Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Carl Klitzke who currently is displayed on card number 3975, from the Superstars of 2021 Collection. Carl is a masterful arcade game and pinball technician. Anything you need he can fix. He worked on his very first pinball machine at the age of 11. He now has the reputation of being able to fix any machine he needs to in the Midwest. So, arcade owners and collectors call on him to help when they need it and Carl delivers. When you see Carl, he will be happy to stop and discuss vintage technology and gaming history with you.
Carl: I would like to throw a quick shout-out to my mom. When I really got into pinball around age 10, she would bring me to all the libraries in the area and help me find books and magazine articles about it. I don’t know how many hours (combined) she must have waited for me to run out of money at all the arcades, how many trips to THIS video store to rent the exact game I wanted. Thanks, mom!
Do you remember your first arcade you played and what do you remember about it?
Pole Position, but I couldn’t read at the time, but that game was so common, and I remember the shifter and wheel. It was at a skating rink; I was maybe 3 or 4 years old. At that age I doubt my parents even let me play, but as a child the idea of a game where I get to drive was just the coolest thing. Also, since I could barely stand on skates the idea of being able to push down the accelerator seemed crazy with skates on. I distinctly remember seeing someone older than me play with skates on, though.
Do you remember your first pinball game you played and what do you remember about it?
Williams High Speed. It was at a campground; I was maybe four or five years old. Of course, it had cars. and highway ramps, and highway signs, the red beacon on top. When you pressed the start button it would “start” the “car. “If you didn’t have coins in, it would sound like it could not start the car. I am certain that I was not very good at it, but the theme really just caught me. Helps that it is an amazing game. I certainly saw and probably played pinball before that, but that one really stuck out for me.
What was the very first arcade or pinball machine you worked on and where was it at?
Williams Blast Off. A single-player electromechanical (score reels and no computer) game from 1967. It was in my brother-in-law’s basement; his mother had bought it from an operator many years prior. For my eleventh birthday we went to Chuck E Cheese. Incidentally, they even had a High-Speed pinball at the time. This time, however, it was shut off. My candle-blowing wish for that year was that they would turn High Speed back on. That never happened, but I had just read a book about old arcade games. Slot Machines and Coin-Op Games, by Bill Kurtz. So, everyone in earshot got to hear all about old games. My brother-in-law Greg listens in and asks if I want to help clean up his old pinball game. Of course, I do! Naturally we had no idea HOW to do it or where to get parts, but we did what we could with a bottle of 409 and a bag of brown rubber bands. Don’t worry, we know better now.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of arcade games? How do you compare them to older, classic games?
I love the “Las Vegas” feel of modern arcade game rooms with their huge experience-based games and retina-searing light shows. I like to pick apart what about the outward presentation of a game makes it work or not work. Asking myself questions like, “What makes this work?” What are they doing differently this time? For me, ticket games call back to old carnival midways and trolley line amusement parks. The appeal of going to a place that is very not like one’s home living room, that whole experience is what grabs me. Sure, I love classic video games, but the “golden” video game era represents so little of the overall history of arcade games. There’s probably 100 years of coin-based gaming that existed before video games. When it comes to modern video arcade games, at least for non-redemption stuff the games look neat and offer a great experience, but the actual game play is way simpler to the point where the game itself wouldn’t be exciting without the experience. That said, I still like games. New games, old games, doesn’t matter. If you can make Pac Man work on a 10×10 grid of LEDs I will probably enjoy something about that as much as the full-size machine, or somewhere in between. A well-maintained room of classics is still an absolute blast to play in. I hate to say one is better than the other, though. It’s a different play experience.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?
Trading cards were a big thing when I was a kid, so the idea of being on a card would probably have blown my mind. The community surrounding these cards is especially neat to because we all have cards for different reasons. It shows that we can all contribute something of value.
When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?
We met in an elevator at Midwest Gaming Classic, one of the years when it was still at the Sheraton in Brookfield. I had seen him on the convention floor along with Bill Mitchell but there was always a line to talk to them. Usual elevator chit-chat. He asked where I am from, and when I said Appleton, he lit up and said, “Appleton! Have you played Houdini [pinball] yet?” I was absolutely floored that he was familiar with Harry Houdini’s connection to Appleton, WI.
If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?
Thoughtful. The vibe I get from that guy is that he thinks a lot.
What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?
It varies. Right now, I am deep into Cities Skylines. It is really satisfying to lay out a city that looks nice and works well. That has been keeping my attention the most lately, but I do love something with a solid story. Or even a bad story. Grand Theft Auto is probably a bit played out at this point, but as a series it’s easy to go back to and play for a little bit. Played through Bioshock again not too long ago, and I love that game. And sometimes I love to lose myself for a couple weeks in a golf game or obsess over Bubble Bobble. Between my work and my children, I still do have plenty of chances to play arcade games which I do enjoy, but it tends to be a destination thing instead of a winding-down activity.
Do you think pinball machines will still be around 10 years from now?
Most certainly. At some point demand will cause the prices for new games to go so high that public operation of pinball games will become cost prohibitive. But with more and more people playing competitive pinball and going to events and buying their own games, well who knows? As long as locations don’t need the games to be their sole source of revenue that may not be an issue. I know tons of really great pinball players, and more people are getting into it every year so there will definitely be a good pinball scene.
What does it take to be an arcade/pinball technician?
