The Palace Arcade in Stranger Things 2

5 Things Wrong With the Arcade in ‘Stranger Things 2’

Gaming Television Videogames

The Palace Arcade in Stranger Things 2
For the most part, Stranger Things 2 offered a faithful recreation of ’80s culture. Set design is always an important part of any production, and with it playing such an important part in the story, it was especially integral to get an accurate portrayal of Hawkins’ local video game hub, the Palace Arcade. At first glance, everything seems spot-on, but for hardcore enthusiasts, several things stood out as being just slightly off. Let’s take a look at some of the things they got wrong.

Fun Fact: Living outside of Atlanta and being part of the arcade collecting community, I was approached by a representative for the production company to supply some of the arcade games for the set. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of the specific titles they were looking for, but I was able to point them to several different local sources, including my friend Patrick (co-host of the Gameroom Junkies Podcast with me) and it’s his Missile Command you see opposite Dragon’s Lair in the establishing shot. The arcade set was only featured in two episodes, but they kept games for nearly six months of their filming schedule before returning them to their owners.

1. LCD Monitors

Stranger Things 2 - LCD screen arcade

This may have been a purposeful choice by the production team, but arcade games in the ’80s used cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, not flat-panel LCD screens. If you’ve ever filmed a standard tube television, then you may know that a CRT’s sync doesn’t match video camera’s frame rates, and gives off what we call “scan lines.” Not ideal for a top-quality Hollywood production, it’s understandable the Duffer Brothers didn’t want distortion on such a key ingredient in Stranger Things 2, but for preservationists, swapping out an original CRT for an LCD is a cardinal sin.

2. High Scores

Dig Dug Stranger Things 2

“Mad Max” sure is a cool name to enter into a high score table and a key plot point of Stranger Things 2, but sadly, that wasn’t possible for Dig Dug. While many of the earliest games only allowed two-lettered entries to record high scores, most only allowed three. Dig Dug was one of these 3-lettered affairs, so although champions deserved the recognition, they’d have to think a little harder to find a creative moniker. (Link is mildly NSFW). Bonus points, however, for the addition of a vending machine distributor sticker in the top right of the game’s bezel.

3. Gameroom Decor

That lighted Asteroids sign sure would look good in my basement, but it probably wouldn’t have adorned the walls of most arcades back in 1984. I’m not calling this one totally impossible, just pretty unlikely. Atari, among other manufacturers, did release promotional materials for their games including posters and hanging cardboard signs, but in my many years of collecting arcade games, I have never seen a large-scale lighted marquee. Also, if you’re going to hype up a game, why would you devote valuable real estate to a game that came out 5 years prior? The newer Asteroids Deluxe would make more sense, but even that came out in 1980, four years before. In the red-hot golden age of the arcade, Asteroids would have seemed ancient by 1984. Props though for adding small details like promo flyers for Crystal Castles and Q*bert in the background shots for the office scene below.

4. Space Knife

Stranger Things 2 Space Knife Arcade Game

Most viewers probably paid little attention to the inoperable arcade game stuffed in the back corner of the Palace Arcade offices, but hardcore video game geeks sure did. That’s probably because Space Knife never existed. While it isn’t uncommon for movies and television shows to replace real video game marquees with fictional titles to avoid paying licensing fees, that wasn’t the intention in this case. Nope, Space Knife was a purposeful plant, and a recurring reference to Stranger Things’ set dresser’s synth-pop music production. Super hardcore geeks would recognize that cabinet as a former Galaga, anyway. This one didn’t upset me that it made its way into the final cut, but rather that I can never play a game called Space Knife!

5. What We Didn’t See

Stranger Things Arcade

The Palace Arcade certainly had some heavy-hitters of the day, including Dragon’s Lair, Missile Command, Pole Position, and Ms. Pac-Man, but with the setting being October 1984, it’s pretty interesting what we didn’t see. It would have been entirely possible for the few electro-mechanical pinball machines from the ’70s to still be in service, but with the late ’70s and early ’80s renaissance of solid state pinball, it would have been much more likely to have seen a few of the many hits from Bally or Williams gracing the floor. Where’s Kiss or Flash Gordon, or other of the top-selling pinball games of all times? Also, after coming out in 1983, Dragon’s Lair was still a top-earner in 1984, but did this arcade not have ANY game newer than ’83? Sure, the arcade crash after 1983 dealt a blow to many arcades across the country, but where was the Karate Champ, Return of the Jedi, or Pac-Land?

Did we miss anything else? Let us know what else the show got wrong in the comments section below.

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32 thoughts on “5 Things Wrong With the Arcade in ‘Stranger Things 2’

  1. I wanted to comment so hard on this being a nit picky piece but I sort of agree with you. HOWEVER, I really liked the arcade scenes in ST2. Brought me back to the days of spending all Saturday with my friends at the nickle arcade, eating junk food and playing video games.

      1. Preston.. totally enjoyed reading this article. The only thing that stood out from a “Production” point would be the LCD screens versus the tubes. Filming an older style TV causes that screen refresh issue as if you waving your fingers in front your face really fast and the picture kind of constantly floats.

        I am the “I just want to play the games of my youth” kinda guy over the tube monitor.

        I’m not worthy! I’m Not WORTHY!!

        1. I am also guessing that maybe some of these arcade games might be MAME underneath.

          And again, the CRT monitors would be an issue.

