The regularly scheduled LOST ARCADE CLASSICS article will not be read in this issue so that we may bring you the following Special Presentation!
Some pairings are perfect matches. There’s America and apple pie, Johnny & June Carter Cash, salt and pepper, George and “Weezy”, spaghetti and meatballs, Snoopy & Woodstock, Daryl Hall and John Oates.
And much like these examples, one classic video arcade game in particular is a perfect match for me. This game truly belongs in my collection, in fact, fate has been preparing me to own this game since its release, 30 long years ago. Here in lies our tale…
CHAPTER ONE - SHAKEY'S
It was early 1980, and I was six years old. My world revolved around collecting Matchbox cars, listening to top 40 radio, and watching Tom and Jerry cartoons. One Friday evening, after a fantastic pepperoni pizza at Shakey’s, unquestionably one of the greatest pizza chains of all time, I encountered something that would change my life forever.
As usual, my parents were standing at the front counter, paying for our recently devoured feast. As they did that, I would typically wander over to the jukebox, and review which recent hits had been added to the lineup. However, this visit was different. Something stood about 20 feet away from the front counter that immediately caught my eye.
It was a video game machine. Now, I’d played a few of them before… Breakout, Night Driver, and Space Invaders came to mind, but I only had a passing interest in them. However, this new machine at Shakey’s practically hypnotized me like no game before it. It was all due to the incredible artwork on the side of machine.
As a side note, I was always a very artistic and perceptive child – I would routinely loose myself in photographs and paintings of landscapes and skylines. I’d study them to pick out the smallest details that most people would overlook, like a patch of moss growing on a rock sticking up out of a creek flowing through the middle of a forest scene.
Much like in those pictures, the artwork on this new machine at Shakey’s immediately opened a new world to my young eyes with its bright colors and amazing detail.
A creature resembling a hybrid of a dragonfly and a spaceship was swooping toward me in an extreme close up. Most of its body was covered with green metal plating, and its bulging black eyes were decorated with a star-like design.
Two pairs of metal wings grew from behind the creature’s head, and four menacing metallic legs extended downward from the sides of its body.
This insect-like beast was flying above a jagged cliff as a stark white moon orbited very closely. At the cliff’s edge, a futuristic defense station with tank treads and golden towers aimed its artillery batteries skyward at the menacing creature.
In the distant night sky, the defense station scored direct hits on two similar bug-creatures. Their smoldering remains tumbled to the ground amid a burst of gold and black. Cool! Sci-fi GORE!
The picture ignited my imagination – Where is this galactic battle taking place, and why? Where did these robotic insects come from, and what did they want? I stood there, totally mesmerized by the amazing detail. The logo above this magnificent image read… “GALAXIAN”.
Funny thing is I didn’t actually PLAY the game that day. Although I did watch a few seconds of the attract mode to grasp the concept. No, as my folks paid the bill, I spent those few moments just studying that incredible side art.
Soon, Galaxian machines began to appear in other locations as well. A Kay Cee drug store near my grandparents’ home had one, as did a local 7-11, a King’s department store, and a Fannie May candy shop, in addition, of course, to multiple arcades and game rooms.
Once I started playing it, I soon learned of Galaxian’s charms. The rhythmic play mechanic, the bright colors and crisp graphics, and the sound effects that harken back to 1950s sci-fi movies, completely entranced me.
I picked up on the subtle pause of the alien swarm, which allows a player’s shot to pass through unscathed. I reveled in the triumph of nailing a flagship after 2 red escorts. I studied the swarming patterns of the last remaining aliens on each board. I truly loved everything about Galaxian.
By the end of 1980, I had developed my skills to a reasonable level, at least for a six year old. I was far from being a champion player, but I could usually clear two or three screens.
CHAPTER TWO – TIME KEEPS ON SLIPPIN SLIPPIN SLIPPIN INTO THE FUTURE
The glorious golden age of arcades was unfolding everywhere as the eighties marched on. Legendary titles like Pac-Man, Phoenix, Frogger, Dig Dug, Q*Bert, Gyruss, and Spy Hunter were my “most favorite game” at various times during the early part of the decade.
But throughout the years, my attention always returned to Galaxian. Even when more advanced titles eclipsed it with deeper gameplay and improved graphics, I still favored the game that I first encountered at Shakey’s.
As I made my way through middle and high school, Galaxian machines began to disappear. Sometimes retired to dusty corners of vending company warehouses, but usually converted into newer titles, complete with a coat of boring black paint obscuring that incredible side art. Once my college years were upon me, seeing a Galaxian on location anywhere was a bonafide miracle.
