The Museum of Soviet Arcade Games

by connal on January 5, 2010

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15 Kopek Coins

Back in 2007 I read an article on BoingBoing about a small “museum” of Soviet-era Video Games that had been opened by a couple of students in the basement of a small technical university about 30 minutes outside the center of Moscow. The article was accompanied by awesome pictures of hulking consoles that looked like they were designed with the same sense of fun that an engineer would use to construct a hospital waiting room.

It was an amazing article but as I browsed the collection I never imagined that two years later my wife and I would find ourselves descending into the Ploshchad Revolyutsii Metro station, about to take that 30 minute ride to the outskirts of Moscow.

It was only 6:30 in the evening, but this was December and Moscow had already been dark for two hours. We were originally scheduled to spend 4 nights in the city, but transportation complications caused by the bombing of the train line between St. Petersburg and Moscow delayed our arrival and gave us only a day and a half in the city. We spent that morning running around to see as much as we could: Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Tomb, The Kremlin… we were exhausted but as we navigated the busy subway we were probably more excited than we’d been all day.

To be honest, we really weren’t sure what to expect. The museum seemed amazing, but the small print was a little strange: It was only open 2 or 3 days a week, and not until 7:30 at night. The brief articles I’d read never mentioned anyone else being in the museum, so we wondered if the reporters had arranged private tours or we were about to visit a guy sitting by himself in a basement. Regardless, we figured that whatever happened it would be an amusing adventure.

It was only about a 5 minute walk from the subway to the school, a brick building on the corner that didn’t look much different from the apartments that surrounded it. There were a few uneven steps leading up to a metal door where a small, unlit sign identified it, in Cyrillic, as the Moscow State Technical University. We walked through the door and found ourselves in a small lobby facing a guard sitting behind a desk a few feet away. Just to the right of the guard was a flight of stairs heading down. Not speaking any Russian, we gestured to the basement and said “Here to see the museum?”

“музей?” ( muz-yey?) he replied, which sounded close enough and we nodded vigorously. He got on the phone and in a minute an excitable guy with a wild head of hair came hustling up the stairs. Speaking to us quickly and only in Russian, he buzzed us through the turnstile and led us downstairs.

So far this article has been text-heavy, which is bad form, but was intentional. I wanted to do my best to recreate the experience of walking into the museum because Imagineers could not have done a better job of designing the atmosphere.

These are the stairs leading down to the basement:

The stairs down to the Museum

This is the hallway that leads to the museum: Teal cinder block walls with a dirty red tile floor (that’s not the door, the actual door is behind us).

Hallway outside the Museum

The photo below is inside the museum, looking back at the front door. It’s a military-grade metal door with locking levers in each corner. Those aren’t for show, that’s still how the door is opened and closed. Also the chipped bricks and general structural decay was consistent throughout the space. And yes, those are florescently lit yellow and pink walls.

Welcome to the Museum

I wish I had done a better job of documenting every step of the process, but even the best photos in the world can’t do it justice as they don’t capture the atmosphere, which was perfect. As soon as you walk in you feel like you’ve discovered some secret bunker of fun and we couldn’t wait to start trying everything.

This is the main room that you walk into:

One of the 4 rooms

Alexander Stakhanov, the guy who met us at the door and one of the four people that started this museum, gave us a quick rundown about which machines work and which don’t, how to put coins in (some are finnicky) and the general lay of the land. We actually understood most of it, though he was speaking rapidly and entirely in Russian. It wasn’t until after he was done and I said to Anjel “maybe we can leave our coats here” that he realized that we were American.

He apologized for being able to speak so little English and we apologized for not being able to speak any Russian. He ran through a few of the key points again, handed us each a small plastic cup of 15-Kopek coins and excused himself to duck into the other room. At this point it was just a little after 7:30 and we were the only ones there. I took as many photos as I could before I just had to put down the camera and start playing.

This was one of the first games we tried. It’s called “Репка Силомер” (Repka Silomer) or “Turnip Strength Tester.” Later that night, we showed the photos to our homestay host, hoping for some sort of explanation. She had never played the game but told us that the concept was based on an old Russian children’s story.

