By Susan Froyd
By Byron Graham
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davies
By Josiah M. Hesse
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By Kate Gibbons
They didn't have to wait for long. Adler knew that he'd have to move fast if he wanted to open Denver's first adult arcade. Fortunately, an ideal space was available: the subterranean spot at 1925 Blake Street that had swallowed up many other entertainment concepts, everything from a supper club to a blues bar. Adler's concept for what he decided to call the 1UP looked like a much better fit. "Because LoDo needs one," he explains. "It needed something different." Different from what other entrepreneurs had tried with the space, and different from what other arcades around the country were offering. He envisioned a real-life, modern-day version of the arcade of his youth, one that not only attracted devoted gamers, but created a community that would welcome more casual players, too. So instead of focusing on highly specialized games, like Ground Kontrol, or a variety of craft beers, like Barcade, Adler broadened the scope of his business to include a photo booth, three Skee-ball games, fifteen pinball games and a life-sized Jenga. He lined the walls with dozens of classic arcade games — Tron, Ms. Pac-Man, his beloved Mortal Kombat and its siblings, as well as harder-to-find titles. And he hired a full-time technician to make sure that all of the games were always fully functional: Jon Jamshid, one of the country's most respected arcade collectors.
The 1UP opened its doors on March 23, 2011, right before the baseball season began. And it was an immediate hit.
1925 Blake St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
The most significant compliment ever paid to the 1UP came from a twenty-something not much older than Adler was when he became obsessed with arcade gaming. "He said, 'I can't believe it, you guys,'" Adler laughs. "'There's an arcade with both games and women in it!'"
Adler's business boomed so fast that within a year, he had a second outpost at 717 East Colfax, the 2UP. Between them, the two locations feature more than ninety games, all of which run on original parts. That number doesn't include the extras waiting in Adler's office or in the personal collections both he and Jamshid maintain, which add another 200 machines to the total. And Adler's enthusiasm for gaming has spilled over to many of his approximately forty employees, some of whom have started purchasing their own games and moving them into living rooms across the city.
"A lot of people don't get this, especially younger people, but you couldn't play games on your screen when I was a kid," Jamshid says. "That feeling of walking into a place for the first time and being able to control this world on a screen was this overwhelming experience, and we want it to stay that way even now. You can't really compare Halo and all these new games to that retro-gaming experience."
He and Adler work hard to make sure those old games are in peak condition. Broken games do not stay on the floor while they're awaiting repairs, and the selection of featured machines rotates regularly based on customer demand.
That attention to detail recently helped Adler win a place in another big game.
"When I walked into the 1UP, I saw the quality and lineup of the games are incredible, and the staff, every single person I've met there, treats me like I'm famous," says Richie Knucklez. In the world of arcade gaming, he is: Knucklez is both a well-known purveyor of games and the creator of the Kong Off world championship. But when Adler first called him, he almost refused to answer the phone.
"Another arcade bar?" he remembers thinking. "What's different this time?"*****
Adult arcades were already starting to revive interest in vintage games when the industry scored with a documentary: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.
Across 79 minutes — less time than it takes to complete a competitive kill-screen round of its title game — King of Kong chronicles a mid-2000s battle between two champions for the top title in a game created in the 1980s.
"In the late '90s, the hobby of collecting almost died, and when the The King of Kong came out in 2007, it became almost a normal, mainstream thing," explains Jamshid, whose collection of arcade games earned him a spot in the documentary. "Thanks to it, the hobby has become pretty massive, and Donkey Kong's become a household name, this Americana thing. Before you knew it, tons of regular people were buying machines and doing man caves in their basements."
Much of the film focuses on two gamers, Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, who are both Donkey Kong fanatics but lead distinctly different lives and have very different on-screen personalities. Having claimed the world's then-highest scores on both Donkey Kong and Centipede as a teen in the 1980s, Mitchell was already a star when filmmakers started documenting his play. In addition to having earned a perfect score on Pac-Man, he owns a restaurant chain and a line of hot sauces in his native Florida; he talks big and he wins big. Wiebe, Mitchell's challenger in the film and many times since, is four years younger and more restrained. He lives in Redmond, Washington, where he recorded a Christian album and continues to play. But today, neither man holds the top score for Donkey Kong. Hank Chien set a new world record on November 5 with 1,138,600 points. (That score has yet to be verified by Twin Galaxies.)
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This is the story I wanted to read. Great questions asked and answered. If anybody wants to delve deeper, I'm covering the Kong Off 2 here: http://donkeykongblog.blogspot.com
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