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Categories: From The CEO

Categories: From The CEO

The Inside Story On Our Crazy Double Move

Ground Kontrol has moved once again, into 10 NW 5th Ave. after staying at 32 NW 5th Ave. for only one week. Why? Well, it’s an interesting story…

When we learned that our big remodel of 511 NW Couch St. would take nearly two months to complete, we decided that it was far too long a time for our employees to be out of work and for you, our loyal fans to be without your arcade fix. So, we made the decision to temporarily move the entire arcade to a “warp zone.” But where?

Our first choice was 32 NW 5th, which is catty-corner to our original space and also co-owned by our current landlord. Unfortunately, that space didn’t have its own restrooms. Worse, it was slated for its own remodel in January to become a new home for our friends at Floating World Comics.

Another space was available two doors down, at 10 NW 5th. It had excellent restrooms and was in the process of having a new storefront installed. This seemed perfect, so we made plans to move there instead.

Disaster struck when the construction crew working on its facade found a steel column instead of a concrete column, necessitating new engineering calculations, a new steel beam to be fabricated, and a plan resubmittal to the city. This pushed 10 NW 5th’s availability down two weeks. We had to find an interim home for the Warp Zone, and fast!

Luckily, the 32 NW 5th space was available, but only for 10 days, after which PICA would move in for a one-day event. 10 NW 5th was supposed to be ready by then, so we decided to move twice, thus reducing our closure time from 10 days to only 3 days. Getting approval from the OLCC, the city, and our insurance agent for all this shuffling was a chore, but we made it happen. Everything seemed set.

Unfortunately, construction at 10 NW 5th was delayed again, leaving the space with no front doors. (!!) Luckily, the contractors found some old swinging doors in the basement, quickly installed them, and got an okay from the city inspector. We moved in later than we expected, and weren’t able to open until 9PM last night, but Ground Kontrol is once again open for business every day during our usual hours. (Our new doors and glass storefront won’t be installed until next week, but we’ll manage.)

We couldn’t have done any of this without the help of our awesome landlord David Gold. We admired what how he’s put his properties to work providing artists’ space in the Goldsmith Building and bringing interesting retailers such as Floating World and Seven Planet to our neighborhood. He’s also working to replace the giant parking lot on Block 33 with a mixed-use building anchored by Uwajamiya, and plans to turn the old Grove Hotel into a youth hostel (another great idea.)

It’s highly unusual for a business to move twice in 10 days, but Ground Kontrol isn’t your usual business. 😉 And hey, all this practice will come in handy when we move back into our newly remodeled digs at the original 511 NW Couch St. location!


How Do You Move A Bar?

Answer: Get 5 strong guys to pick it up, put 4 furniture dollies underneath it, strap the bar to them, and hope you don’t have any tight corners to go around.

Yesterday afternoon, the GK moving crew wheeled our bar across the street to The Warp Zone, our home away from home.  Less than an hour later, it was back in operation and serving up drinks to happy Christmas partygoers at the private event rental that kicked off our new (and temporary) location.  Be sure to check it out soon!


More On GK 3.0

Some people have asked – if we’re not expanding, then why are we remodeling?

We know some of you love GK just the way it is, but we feel like it could be even better.  Things the remodel will improve:

  • The Bar – some people want liquor, and we can’t serve that without food.
  • Food – sometimes you work up an appetite playing NBA Jam, and we can’t serve that without a kitchen.
  • Seating – we’re adding a dedicated lounge area near the bar.  The tables and seating will be unlike anything you’ve seen.
  • Restrooms – we’re hoping our new restrooms will make you forget how sad our current ones are.
  • Flooring – our carpet doesn’t handle spills too well, so we’re going with LEED-certified recycled rubber flooring.
  • Ambience – TRON is one of our big influences, and our new look will put you in the TRON universe.

Sneak peak pics soon!


Categories: From The CEO

Bad News, Good News

First the bad news – unfortunately, our grand plans for expanding our mezzanine ran afoul of the International Building Code.  It says the mezzanine can’t be any bigger.  In fact, it may have to get smaller. 🙁  We’re working on possible solutions to this nasty problem, and hope to have it resolved soon!

The good news: We’ve been working with Jessica Helgerson Interior Design since the summer, and hired Lackey Construction to oversee the remodel, and now we’re almost ready to begin. In fact, demolition and construction may start as early as December 1st!

During the remodel, Ground Kontrol’s bar and games will be set up in a temporary space across the street, code-named the “Warp Zone.” We’ll have to close for a day or two to set it up but, once the Warp Zone is ready, you can expect to enjoy something pretty darn close to the Ground Kontrol experience you know and love while the original is being remodeled.

