It's been since about 2001 since I had been in an arcade, and there were certain mannerisms that I had forgotten about. Sure, waiting for a certain game to be open is one, but one thing I had totally forgotten about is wandering around the arcade, trying to figure out what to play!
One thing that was funny was, as I was playing Reactor, I noticed the guy next to me on Donkey Kong wiping his sweaty palms on his shirt. (Heh, get to a pretty high level for the first time in a while?) I also found myself nodding and ducking my head a little as I was flying through the trenches in the severe Atari vector classic of Star Wars, as we all know that physically ducking is going to give you juuuust enough room to not come into contact with any of the catwalks and all, lest your shields take on damage (plus I think I heard Yarusso mumbling behind me at one point to "call the cops" to get me off the machine; hey! I didn't even get a high enough score to enter my initials! Await thy turn!). Geez, what a dork.
The majority of the people there were my age (in their thirties), although I did see one elderly woman there playing a pinball game at one point, and then the remainder of the crowd (in general) were either in their twenties and/or had their children with them. I encountered two brothers that I took their pictures of in front of a couple of games (it's always best when family can get involved in gaming, I think). When I said I had to get a photo of a certain Mr. John Costa's Atari T-shirt, he immediately escorted me over so he could pose in front of an Evel Knievel pinball machine, which he responded with an enthusiastic "yes" to my question if that was his favorite pinball game in the entire room. (I have since learned he owns that machine, along with several others that were at the show.)
THINGS YOU DON'T SEE EVERY DAY (or possibly every YEAR, if not decade, even)
I assume that most classic gaming expos will have games from the following list: the severe classics of Tempest, Robotron: 2084, Defender, something from the Pac-Man and Donkey Kong families, Centipede, a laser disc game or two, etc. (which all of the aforementioned games were there, save for Defender, although a mini Stargate was in attendance instead). However, there were several surprises waiting for us as well.
Even though Track and Field was a big hit, I saw my first ever tabletop version of that game there, and plus it was a FOUR player version as well! The rare Blaster was also a surprise to myself, due to a long-lost prototype of it only turning up at the PhillyClassic show a few months earlier, where it was originally made as an Atari game for their 5200 console and 400/800 computer line, but then Williams released it as an arcade game instead, and the home versions ended up never being released. The game is a bit unusual as far as it's presentation goes, as it was a very early FPS, yet there is no space ship or even crosshairs onscreen; your shots just basically fire up the center. You have various different missions that are to be accomplished, like skimming planet surfaces, flying through gateways, rescuing astronauts, and blowing up planets, among other things.
An extremely rare Quake Arcade Tournament Edition game was also onhand as well, owned by H. A. A. G. founder/president Christensen. Christensen stated that originally 20 were made and tested out in arcades, which they did really well, and then 12 more were produced, but a legal dispute halted any further production, and then those remaining ROMS were destroyed. According to an e-mail that Christensen sent me, he's pretty sure he owns THE original arcade prototype of the game (since the wiring of the coin doors wasn't even completed! None of the buttons are labeled either, as you can tell by my photo of the game) and he had purchased the remains of everything the manufacturer, Lazertron, had created (minus two pieces of software), and then when he followed up with the company a year later they had halted all support of the game and destroyed all copies of it's leftover software. As far as it's inevitable comparison to the original PC version, the arcade prototype has different music, new levels, charters and graphics.
There was also a Taito version of what created THE arcade frenzy of Space Invaders, in a mini cabinet (another of which I had never seen before, as the Midway versions were more common in the States than the Taito ones). More rarity also involved the only vector graphics game ever made by Centuri of Aztarac, which I had never even heard of (but don't ask me what the game was like, as a controller was missing, assumedly making gameplay impossible, so I didn't bother). And there weren't just games at the show, there was also a prototype Bally board tester on display as well, used for testing Bally pinball boards.
And then there was a pinball game by Exhibit, simply titled Review.
I had commented to Spike about a very old pinball game I had spotted, which I showed to him. Luckily he was familiar with these things, as he said that he had seen an entire place in San Francisco that had them, as they were known as "bumper pool" games, which he likened as to being like pachinko machines, except laid out like a pinball game, rather than the usual upright vertical machines that probably most of us are familiar with. The backboard also apparently has a wooden trim paneling as well, unlike machines of later decades being just solid wood (not counting the glass and light displays, of course) or other material.