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The tale is called “The Giant Turnip” and is about a family who planted a turnip that grew so large that they couldn’t get it out of the ground. The Old Man tries pulling on it, but it won’t budge. The Old Woman grabs on to him, but still no luck. Then the Granddaughter grabs hold, the dog, the cat and finally, with the help of the mouse they’re able to pull it out.

It didn’t seem like the most exciting children’s story until I looked into it and found that in the original Russian it’s much more lyrical and as the verses progress it almost becomes a tongue twister. The final line reads:

Myshka za koshku, koshka za Zhuchku, Zhuchka za vnuchku, vnuchka za babku, babka za dedku, dedka za repku, tyanut-potyanut–vytyanuli repku

(“The mouse took hold of the cat, the cat took hold of the dog, the dog took hold of the granddaughter, the granddaughter took hold of the old woman, the old woman took hold of the old man, the old man took hold of the turnip, they pulled and pulled–and finally–out came the turnip!”)

Anjel gives it a go

To play this fairy tale adaptation you simply pull on the handle and the counter displays “Ваша сила” (vasha sila - your strength). Since I wasn’t sure how rough one should be with a 20 year old video game, my first pull was pretty tentative which resulted in a 67 and the achievement of “Mouse” level (pathetic). Having been duly slapped down by the game I tried again, this time with one foot braced on the machine and pulling as hard as I could (as my wife demonstrates, above). That netted me a 161 and got me up to “Dog” level – two up from Mouse but still one step below the little girl (sigh).

This was Anjel’s favorite game: “подводная лодка” (Podvodaya Lodnka which translates to “submarine” or, literally, “underwater boat”). It was a combination of a mechanically moving sea floor and electronic sights and torpedoes.

Anjel plays

This was a great 2 player game called “торпедная атака” (Torpednaya Ataka - Torpedo Attack).

It was also a combination of physical and electronic elements. Ships move slowly back and forth (like ducks in a shooting gallery) while you train your sights on them and try to time your torpedo shots to intercept them. There was also a little viewing window where your buddies could watch you play (though it was much cooler looking through the sights)

When the game is being played the background is much darker and the ships are just silhouetted against the it. When you hit a ship the background goes completely black and there’s an awesome red “explosion” light with accompanying sound effect. At some point (if you’ve sunk enough ships?) it even switches to a “night” mode where all the lights turn off except for an actual spotlight (no wider than one ship) that shines out from your sights – increasing the difficulty significantly.

This next one is a racing game called “Магистраль” (Magistral) which is very similar to Grand Prix for the Atari 2600 except the track runs vertically and the other cars move back and forth across the road (apparently veering constantly and madly).

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This game is kind of the poster boy of the museum and seeing it in person was (embarrassingly?) very similar to the first time one sees a ubiquitous but famous piece of art in person: “wow, this is the Mona Lisa.” Each driver is on their own parallel racetrack and crashing into one of the computer cars on the track momentarily stops you. There’s actually a playable version of this game online on the museum’s website but, as with most emulators, it captures the spirit, but not the soul.

The gas pedal has a satisfying spring action to it and the steering wheels on the console are bare metal, lacking the plastic covering that Pole Position had. Like most of these games, though you play them gingerly at first, the only way to win is to really whip the wheel side to side to avoid the other cars. It’s awesomely satisfying.

There’s also a large floating head that appears when the game is not being played.

The Floating Head

This next one didn’t seem to be working too well, or we were just really bad at it. It’s called “Air Fight” (воздушный бой - vozdushnyi boy).

I could explain it but it’s pretty straightforward and this video can do most of the heavy lifting.

This is a children’s turkey ride. I did not climb on, for fear of breaking it, but it did work. Between the bright colors, industrial-looking structural base and years of wear, it falls into that “uncanny valley” between whimsical and terrifying.

Turkey Ride!

We’d been wandering around the museum for 15 minutes or so when another couple showed up, followed shortly by another – and within a few minutes, our entire experience had changed. As I mentioned before, the previous articles I read gave the impression that it was only the reporter in the museum. Maybe it was empty because the museum was relatively new, or because a private viewing had been arranged, but by the time we had been there for 30 minutes, the place was packed with about 20 people.

The air was filled with the sounds of games and it was exactly like walking into any bustling arcade. It made the whole experience even more fun as people weren’t visiting the museum with some sort of ironic detachment or casually looking around – everyone was there playing games and having a blast.

