Shilo Prychak gently, almost tenderly, lifts a bundle from his backpack laying spread apart on the floor and places it on the empty desk.
Then he proceeds to unwrap it, carefully pulling aside what appears to be a towel or beach blanket. He lifts the tiny creation gingerly from its back and places it upright on the table.
Removed from context the Centipede machine would look like the sort I’ve seen in countless old arcades before. A bit cleaner, a bit tidier, free of cigarette scars and shoe-leather scuff marks, but a Centipede.
Prychak fiddles with the back and the game comes to life: dual coin slots glow red from the steel door under the controls. The marquee lights up at the top of the machine. And in between marquee and coins slot: centipede starts to scroll its way down the screen, pausing only slightly to drop a line as it hits the side of the screen or a colorful mushroom.
I approach, place my left index and middle fingers atop the direction buttons and the pointer finger of my right hand on the white-as-snow trackball. The controls are completely hidden under my fingers as I lean forward slightly to play a game of Centipede on a machine fit for a classic G.I. Joe.
The one-sixth scale, fully operationally, fully playable Centipede is a painstakingly detailed recreation of that 1980’s classic arcade machine down to the Atari-licensed ROM used to power the game.
Prychak spent 13 years working in the game industry, most recently at accessories maker PDP, when he decided he had enough of modern games and need to try something new. So he quit his job and got to work on making a collectible that would pay homage to the arcade classics from the 70s and 80s.
“I just love the machines,” he says. “There’s a lot of ways you can play these games these days, but not with a trackball and a wooden cabinet.
“This is meant to be a collector’s edition.”
It’s one thing to see Prychak’s creation in a picture or a video and another to see it in person: its diminutive size, how responsive it is, how well that tiny, finger-tip sized trackball tracks. It’s almost magical.
Prychak says when he first got the idea for the reduced-size cabinets, he wasn’t exactly sure where to start. But eventually he settled on an Atari game.
“We decided to launch with Centipede because of it’s broad appeal,” he says. “It had a female game designer who created the game in 1979.”
They also wanted to make a game that showed off right from the start that the company was up to a challenge when it came to recreating miniature arcade games with unusual controllers.
“There are tons of games with joysticks, but joysticks are easy to make,” he says. “Our second game is going to be Tempest and it will have a little spinner.”
Prychak went where a lot of great ideas that serve a passionate, but maybe not entirely large audience go: Kickstarter.
His project, named “RepliCade: Mini Centipede Arcade Machine Replica 12” Tall”, landed its $50,000 in the first day. As of this week it’s already up to $125,000, with each system costing $90 to $120, depending on how early you pledge.
With more than 1,000 backers, Prychak believes there’s a strong market for these creations and hopes to one day create enough to fill their own mini arcade.
For now, though, he continues to delight his backers with amazing stretch goals. When the Kickstarter hit $100,000, Prychak surprised backers not only with news of the coming Tempest machine, but a promise that everyone would get three tiny coins that can be placed on the front glass of the Centipede to call the next game.
If the Kickstarter hits $150,000, those coinslots – which now serve as freeplay and menu buttons, will open up to reveal a small storage area.
Once this one wraps and the Tempest is underway, Prychak plans to continue making new and interesting replicas.
“We’re going to do all the different form factors,” he says. “The whole point of these is to build that ambience back into your office, or home or whatever.
“I just loved hanging out in the arcade man, it was the place. It’s not that we had all of the money in the world, it was just staring at all of the art work. I think arcade machine art is up there with skateboard art and album art.”