Not much to the game itself, but these were the real early days of pinball: the object of this game was to shoot the ball and light up as many of the bumpers as possible as it traveled down through the maze of pins (hence where the later term of "pinball" would surface), and that was pretty much it. Your score would be represented by how many corresponding flags were lit on the backboard (see photo), not even going up to a hundred (unlike pinball games nowadays, whose scores can literally, easily reach into the millions). The game tilted really easily, though, and I became too much of a greedy boy at one point by shaking the table when I already HAD four bumpers lit on only one ball (at other times only *one* bumper would light up during a ball's course; sheesh! I was lucky to have what I did, but didn't realize it!).
Unfortunately this was one of the few games that didn't work well with being put on free play, since the game would never end: the game was activated by a very old coin slot where you would insert a coin into a small tray and then push the tray in (which jams very easily). (It seems to me that this game should have been charged to play, as owners of other rare games that appear at expos [like Computer Space] ask for a small donation so you could be granted a game or two, which isn't much to ask.) From there on, you had to push a lever to load the balls to your plunger (obviously pinball machines of later years would do this automatically), and THEN you could finally launch your ball (which machines made from the 1990s on [or maybe even earlier than that] don't even have plungers, you just press the button to launch your ball!)! Gee, things were so difficult during those days!
The machine was also smaller than the average pinball game (which you might be able to make it out in one of the photos being sandwiched by two other pins) and very lightweight, as it weighed about as little as a small pinball machine that my mother bought one year for Christmas that you could purchase at some toy stores, like Toys 'r Us and all (yet those were made decades later, in the 70s!).
By the way, an apology goes out to the gentleman who showed me and Spike how to get the game going, as I should have gotten your name...this is to the slim person with the long brown hair, who demonstrated to us how to get this game working, which was manufactured back in 1938 (yes, you read that correctly!). So thanks for showing us The Way, and for me to catch a glimpse into the games of yesteryear, going back to a time period when my father was only 11 years old.
M. I. A.
Unfortunately, due to (unexpectedly) getting a ticket late for the expo, as well as personal circumstances going on as well (the car that got me there and the camera that I used to take pictures were both borrowed, for instance), I couldn't make the Friday show on the 4th. Like I stated earlier, though, no world records were broken, and the contests and drawings were held later.
A few games were also M. I. A., although they weren't confirmed as to being at the show(s) anyway: Battlezone (REALLY wanted to play this one, since I never was very good at it when I was a kid, but I've since then gotten really good at a similar game on the internet called Tank Hunter, which gives you power-ups and all [which can be found at www.pogo.com]), and M. A. C. H. 3, the only laser disc game that I wanted to play.
There were others that didn't show up, which were supposedly confirmed to appear, one of which was a Multicade that had several games on it, but it turned out that one had been sold, and a strange one called Spiders, which, upon looking at the list of games that were scheduled to appear at H. A. A. G.'s web site and checking it out at the www.klov.com, I had totally forgotten about that game until I read the description of it (and after looking at a screen shot or two), where you have to fend off spiders weaving webs on the screen, and in between waves a woman will appear onscreen to wink at you for some reason! And as far as the pinball games went, the Kiss machine was supposed to be there as well, but wasn't, and missing Gyruss is a crime against humanity, but I don't know why it wasn't there.
However, missing a few games is to be expected, and having only a small handful of "89+ games" (as it said on the H. A. A. G. site) not appearing isn't bad, as there was an auto show here once in Houston where my mom heard that a Corvette was accidentally wrecked after only being driven a short distance, so they couldn't display that one (plus I think four other cars were damaged during that mishap as well). So five missing cars out of 200 or so isn't bad (and the same went for this show: not many M. I. A., as far as I know)!
