Even with the latest titles coming out for the PS2, XBox, and GameCube, I still have a love for the classics. Sometimes I will just pull out the old 2600 and relive the great titles of yesteryear; a time when games didn't have an end and getting the highest score was the only thing that mattered. It was a simpler time back then, and for classic gamers like myself, just playing was well worth it.
Retrogaming is back in full swing, thanks mostly in part to the rise of console and arcade game emulators that can be run on any modern PC, providing your system has the processing power to run them. Collecting classic game cabinets is also a trend among retrogamers. I am doing what I can to get my own stand-up Gyruss cabinet, but the purchase cost, in addition to the freight shipping, is holding me from my dream.
As a result of the retrogaming craze, many fan events have surfaced: CGE in Vegas, the Austin (Texas) Gaming Expo, the Midwest Classic in Wisconsin, and the one I just attended this weekend: PhillyClassic.
This year marked the fifth year of PhillyClassic, but it also marked my first time in attendance. Being a veteran of larger trade only events such as E3, I wasn't sure what to make of it. But as soon as I entered the Valley Forge Convention Center and saw all the classics again, I felt like I was 10 years old, remembering how great it was to go into a REAL arcade and play original games that actually worked: no fighter or driver clones as far as the eye can see that populate modern arcades. However, after closer inspection, I noticed one specific title that caught my eye. Yes, after almost 20 years of searching, I came across a perfect working Gyruss!
After spending so much time with this long last masterpiece, I spent more time with some of the other rare gems that were on display: Star Wars, Centipede/Millipede, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., the ORIGINAL Mario Bros, and even an original working Dragon's Lair complete with score readout were just some of the arcade games that were on display.
But hidden in the back of the arcade was something that caught me totally by surprise. There was a special arcade cabinet that was actually running the PC MAME arcade emulator. The cabinet featured two 8-way joysticks, a pair of 6-button layouts, two start buttons, a trackball, an independent 4-way joystick, and special MAME navigation buttons (Tab, ESC, and Enter on a keyboard), all outputting to a large 27" arcade monitor as opposed to a PC monitor. The overall work on the cabinet was quite impressive and if I didn't know it was running MAME, I would have thought I'd be playing another arcade title.
With consoles on my mind afterwards I spent a majority of my time at the AtariAge booth. For those who don't know about it, AtariAge is one of the best websites available about what I call the REAL Atari, from the 2600-5200-7800 days, and even including the Jaguar. (Please keep in mind that the "Atari" of today will only be known by me as Infogrames, as I will never accept them as Atari).
Not only does AtariAge display the classic Atari carts of the 80s, but they are very prominent in the "homebrew" development craze occurring today. Their flagship release title was called Saboteur, a shooter developed by veteran programmer Howard Scott Warshaw, made famous (or infamous for that matter) for releasing E.T. on the 2600 (as well as other greats such as Yar's Revenge and Raiders of the Lost Ark).
If anyone knew about the plans for an A-Team cart for the 2600, they will be shocked to know that Saboteur was the original concept, and thanks to Atari Age, it is back in its original glory.
Other key AtariAge releases that were available for purchase included a remake of Warlords for the 5200 called Castle Crisis, an Adventure sequel for the 5200, and with their partners at AtariProtos.com, a recently uncovered 5200 prototype of the Williams arcade game Blaster was on display as well!
Most of the booths at the event were selling carts for all systems known, even obscure systems such as the NUON DVD player. However, the key concentration of sales was on 2600 carts: used, new, or shrinkwrapped homebrew titles. One title in particular, Frog Pond, was limited in quantity and was selling for $50! I don't' remember ever spending $50 for a 2600 cart at all; they used to be upwards of $30 back in the 80s!
The rest of the booths on display showcased unique titles as well. A company called C3DNOW.com demonstrated a pair of stereoscopic glasses capable of displaying a 3D image from a computer monitor with no performance loss whatsoever. Initial tests were very impressive, but I would love to see how they would work for a console. Imagine using them for Halo 2 when it comes out.
GroundZeroGaming.com was also on display promoting their online gaming service, running Unreal Tournament 2004 on four Alienware PCs so gamers could jump in and play against anyone on their servers.
Another table down the way specialized in the more rare music games that are available. While DDR might be taking the US by storm (it was used as a PhillyClassic tournament this year), most of the country (without the possible exception of California) doesn't even know that such titles exist.
I may have had past experience with Para Para Paradise on my PS2, but nothing could prepare me for the glory that was Beatmania IIDX. Played in the same style as Konami's other Bemani series, BM2DX uses a special DJ controller consisting of a turntable with seven buttons. It was as addictive as DDR, and I wanted to do whatever I can to get my own system, but the challenge for me is getting an actual IIDX controller for cheap (they are upwards of $100 online!). If only some of my readers could be generous and donate some cash to me I would greatly appreciate it.
Game music fans would also be pleased to know that music god Tommy Tallarico was also in attendance to autograph copies of his second game music compilation, as well as plug his Electronic Playground program. Now I have never seen EP, but I am sure that he would make a lot better host that than Metreon-pimping sellout, Adam Sessler of X Play. In addition, Tron alumnus Cindy Morgan returned to the PhillyClassic set to meet up with her fans, even autographing her pictures and copies of the Tron DVD and Tron 2.0.
It was a shame that the event only last two days, because when it was over I had that same feeling I had when I was 10 and my parents came to pick me up at the arcade; I never wanted to leave. PhillyClassic definitely brought out the classic gamer in me and I would do anything to come back up for next year's event. So please GiN editors, send me next year!
CURRENTLY PLAYING (now that I'm home): Unreal Tournament 2004