• Open Noon-Late Daily
  • All Ages Admitted Until 4:30PM
  • 21+ & I.D. Required After 5PM

Categories: From The CEO

Categories: From The CEO

Looking Back At 2008

One of the challenges of running an arcade is keeping things fresh. If things are the same for too long, then customers develop tunnel vision, heading straight for their favorite game and ignoring everything else. So we’re constantly on the lookout for “new” games. Because we prefer the classics, we usually wind up buying them used. And that means it usually takes a lot of effort to make them ready to operate at Ground Kontrol for 15 hours a day, 7 days a week. It takes time to find the parts, get the game working reliably, powder-coat pieces that receive wear, clean the cabinet, reproduce and apply artwork, and get a game looking the way we want it to. Sometimes it takes a couple of days, sometimes it takes over a year. But we think it’s worth the effort, which why we keep doing it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Being the time of year to feel retrospective, I decided to list the games we added over the course of the 2008:

Marvel Vs Capcom 2
The Simpson’s Pinball Party
Cruisn’ Exotica (x2)
Rush 2049 (x2)
Super Punch-Out!!
Super Street Fighter II Turbo (25″ screen)
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
Tekken Tag Tournament
Attack From Mars
Scared Stiff
Smash TV
Sunset Riders

That’s over a game a month! Suddenly, I feel much better about our productivity. ๐Ÿ™‚

Of course, whenever we add a game, we usually have to remove a game. It’s an unfortunate necessity when coping with limited space on the arcade floor. Here are the games that left Ground Kontrol in 2008:

Golden Tee
Neo Geo #2
Spy Hunter
Star Trek Pinball
Gauntlet II
Rush the Rock
Hydro Thunder
Smashing Drive
Street Fighter II (19″ screen)
WWF Wrestlefest
Pac-Man (upright)
Elvira and the Party Monsters
High Speed

…and our old-school photo booth moved around the corner to Backspace to make room for more games.

Some of these games will undoubtedly come back to GK someday. I know Spy Hunter, Golden Tee, Punch-Out!!, and WWF Wrestlefest are on the list. Like I said, though, these things take time, so please be patient with us.

We’re working hard to bring more games to Ground Kontrol in 2009, too. The next time you visit, be sure to look around, because you never know when you might see one of your old favorites returned to its former glory!


Categories: From The CEO

The Time My Father Got Hooked On Space Invaders

My father was a hard man. He was all about work, work, work, usually 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. He didn’t approve of art, he didn’t approve of play, and he certainly didn’t approve of video games. So, it was a shocker when he got hooked on Space Invaders.

I’m pretty sure it was the winter of ’80/’81. It was around the time that Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon, I know that much. Of all the weird things, Chapman had been my archery instructor at summer YMCA camp when I was younger. And at the time I heard the news, we were living just around the corner from the house he grew up in, and 2 or 3 blocks from where he went to high school. It’s all etched very vividly in my memory…

Anyway, we had an Apple ][ computer, and I bought a copy of the Space Invaders clone that ran on it (Super Invaders, I think). It was one of the more faithful ports of an arcade game to the Apple ][. Every day when we got home from school, me & my brother would have a mini-tournament to see who could get the high score.

One day our father (who worked at home) asked if he could play. The next day, he wanted to play again. After that, he was participating in our Space Invader tourneys every day. And he got pretty good at it, too.

Eventually, I tired of Space Invaders. The local 7-11 got a Centuri Phoenix machine, so for awhile I was going to play that every day. Then a really good clone of it called Falcons came out, so we started playing that at home, my Dad included. But that was the last video game I can remember him playing. We moved pretty soon after that. I got an Atari 800, and me & my brother started playing Star Raiders. I think it was too complicated for my dad, which is too bad.

In retrospect, I wish I’d found more games he was interested in playing. Some of my fondest memories of my dad are from that winter we played Space Invaders every day. Who says video games can’t bring a family closer together?


Categories: From The CEO

The Time I Rode Inside A Giant Pinball

When I was 13, the rulers of mid-70s Saturday morning television, Sid & Marty Krofft, opened what is still the weirdest theme park ever, The World of Sid and Marty Krofft. It was an indoor amusement park, located inside a building in downtown Atlanta. Because of this, there weren’t very many rides. Here is a scan of a poster that shows how big it was.

The whole place was overrun w/ with bizarrely dressed mimes, jugglers, puppeteers, and of course, various Krofft characters such as H.R. Pufnstuf and the Lids from Lidsville. It was unbelievably weird and surreal.

