David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults, as well as numerous nonfiction books documenting videogame development and culture, including the bestselling Stay Awhile and Listen series, Shovel Knight by Boss Fight Books, and Long Live Mortal Kombat. Follow him online at www.DavidLCraddock.com, and on Twitter @davidlcraddock.

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults, as well as numerous nonfiction books documenting videogame development and culture, including the bestselling Stay Awhile and Listen series, Shovel Knight by Boss Fight Books, and Long Live Mortal Kombat. Follow him online at www.DavidLCraddock.com, and on Twitter @davidlcraddock.

Arcade Perfect by David L. Craddock

Before personal computers and game consoles, video arcades hosted cutting-edge software consumers couldn't play anywhere else.

As companies like Atari, Commodore, and Nintendo disrupted the status quo, publishers charged their developers with an impossible task: Cram the world's most successful coin-op games into microchips with a fraction of the computing power of arcade hardware.

From the first Pong machine through the dystopian raceways of San Francisco Rush 2049, Arcade Perfect: How Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, and Other Coin-Op Classics Invaded the Living Room takes readers on an unprecedented behind-the-scenes tour of the decline of arcades and the rise of the multibillion-dollar home games industry.


As a kid, I spent countless of my mom's quarters on arcade games. Fortunately for her, ports of those games hit the PC and consoles I owned, bringing an end to my begging for change. But those ports never looked the same as their big siblings: different graphics, gameplay, music, even levels. Arcade Perfect is my latest narrative-style account of how games were developed, with a focus on the trials and tribulations of making complex arcade hardware work on home platforms such as the NES, Atari 2600, Genesis, and more. -David L. Craddock, curator, StoryBundle



  • "A crucial yet overlooked part of our industry's past is the art of the arcade port to console. David's book sheds light on the stories of some of the biggest games that made that transition and is a must-read for anyone looking to understand the process."

    – John Tobias, "ko-kreator" of Mortal Kombat
  • "I loved reading David Craddock's Arcade Perfect. I had forgotten how hard it was for developers/programmers to convert an arcade game to the SNES or Sega Genesis home consoles, and David captures those stories in great detail."

    – Tom Kalinske, former CEO of Sega of America
  • "In Arcade Perfect, David lets us inside the unique, insanely difficult world of video game porting. I learned a lot, and I've been making games professionally for 32 years. You like video games? READ THIS NOW."

    – Tom Hall, co-founder of id Software (Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom)



IT WAS TOO much. The gloomy cave. The blood and grime smeared along the walls. The skeleton, its bones yellowed with age, suspended from manacles against the stone.

Keith Burkhill had no objections to the violence in Mortal Kombat, nor to the bleak atmosphere of the cavern-turned-torture-chamber where Goro, the four-armed, half-human-half-dragon beast had taken on—and brutally murdered—all comers for 500 years. It was too much for the Game Gear, Sega's handheld console.

Burkhill had gone from releasing Missile Defence, his clone of Missile Command, to doing platform games on the Sega Master System as a contract programmer for Probe. Right away he'd been given hot properties such as Back to the Future 3 and Alien 3. Next up was Mortal Kombat, and to Burkhill, it was just another job—at first. "I had the arcade machine at my house," he said. "That was a nice thing to have. I got paid more than I had on the previous games. That made me think it was probably going to be bigger."

Probe's port of MK to the Master System was flying under the radar. All the advertising copy—magazine ads, posters plastered on the backs of comic books, TV commercials—touted the Super NES, Genesis, Game Boy, and Game Gear versions as releasing on "Mortal Monday," September 13, 1993. Fergus McGovern, the boss over at Probe, was interested in Sega's handheld. Game Gear's hardware was like Master System's, making a port relatively simple. "Later on this new thing called the Game Gear came out, and he wanted a quote for how much it would cost to put on there," Burkhill remembered of McGovern. "I gave him quite a high sum and ported it in a week. I got one over on him, there."

Like the Game Boy adaptation, Mortal Kombat for Master System and Game Gear catered to the lowest common denominator of home platforms. Artwork for all seven fighters from the arcade game wouldn't fit on cartridges for the 8-bit machines, so the higher-ups at Probe made cuts. Kano, the mercenary who ripped out opponents' still-beating hearts, got the axe on Master System and Game Gear. Johnny Cage, the flamboyant movie star whose signature move was performing a split and punching his opponents in their most sensitive area, was removed from Game Boy.

Under contract, Burkhill worked from home. An engineer at Probe extracted Mortal Kombat's artwork from an arcade cabinet and sent all the backgrounds to Lee Ames, the artist at Probe assigned to the project. Ames downsized the number of arenas from six down to two for Sega's 8-bit platforms, leaving Burkhill with The Pit and Goro's Lair. The Pit fatality, knocking defeated opponents into the spikes below, was removed, as was some of the cave's macabre ornamentation.

Burkhill pruned diligently, removing frames of animation to maximize efficiency and cartridge space. "That was the first game I'd written using machine code on a PC," he said. "I used machine code [assembly] to do everything back then. I hadn't heard of this new language called C. I wrote my own compression algorithm."

Without source code to work from, Burkhill wrote Mortal Kombat's logic from scratch. Computer-controlled fighters were simple to fight as a result, but the full-color backgrounds, fighters, and blood—enabled via a cheat code—elevated the Master System and Game Gear versions above the Game Boy port. There was only one sticking point. "The only problem with that game was the low frame rate," Burkhill admitted.

The lower frame rate was because of the large size of character sprites. They were gigantic, especially on Game Gear, but he believed the tradeoff was worth it. Larger sprites resulted in a high level of detail—despite the loss of animation frames—uncommon on Sega's 8-bit systems. Unfortunately, the lower frame rate made the game floaty in execution. "Ed Boon, one of the originators of that game, was always complaining to me about the slow frame rate," continued Burkhill. "I think in retrospect, making the characters big so they would look good was nice, but to get the game to play better, we should have made them smaller."

Technical hiccups aside, Mortal Kombat sold well on Game Gear, leading Probe to contract Burkhill to adapt home versions of Mortal Kombat II. "I was begging to work on the 16-bit version," he said. Probe had a pecking order. Paul Carruthers had adapted Mortal Kombat to Genesis and had done an excellent job, making him the primo choice, but he'd chosen to move on to other projects. David Leitch was next in line for the Genesis version. That left Burkhill to convert MKII to Game Gear. "David Leitch and Paul Carruthers got paid a lot more than me, probably ten times as much," he said.

Burkhill had his code from the first game, so developing the sequel was a matter of substituting artwork. As before, cuts had to be made. Probe winnowed MKII's roster from twelve to eight, leaving behind fan favorites like Baraka and Kung Lao. The two arenas, The Pit II and The Tomb, were as detailed as the Master System and Game Gear could afford to make them, but Burkhill carried over The Tomb's fatality, punching an opponent onto spikes jutting down from the ceiling like stalactites.

MKII played identically to the first game on Master System and Game Gear: large, detailed sprites in exchange for a lower frame rate that was good enough for low-end hardware.

"It was pretty exciting. There was more advertising on TV when it came out. But for me, it was ultimately just a job. I did what I was paid to do. It was still cool to be working on it."

Back-to-back conversions of fighting games for handheld platforms prepared Burkhill for the two projects that would simultaneously represent the highest high and lowest low of his career. After wrapping up a few additional products, he received a call from Cameron Sheppard, a friend and the Probe contractor who had converted MKII to the Game Boy. Sheppard had founded a development studio, Crawfish Interactive, and pitched Burkhill on an enticing project, porting Street Fighter Alpha to Nintendo's Game Boy Color. Burkhill agreed.