Having fun on a Wednesday night

The arcade comes to life

This next one was a skill crane game that wasn’t working. “зонд” (zond) translates to “probe” and I’m hoping the word has different connotations in Russian as that’s the least playful skill crane name I’ve ever heard. (Thanks to a helpful commenter, we now know that “Zond” was the name of an unmanned Soviet space program that ran from 1964 to 1970.)

These were some of the prizes inside:

Prizes from the

Below is “Winter Hunt” (Зимняя охота – Zimniaya ohota). Different animals light up and move across the board while you shoot them with a light sensitive rifle. After a first round of hitting almost nothing, Anjel dialed in the sights and went to town, throwing down a score of 240. Here’s a video of some of the ass-kicking in progress:

Not surprisingly the video setting on my point-and-shoot camera distorts things a little bit. The running animal doesn’t appear as a big circle of light, instead you see the lit-up silhouette of the animal. When I zoom in near the end of the video you can see what the animals look like to the right and left of the one that’s lit up.

This is “авторалли” (avtoralli - Auto Rally). Don’t let the beige exterior fool you, this is a fast paced game.

You and a buddy race cars around a driving area littered with oil slicks and obstacles that slow you down. There are a number of flags on the board, most of which are red, one of which is green. The object is to be the first to reach the green colored flag, thereby winning the number of points on the flag.

As soon as one person reaches the flag they get the points, the flag turns red and another flag lights up as green. There’s a bit of strategy involved as the point values differ. Some flags are 6-pointers, others just 1. If there’s a 1-pointer all the way across the board, it might not be worth racing all the way over for it. The 7-pointer in the middle is clearly the jackpot.

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We didn’t actually play this next game. It was really hard to figure out and seemed to somehow involving knowing and choosing correct traffic signs. After the fact we learned that “викморина” (viktorina) translates to “quiz” – in this case one involving traffic signs. Exactly what it looked like.

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This next one was a fantastic game that we only played once – for good reason. “Баскетбол” (Basketball) consists of a large plastic dome with nets at either end and a small rubber ball. The “court” consists of 15 divots with 2 bumpers at the bottom (one for the Red Team, one for the Blue). Each divot is numbered and the object is to launch the ball into the opponent’s basket by pressing the button of whatever divot the ball is in (which triggers the bumper, which launches the ball).

Basketball

It is fantastically fast paced and ridiculously competitive and luckily the first game ended in a 12-12 tie. Anjel and I looked at each other and sort of laughed saying “ha ha, that was fun… we should play something else.” I think we both saw that this could easily become a battleground game that would have quickly turned into a best 2-out-of-3, 3-out-of-5… situation.

This next one is probably my favorite game in terms of design. If I could have one game to sit at home as a playable piece of art it would probably be this one. It looks like it was designed as a companion to the Soviet space program.

Game of Pong variations

It’s called “теле-спорт” (tele-sport) and features 5 different variants of pong.

Pong game selector

We played Soccer where each person controls two “players” on the game board: the Goalie and the-guy-that-does-everything-else (we’ll call him the Forward). Moving the joystick up and down movies the Goalie and the Forward up and down in sync. Moving the joystick right and left moves the Forward back and forth across the field, but the Goalie stays in the same plane in front of the net. If the ball hits the Forward (or Goalie) from behind it will pass through (slowing and changing direction slightly). If it hits them from in front, it bounces off like a standard pong game.

This next one was a little strange. The title of the game is “Городки” (gorodki) which translates to “little structures.” On the screen there’s a white cube that moves back and forth. Inside the white cube are simple patterns made up of black tiles which are represented 3-dimensionally in designs across the front of the game.

The game is more than a little cryptic so I had to send my Russian friend Ilya an email asking for a little help with the explanation. According to him the mechanics are based on an old Russian game. He says:

The goal is to knock out those figures by hurling a wood stick about 5’ tall and the thickness of a shovel stock. It’s a variation of Bowling and the score depends of how many pieces you knocked out with one strike. I never played it myself but have seen people playing it in a park when I was about 7 years old.

As if that didn’t answer all the questions I might have he went on to add: “the name ‘gorodki‘ derives from Russian ‘gorod‘ (town or city) which derived from old Russian word ‘gorodit‘ (with a soft T) which means to built , so “gorodki” means “little structures.”