Literally anyone can be a “technician.” Most fixes are fairly simple. Buttons stop working, coins jam, tickets run out. That stuff is easy. To be good at it, though, requires a certain understanding of how things work. You may not need to know everything about how transistors work, but it helps to know what they do. The ability to look at a piece of equipment and quickly assess how it works, sometimes without documentation. Running games on location means sometimes things get done a little ugly. I have seen my share of games with hacked-up wiring. It’s a balancing act. Can I integrate parts I have available without compromising the function or safety of the game? On the route we often change an obscure power supply for one that we would carry readily in the van. Downtime is lost money, and if we lose too much money, I need to get a real job. I have had to put a control panel box back together with drywall screws because that’s what I had, and we couldn’t leave the game with the control panel falling apart. Nobody who fixes games for a living is making a ton of money at it. We do what we can with what we have. It is not uncommon for me to work out a problem on a machine that I have never seen before. So, it helps to have an understanding of how to trace wires, know how power supplies and computers work, things like that. Networking is very important. Chances are whatever problem you are having someone has encountered before.
What has been the hardest arcade machine to repair and why?
Any later model monitor. Older monitors such as the G07 and many 80’s and 90’s Wells-Gardner monitors tend to have great documentation and are common enough in a given era where everyone seems to know their quirks. Newer stuff like the makvision/wei-ya etc tend to suffer from being the last of their kind. The tubes and deflection yokes vary, and the documentation doesn’t always follow. Electronically they’re more complicated and tend to suffer from weak solder joints and have parts that may be hard or impossible to find. I know guys who can fix these, but many times these are above my head in terms of repair.
Do you believe some arcade games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?
I think there are games that may not be suitable for some audiences, but that’s the case with all media. Gaming has grown up, just like comics and cartoons. Violent crime is down since the 1990’s, and video gaming is more popular than ever. Obviously, correlation is not causation, but if video games were a direct factor in violent crime, then we would see things going the other way.
Do you prefer playing arcade games alone, against friends and why?
I love playing games with my kids or my friends. Playing pinball competitively has changed entirely how I play. Tournaments are a blast, be it pinball, video, or whatever. I’m not opposed to going alone, though. In those times I tend think more business-like. Watching to see what gets played most, speculating as to what odd controls need more attention from a technician, thinking of difficulty and play time and how it will affect coin drop.
Which company makes the best pinball games and why?
Right now, I would say Stern. I love that there are so many new companies making games, but Stern traces back forever. They seem to have a good feel for making games with appeal for novice players, but also are complex enough for expert players. It’s a tough line to follow. They are also fairly reliable.
Who is your favorite arcade game character and what makes that character special?
Dig Dug. Dude has a great soundtrack and a really neat costume.
What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘pinball?
I picture a row of games, players lined up, thrashing the ball around. Pinball is best played as a social game. In the early days of multiplayer pinball, the manufacturers emphasized that it, “It’s more fun to compete!” and they are correct. Single play is fun, but multiplayer is where it’s at.
What is your favorite pinball and arcade game of all time?
Pinball – Gottlieb Melody – Great old electromechanical game. Super simple objectives, but it can be infuriating. You have to light targets 1-4 in 4 different colors and then get the respective kick hole to get the special. But here’s the kicker: For each color the 4-target rollover requires you to drain the ball! So, in order to get extra play, you need to intentionally lose a ball. Games in that era would have sacrifice shots like that. Nothing like losing the ball the “wrong” way!” Honorable mention for Centaur because the artwork is cool, the theme is absurd (centaurs but motorcycles!), and that Bally talk board gives all the games that use it a really eerie vibe that helps tie it together.
Arcade – Bubble Bobble. Every time I see one, I have to play it. I love the music and the characters. I don’t think I have ever broken 500,000 points on that game, but I keep coming back to it for that catchy music.
If you could only have one arcade game or pinball game, what would it be and why?
Attack From Mars pinball. Williams’ later games are fantastic, and the remakes seem to be pretty robust as well. There are a lot of games that would appear in my “top 10” list, but this one really captures the bright, fast game play I enjoy.
If you can design your own game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?
I have a few ideas jotted down in the “someday” file. My interest in making my own games has more to do with calling back to some old mechanical and electromechanical games, pre-video stuff. The kinds of visual tricks they did on those, using mirror glass and such to superimpose a car or jet plane over a scenery drum, or a light sensor for a shooting gallery. I’ve bounced around some ideas for less conventional pinball-type games. Very old mechanical games are an area I just haven’t explored yet as a technician, so it would be super cool to make a series of throwback pieces. Joust can look like Joust on just about any screen, but there is a certain magic to games with tangible pieces.
Where do you see arcade games in the next 10 years?
I don’t see any big changes on the horizon, to be honest. In large, newer game rooms I see non-redemption video games playing even less of a part, or at least they will incorporate less conventional controls. I do really like the new 4-player Centipede, that one is a blast with multiple players. More FEC’s are bringing in VR systems, and Ax Throwing has really taken off around here. The industry would do well to keep emphasizing the social aspect of arcade gaming. At arcade bars it seems that Pac Man Battle Royale has become a classic in its own right. There are quite a few games, new and old, that can draw a nice crowd. Younger players are discovering older games, that has been very interesting. When Player 2 opened I expected to see people in my own age group and older, but there is a solid draw among younger players. We may see something radically new happen, but I think that arcade games will continue to do well in places that it is part of an overall larger experience.
Prices will probably keep going up, at least in the short term, for classic games. I would look at the old car market if you want an idea for cost/demand ideas. It’s still a niche hobby, and eventually people who have a basement full of games will no longer want a basement full of games. There is also a finite supply of many parts, such as the tube-type monitors and parts specific to them, so at some point it just will not be practical to keep some machines running.
This is one of an ongoing series of articles based on the Walter Day Collection of e-sports/video gaming trading cards – check out more information at thewalterdaycollection.com.