Gaming Nerdy Merchandise

In The Arcade, Even Your Shirt Can … Freeze

Freeze arcade cabinet - 1984

Dennis Nothdruft, an expert on fashion and textiles, once said, “[The T-shirt] is a really basic way of telling the world who and what you are.” 

If that’s true, you might ask what kind of T-shirt tells the world who the gamer is? Is it just any ol’ T-shirt, or perhaps one with special colors, unique graphics, or perhaps an irreverent line or two of text that’s more hip than just “I’m With Stupid” and the obligatory arrow.

To begin my sartorial journey I began looking for cool T-shirts on the Internet and found one on Ebay that was more than just a little perfect (for me) because it displayed the brochure art for the very first arcade video game I worked on: Freeze

The Freeze T-shirt. Strong graphics
The Freeze T-shirt. Boot print not included. Photo: T. Carroll

Chilly Origins

Made by Cinematronics, Freeze debuted in the arcade in 1984. You play an astronaut stranded on a desolate moon. Your ship’s Mondo Crystal has failed and you have to get a replacement from deep within the moon’s cavernous system of caves. Your only weapon is a flame thrower. You use it to destroy flying Freeze-a-Bats and hopping Freeze-a-Bite monsters. You collect the occasional atomic icon to keep it charged.

Bob Skinner, the lead programmer for Freeze, notes that Freeze was an amalgamation of many games. “I remember using Joust and maze games like Pengo to arrive at the idea of Freeze. Pumping the jetpack thrust was analogous to Joust’s wing flaps. Maze elements that challenged your memory were from Pengo. The flamethrower melted stalactite/stalagmite pairs that acted like doors. This was inspired by Elevator Action. After you had found and retrieved the planet’s Mondo Crystal you had to have enough fuel left for the return trip to the surface.”

Sad to say, only a Freeze-a-Fanatic would say that Freeze was anything but a pedestrian maze adventure game.

But it was the first game I ever helped make. And there was that brochure art done by the game’s art director, Dan Viescas. Spectacular. On the flip side of the illustration is a picture of the cabinet. Reading through the copy next to the picture I gradually recalled that it was written by none other than me. Oh, those misty water-color memories … 

The Ebay Connection

Enson Yune made the shirt. He’s been on Ebay for only a few months, but has a good sales model, especially about selling shirts with obscure artwork from the ‘80s: “Yes, the art is old, but these shirts are quite niche. They’re one of a kind and they appeal to people that are also unique and looking for something that’s one of a kind.” Once he sells the available lot of shirts (and lots are rarely more than 10 shirts), Yune doesn’t print any more. 

Yune chose to use the Freeze art because, “The brochure really captured the desolation of space and our place in it.”

The Lead Programmer agrees.

“It captured the loneliness and danger of the environment.” 

– Bob Skinner

Fast forward 36 years and there’s really no saving grace in loving anything about Freeze. It certainly hasn’t gained popularity in the time since its debut. A top arcade site rates it 2 out of 100 where 100 is most popular. But the same site is quick to point out that “Rarity and Popularity Independently are NOT necessarily indications of value.”

If there’s anyone who gets this, it’s me. I got a case of mental butterflies when I saw Yune’s shirt on Ebay and couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. When I wear it around town, however, no one comments on it. They don’t have to. The shirt does tell the world a bit of who I am… It just has to be listening.

If you have a favorite piece of game-related clothing, drop me a line in the comments with a note about it and why it was so cool for you. I would love to know more about it and so would others in the Game of Nerds community.

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