An Inside Look at the National Videogame Museum in Frisco
An Inside Look at the National Videogame Museum in Frisco
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Scott Ellis: All right guys. Welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us on the Frisco Podcast. We are here at the National Video Game Museum that just opened up last week in Frisco and we’re super excited to have you guys here. We’ve got all three of the founders so why don’t you guys introduce yourselves and then we’ll just kind of get into talking about the museum.
Joe Santulli: My name is Joe Santulli, on of the co-founders of National Video Game Museum.
John Hardie: I’m John Hardie.
Sean Kelly: I’m Sean Kelly.
Scott Ellis: All right so how did you guys come together to produce something like this?
Joe Santulli: Well we’ve been good old pals for a long time. We met years before the internet when we were just collectors trading emails about what was out there that we didn’t know about and what sort of games. Sean used to sell games and I would buy stuff from him. He was kind enough to send me a Shark! Shark! cartridge. I was like this guy’s all right. He sent me a Shark! Shark! Cartridge for Intellivision which is a game that I had needed for awhile back then.
Scott Ellis: You guys were collectors and just kind of knew each other through that world I guess?
John Hardie: Individually we’ve all been collecting for over thirty years. We all had our specialties and certain areas that were our favorite systems or things that we were collecting. As time went on it just kept growing immensely. We got together and started doing a video game convention called Classic Gaming Expo. That was in 1999. That was when we did our first museum exhibit. From there it just mushroomed, everything bigger and better every year.
Scott Ellis: Okay. So I have to ask the question that I’m sure you’ve been asked a hundred times already. How did we get so lucky in Frisco for this to end up here as opposed to a million other places that certainly would have been great places to have a museum like this?
Sean Kelly: We looked around. Our knee jerk reaction was Silicon Valley. That’s where video games were born and we thought that that was the place that we would like to put a museum but they weren’t really receptive to the idea in California. We talked to a couple different cities, tried to get through a couple of different cities. Even the response that we did get was lukewarm when we got one.
We met Randy Pitchford at one of the travelling exhibits that we were doing in Las Vegas. Randy saw one of our exhibits and Randy thought that he had the perfect place for us. Randy’s a bit of a historian himself. He had a historical display in his office and he really got into the history of video games. Randy was in the process of moving Gearbox Software from Plano to Frisco and Randy said, “You know, I’ve been talking to the city, the mayor, and I really think that they would be into what you guys are thinking about doing.”
He asked us to come down and he set up a meeting for us and right away they loved us. The City Council, the mayor, they all got it. They all knew it was a perfect fit and within a couple of weeks we knew it was a perfect fit. The process took a few months, a few meetings, to figure out exactly how and what we were going to do. Once everything was nailed down we were all this it it. We love it here.
Scott Ellis: How hard was it to find or to acquire some of the things you guys have here. I’ve seen things that I had forgotten ever even existed. There’s one that we had when I was a kid, was the first thing that I saw when I walked in for media day. That’s the old Odyssey system that had the overlays on your TV screen. My dad had that when I was a kid. How hard is it to come up with those things or were they things that you guys already had in your collector repositories?
Sean Kelly: You have to remember, we started this long before anybody else was collecting so we were collectors before collecting was cool.
John Hardie: Yeah, we were fortunate a lot of times to be in the right place and the right time. The fact that we were actively seeking items, we were able to get them without having to pay an arm and a leg for them. You would never be able to take a collection like this and build it today. We were doing it at a time when people were just throwing stuff out. Thankfully today people are a little more aware of that. A lot of the developers just don’t toss stuff. But back then it was a race against time. I can’t tell you how many times we would contact somebody and they’d say, “I wish you had called me last month. I just threw out all the stuff that I had in my garage for seventeen years.” It’s heartbreaking.
Joe Santulli: Yeah, that’s kind of painful.
Scott Ellis: What are some of the more interesting or unique kinds of things that people are going to find when they come to visit the museum? Any particular favorites or things that you guys think stand out? Other than the oversized Pong game which everybody’s going to see when they walk in. That’s awesome.
