Through His Films, Alum Explores the History of Retro Gaming

April 8, 2022

As a true child of the 1980s, Zach Weddington BFA ’99 (Film and Video Production) feels most at home in an arcade, immersed in the chittering of pinball machines and seemingly endless stacks of quarters and tokens. Weddington’s love of arcades and retro technology has also shaped his artistic voice, and his documentary series Arcade Dreams is the newest installment in his exploration of retro technology and entertainment.

Following his graduation from UArts, Weddington landed a job at cable and tech giant Comcast, where he served as a jack-of-all-trades video producer, creating short commercials and product spotlights. Such corporate work was steady and fulfilling, Weddington said, but he longed to make films of his own. Fortunately, he rediscovered the Commodore Amiga computer, a nearly forgotten line of mid-80s PCs at a vintage computer show, sparking a new creative venture and the formation of Weddington’s Philadelphia-area production company, Rock Steady Media.

The encounter birthed Viva Amiga: The Story of a Beautiful Machine, a feature documentary that traces the development of the Amiga and the “freaks, geeks and geniuses” who brought it to life. The hour-long film, Weddington’s directorial debut, explores the creation of the world’s first multimedia digital art powerhouse and Commodore’s eventual bankruptcy and descent into obscurity. Viva Amiga, which was released in 2017, was distributed by Hulu and topped several of iTunes’ movie rental charts.

“I had gone to school for the arts, but I hadn’t ever made any of my own films,” Weddington said. “[The Amiga] is not a Mac; it’s not a PC. It was made pretty much for artists, since it gave you the ability to do some pretty complex animation and video production in your house in the ’80s.”

After wading into the waters of retro computing with Viva Amiga, Weddington noticed that many of the enthusiasts he met while making the film were just as enthralled with arcades. As a child growing up in Marietta, Georgia, Weddington was obsessed with arcades, and he would often sneak out of his room at night to ride his bike and pump quarters into the game cabinets at his local roller-skating rink. The community he found himself in, especially on social media, inspired him to pursue Arcade Dreams, a document of a central component of his childhood.

“It just popped in my head to do something about arcades,” he said. “It has been done before, but not quite in the way that I wanted to do it. Part of my process, before I even really start the thing in earnest, is to make myself a teaser trailer. That is something I learned at UArts from [emeritus faculty] Peter Rose.”

Weddington gathered footage of vintage arcade machines in Las Vegas to create his trailer, which eventually formed the basis of a successful Kickstarter campaign that helped fund the series. Since then, he’s gathered hours of additional footage and interviews that explore the origin of arcades in Prohibition-era speakeasies, the evolution of family-owned corner arcades into oversized family fun centers, and the community keeping that era of video gaming alive.

As he currently searches for a distribution deal, Weddington presents Arcade Dreams as a three-episode series with an approximate run time of 42 minutes per episode. However, he has enough footage to expand even more. Concurrently, Weddington is in the initial stages of a documentary project with Ken and Roberta Williams, the founders of Sierra On-Line, who revolutionized PC gaming with their iconic text-based adventure games in the late 1980s.