How Texatron will bring us together
When was the last time you played a new arcade game that didn't involve discerning minute differences between pornographic images or jutting your arm out violently in an attempt to approximate a golf swing? These days, games that come in oversized cabinets are relegated to the hardcore Street Fighter crowd (see Arcade UFO near campus), nostalgia seekers (see North Austin's Pinballz Arcade), and the occasional game at a movie theatre with a plastic guitar or gun. But what about the average Joe who happens to have a few minutes and a quarter burning a hole in his pocket? Or maybe a couple looking to kill a few minutes while their pizza is made?
Enter the Texatron, the latest initiative from Austin's impeccably named indie gaming collective Juegos Rancheros. More specifically Austin can thank Juegos jefes Adam Saltsman and Brandon Boyer for spearheading the operation. The plan is to gut, reimagine, and rebuild a classic cabinet; load it with independent games from Austin and beyond; and unleash it on the public. The idea comes from an already realized project called the Winnitron created by Winnipeg indie developers the Bit Collective. Winnitrons can be found in global locales ranging from New York to New Zealand and even come preloaded with a two-player version of Saltsman's iPhone sensation Canabalt, among other games.
Phase one of making Texas' arcade-in-a-box a reality is already complete as Retro Studios – developers behind the lauded Metroid reboots and more recently Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii – donated an old Pac-Man cabinet that currently sits in Saltsman's garage. With the recent donation of a new PC and a large monitor, which all but completes phase two, it will soon be time to put the thing back together. Following that the Texatron gets some programming polish to get all of the games wrapped up in a pretty digital package, before the focus shifts to the physical packaging. Boyer has tapped the artist behind indie darling Sword & Sworcery EP, Craig D. Adams (aka Craig Superbrothers), to spruce up the cabinet with original artwork.
After that, all that's left is the fun. But don't overlook the underlying sense of place that accompanies time with the Texatron. Not only are players associating a city or a scene with a game's development (something rarely done), but they get out of the largely hermetic world of console gaming and into a public space to go head-to-head with friends and strangers. Plus, the truly skilled can make it to the high-scores screen and pretend their initials are "ASS" just for kicks.
UPDATE: As pointed out by Craig D. Adams via Twitter, while the Texatron is influenced by Winnipeg's indie arcade cabinet, the Winnitron itself was inspired by the Torontron. If the name itself doesn't make it clear, the Torontron is Toronto's indie arcade machine created by that city's Hand Eye Society. All of this is to say that, yes, Toronto was cool first, but Winnipeg's coolness is more fresh.
Want to help the Texatron transformation? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and prove your worth to the cause. You can also go to the Chronicle Screens blog, Picture in Picture, for a slew of pertinent links and technical jargon.