High Score is Vancouver’s first 420-friendly retro video game lounge. Located at 649 East Hastings, it’s got thousands of old school games from all the classic systems in addition to pinball and a few stand-alone arcade machines like the legendary Galaga and Pac-Man from the 1980’s.
Cannabis Life Network geeked out with Jeremiah, the owner and operator of High Score, over the era’s best video games, the difference between modern and retro games, the nostalgia factor, and how Jeremiah hopes someone will challenge his high score on Galaga.
Cannabis Life Network: First off, the “High Score” name is great and the concept is so cool. What inspired you to open High Score?
Jeremiah: I’ve been a video game fan my whole life, specifically retro video games and 80’s arcade games ever since I was a kid going to my neighbourhood arcade in Nanaimo.
And I didn’t just love the games, I loved the actual physical cabinets because they’re so beautiful!.
I’ve been mildly obsessed with them my whole life, so I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to open an arcade and just preserve some of these beautiful pieces of equipment that are so rare these days.
Especially here in Vancouver, there’s just a total lack of places to go to play vintage video games in an arcade-like setting.
High Score is basically a place I built that I’d love to hang out at and we’re really trying to maintain that 80’s retro feel and it’s a lot of fun.
We’ve got vintage video games, pinball machines, and consoles with classics including Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Atari 2600- all loaded with games.
We’ve got vintage candies as well. They used to be penny candies, but they’re 5 cents now because of inflation.
What are High Score’s hours?
High Score’s hours are from 2pm-10pm right now but we’re hoping to be open from noon to midnight.
You mentioned the vintage candies- are you thinking of stocking edibles as well or are you going to stay away for now just because they aren’t legal yet?
Edibles have always been hit and miss for me at the other stores like Cannabis Culture, and while we do have some edibles but we try to stay away from baked goods because a lot can go wrong if they’re not made properly.
I’ve just been opposed to having edibles because there’s no food-safe system set up yet. I know they’re coming and I know a lot of people that do produce their stuff at food safe kitchens, but I’d be more comfortable if those systems are more in place before moving into edibles and having them available at High Score.
When you say the edibles may not be made properly, were you talking about allergies?
Precisely. For one thing, nut allergies are a big deal and it doesn’t take much of to be in there for it to be a huge problem. That’s a big liability and if we don’t have a process to check those products to see that they are what they say they are and everything else, it’s hard for us to serve.
But that’s just more of a personal philosophy and I think in the future it will just be like any other product.
At High Score, what are your personal fave games?
My personal favourite game by far is Galaga, so we’ve actually got a full-sized regular 1981 Galaga original arcade machine. I’ve currently got the high score on it, just saying, but I’m hoping for a challenger to come and beat me. I’m sure Vancouver’s got some Galaga fans out there.
We’ve also got an original 1981 Pac-Man and we’ve got the original Mario Bros. two-player. We’ve also got The Simpsons pinball as well from 1990 that’s really beautiful.
I’ve also got a retro 4-player arcade stand-up that has thousands of games on it like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, and all those great 4-player games.
I imagine that some of these machines can be very hard to get. Which one was the hardest to get so far?
There’s a place in town called John’s Jukes, and John’s been restoring these machines for a long time. I think I was really lucky that I just happened to hit him up at the right time. He had a bunch of very beautiful machines and I got the ones I wanted.
I had it in mind to get a Pac-Man and a Galaga and I was thinking of getting a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles full-size stand-up but like you said, a lot of these games are very hard to get and you kind of have to take what’s available.
In the USA, there’s none of those problems but getting them across the border is its own difficulty.
So you said you had the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
Well I was trying to get one of those 4-player Turtles machines but to get one here in Vancouver was impossible, I couldn’t find one anywhere.
Instead, I had Retro or Die, a local company that makes custom machines, build me a machine that has thousands of games on it. It’s a 4-player setup and it’s got TMNT and you can play it like the full-size stand-up machines.
So it’s more like an emulator or something?
It is an emulator. It contains all the emulators of all the main systems so you can play Nintendo, Super Nintendo, or even things like Sega Game Gear and older systems like Gameboy Color- it’s fully loaded with all those games and it’s pretty much a gamer’s paradise.
What are some of the oldest games that High Score has?
Well Galaga and Pac-Man are both 1981, so they’re both pretty old. We’ve also got an Atari 2600 console and that’s from 1976 or ‘77- it’s got 120 games including Space Invaders and since its the Classic System, it’s got wireless controllers too!
