To many, the classic video game Snake may as well be an entire genre. From its primordial start as the Gremlin arcade game Blockade, to its eventual status as a worldwide hit when it was included as a quick bonus in Nokia phones, there is a long, varied history for such a simple game concept. What many do not know is that pre-Nokia phones, there was yet another game that helped shape the concept of the snake game – Rock-Ola’s Nibbler.
Made by Rock-Ola and slithering into the world around 1982, Nibbler is a maze game that has you control a very ravenous snake of some form. The snake’s goal is to eat all the dots in a maze, growing bigger with each bite done. Each subsequent level gets more complicated to maneuver along with the snake itself. Sounds simple enough, that’s because it really is. There’s not much else to Nibbler… until you discover the high score mechanics of the game.
Nibbler, in a lot of ways, is designed for prime high score play. A lot of elements will give you points, and as such, it is designed to be absolutely addicting to high score chasers. According to game designer John Jaugilas, all these peculiar scoring mechanics were engineering manager “Uncle Larry” Gleason’s idea. The game rewards better gameplay, with the obvious time bonus at the end of each level, and throwing an extra snake at the player at every four waves. These additional mechanics make an already simple but addicting game extremely fun to play.
This fun-factor wasn’t lost on frequent arcade-goers. Almost immediately, many gamers went up to machines around the world, seeking the Nibbler high score. Sales of the arcade units were high as a result, it was listed by Amusement Expo International as the 13th most-played arcade game of 1983. Around 1984, the first player to be recognized for their Nibbler score was seventeen-year-old Tim McVey, who scored 1,000,042,270 points. Aside from an unverified record from Italian player Enrico Zanetti (allegeg to be 1,001,073,840 points), McVey’s score stood still until 2008, when more players decided to take up the challenge. Dwayne Richard gained a score of 1,002,222,360 in 2011, which became the new world record for a while. However, McVey regained the world record shortly after Richard, with a score of 1,041,767,060. In 2023, Alessandro Porro became the current world record holder, gaining a score of 1,233,326,800. There is even a whole documentary about the craziness behind the race for the world record: Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler, and it is a recommended watch.
The story of Nibbler is a very interesting one, one where the game’s design philsophies worked exactly as intended, and ended up making a huge splash in the world because of it. We all owe it to this red serpent whenever we play Snake.
This is an interview with Steve Mitchell, owner of Classic Amusements in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Mitchell appeared on our radar after doing some repair work for Buffalo’s pinball machines out in Cope. Buffalo couldn’t say enough nice things about him, so I got on the phone with Steve to learn about his extensive work on pinball and other arcade machines.
Nicholas Bernhard Tell readers about yourself, your business and what you do.
Steve Mitchell My business is Classic Amusements Limited. Mainly what I do is restorations. I also have some more commercial customers, working on newer arcade games in an arcade. Vintage restoration and home service is my focus. I have some customers that have big private collections, I maintain those and keep those running.
NJB How long have you been playing pinball?
SM When I was growing up, arcades were becoming a smaller thing. I’ve always loved older engineering. I grew up working in a Porsche/Audi/Volkswagen garage, the owner used to restore antique radios from the early 1900s. We built custom racecars in the garage. I was into the mechanical fuel injections, the CIS injections, all the old mechanical engineering, and that carried over into working on old pinball machines.
[Pinball] was more of a hobby when I was younger. I worked on airplanes for a while, at a flight school in Santa Monica, and all that time, I worked on whatever older pinball machines or arcade games I could find, player pianos… I’m very interested in making them work: taking them apart, fixing them.
There’s a lot of satisfaction when you get done working on one, one that didn’t work, that had rats nests in it… when you get done, and it looks beautiful, that’s what I love. Bringing the original artwork back to life, because a lot of [the art] is done by hand on these old machines, a lot of smart people put a lot of time into it. If somebody doesn’t work on it, it’s all gonna disappear.
NJB What are the most common problems you are called to work on?
