Heart of Gaming – Interview

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Who amongst us doesn’t know of Heart of Gaming? Its Acton sanctuary closed some time ago but thankfully they’re back on track with new digs in Shepherds Bush and you can be a part of it through their crowdfunding page here.

Adrian caught up with the main man himself Mark Starkey to find out how all this came about and what we can do to help this gamers’ paradise come to fruition…

 

The Heart of Gaming (HoG) looks awesome. Can you explain to our readers what to expect when your new venue opens in Shepherds Bush?

 

In short, a video gaming experience the likes of which London has never seen before. Arcade gaming, retro and current console gaming and now, the addition of a LAN set up for the PC gaming community. Tournaments, events, location tests. We represent all formats of video games, everything from Pacman, to Street Fighter, to Dance Dance Revolution, to Overwatch and Counter Strike. There will be something here for anyone who ever played video games.

 

When do you hope to open The Heart of Gaming to the public?

 

The intention is to open the doors to the public in late April/early May 2017. We gain access to the building in early March and then have 16 weeks by which time we have to be open to the public. However, our previous venue taught us a lot about building refurbishment, and whilst we will not cut any corners, we are confident we will be open before then.

 

You’re looking to raise £90,000 with crowdfunding. Can you explain what this money will be used for and how our readers can learn more about this exciting project?

 

Certainly, the vast majority of the money is going into renovating the building and securing the building deposit. Both of these are the most costly aspect, the plus side being that the rent is affordable. At the moment, the building is literally a shell, as can be seen in our crowd funding video. Naturally some funds are being allocated towards gaming, such as arcade machines, console software and PC’s.

I’m always happy to answer questions regarding HoG since it’s built on community support. In addition to social media and the specifics listed in our campaign, I will be being going live through the Facebook page. Every Monday and Thursday during the campaign to answer any questions people might have, as well as to take on suggestions.

 

 

You had huge success with your previous Heart of Gaming venue – why did this eventually close and how will the new venue differ?

 

A matter of weeks before the renewal date, the landlords sold the property to new developers who simply decided that there was more money to be made by splitting it into office units. They did not care that we were, quite literally, the only reason people from out of town would visit North Acton and the morality of what we do fell on deaf ears. What makes this new venue so much more desirable is that, following a presentation we gave them, they are very excited by the idea that HoG is a destination that will draw people from all over the country and beyond. The atmosphere in this shopping centre is very communal. Neighbouring businesses have already expressed interest in cross promotion with us. This is exactly the type of environment we need.

 

Have you always had an affinity to arcade machines? And if so, how did this passion first start?

 

Playing from the age of 13 in the local arcades, and I discovered the London scene the following year (1992). The bright lights of the city and the many arcades, all packed with a plethora of titles lead me to take on a personal interest. At 15 I was working in the local arcade. My boss also put me on The City & Guilds BACTA coin slot engineering course (laughs). I was the only person to sit the course that year, it was cancelled the next, literally making me the last of the old school qualified arcade engineers in the UK! In my GCSE technology course I built a generic ‘JAMMA’ cabinet from scratch before eventually purchasing an original generic machine from my boss. I still remember the horror of it not dismantling down to a point where it would fit through my parents’ front doors and having to chisel the glued wood pegs holding it together whilst it started raining. Oddly enough, I would experience this again in 2005 only this time with a metal frame that was welded, leading me to have to pull out the angle grinder!

 

How did you initially get hold of your arcade machines? Did you manage to take advantage of all your rivals closing down?

 

I wouldn’t say it was taking advantage as such, though the closure of London arcades, most notably Funland in London’s Trocadero, was definitely a contributing factor. Initially I purchased the machines from multiple arcades in the West End, however Trocadero was definitely the bulk purchase. I had actually first approached them for the sale of a number of machines in early 2010 but it wasn’t until mid 2011 that they closed. So I had to wait an entire year to get the machines out because the Trocadero landlord cut of the electricity and padlocked the fire escape to stop Funland’s owners taking machines out. When the machines were finally able to be removed, Gamerbase in Trocadero HMV shut down due to HMV going into administration. The timing was right there. London had lost its past and future representations for video gaming, and the HoG was born some months later. The funny thing was, the owners of Funland would laugh at me when we turn up in a van for a collection. They saw these machines as worthless, and that I was doing them a favour by taking them: “Hey look lads, he’s come to collect his old tat! Money for old rope boys, we’ll use it to get the drinks in later! Might as well put his pocket money to some use!” The irony.

 

 

What do you find are the most popular arcade games that people will always play?