John Hardie: We have a lot of really cool items, a lot of one of a kind items. There’s a certain appeal to a certain age crowd. A little kid isn’t going to really care that we have a prototype of System X but somebody who grew up in that generation will. So it’s hard to say. We have a widespread collection of things that we’ve tried to balance where we have cool old stuff and cool new stuff that people of all ages can identify with. There are a lot of one of a kind items in the museum.
Scott Ellis: Yeah. And there are a lot of items that are pretty old and probably have had to have some degree of work or restoration. Are you guys doing that stuff here? Any challenges with bringing an old console or an old game back to life? I can imagine that the chip sets and the boards and all the different things that go into that probably is not easy.
Sean Kelly: John and I have been working on two arcade machines the last two days and we’re ready to strangle ourselves. Sometimes it’s pretty frustrating. The problem is is that some of it’s so old. Most of the time you can find parts for it but yesterday we drove from Frisco to Arlington which was about forty-five minutes each way to go to a specific Fry’s Electronics to get one transistor for the Starcast machine we were working on. It was six dollars. We probably spent three times that in gas going back and forth.
John Hardie: Not to mention the time.
Sean Kelly: Yeah. Not to mention the time. It was so frustrating. Then when we got back that still didn’t fix it. Sometimes it’s pretty frustrating working on that stuff. But despite the hassles and despite the frustration we kind of like it. It’s fun. We have a good time with it. We were here last night until one in the morning putzing around with a Jungle King machine. We were tired but we were having a good time. That’s the kind of thing that we like to do. John and I are both tinkerers.
Scott Ellis: It definitely feels like a labor of love with you guys. I have a lot of appreciation for that. I’m at the perfect age where I grew up putting every dollar bill into token machines that I could so it’s very exciting to see-
Sean Kelly: You can still do that here whenever you want.
Scott Ellis: I notice that now. We have the arcade. I didn’t get to play when I was in the other day but I will definitely be at least seeing how rusty my Donkey Kong skills are before I go.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the museum itself. Certainly on of the things people are going to notice when they come in are the amazing murals and paint jobs that are all over the place here. As I understand there was a local artist that came in and did all that. Was it one artist? Was it different people?
Joe Santulli: We had one wall that we wanted done specifically and we reached out to Frisco Arts who was sharing the building with us at that time. They put a posting out to their group and one of the people in their group was Val Wigglesworth who writes everywhere in Dallas. She had put it in the newspaper and before we knew it our inbox was flooded with people that wanted to come and paint that specific mural.
Sean scheduled these people to come in in waves and my wife and I walked them through the space when it was all just white walls and basically told them what we were going to do with those spaces. Asked them,” Picture what we’re doing. What would you do artwork wise for this?” We took seven people that gave us the best pitch for those specific exhibits and seven artists are responsible for all of the mural art that you see here and the Mario statue that’s in the front.
Scott Ellis: Oh wow. So the Mario statue was made specifically for you guys.
Joe Santulli: That was built for us.
John Hardie: It was custom made by [crosstalk 00:07:18]
Scott Ellis: There’s not better person to have keeping an eye on this place. What was the name of the artist that actually did the first mural you see when you come in, the big wall.
Joe Santulli: Anna Terry
Scott Ellis: Anna Terry?
Joe Santulli: Anna did that. She collaborated with Oliver Wade in the hand held room and in the gift shop as well.
Scott Ellis: Those are fantastic. You just kind of get lost looking at the wall and all the stuff she put into it. Beautifully done. Beautifully done.
Let’s talk a little bit now about the future. When you were here for media days you guys said, “This is just the beginning. We have more plans.” Is there anything you can elaborate on or maybe tease us with? Things to look forward to down the road?
John Hardie: Our original vision for the museum had a lot more hands on and research facility type thing which, with ten thousand square feet roughly, we weren’t able to implement. We kind of had to scale back our plans. We always pictured having a research library or research facility where people could come in and do research on old video games or maybe a corporation is involved in some patent lawsuit and wants to research whether or not there was similar items back in the day. What was the first instance of a voice recognition system, things of that nature.
We have a huge amount of paperwork. We have old company memos, magazines, periodicals. There just a ton of stuff that needs to be scanned, archived, whatever and that would be available for people to use. We could easily see that being a good chunk of space right there. We’ve also talked about bigger workshop areas where maybe local people, you have somebody who’s working on an R-Dweeno project, he could come into a little work area and there’d be the facilities he needs there. The resources; soldering, programming, things of that nature.