SM Somebody has put a pinball [machine] in a garage or a barn for fifteen, twenty years, and it worked when they put it away. Now they try to turn it on and nothing happens.
NJB What’s a particularly memorable fix you’ve made?
SM A Rotamint Super Sieben. It’s a German gambling machine. It’s all mechanical, a little bigger than a pachinko. It has three reels that spin, and you can restart the first one, stop the second two. There are a bunch of different ways that it pays out. I worked on that one six, seven months ago for a guy, he was looking all over the country trying to find someone who could fix it.
NJB What are some of your favorite pinball machines, and why?
SM A lot of the ones that I like are ones I’ve worked on. One of my favorites was a Williams 8-Ball Deluxe. Not very fast, a lot of the artwork on it is pool-themed. It’s one of my favorite machines because it got me started doing it as a business.
NJB Are some pinball machines more prone to breaking than others?
SM It’s the same thing as cars. It doesn’t matter what type you have, as long as it’s maintained and it’s fixed correctly. You have a lot of people who haven’t maintained a pinball machine, or had it serviced in six, seven years, and it doesn’t work that great. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Bally, or a Gottlieb, Data East, or Chicago Coin, as long as it’s maintained, you won’t have that many issues.
Granted, [pinball machines] get beat up, there’s a little metal ball flying around in it, stuff is gonna break.
NJB That leads into my next question: what should a pinball owner or collector do to maintain their machine? What is a common problem that is easy to prevent with proper care?
SM One of the main issues on mechanicals is just keeping score motors lubed up… see, that’s a hard one, you don’t want a lot of people going in with lubrication, trying to lube things up in a pinball machine.
The best thing someone can do to maintain their pinball is to keep it clean: waxing off the playfield, not letting it sit there for months after being played. Whenever I get done doing a full restoration, I always tell [the owner] that the best thing they can do is play it. Turn it on once or twice a week and shoot all five balls through it. If it’s a four-player, do a four-player game and shoot the balls through it real quick, give it a little exercise, let it knock the rust off. It it sits there, all those contacts go bad, rubbers go dry, dust builds up, and that’s when you start getting issues. Keep those contacts clean and worked out, and you’re not going to have to call someone like me very often.
Obviously, that’s for home service, for game in an arcade, the requirements change quite a bit.
NJB Do you work on any other pre-video arcade machines, like shooting galleries or pachinko?
SM Right in front of me I have the target assembly for a shooting gallery, a Midway Captain Kid, from the mid-to-late ’70s. I have a late ’70s Bally slot machine, with an all-mechanical, progressive jackpot that I’m doing for a customer. I have an early ’70s Rock-Ola jukebox in the shop, and a ’64 United Classic Shuffle Alley sitting next to that.
I really like working on pachinkos, because they’re one of the first machines that got me into this. My aunt was stationed in Japan, and she gave my parents a little toy pachinko. Growing up, I played with that [pachinko] way before I knew what pinball was. I have seven pachinkos sitting here right now. I do some newer pachinkos, but it’s really not that popular.
Anything weird or old, if you’ve seen it and you don’t know what it is, that’s the stuff that I work on.
NJB Tell readers how they can get a hold of you if they’re in need of pinball repairs or would like to purchase a machine.
SM You can call me: (719) 322-3411, or you email me at class
Houston Arcade & Pinball Expo is happening once again this November! Houston’s premiere gaming event coordinated by Houston Area Arcade Group (HAAG) returns to the Marriott Westchase convention building for its 21st show. Live music and festivities will be peppered throughout the event.
Hundreds of gaming machines have been confirmed: pinball tables, modified consoles, retro computers, simulators and other miscellany from the distant past to the present day. Any kind of game you can think of will be present. This year will focus heavily on pinball similar to the 2022 conference. Over 130 pinball machines have been confirmed with a few more expected. The oldest pin game on the roster is reportedly dated from 1930.
