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The NL - Luna City Arcade

Author: Darryn King
Monday, 16 June 2008

Peter Hirscberg hails from Virginia – and he loves the old video games. He loves them so much, in fact, that he spent two years planning and building his own 2,400 square-foot private video game arcade next to his house. Complete with blacklight carpeting and ’80s movie posters, Luna City Arcade holds over 70 machines (which Peter restores and fixes himself) and has become something of a retro gamer’s Mecca. Darryn King spoke to Hirschberg for the NL.

How vividly do you remember the arcades of your childhood-
So vividly that I still can’t believe those times are gone. In my mind, they are right there. I just can’t believe it’s been 25 something years. This is how things fade away: 25 years at a time. Just like drive-in movies, and ’60s diners. I frequently wish I could spend just one day back in 1981 with my kids and show them how the world looked through my eyes.

Most gamers nostalgic for the golden era of video games would be content to play versions of the old games on their PCs… Why not you-
I realise these games are all preserved through emulators such as MAME, but I’m interested in preserving and owning the machines themselves. I’ve always been interested in the machines as ‘devices’, not just the games themselves, and that’s part of my current fascination with them. The machines definitely have a presence that you can feel when you are around them. I’m also interested in the group experience of the arcade itself, which is sort of like what you get seeing a movie in a theater. It’s definitely more fun as a shared experience, and that’s how I remember the arcade.

What was the vibe like during your first Game Day- Did you also get in on the action and put in a few quarters yourself-
The vibe was incredible. Way beyond what I could have ever imagined. That’s the one piece that’s missing from my arcade that I can’t recreate myself: the crowds of people.
I never really get to play games on Game Day unfortunately. Too busy chatting with visitors, crediting machines, unjamming coins, etc. But to me that’s the whole point of Game Day. To be able to be a part of something like this. I can play the machines myself any time I want. Game Day is for everyone else.
How many games are in the collection now, and what is the highlight of your collection-
I have something like 70 machines total as of right now. A few are still being restored. My favorites are Tail Gunner, Lunar Lander, Space War, Tron, and Asteroids. I have a lot of highlights.

Is there any game not yet in your collection that you would love to have-
Unfortunately yes. I’m not sure I’ll ever be done! I still want a Warrior machine (an old sword-fighting black-and-white vector game) and cockpit versions of Missile Command, Pole Position, Red Baron, and Sinistar.

Obviously you can play these games for free now, without even having to line up – are you now tempted to master some of them-
I’m not the type of person who desires mastering a game (oddly) but you do hit on a point in that now that the games are free to play, I definitely feel like some of the machines that I didn’t necessarily pay attention to ‘back in the day’ are more approachable now. It’s less intimidating when money isn’t on the line, so the pressure is off somewhat, and I can just relax and have fun. I’ve found that games I didn’t really give a chance are now among the games that I enjoy playing the most.

Are you a fan of modern games at all- What do you think the ’70s and ’80s era of videogames does better than the current generation-

I like the game Geometry Wars. I always joke that, 20 years ago, it’s what we imagined games would look like in 20 years. It definitely has the same vibe as a lot of the ’80s arcade machines had. If they made an arcade version of that game, I’d definitely have to get one for the gameroom!
Games in the ’80s were incredibly approachable. You could walk up to a machine that you had never seen before and play a couple games on it and genuinely have a good time. Games these days seem to require a mental investment and a time commitment that I don’t feel up to providing. There are very few games made today where you can play for 10 minutes or however long you can last and then walk away from it without having to ‘save your game’ or whatever. Like I said, it’s just too much of an investment for me. I like games where you can explain the rules in a paragraph or two.

There are no fighting or shooting games in your arcade – was this a conscious decision on your part-
Fighting games, to me, were part of what heralded in the death of the arcade of my youth, so I hold somewhat of a grudge towards those types of games. They were what ultimately turned me off video games and chased me out of the arcade. So yes, I made a conscious decision to not include those types of games. Shooting games I never liked because of the violence. There was a shift in the mid-’80s towards fighting / driving / shooting types of games, and I just find them pretty much universally unappealing personally.

What kind of security do you have installed to protect the Arcade-
Ohhh, I think it would be unwise for me to discuss that.

Have you met some interesting people through your arcade-
Definitely! I’ve met literally hundreds of people who came from all over the country (and some from other countries even) to visit the arcade. It’s been quite an experience for me, and like you said, it really has become something of destination for others. I’ve gotten a couple emails from celebrities who want to come visit sometime. Most trippy for me was getting an email from the person who designed the cabinet for the arcade game Tron – back in the early ’80s. It was always one of my favorite games growing up, so it was really fantastic to chit-chat with the designer!

And what does your family think of it all-
My wife is a fan of the vintage games. After all, she grew up with them too. She’s been more than supportive, and it definitely shows. My kids are… ‘intrigued’, I guess I’d say, but for the most part their friends are more fascinated by the arcade than they are. They’re pretty jaded I guess. My extended family seems to appreciate what we’ve got here. I get to be the crazy uncle and they get a free place to have birthday parties and such.

WHAT: Luna City Arcade