  2. What’s missing? Smoking.

    Back then, the older kids did it, and machines commonly had burns and nicotine stains, or even ashtrays bolted to the sides.

  3. Dig Dug scores cannot end in 3 or 4, Dig Dug’s minimum point value is 10 for digging one square of dirt.

  4. I’d imagine someone is working on a homebrew for ‘Space Knife’. I look forward to seeing it eventually at CAX or some other gaming convention. That’d be sweet.

  5. The arcade I frequented during the Dragon’s Lair craze, the machines around it were Moon Patrol, Blueprint & Xevious. Did not play DL very often because I was horrible and it was $.50. When playing it now on Daphne, I still suck.

    Any arcades I can remember at the time had nothing on the walls. You were not there to look at art, you were there to play the machines. Most were retail space quickly converted to walls with enough plugs for the machines lining them.

  6. The trackball on Centipede was basically yellow– that occurred over many, many years of UV/nicotine/time exposure. It would have still been white (or ‘bone’) back in the day.

    Agreed on the Asteroids wall sign. The washed out look is what you get with an inkjet print which didn’t exist back then (Atari silk-screened their back-lit graphics) and the even blue-ish illumination really looked like LED back-lighting (again not an existing technology at the time).

    Also, the Dragon’s Lair side-art had noticeable bubbles in the sticker application. The factory wouldn’t have shipped it that way, so while it *could* have been replaced back in the day it’s unlikely since it appears to be a ‘new’ game in the arcade.

    Still great fun to see it all on screen though. They did a fine job! (The unforgivable LCD in Dig Dig not withstanding). 😉

    1. Nice catch on the trackball and eagle eye on the DL side art. The guy who supplied that is a flipper and de-converted a game quickly for that one. I agree, nitpicking aside, it was a great show! Thanks for the comments and all your contributions to the hobby!

  7. What was missing for me was a scene of the kids digging through all of the game return slots looking for coins, especially after the high coin games like Dragon’s Lair appeared I would run out of money quickly and have to go hunting for coins. Granted I think most of my memories of that are of tokens more than quarters.

  8. Just a small note – you can pretty easily match the refresh rate of CRT arcade monitors with a modern video camera’s shutter controls.

    I’d hazard a guess they were simply using what was available for their production in the time slot and budget range they allowed – like, they would want a restored machine that looks newish because it’s a period piece, and probably the machines the supplier had available had a flat panel. I doubt it was a deliberate preference over CRTs.

  9. I really hate the laziness of this show. It’s like aliens made it. And it’s not being nit picky, it’s like getting basic things so wrong that you can’t ignore them. Like a person with their nose above their eyes. All the parts are there but it’s instantly recognizably wrong.

  10. Also missed all the weed being sold for quarters and being smoked around the corner outside. Arcades were weed-central when I was a teenager. Wanted to score a dime bag? Go to the arcades with a bag full of quarters. Serious underground economy going on there. There’s a reason there were so many arcade games at pizza joints: munchies! Huh-huh, I said “joints”.

  11. Next time let me know and I’ll bring them my Red pristine Donkey Kong! That should have been down there!

    1. Preston, you sold the Dig Dug you bought off me? Shame on you…. I hope everything is going well with you and your family.

      Thomas in Chicago, formerly in Gainesville

      1. Hey Thomas! Good to hear from you. Sadly, I moved and Dig Dug didn’t make the move. Man, I wish I still had it so I could have offered it up for Stranger Things. Fun fact: Your former Qix is now in the basement of WWE Champion AJ Styles! Hope you’re doing well!

  12. The arcade I frequented back in the day had another “little-known” game next to Dragon’s Lair … Nintendo’s Mario Bros., which came out in 1983. Spent many a quarter in it. Surprised that I didn’t see it in Stranger Things.

    Speaking of Dragon’s Lair, I had the privilege of meeting Don Bluth years ago, and got to talk with him about the animation he did for DL. He still considered it one of his favorite animation projects. Pretty neat!

  13. I haven’t really played this game but seeing it and reading other’s post makes me want to play it too. I’ll play this game sometimes when I have time. Great blog!

  14. This building was for sale recently and could have been easily turned into an arcade. Sadly, it was sold and will be turned back into a laundromat.

  15. Hi – I came across your article here as I was searching for someone to call out some of the things I saw also! Haha – so glad there are others who see this! But I’m not here to hate on this show because I love it! And so cool to see an old arcade from the 80’s in a movie!
    I’ve been an arcade repair tech since 87 – I was only 17 so I’ve played all these games in my youth and then repaired them to this day for residential customers who have games in their homes –
    In addition to the film rate on CRT monitors I also believe they created a MAME of Dig Dug to add the special “madmax” and it was probably easier to mount the LCD IN there –
    So Stranger Things 3 (1985) which is better than 2 in my opinion – the “Candy Crane” in the mall is a Smart Industries “Clean Sweep” – I don’t believe this was available in 1985? I did some digging and Smart started in the early 90’s and one schematic said it was 1993 –
    If anyone has any info on this let me know!
    Thanks again for this, I guess it’s the arcade “geek” in all of us! Thanks – Byron

  16. Did you notice the Williams Firepower pin in the scene? In the photo above with the Dragons Lair, on the left you see a shooter that looks like a Williams shooter.

    The cabinet paint on the front is from a Firepower 🙂

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