Musem of Soviet Arcade Games Opens


A new reminder of Russia’s recent past has cropped up in a Stalin-era bomb shelter under the Moscow State Technical University, featuring an entirely different kind of Soviet hardware – videogames.

Four students at the university have begun searching the country for these old games. So far, they’ve tracked down 32 of the machines, brought them to the facility in the university’s basement, and are at working restoring them to their former glory. Some are working perfectly, others will only fire up for a few minutes before slowly fading to oblivion, and some remain completely inoperable. All are now part of the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games.

Although not likely the first thing that leaps to mind when one thinks of the war machine of the Evil Empire, these arcade machines were actually produced by military factories between the late ’70s and the early ’90s; even though most of the machines were based on early Japanese designs, at the time, only the military had the technology required to build them. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, production halted and most of the machines were abandoned and forgotten as PCs and console systems flooded the market.

One feature common to all these machines, and unique to Soviet arcades, is the lack of a high score list. Players who racked up sufficient points in a game earned free plays, much like pinball machines, but no record of the top scorers were recorded. “That kind of competition wasn’t encouraged,” explains Alexander Stakhanov, one of the museum’s founders and engineers. “If you got enough points you won a free game, but there was no ‘high score’ culture as in the West.”

“We estimate there were 70 different kinds of machines, although it’s difficult to know for sure since they were made at facilities that were closed to the public,” said Maxim Pinigin, another museum founder. “They were meant to last only about seven years, so now we have to constantly repair them,” he added. Lack of documentation and spare parts has made the task even more difficult.

In spite of this, the museum has plans to expand. “We eventually want to be open three nights a week, show old cartoons such as Macron 1, participate in city events and move closer to the surface in a more central location,” said Alexander Stakhanov, the museum’s project manager. Currently it is only open on Wednesdays after 7:30 pm, and visits must be arranged in advance. Interested visitors may contact the museum via email at [email protected], or call 8-916-167-1925. Entrance costs 300 rubles (about $11.50) and includes tea and unlimited 15-kopek coins. The museum’s web site, translated by Google, is available here.

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