Since its formation, the Arcade-in-a-Box gaming center located in Tucson, Arizona has served as one of that region’s largest fighting game community hubs. While their presence has helped the local scene grow in the past few years, founder Ed Farias recently announced that they will unfortunately cease operation in the near future due to the costs of keeping the business afloat. This is the latest in a string of closure announcements that includes Family Fun Arcade and Japan Arcade in Southern California, and we empathize with the players who lost this important establishment.
We’ve included a piece below that was written by former employee James Jefferies so those of you outside the Tucson area can get a sense of where Arcade-in-a-Box got its start and what it meant to those who frequented the venue. You’ll also find the trailer for “This is It,” an event organized to send the arcade off in style. If you would like to attend, be sure to visit the tournament’s official website for more details.
If you’re a player in the area, feel free to head to the comments and let us know some of your favorite Arcade-in-a-Box moments. We would like to thank Ed Farias and all those involved with the venue for their years of dedication to the community and wish them all the luck in the world as they move forward.
The House That Old-School Built
In the classic baseball fantasy film, Field Of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character responds to an unknown voice that pesters him. “If you build it, they will come.”
For Ed Farias of Arcade-In-A-Box, there was no such mysterious voice, but there were the very REAL voices of the community of gamers throughout the state of Arizona, who were semi-organized, somewhat divided, but without a true home for them to regularly sharpen their skills.
Ed Farias began Arcade-In-A-Box as a total garage-style operation, building all-in-one hybrid MAME PC/control panel combinations as a labor of love. I actually learned of Ed’s presence in Tucson when I stumbled upon one of his creations on a random message board devoted to arcade games. Later on, in the fall of 2007, I met him at the premiere of The King Of Kong, and watched as someone won one of his first XBox 360 joysticks with a rather lackluster effort in Donkey Kong.
Not long thereafter, he invited me to come and work for him as a joystick assembler. I had only puttered around with such things, and warned him of my lack of skills, but he took me on anyway, insisting it was easy to learn and offering me a VERY competitive wage in the context of Tucson. (I still joke about getting one of the last manufacturing jobs created in America.)
Things were much quieter then. For a while, I was his only assistant, coming in for about 20 hours a week. We were holed up in a dodgy industrial park on the southeast side of Tucson, next to an eegee’s (he bought me lunch my first day). There was a steady flow of orders, building up as time passed and Ed’s reputation for a quality product began to grow online. Soon, Ed added three more hands, Aaron Holley, and Greg Greenfield (who still has the best S.T.A.R.S. agent name ever!), and Roch Mirabeau. Our product truly hit the market at the perfect time, right as the rebirth of the fighting game scene was just about to take place. Street Fighter IV hit the market like an atomic bomb, and soon we were awash in more orders than we knew what to do with.
We had a little manufacturing family, and we’d have a blast on Fridays, unwinding with a bit of MAME Challenge, a game we created in which we’d compete at completely randomized games on MAME, with a special scoring system. It was fun as hell being a joystick-slinging elf in Ed’s Santa-like workshop of ultimate gaming love. We even appeared on a Street Fighter IV-themed episode of a web-based gaming series, which was a crazily fun day that ended up sending some of us in truly different directions.
Soon after switching locations to a bigger workspace even further out in the sticks, Ed opened the first iteration of the Gaming Center. After searching many potential sites, and a whole lot of sledgehammer swinging, it finally went up, right next to the workspace way out in the sticks. It was a really ornate and ambitious affair, with a ridiculously fast Internet connection and tons of stations, each with their own linked system, monitor, and big comfy chair. Abe Valenzuela III ran the place as manager on a day-to-day basis, and people like Aaron ‘Dookie’ Holley and Marvin Mael Norton kept the home fires burning. At first, the place got crushed. It was wall-to-wall packed on a regular basis for every event, with every plush black recliner filled with a caffeine-addled hardcore player from Phoenix or Tucson.
But after the initial buzz wore off, it proved to be a tough sell for the general public, given the out-of-the-way location. Time passed, and the AIAB Gaming Center found a new home, much closer to the city proper, just off of Craycroft and Grant, where it currently remains. Countless people have been a part of its evolution, though, with many folks such as Ernesto Raygoza, Aaron Ramsey, and too many others to mention here having donated their time and passion for gaming to keep it afloat.
As we head into the last big AIAB tournament event, named THIS IS IT, it’s a good time to think about the people such as Ed who actually act on behalf of the gaming community. Gamers are a strange, nomadic, sometimes anti-social lot, and the age of network gaming has allowed a lot of people to remain anonymous and act like giant jerks, be it directly via online games or as comment-spewing trolls on Internet forums. It can be a very disheartening experience for those of us who remember what it was like to actually go TO an arcade and have a real social experience. It can be easy to pigeon-hole the new generation of gamers as a cadre of cowardly online smack-talkers. The experience at AIAB really proves this incorrect, though.
There’s plenty of new blood tearing it up in Arizona, and when actually given a chance to throw down in person like the days of old, they will tell you, firsthand, that it’s a rush that no XBox Live match can duplicate. The spirit of yesteryear still burns, and whether it was yours truly roaming from 7-11 to Circle K and back, seeking opponents in SFII: Champion Edition, or the new breed huddling over the latest AE patch and breaking it down…the fight is still all there is. Bootcamps, ranbats, big events, Retro Rumble, birthday parties…the place got a lot of use, and everyone involved has at least a few awesome stories to tell about the joint.
The desire to meet and compete still thrives, and a whole legion of lifelong friendships grew under the roof at AIAB, just as it did at Golf-N-Stuff, Space Shuttle, Tilt, The Gold Mine, or any other arcade that is either long gone or barely hangs on. As long as someone like Ed Farias listens to that crazy voice telling him to build it, those that thirst for that kind of bond will find those places, make them home, and hold them close to their hearts. The doors may close, but the memories are permanent.