|Have You Played Atari Today?||2600|5200|7800|Lynx|Jaguar|Forums|Store|
By Albert Yarusso
The Classic Gaming Expo is the premier event for enthusiasts of classic games, attracting a large number of vendors, classic gaming alumni, and attendees. This year's show was held in Las Vegas, like previous Classic Gaming Expos, at the Plaza Hotel downtown. It's not the fanciest hotel in Vegas, but it certainly gets the job done and is probably considerably less expensive a venue than hotels on the strip. If it means cheaper booths and tables for the vendors and low admission prices, I'm not going to complain. Many people also choose to stay at the Plaza, which makes it much easier to hookup with other classic gamers before and after the show.
I left Austin at around 4:30pm Wednesday driving a cargo van full of stuff for our AtariAge booth. After about 20 hours of driving and six hours of sleep, I arrived in Vegas at roughly 5:00pm Pacific Time on Thursday. The first order of business after checking into my room at the Plaza was to unload the cargo van. Thanks to several of the CGE guys and other helpful hands such as Matt Reichert, we were able to unload the van in short order. A short while later, several of us got together and went to eat dinner at Lone Star Steakhouse off Charleston (which seems to be a pretty main thoroughfare in Vegas). This was somewhat amusing to me since it's a Texas-themed restaurant and I had just driven all the way from Austin. Dinner was quite good, with a lot of great conversation and fun had by all.
After dinner we headed back to the Plaza and Matt assisted me in assembling around 40 Thrust Plus: DC Edition carts. Joe Grand had sent me a batch of populated boards via FedEx to me Wednesday morning, and I brought stripped carts with me to the show. We then popped open the cart shells, replaced the existing boards with the 16K Thrust Plus boards, reassembled the carts, and tested them. Labels wouldn't actually be applied to the carts until very late Friday night (more like Saturday morning!) After we exhausted our supply of boards (Joe would spend more time Friday doing a second batch), we both retired for the night.
Friday was a big day for us, as we had to setup the entire booth, finish building Thrust Plus cartridges, build Thrust Plus boxes, stuff Thrust Plus and Mental Kombat boxes, piece together a large wall-hanging composed of 55 Atari picture label carts (okay, three of them were from Sears), and get ready for a party in our room later that evening. Each of the picture labels were printed on an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper, then trimmed to get rid of the white margins, and then attached to four large 40" x 30" black foam boards, which were first taped together to form one large 80" x 60" sheet. With the help of Ronen Habot (author of Castle Blast), we were able to assemble everything in fairly short order, attaching the prints to the foam border with double-sided tape squares intended for photo mounting.
First the eight foot wide AtariAge banner was hung in our booth, followed by the large picture label sheet. We also hung up some AtariAge t-shirts, setup eight Commodore 1702 monitors and four videogame systems (two 7800 and two 5200), setup a PC and printer that would come very much in handy, and put out all the merchandise for sale. This included several homebrew games we were selling, classic gaming books such as High Score!, Phoenix, and Arcade Fever, cartridge, manual and cartridge storage bags, three-ring binder sleeves for storing overlays and manuals, some hardware, such as NES controller modified to work with the 2600, and a few other assorted items. It took a good chunk of the day to get everything for the booth squared away, and we didn't even actually get everything done that we set out to do. But certainly enough that the booth still looked reasonably organized when the show opened on Saturday.
Friday evening we held a large party in our room, sponsored by AtariAge, SC3 (Southern California Classic Collectors), and NWCGE (Northwest Classic Gaming Enthusiasts). Basically it was a continuation of the SC3 parties held in previous years, but Geoff Voigt, who usually organizes the party, was unable to attend CGE this year. Members from SC3 and NWCGE were invited, along with a few other people during the day Friday. As it was only a two-room suite, so we couldn't have an open invitation or we would have been packed in the two rooms like sardines. Not to mention the cost involved in buying food and drinks for a much larger number of people.
