Kids waiting at the orthodontist play Galaga, guests at the Breakers run from digital ghosts, and Rick Ross is gaming at home, thanks to Robert Childs.
The owner of Fort Lauderdale's Arcade Game Sales, Childs holds the second-highest score in Tempest in the world, according to the website Twin Galaxies. Close friend Steve Kleisath, drummer of Further Seems Forever, is also a successful gamer. He has the skills to rank as the second-highest-scoring player of Ms. Pac-Man. We sat down with the pair to talk about Childs' famous clientele and their oddly unique Retro Arcade Night.
Retro Arcade Night, 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, September 29, at Arcade Game Sales, 829 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. $10 allows access to unlimited games and a discount at Radio-Active Records. Call 954-270-6949.
Childs started unjamming coins in arcades owned by his father when he was in first grade. At his store, he customizes games for the rich and famous, as well as guys who own pizza joints. Childs also co-owns King of Kong Arcade in Orlando International Airport with Billy Mitchell, close friend and business partner, restaurateur, and star of The King of Kong.
Kleisath said, "I was enamored with arcades in the '80s" but took a break from gaming in the '90s, what Childs calls "the Dark Ages," a time before the rise of the internet revived arcade culture. Though the drummer knows other musicians who like to play games, like his bandmates, he joked, "They're not at elite world status."
Childs chimed in, "You're just a tough guy. You gotta be a little cocky when you play these games." To which Kleisath replies, "You've gotta have confidence or the game's going to beat you! Don't let the game push you around."
Arcade Game Sales is popular with rappers and sports stars. Childs estimates that about 90 percent of his clients are wealthy fans of arcade games. Rick Ross has even been in the store and purchased multiple systems. Childs said, "I've set up a few of his homes with arcades," though he was careful not to give details. Those in the rap game are hesitant to have their fun business aired publicly.
He even created Regis Philbin's going-away gift for his show — a customized Pac-Man game, a new machine he built with classic, original stickers, that the TV personality played on air. Other notable clients include NBA players Kyrie Irving and former Heat player Eddie Jones. Jeff Conine, formerly of the Marlins, and former Dolphin Randy McMichael also have hired Childs.
We wondered what exactly rich and famous people like Rick Ross (but not necessarily Ross) do with these expensive toys? "They all have like one room dedicated to games. Maybe a pool table." Childs brings games and organizes them in their home arcades. "They all want bizarre things usually. I have to find real old machines that I've never had to find before for anyone. Most of them are like that. There's usually something special. It's gotta be something different."
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Once he even received a rare and costly request from a sports guy to redesign a pinball machine. "We had to strip the whole machine, all of the artwork," he said, all because the dude wanted his face featured on the game's playfield. The machine loses all of its vintage value when stripped, but it remains a novelty item. Kleisath added, "It's like tattooing someone's name on your body, and when it doesn't work out, it's worthless."
Their semimonthly arcade night is unique in that, Childs says. "Arcades don't exist anymore. The classic games, there's only a couple left," citing one in New Hampshire and another in Oregon. "There's only a few in the country, and I did this here because I sell machines and I had it all set up. I don't worry about making or losing money."
The games most popular with the public are Pac-Man, Galaga, and Donkey Kong. But Childs creates his own multigames. He can make a machine with 1,000 games in it, but normally they'll have a motherboard with 300 games.
The two are thinking of hosting another game night in November with a competitive edge. Kleisath is in the top ten highest-scoring players of original Mario Bros. So the plan is, after he returns from the FSF tour in October, he'll try to beat his score, and Childs will play to reign supreme in Tempest. Definitely something worth peeping. And you never know: You might just catch a glimpse of the Bawse at his favorite spot to snag a Galaga arcade.