OKGE 2004 Report
The Oklahoma Gaming Exhibition was held for the second year in Tulsa on Sept. 18, and crowd of over 230 people gathered to play a few arcade machines, pick up some titles missing from their library-like collections or grab some new games. Anyone thinking names like Atari and ColecoVision were forgotten in the 1980s is sadly mistaken, as the fans of dusty old games systems attending OKGE in Tulsa can attest.
Hardesty, a lifelong Tulsa-area resident, said the idea of OKGE was born of a desire to bring some of the spirit of larger shows on the east and west coasts to the middle of the country. Hardesty reasoned there are plenty of classic gaming fans in the Southwest, so why not host a show to bring them together? Why not form an event to cater to an underserved market?
Personally, I applaud Hardesty's effort. After all, I'm an Arkansas resident, and the OKGE is the only time I've seen a room full of Atari fans gathered together since about 1982 when kids would stand in line to try out the newest 2600 titles at stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Service Merchandise.
Hardesty has undoubtedly found a receptive audience for the event. Hopefully, the vendors did well, too, and are convinced there are plenty of classic gamers in the Southwest willing to part with their hard-earned pay for some rarities or new items.
Albert Yarusso of AtariAge fame provided perhaps the best evidence of the health of the classic gaming scene with plenty of new games for sale. And, by new games, I mean those that have been put together by clever programmers in the last few years. AtariAge even used the event to unveil three new "homebrewed" titles - Beef Drop for the Atari 5200, Reversi for the Colecovision and Seawolf for the Atari 2600.
Yarusso said, in fact, AtariAge had 31 homebrewed titles on hand for the 2600. He said the 2600 can be blamed for the recent interest in classic games.
"We've been, basically, growing the market over the past few years. ... I don't think it's plateaued yet," Yarusso said. "(The 2600) was the system that really kicked everything off. A lot of people grew up with that system. That's the one they remember."
The 2600, of course, wasn't the only system represented at OKGE. Sure, Atari fans dominated the event, but there was plenty available for fans of Nintendo, Sega, Magnavox Odyssey 2 and classic computers. Vendors like GameXchange and Vintage Stock had plenty of classic items, and more than few games for modern systems, too.
George "The Fat Man" Sanger attended OKGE as the celebrity guest for the event. Sanger, an Austin, Texas, resident noted for providing the musical scores for such classics as Wing Commander, had plenty of insights as to why classic games remain popular.
Sanger pointed out game designers these days are inclined to avoid risky, off-the-wall games in favor of tried and true formulas which are safe and guarantee sales. He said there's simply no substitute for good gameplay, and people were willing to take chances when video gaming was in its infancy.
Sanger observed the "excitement and fire" which used to drive game designers is lost when the emphasis is on continuing, say, a profitable sports franchise rather than innovation.
However, he said a lot of the enthusiasm common among programmers in the early days of gaming can be found among homebrewers. Sanger said people writing games for aging machines these days are interested in self-satisfaction and a little bit of notoriety among a small audience of fans.
In short, Sanger said people writing homebrews for systems like the 2600 aren't motivated by money. There's just not that much to be made from their work.
Yarusso agreed, claiming none of the homebrewers selling through the AtariAge store are chasing after wealth. In fact, Yarusso pointed out most of the programmers distribute ROM images of their creations - there's not much profit in giving things away for free.
I went to OKGE partially on business and partially out of personal interest. I went on assignment for "The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas" (http://www.nwaonline.net) for the purpose of putting together an article and running it in our business section.
Hopefully, Hardesty will hold the event again next year and I can go without having to pester people, take notes and wander around with a heavy camera strung around my neck.
I had a great time at OKGE and was particularly interested in the excellent homebrews available and the ones under development. Homestar Runner RPG -- an honest-to-goodness roleplaying game for the 2600 being put together by Paul Slocum - is particularly intriguing.
I also ran across a number of other must-have items, such as some wireless controllers for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super NES from Messiah Entertainment Inc.
Unfortunately for my wife, homebrews and new hardware take up space and cost money. Regardless, supporting those still developing for classic systems is well worth the money, and I'm sure the copy of Star Fire I picked up at OKGE will soon be joined by some more great titles for the 2600.
Finally, Hardesty deserves to be congratulated on a job well done. You were right, Jesse - there are plenty of classic games fans here in the Southwest, and this one appreciates your hard work in bringing us a top-notch show.