[Regular 'Cinema Pixeldiso' columnist Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins has ventured away from his regular movie stomping ground to bring us this special report into a frankly insane arcade game infomercial from Pennsylvania-based TNT Amusements - full screencaps and analysis handily provided!]
Anyone that's familiar with the state of video game related television programming is well aware of how abysmal it is these days (though honestly, its always been really bad). Whatever show is usually hosted by either a brain dead supermodel that cue-cards everything or an obnoxious sexy gamer "grrll" that's "all in yo face!" And if its a guy, he's some overly sarcastic, too cool for school dude, often some former child star has-been that was chosen by the networks since their types "connect" with the youth of today.
The presentation is often slick... usually too slick. There's always an abundance of flashy graphics on-screen, but none of them from actual games. We often get is either crappy sketch comedy laced with leet-speak, or interviews with celebrities who at the end of their segment mention what they're favorite game is. Rappers always like Madden, the everyone in the pop-punk/emo skinny white guy rock act are big Grand Theft Auto fans, save the bassist who still likes Ms. Pac Man. Let's not even get started on the topic of award shows...
But there is one show out there that's good. Damn good. Its honest, its fresh, its funny, its educational. Its perhaps the best damn television program ever created to deal with the subject of video games, the first to do it right. It's...
Arcade Games For Your Home!
So what is it? Well, its a late-night local TV infomercial produced by TNT Amusements, a Pennsylvania based operation that reconditions and sells arcade video games, pinball machines, jukeboxes, and other amusement contraptions. They also throw private parties, and the 60 minute program goes into great detail what TNT is all about. According to their website, its been on the air in the local Philly area since 2002 and "has been seen by millions".
The show, which is available as a streaming-only WMV file (Part 1, Part 2, with individual clips also viewable - anyone considering YouTube-ing this?) is quite simply brilliant, compelling television, with so many interesting bits and pieces to see and discuss that we're going to take a look at it, virtually scene by scene. Why? Because it truly deserves such attention to detail. Again its that damn good.
After a brief rundown of all the wondrous machines that TNT Amusements has (and every single one of them is yours for the taking!) we are greeted by the president, and our host, Todd N. Tuckey (T.N.T. get it?) who invites us all on his guided tour.
Inside we find out about the location (there's only one, in Southampton, PA), and Todd implores the viewers to stop on by. He then explains that most are perhaps already familiar with their old infomercial, so much so that everyone's memorized every single line! But this NEW infomercial is jam-packed with new content, "plus our usual assortment of crazy gags!" he explains that its a fresh new 30 minutes, but we see on screen that its actually a 60 minute special extended edition program that we're being treated to. Oh boy!
Then Todd walks around the showroom, filled with many machines, all cold and quiet, till he turns on the switch and laughs, much like God did when he created Earth. Its the first taste of the wonderful Tuckey wit that the hour is simply chock full of.
Next Todd tells us of al the great video games and pinball machines that are to be found on the showroom floor, both old and new, along with how everything is nice and affordable. Plus they also offer the best warranty and service plan "on the planet". The URL to the company's site is given, and then Todd has all the machines shut off, then immediately chastises the audience for running off to go online before the show is done. That cad!
Todd immediately goes into salesman mode by highlighting certain arcade games. First he shows us the Namco Classics Collection, and mentions how it not only features three games, Pac-Man, Rally X, and Dig Dug in their original incarnation, but also arranged modes with souped up graphics. Todd then plays a bit of the arranged version of Pac-Man and even talks about one of the new gameplay features, the dash, which allows you to both run and knock "the creatures" unconscious for a moment (okay, simple mistake... we'll let him go on this one).
Second up is Space Duel, which Todd tells us is similar to Asteroids but allows for two player simultaneous action. Then he explains how the wondrous vector graphics has to be seen in person to be believed (especially since one just can't tell watching the machine at home). And how, along with a subwoofer "for a machine made back in 1981, it still has unrivaled sound and picture quality". Plus we even get a fun factoid, which the show is just full of.
Third up, Todd plays a bit of Jungle Hunt, and we get another interesting fact about its background (already this is show is 1000% more genuinely informative than the average G4 show).
