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Ground Kontrol Interview

Living in Portland, I can't help but be drawn to one of its greatest recreational spots ever: Ground Kontrol. I spoke with Anthony Ramos, one of the owners, and he revealed some awesome info about their retro arena.

Q: First off, for those who don't know, what is Ground Kontrol?

A: Ground Kontrol is an arcade and home video game store dedicated to preserving and enjoying video game history.

The arcade is a recreation of the great game rooms you remember from the '80s. We have over 60 video games and pinball machines, making us the third-largest classic gameroom in the US. We buy and sell them, as well.

The game store buys, sells, and trades retro home systems and games, from the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and Intellivision up through the NES, Super NES and original PlayStation.

Q: How did Ground Kontrol get started? Who came up with the name?

A: A lot of people independently thought of the idea of a "retrocade" over the years, but "Kneel" and Betty, who worked as record store clerks at the time, actually did it. I think "Kneel" came up with the name.

Q: What sorts of events have taken place at Ground Kontrol?

A: We've had fashion shows, photo shoots, free game nights with DJs, and several live shows. We recently put on microPALOOZA, the region's first "chip" music summit,  and The MiniBosses [played here at the end of May 04].

Q: Any plans for Ground Kontrol in the future?

A: New games are always in the works; we introduce one or two new classics every month. Check for recent additions.

We've started a DJ weekly, Thump, that happens every Thursday night. And we plan to continue doing shows about once a month.

Q: When's the busy season, is it usually packed in a certain time of year? Why do you think this is?

A: We're busy year-round. Summer is a little busier, probably because the weather is nicer and more people are out.

Q: Who set up the atmosphere? How long did it take? Who all was behind it?

A: "Kneel" originally set it up with an industrial, cold war feel: yellow and black hazard stripes, damaged printers and monitors, and the name spelled out with '70s-era computer lettering like on the bottom of a bank check. We're making it a little more fun by introducing some color and game graphic elements. I updated the name with Atari style lettering, and we put up big dayglow cutouts of the Pac-Man characters, for example. The idea is to remember and enjoy a time when video games were a simple escape into an exciting future.

Q: Have any photos of when Ground Kontrol first started off?

A: Sadly, no. The oldest pics I've found are of a fashion show in 2001. Ground Kontrol's been around since 1999, this May it'll be five years running.

Q: Is Ground Kontrol where your collection ends? Or do you have more?

A: Much, much more. For every game you see on the floor at Ground Kontrol,
we have one or two more waiting to come in. That's why we do this - we own a lot of great classic games, and we wanted a venue for people to play them at a reasonable price (25!) Unfortunately, we barely break even, so it's really a labor of love.

Q: How long have you been a classic gamer? What got you into it?

A: Pretty much as long as there have been classic games; I got hooked on Space Invaders and Pac-Man when they first came out. Seeing the Atari game Adventure at a friend's house was mind-blowing. I was easily impressed by brightly colored blocks and dragons that looked like ducks, apparently.

Q: Where is Ground Kontrol located?

A: Ground Kontrol is in downtown Portland [Oregon] on 12th Ave. between Alder and Morrison streets. The MAX light rail train stops on 10th Ave. and the streetcar stops on 11th. From there it's only a block or two's walk away. Just look for the tall steeple of the church across the street.

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