But as a high school senior in 1991, I explored an abandoned truck stop that amazingly housed a stockpile of classic game parts, and even a few partially stripped cabinets and pinball machines. It seems a vending company was among the final tenants of the truck stop's space, and they just left some items behind when they went out of business.
In addition to various marquees, bezels, and a complete unused Nintendo Popeye kit (which ended up working 100%!), I snagged a Galaxian bezel in excellent condition, and a NOS Willis Galaxian control panel overlay. My Galaxian parts pile had begun.
Then, in 1995, I purchased a Galaxian marquee from a local operator for $5.00. For years it was mounted to my bedroom wall along with an assortment of other classic marquees, many of which were retrieved from that old truck stop.
By the time I moved into my first apartment in 1998, I’d been collecting full size arcade games for several years. Titles such as Gorf, Battlezone, Mat Mania, Vs. Excitebike, and Rastan came and went from my collection, but Galaxian proved to be an elusive beast. Whenever I would get a lead on one, it was either too far away, too expensive, or of questionable condition. Undeterred, I constantly kept my eyes open and an ear to the ground for news of a Galaxian for sale near me.
Several years, a “starter” marriage, and one cross-state 400 mile move later, I found myself residing in Columbus Ohio, a city that hosted EIGHT arcade and amusement operator auctions a YEAR! I was in arcade heaven!
But even at the auctions, Galaxian machines were rather uncommon. When they did appear, the highest bid was usually $350 - $500, which was always more than I was able to afford, or willing to spend. I'm a very thrifty guy, and I look for bargains everywhere. I set my personal limit for what I can spend, and I'm willing to wait years for a good deal.
As one auction in ’05 wrapped up, I spotted a few cabinet back doors leaning up against a dumpster, including a very clean white Galaxian door. This was quite odd, as there were no Galaxian machines at this auction, but it’s certainly possible it was used as a replacement on some other cabinet and discarded. The door was in great shape, no water damage or chipped wood, so I grabbed it, and added it to my Galaxian parts pile. Several months after that, I won a large lot of arcade game owner’s manuals from Ebay which included a pristine Galaxian manual. The parts pile continued to grow.
By 2008, my casual interest in obtaining a Galaxian became a full-blown “jones” for the game. There was a nice condition cabinet in Cincinnati with monitor issues that I considered getting, but the added gas expense for a four hour round trip made me decide against it. (Gas was still $3.90 a gallon in central Ohio at that point.) A few weeks before, I had attempted to broker a trade of my Crystal Castles upright for a Galaxian with another collector, but that didn't work out either.
I snagged reproduction kick panel art from Rich at ThisOldGame.com in May of that year. I figured that since the kick panel art on most surviving Galaxian machines is totally trashed, I should snag this repro while I had the chance, which would prove to be an excellent decision.
And in one final nudging from the cosmos… I miraculously stumbled across a Galaxian machine in a mall arcade in rural Ohio. First of all, what mall still has an arcade in 2008, much less an arcade featuring a Galaxian??? Even though the original cab was painted a bland blueish grey, the bezel was installed upside down, and the game sprites were the wrong colors, I played it several times, fully cementing the idea that Galaxian belonged in my collection.
CHAPTER THREE – EVERYTHING FALLS INTO PLACE
September 6 was the first arcade auction in Columbus of the fall season. Approaching the big day, I felt like a kid anticipating Christmas. All week, all sorts of scenarios played out in my mind in which I’d return home with a game or two for next-to-nothing, specifically, a Galaxian.
Realistically speaking, I didn’t expect to find anything, as it’s near impossible to accurately predict what games will show up at an auction, much less what those games will sell for. Still, I’ve gotten unexpected good deals at auctions in the past, so the possibility certainly existed. Maybe this was the auction that I finally could snag a Galaxian!
Now, my wonderful girlfriend Michele was moving to a new apartment the weekend prior, on August 30. I happily agreed to assist, however, as John Steinbeck taught us, the best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry.
Michele’s landlord inexplicably, and without apology, delayed her move to the very date of the auction, September 6th. Ultimately, the move went very smoothly, and I was glad to help. The rescheduling certainly wasn’t her fault, and by the end of the day I rationalized that I probably wouldn’t have gotten anything from the auction anyway. So, life goes on. But still, there was that lingering doubt… there may have been a sweet Galaxian for dirt cheap there, and I would never know.