 

Some games have aged well, others have not. For example, Donkey Kong and Pacman are iconic, and have seen a resurgence thanks to documentaries such as The King of Kong, and Chasing Ghosts. Games like the arcade Sonic the Hedgehog do well because Sonic is iconic (no extra charge for the poetry), and cannot be emulated, nor is it available at home. Several classic Street Fighters, such as Street Fighter 3: Third Strike and Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo have cult followings, but the other twenty odd Street Fighter games form the 90s are mostly distant memories. Dance games are popular, as music is timeless, and they are fun to play either at a novice or experienced level. Good games are like people in that they’re wherever you find them. Then you have games that just seem to strike a chord in people, such as Money Puzzle Exchanger, a Japanese-only Neo Geo title, that features easy to pick up but difficult to master gameplay. And you have games that people want to see, but not necessarily play again, such as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.

 

Are there any arcade machines/games you would love to have in HoG?

 

Ha ha! As mentioned before, the priority is more the games that our community want to see. Rhythm games are very popular these days. I often conduct surveys on social media to see what people would be interested in. A project in the pipeline is that I am slowly building a collection of Daytona USA parts and spares (woohoo!! – Ed) and sourcing machines in order to create the eight player experience (in the hope of organising tournaments on it). My personal favourites are mostly in HoG already, as I pledged a number of machines and games from my own collection, such as House of The Dead, The King of Fighters 98, Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Mortal Kombat 2.

 

You currently charge a flat rate fee to enter and allow free access to all arcade machines. What made you choose this particular pricing strategy?

 

The traditional coin operated structure has sadly become irrelevant. When arcades offered the high end technology over consoles and there was no internet, the coin operated system worked fine.

If you look at mobile phones for example, it’s a similar trail of progress. When the technology was new, most people would only afford pay as you go, but now phone contracts offer so much better value for money. The arcade has to allow people to budget for a day out. It’s 2016, not 1992, adaptations need to be made. I don’t feel that, especially with the amount of options gamers have at home that it’s fair or reasonable to except people to shamelessly change up £20 notes after making the effort to travel simply to play ‘old games’. Some things we can bring to the present, such as the titles of the past, and the vibe of an arcade. Some things, such as overflowing ashtrays, change machines and coin operated play simply have no place now. If we were in the East, maybe. But this is the West, and we have to do things differently in this era to ensure they survive.

 

We here at Arcade Attack are huge friends of PlayNation Games in Croydon. Can you explain how you hope to create a partnership with them?

 

I first met Dan when he popped into HoG one day, and I happened to be on my way to view the new unit. We got talking and in turn, I went to visit PlayNation games. I was absolutely amazed.

Aside from the retro and import stock, which always gets my attention, I was drawn to the fact that PlayNation had a similar type of community to HoG. It’s not just a games store, it’s a meeting point for various gaming communities, with people in the community happy to get involved and promote a chilled environment. We both seem able to relate to the younger generations and take pride in doing something we love. Dan’s attitude is similar to mine, in that we both want to do something we love and push it on other people (ha ha). There are and will be many advantages to come, but you’ll have to check the updates as and when they come 😉

 

Have any celebrities ever visited the Heart of Gaming?

 

Absolutely! Perhaps the most recognisable being Bill Bailey, the irony being I didn’t know of him at the time but suddenly saw the staff getting super excited. I shyly approached him and said “My staff tell me that you are a big deal, would it be ok to get a picture?” He chuckled and nodded. He was actually in HoG because the school his son attends brought him along as support staff for and educational visit. We talked for ages about HoG and its relevance. We played dance games together briefly. He really is a super chilled individual. I really must hit him up for a share of our project on social media…

We’ve also played host to Dick and Dom from cbeebies which was a hilarious time. When it came around to asking for a photo, they stood either side of me in the shot and pointed up at me. Unfortunately (and very embarrassingly) it was a cold day and I was wearing a thin jumper only, so the final shot appears to be endorsing my nipples. We’ve also seen Justin Lee Collins come to get his fix of Donkey Kong and I believe, Missile Command. We almost played host to WWE Superstar Xavier Woods, however a change to his schedule coupled with the gruelling workload meant he was unable to attend. Still, the new HoG is only down the road from Wembley Stadium, they’re here twice a year, so I like to think the opportunity to meet him will come again!

 

Which video game character would you most like to share a few drinks with and why?

 

That’s a tough one! Being snapped having a drink with Bayonetta or Lara Croft would be amazing, but I’m a huge fan of charismatic villains. I guess, as long as I caught them in a good mood,

I’d be happy to chill with Albert Wesker or Akuma. Then again, I wouldn’t want to contract the T-virus or be subjected to a raging demon. Choices, choices…

 

Thanks for your time Mark! Readers, please head to the flexible crowdfunding page here and check out the amazing rewards!

Adrian

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