Attract Mode

In the past few years, I've had a growing fondness for the arcades of my youth. I think this first started when I found a Flickr photo set (sadly no longer available) with a massive batch of slides (yes, actual physical slides) that someone scanned after finding them in a dumpster. The images documented a collection of classic 70's and 80's arcades in all their glory, and it got my heart a'poundin'.

Those images from the dawn of video games inspired me to write One Big Pixel, which actually made me feel even more of a longing for that special time. It's kind of sick to be affected like that by your own thoughts, isn't it?

And then they tore down the Malibu Grand Prix in my home town of Mount Laurel, New Jersey. "The Malibu", as my childhood friends and I called it, was a chain from California that opened in the early 80's, and combined car racing with a full-on arcade. "Race Our Cars, Play Our Games" the building's sign invited. I liked the cars, but I lived for the games - and the environment itself. I have full sense memories of that place - bursts of video game-generated lights, testosterone-fulled sound effects, even the smell of the pizza in the little food area is still a part of me. When I wasn't at The Malibu, I was thinking about it.

There was a communal quality to arcades back then - they were a destination, not a momentary diversion. I longed to have my high scores listed on games - that was a goal. And with enough determination and quarters, players back then stood a chance of beating a game - a very satisfying thing that doesn't happen much nowadays. Eventually most games were designed to get as many players simultaneously competing as possible, forcing them to keep pumping in quarters to continue. I found that to be much less satisfying.

All of this culminated in my writing what I planned to be a short screenplay, but which eventually went to 32 pages - a very awkward length for a short. Initially I planned to keep the locations limited and shoot it myself, but eventually the story seemed to demand scenes contained in a large video game warehouse/repair shop/arcade, and I gave in. Now the scrip=
feels more like the pilot for a television series, which isn't a bad thing, but doesn't make it especially marketable. Art for art's sake, I suppose.

I named the story "Attract Mode", after a video game's self-demo, designed to attract players - and there's a second meaning, too: the main character, Joel, is trying to woo a lady - something all gamer nerds dream of. Here's the logline:

"A disgruntled package delivery driver uncovers a never-released, before-its-time video game and plots to use it as a means to bring back the classic arcades of the 1980's."

I got to do a lot of research (ask me what a "pinout" is sometime), and even gathered up some circuit boards for possible future props. They're in my basement if you want to borrow them.

I did what seemed natural to me in developing the script, which is taking constant breaks to create logos for the movie's title as well as for the other entities in the story. Creating the fake game and company names was especially satisfying, because I think those names mostly suck in works of fiction. I don't know how many stupid sitcoms in my youth had kids talking about "Chomp Man" or "Star Battle" or crap like that. My names are better. Or if they seem sucky, it's intentional - a lampoon, if you will.

I developed a bunch of logos for auto-inspiration (it's not what you think) and also to help keep things moving, in case I wind up filming this myself. For the main Attract Mode logo, I kept the feel very 80's-rainbow-sh, with the kind of Star Wars-inspired font that dominated the era including the extensions on the left and right. I did some heavy modifications to the font, adding notches to connect a few letters and tighten it up horizontally (specifically, the two T's, and the C and T) and recreating the R entirely (the original one was too rounded). So far, it's served its purpose nicely.

This is the logo for Devastar, the Maguffin of the story - it's the catalyst that sets the plot in motion. I designed it as a marquee, the transparent piece that's mounted at the top of the video game cabinet and lit from behind. I used another early 80's-style font (though the story takes place in the present, the fictional game was created in the 80's) and simple 3D effects combined with gradients, all rendered with super-saturated colors. Inspirations: Xevious, Sinistar, Defender.

Hittami is the fictional company that developed the Devastar game in the story. I used a rounded typeface that was also popular in the 80's. The little incomplete notch really makes it work for me. A logo like this, in practice, would change colors frequently for different applications, so it's got a simple treatment - solid fill with a moderately-thick outline to differentiate it from the background. Name inspirations: Nittoh, Konami, Namco, Capcom, Taito.

The Secret Layre is the hub of video game activity in the story. I modeled it off the real TNT Amusements fairly close to me in Southampton, PA. I've even considered trying to secure that as a location to shoot the film (I dream big). Check out the site - their half-hour infomercial, which runs on local cable channels, is a bold masterpiece of the format. The wide range of services TNT offers (video game sales, repair, rentals, on-site parties) inspired me to give those same attributes to the fictional Secret Layre. In my story, this place has stayed fairly current - hence the clean, modern (though retro-spacey) font and logo layout.

I even wrote a main title them for the project, as well as some additional music. Using GarageBand, I only worked with sounds and instruments that were era-appropriate, and I reduced the bit rate to give more of an 8-bit feel. If you're "of age", listen to hear instrumental inspirations from Space Invaders, Dig Dug, Pole Position, Reactor and more.

Listen to the Attract Mode Main Title:

And of course, there's the script itself. Link below:

Attract Mode

I did get a couple requests from the Short Scripts section of InkTip, a screenplay promotion site, but I haven't heard back from any of the production companies that asked to read the screenplay. Maybe it's for the better - it's a big project, but I don't know if I could hand this one off for someone else to produce. My 12-year-old self would be forever betrayed, and I don't know if I could live with that.

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