The following evening, I noticed an upright Galaxian had popped up on my local Craig’s List. The cabinet looked decent, but needed a cleaning and some overall sprucing up. The side art was intact, however, and it also came with a Japanese skill stop slot machine. Even better, the game was clearly shown as working. Only $225.00 for both machines! Immediately, the tired and rusty gears in my brain started to churn to life.
Should I bother to see if the game is still available? The ad has been up for over 24 hours, so it’s probably long gone. Besides, it probably has horrible water or mold damage that can’t be seen in the pictures. Perhaps it smells like cigarette smoke… or even worse, cat wee. Or the wiring is a fire hazard. And overall, do I really want to spend that money?
I ultimately decided to email the seller, inquiring if it had sold yet. I turned off my PC, and went to bed for the night.
The next morning, I went through my typical getting-ready-for-work routine. I poured a cup of coffee, made some waffles, and settled down to check my email. The seller had replied, and to my surprise, Galaxian was still available! I could look at it any time that week. I checked my budget realized I could afford it, especially if I sold off the slot machine. I told the seller that I’d come by on Tuesday morning before eleven, as I couldn’t see it that morning (Monday) because I was already heading to work.
Yes, I can hear some of you screaming… “CALL OFF SICK!!!” but just read on…
About an hour later, the Galaxian was completely occupying my thoughts. I regretted that I was heading to work and I wanted nothing more than to go get that machine.
Just then, Michele called, and the subject of the classic machine came up rather quickly. She related a story about a local businessman who noticed a great spot for a restaurant every day on his drive into work. For 10 years, he drove that same road, every day envisioning his eatery right there. Finally, he decided to follow his vision, and he opened his restaurant on that very spot. That was three years ago, and his restaurant now has people lined up out the door every night.
Michele chuckled, and stated that sounded just like me, in that I tend to take a while to act on great opportunities. She encouraged me to find a way, ANY way, to bring that Galaxian home, or I would regret it if I let the chance slip by. She’s a wise woman.
So I arrive at my office, and I check my “schedule viewer”, the program which defines the times for lunch and breaks for that workday. However, in place of my schedule, there was an unexpected message…
“Vacation time – PTO”
It took me a minute to really grasp this. PTO means “paid time off”. The company isn’t expecting me to be there. Then it dawned on me. Every January, they ask employees to request all their PTO days for that entire calendar year. This day was a random “just for fun” PTO day that I added to my calendar, which I totally forgot about until right then!
I could now comfortably follow up on the Galaxian without having to rush to pick it up before or after work tomorrow! I heard Dante from “Clerks” echoing in my mind…
“I’m not even supposed to BE HERE today!!!!”
My boss had a good chuckle at my situation, and encouraged me to leave and bring that Galaxian home. While the adrenaline was pumping, I visited my credit union, withdrew the money, and made a pitstop at home. I checked my email, and the seller had sent me his phone number. I called him, got his address, printed off the directions and off I went. For some reason, the sky seemed bluer and the sunshine seemed warmer…
CHAPTER FOUR - THE PICKUP
I arrive at the seller’s house, and back my pickup into his driveway. I shake the seller’s hand, engage in small talk for a moment, and then the transaction was underway.
I was delighted to find that no staircases would be involved. Both machines (the Galaxian and the slot machine) were in the seller’s ground floor family room, and the only navigational hazards were a narrow hallway and one single step leading down into the garage.
I eyeballed the interior of the cabinet, and found it was completely free of mold and water damage. I made sure the PCB and monitor were securely fastened inside the cabinet, and I lightly tugged on the internal connectors, to make sure nothing was loose. Everything was rock solid.
The cabinet itself had a few cosmetic issues, a missing monitor bezel being the most obvious. In its place was a plain glass bezel with a ratty black poster board frame. I removed these pieces and placed them in the backseat of my truck for safe transport.
The side art had some scratches and fading, but was largely intact, however, the kick panel had been painted solid black. On the plus side, the original back door was extant, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. It was also nice to find that the cord appeared original, and undamaged, and was complete with its grounding plug! The marquee wasn’t lit, but that’s a simple fix, no matter the cause. The control panel was in very nice shape, and featured the original Midway overlay, with no tears or cigarette burns.
The monitor was in pretty good shape. The colors were correct and the images were crisp. Unfortunately, there was a “curl” visible when the Galaxian formation moved to the extreme right, at which point, the aliens angled sharply down. This was not a deterrent.
I rang in a credit, and gave it a quick test play. The buttons and joystick all worked flawlessly. To test the CPU, and of course, my own mad skills, I nailed a yellow flagship after two red escorts, for the maximum 800 points bonus. There really is no other way.