JHID designers Jessica and Emily really get what Ground Kontrol is about, and we’re excited about the plans they have created. We hope to share those plans and the behind-the-scenes construction along the way!


Categories: From The CEO

Dashed Dreams (Our Former Expansion Plans)

UPDATE : As this post says, “our plans are bound to change”.  Change they did, forced by the harsh reality of the International Building Code’s requirements and our limited remodel budget.  Unfortunately, we CANNOT expand our second floor and  the plans depicted below are simply not possible.  I’m leaving the bulk of my original post, though, as a historical footnote.

When we first moved to Old Town/Chinatown, we had more space than we had games.  But we kept finding classics we had to have, and as we added to our collection, the arcade floor got more and more crowded.  With that in mind, we started exploring how we could expand GK while staying in the same location.

After a lot of work, we came up with a plan we like.  The only problem was, it cost more money than we had.  That is, until we won Stride Gum’s “Save the Arcades” contest!  Since we promised to spend the prize money on an expansion, now seems like a good time to take the wraps off our plans and show them to the public.

Below are some stills from a 3d model I built using Google Sketchup.  They represent what we’d like to do.  Our plans are bound to change in various ways as they become reality, so stick with us and we’re sure you’ll be happy with the final results!

Click pictures to magnify.

This is the view from the front door.  You’ll notice that the second floor mezzanine has been extended to the front of the building.  There’s also a new wall and door leading to the new kitchen area, with a place of honor for our Dig-Dug stained glass.  We’re hoping to leave the central area open, to make it easier to get to the bar on busy nights.

Sitting at the bar, looking at the new seating area.  We’ve never been happy with our seating on the “stage”, and hope the bench seating will be a huge improvement.

Don’t worry, Rock Band fans – we’ll have a mini-stage that we can setup for Rock Band Tuesdays, with lots more seating for the audience.

This is the main driving row, relocated to where the stage currently is.

A view of the east arcade, reoriented to have wider aisles.  No more getting cut off from the bathroom by two big dudes on stools sitting back-to-back!

Another view of the east arcade.

The new Shooters’  Alley, featuring more gun games.

We’ve never been happy with our restrooms, so we’re hoping to make them better by remodeling them.  We’re thinking about using tile with black grout to discourage taggers and provide a canvas for some pixelated video game artwork.

Walking up the curved stairway. There’s a new curved wall on the left, and the DJ booth is still on the right.

Moving upstairs, here’s the view from the top of the stairs.  We’re taking out the wall that’s currently there to create a more open space.  You may notice a few pins that aren’t in our current lineup – we haven’t bought them yet, but they’re on our wish list!

All the fighting games are grouped together, with more space between them.

Looking at the new space on the east side of the mezzanine.  I’m sorry that most of the cabinets are generic – we haven’t had time to go into our storage unit to measure them yet..

Here’s the southeast end of the mezzanine, featuring DDR, the return of Gauntlet II, and more sit-down drivers.

Back at the top of the curved stairs, there will be an upstairs seating area.

The seats will afford a good overview of the arcade.

This side of the west mezzanine will be much as it is now. The far side is all new space.

The view from the southwest corner of the mezzanine. That’s a lot of pinball!

We hope you’ve enjoyed the tour! And we hope that you’ll be able to experience something similar at Ground Kontrol in the not-too-distant future! If you have any suggestions or comments, we’d love to hear from you!

PS Thank you, Isaac, for building the game models!


Looking Back, Looking Forward

Now that we’ve defeated the boss at the end of level 2009, it’s time to advance to level 2010. But first, a look back at some of last year’s highlights:

Cake Invaders!

January
Our first “new” game of 2009 was Taito’s 1986 classic, Bubble Bobble. We also hosted our first wedding!

February
This month saw the 3rd installment of our Slugfest fighting tournament. We also upgraded our Mortal Kombat II to a dedicated Midway cabinet with a 25″ CRT.

March
In March we debuted our custom Multi-Capcom cabinet, adding Aliens vs Predator and Vampire Savior to our collection.

Pinbrawl '09 - Art by Lee Zeman of Mad Pakyderms (madpakyderms.com)

April
We had our first Portland Pinbrawl pinball tournament, with 121 contestants. We also added our Namco Classic Collection multigame with Dig-Dug, Pac-Man, Galaga, Mappy, Rally-X, and Xevious.

May
May saw Rock Band Tuesdays house band Mario Speedwagon jet off to Atlantic City to compete in a national Rock Band competition. They lost, barely, but they’re still the champs of the Pacific NW! Golden Tee returned to the arcade, sharing a cabinet with World Class Bowling, another trackball game.