Each level has a different formation, and each formation has a name: Canon, Star, Water Well, Artillery, Machine Gun Hole, Sentries, Shooting Range, Fork, Arrow, Jack shaft, Racquet, Cray fish, Sickle, Airplane, and Envelope.

In the arcade version of the game the player has a right-and-left moving joystick with a red button on top that releases a spinning stick. The spinning stick can’t be steered once you’ve sent it on its way. The object is to hit each of the black tiles in the white cube. When you’ve destroyed all the tiles it moves you on to the next level (new formation). I recorded a video of this one as it was a little hard to understand – plus it had a neat “theme song” when the game starts and ends.

This is “Tankodrome” (Танкодром). Either it wasn’t working right or we just couldn’t figure it out.

The right lever moved the tank by the old “magnet under the gameboard” technique. The other was (we think) some sort of fire lever, but anything that happened seemed to be by chance, rather than our own efforts. There was one “danger zone” that you drive through and cause a counter to rapidly scroll up to 50 in a cool electro-mechanical way – though its effect on gameplay was unclear.

It was pointed out in the articles I’d read that none of these games featured a high-score list. This originally jumped out to me as a fantastic cultural difference – you could be rewarded for a high score by a free game, but in the spirit of Communism, there was no recognition of individual achievement. Before we visited the museum I would usually mention that aspect of the games to friends, but to be honest while we were there I completely forgot about it and in fact never noticed the lack of a high-score board.

Most of these games were either entirely mechanical (foosball, basketball) or a combination of mechanical and electronic elements (Torpedo Attack, Submarine) and even the American versions of those types of games didn’t necessarily have high-score lists. There were a couple of games that could have had a list (and perhaps didn’t for ideological reasons) but on the whole it wasn’t as glaring a difference as I had expected.

Still, it’s an interesting little difference between Soviet and American gaming.

Below is another mystery machine. The title translates roughly to “Information.” It seemed to be a collection of schematics, and was fantastically ominous but we couldn’t make any sense of it. After we left I was bummed that I didn’t ask more about it, but there was a lot to see at the time. Instead I sent an email to Ilya’s brother Alexi (who still lives in Moscow and who we spent an afternoon with while we were there) to ask him about it.

He confirmed that it was not in fact a game, and was a collection of various diagrams and charts, like the one below of “motorized infantry company in defense.”

Detail of

Finally, I’ll end with the most utilitarian soda machine ever.

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“Газированная вода” (gazirovannaya voda) translates to “sparkling water.” Though not exactly a game, these used to be a common sight on the streets of Moscow. There are three options: 1 Kopek for plain soda water and two 3-Kopec options for flavored soda.

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In the top photo you can see the slot in the middle of the machine where the soda was dispensed. Each machine would have a glass (an actual glass glass) that would be used by everyone. The soda came out of the left side. On the right side, there was a small bit of water that could be used to “rinse” the glass. Alexander said that when he was a child his parents had forbidden him from ever drinking from the machines – which was probably sound advice.

And with that, having spent almost two hours playing games and taking pictures, we finally headed back into the cold Russian night to make our way back home. It was a fantastic experience and though I don’t know that one can justify a trip to Moscow solely to visit the museum, if you find yourself in the city I would absolutely recommend giving it just as much weight as any other tourist destination.

The entrance fee was 300 rubles (about $10 USD) and was 100% worth it – especially considering that the guys that run the museum have put countless hours into getting these machine up and running again. You can visit the museum website here, though the English language version of the site doesn’t have nearly as much content as the Russian.

You can click here to see our complete Flickr set of photos from the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games.

There were also a number of fantastic signs and posters around the museum like the one below. You can click here to see our complete Flickr set of Soviet Video Game Posters.

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{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Yap January 7, 2010 at 9:42 am

I never really though about it, but there is a ton of emphasis on winning in our culture—winning the beauty pageant, winning a contract, winning somebody’s heart—it seems so central to gaming, it’s hard to imagine single player games without scoring.

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2 Marcelo January 8, 2010 at 2:41 am

This is the best post ever. Have you been to the arcade museum in Alameda? If not, let’s go when you’re back, it would be awesome to see how they compare.