The seller related a story that some guy checked it out about an hour before me, and he played a game but did horribly. Apparently he complained to the seller…
"I'm not scoring any points".
The seller reminded him that he had to actually HIT TARGETS before he would score points. Apparently, that prospective buyer said he would think about it, and may come back later in the day.
Clearly, that non-point-scorer did not deserve this machine. It was destined to come home with me, as I would preserve it, clean it up, and appreciate it. Not to mention I actually understand how to PLAY the game.
The Galaxian cabinet was locked up tight, tilted onto a dolly, and wheeled out of the seller’s family room. I made it through the hall and down the step with no incident, and the seller helped me hoist the game into the bed of my truck. The slot machine came next, which was loaded into my truck’s back seat. Money was exchanged and within 20 minutes of arrival, I was well on my way with my prize, and a huge smile on my face.
I decided to pay Michele an impromptu visit as I drove right by her office on the way home. Her office is on the ground floor, and she could view the parking lot from her window. As I walked toward her door, I saw her face turn pale. As I walked into her office, she instantly asked in a panic
"OH MY GOD, what are you doing here? What's wrong?"
I told her the whole story - she laughed and confessed she thought my unannounced mid-day visit meant I had been laid off! She then walked out to my truck and checked out the Galaxian resting in my truck bed. She congratulated me on my purchase, and that she was looking forward to trying it out.
CHAPTER FIVE – RETURNING HOME
I admit that I was concerned about unloading the game from my truck by myself. In the past, a friend has always helped so the game doesn't slam into the ground and possibly incur damage. This would be the first machine I’ve unloaded alone, as everyone I could call was at work.
I needed to find anything that would absorb the blow the cabinet would take upon hitting ground, as I wasn’t too keen on the idea of my Galaxian hitting bare asphalt.
So, I quickly fashioned a "landing pad" in front of my tailgate out of a Berber carpet remnant, then bubble wrap, then a blanket draped over the whole mess. It wasn’t pretty, but it would have to do.
I slid the game forward in my truck bed so that the lower half of the cabinet was positioned beyond the tailgate. I held my breath, and gently pulled it down over the edge. Instead of a loud “THUD”, I heard a muffled “FOOF”. It worked like a charm! The game hit the landing pad, and suffered no damage. I righted the cabinet, and wheeled it into the garage.
After checking the connections inside the cabinet to insure that everything was secure, I plugged it in. After a few agonizingly long seconds, the monitor warmed up, and the attract mode glowed brightly. I played a quick game, and the five year old within me was quite pleased.
Soon after, the great cleaning commenced. The paper towels were completely black with dust and grunge when I was done wiping down the surface of the monitor and its overlying monitor tint.
I installed the Galaxian monitor bezel from my parts pile… the very same bezel I grabbed from the abandoned truck stop in Maryland seventeen years before. The plain glass bezel that came with the machine was set to the side as I figured it may come in handy on some other cabinet eventually, but the junky poster board frame went immediately into the garbage.
Then I targeted the marquee. Upon closer examination, the black starfield inside the Galaxian logo was flaking greatly, likely caused by years of high wattage light bulbs “cooking” the paint, causing it to chip and crinkle over time. I removed the flaking marquee, and replaced the two ancient, burned-out, 60 watt bulbs behind it with modern 25 watt frosted chandelier-style bulbs. I then installed that near-mint Galaxian header I bought thirteen years prior. Now the Galaxian marquee is backlit with a nice soft white glow once more!
Next I took a “magic eraser” to the side art, removing years of scuffs. The eraser then met the control panel, removing years of dinge, and reviving the bright yellows, greens, and blues on the overlay. As the original CPO is in excellent shape as is, I decided against replacing it.
I stepped back to survey the game – it looked 100% better already!
Earlier, while checking the internal connections, I found the test switch lying in the bottom of the cabinet. Oddly enough, it was still connected to the wiring harness! As this panel is also where the all important credit button is located, I re-installed it right inside the coin door, where Midway intended it. Despite dangling from the harness for who knows how long, both the test switch and the credit button worked perfectly.
A few weeks went by before I targeted the “monitor curl” issue. Conventional wisdom says to give the game a cap kit, but I’ve never enjoyed doing those as the smell of the heated solder always gives me a migraine. I always try to find another solution.