The coolest ride was the giant pinball machine. The balls were large enough for (I think) 4 people to climb into, and after the attendant made sure the safety bar was in place, a giant plunger would come towards you to “launch” your ball into the machine. Lights would flash, and the ball would spin and “carom” off various objects in its path, such as the giant pop bumpers, sling shots, and flippers. In reality, the ball was being pulled by a chain on a predetermined path. But the sights and sounds made in seem like it really was a giant pinball machine. It was one of the most fantastic minutes of my life! Too bad it didn’t last longer.

And that’s what sucked about The World of Sid and Marty Krofft – it was over too, too soon. There were only 3 or 4 rides, which you could only ride once, and they only lasted a minute or two each. Then they’d herd you to the exit to the next level. I think we spent more time waiting in line at the entrance to get in than we did inside the park! We could have spent all day at Six Flags for what it cost to spend two hours at TWoSaMK. No wonder they went out of business inside of six months.

Believe it or not, CNN’s studios are now located in the space vacated by TWoSaMK. For all I know, Larry King broadcasts from where the pinball machine used to be. I’d rather have the fabulous giant pinball machine, that’s for sure!


Categories: From The CEO

My First Video Game

Ok, it wasn’t my video game; it belonged to my best friend, Terry S. Terry was the neighborhood badass. He started smoking cigarettes in kindergarten, I kid you not. His dad was a chopper pilot in Nam and kinda scary, but he let us peruse his massive collection of Playboys, so he wasn’t all bad. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Terry’s mom was Swiss, and was as cold & distant & beautiful as an Alpine peak. Terry did pretty much whatever he wanted, but he was envious that my parents cared enough about me that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted. And that was pretty sad (Terry, that is).

Anyway, for Christmas 1972, Terry got a Magnavox Odyssey. It was the first video game any of us had ever seen, and it was so cool. It was the first home console, and it looked like something out of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where they got the name from). You’d laugh at how crude the gameplay was, but back then, it was the future!

Every afternoon after school, we’d park our butts in front of the TV and play Table Tennis (the inspiration for Pong), Ski, Football, and Haunted House. About the time we were getting sick of those, Terry got Wipeout (a driving game) and Shooting Gallery. Definitely better than Gilligan’s Island reruns!

Unfortunately, Terry’s parents got divorced, his mom moved back to Switzerland, and he and his dad moved to a “swingers” apartment complex where there weren’t many kids. I didn’t see much of Terry after that. Last I heard, he had a pretty serious drug problem. In 8th grade. Poor guy.

In retrospect, the Odyssey looks rather unsophisticated, but it was actually a work of genius. The system didn’t have a CPU, so the cartridges were just a bunch of jumpers to reconfigure the game’s internal analog circuitry. As an electrical engineer, I’m amazed that they got so much out of so little. But there were limits to what could be done. The system was black & white. Backgrounds consisted of colored plastic overlays that were held to the TV screen by static cling. Changing games required changing overlays as well as cartridges, and sometimes entailed a nasty shock when the overlay was peeled from the screen. So primitive. But as a kid in 1972, the Odyssey was pretty far out!


Categories: From The CEO

Ever Since I Was A Young Boy, I’ve Played The Silver Ball

I fell in love with pinball when I was 9, in the summer of ’72. My mom was the campaign manager for a realtor running for the State Senate, and the campaign HQ was a terribly boring place for a kid. I could usually finagle a quarter or two from her by stuffing several hundred envelopes with campaign literature. Then I could go to the drugstore on the corner. I wasn’t into candy, so I would either buy a couple of comic books (they cost 12ยข back then!), or play the old bat game in the corner.

If you’re too young to remember bat games, they were 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. It might sound quaint now, but back then it was pretty exciting. If you scored enough runs before you made 3 outs, then you’d win a free game.

Midway through the summer, just when I was getting good at the bat game, the drugstore got a pinball machine. I wish I could tell you which one, but I can’t remember (maybe because pinball machines looked and played so similarly back then). It was love at first sight. I stopped buying comics, and started working extra hard to earn quarters to play pinball!

Pinball was so much faster and more dynamic than the bat game. With the bat game, the ball came from the same spot, at the same speed, every single time. With pinball, it could come from just about anywhere, and be slow, fast, or sometimes spinning. And there where two bats, not one. I quickly figured out that it was best to use them independently, in case the ball grazed off of one towards the other. Thus began a lifetime ambition to master their use.

After that, I played pinball whenever I could. It seemed like pinball got even more popular with the release of the Tommy movie in 1975, and Elton John’s version of “Pinball Wizard”. And Bally started releasing tables like Captain Fantastic and Evel Knievel that were so much hipper than the fuddy-duddy ol’ Gottliebs.