Also, I missed out on playing a few games, due to not being a drinker, and there wasn't any indication (unless I missed it) that there were several more games in the bar next door, which I would have totally missed if I didn't go in there looking for someone at one point; great! I got in a quick game of Gravitar and Asteroids Deluxe, but some kids (*#@! kids!) were hogging Missile Command and Wizard of Wor, but unfortunately I not only had already decided to leave, but adrenaline can be quite an interesting thing: due to forgetting for a few hours that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I didn't realize until I figured I should be leaving (plus, again, the camera and car I used for the event were both borrowed as well, so I couldn't keep THEM forever!) that I was suddenly tired as anything, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks! So I just left...I'll have chances to play them again sometime in the future, I'm sure, as both are very classic, and very popular, games. Missile Command I never could get the hang of using the "spreading a wall" defense like expert players do on the later stages, and I have always been curious throughout the years if I could do that, or stay the same at the game that I always have (not a bad player, but not great), and Wizard of Wor I wanted to play because...well, because it's Wizard of Wor! :)
So, as I said earlier a long, long time ago, in a paragraph far, far away, how do playing these games compare today as they did 20 years (more or less) ago, especially when you're pretty good at games in general?
Well, that probably all depends on a few things, like how the reflexes are holding up (you old bag), if you can still remember the patterns for a pattern game, if any sequels came out for a certain game that blew away the original, so the original seems boring now, etc.
Well, on the Grid Bugs and the MPC Cone screens of Tron, I could still slay plenty of bugs and blocks, and never died there, and killed and dodged plenty of other obstacles in several other games, so my reflexes are still quite good, thank you very little.
Unfortunately, yep, you can forget patterns over the years. Like I said earlier, I did fine on the Grid Bug and MCP screen of Tron, but the Light Cycle and tank screens cost me quite a few lives, since patterns are involved with surviving through those. My high score on Tron is 999,959 from years ago (no, couldn't get a million, since I was on the Grid Bug screen when I got that score, and, with Grid Bugs being 50 points each, would've probably turned the machine over, and I didn't want to find out the hard way if it started over at zero!), but with forgetting the cycle and how to get to the safe spots in the tank screens without getting shot...well, lets just say I didn't even hit 100,000. I got eighty something thousand, but that was it; I'm sure with an additional game or two I could've hit 100,000, although that still would've only been a tenth of my high score. So I blew chunks on that game that I had.
Sometimes you get tired of games as well; take how great Space Invaders was when it first came out. Then Galaxian blew that away, and then Galaga blew away that (in most video gamers' opinion in general, including mine). Keeping this in mind, I can't really comment on how Invaders holds up, though, since I figured a game of it would be boring as anything, so I didn't play it (plus I was pressed for time anyway). And even though Blasteroids had more features than Asteroids and Asteroids Deluxe did, playing the latter was still great (although kind of iffy to judge with this point, since I hadn't played the game in over 15 years). Gauntlet never gets old (for me personally) with another player, and especially since I hadn't played Gauntlet II in years either, that was almost a new experience for me as well. Plus I think the game's difficulty level was cranked up anyway (or that's the excuse I'm going to use, at least!).
Similarly, I would rather play the sequel of Frenzy than Berzerk, but shooting robots was still fun to me. Donkey Kong was still fun as well, as well as Astro Blaster, even though I've played who knows how many dozen Space Invader-type games over the years (i. e. where you're on the bottom of the screen and you shoot upwards at enemies); heck, I've even acquired several MORE Invader-type games with trading people for them on Atari Age about a year and a half ago! So I guess I don't tire of those types of games easily. Lunar Lander, unfortunately, seemed horribly boring, since I've played a similar game of it before on the net, so I ended up walking away from it in mid-game after a while.
Then, at times, you just have to start all over, if you're out of practice. This didn't hold true for Moon Patrol, Star Wars, Major Havoc, or Star Fire (which I actually improved on the latter), as I still did well on all of those games, but my luck sure as heck ran out for me on the elevator screen on Donkey Kong (why in tarnation could I NOT make those jumps?! I did well on the other screens!), Gauntlet II, Tempest (starting at level 9, I could ALWAYS get past a few of the Pulsar levels starting at level 17, but I didn't even get to level *15* as it was!), Berzerk (used to always get 5-7,000, didn't even get 4,000 on this day) and Reactor (did HORRIBLE on my first game, did a bit better on the second one, but I guess I needed more practice still, as I didn't get to the vortex levels like I used to).
And, last, some of these games (or some aspects of them, anyway) didn't age well: when I bought the Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits package for my Genesis, I never realized how blocky (and fairly crappy) the graphics were back then for Robotron: 2084. The same went for Gauntlet; not that the graphics were bad, but they just were...eh...ok, I guess.