Scott Ellis: So a little maker space for people [crosstalk 00:09:05]
John Hardie: Maker space is exactly what we’re talking about. Even for archiving purposes; if someone has an old disk that they want to back up we would then have a facility here that you could come in and archive the data off of that disk. There’s a lot of stuff like that, and then just bigger and better. Our original list was close to sixty exhibits and we pared it down to like eighteen to twenty here that we thought were the best that we would go with. But there’s so many others that were still in the pipeline.
Scott Ellis: I hope that we get to see this place grow and grow and grow. The research library sounds fantastic. For me one of the exciting things, as a technology guy, about having you guys here is a lot of people look at video games and they see it’s fun or how much time their kid spends playing them or whatever. It’s easy to forget that gaming is one of those industries that is always pushing the edge of what’s happening in technology. It’s fun to see how those things have evolved and to come to one place where you’ve got all these old consoles and all these old games and you can watch how that tech has evolved and kind of forget that at one point in time this stuff was very cutting edge.
Companies like Gearbox we’re glad to have here as well because they’re going to help further that mission and kind of keep pushing the edge of those things. I’m glad to have you guys here. Thank you very much.
John Hardie: No, we’re thrilled.
Scott Ellis: Last little bit of news for everybody that is going to come out and see the museum that hasn’t already. This place is going to blow your mind. I have to admit it absolutely exceeded my expectations. We knew this was coming for a long time and it really exceeded the expectation that I had for it.
When do you guys open? What are the hours? What does it cost?
Joe Santulli: It’s ten to four Tuesday through Thursday, ten to eight on Friday and Saturday, and twelve to five on Sunday.
John Hardie: Ten to five.
Scott Ellis: We’ll make sure we get that right in the show notes.
Joe Santulli: Yeah. Thank you. And then Monday we’re closed.
Scott Ellis: Okay. So closed on Monday, that’s the only day.
Joe Santulli: Yes.
Scott Ellis: What does it cost to get in?
Joe Santulli: Twelve dollars for adults, ten dollars for kids ten and under. Three and under is free and we have discounts for military, educators and seniors.
Scott Ellis: And then there’s the arcade kind of in the back as you as you’re exiting. There’s a whole bunch of cool old stand up games that people can come in and play. Like I said, I’m going to go try my hand at Donkey King again. It won’t last very long.
Sean Kelly: Each persons admission gets them four tokens to use in the arcade as well.
Scott Ellis: Okay. You get four tokens. That’s worth it right there to me. It’s gone up from the price of a quarter back in the day but still worth it. Are you guys going to be doing any kind of selling of games? Like if I wanted to have an old Galaga game in my home could I come to you guys and could you help me acquire that or is that not a part of this?
John Hardie: We don’t sell anything. It would really be a conflict of interests if we did. If you’ll notice in the gift shop we certainly have older items that we could sell but we won’t. We don’t want there to be any confusion that people think we’re selling things. That maybe those things were donated and now we’re turning around and selling them. It’s strictly anything you see in the gift shop. We sell classic systems but they’re the modern Flashback or Retron, modern systems that let you play classic games.
We may be able to point you to the right person that could help you find one but we wouldn’t sell anything.
Joe Santulli: Especially if you live in Chicago or New Jersey.
Scott Ellis: Is that where you guys are originally all from?
Joe Santulli: John is from Chicago. Sean is from New York and I’m from New Jersey and Sean and I both own retail stores that buy and sell vintage games.
Scott Ellis: Okay. Okay. Good to know. So you guys always have your eye out for what’s happening [crosstalk 00:12:24]
Well guys, thank you very much for joining me today. Again, very excited to have you here. For everybody that’s listening I’m going to encourage you to get out here as fast as you can. Come check this place out. You’re going to want to come back. There’s just so much to see and you guys did a fantastic job. Thank you.
Joe Santulli: Thank you.
Sean Kelly: Thank you.
John Hardie: Thank you very much. Thanks for coming.
Scott Ellis: We’ll talk to you guys next week.