While playing Centipede (don't judge) at my local mall in the '80s, it never occurred to me that somewhere behind the soon-to-fall Iron Curtain there would be some punk playing the Soviet version of arcade games as well.
Hell yeah they were! Now, thanks to two nostalgic Muscovites who remembered their days of playing "Sea Battle," there is an entire museum full of these Soviet-era games. The story of the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines is so cool we couldn't make this up if we tried.
Let's talk about the games first. Soviet classics Sea Battle and Sniper were actually made in military factories: "Sea Battle was made at a factory that made real rocket guidance systems for the Soviet Navy," says 29-year-old Alexandr Stakhanov, museum director and one of the founders. "Military factories had a lot of free personnel and resources and they had to find ways to maintain levels of production."
If you can make a missile, how hard is it to make a few games right? Well there are a few small differences in these game and the ones we might have been used to.
Many of the games don't have complex computer microprocessors, relying instead on servos and moving parts. There just weren't a lot of spare computer processors to throw around in the waning days of the Soviet Union.
The other difference is the kind of games — there is a definite military bent to them with lots of tanks, ships and air battles. Or, you could wage an epic sports battle on behalf of the U.S.S.R.
We can all relate to those games, but it's not clear whether Soviet kids got to shoot at alien space ships, do a little street fighting or propel a carton character in a search for fruit. It stands to reason there might not have been that kind of creative scope in a military rocket factory.
But, a game is a game, and if you grew up with you loved it. Once Stakhanov and his friend found Sea Battle in an abandoned arcade it sparked their quest to keep collecting. The result is a museum filled with some 40 games, now located in a revamped industrial building in a Moscow suburb.
It's a far cry from the early days when the team started out in an old bomb shelter courtesy of Stakhanov's University. The first space was something of a video game junkyard where some games were cannibalized for parts to make working models.
Things are very different today in the Museum's new home open to visitors from around the world. Guests receive a cup of Soviet-minted 15 kopek pieces and can explore at will.
So if you are in Moscow, this seems like a definite must see. If you can't make it over there anytime soon, you can at least play Sea Battle online and keep up with the Museum and their ongoing search for games via their blog (translated from Russian) and website.