Meet the Phillytron, an old-timey arcade loaded with Philly-made videogames - Technical.ly Philly

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Jan. 24, 2018 12:44 pm

Meet the Phillytron, an old-timey arcade loaded with Philly-made videogames

The machine, a project built and run by Philly Game Mechanics, features a slate of 10 Philly-made games. It is fun.
The machine sits in the middle of Indy Hall for now.

The machine sits in the middle of Indy Hall for now.

(Video by Roberto Torres)

The wooden husk of an All American Football arcade machine from 1989 found its revival in the Phillytron: a working arcade meant to be a digital ambassador for Philly’s videogame community.

The four-player cabinet, currently housed at coworking spot Indy Hall, is a project led by Woody Fentress and Stephen Pettit, and owned by nonprofit Philly Game Mechanics.

“It’s fun to build these simple, pneumatic machines that have only one purpose,” said Fentress, a full-time barber with a penchant for reviving old arcades.

Inside the six-foot-tall machine there’s a CPU, keyboard and mouse running a game launcher on Microsoft Windows. Players can choose from an initial selection of 10 games, in the hopes of raising that number by included some of the over 100 games the community has made at game jams through the years.

Fentress bought the cabinet six years ago, fully working with the old football simulator. He stripped its guts and sold them, in the hopes of building the project to be housed at the Philly Game Forge. But the machine never made it to the coworking space for videogame makers as it shut down in 2016.

The machine went to live in a backroom of Old City software company Wildbit for a while until one day Fentress and Pettit, who are also musicians and bandmates, started talking at rehearsal.

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In its current iteration, the Phillytron was another member of the Philly videogame community that made it to Maryland videogame conference MAG Fest.

In a way, the Phillytron is a “family member” to a growing network of city-specific indie arcades, says Jake O’Brien, founder of Flyclops Games. There’s a one at the NYU Game Center (built by Woody), the Texatron in Austin and the Winitron, which also makes the game launcher running inside the Philly machine.

“This has the same purpose as Winnipeg’s Winitron: to be a showcase for the local videogame community,” said Fentress. “Philly doesn’t get taken seriously as a place for videogames in places like New York Seattle or San Francisco.”

It’s a work in progress, Pettit admits. Indeed, often times between games, the control panel has to be lifted up and the game manually selected by way of a full CPU, keyboard and mouse housed inside the cabinet. A Teen Vogue magazine serves as a makeshift mouse pad.

“It’s cool to see how well it does even at not 100 percent,” said Pettit. “It’s not a full Death Star yet.”

Fentress opens up the cabinet to switch games.

Fentress opens up the cabinet to switch games. (Photo by Roberto Torres)

(Reporter’s note: Not for nothing, but I beat Fentress at his own game in a three-round match of Tomato Boy’s Bullets & Blades. I also eked out a win over Pettit in Why are we running? However, I lost miserably and was the first to die in PHL Collective’s Real Boxing: Actual Boxing.) 

The next few steps is updating Phillytron’s tech and expanding the current catalog of games.

“The main thing I want to do is make sure the launcher is 100 percent stable and just keep loading games into it,” said Pettit. “My goal is for people to literally plug it in and be sure it keeps running.”

Monetization ideas are not immediately in place but any proceeds or donations down the line will go toward sustaining the project and keeping the lights on for Philly Game Mechanics.

“This is really just an ambassador for Philly games,” Fentress said. “Rather than getting laptops and controllers and that whole complicated process, this lets people walk up to this game and be able to be in touch with Philly games.”

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