When I was 14 or 15, an arcade opened at the mall. They actually had a choice of pinball machines to play! Mata Hari, Playboy, Sinbad, Flash, and Star Trek were some of my favorites from those years. And none of them were electro-mechanical – they were solid state. What I didn’t know at the time was that pinball was going through a phase of great innovation. More on this later…


Categories: From The CEO

So You Want To Open An Arcade…

Seems like we get an email like this about once a month:

“I am writing first of all to thank you for the best arcade I have been to since ever. But also because I would like to start something similar in my own town. I am hoping you’d be able to maybe answer a few questions about how to get started and what kinds of things to avoid.”

Thanks for the kind words! We don’t want to discourage you, because the world could definitely use more classic arcades, but…if it was an easy thing to open a classic arcade like Ground Kontrol, then don’t you think every decent-sized town would have one?

GK has been in business almost 10 years now, and for the first 6, we struggled to break even. At first, it was run full-time by the owners, because there wasn’t money for employees. Business came slowly, mostly by word-of-mouth. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe we almost didn’t make it. Luckily, we could afford to be patient through the lean years.

The biggest challenge has always been keeping the games running. Ground Kontrol is, if you think about it, a hands-on museum. We have games up to 35 years old, and they were designed to last only a few years! Repairs can be challenging, and parts nearly impossible to find. Luckily, 2 of the owners are electrical engineers, and the other 2 are software guys that know something about hardware, so there’s very little we can’t handle. And we finally were able to afford to hire a full-time repair tech a few months ago (hard to believe it took so long). Still, keeping 90 or so games running is a logistical nightmare, as you can imagine.

We’re lucky in that we’ve had nearly 10 years to build up a pretty decent collection of games. It seems to be getting harder to find classic games in good condition. The cheap ones got snapped up years ago, and eBay makes people think they deserve collectible prices regardless of condition. And speaking of eBay, fuel prices make the cost of shipping games prohibitive. So, you’re probably limited to what you can find in your local market via Craigslist, unless you’re willing to pay premium prices.

In conclusion, running an classic arcade is more a labor of love than a way to make money. But Kevin Flynn has long been one of our idols, and there’s nothing better than living your dreams. All in all, Ground Kontrol has been worth the hard work

If we haven’t discouraged you, then we’d like to wish you the best of luck in your venture! Just don’t open a classic arcade in Portland – this town is barely big enough for one!


Categories: From The CEO

Why Doesn’t GK Have ALL Of Your Favorites?

Good question! There are several possible reasons:

  • Your favorite game is one of our favorites, too, but we haven’t been able to find one in good condition at a reasonable price. Games we’re looking for include Smash TV, Dragon’s Lair, and Medieval Madness.
  • We used to have your favorite, but we had to put it in storage because we replaced it with a more popular game. For instance, Gyruss and Phoenix.
  • Your favorite isn’t what we consider to be a classic game. Example: Space Jam. Sorry, not every game can be a classic.
  • We own it, but it’s broken. Spy Hunter is at the top of this list.
  • We own it, but we’re trying to get it working and/or figure out where to put it. Final Fight, Sunset Riders, and our fabulous new 6-player X-Men all fit this description.
  • We like to consider ourselves experts on classic games, but there’s always a possibility we don’t know that our arcade is seriously lacking without your favorite game. Please, tell us what games you’d like to see at Ground Kontrol!

We wish we had a massive warehouse filled with at least one copy of every pinball machine and video game ever made – the ultimate coin-operated gaming museum. Well, maybe not, because then we’d have to keep them all running!

The reality is, we’re paying downtown rents, so we only have a limited amount of space. And that limits how many games we can have.

Our goal is to have as many of the Killer List of Video Game’s Top 100 games as possible, but unfortunately we just don’t have room. So we have to make tough choices, based on which games get played the most. It makes us sad, but we have to if we want to stay in business.

In a future post, I’ll talk more about our plans to offer more games.


Categories: From The CEO

My Favorite Game Was Broken…

We occasionally get letters such as the following:

I enjoy visiting Ground Kontrol and it is on my top list of places to take people who are from out of town. The atmosphere and staff are consistently great, and I was excited to see that you have broadened the bar selection.

However, I have noticed that recently when I visit there are a lot of games in disrepair. Recently, I visited and found that Soul Caliber II, DDR, and the ATM were all broken. (All huge factors in my patronage.)

As it turned out, the ATM was fixed within an hour, DDR had a coin jam that was cleared when someone brought it to the attention of the staff, and Soul Calibur II worked fine when it was rebooted the next morning.

