of over 500 video games and pinball machines is a labor
of love for Randy Lawton, Chief of Technical Services
at Funspot, who practically grew up in the arcade here
and has been keeping both the old and new games running
for nearly 30 years. His work on the innards of the
game machines qualifies him as the resident "pinball
wizard", a title he has also held during the 1970s
when his mastery of the intricacies of the games earned him a reputation
as one of the top pinball players in the country.
But as much as he enjoys the work, he does have one
complaint. He says he's so busy these days that he
doesn't get much of a chance to enjoy the games he
works on, especially those classic pinball games he
first cut his teeth on.
"I like some of the old ones. but I don't get
much of a chance to play them anymore," says
Lawton, who was busy putting the finishing touches
on his latest restoration project, reconditioning
a pinball game that will see its first action since
the early 1980s.
The game, Gottlieb's Foto-Finish, came out in 1961
and saw over 20 years of service before being replaced
by some of the first video games that came into the
Funspot arcade. It is one of eight classic videos
and pinballs that Lawton recently pulled out of storage
to recondition for the arcade industry's first large
scale classic game contest in over 15 years.
That event, the Funspot/Twin Galaxies International
Classic Video Game and Pinball Tournament, will
bring an international field of competitors to
the arcade, which features the world's largest collection
of classic games.
Lawton has been busy reconditioning other classic
pinballs such as Old Chicago from 1975, Buckaroo from
1965 and Tropic Isle from 1961, to add them to the
over 100 video games and pinball machines from that
era which have already been grouped together on the
upper level of the Funspot complex for the upcoming
Walter Day, editor of the Twin Galaxies' Book of
Video game and Pinball Records, who is co-sponsor
of the tournament, said that he was astounded when
he found out that Funspot had so many of the classic
games and that they were still running just like
they did when they first came off the factory
production line. "It's like a King Tut's tomb,
a veritable time machine of classic games,"
said Day, who has been e-mailing enthusiasts all over
the world about the tournament.
In his capacity as "keeper of the crypt"
Lawton said that he has had to brush away his share
of cobwebs to get the old games out of storage
and get them back on line. And he enjoys that challenge
as well as working with the older machines. "In
the old days everything was pretty logical. When
the ball closed a contact switch it scored points
or features through a series of relays and score motor
contacts. In today's games the ball can make switch
closures by contact or interrupting an optic
or infrared switch. "In the electronic pin games,
as they are called, these types of switch activators
are read by an I.O. board (input/output) or circuitry.
The I.O. signals the central processing unit (C.P.U.)
through a system of interface memory and processing
I.C.s (integrated circuits) which in turn signals
the out put circuitry to make the sounds, turn lights
or solenoids on or off and add score to a digital
display. "The principle remains the same, in
either the old relay or new circuit board based games,
the machines react to the action of the player moving
a ball at targets on the playfield."
One of his all time favorites was Liberty Bell,
a 1962 game which has become increasingly hard
to find. "It was a great machine. I'd like to
get my hands on one of them again," he says.
Other favorites include Sittin' Pretty, a 1958 Gottlieb
game, and Captain Fantastic, a 1976 game made for
singer Eiton John after the 1975 success of the movie
version of the rock opera "Tommy". In the
movie John plays the reigning "Pinball Wizard"
who is challenged for supremacy by "Tommy"
(Roger Daltry of The Who), immortalized in the song's
line as "that deaf, dumb and blind kid, sure
plays a mean pinball."
Older video games which are being readied for the
tournament include Starship 1 from 1976, Sea Wolf,
Drag Race from 1977 and Stunt Cycle. And there will
be the popular classics such as Pac-Man, Joust, Donkey
Kong and Space Invaders. Lawton says there is no real magic
involved in keeping the games running. "You
just need a little common sense and the ability to
read a schematic and follow it through the machine.'
Keep it simple and clean the contacts first.
If that's not the problem then follow through step
by step until you find what's causing the problem."
He said that he can't remember when he first
started fixing the machines but knows that playing
them helped make him a better mechanic when he did.
Lawton took over chief responsibility for repair
and maintenance of the games from his uncle, Bob Lawton,
who says that Randy was one of the best pinball players
"I don't know many players who ever beat him
at any game more than once," says his uncle. When he's not around the pinball and video games Lawton
enjoys fishing, playing golf and watching auto racing.
He also enjoys taking his 28-foot classic wooden boat
out on Lake Winnipesaukee every now and then. The
1966 Lyman is one of the last wooden boats manufactured
and is powered by two 230 horsepower engines. He's
had the boat since the early 90s and is hoping that
there won't be so much high water and no wake restrictions
this year so that he'll have more chances to get out
and enjoy the lake.
Like others at Funspot, he says that he is psyched
up about the upcoming tournament and is looking forward
to it becoming an annual event. Competitors from as
far away as Canada and Florida and perhaps even Japan,
will try to set new world record on the classic game
machine; during the three day tournament. "This
will be bigger than the famous contests we organized
for the Guinness Books back during the mid 1980s"
said Walter Day, who expects to arrive in the Lakes
Region several days before the tournament in order
to familiarize himself with Funspot and its amazing
variety of classic games. Highest scores logged during
the tournament will be published in the next edition
of Twin Galaxies' Official Video Game & Pinball
Book of World Records.
For contest information, call Gary Vincent at Funspot
at (603) 366-4377.
By Roger Amsden
- Reprinted from The Weirs Times, Vol. 8, No. 17, April