We had to get everything ready by 9pm, so Joe Grand and I took the cargo van to a WalMart Super Center that I had spied when we went to dinner the previous night. It was our mission to buy enough beer, soda, water, and snack-type foods to keep everyone happy for the duration of the party. We also picked up some napkins and paper plates, since we'd be ordering pizza when we got back. We arrived at WalMart around 8pm, filled two carts to the brim with beverages and food, and then had to wait nearly 40 minutes to check out. All the lines were long, and lucky for us we had a cashier who was training and she could barely even left up the 6 and 12 packs of beer and soda over the scanner to the other side. We finally managed to get out of WalMart at around 8:45pm, at which point we raced back to the hotel. It took two trips with our dolly to unload everything, which we did in front of the hotel's main entrance (much to the chagrin of a security guard nearby). We literally finished right at 9pm, as Alex was busy filling up one of the bathtubs with ice to serve as the repository for all the drinks.
Shortly after that people started arriving, and we started hooking up game systems for people to play. We had Atari 2600, 5200, 7800s, Hans Reutter brought an XBox that had been signed by Bill Gates for the XBox development team, a Dreamcast was setup, and other systems were brought although I don't think they all got hooked up. Many people started showing up, and the party really got into full swing probably around 10pm. We ordered pizza, which didn't arrive until around 11pm, and some of the early arrivals had already left, so they missed out on that. But more people kept arriving, and at around 11:30pm the CGE crew showed up, with several Atari celebrities in tow, such as Steve Woita, Warren Robinett, and Jerry Jessop.
The main room was pretty crowded at times. The secondary room, where the beds were located, was commandeered for Thrust Plus construction. This included gluing boxes, putting them under heavy objects (12 packs of beer and soda!) to let the glue dry for about five minutes, and then folding the boxes so they could later be stuffed. Thanks go out to Marc Oberhäuser for helping with the box assembly. With his help, we were able to build around 100 boxes before the party was over. Thrust Plus is probably the first homebrew for the Atari 2600 to have a professionally printed box created for it, which was done with less than two weeks before the show and never would have happened had it not been for Jah Fish and Marc.
In addition, Billy Eno (author of Warring Worms) assisted assembling the second batch of Thrust Plus carts (a task Matt had helped me with the previous night), while Chris Wilkson and Joe Grand teamed up to get a few stubborn boards working. Billy Eno later helped Alex and I apply labels to around 90 Thrust Plus carts, which fortunately didn't require applying glue to the labels since they were printed on sticker sheets (and I must say, these labels will require some effort to get off!) I believe Steve Woita and Jerry Jessop were rather amused at this whole production line.
People were still in the room at two in the morning while we were slaving away building carts and boxes. Unfortunately I didn't get quite as much time mingling with people as I wanted to, but that's what you get for trying to put together a release like this at the last minute. We also had to assemble Mental Kombat boxes and stuff them, but they were already glued and we only had ten of them on hand, so that wasn't as big a production.
I don't remember when everyone eventually left, but I do remember going to sleep at 4:30am an then waking up at 7:00am. Before I went to sleep I spent some time picking up all the bottles, cans and other garbage so the cleaning crew wouldn't have a heart attack when they entered the suite on Saturday. This resulted in my running around all day Saturday with less than three hours of sleep, but that's to be expected when you make so many preparations for your booth with so much coming together at the last minute. I'm not complaining, though, given the show only comes along once a year and the end result was definitely worth it.
So 7'clock in the morning comes around, and Alex and I wake up. We still had a fair amount of work ahead of us, as we weren't able to finish everything on Friday. For instance, we still had many signs to print up and we didn't even have a master price list yet. Also, we had to drag Commodore monitors, VCRs, and game systems back down to our booth and get them hooked up, since many of them were sitting in our suite for benefit of the party the night before. I made my way downstairs and finished setting up the printer and computer I brought, which turned out to be extremely useful. The primary reason for bringing the computer was for the CGE drawing software that I had written. This software was to be used for picking random tickets from a larger set of tickets that would be handed for each game, to give everyone a fair shot at buying games they wanted. However, the computer also turned out to be useful for printing signs on demand (as an example, we lowered the price of AtariAge t-shirts from $12 to $10 on Sunday).
