Local Spotlight: The Warp Zone

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This is the first in Reality Breached’s series of local spotlight interviews. In this new feature we will showcase local businesses, and people that make the Jackson-Metro area special. We start with a gem of a place in Brandon called The Warp Zone. The full audio interview is above, with an abridged question-focused version below, enjoy.

Who are you and what is the Warp Zone?
Jeff Hubbard, and we’re part modern, part vintage arcade. (We’ve got) up to date consoles and some cabinets. I’ve been able to scour the states and save and restore (cabinets) to kinda bring that charm back that’s gone the way of the dinosaur. “What’s all in your cabinet there?” Well, that one’s Metal Slug X, then I’ve got like 20 more games like the first three Samurai Showdowns, Fatal Fury 2, Metal Slug 1, 2, 3, 5, and tons more. Eventually we’ll have everything, so I’m very excited. I’ve been a dedicated gamer since ’83, and like most ’80s kids grew up in the arcade and those places have started dying off. Nobody wants to play Fruit Ninja in an arcade.

What service(s) do you offer?
In addition to arcade stuff, I do restoration and cleaning for vintage games and consoles, like Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and stuff like that. No one is really doing it, so we supply that service. They’re not really making new games. There are reproductions, but what’s out there is out there and several things are happening. They are getting taken to the dump, people are throwing them out, they’re rotting away in some abandoned house, so our goal and our mission is to save as many of those as possible. Whether it be a copy of Earthbound, or Mario RPG, whatever, we take meticulous care when cleaning every game and every system with stuff that’s actually designed to clean electronics.

What makes Warp Zone a unique experience?
The chance to get to play vintage arcade cabinets because they are not around anymore. Also, not everyone can afford new consoles and stuff like that so we try to offer the latest games for people to play or games they never had a chance to play. I have alot of hidden gems for people to play, and (we’re) just a safe haven for geeks, nerds and gamers to come together and share our passion for games. “You also have Birthday parties, right?” We do, we do birthday parties for 8 and up. The prices range for however many people you have. We start at 4 to 6 people and kinda go up.

What originally got you into video games?
Its gonna sound cliche, but it was Nintendo. I started out with Atari. In my neighborhood there was an older couple, and they had purchased an Atari with a whole bunch of games for their grand-kids. They had all grown up and moved away, and I would go over there and help in their yard and stuff like that and afterwards she said “You can play Atari as much as you want.” It didn’t really hook me. Then another neighbor, I was over at their house one day and they had gotten the NES, and I was like, “What is this?!” Playing Super Mario Bros, that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. A couple of weeks later, as a reward for getting good grades in 1st grade, my dad was like, ok, today’s the day, “We’re going to Toys ‘R Us.” Wait, what? “Just get in the car and let’s go. Pick your system, pick your game.” It wasn’t the one with the robot, we go the basic edition with the two controllers and the zapper. We had that and I then my sister picked out Top Gun, and I delighted in her not being able to land on an aircraft carrier. Eventually later on, Legend of Zelda. I was asleep in my bed, it was late at night, and my dad’s office was across the hall. I heard the dungeon theme, and I was like “what IS that?” Getting up and looking like, WHAT IS THIS!?! It was just that golden era of gaming that sparked your imagination and that cemented my love to this day.

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How did you turn your passion for video games to a business??
Well, I did some research and there are lots of places like this in California and I took my time figuring it all out. Its the same concept (as an arcade) except with individual consoles instead of back to back, wall to wall cabinets, though I would love to have wall to wall cabinets. You know, that would be the dream, but sadly those are getting harder and harder to find.

