I was telling the kids about the days when arcade games were ubiquitous.
When we lived in Pine Avenue, Elwood in the early 80s, the local milkbar on Ormond Road had a Donkey Kong Junior machine, for instance.
But a short bus ride away in St Kilda was video game heaven. For starters, Luna Park (which in Melbourne was and is free to enter; unlike Sydney, you only pay for the rides), had a shed full of video games next to the Ghost Train.
In there I remember pumping my 20 cent coins into machines playing Donkey Kong, Popeye, Frogger, Elevator Action and Space Invaders. The latter was black and white, but with a colour overlay to give it a multi-coloured background.
A short walk down Carlisle Street was a laundromat with a Moon Patrol machine. The laundromat is still there, but these days shares the premises with solarium. Sign of the times?
Moon Patrol in the laundromat was great fun, for two reasons: firstly the machine was not in great demand, so there was rarely a queue. (The etiquette in those days was that if you wanted to play the machine next, you’d put your 20 cent coin on it; there was usually a spot where the screen met the console where a coin could be placed and it wouldn’t roll away.)
Secondly, it was one of the earliest games which would allow you to continue playing after losing all your lives, by putting in another coin. While I wasn’t the world’s best Moon Patrol player by any means, this meant that for 40-60 cents I could play right through the course (which went from A to Z), whereupon it would go back to the start, but with extra difficulty. Great fun.
Further down Carlisle Street, at the corner of Barkly Street, was a takeaway place with a Galaga machine. The takeaway place (or its descendant) still appears to be on the same corner. On my trip home from school in year 7 and 8, I’d often change from the tram to the bus at this spot, and play Galaga while I waited.
Other highlights around that part of St Kilda for a teenage geek included the computer shop on Barkly Street between which sold clone disk drives for the Commodore 64 (the Skai 64 drive, which I had, but which seems to have virtually faded into obscurity) and the two local newsagents on Acland Street, which sold all my favourite imported computer magazines, such as Commodore User, Compute’s Gazzette, Zzap 64! and later (when I switched allegiences from the Commodore 64 to a BBC Micro) Acorn User and The Micro User. Later when these publications got less mainstream, I ended up having to go into McGills (also now defunct) in the city to get them.
Further afield were Timezone in the City (apparently there are still a few of these around) and of course the Fun Factory in South Yarra (likely to be redeveloped in the not-too-distant future), where I sometimes played after school once I’d gone to Melbourne High… not to mention that one year rollerskating (also at the Fun Factory) was offered as a sport. I recall they had Joust, Gauntlet (great with four players), Gyruss and Dragon’s Lair (never my favourite).
There was also a place in Balaclava next to the railway bridge which, I recall, was called Sam’s Amusements. Mostly pool tables I think. They may well have had arcade games in there, but it looked way too scary, and I never went in there.
You may have worked out by now that I’m enormously nostalgic for the video games of this period. As it turns out, there’s a place in South Melbourne that sells multi-game versions of the old arcade games, in pretty authentic-looking cabinets, and there are others around Australia where you can buy them from about $1200 upwards. One day, maybe.
In the mean time, there’s always MAME.