July
New pins – Cirqus Voltaire and The Machine: Bride of Pinbot, the latter with a rad LED lighting retrofit.

August
In August we celebrated our 10th birthday! To celebrate, we threw a weeklong party including our fourth Micropalooza chiptunes event. We also acquired a Killer Instinct 2 cabinet, in which we’re currently running the original Killer Instinct 1.

September
We upgraded our pinball collection again with Williams’ classic Tales of the Arabian Nights.

House Of The DeadOctober
As a special Halloween treat, we debuted House of the Dead.

December
In the spirit of the season, we gave you several “new” games to play:

  • Street Justice: The Old Town Beatdown, a custom multi-game featuring Bad Dudes Vs. Dragon Ninja, Final Fight, Ninja Gaiden, and Two Crude;
  • the classic shooter Big Buck Hunter; and
  • Finally, our pride and joy: a custom built and restored 6-player X-Men featuring a 42″ LCD display!

X-Men

Looking forward to 2010. We have big plans!


Categories: From The CEO

NBA Stars Jam @ GK

You never know who you’re going to run into at Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade. Sometimes famous musicians wander over from the Roseland Theater after soundcheck. Sometimes athletes come from the Rose Garden and elsewhere. It’s amazing how word has spread far beyond Portland of what a great place GK is for classic gaming.

Last Sunday, I wasn’t at all surprised to see noted pinhead Todd MacCulloch,who went to U-Dub and played in the NBA for the 76ers and the Nets. Todd is a lifelong pinball fan, owns over 30 pinball machines, and is currently ranked 104th in the world as a pinball player. Todd had driven down from Seattle with his infamous Pinball Posse to compete in GK‘s first annual Pinbrawl pinball tournament. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of playing Todd head-to-head on a few of our machines. I put up 650M on White Water, my best score ever, but Todd beat me with 750M, so I knew firsthand that he’s a great player and a definite contender for Pinbrawl’s Pinhead Trophy. Unfortunately, Todd had an off day, and got knocked out about halfway through the tourney. 🙁

In mid-afternoon, another tall gentleman approached the counter with a question. After answering, I asked him, “has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like Brent Barry?” He replied, “yeah, my ID says that all the time!” Turns out, Brent was in town with the Houston Rockets, currently doing battle with the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA playoffs. Brent’s a great guy and a NW favorite, having balled for the OSU Beavers and the Seattle Supersonics, but I’m only rooting for him to win video games this week. 😉 I watched him tear it up on Championship Sprint, finishing in 1st place ever time. The hand-eye coordination that makes Brent such a deadly shooter makes him a helluva gamer as well! Brent says he visits GK every time his team is in town. 🙂

Brent and Todd were gracious enough to have their picture taken with me:

At 5'-11, I'm not used to feeling so short!

At 5′-11, I’m not used to feeling so short!

Afterwards, Todd and I gave Brent tips on convincing his wife to let him buy his favorite game, an Addams Family pinball machine. 😉

If you ever see someone famous at Ground Kontrol, please be respectful, and don’t interrupt them in the middle of a game. And let the attendant at the counter know, so we can get a picture of the celebrity with their favorite game!

The CEO


Categories: From The CEO

Color My World (Arcade Memories, Part 3)

1980 was the year that color video games started taking over American arcades. It was weird, sitting at home and playing color games on the Atari 2600, but only having black & white games (sometimes with cheesy color overlays) to choose from at the arcade. Were color monitors that much more expensive? One of these days I’m going to have to track down the answer…

Anyway, it was a glorious day when I walked into the arcade and saw Galaxian for the first time. Finally, a color arcade game! It didn’t take long before most of the black & white games were gone, replaced by the sexy new color ones:

Star Fire (Exidy, 1980) – This was my favorite game when it came out. The arcade I went to had the sitdown version. The logo ripped off Star Wars, as did the TIE fighter enemies. This was the best simulation of flying through space I’d seen, at least, until I got an Atari 800 computer with Star Raiders.

Tempest (Atari, 1980) – Atari’s weird color vector game was very, very different from other games. It was like staring down a weird mecha-tube that had space bugs crawling up it. I never could master killing the bow-ties once they got to the rim, which meant I sucked. But Tempest let me skip ahead to the hard levels, one of the first games to do so.

Centipede (Atari, 1980) – Videogames used to seem so slow, like the CPU couldn’t draw stuff fast enough. Oh yeah, that’s exactly what was happening! But Atari had the best programmers, and they knew how to milk the 6502 for all it was worth. And they knew how to design games so it seemed like there was a lot going on. Centipede could be rather frantic, and the sound effects made it moreso.