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3 Step Schwarz September 5, 2010 at 2:41 am

This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. I can’t believe it was only $10. I’d pay $10 to play the spinning stick game alone.

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4 Sean Meaney September 5, 2010 at 5:35 am

Wow! A electronic book of Soviet Infantry Tactics? Awesome.

He should do INTERNET GAME versions of all of them. Nintendo woll love the Turnip Pull Game.

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5 Kensington September 5, 2010 at 6:14 am

I encountered one of those soft drink machines in Moscow about twenty years ago. There was a man using the machine, and he went to town on that communal glass, licking the rim and pretty much slathering his tongue across it’s entire surface before returning it back to its position for the next customer.

It was horrifying.

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6 HBK September 5, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Fascinating stuff.

I found the turnip story really interesting… it seems almost like a Russian version of the old lady who swallowed a fly.

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7 Jay Williams September 6, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Great post and museum pictures! A friend sent me the link. On the communal drinking cup issue, Russian friends who were on their first visit to Chicago were puzzled by the coffee vending machine because there was no cup present. It hadn’t occurred to them that the cup would appear when they put their money in. (They’re fully acclimated now!)

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8 jim September 6, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Awesome tour. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I used to love going to the arcade when I was younger; likely still would but they’ve all close up around here.

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9 Brian Hanifin September 6, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Thank you for the detailed descriptions of your experience as well as the gameplay of all of the games. :) If you liked that, you should visit the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas (a short bus trip away from the strip).

I would like to point out, that High Scores were not feasible in the electro-mechanical game era. Games from that era anywhere in the world (U.S. included) simply did not have high score saving mechanisms (and if a few did, it was the exception rather than the rule). I have seen pinball machines from that era occasionally with hand written pieces of paper attached to the backglass with a list of high scores.

It was not until the electronics games of the late 70′s and 80′s did high scores start being saved. Although many video games reset their high scores every time the power was turned off. So in effect your high score on Pac-Man is the high score since the game was turned on this morning. ;)

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10 Brian Hanifin September 6, 2010 at 8:13 pm

@jim: The lack of good arcades has drive lots of us to build arcades in our homes. I have a collection of 5 pinball machines, and 2 multigame video arcade machines in my house. Also I am part of the San Diego Pinball Club here in San Diego. We meet up at other collectors houses (or the occasionally good public place) once a month. Believe it still is great fun! :)

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11 Петр September 7, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Я люблю эти классические аркадные игры

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12 sunnyata September 7, 2010 at 3:33 pm

haha, wow! i had completely forgotten about these marvelous games…brings up so much nostalgia.
thank you for the post!

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13 jamie dalgetty September 7, 2010 at 4:16 pm

i would kill to see this! nothing tops pre-1990 arcade video games… especially weirdo russian ones!

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14 Slava September 7, 2010 at 5:38 pm

You even can play these games (as poor Flash replica) at museums web-site: http://www.15kop.ru/

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15 Михаил September 7, 2010 at 6:33 pm

The “Information” machine is actually a general purpose information/listing/timetable/etc machine that used to be installed in places like train and bus stations. It would have a table of contents displayed on it. One would look up the route (and the button #) by destination, then press the button. The machine would flip the “book” to show the correct page with the timetable ;-)

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16 sev September 8, 2010 at 12:32 am

Wow! Great post (linked from Playtime*tumblr http://playtime.tumblr.com/)

Makes me definately want to visit the museaum when I go to Moscow :p

Thanks !

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17 kelly September 8, 2010 at 2:33 am

In Soviet Russia, game plays you.

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18 Rodrigo T. September 8, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Very cool!

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19 Patlatus September 8, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I’m from Ukraine.
I have been playing similar games in childhood.
One of them was a race like magistral or auto rally but there was no multiplayer how could I remember…

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20 Geoff September 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience in the Russian arcade museum. I did some looking around, aided by the help of Google’s Russian translation tool, and found a YouTube video some other visitors made while at the museum. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IP20Pp04Du0&feature=player_embedded

It’s subtitled in Russian…not much help to an English speaker like me, but the video gives more of the sights and sounds of the place. Truly fascinating stuff, thanks for the post!