Joystix has confirmed they will be rolling the latest games from Stern to the Expo: Foo Fighters based on the post-grunge music act and Venom based on the Marvel Comics character. There will be several tables for everyone to jump into. Multimorphic’s latest game for their P3 screen-based pinball system Final Resistance will be on the floor, as well as their game from last year: Weird Al’s Museum of Natural Hilarity.
Newly established Houston-based pinball developer Barrels of Fun will be there with a few tables of their debut game Labyrinth based on the Jim Henson fantasy film starring David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King. HAAG member Blake Dumesnil was a part of the creative team. Production of the game is currently standing at 1,100 units.
Retro World Series confirmed they be there with an eclectic mix of consoles and games to play competitively and casually: Pong, Ms. Pac-Man, Super Smash Bros 64, Puzzle Fighter II, Power Stone 2 and more! Drew Curlee will be hosting NES Tournaments for Paperboy and Tecmo World Wrestling.
Special Guests include veteran game designer John Borg, Stern’s Mike Vinikour and Michael Grant; voice actor Tim Kitzrow and artist Paul Niemeyer of Midway fame, Todd Tuckey (noted arcade guru), Tron’s Cindy Morgan and a few others!
The event officially starts Friday, Nov 10th at high noon and will last until Sunday at 2 PM for final announcements. VIP passes will provide Thursday soft opening access. VIP passes can only be purchased online and will not sold at the door. Prices are subject to change as we get closer to the Expo date.
If you’re a Houston Area gamer, this is not an event you’re gonna want to miss! Houston Arcade Expo is great for all age groups. It’s all about community, talking shop, and getting to mingle with industry veterans in a party atmosphere. Houston Arcade Expo is the front line!
399 Main St.
Lyons, CO 80540
Tournaments on the second Saturday of each month at 3 PM. $10 entry fee.
Women’s Tournaments on the third Saturday of each month at 3 PM. $5 entry fee, first-timers play free.
For more information, visit lyons
600 S. Center St.
Reno, NV 89501
Reno MatchPlay Pinball Tournament: November 18, 2023. Registration opens at 11:30 AM, tournament starts at 12 Noon. Registration is $10, with cash prizes for the top four places. Limited to the first 36 people registered on the day of the event.
“Pin-Brawl” Tournaments every Tuesday. Registration starts at 5 PM, tournament starts at 6:30 PM. $5 admission, with cash prizes for the top four places. Registration is limited to the first 48 people to register the day of the event. Limited to those 18 and older after 7 PM. This is an IFPA event.
For more information, visit reno
I have traveled the Western states and been overseas to Denmark (in 1991) and Romania (2005) and have noticed two things that transcend borders: the blues and pinball. Never saw a pinball machine in Romania, nor at Brasov where I spent three weeks. Did meet a man who had a ‘hole in the wall’ music store and found he was a blues man. John Mayall, to me and many others, is the godfather of the blues in England.
While in Denmark at Tivoli Gardens I found the wonderment and awe of my early childhood that had been lost: a shooting gallery that shot .22 shots at a row of metal ducks and other metal targets, the dog chasing the bear which reversed with the bear chasing the dog, and other “lost” memories of wonder. And a tent with pinball machines.
I noticed a Hi-Lo machine, one I had played many times in my past. I couldn’t resist.
Rocked a coin into the slot and started to play, or should I say ‘tear the machine a new one.’ Soon a local Dane put a quarter on the glass, the common, universal challenge to the player of “I challenge you to play me.”
After fifteen minutes of my continual playing, and seeing he would be saving himself a quarter (or kroner), he removed his challenge from the glass and left.
Good choice he made; I was hot on that machine.
I also believe it was a Hi-Lo machine that a good friend of mine and I destroyed in 1970 in a bowling alley in the panhandle of Nebraska, back when pinballs and bowling alleys went together.
My friend lost the ball and he shoved the machine hard.
We were shocked. One the next shot, my friend said, “Let’s see something”, and proceeded to lift the back end of the machine till the ball rolled back to the top during play, put it back down and continued playing.
Again, no tilt.
We played that machine for hours on one quarter, ignoring all the other machines, racking up replays.
Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you lose lots of money and know the blues.
And yet we still keep trying.
Nicholas Bernhard is the editor of Quarter Up. He is the developer of the Nantucket E-Books platform, and the Shanty markup language. With help from AT Gonzalez, he is building a directory of works by Harlan Ellison. For fun, he plays piano and bass guitar, and hikes. He may be reached at njb@
Originally from Pennsylvania, AT Gonzalez began his video game journey as a toddler playing Super NES. This opened up a whole new dimension of artistic expression for him. He began collecting games as a hobby a few years later down the line. His favorite game franchises are Mega Man, Mario, Metroid, Castlevania, F-Zero, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear, and plenty of others!
Currently based in Southeast Texas, he writes, makes short films, does studio photography, voice-over work, and audio production in his spare time. He may be reached at @At
Leland is an aspiring video game historian from North Carolina who specializes in documenting Taito and Namco games. Has written for various sites including Hardcore Gaming 101. He may be reached at tremirodomi.bluesky.social.
Buffalo is our resident color-commentator at Quarter Up, covering the places where life and pinball intersect. After spending most of his life in the San Joaquin Valley of California, he moved to Cope, Colorado on the eastern plains. There, he runs Buffalo’s Last Stand, where you can find all things bison-related, and eastern Colorado’s finest bookstore. He also bakes a mean cookie.
In 2023, his novel Tales of a Metal Fisherman, filled with adventures in the life of a hard-living repo man, was published by Nantucket E-Books. A sample of the book may be read by clicking here, or you may order the e-book and/or paperback at nan
Brad Albright is Dallas-based poster designer, freelance illustrator, and gallery artist best known for his modern approach to ‘OldSchool 3D’ anaglyphic poster art with 3D glasses.
With a line-art style reminiscent of underground comics and classical woodcut engravings, his work draws inspiration from comic books, album covers, band tees, literature, film and television alike.
Whether translating the influences of pinball and pop-culture, exploring the dangers of the Wild West or Space, or celebrating the multi-sensory live music crowd experience, his work is regularly presented in 3D with provided red/blue glasses, surprising and engaging viewers with a nostalgic interactive experience.
This issue of Quarter Up is © 2023 Nantucket E-Books, LLC. Copyright for the articles contained in this newsletter is reserved by their respective authors.
Cover art is Shootout at the Arcade Corral, © 2023 Brad Albright/artofmeh, used with permission.
Check out these past issues of Quarter Up. If you like what we do, consider subscribing to our RSS feed, or check out the official Quarter Up page on nantucket
Issue 3: Summer 2023
The legal woes of Ms. Pac-Man by AT Gonzalez. Arcade games seen on summer road trips. The History of Chack’n Pop by Leland Tursi. Color commentary: memories of pinball in Modesto, CA by Buffalo. Cover art by Jeremy Mendiola.
Issue 2: Spring 2023
Coverage of Houston Arcade Expo 2022 by AT Gonzalez. A recap of a panel with Brian Colin (Rampage) by AT Gonzalez. Reader Q ’n’ A. An entry-level guide to arcade sticks by Miller Burruss. Color commentary: “Long Live Pinball” by Buffalo. Cover art by Kris Vaswig.
Issue 1: Fall 2022
A brief history of pinball by Miller Burruss. Pinball terms you need to know, by AT Gonzalez. The history and leak of Marble Madness II by Carlos Martinez. Ten Pinball Machines that Changed the Game: an interview with Pinball Hall of Fame owner Tim Arnold. A history of the arcade game Mystic Marathon by AT Gonzalez. A promo for Houston Arcade Expo 2022. Color commentary: Meditation, Zen, and the Art of Pinball by Buffalo. Cover art by Christopher Jacobs.
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This e-reader was developed by Nicholas Bernhard, © 2020 - 2023 Nantucket E-Books™ LLC. Nantucket E-Books™ is built on free software, which means it respects the freedom of the writers and readers using it. For more information, check out the software license page, the Help page, or e-mail me at njb@nan