Retronauts Pocket 13 Takes the “Retro” Thing a Little Too Far

Apologies, citizens, as we appear to have taken our remit as “retronauts” a little too seriously this time around and set the Wayback Machine so far that we don’t even really talk about video games. Instead, in another “Retronauts roots” episode, we talk about the precursors of video games — the various electromechanical amusements that established arcades as an entity before the idea of using room-sized computers to control the movement of a dot around a tiny phosphor screen ever existed. Think of this as the Silmarillion to episode 13‘s Lord of the Rings.

As such, the conversation is a bit more dry than would be ideal. Whereas the previous episode featured us talking passionately and at length about things with which we had personal experience in our formative years, the concept of a pre-video arcade exists strictly in a museum sense for us. Because we’re not 60 years old, and therefore can’t speak about these things with the sort of intimate familiarity with which we went delved into classic video arcade games. Still, there’s some learnin’ to be had.

And my apologies if the theme sounds a little weird. I was trying to go for a cracklin’ 78rpm sound, as if “His Master’s Voice” was secretly playing Anamanaguchi, but I’m not sure it quite worked out. Oh well! Put on your carny jacket and bark at passersby as you listen to us poke and prod at video game prehistory.

Incidentally, this episode marks the halfway point of our Kickstarter-funded podcast journey. Crazy.

Retronauts 13 Pocket cover

It’s the most retro Retronauts ever as we look at the roots of video games in the form of pre-video arcade games. Ski-ball! Kinetoscopes! Electromechanical target galleries! Even WE aren’t this old. Sam Claiborn joins Jeremy, Ray, and Bob.

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12 thoughts on “Retronauts Pocket 13 Takes the “Retro” Thing a Little Too Far

  1. Nooooo! It’s too far! Our retronaut suits aren’t rated to handle the pressure this far back!!

    Also, you should just call the Pocket episodes .5’s so this would have been episode 13.5

  2. Loved this episode, and got a kick out of the Gramophone remix of the Retronauts theme.

    I thought the “morality play” aspect of the old-timey attractions was really interesting. It seems like there’s a through-line from that to this:

    “WINNERS DON’T USE DRUGS”
    William S. Sessions, Director, FBI

  3. Someone mentioned that “bells and whistles” was a reference to pinball machines. The actual root of that expression is Victorian London theatre. The rigging was controlled using a series of bells and whistles to indicate when things had to be brought in or out, so adding all the bells and whistles meant adding the special effects. It’s also why it’s bad luck to whistle in theatres.

  4. If one can get visual pinball up and running one can try out virtual recreations of pinball like amusements dating as far back as 1860 in some cases. Tally ho.

  5. Disneyland always had a good penny arcade with a lot of these old contraptions. (I think they still do but I didn’t go last visit.) and numerous of these old machines could be found in San Fransisco tourist attractions in he 80’s especially in the pier 39 area. I think i the age right before Videogames there were some really interesting electromechanical devices for amusement as you mentioned. At least I’m old enough to remember seeing some of them when I was young. Would be like a kid going to the arcade today and seeing a PAC man machine I supose.

    Interesting the movie Big featured a penny arcade remnant with the Zoltan machine as a key plot point. And while looking that up I found a page documenting many of penny arcade machines across all genres that is pretty fun to look at.

    http://www.pinrepair.com/arcade/

    It’s interesting that light gun games actually predates Videogames but video games kind of appropriated them. But the light sensing technology was around awile.

    I seriously reccomend checking out that link though to see some cool pre VG arcade games.

  6. Sorry for a third post but I thought I’d share another link that shows a lot of the Sega electromechanical arcade games. They did a lot of cool stuff before modern electronic games. And also an interesting piece of history is that Segas Periscope (1966) was the first arcade game to cost 25 cents and set the standard price of games for years to come.

    http://segaretro.org/Category:Electro-mechanical_arcade_games

  7. This episode reminds me of the pre-arcade equivalent of the Game Boy: the Tomy handheld pocket games of the seventies and eighties. I still have my copy of Pac-Man, which obviously translates all the thrill of the arcade to the back seat of the car.

  8. It’s funny you folks mentioned the Musee Mechanique – if you or any listeners are out around Detroit, we have a very similar museum. It’s a fellow’s private collection of EM machines, video games, pinball machines, and whatever weird stuff that strikes his fancy that he has open to the public: Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum. Very cool place!

    http://marvin3m.com/

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