–Geoff

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21 Dmytro Lapshyn September 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I wonder if anyone has noticed it, but the third photo (the one with yellow and pink walls) depicts a bomb shelter door – the gray one in the distance.

The four handles in the corner enable hermetic insulation of the room – and since we see the handles, I’d assume the museum is located not in a regular basement, but in an ex-bomb shelter from the Cold War era.

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22 connal September 8, 2010 at 5:38 pm

@dmytro: you’re 100% correct about the bomb shelter door. It was explained to us that it did indeed used to a facility used by the military, so it was appropriately reinforced. The low ceilings, cement walls florescent lighting and “blast doors” all add to the surreal nature of the place.

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23 Chuck September 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm

all top scores by Comrade Norris

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24 Daniel September 8, 2010 at 5:49 pm

hi there! cool article, my wife (who grew up in soviet russia was most excited) one mistake, the quote “It’s called “Репка Силомер” (Pepka Silomer) or “Turnip Strength Tester.”” should be repka silomer.

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25 MGB September 8, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Wow! Absolutely amazing! One of the best posts I have read anywhere in a long time! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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26 The Wolf September 9, 2010 at 1:19 am

Such a brilliant post.

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27 Thomas C K September 9, 2010 at 9:13 am

A great post, to enlighten all on yesteryears’ antics. The owners of the place have taken all efforts to preserve the same for the later generations, who are addicted to computers and television.
These are very rare. Thanks for documenting these working antics.

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28 Michael Fever September 9, 2010 at 11:19 am

Wow how awesome is this!! Does the USA or Japan have a similar type of museum? You would think that they would but I don’t think they do! I’d like to see a museum for just pinball machines!

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29 connal September 9, 2010 at 8:56 pm

@Michael: I’m sure you could find tons of similar places in the US. They may not be dubbed museums, but on this same trip we hit the Lyons Classic Pinball Arcade in Estes Park, CO and Ground Kontrol, a classic arcade in Portland, OR. Closer to home (for us) there’s also the Lucky Ju Ju Pinball Museum in Alameda, CA.

Seek and ye shall find.

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30 Ostrich! September 9, 2010 at 11:14 pm

What a great museum! Thanks for sharing. As regards “Zond”, the name was in use for a series of remotely-controlled planetary exploration missions in the ’60s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zond_program “Zond” was very high profile, and one of the bragging points of the Soviet space program. They tended to crash a lot on re-entry, but nobody knew about that until much later. All we got to see here in the West (and presumably what the Soviet people saw as well) were these impressively huge probes heading out to and back from the moon and inner planets.

The background of the arcade machine appears (to me, at least) to show the moon or Mars. I’m guessing it’s themed after the “Zond” program.

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31 connal September 10, 2010 at 12:23 am

Excellent link Ostrich!, it’s the inspirations behind the games that I find awesome.

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32 Tom September 10, 2010 at 2:08 am

I used to play a submarine torpedo game very similar to that one here in the United States. From what I can remember there’s not much different about how the Soviet one works and how I remember it. The trick was how much to lead the targets.

The “Air Fight” game is also a bit like some I remember. I think the one in the video is scrolling way too fast.

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33 Dmitry September 10, 2010 at 5:01 am

Thanks for the great article!
Made me feel very nostalgic: I can well remember walking around the city of Odessa (present day Ukraine) with friends every Sunday (we had school Monday-Saturday) and entering one of those arcades for about half an hour. I can’t imagine spending half a day there.

Basketball: I absolutely agree, it was an engaging game.

Magistral: My first reaction to it was: wow, it’s got a screen! A pure video game! The line to play it was pretty long, too.

It’s rather funny to read about it from YOUR perspective.

One final remark: in the early perestroika years, (’86-87) small private enterprises, the so-called “cooperatives”, started appearing around the city.

One of them owned computers with simple video games. You could pay the clerk for the time and play.

Thanks again!

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34 Matt Burris September 10, 2010 at 9:29 am

I grew up in the U.S. during the 80′s arcade revolution, in which mechanical and electronic would intermarry to create an amazing brand of fun. I was under 10 years old during the 80′s, but I have plenty of memories of arcade games that captured my imagination and delight.

Seeing such similar machines in a Russian museum is very awesome. I can see whole generations of kids having such fun as I did growing up in that time period. I find it a little sad that kids today don’t get to experience the community, atmosphere, and craziness that an arcade had. Instead they sit at home, play against others online, and are oblivious to what they missed out on.