I spent time working on the signs, talking to people as they came by, hanging up more items, further organizing the table, opening up boxes that I knew we'd need access to, getting everything off the floor so people wouldn't trip, etc. We had conference show bags printed up that had the AtariAge logo printed on them, we had to get t-shirts out of the boxes and sort them by size, we had to hook up all the game systems to the eight 1702 monitors (thanks to Ronen for helping with that), and tons of other last minute preparations. We brought two 7800s and two 5200s to demo all the games we brought to the show. The 7800s were modified with s-video output, so we could hook those directly to the 1702s. However, the 5200s required the use of VCRs to convert their RF output to composite output that could then be piped into the 1702s. Unfortunately I only have one two-port system, so we also had to use a four-port system going through Atari's bizarre switchbox, which resulted in a poorer picture on that particular system (although most of the time it looked fine). We split the signal from each system to two monitors stacked vertically, giving people crowded around a much better view of the games being played. As you can imagine, this was a cable nightmare!
Unfortunately later in the day on Saturday we had to swap out one of the 7800s with a 2600Jr, as some of the games were simply not working properly on the 7800s. This isn't due to the games themselves, but apparently because of the modifications done to the systems. This included Berzerk Voice Enhanced, which was a hack by Mike Mika of Atari's Berzerk that adds three spoken phrases from the original arcade game into the 2600 version. This proved to be the most popular game we had at the show, and quickly sold out of the 50 copies Mike produced within 15 minutes of being offered. However, people naturally wanted to hear it, so I had to dig out the 2600 Jr. (which thankfully I brought!), hook it up to a *third* VCR (which also thankfully I brought!) and we were in business! After Berzerk VE sold out, we used that 2600 Jr. to demo other games that were having problems in the modified 7800s, including Space Treat, Mr. Roboto, and SCSIcide.
Before we realized it, 9am rolled around and the floodgates were opened! We weren't quite finished with everything, but we were ready enough. People immediately swamped our booth, mainly to get the name badges that we had printed in advance for many people. We also had blank name badges that people could write their name on using a Sharpie. And of course people were asking when we'd be selling this, when we'd be selling that. Most of the games at our booth were scheduled to be sold at different times of the day, probably from keeping booths from being crushed all at once. This also gives people the opportunity to plan for which games they want to purchase and invest their time appropriately. Fortunately there weren't extremely long lines like at last year's show, and most of the homebrews games we were selling were in relatively low numbers (50 or less).
We did have a few games we could sell immediately, such as Super Pac-Man for the 5200. This wasn't a new game or anything, just a reproduction cart since it was never released for the 5200. We were therefore able to sell a few games right off the bat, but people had to wait until 10:15 am to buy the first "scheduled" games, which were SCSIcide and Thrust Plus: DC Edition. SCSIcide had been sold at previous shows, and in fact made its debut at the Classic Gaming Expo in 2001. We had 20 copies of SCSIcide, and Joe Grand was on hand and sign copies for anyone who wanted his signature emblazoning their game. Joe was also handing out Pixels Past koozies to anyone who bought items at our booth. Thrust Plus included a box, cart, manual, and foot pedal controller, and sold reasonably well given its $50 price and being one of the most expensive homebrew titles at the show.
So overall throughout the day we had several waves of people at our booth, lining up to buy games as the times approached to sell them. The most popular time to be at our booth was 4:15pm on Saturday when Berzerk Voice Enhanced was slated to be sold. We only had 50 copies of Berzerk VE available and they sold out within the first 15 minutes of being offered. People visited our booth often on Saturday and Sunday asking to purchase a copy. All we could do was tell people that Mike would be making more copies and we'd make an announcement on AtariAge when they become available. Mental Kombat was sold at the same time as Berzerk VE, but unfortunately we only had 10 copies and they sold very quickly to the first people in line who wanted them. Mental Kombat was another $50 title, and it came with a box, manual, cartridge, Hozer button, and two cloth headbands (one yellow, one red).