We know people travel great distances to visit Ground Kontrol, and it really sucks when your favorite game is broken, or isn’t working 100%. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to keep everything working all of the time. We’re engaged in an epic battle with entropy, fighting the damage caused by abusive customers, pinballs imparting their kinetic energy to brittle plastic parts, and the ravages of time on machines up to 35 years old. Sometimes games seem to be haunted by gremlins that disappear whenever we’re looking for the problem. And sometimes replacement parts are unavailable (we recently purchased a spin caster so we can cast our own metal replacement Battlezone handles!).

Still, I don’t want to make excuses. We can do better. We need your help, though. If you encounter a problem, tell the person behind the counter. They can note the problem in our repair wiki and put an Out Of Order sign on the machine if necessary. They can refund your quarter, too.

Please, do not turn off a game! Legally speaking, that is an act of vandalism. We know your heart’s in the right place, but it’s our machine, and it’s up to us to determine whether it’s out of order or not. Also, telling no one helps no one – we need to know what happened. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve found a game turned off, only to turn it on and see nothing wrong with it. Then we have to wait until someone else has their game ruined, and hope that they report the problem.

If you feel like the staff didn’t log your problem, or if on a return visit you find the problem is still there, let the management know what happened, and when, by sending us an email. We’ll do our best to address your issue. We can’t fix every problem quickly, but at least we’ll know there’s a problem to fix.

BTW, we just hired a great new repair tech, Ryan Vyborney. He worked several years at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. If you see a guy in cycling gear working on a game at GK, that’s probably him. He’s quickly working his way through our repair backlog, and should have things back to 100% soon. That is, until something else breaks.


Categories: From The CEO

Now Serving At 5PM

As you may have noticed, Ground Kontrol‘s bar now starts serving every day at 5PM. Here are some frequently asked questions, and answers:

Why aren’t kids allowed after 5PM?

The OLCC won’t allow it, except under very special circumstances. Apparently, having a high wooden counter (i.e. a bar) and dim lighting is enough to create a “drinking environment”. And you can’t have kids near a wooden counter with dim lighting while there’s alcohol around, heaven forbid!

Recently, the OLCC did liberalize their rules slightly, so we can now have minors present while alcohol is served, during private parties. See our rentals page for details.

Aren’t arcades for kids?

We grew up in arcades during the 70s & 80s, and find modern arcades to be an abomination. Ground Kontrol is an arcade for adults, hence our focus on old school games and lack of stupid redemption games. Kids are welcome (before 5PM), and they usually have a lot of fun, but they’re not why we’re in business.

Why alcohol in an arcade?

We serve alcohol to make ends meet. GK is a labor of love, not money. Our out-of-town customers frequently tell us that there aren’t any classic arcades in their town. Why? It’s a tough business. We’re lucky that Portland is the sort of place that will support a classic arcade.

Do you have a happy hour?

Yes, but we can’t advertise it outside of GK. Please call us @ 503-796-9364 for details.

Why did it take so long for you to have a happy hour?

In March, we asked the OLCC to change our serving time from 7PM to 5PM. You’d think that would be a simple thing that would take a week at most, right? Sadly, it took four months. The good news is, the OLCC’s rules changed during that time, so we were able to change some of our other license restrictions, too.

Why can’t you have all-ages shows?

We’re not brave enough. Whle the OLCC’s new Minor VI posting allows all-ages shows, and GK was the first establishment in Oregon to receive a Minor VI posting, we’ve chosen not to have all-ages shows at this time. Unfortunately, no matter how much a venue does to keep minors from drinking alcohol, the OLCC can close a premises to minors if even one minor is caught with alcohol. This is like telling a store that they can’t sell candy if somebody shoplifts one candy bar! Though not allowing minors wouldn’t put us out of business, we really appreciate it when parents bring their kids to show them what arcades were like when they were a kid. So, we’re going to wait and see how the rules are enforced at other venues.

Have questions of your own? If so, please leave them in the comments section, and I’ll try to answer them!


Categories: From The CEO

A Blog About An Arcade

Looking around the Interwebs, I can’t seem to find any blogs about arcades. Maybe it’s because nobody cares about the inner workings of arcades, or maybe it’s because most arcade owners are too busy or too old to write a blog. I suspect people are interested, because my employees regularly ask me questions that customers have asked them. So, I’ve decided to start a blog about Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade, in hope that somebody finds it interesting. Enjoy!

Update: Here is another arcade blog, for Arcade UFO in Austin, TX.