Thank you for sharing your fascinating experience, and kudos to the men who put the museum together!

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35 Ilya Chentsov September 10, 2010 at 10:47 am

It’s great to see these familiar things described by a foreigner.
One correction, though – “викморина” is actually “викторина”. Unusual writing of the “T” has mislead you.

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36 Jon September 10, 2010 at 7:56 pm

I see in one of the pictures they also had a bubble hockey game. Although it looks like the players are a red team versus a yellow team and there’s maybe not the same fascination we’ve had with the USA vs. USSR matchup in our 80′s bubble hockey game. Or is this a USSR vs. Sweden matchup?

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37 Bobak September 11, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Awesome work! As someone already mentioned, the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas is the closes US equivalent I’ve seen. It’s also loaded with old pinball, mechanical arcade games and classic video games that are playable.

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38 bakedpotatoes September 13, 2010 at 12:08 am

@Jon: The USA vs USSR spiel was an American thing. The rest of the world never really cared. ;)

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39 Case_face September 13, 2010 at 11:02 pm

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine from 05-07. While there, I actually played the game Gorodki! Not the arcade version, but the one where we threw sticks at structures! My fellow PCVs and I all thought that the game was made up and being taught to us “dumb Americans.” I’m glad to know that it was popular enough to merit an electronic version.

Also, I’ve drank flavored soda “water” from the Water machine. And, yes, I used the communal cup (it was chained to the machine and resting, rim down, on a damp cloth). The water was pretty gross. The flavor was pinkish-orange (I know color is not a flavor, but I can’t put a finger on what I was supposed to be drinking. It was sweet.). I didn’t get sick. But it seemed like the sort of challenge/experience that one should never pass up.

Thanks for the post.

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40 Nostalgic Russian September 13, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Sooo thank you! Excellent post, both narrative and visuals! Believe it or not, I was holding my breath reading through, wondering if I see my favorites from the time – the Basketball, the Air fight, the Torpedo Attack – and bingo, here they are! Unreal! :)

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41 Volodya September 14, 2010 at 1:24 pm

So many memories. Thank you. I have played a few of these but saw them in Moscow in the old days. Thanks – and of course I drank from the glass.

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42 Max September 15, 2010 at 2:11 am

Thanks so much for the post, very nostalgic for me, as I used to play these games growing up in Ukraine in the 80′s. The basketball and torpedo games used to be my absolute favorites!

Many of these games I am actually seeing for the first time as well, clearly some of them were a lot less common than others. Fascinating!

To add my 5 cents (or 3 kopeks, to be precise!) to the soda machine experiences, these machines used to have a “magic spot”, which, if hit just right with a fist, would cause the soda to dispense without paying. Seeing grown men hammering on one of these would be a pretty common sight in Soviet times. Needless to say, the machines that didn’t initially come with a “magic spot” tended to develop one pretty quickly after a few weeks in the streets :)

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43 Jon September 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm

@bakedpotatoes: I really wasn’t expecting the rest of the world to care about USA vs. USSR, let alone the USSR to care about USA vs. USSR. I guess my real curiosity is whether the players represented real teams. Maybe they aren’t even representing national sides. For all I know it could be some Russian Elite League rivalry like Yankees-Red Sox or Barca-Real in Spanish futbol.

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44 Michael September 16, 2010 at 3:19 am

Tank you Connal,

you might be interrested in the Berlin-version of this museum.
I liked it.
http://www.computerspielemuseum.de/index.php?lg=en

Cheers,
Michael

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45 Anonymous September 16, 2010 at 3:23 am

Great post, what a trip down memory lane! I used to play some of these when I was a little girl. Torpedo Attack was my favourite, so funny to see it now.
I was strictly forbidden to drink from the glass by my grandma. She used to carry a folding plastic cup in her handbag and that’s what I drank the soda from when we were out and about :)

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46 Anonymous September 17, 2010 at 2:55 pm

the stick game looks very like a game played in Oxfordshire, UK – aunt sally. You take a similar stick and try to knock a ball off a shy, but clean without hitting the shy. frustrating after a beer!