But they look just like the original joysticks and it’s like playing it back in the 70s, except it’s on a massive TV.
So you’ve got games from the late 70s, but what time range are you going for? Are you going as far as the Super Nintendo era or newer?
I believe the Super Nintendo is the most current system that we have, so the 16-bit era is about as far as we’re going for the moment at High Score.
Of course we’ve got arcade games like Marvel vs. Capcom and some of the newer fighting games- they’re all available in our arcade standups.
But we don’t have any PS4’s or Xboxes or anything like that.
We’re definitely going for that nostalgia thing and we’ve got a big Pixel wall too and we’ve got all these LED glow cubes you can sit on and we’ve got a wall built with 25 of them that we can make into Tetris patterns and it looks pretty amazing.
We’ve also got a cool bar, which is basically our dab bar, and it’s pretty 420-friendly.
In addition to the dab bar, do you have vaporizers and can you roll and smoke joints and all that?
We’re 420-friendly in all regards, just like Cannabis Culture’s vapor lounge.
If you could get any games you wanted, what’s your top 5?
I think we pretty much have them all. If I had to give my top 5 favorite games… oh jeez.
That’s kind of why I picked the ones that we have, I wanted a Pac-Man and I wanted a Galaga, of course- Galaga’s my number 1.
I always did love TMNT 4-player, that’s why I got the 4-player system.
Some of the classics on consoles as well. I’m a huge Super Mario Bros. 2 fan. I don’t know why it stands out but we’ve been playing the classic Super Mario games a lot because they’re so much fun.
Basically, I targeted exactly what I wanted and we’ve got all those original games. If a gamer wants to play a vintage game and we don’t have it, there are ways to get it and find it and we’re going to do our best to have everything for everybody.
How many games are available to play at High Score?
More than 5000.
What was your favourite console?
I grew up with an NES- the Nintendo Entertainment System. That was my big console when I was a kid and I remember going to Zellers with my dad to buy an Atari 2600 but we saw the Nintendo Entertainment System and we had to get that instead.
We weren’t sorry about that because it was the greatest system and it was such a gamechanger. It had all the classic games like Zelda and Metroid, which were some of the biggest games of my childhood- I spent a lot of time on those games!
I was so pleased when they released the Nintendo Classic system that had 30 games on it but what I did was have my friend mod that system so we’ve got over 250 games on it.
In your opinion, what did the retro games do better than modern games?
I think there’s a simplistic beauty- or beautiful simplicity- to those games. Like Tetris, it’s not much to look at and it doesn’t have crazy 3D graphics, but there’s a perfection to it just the way it is and I think that’s part of the beauty of some of these old games.
Like Donkey Kong itself is such a brilliant, beautiful game and it doesn’t have to be complicated to be fun and I think there’s a big replay value in old games.
In the new console era, they’re designing games where kids are going to sit down and spend hours and hours playing and to really get into those games you need to devote some serious time.
In my life I don’t really have that time to devote to it and I kind of like playing those games that last a couple minutes to 15-20 minutes at most if you’re really good at it and it’s nice to play a game where you don’t have to spend a heck of a lot of time and energy on it and just have some simple fun with it.
That makes sense. And they’re kind of like a reflection of their era in that way.
Totally. And the nostalgic value, for me, is huge. There’s something cool about these little tidbits of my own and other people’s personal history and it brings you back to this other era and makes you feel like when you were a kid.
There’s something beautiful about that in itself and it feels good.
When it comes to the difficulty levels do you feel older games are often harder and more unforgiving?
Absolutely because they want you to keep playing and pumping the quarters in. Before they had consoles games were very quick because you didn’t want these long lineups where guys will be playing for 6 hours.
Obviously that’s not very cost-effective when your business model is quarters.
For your arcade, are you going more coin-based play or is it an hourly thing?
It’s an hourly thing here at High Score. Some of the games are on coin-play, but just a few of them. Really, it’s a $5 cover charge and you get access to the games and a console rental is included in that price along with access to the vaporizers and stuff like that.
It’s not a bad deal.
So for the coin machines, how much are they?
Quarters. We’re going old school. The pinball I believe is 50 cents but the standup arcade machines are 25 cents.
How many pinball games do you have at High Score?
Currently we’ve just got The Simpsons pinball and I’ve been looking at getting more but we just don’t have that much more space and pinball machines take up a lot of it.
We’re going to have to make some room if we’re going to fit any more in there.