Looking in my parts stash, I happened to have a decent monitor from a Crowns Golf cabinet I’d parted out the prior year. Luckily, both the Crowns Golf monitor and the Galaxian monitor were Wells Gardner 4600s. These monitors have two smaller boards which plug directly into sockets on the main monitor PCB, the vertical/horizontal board and the interface board.
To save time, and to circumvent the tedium of removing the old monitor, and installing the replacement, I simply swapped the two smaller boards from the Crowns Golf monitor into the Galaxian monitor PCB. I triple checked all the connections, and powered up the Galaxian. After a few seconds, I issued a hearty sigh of relief, as the board swap eliminated the "curl" issue, and the colors remained nice and bright.
I adjusted the pots for optimum picture quality, and happily played four or five games with the newly restored picture. Yes, I realize that isn’t the “proper” way to fix it, and I’ll eventually perform a cap kit on both monitors… but I’m happy with my quick fix for now.
Eventually, I sold the Japanese slot for $75.00, reducing my total cash outlay to $150.00 for the Galaxian. A smokin’ deal to be sure.
CHAPTER SIX – THE KICK PANEL
A few weeks later, Galaxian was brought into the apartment, and I set aside some time to work on the cosmetics, specifically, that ugly black kick panel.
I removed the control panel and the coin door, and laid the cabinet down on its back so I had a flat surface to work with. Then I gradually removed the black paint from the kick panel with an orbital sander. When all was said and done, about 95% of the black paint was removed, and the surface was as smooth as I could get it. The original white vinyl and traces of the original artwork were now visible, though it was too far gone to save.
Next I began applying the repro kick panel art decal. I trimmed the excess, and lined it up over the kick panel. I slowly peeled back the mask, and gently pressed it onto the kick panel surface, working from the top down. I was doing great with the first two-thirds... then the bubbles started happening. I tried to smooth them out as I went, but once the whole piece was applied, there were about 10 bubbles of various sizes. They were all pretty small, the largest one the size of a dime. I used a pin to gently poke a hole in the center of each bubble, then I then smoothed them out, making the bubbles disappear. Despite those irregularities, the art lined up perfectly and looked fantastic!
For my first time in applying cabinet art larger than a control panel overlay, I’m quite pleased with the results. I pushed the Galaxian back into the line up, grabbed a brew, and got down to exterminating some aliens!
I still need to touch up the black paint on the control panel, and replace the loose joystick, but it’s been difficult locating an original Galaxian stick with minimal wear. Plus, the current stick still controls quite well, so that improvement has been placed on the back burner for now.
I considered replacing the black t-molding with neon green, as most Galaxians I’ve seen in the past, sported the neon green trim, including my beloved Shakey’s machine. However, the textured black molding on my cabinet appears to be original. Research indicates that Galaxian machines shipped not only with green t-molding (which is the most common, apparently), but also with textured black, and a few even have sky blue molding. So the textured black molding stays.
Now I admit, it’s not showroom perfect, but some wear and tear gives this old timer character, and it still looks awesome for a 30 year old machine. Given my improvements, I suspect the original seller wouldn’t even recognize his former Galaxian if he were to see it now.
CHAPTER SEVEN – PASSING THE TORCH
Michele and her four year old son Zayne and I are now sharing a large apartment. Zayne always loved my arcade games when he would visit me before, but he’s really taken to Galaxian since the move. He’s even declared his gaming intentions by saying he needs to “practice to save the Earth”. He opens up the coin door and presses the credit button at least 30 times. Then he climbs up on a kid-sized folding chair and prepares to get down to serious business. During the game, he’ll shout out “I GOT THE FLAGSHIP!!!”, “I’m gonna zap you!!”, or “you can’t get me!” After each game, he’ll excitedly proclaim…“Hey Kyle (or Mom), look at my score!”
As I write this, (December 30, 2009), his current best is 5,370. He regularly reaches level two, and he’s knocking on the door to level 3. He picks off swooping Galaxians with ease, and he’s even mastered the difficult 800 point “2 escorts first, then the flagship” shot!
This does my heart good. It’s very cool to watch him get as excited about Galaxian now as I did almost 30 years ago. I see quite a bit of myself in him, and it feels like a proverbial passing of the torch… or if you prefer, a passing of the flagship. And there’s no better feeling than that.
Everything has come full circle. From that first encounter at Shakey’s, through the gradual accumulation of parts, the eventual addition of my machine to my collection, and finally, the enthusiastic embrace of the game by a brand new player, Galaxian has always somehow been a part of my life. Thank you Galaxian, and here’s to at least 30 more years of robotic dragonfly blasting fun!