Phoenix (Centuri, 1980) – The local 7-11 had one, back when 7-11s had mini-arcades. I liked it better than Galaxian or Galaga. GK used to have one, but I was one of the very few that played it regularly, unfortunately, so it went into storage.

Berzerk (Stern, 1980) – “The humanoid must not escape!” Berzerk was a simple, yet exceedingly difficult game, which I only played to hear the cool robot voices.

Missile Command (Atari, 1980) – There was one in the basement of my college dorm. This guy named Bobo would skip class and play Missile Command all day. The game had a bug which would give him a whole bunch of bonus cities (150?), at which point he’d get bored, and go get a beer. He’d let me play while he was gone. Being able to play at the high levels without worrying about dying made me a decent player pretty quickly. After that, I could make 200,000+ points pretty regularly. No Bill Carlton, but good enough to make the top score on most Missile Command machines. Oh yeah, Bobo flunked out – no surprise there!

Defender (Williams, 1980) – Great sound, and a world that seemed bigger than those in other video games. Too bad I sucked at it.

Warlords (Atari, 1980) – Kinda like a weird 4 player competitive version of Breakout. Each player had a castle in their corner of the screen, and the object was to deflect the fireball ricocheting around the screen destroying castles. If you pressed your button at the right time, you could catch the fireball, then release it with spin at your opponents. I think this was the best 4P game, ever. Oh, how I wish GK had one!

Monaco GP (Sega/Gremlin, 1980) – An overhead view driving game, with a cool twist – while in tunnels, you could only see what was illuminated by your headlights. The arcade I frequented had the nice sitdown version.

Crazy Climber (Nihon Bussan, 1980) – the pizza joint where we used to hang out had one of these. I loved the smug look of the vultures and the terror in the face of the falling man on the marquee. The two-fisted joystick control over the climber’s arms was a great concept, but poorly executed. The arms would never go where I wanted them to, so I never made it to the top of the fourth building. 🙁

Pac-Man (Bally/Midway/Namco, 1980) – Not my favorite, but I have to give Pac-Man his due. This was the game that catapulted video games into the mainstream. Pac-Man was on the covers of magazines, and “Pac-Man Fever” was on the radio. The arcade became very popular, and video games started showing up in other places.

It’s hard to believe so many great games were released in one year. I know I’ve left out some other classics, but these are the ones I remember playing. Sorry if I missed your favorite!

The CEO


Categories: From The CEO

Arcade Memories, Continued

As you’ve probably noticed, walking into Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade is like entering a timewarp back to the heyday of arcades, the early 80s. The owners of Ground Kontrol have a lot of fond memories of those days, and GK is our way of keeping those memories alive.

The first arcade that really made an impression on me was the one at The World of Sid and Marty Krofft, the strangest amusement park ever. This was in 1976. This may have been the first arcade I went to that had video games. Video games were still in their infancy, all crude black & white games such as Pong, Tank, and Sprint 2. Electro-mechanical (EM) games still ruled, though their days were numbered.

About a year later, around the same time that Star Wars was released, an arcade opened in the local mall. It started out with a mix of EM and video games. Over time, the EM games were replaced with video games and solid state pinball machines.

Arcades started popping up in more and more places. Prior to this, I don’t remember arcades outside of beach towns, amusement parks, and other touristy locations. I have to think the increase in the number of arcades was because the new video games were more profitable and more addictive than EM games.

I got my driver’s license in 1979, and pretty soon my brother and I were heading to the mall every time we could scrape up a few quarters. It was great time to frequent arcades, because it seemed like the arcade had a new video game every week. Some of the early black & white games I remember:

  • Death Race (Exidy, 1976) – loosely based on the movie Death Race 2000, this was a black & white 2 player driving game with an overhead view. The point was to run over pedestrians! When you did, a tombstone would pop up. This was the first video game banned for violence. I was lucky my local arcade had one!
  • Starship 1 (Atari, 1976) – This was the first space game that really felt like flying through space. It had a great cabinet design, and the enemy ships looked vaguely like the ones in Star Trek, but it was too hard.
  • Night Driver (Atari, 1976) – I think this was the first first-person video driving game. I remember getting really excited when it came out, because unlike the EM driving games, it was possible to suspend disbelief and feel like you really were driving at night.
  • Space Wars (Cinematronics, 1977) – The first vector game, and an adaptation of Spacewar!, the original video game. Atari released their own adaptation as a 2600 cartridge, called Space War, of course. I spent an unhealthy amount of time flying really fast in wraparound mode, trying to avoid crashing into the star in the middle of the screen.
  • Super Bug (Kee Games, 1977) – Perhaps the first scrolling overhead-view driving game, it seemed like Super Bug had more variability than other video games from that era, which were mostly static, boring affairs, probably due to how expensive and limited microprocessors and memory were at the time.
  • Fire Truck (Atari, 1978) – A fun update of the Super Bug concept, in that there was one fire truck and two steering wheels – one for the front of the truck, and one for the back of the truck. A lot more fun than it sounds. Really, the world needs more cooperative-play video games!
  • Space Invaders (Bally/Midway/Taito, 1978) – This is the first video game that people talked about outside of the arcade. Hugely popular.
  • Lunar Lander (Atari, 1979) – Atari’s first vector game, the object of which was to land a lunar module on the moon. I was nerdy enough to already be familiar with the math behind this game, having played the totally numerical lunar lander game on the programmable HP-65 calculator in calculus class many, many times.
  • Asteroids (Atari, 1979) – Asteroids seemed like such a simple game, yet it was very difficult to master. Another wildly popular game.
  • Tail Gunner (Cinematronics, 1979) – Another early vector game, and one of the first sitdown cockpit cabinets. I loved any game that simulated flying through space!
  • Football (Atari, 1979) – The first game I can remember with a trackball (one per player, actually). Moving your player involved a crazy amount of trackball spinning. Sometimes we played until our hands got blistered!
  • Star Castle (Cinematronics, 1980) – A simple but challenging vector game. It came out just as color games were getting more prevalent, which definitely hurt its popularity.
  • Battlezone (Atari, 1980) – It’s hard to imagine how impressive a simulated 3D game was in 1980, even if the environment was constructed with only a few vectors. A great description of how Atari managed 3D on low-cost hardware can be found here.

The black & white era was about to end, though. More on this in a future post!

The CEO


Categories: From The CEO

Arcade Memories

Some people don’t realize that there were arcades before the advent of video games. Arcades originated in the 1800s, featuring all sorts of electro-mechanical (EM) games that cost a penny to play. Hence the name “penny arcade”. If you’re interested in seeing what sorts of EM games were found in early arcades, check out the Penny Arcade website (no, not that Penny Arcade!).

My first arcade memories date from the early 70s, from trips to the beach. Back then, it seemed like the beach was the only place I ever saw an arcade. They had no video games, just EM games, and arcade staples such as skeeball. Pinball was the king of EM games, of course. But there were all sorts of other EM machines:

  • Shooting Games – these usually featured a gun mounted at chest level on a fixed pivot, pointed at targets behind a glass bezel. Midway’s The Sportsman is a typical example.
  • Driving Games – the steering wheel controlled a plastic car on the end of a pivoting stick, which was overlaid on the track. This could be a projected film loop of a cartoon racetrack, as in Chicago Coin’s Speedway, or motorized belts representing different lanes, such as Bally’s Road Runner. Some games featured a motorcycle instead of a car, but they weren’t any better. Other than Atari/Namco’s F-1, I only recall driving games as being pretty crude.
  • Submarine Games – the player would peer into a periscope, shooting simulated torpedoes at mechanical ships. Midway’s Sea Raider is a good example.
  • Pitch & Bat (Baseball) Games – these looked like a pinball machine, only the playfield looked like a baseball field. The pinball would pop out from a metal flap that represented the pitcher’s mound. Pressing a button would swing the bat, which would either go into cups representing singles, doubles, or triples; into holes representing outs; or if you were really lucky (or really good), up a ramp and into the home run area. The backglass area had diorama of the infield with a circle going around the bases. Whenever you got a hit, a baserunner would pop up and circle to the appropriate base. Williams’ Upper Deck was one of the last pitch & bat games made.
  • Whac-A-Mole – this game was in a class all by itself. Moles would pop up out of holes, and you had to hit them with your hammer before they went back in their holes. I remember still seeing these in pizza parlors throughout the 80s.

There were other oddball EM games of all sorts, but I’m having a hard time remembering them. One that I do recall was Midway’s Stunt Pilot. It featured a dayglo diorama lit by a blacklight, which tended to draw kids to it like moths to a flame. The object was to fly a tiny little airplane in circles and do various stunts. I think the airplane was reflected on a two-way mirror, so it floated over the diorama like magic. If the plane crashed, a little ambulance would come out with the siren on, which was hilarious.

I wish Ground Kontrol had at least a few of the classic EM games. Unfortunately, when you run a business, you sometimes have to put your personal preferences aside. EM games other than pinball just don’t have the popularity to “earn their keep” on our arcade floor. We make our money 25 cents at a time, and so sometimes we have to make hard choices.

Next time, I’ll cover the rise of video games and how they changed arcades.

The CEO