THE GAME ROOM OF CREOLE LANES IN THE SUMMER OF 1995:
15th of 1995, Mortal Kombat 3 (MK3) was released and had quickly
become a blockbuster hit in every arcade and game room in the town of Houma,
LA; every game room except the one in the bowling alley called Creole
Lanes, that is. At that time, the game room in Creole Lanes was
run by a multi-million dollar company called Delta Music, and their
priorities during this time period were video poker machines, not
so much video games. This was clear by the fact that most
of the games in the game room of Creole Lanes at the time were from the
late 70s' and early 80s', with only the occasional game from the 90s' thrown
in the mix (the newest game in the game room at the time was the original
Fighter, flanked by games like the original Defender and never
played games like
Bubbles). Despite the fact that fighting
games were the most popular games in arcades during the summer of 1995,
the game room in Creole Lanes was sorely lacking in any real fighting games
whatsoever. Meaning, no Mortal Kombats, no Killer Instinct,
and only one unpopular
Pit-Fighter game was seen as the closest
thing to come to a Mortal Kombat of any kind. At this point, Creole
Lanes never had Mortal Kombat 1 or 2 in their game room, despite
the popularity of these titles. During the summer of 1995, I was
a desk clerk at Creole Lanes and was constantly bombarded with requests
from customers for MK3, on the phone and in person, the moment it came
out in the game room in the mall, known as Pocket Change.
Despite numerous phone calls made to Delta Music by myself and other employees,
as well as the owners of the bowling alley themselves, to request MK3 for
Creole Lanes, they refused to bring us a machine. During this time
period, I often went to Pocket Change in the mall to play the latest games,
being that the game room at Creole Lanes lacked any of the more modern
machines. Low and behold Pocket Change not only had MK3, but they
had three of them with one for sale! I then went to the owner of
Creole Lanes with a proposal to buy a MK3 machine, since Delta Music refused
to answer our many requests to get one, and thus began my entry into the
arcade game room business.
The owner of Creole Lanes at the time, Jim Crowley, agreed that if we couldn't get Delta Music to bring in MK3, and I had been an employee of Creole Lanes for four years at this point (since the summer of 1991), he gave me this opportunity to bring it to Creole Lanes for him. Also, he knew I had went to school for Electronics at South Louisiana Regional Technical Institute (Votech), now known as L.E. Fletcher Campus today, for three years. If there would be any problems with the machine, he knew he would get instant service being that I practically lived in the bowling alley as it was during that time. So, with a small loan from the bank, and a quick trip to the mall, I purchased my first machine for the game room at Creole Lanes on 7-31-95 for $3,530.80 and promptly installed it there at 3:00 p.m. that same day! So after waiting over three months to get this incredibly popular machine, the game room of Creole Lanes finally got an MK3 machine.
THE GAME ROOM OF CREOLE LANES BECOMES "THE DUNGEON", November 1995:
Once I had my
first official coin-op machine, it wasn't long before I began making the
game room of Creole Lanes a unique arcade that I could call my own (and
eventually make an historic site outside of the bowling alley itself).
The idea of creating The Dungeon came to me shortly thereafter.
The concept was based on a game room in the Southland Mall that existed
during the 80s' and early 90s' called The Swamp. I wrote about
The Swamp game room in my Human Dinosaurs (HumanDinosaurs.com) book
series, which I ironically called The Dungeon in the story, and
the things that made this game room unique were its lighting and machine
settings. This gaming environment was unique to the other game room
in the mall at the time, which was part of a nationwide chain called Aladdin's
Castle, and was also unique to any other game room I had been to before
or since (other than The Dungeon). The major elements were darkness
and high game volume, without which a gamer does not have a truly enjoyable
gaming experience. Much like The Swamp, the game room of Creole Lanes
normally kept the game room itself dark in the 80-90s', with the exception
of the ceiling lights hanging above the two foosball tables in the center
of the game room, so that element already existed. However, the video
games themselves were always on inconsistent volumes and in most cases
the volumes were kept very low.
This was the first thing I would change about the game room, as my MK3 machine was at a nice loud volume; just loud enough to enjoy the game play, but not too loud as to disturb other players playing the machines nearby. Such was not the case with ANY of the games provided by Delta Music, for the volumes on their machines were ALWAYS too low. In most cases the volume was just loud enough to hear the game, but in some cases the machine had such a low volume it made the desire to play that machine again highly unlikely. This would not be the case with my machine, or any of the machines I would add thereafter.
The second thing I changed about the game room was something that did not exist even in The Swamp, and that was the addition of black light fixtures. By today's standards, that is hardly a new and creative element, considering the popularity of things like Cosmic Bowl, but in Houma, LA in 1995 it was completely unheard of! When one talked about black light in Houma during that time period, one either thought you were trying to grow marijuana in your house, or that you were just nostalgic for the 60s'. Only the skating ring and one strip club in Houma had black light in 1995, so this addition to the game room was certainly special to say the least, and as far as I know, no game room in Houma had black light before or since. At the time, what I wanted to do was create a unique gaming environment that was both interesting and added to the enjoyment of the whole gaming experience. This led to the creation of my first Dungeon sign that contained a 18 inch black light fixture.
First Dungeon sign (picture taken in The Dungeon in 1995) Dungeon sign in 2014 and up-close of artist's signature
Once installed in The Dungeon, I quickly realized it was not nearly enough black light, being that just the light from the nearby pinball machines and the foosball light was enough to drown out the black light almost completely. This led to the purchase of two more four foot black light fixtures, which more than adequately lit The Dungeon with enough black light to make any white shirt glow brightly inside the game room. The sign and fixtures were installed in November 1995, which would be a full five years before Creole Lanes would install their own black lights for their new Cosmic Bowl in early 2000.
The entrance to The Dungeon (picture taken in November 1995)
The Dungeon was
way ahead of its time in this regard, and in 1995 there were no black light
bulbs that could be purchased in the entire city of Houma! The only
option I had in Houma at the time was to have the local light fixture store
order them for a whopping $50 a piece plus shipping for just one four foot
black light bulb. The only other bulbs they had in stock that were
close was blue/black light bulbs for $20 a piece, but they paled in comparison
to a true black light bulb. However, I was able to eventually find
some true black light bulbs in the mall in Baton Rouge (I believe the store
in the mall was called Spencer's) for only $20 a piece, which made
it well worth the extra driving.
The third thing I changed was the addition of decorations with a theme. In The Swamp, there were no decorations to speak of in the game room itself, only swamp related items located at the entrance to the game room. However, this was just a small collection of items, like tree moss and an alligator's head, displayed much like a new outfit for sale in a department store on a mannequin behind a glass showcase area, but nothing more. In the case of The Dungeon, I wanted chains and a skeleton, much like what you would see in an actual dungeon. So in addition to the black light fixtures, I purchased a glow-in-the-dark plastic skeleton and some metal chains from a hardware store (which I painted bright yellow so they would glow in the black light). With these decorations and the first Dungeon sign, with artwork done by my friend William (Willem) McCormick, people would now know the game room of Creole Lanes was no longer just an ordinary game room, but was in fact a unique arcade, much like The Swamp, that had its own official title and atmosphere.
William (Willem) McCormick in The Dungeon in 1995
It took a while for it to catch on, but once it had its own T-shirts, web page, world famous players, regularly scheduled tournaments, world record high scores, and a collection of unique games that could not be found in the same game room anywhere else in Houma, all that changed! The Dungeon would soon become a legendary arcade that would be talked about around the world without mentioning the fact that it was located in a bowling alley called Creole Lanes at all!
The Dungeon in its final form (picture that appeared in the local newspaper in 2000)