By William Cassidy

Last year I wrote up an article about Classic Gaming Expo (CGE) 2004, replete with my thoughts on the show and the best pictures my el cheapo digital camera was capable of dredging up. So this year, I thought I'd do it again. Same show, same layout, same camera... but if CGE has taught me anything, it's that repetition is the sincerest form of flattery. I think. Anyway, here's an article. It's a bit more bloggy than last year, so beware.

My CGE experience was somewhat different this year since I had an "inside" job for the first time. Since I came up with Chris Neiman, the guy who sets up the Intellivision portion of the Museum, I signed on as a member of the Museum staff. Chris and I set up the Inty portion of the Museum, about 95% of which is from Chris's personal collection. Seriously, Chris is the Intellivision MAN. You can't begin to imagine all the Inty stuff he has. Chris has Set up the Intellivision portion of the Museum for years, so he's got it down to a science. He really did most of the work; I mostly just carried boxes around.

My CGE highlight happened on Friday while we were setting up. I was kind of just kicking around, waiting to see if Chris needed my help with anything, when Museum coordinator Larry comes up and asks my help moving something heavy. Turns out that the person who needs help is Al Alcorn, and the thing he needs help moving is the original Pong machine. Yeah, that one. Andy Capp's bar, overflowing coin box, the whole bit. So together with Mr. Alcorn and another DPer whose name I don't remember (sorry!), I ended up got to carrying in The Original Pong, all the time freaking out that I'm going to drop it or otherwise damage it irreparably. We brought it in OK, though. Y'know, I'm just a weak computer programmer so heavy lifting isn't exactly my forte, but when it's something like that I don't mind. Moving Pong #1 was an unexpected honor. Thanks for the opportunity, Larry.

Incidentally, Larry deserves a big hand for coordinating all the Museum setup and storage every year. He spent nearly all his time answering questions and arranging security and running home to raid his collection to fill gaps in the Museum displays. His chipper yet sarcastic facade never once wavered, although I got the feeling he was near suicide several times during the weekend. Glad you hung in there, Mr. Anderson.

It was great to finally meet some of the folks who I'd only known as online forum handles before. Drexel923, Lady Jaye, PDF, DrWily008... I could go on. I'm a bit introverted by nature but I made more of an effort to be outgoing this year. My main regret is that I kept breaking my word about where I was going to be! I assured Lady Jaye and Cav I'd be at the Digital Press (DP) party, but I couldn't make it because the group I went to dinner with wanted to go sightseeing in San Francisco, and I didn't make it back until the hour was too late and I was too tired. Then, on Sunday, I told everyone I'd go to the DP Sizzler dinner, but that didn't work out because I had to break down the Museum and didn't finish until it was too late. So my apologies everyone, I wasn't trying to avoid you, it just kinda worked out that way.

This year, I was really struck by the dichotomy of the whole classic gaming hobby/show thing. On the one hand, it's all about games. Fun things. Things you enjoy. Yet, the show is largely about work. There's a lot of setup and coordination (that I had a VERY small hand in this year). Many of the dealers make their livings based on the sale of classic games, so they are naturally concerned with supply, demand, pricing and so on. Nearly everybody is very passionate about games and there's sometimes a lot of vitriol over whether this guy is hoarding ROMs, or if that guy is charging too much for that cart, or if these people are hurting the hobby by releasing that game, etc. Taken together, all that work and effort and concern tends to get in the way of the whole point of the show in the first place: having fun with old video games. I can really understand why the organizers want to take an extra year off to recharge, and maybe to find "the fun" again.

I spoke with Joe on Friday, and I got the feeling that he feels a little bad about canceling the show next year. Maybe he thinks he's letting us down, but he shouldn't feel that way. He and the others have done a LOT of work to keep the show going, and they deserve a break. Take all the time you need. We'll be there when the show returns.

But I don't mean to imply that this show was NOT fun – heck no! I think I had a better time at this year's show than ever before. So many great games. I mean, here's a quick list of the games I played over the weekend:

  • Arcade: Pleiades, Spectar, Scramble, Asteroids Deluxe, Q*bert's Qubes, Space Firebird, Astro Blaster, Ms. Pac-Man, Mouse Trap, Defender, Millipede, Donkey Kong 3, Ghouls 'n Ghosts.
  • Vectrex: Art Master
  • 2600: Vanguard, Ixion (unreleased proto)
  • O2: Pick Axe Pete, P.T. Barnum's Acrobats, Mr. Roboto (new homebrew)
  • Intellivision: Snafu, Skiing, Tennis
  • TG16: Bonk's Adventure
  • SMS: Kenseiden
  • Saturn: Bust-A-Move 2
  • CD-i: Hotel Mario
  • NES: 1942, Punch-Out!!

And that's just what I can remember. It's but a tiny fraction of the games that were available.

Mr. Roboto is a new Odyssey² homebrew, so I'm all over that. Between Jarett (PackRatVG), Earl (PDF) and I you had about the most collective O2 excitement you'll ever see concentrated into that one room. Mr. Roboto plays like a cross between Archon and Tron Deadly Discs – believe it! It's really, really good. I'm so glad that Packrat is around to support the small O2 homebrew scene. Jarett is a nice guy, but I too was surprised by how young he is. Or is that how old I am? Anyway, I beat Jarett in the one game we played, so I guess there's something to be said for 25 years of O2 experience.

I'm actually pretty good at reining in my spending and this year was no different. I picked up Bust-A-Move 2 (Saturn) and Puzzle Bobble (Super Famicom) for the wife, Famicom Binary Land for me, some miscellaneous manuals, NorthWest Classic Games Enthusiasts' DVD of "How to Beat Home Video Games," an N64 memory card and that was about it. I inched ever closer toward deciding to buy a TurboDuo, but my inherent cheapness won out yet again. It won't last, I'm sure. My biggest "score" was a gift from my friend Ben, who gave me his old PlayStation 2. He doesn't need it since he uses an import console now, and he knew I'd probably never get one on my own, so he gave me his out of generosity, and to spread the gospel of Gradius V. What a fine fellow.

The keynotes, as always, were interesting and instructive. I've heard many of these guys speak before, but it's always a treat. My favorite moment was when one of the Imagic guys (I forget which) brought out the original model for the Star Voyager spaceship and presented it to the game's programmer. It had been lost in his attic for years, but he finally found it and brought it to the show. In the end, that's what I really love about CGE – its ability to pull all these old treasures out of their hiding places and give them the spotlight once again.

I'm already looking forward to CGE 2007. Two years is a long time to wait, but I'll survive, somehow.