I have also tasted those soda machines back in the early 80′s (two school trips) and the sight bought back great memories. The ‘cleanliness’ wasn’t an issue as I am sure the chemically loaded water it dispensed would kill all bugs (including you if you drunk too much!)

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47 Jim Bergerac September 18, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Fascinating article, thanks for such a detailed and informative writeup of this little museum. I had no idea these games even existed, and the album of poster art is even further out there than the games themselves.

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48 Handofsky September 20, 2010 at 8:44 am

Sensational! Weren’t the Mystery Machine just the set of rules for each of the games?

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49 John Robertson September 20, 2010 at 11:43 am

Two of those games are copies of Sega games of the same period – Basketball (same) and Tankodrome (similar to Lunar Rescue and Moto Polo – Sega). In fact, the Tankodrome uses what appears to be a direct copy of the Sega joystick! We shall be posting a video of Sega Basketball on Youtube (under Gamespeople) soon…
Great story, thank you very much for posting it!
John :-#)#

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50 vlad September 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Heh, I remember these soda machines, people were divided into two camps: those who found them repulsive and those who though life was too short to care about such things. They sometimes were equipped with stacks of paper glasses. There were ever official Pepsi machines. Which reminds me, some of these arcade games were indeed built on a license from SEGA.

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51 connal September 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm

@vlad and John: Interesting connection between Sega and the soviet games. I have no idea what the relationship between the two was, but it would certainly be interesting to look into. Anyone else know anything about SEGA licensing things to the USSR?

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52 ArcadeVillage September 23, 2010 at 2:50 am

Thank you for this great visit. Some game mechanisms are really interested and maybe used for actual home games ( avtoralli ? )

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53 Andreas September 27, 2010 at 8:11 am

I have played some of the games as I was a small boy. :) Nice! :)

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54 Anatoly September 28, 2010 at 11:24 am

I remember each game )))))

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55 Gamer417 September 29, 2010 at 5:26 am

Some of those games look a little fragile and vintage. Heh.

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56 Hiero September 30, 2010 at 2:45 pm

THANK YOU for this thorough look at a beautiful past! Great photos!

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57 Alexkazam's wacky websites October 7, 2010 at 7:39 am

Awesome! I love quirly arcade machines- my favorate UK ones are made by Tim Hunkin who designs and makes one-off machines which fuse art and engineering, many are used as collection boxes at museums and there’s a whole room of the at Southwold pier.

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58 G October 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Actually, it’s викторина, not викморина. In Russian, M and a cursive T (T) are written in a similar fashion.

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59 Graeme October 10, 2010 at 3:51 am

This brings back memories of the arcades I loved as a kid.
We had versions of Torpedo Attack and Tank Drome machines here in Australia. The Tank Drome you played must have blown some lights.
As I recall, the arrow in front of one of the target tanks would light up and you had to race your tank to it. As you ran over the lit arrow, the light under the tank would flash and the target would ‘blow up’. The light only stayed lit for a short time, so you had to be quick. You got a point for each hit. Also, if you ran over parts of the board while they were lit you lost points.
Thanks for this article.

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60 tina aka forrestina vintage November 7, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Seriously, very cool! Thanks for posting this and I found your link on Twitter. My husband is a long-time gamer, and he will LOVE this post and the mini-videos. :)

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61 custom computers January 7, 2011 at 7:28 am

Looks like some great old games. Shows how fare we have come in only 10 years.

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62 JeremyC January 10, 2011 at 10:35 am

Nice article, I especially like the information “game”. So where do I get Russian ROMs for my MAME machine? jk

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63 Herb.McLoud January 10, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Эта идея придется как раз кстати.

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64 Stephen Anderson March 1, 2011 at 2:50 am

This is an amazing article, great pictures- and so long as you are safe the trip to Moscow was completely justified. You provide an excellent look into a now-forgotten aspect of soviet culture and recreation, although these are not timeless masterpieces they were clearly loved by all sorts of people and remind us of a time when gaming was loved without all the hubris and machismo which characterizes the stale videogaming industry of today.

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65 Computer Mods October 12, 2012 at 2:52 am

Very cool, some classic arcade machine pictures. The turkey ride has to be my fav.

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66 amputation33 August 10, 2013 at 7:37 am

Can you get enter a country legally NOT through a valid check point?

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