After some guy named Al (???) is seen playing Journey (the game based on the band as some might recall, or are still trying to forget, much like the band itself), Todd goes into the pinball portion of the program, which is mostly a chronological overview of their technical evolution over the past couple of decades, which is quite seriously fascinating. Again, you NEVER hear anything like this on G4 or Spike TV.
The most interesting machine might be Caveman, which incorporated a monitor like a few other pinbal machinesl. If the ball reaches a certain point on the play-field, all the lights dim and then the player gets to control a little pixelized caveman via a joystick and deal with dinosaurs.
Todd then opens up the machine to show the viewers some of the components inside. He then mentions how in the last infomercial, there was a gag where he dropped the play-field onto a fake rubber hand, and responded to folks wondering if he was going to repeat the gag.
But he's above such tackiness, but all of a sudden... OH NO!
Next Todd goes over all the shuffle alleys that they have (its kinda like a comb of air hockey and bowling... and as far as I can tell is very regional thing, mostly around the Northeast), including all the through reconditioning that is involved when one is sold. He even plays a few games, and Todd's a pretty decent player.
TNT also stocks foosball tables, in both grey and the traditional oak color! And Todd goes onto to explain, at $500 they're a great deal since their boards are made of wood, and not cheap particle board "like you see at the cheap discount house... we stock them year round, not just in the fall!" I had no idea foosball tables were a seasonal thing.
After going over ping pong tables (when Todd asks you point-blank, "Do you desire a good quality ping pong table?" all one can say is "YES!!!"), air hockey tables, the show finally kicks into high gear with the appearance of his two daughters, Terry Noreen Tucker, who's 2 and half, and Tammy Nicole Tucker, who's 5 and a half.
"And now I'll show you all what my girls like to play the most!" Todd says, like the proud father he should be. First we see Terry run up to Cruisin' USA, which Todd mentions that it Tammy was weened on it, since it was the first game she learned how to play at the age of two!!! He then explains a bit about the game, such as how you can choose your car and its color, then mentions how the "high resolution sound and graphics are just tremendous."
The back of the machine is opened up and the innards revealed and explained. Todd points out the chips that have all the info and how it all moves around to other chips nice and smoothly as you play. There's "no herky-jerkiness, and you're not waiting for constant reloads as you would with a CD-ROM". To emphasize this point, Todd asks us all "Isn't that annoying? To see the flashing icon constantly flash loading, loading, loading" in very Andy Rooney-esque manner.
We then cut to his brother's house to show us his nephew Jonathan and his girlfriend Jen, covered in cobwebs as they wait for their CD-ROMs to finish loading.
We then catch up with the girls again. First little Terry playing some deluxe sit down dogfight game (Todd ends up getting hit in the head by the moving cabinet).
Next we catch up with Tammy with 18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker (and hitting every car in sight). Then they play some pinball, with Todd saying ever so proudly "We start 'em young!". Onto Tammy playing Galaga, while Terry rides some moving jet ride that that's not a game. Then she spins around to Celine Deon playing on a jukebox. Cute. Their segment of the show ends with a game of hide and go seek, and Todd finds Terry hiding in the pinball crib that he created (which is basically a pinball machine with the play-field hollowed out to accommodate a child's bed. Also cute. But onto backs to business, so after scaring off his kids, he goes to the back to show the viewer how they recondition the machines, which means a whole slew of new wacky characters in the workshop.
The next couple of scenes out all the painstaking steps that Todd's crew goes through in order to ensure all the little components are in complete working order...
... sprinkled with a few corny jokes and this sight gag, in which Todd asks one of his men how much long it will take to do something. And upon answering his boss, the lights turn red, Todd pulls out an hour glass, and says that he doesn't have much time after all, and laughs like a madman.
Back to serious business: here's Todd going over Rudy, the intricate animatronic head from the pinball game Funhouse, including all the work involved in making sure its tip-top shape. One can't help admire all the work that Todd's crew puts in when it comes to reconditioning these machines, especially since many are long out of production. And it also goes a long way to show how incredibly complex they are as well. At this point of the show, all the behind the scenes, "how does it work" stuff totally feels like an episode of Reading Rainbow.
Time for more comedy! Here's Todd telling off two techs of his for not doing something right as they fix up an Monopoly pinball game, and telling them that they'll never make it in the industry.