Aside from manning the booth and selling various merchandise, a lot of people came by to talk, including many frequent visitors from the AtariAge forums. Several people also volunteered their time to help us with the booth, such as Matt Reichert, Joe Grand, Ronen Habot, Jesse Hardesty, and so forth. So we chatted with a quite a few people, and it was great seeing familiar names and faces from the boards, the CGE guys, DP guys, many Atari alumni, Ken Love from Activision, and many many others. So even though I didn't get to spend a lot of time roaming around the show, because many people did come to our booth I probably spoke with more people this year than I did last year. But I was able to venture out periodically to visit the other booths and talk to more people. I barely had time to look at the museum, but fortunately Joe Grand got some good pictures of it. I know that there were many additions to the museum this year, such as many new prototypes and loads of unique Atari 8-bit hardware.
I also didn't have a chance to attend any of the sessions, but Dennis Debro did tape them using a digital video camcorder, and we plan on making the video available in some fashion for those who weren't able to attend the show, or for people who were stuck in their booths the entire time and unable to sit in any of the sessions (like us).
There were many booths at the show, and it seemed that there were more vendors present than in previous years. For instance, Telegames had a booth, and they weren't at the show last year. Video Game Bible had a booth near us, as they released their new collector's guide for 16-bit and newer systems, complementing the DP Guide fairly well. The Dragon's Lair 3D folks had the largest booth at the show (which was adjacent to ours), where they were demonstrating Dragon's Lair 3D, a game scheduled to be released fairly soon. There was also an autograph signing session with the original Dragon's Lair team including Don Bluth.
Digital Press was at the show selling the latest edition of the DP Guide, which I picked up and look forward to reading. B&C Computervisions was on hand again this year, with a large complement of Atari hardware and software. Blue Sky Rangers had their booth in the front again, showing off prototypes of unreleased games on various systems including the ColecoVision, Atari 2600 and Intellivision. They were also displaying phones running licensed Intellivision games. I had fun playing Astrosmash on a cell phone, which is a bit more enjoyable than playing Snake on my Nokia. They were also selling a compilation of Intellivision music on CD.
SlikStik was across from us, showcasing their awesome MAME arcade controllers on two large Sony televisions. Their new four player controller was immense, and of course they were demonstrating it using four-player arcade games like Gauntlet II. Seeing these in action only further encourages me to build a MAME cabinet of my own, or at least sacrifice my coffee table so I can leave one of their massive controllers hooked up all the time.
Neo Geo Freaks was directly across from us, selling Neo Geo cabinets, a large assortment of Neo Geo games, and games for some other systems also. Neo Geo is one of the systems I haven't started collecting for just yet, since the games are fairly expensive, not to mention huge and take up tons of space relative to the humble 2600. That's one system I'll probably hold off on for some time.
Carl Forhan of Songbird Productions was at the show again this year, selling Jaguar and Lynx titles. New this year was a CGE 5th Anniversary slideshow product for both the Lynx and Jaguar. The Lynx cartridge has 12 pictures from previous shows, and used some fancy programming to squeeze up to 4096 colors onscreen at once. And given the low resolution of the Lynx, these pictures looked better than one would expect, due to the large number of colors displayed. The Jaguar version, on CD-ROM, contains 40 pictures and these are of course higher resolution and are viewable on your TV as opposed to the smaller Lynx screen. Songbird also had a wide variety of other Lynx and Jaguar software for sale, along with prototype and development hardware and software for both systems.
CGE Services had a large booth, although a touch smaller than last year to make room for additional vendors at this year's show. They were selling tons of shrinkwrapped games for various systems, but the highlight at their booth was the four reproduction games they were selling: Crack'ed, Pick Up, and Save the Whales for the 2600, and Cube Quest for the Vectrex. Each of these games came with a professionally printed box, cartridge and manual.
Marc Oberhäuser of RetroDesigns also created two Atari 2600 reproductions of his own, Snow White and RealSports Basketball. Both of these also were packaged with professionally printed boxes, manuals and carts, and looked great.
