I caught up with Zach Weddington whose team are making Arcade Dreams, an exciting new documentary focusing on the golden era of arcade gaming. Here he is to tell you why this one will stand out from the crowd and why you should back the Kickstarter (which is live right now here).
Arcade Dreams is just the kind of thing we adore. Can you please tell us a little bit about the project and how it came about?
Thanks, I’m glad you guys are feeling it. We’re making this series for fans like you. I’ve loved arcades my whole life. As a documentary filmmaker and film lover as well, I’ve always wanted to see a film that really brought the arcade experience to life and went deep into the history. There have been a lot of great films that touched on different aspects, but nothing that went all the way there and created something magical. I knew I had to change that.
What you’ve presented so far looks incredibly slick, why the need for the Kickstarter?
Arcade Dreams was originally planned as a feature-length film, but as we uncovered more information and talked with more people, we realized that it needs to be a full series to do the topic justice. We have about half of our content written and shot, but our Kickstarter will allow us to complete the full series.
So, our Kickstarter funding itself will be used for additional shoots, research and writing, editing, animation, and archival footage and music licensing. Plus, about half of our Kickstarter funds go straight into producing our amazing backer rewards, including a Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray set, custom illustrated posters, t-shirts, and a variety of other collectibles.
The project kicked off in 2018 and we’ve been working on it in the background for the past two years.
What’s your background?
I’ve been obsessed with computer graphics my whole life. In fact, my love of video games and computer graphics led me to straight into a career in film and television production and that’s what I’ve been doing for over 20 years.
I’m either watching documentaries, making documentaries, or dreaming about documentaries, pretty much. I also do lots of retro gaming and emulation and collect tons of weird handheld games.
I’ve met a lot of friends through the Vintage Computer Federation here in the United States. The amazing stuff I saw at VCF events inspired me to make my first documentary, Viva Amiga: The Story of a Beautiful Machine. The community helped make the film a success and now we’re doing all sorts of cool new retro things together! Including Arcade Dreams!
Tell us a bit about your team and what makes them great for a project like this?
They’re awesome. Everyone on the Arcade Dreams team shares my passion for retro gaming and documentaries, and they also happen to be incredibly talented people who are among the best in the game. Putting together a team like this was the first step in making this project a reality.
I met most of the other team members over the years through our love of retro games and computing. Bill Winters, my Director of Photography, is a great example. I actually met Bill while shooting Viva Amiga, and knew him as an Amiga fan before discovering that he’s also a world-class cinematographer who travels all over the world shooting stuff for everyone from Netflix to Disney to National Geographic.
cTrix is another friend I met through Viva Amiga. It turns out he’s insanely multi-talented and does everything from producing chiptunes—which he’s best known for—to writing epic prog jazz masterpieces, great audio engineering, even video editing and production. He’s heading up the production of our soundtrack and score, which is a natural fit and something I’m very excited for us to work together on.
You’re planning to make three episodes, what’s the rough format? How long is each going to be?
Arcade Dreams is currently structured to have three hour-long episodes. We’ll also be working with our Kickstarter backers to create a pair of bonus mini-documentaries that dive even more deeply into the specific arcade companies and games they care most about. The process will be collaborative and the mini-docs themselves will be exclusive to our backers, not included in the overall series.
Can you give us a few names of the retro gaming legends you’ve managed to get on board with the project? (I realise they’re all on the kickstarter page but this is a good chance for you to plug it, pay homage to whoever you want)
Oh man, so many legends. And we’re just getting started.
We’ve got Eugene Jarvis. He worked on all kinds of classics like Defender, Robotron:2084, Cruis’n USA, Pinbot, NARC, and Smash TV. These days, he’s the head of his own arcade game development studio, Raw Thrills. In addition to tons of other titles, they’re one of the major companies behind the immersive Halo arcade game that came out a few years ago. He’s super excited about the scope of the series. He’s been waiting for something like this to come out!
We also have some amazing historians on board, including the folks from The Strong Museum of Play. It’s one of the largest history museums in the United States and has the world’s largest and most comprehensive set of archives related to games, including tons of rare documents from Atari, Williams, and other iconic companies. The historians there are serious arcade scholars.
We’re even talking with the man behind the original Xbox, Ed Fries, who has also been a passionate arcade game lover since he was a kid. Arcade love is literally everywhere!
There are a lot of documentaries that focus on our mutual love of arcade gaming/retro gaming, what will set Arcade Dreams apart from the rest?
This series is different from other documentaries on the topic in several ways.
First off is the scope that we’re covering. Most existing video game documentaries focus narrowly on the Golden Age periods in the early 80s and early 90s, while this series covers the full history of the industry and evolution of games over the past century. In addition to the nuts & bolts historical coverage, we’re placing an emphasis on human stories of triumph and tragedy throughout the full spectrum of industry titans, game developers, arcade operators, and of course the players themselves.
Finally, we’re creating the series to be highly informative, but with a cinematic visual style and dynamic editing that is sometimes missing from these types of films. Arcade Dreams is designed to have a lot of repeat viewing potential, not be something you watch once and put away on the shelf.
When did you fall in love with arcade gaming?
This story is fresh in my mind because I actually found one of my first arcade tokens ever a few weeks ago. It’s from the first arcade I ever went to back in 1983 when I was just five years old: “The Sundae Bar.”
I didn’t even know I had it. Apparently, it’s been chasing me around for almost 40 years now. It was in a little metal toy box, mixed in with some Transformers, Battle Beasts, Garbage Pail Kids stickers and other 80’s toys I managed to keep somehow.
Anyway, the memories came flooding back. I remembered the first arcade game I ever played. I had forgotten all about it. Atari’s Fire Truck.
That game blew me away back then. Super realistic! Black and white?! The watery video signal is still burned in my mind’s eye all these years later. Good controls, I remember. “A very realistic experience.”
What’s your favourite arcade game?
I’ll go with Sega’s Power Drift. It’s like Out Run on speed. It’s my favorite of the super-scaler type games and I own a beautiful Power Drift cabinet so I get to play it whenever I need a break from editing. The game is still fun after all these years because the gameplay is very exhilarating. It’s designed by Yu Suzuki, who also did classics like Space Harrier, Out Run, Hang-On, After Burner, and Shenmue for the Dreamcast. Actually, Power Drift is available for the Dreamcast as well, if you search hard enough.
If you could go for a drink with any video game character or mascot, who would you choose and why?
Maybe Dirk from Dragon’s Lair. Now he’s a man who could use a drink!
We’ll be doing deep dives in LaserDisc games for the series, so we’ll all get to have a drink with Dirk. If you back us on Kickstarter, you’ll get to see some video game characters you’ve probably never heard of as we continue to show rough cuts and do live-streams behind the scenes with legendary game developers.
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