What are top games you recommend for new gamers looking to get into gaming?
Well, you know the gold standard, definitely Mario Bros, literally the first stage shows you exactly how to play and teaches you core the fundamentals of platforming. Oh now, I’ve got to think a lot, because I don’t want the list to be all Nintendo. I’m gonna pick Left 4 Dead because its been played so much in here and what’s really great is some of my first ever regulars would come in here (now their off in college) and what we would do is turn the lights out and I’d play with them. We’d have a blast. Its one of the best 4 player Co-op games and it definitely became one of my all time favorites. I’d love to see some more sequels. Believe it or not, my Wii U gets played the most in here. “What game do you recommend for that?” Definitely Super Smash Bros. What’s really great is when we do birthday parties and I recommend it to the kids. 8 players can play, so we’ll have them all around the station, and they’ll be going crazy, getting loud.  Some kids aren’t as knowledgeable about some of the (Nintendo) stuff as others, but some of them have surprised me. One kid proceeded to tell me about Earthbound, and I did a double take. “How do you know about Earthbound?” He’d actually played it and Ness is his favorite character. This is great! Some of them have really surprised me, and I’ve surprised them by showing them where all the warp whistles are in Mario 3. As its all muscle memory and comes natural. “The kids are probably looking at you like you’re the greatest!” Actually it really warms your heart when you have a kid in here say that to you. You really don’t realize the kind of impact you make on people and so I’ve had some kids come in here and say oh dude you’re the coolest ever! You know, it makes your day. That little thing of showing them, hey, go here, do this, this is how you get past this and then their eyes get big and wide eyed, like its Christmas Morning.

Would you care to share the wackiest thing that’s happened here (in the Warp Zone)?
Oh, do I have a story! This is one I tell so many people, and its a Left 4 Dead story. One customer had adopted these two kids from Russia, teenagers, they spoke very little English. He was gonna bring in two of their friends. They wanted to, you know, kind of have a party and they loved Left 4 Dead. I said, we’ve got that, we can set it all up. As I was setting it up I was like “Alright guys, um, well, three of you are all set to be dudes. One of you is gonna have to be a lady, get ready.” One of the guys then taps me on the shoulder, looks square in my eyes and says (in a thick Russian accent) “I’LL BE SEXY LADY!” But wait, there’s more…he proceeds to go into the Gangnam Style song, “SEXY LADY!” “Hahahahaha…hahahaha.” I lost it at that point, I just couldn’t contain myself. That is my favorite thing that has ever happened here.

What’s your opinion on the evolution of gaming?
We have certainly come a long way since the 2600 days and the NES days. We wouldn’t have what we have now if Nintendo hadn’t come and saved the industry from being wiped out. While there’s so much emphasis on graphics, I’m like, is the gameplay good? I feel like there’s more emphasis on that, but when you look at a game like Horizon Zero Dawn, I think it has the best of both worlds. A lot of people that have come through here, I ask, “What do you play?” They respond with, “I don’t anymore because gaming has gotten too complicated with so many buttons and this other stuff.” You just pick what’s right for you. Retro games have come back, so it like going back to the beginning. Shovel Knight games like that, Retro City Rampage, which is getting its sequel in 16 bit soon, you know, I enjoy all of it, but I’m primarily more of a Retro guy. There’s so much that I haven’t played, but I like it all. The pluses and minuses of the cartridge consoles where that you could just put the game in, but now you have to wait for a download and an update and I have to sync another controller just so I can play with 2 people. Why do I have to do that? Why can’t I just plug the freakin’ thing in and just do it? And then the hard drive space, I’ve got to manage all this just like items in a freakin’ game. I still just want to play the games right out of the box. But yeah, there’s a more diverse mix now than ever. I think its definitely the best time to be a gamer.

What would you say to someone that doesn’t know you exist yet?
That’s a really good question. I’d tell them, if they have a love for gaming and they want to be around like minded people because we are very much a social environment for gamers to get together and share their passions. Not only for games but movies, TV series and stuff. We’re a safe-haven for nerds and geeks. I’ll talk for hours with people while their gaming. They’ll ask, “Oh what do you think of the new Spider-man movie coming out?” I’m freaking excited, you know. They can come and kinda relive some of their childhood memories if they remember Neo-Geo and stuff like that. Just, we’re very much a safe and fun place for kids, teens and adults to come, hangout, game and have fun. Its just something to do because there’s not really a whole lot to do here and that’s kinda why we’re here.

Well, there you have it, our first local spotlight! I want to thank Jeff at the Warp Zone for letting us crash his place for an evening. You can find more details on the Warp Zone at the official Facebook page and visit the Warp Zone at 393 Crossgates Blvd, Suite C, Brandon, MS 39042, (601) 706-4764.

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