Atari2600.com was at the show again this year, selling their new reproduction release Holey Moley, an unreleased game from Bob Polaro that utilizes the Kid's Controller. Atari2600.com even produced plastic overlays to fit into the Kid's Controller, and to our knowledge this is the first time anyone has created an overlay for an unreleased game. Bob Polaro was on hand to autograph Holey Moley, as he also did for Bugs Bunny at Philly Classic 3 in April. In addition to Holey Moley, Atari2600.com had a wide selection of new and used games, as well as hardware for a wide range of systems, including the 2600, Intellivision and ColecoVision.
Twin Galaxies on hand, running various game tournaments. Twin Galaxies was represented by Walter Day, Ron Corcoran, Brien King, and Todd Rogers, refereeing games for the tournaments they were running in the back right corner of the hall. It was great seeing all of these guys at the show and they stopped by our booth several times on Saturday and Sunday to chat. We originally were going to hook up with Todd Rogers to record his Barnstorming prowess, but we were so swamped at the show that were unable to hookup. We'll make an effort to catch up with him at a future gaming event.
A new company called Zektor made an appearance at this year's show, with hardware that allows you to drive X/Y vector monitors using your PC. This allows you to play games like Tempest and Asteroids on a real vector monitor, through emulators like MAME. They also have hardware that allows you to diagnose and troubleshoot vector monitors, which will be very useful to people who want to repair these monitors and restore vector games.
The Northwest Classic Gaming Enthusiasts (NWCGE) had a table in the back corner of the show, and several of their members were on hand, such as Lee Krueger, Hans Reutter, and Rick Weis. This is also where Paul Slocum was hanging out, demonstrating Marble Craze. He was intending to sell Marble Craze at the show and had a great package that included a nice silver tin, but production problems with the boards only allowed him to sell a low number of games, much to his disappointment. However, he was able to demo the game and also sell and display copies of his Synthcart and Testcart for the 2600.
Dan Kramer had a booth at this year's show, showing off prototype hardware and software, and even selling many of the items he had on display. Dan Kramer was responsible for the Atari 2600 and 5200 Trak Ball controller, and he loves talking about his days at Atari. It was great to see him at the show and many people enjoyed talking with him, myself included.
Aside from all the vendors, there were many other things to see and do at the show. For instance, lining two walls of the show floor were a fair number of arcade games, all set to free play as one would expect at a gaming show. These were well enjoyed by visitors to the show, as it's becoming increasingly difficult to find games of this caliber in arcades today, especially in good working order. There was even a bright yellow Computer Space brought by Jerry Jessop, with a serial number of #1 (!), a piece of history you'll never find out in the wild. Many of the games on display are ones that I would love to have in my personal collection someday, a sentiment I'm sure shared by many people attending the show.
Another attraction at the show were the bands 8-Bit Weapon and The Minibosses, as well as DJ Tony Fox NYC. Joining these performers was George "The Fatman" Sanger and "Team Fat", who have composed music for many PC games over the years. And at 3pm on Sunday was The Great Dig Dug Drop, where a net containing around 400 empty Atari 2600 Dig Dug boxes was dropped onto a large crowd of people, who then tore through the boxes hoping to find a red card that would entitle them to a free prize at one of many vendors who supplied them. Amazingly, no one was maimed or injured during this event, and we have many pictures and video that you can view to get a feel for the chaos that ensued. You can take a look at video fo the Dig Dug Drop here.
Sunday was a bit slower than Saturday, which is typical for CGE, and somewhat of a relief to us after a hectic Saturday. This afforded us the opportunity to spend more time walking around the show, visiting other booths, and talking with some of the other vendors. However, most of our time was still spent in the AtariAge booth. Although the day did start out slower (our guess is many people were out late on Saturday enjoying Vegas), it did pick up in the afternoon, although never got quite as busy as it was most of the day on Saturday.
Before we knew it, the show was over and it was time to box everything up and pack it back into the van. Several people kindly stuck around to help us with this tedious chore, making it go by relatively quickly. After dinner, we crashed back in the hotel room and got a much needed rest. Alex flew back to Austin early on Monday, and I hung out with Joe Grand most of the day Monday, as he was in Vegas for the entire week. I left Tuesday morning at around 10am, and arrived back in Austin in the evening on Wednesday.
We had a great time at the show and look forward to doing it all again next year! Hope to see you there!