The fine attention to detail isn't just restricted to pinball machines. We see the reconditioning an various arcade units, Robotron, Galaga, and Missile Command, which includes a vigorous cleaning, replacement of the overlay, as well as the chipset and circuit board, and a new paint job, among other things for each of them. In the end, each looks and feels as they did originally, as if they were fresh from the assembly line.
Next is a very detailed rundown of the overhaul of a World Cup Soccer pinball game, with various before and after shots. And after a breakdown of how each machine is shipped, things move onto jukeboxes, and this part is kinda boring, till the song and dance part of the show commences.
Here's Todd asking a tech to test out a record in a jukebox, and when its the Macarena, here's what he does...
When one of his techs, while fixing up Afterburner, asks to leave work a bit early to take his kid to a birthday party to a pizza place, Todd goes on about the competition and also warns him to bring lots of money since he's sure to run out of tokens in three minutes. Whereas at TNT, all the game are on free play!
We then meet Todd's wife Pan, who's a party hostess. She explains that all you have to do is bring the food and they take care of the rest. TNT does all sorts of events: birthdays, church and synagogue socials, Boy and Girl Scout parties, and even bachelorette and bachelor parties (though there's no booze).
After getting drilled into your head how much of a deal free plays for all games are, the choice of food is then explained. First is one pizza joint that supplies plain pizzas for $5, pies with topping for $6. There's also a hoagie shop that offers sandwiches for 15% off their regular price, which then elicits Todd to give the line of the entire hour: "And just look at the meat!" Finally we have yet another pizza joint which offers $6 for plain pizzas, and a buck fifty extra for toppings. $5 pizza or $6 pizza? So many choices!!!
Next we see a party already in session, where Todd gets to really screw around. Thing kicks off with him attempting to help himself a bite of some kid's snacks. He then explains that during the party they show a classic cartoon, and Todd's pretty proud of the fact that it’s shown on film, not video.
But as Todd says "if you desire, we can run a Three Stooges, especially if you are running an adult party, or a bachelor party." Which one might suppose means, every party HAS to have a cartoon or Three Stooges flick shown. So that bachelor party might seem lame with the fruit punch and no porno, but at least there's the free play of Mortal Kombat. Speaking of, we next join Todd back in the game room where he says that there's a huge choice to be found, from the latest games, to classics. And funny enough, right next to him is a stand up Virtua Racing unit, which this writer had no idea even existed (and was extremely delighted to see, being a diehard V.R. fan and all).
This also cues various consecutive shots of adult playing racing games with their babies at the wheel. Interesting. He here's a shot of Todd laughing like God again for the camera, and walking right in front of two guys playing DDR, which he follows up with "I can do anything I want!" And maybe so... I'd image Todd really is God around his parts.
When asking Fitz, the birthday boy, how much time he has left in his part, he's corrected by Todd and the hourglass gag once again.
And while passing along more sale jargon, Todd bumps into Jeff Zubernis, who fullfils the celebrity guest portion of the program. How... random.
Then here's Todd introducing the Jurassic Park alongside some guy who looks like the John Hammond character, who lip-synches the sound bite from the game, which is a sample from the movie, and looking kinda pissed while doing so.
Followed by Todd doing another "from infomercials past" staple, the playing of the sex-tester, yet another baby playing a driving game, Todd cracking a fat joke at the expense of some large woman he has a hard time passing in the game alley, and a mention that there's also touch screen games available for "slow learners", such as this old woman. The comedy is in such high gear, that Todd's even making digs at the Nintendo DS!
Time to get serious again. And time for the TNT Top Ten reasons why to do business with TNT Amusements.
Reason #1: There's the aforementioned incredible warranty plan, in which for the first five years of owning a machine, they promise an inexpensive repair. To illustrate this, Todd heads over to Igor's Pinball Palace who's obviously an disreputable pinball dealer with a lousy warranty plan.
Igor is actually Todd's brother btw, whom he proceeds to strip away the make-up, to show that this was just a demonstration and not for real, but would was acted out could very much be reality if one is not careful. Let this be a lesson for us all.
Reason #2 is that they have the largest selection of games in the world, and we get yet another tour, this time the warehouse which has several thousand machines waiting to be reconditioned. One machine that Todd points out is an Asteroids machine they accepted that had the sides covered in carpeting. Weird...
