Doc Mack, the owner of Galloping Ghost Arcade, 9415 Ogden Ave. in Brookfield, was working on a game cabinet one Saturday in May 2015 when an employee burst in, horrified at what he’d just done.
“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” the employee told Mack.
“What did you do?”
“I just charged Toru Iwatani to come into the arcade. I didn’t know who he was!”
Most people might not know who Iwatani is. But, if you’re Doc Mack, you’d know that it was the video arcade version of Babe Ruth knocking on your door and asking to look at your baseball card collection.
Toru Iwatani is the creator of the iconic arcade game Pac-Man. He’d flown into Chicago from Japan for a 35th anniversary celebration of the release of the game at a Schaumburg arcade, and he bugged out of the event early to make a special trip to Brookfield.
Mack went out into the arcade and there was Iwatani, accompanied by an interpreter and a couple of other people, taking photos.
“He came over and told me, ‘It’s the best arcade I’ve ever been in,'” Mack said. “How humbling is that, to have the creator of Pac-Man say that? It’s unbelievable.”
Since it opened in 2010, Galloping Ghost has expanded the number of classic arcade games it houses from the 130 it started with to more than 600. The business has already expanded west into the front half of the building next door to the original arcade and soon will expand even farther west, into the building at the corner of Ogden and Deyo.
When that expansion is complete, Galloping Ghost will house about 800 games lined up side by side in long rows inside 12,000 square feet of Ogden Avenue commercial frontage.
Last year, said Mack, Galloping Ghost Arcade drew 75,000 visitors from all over the world, including Japan, South Africa and England. They come from across the United States, as well.
“Literally, people come here from out of state every day,” Mack said.
Hundreds of people a day might be found playing games in between the cramped, unbroken rows of wood cabinets, jammed side by side. The most people the arcade has welcomed in one day was 798, said Mack, all of them plunking down $20 to play as many games as they want, all day – which is from 1 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday and from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
No alcohol is served or allowed in the arcade. The food is snacks from the front counter or from one of the nearby restaurants. People stay all day; sometimes, if they’ve planned a vacation around a visit to Galloping Ghost, all day for several days in a row.
Apart from the Brookfield Zoo, which is the biggest tourist attraction in the state, Galloping Ghost may be the village’s biggest draw, with the possible exception of Irish Times, said Nicholas Greifer, the village director of community and economic development.
Earlier this year, Greifer referred to both Galloping Ghost and Irish Times as “power draws” for Brookfield.
“It may seem like the fly under the radar, but they have a very strong presence,” Greifer said. “We’ve been very glad to have them in our community, and he continues to invest in the business, so they’ll continue to stay strong and expand.”
The video arcade itself is just part of Galloping Ghost’s growing business, and was launched years after Mack, now 41, started the Galloping Ghost game production company in 1994 when he was 18 years old.
“I remember playing my first arcade game when I was, like, 5,” said Mack, a lifelong Brookfield resident. “The gaming side of it has been pretty much my whole life.”
At the age of 8, said Mack, he wrote a hint book for a Nintendo game called Castlevania and pitched it to Konami, a Japanese videogame company, and an excerpt ended up being published in a magazine Mack no longer recalls.
Mack attended Riverside-Brookfield High School for a “very short time” before being homeschooled the remainder of his high school education.
“I had all sorts of social anxieties and such,” he said.
As a teenager, Mack’s life became consumed with gaming. When he was 18, Mack yearned to work for a videogame company, but it was chance meeting with Ed Boon, the creator of Mortal Kombat, that convinced him to go out on his own.
“I wanted to work for one of these companies, and he’s like, ‘It’s so hard unless you know someone to get in.’ So I said, ‘OK, I’m going to open my own company then.'”
Galloping Ghost Productions essentially was formed to create one game – Dark Presence, an homage to Mortal Kombat.
“That started me learning computers, and graphic design, writing, music, web design, building hardware, because there wasn’t anyone else that I knew that was really into game design,” Mack said.
Mack worked on Dark Presence for the next 10 years, in a rented house that he converted into a videogame production studio, sometimes enlisting the assistance of RBHS students when it came to post-production.
“It was literally like a 24-hour workhouse,” Mack said, “because there was so much data we were trying to blue-screen at the time.”
By 2004, the game was almost done, said Mack, “but it just didn’t meet up to the standards of the other games that were coming out.”
So he walked away from it, and in 2005 began working on the sequel, Conquering Light, for the next four years. Knowing that he’d have a game to market to arcades, he hooked up with a firm called, Aurcade, which tracked which arcade games could be found where and also tracked high scores.
“Going into all the other arcades, it made me realize how bad the industry was,” Mack said. “It was so clear as day that, look, if we’re going to have to sell this game we have to change this industry. We have to change who we’re selling it to.”
That’s what got Mack starting to write the business model for Galloping Ghost Arcade.
And when it came time to find a location for it, he approached Steve Campbell, with whom he’d first connected in the 1990s and needed a space to shoot video for Dark Presence.
“I was 18 at the time, and he was, like, ‘Yeah you can go in at the old Color Tile building [on Ogden Avenue]. I asked him how much it was a month and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it.'”
Campbell, whose block of commercial storefronts on Ogden Avenue have absorbed the ever-expanding arcade, confirmed that he only charged the teenage Mack for utilities during the early years of the production company.
“We don’t see these kinds of success stories anymore,” said Campbell, an oftentimes controversial figure in Brookfield, who has butted heads with village officials through the years. “He’s a good guy. He’s honest and managed to fit in a niche. He’s literally a cult hero.”
In addition to the 12,000-square-foot video arcade, Galloping Ghost has its production office in another Campbell owned building at 9221 Ogden Ave. and is about to open a print shop to produce artwork for arcade game cabinets, next door in a former insurance company office.
In addition, Galloping Ghost rents warehouse space farther east on Ogden Avenue in another Campbell-owned building. Galloping Ghost, said Mack, employs about 15 people between the production office and the arcade.
In January, Galloping Ghost also bought Aurcade, the firm it originally used to survey the arcade market in advance of marketing his own game.
And in October, Mack plans to open GAMA – Galloping Ghost Gym and Martial Arts – inside the old Metropolitan Tile and Carpet building at 9201 Ogden Ave.
The instructors, he says, will be the actors from the original Mortal Kombat game, including Daniel Pesina, John Parrish and Phillip Ahn.
When the gym opens, Galloping Ghost will inhabit about 27,000 of commercial space along Ogden Avenue, all of it owned by Campbell.
“The guy has helped me do everything,” Mack said of Campbell. “I called him up with the arcade, and literally it all happened in the same day.”
Campbell was also the one who was able to convince village officials that the arcade’s business plan – a flat rate to play all day – allowed it to circumvent a local law limiting establishments to no more than six coin-operated games.
Now Mack helps fledgling arcade owners convince their municipal boards that arcades are engines for economic development. The most recent arcade he assisted was Pixel Blast Arcade in Lisle, which opened in 2016. Mack added that he’s traveled out of state to support people looking to open arcades.
And Dark Presence? After 23 years, it’s almost ready, Mack says.
About two years ago, work restarted and the production staff has concentrated on getting it completed. It’s now fully playable and should be ready for release by the end of 2017, he said.
“It’s so bizarre to even fathom, but it’s been since ’94,” Mack said. “It’s forever that it’s been lurking about. To have this first one done and how I’d always envisioned it, I can’t even guess how it’s going to feel.
“I’m anxious for it, though. It’s been a long time coming.”