Well, not much made me puke in disgust, except for the weird noises Mario made when he walked along the girders in Donkey Kong: they sounded rather odd, like a cross of someone choking while their mouth was gagged as they shuffled along a lard-coated floor with squeaky shoes on...or something. Seriously, it was some freaky stuff, that sound effect, and it got on my nerves too. (Great, now I can hear it in my head; go away! Think of Princess Daphne's sexy voice from Dragon's Lair instead! Oh wait, that's just a tad pathetic...)
To conclude, I've stayed pretty much the same way I was 20 years ago as far as gaming goes, but then again, none of the above came from a scientific study or anything, and doesn't really prove anything in the first place, except that I really like playing games, and it can be fun to go back (I thought it was especially funny about bombing out on Tron, for example...I have become a mere shadow of my former self! User Flynn would be very disappointed in me!).
FADE TO BLACK
I can't say about the Saturday show that I attended, but the Friday, June 4 show lasted until 2 a. m...personally I was only at the Saturday show for a little over three hours, but Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and other things kept me from staying there longer. So I hope you enjoyed my brief visit there, and hopefully the next time I attend a show it will be for even longer, and sorry for some bungling here and there on my part in this report.
As far as comparing this gaming expo to the (aforementioned) sci-fi and record conventions, I'd say that record conventions take top honor as far as my favorite kind of convention (with gaming expos ranking second, though, and number 1 as far as the fun factor goes, of course!), since you can bring home a lot more tangible things to remind you of your visit, like cds for only four dollars and vinyl albums that most people, in general, think are extinct...if it wasn't for the photos I took, it's almost like I wasn't even there at H. A. A. G. already, aside from a few memories. After all, you don't know what to expect at a record convention in the first place, whereas at a gaming expo, some games might not be there like they're supposed to, and then they might not be fun to play any more.
Still, though (before anyone takes the
preceding paragraph the wrong way), I was happy to see a bunch of old friends (video and pinball games, I mean), hopefully made a few new ones (real ones, like Spike), talked briefly to some nice people that were willing enough to have their photos taken (I didn't want to take away much of their gaming time, or have them think I was stalking them) and meeting Yarusso, among other things. I felt kind of sad later, though, probably due to the glory days of yesteryear's gaming being gone forever, and there will probably never be a return to those days, since consoles are as powerful as arcade games are now, and arcades are dying in general, as arcade games are expensive to make, among other reasons for the falling of arcades.
But the main thing is to have fun, rather than wax poetic (or not) over where our youth went, and if it didn't really leave, then hang onto it for as long as you can, 'cause once we're gone from this planet, we're gone. So grab those rings, jump over those barrels, curse at those Klingons, Darth Vader, or the Stormtroopers that shot away your shields, race your way through those
country sides as fast as you can, etc., if you get the chance to go to one of these expos, such as I did.
Plus, for two days after that show, the pleasant music from the Grid Bugs stage in Tron went through my head, along with a couple of other video game pieces that I've yet to place which games they came from (taking in all that stuff in only a few hours tends to become a blur).
I think that pretty much says it all right there.
*thanks to everyone who put up with me for having their photos taken ("will I get paid for this? No? Well, can I get back to my game then?"), and even though I asked, I still hope I got all of your names spelled correctly, and sorry if I didn't
*thanks to Spike the Percussionist for taking my picture next to Major Havoc (now I gotta get to an expo somewhere so I can do the same with an even more valuable Computer Space machine)
*additional thanks to Spike for his knowledge of the bumper pool game that I encountered, which helped in providing some additional gaming history for this article (unless his "information" turns out to be incorrect ;) )
*thanks to the guys at H. A. A. G. for just EXISTING, not to mention for having a cool, free-play expo as well
*thanks to H. A. A. G.'s Keith Christensen for clearing up a potential problem of myself getting into the expo (due to a Classic Gaming forum member providing me a ticket to the place, yet there appeared to be no way to change it to my name from his PayPal payment, and he wasn't about to fly over from Japan to get the mess cleared up!) and providing some last minute information on this article -- which 10 MINUTES later I sent it in!! (Note: then this got delayed time and time again as to when it was supposed to go up on the net... :( )
*and a MAJOR thanks goes to Classic Gaming's forum regular nikoniko for getting a ticket for me in exchange for writing this review up (yeah, like I was going to say no), as I've needed a major break (such as this) from things for months and months now
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