hanging out here so it works out well. I can’t even think of what else I’d be doing with my time.
Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!