Hitting the lottery: A Chicago man recently stumbled upon a video game discovery that was nothing short of hitting the lottery in terms of the odds and coincidences surrounding the find. The item was a rare arcade game from 1983. The classic cabinet-style quarter-thief is worth well over $10,000, but he has no plans of selling it, partly because of the story behind this incredible find.
Tim Lapetino is a writer who is fascinated with geek culture. He credits his interest in the subject to the 1982 movie Tron, which he said he watched incessantly in his youth. At the moment, he is working on a book about the history of the sci-fi franchise, which is what makes his story so serendipitous.
The arcade game that Lapetino snagged is called "Discs of Tron." Finding an actual 40-year-old classic arcade cabinet of a game associated with the book you are currently writing is already feels like finding the "Holy Grail," said Lapetino, but it gets even weirder.
Lapetino wasn't even looking for the game or any memorabilia to supplement his research. He was merely traveling down the street he lives on and saw the cabinet sitting at the curbside, apparently abandoned. It was only a couple of blocks from his home.
The timing was also strangely fortuitous. As Lapetino approached the game to inspect it, he found a note on the back from the city's garbage removal team instructing the owner that city policy required he break down the machine before waste management would pick it up. Lapetino then checked with the homeowner to confirm he intended to throw out the machine. The owner said he was trying to dump it because it no longer worked. Lapetino offered to haul it off for him so he wouldn't have to take it apart for the trash collectors, and the resident agreed.
So Lapetino called his buddy, James Zespy, who said, "Do not take your hands off that machine."
Zespy showed up with two furniture dollies a few minutes later, and the two carted the cabinet off to Lapetino's garage, just down the street. After some minor re-wiring work, the pair got the game running again and found that the inside was in excellent condition. A counter showed that the game had only been played about 2,600 times. Zespy, an avid gaming enthusiast and owner of an "arcade bar" in Chicago, described it as "barely used."
"This is unobtainium," he said, commenting on the game's rarity and condition. "This does not happen. You'd have a better chance of winning the lotto than for him to find this game."
Unobtainium indeed. George Gomez, a video game designer who worked on Discs of Tron and its 1982 predecessor Tron, which hit arcades simultaneously with the movie, told the Washington Post that they did not make many of the second game because it did not do well in the arcades.
"We didn't make anywhere near as many 'Discs' as we did 'Trons,'" Gomez said.
So even in 1983, when the game debuted, it was already somewhat rare. But wait. There's more.
This particular cabinet that Lapetino got his hands on is known as an "environmental." These arcade machines are fully enclosed, cutting off the player from the noise and bustle of the arcade. The inside has lights and external speakers surrounding the arcade goer, making it even more immersive. Only a fraction of units manufactured were environmental because they were more expensive to produce.
As with all potentially collectible products, placing a value on the machine is difficult. It mostly comes down to what someone is willing to shell out for it, and with auctions having somewhat random buyer pools, the selling price can vary greatly. A soldout listing from Vintage Arcade Superstore valued the game at $11,000. However, the machine could fetch considerably more under the proper set of auction circumstances.
Be that as it may, it doesn't matter much to Lapetino because he has no intention of selling it. In fact, he intends to keep the game mainly how he found it, including leaving the note from the trash collectors in place. However, he has since made some minor repairs and bought a custom-made glass panel etched with graphics from the movie for the lower back of the cabinet, which was missing.