Reason #3 is the 30 day to try to out and if you don't like it, you get your money back promise. And since no real joke could be made out of this one, or Todd just wanted his wife in the infomercial a bit more, he had her wear a I Dream of Jeannie hairdo, whom then wished him to scrub the toilet.
Reasons #4-#7 have no real sight gags, so we'll spare the screencaps, though we will mention that they are, in order:
- Guaranteed free phone support ("unless you aggravate us!!!").
- The great trade-in deal.
- The abundance of spare parts they have readily available.
- The 57 point checklist of stuff that needs to pass before anything is passed to the buyer.
Reason #8 is that they accept virtually every single form of plastic known on earth, and again, another joke with Pam wearing a wig, this time looking like Cleopatra, who then wishes her husband away to the bathroom once more (its not the best of jokes, especially to repeat, I'm afraid). And reason #9 is that they have their own men in trucks (no subcontracted goons with TNT) that deliver the good in a four state area, and are very quick about it. Which is yet another opportunity for Todd to pull out the hourglass joke.
Okay, so things have gotten kinda boring by this point of the show, but reason #10 is that you're buying "the best of the best" and for the purpose of the program, they also saved the best for the last (well, almost). First we have Todd in the warehouse with two Black Knight pinball machines and two Ms. Pac-Man units. One of each is in suitable for a home sale, and the other matching pair is not up to their standards and will have to be disposed of.
How would that be done precisely? By tossing them off the roof of their building of course! Here goes Ms. Pac Man...
And there goes Black Knight...
[Simonc: Ouch, that's a bit harsh!] One can't help but get flashbacks to the good old days of Late Night with David Letterman (back when he used to toss stuff off a roof for laughs, for you kids who didn't know). Afterwards we catch up with Todd at his home, where we get to check out his private collection of mini-arcade games, which is the perfect size for his kids. One can't help but wonder when Terry plays Pac-Man, how many takes that they had to do with her not dying in the first three seconds (hey, she is only 2 and half after all).
Time to wrap things back and walk a bit down memory lane. Here's Todd going through his massive customer rolodex, which has grown quite a bit over the years, if screencaps from past informercials are any proof...
Finally, Todd warns us all one last time that, when it comes to purchasing any amusement machine, don't trust just anyone with such a major investment, such as an online auction or, worse yet, and for the last time, one of those damn, dirty basement dwellers- I mean dealers. And with one last hourglass joke...
... Todd signs off, and the credits roll (with snazzy end credit music courtesy of the World Cup Soccer pinball game).
But that's not it! With four minutes left in the hour to kill, Todd decides to fill it up with wacky out-takes, most of which is him flubbing his lines and doing a silly dance, or sticking out his tongue, which we will spare with the screencaps, since that would be over-kill. Though here's something interesting: a shot from a deleted scene with a Ms. Pac-Man machine shooting out fire!
So what exactly makes an infomercial for some amusement center in the middle of nowhere so special anyway, let alone "relevant"? Maybe its because despite the low budget production values and goofy humor, there's about fifty times more heart and sincerity, let along actual educational and entertainment value, in its one single hour than an entire year's worth of programming on the G4 channel. And its been a very long time since video games has been represented in any media as something wholesome, and there's just something nice about that, for a change.
The center of it all is, of course, Todd N. Tuckey, who you just can't help but really like. But more importantly, people like him and the dedicated craftspeople in his employment are what is keeping the all American spirit of the arcades alive and well, which is unfortunately has been on life support for the past twenty years. We may never have the glory days back again, but Todd's effort to resurrect and preserve the past is greatly appreciated. He's not only your best friend, but to all video games as well.
But also, watching a Ms. Pac Man machine getting tossed off a roof is pretty cool, you gotta admit.
To check out the informercial for yourself, and even purchase a DVD copy, as well as maybe finally get that Super Street Fighter 2 arcade unit that you've been long wishing for, via the TNT homepage.
And special thanks to native Pennsylvanian Katie Skelly for pointing out such an amazing television treasure.
[Matt Hawkins is a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor. He also designs games, makes comics, and does assorted “other things.” To find out more, check out Fort90.com.]