SHERWOOD Gamers, get ready. A new outlet for hours of Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac Man, Tron, Gauntlet and more is coming soon to the Three Rivers area.
Terry South of Jacksonville and Daniel Solis of Sherwood, by way of Heber Springs, are the men behind Arcade Wizards, a local coin-operated game repair outfit. After they teamed up for work two years ago, the friends decided that it wasn’t enough to just repair games; they wanted to help connect fans with the retro games they loved.
South and Solis formed the Classic Gaming Association, bringing in crowds of up to 60 at 7 p.m. the last Tuesday of each month for a night of free gaming and tech talks.
“We try to be home by midnight, but sometimes that doesn’t happen,” Solis said.
There’s no charge for people to attend, and all the games are set on “free play.”
The events take place at the Arcade Wizards offices in Sherwood, a nondescript warehouse space filled to the brim with retro games.
When they first walk in, visitors are greeted by the duo’s most-prized games: Atari Star Wars, Gauntlet and a red-cabinet Donkey Kong, one of only 2,200 made.
“The red Donkey Kong is fully restored and powder-coated with new Formica and new decals,” Solis said.
The restorations took South and Solis two months and just under $1,000 to complete.
The warehouse’s storage section holds more than 130 games in various stages of repair. The games are so densely packed that it’s impossible to reach some, let alone play them.
But Solis and South have a plan to make the games more accessible. This summer, the pair plan to open Z82 Retrocade in Sherwood, on Kiehl Avenue near Kapow Comics.
The space will include 45 to 50 games, which Solis and South will rotate in and out. For now, the plan is for the Retrocade to be open six days a week, beginning at 4 or 5 p.m. on weeknights. Visitors will be charged a set price when they arrive, and all games will be set on free play.
“It’s a unique way of doing it,” South said. “But if someone is getting $5 in change and playing, you’re not always getting that money back. We don’t think we’ll get rich, but it has to pay for itself.”
Solis said the Retrocade will have to be closed at least one day a week for repairs and upkeep. One of the benefits to having two coin-operated game repairmen running the business is that repairs will be quick — a bonus when most of the equipment is hovering around 30 years old.
“The coin-operated business has been going downhill since the ’80s due to a sheer lack of technicians to fix them,” South said.
Some of the games are so old, Solis said, that it can take two weeks to fix a game that will only work for two more weeks before breaking again.
The process of integrating new technology while maintaining the authenticity of the games is no small job. Solis and South have put in countless hours on their game collection, going as far as
Illinois, California and Georgia to purchase games, and staying in their shop until midnight or 1 a.m.
“We have no intention of getting rich,” Solis said. “But it’ll be nice to have a place to be in our golden years.”
Both Solis and South have worked as technicians in the amusement industry for decades and are avid gamers themselves. Solis counts Tron as his favorite, while South prefers Gorf.
“Even though we’re both very good, neither of us logs scores,” Solis said. “We keep ourselves out of it, but we’re always around for advice.”
Members of the Classic Gaming Association come from Fort Smith, Fayetteville, Bryant, Conway, Searcy, Hot Springs and more locations to attend the monthly meetings. The group is a mix of ages, and at one point, more than half of its members were women. In addition to game play, meetings also include technical demonstrations on a variety of topics, including air conditioning and computer maintenance.
Many members come to play just one game, such as Donkey Kong or Ms. Pac Man, and Solis and South are confident that the players’ enthusiasm will carry over to the Retrocade.
“People we don’t even know are asking about [the Retrocade],” Solis said. “We want a place where everybody can play every day.”
Rick Worrell of Austin has been a member of CGA since the beginning and looks forward to the Retrocade opening this summer as a place where retro game enthusiasts can meet.
“The social aspect isn’t there with games today, where you only talk to people in a microphone,” Worrell said. “With the Retrocade, you get to go to a place and talk to people and get that social interaction that’s so lacking in today’s world with all the Internet communication.”
Although a retro arcade recently opened in Fayetteville, Solis and South believe Z82 will be the first arcade of its kind in central Arkansas.
More than anything, Solis hopes the Retrocade will give gamers an opportunity to socialize with each other.
“There’s a kinship that exists when you’re playing the game with someone rather than over the computer,” he said. “If you lose, you’re frustrated, but you also want to congratulate them. I don’t think that exists in any other competition.”
Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.