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H.A.A.G. Expo 2005 - The Atari Times

H.A.A.G. Expo 2005


Full report of this Houston area game show
by Darryl Brundage

June 29, 2005
Well well well, another year, another entertainment expo. I've gone to music and sci-fi conventions for many years now, my favorite being the music ones, especially since Houston isn't exactly known as to having the greatest music "industry" (and I use that term quite lightly), since you can find all kinds of surprises at one of those (especially if you just got back into collecting vinyl over the last few years like I did). After a gaming expo, all you have left are memories, rather than something that you can play later again and again (unless you actually buy a machine that's for sale at the expo, that is). You can pick up cool stuff at a sci-fi expo too, but THE most fun of the three are the gaming expos, since they're hands-on!

Gaming expos are new to me, though, as this is only the second year in a row I have gone to H. A. A. G.'s expo, which now has made me more worldly (cough, choke *major sarcasm*) in the entertainment expo field...or the nostalgia one anyway.

"I'M MEEEELTING! I'M MELTING!"

In Houston, what's known as "spring" means "technically summer, which starts in about February", which we've already had several days hitting the 80s to the 90s for the last several weeks (yet summer wouldn't "officially" start until a few days after the H. A. A. G. expo, on the 21st), complete with 80% or more humidity; I can't stress how terrible enough it is to let the cat out first thing in the morning and exclaim "yech! It feels awful out here already!".

So, what's there for your typical Houstonian to do in June (until about November)? One of three things:

  1. Stay indoors.
  2. Stay indoors and do something entertaining.
  3. MOVE to a different indoors if the air conditioning for #1 or 2 isn't working (after you shot whoever was responsible for not getting it fixed).

Luckily there's H. A. A. G. to the rescue...the Houston Area Arcade Group (in case you thought I was being rude), with their annual expo from June 17 (6 p. m. until 2 a. m., more or less) through June 18 (10 a. m. until 2 a. m., more or less). Unfortunately my report only covers the June 18 day due to some problems (I didn't even know for weeks I was going to be able to go until the last minute), but there's still plenty to show and tell about it, though!

Note: I will be reporting some things in regards to the June 17th show, since there was a video and/or pinball high score contest, but unfortunately my contact has not been available yet in order to provide me that information. Since Greg at TAT here is very good at updating things on his site (if he's not constantly doing it as it is ), then keep an eye out for updated information here.

And on another note, as I mentioned earlier, I also attended the 2004 expo. Due to several problems, excuses, and/or possibly things I (probably) don't even want to know about, that coverage took over a YEAR to go up, which you can check out part one here and part two is here. Unfortunately the website used well under half the pictures that I took, so I apologize to all the people that I got their names for the photos and all, I'll eventually see about getting my own web space, putting them up, and updating the story with a link to them. Sorry for the problems and delays to everyone that was involved with my first covering of the event, whatever they were...

THE ATMOSPHERE -- OR "I'VE GOT PAC-MAN FEVER"

Like last year's show, gamers were immediately greeted by the games H. A. A. G. was raffling off (which I'll have the names of people and who won what at a later date), which this year the first thing you saw in the hallway was the great old Atari Football game (you know, the one with trackballs and x's and o's for players); this was such an excellent game that even *I* played it back in the day, since I've never really been into sports, nor sports games! Also as usual with their raffles, the game looked to be in great shape, maybe even mint condition. They also raffled off the old Space Mission pinball game, which I can say it was also in good shape, since I played it. There were also a couple of tabletop games in the hallway as well, with the obscure Moon Shuttle (totally forgot about that game in the day!) up for sale.

Inside, music from the 70s and 80s (the time period that the majority of the games came from) blasted through the speakers with old punk, rock, U2, Big Country, etc. being played. As someone said that they were playing a pretty good mix, I had to agree, as I think it was better than last year's (although I only was able to devote about 3 1/2 hours to last year's show due to some difficulties, which this year I got in about five...hopefully next year I'll actually be able to attend both days!). Video game-related songs also were played, of course, especially the staple of "Pac-Man Fever".

Keith Christensen, founder and president of H. A. A. G., performed all kinds of duties (as he usually does), from providing a bunch of games to dee jaying to making announcements to doing a cable show interview/tour of the place to hosting raffles and playing with some lighting and smoke effects during our stay. A lot of the time the place was kept dark, the further to take you back into time when not only were arcades around everywhere, but they were also dark, seedy places at times...

Of course, there was a happy, but busy atmosphere of people playing games in three separate rooms, although the back room (right next to the bar) also had a table where people could rest their tired wrists for a while, but keep their mouths moving to boast (lie, possibly) about their highest score of the day, have a beer and/or some catered food that was available. There was also various sci-fi, fantasy, and video game merchandise (buttons) sold there too, which also coincided with the door prizes this time around also mostly consisting of sci-fi and other entertainment items (Star Wars posters and movies, a gospel/hip-hop compilation cd, the locally made Laughing Boy movie, etc.), rather than video game-related prizes of the previous years, like Pac-Man lunch boxes and all (which I guess those are going to eventually run out anyway). However, they also gave away the "official" H. A. A. G. hot sauce, made by a Pac-Man champion. (Note--more on exactly what this is later once I hear back from my contact; it sounds interesting!)

The majority of the people at the expo were my age, in their 30s (or 20s), although there were quite a few families with younger kids (pre-teens), and even a few in their 50s on up; a nice mix altogether.

THINGS TO SEE AND GAMES TO PLAY

First off, in regards to the photos, my apologies for several games having the camera flash in them, since the flash almost always goes off, as there's no way to turn it off (yes, I even looked it up in the instructions! Plus it was dark most of the time in the place anyway [which you won't be able to tell with the photos, due to the flash]). Several game photos weren't taken "face front", though, they were taken more to the side to minimize the blasted glare (the backglass to the Star Wars Trilogy pinball game gave off too huge a reflection to include in a photo here, as well as the old mega-classic Space War game, grumble grumble). Some photos still came out pretty decently, though.

Anyway, in regards to a much more complete gaming list, visit the H. A. A. G. website at www.arcadecenter.com and check it out. It's more or less accurate, although as "Pinball" Pete Christian (who owns the Starship Trooper pinny) told me, several games had to be turned away that day...Tron and Star Wars (the original Atari vector game) being ones that either didn't make it or they could have been sold, as I know Tron was up for sale, and I know I didn't see that S. Wars cockpit anywhere (there were a few games that I thought didn't make it last year, but they got sold probably on the Friday of the event, as I was there on that Saturday only). No way was I going to take photos of every single game! (And besides, again, due to screen glare, some just weren't possible to photograph anyway.)

However, here's a list of the Atari games that were there, at least!

Oh my god!! Not only did this game not have a high production number when it was released -- sources point to only 500 being made -- but there was also the urban legend that a few hundred of them were lost and are at the bottom of an ocean right now, due to the ship that they were being transported on sinking. It was the very first game to have polygon graphics (way back in 1983), though, being way ahead of it's time, and it's gameplay was also a bit unusual as well.

OTHER GAMES OF PARTICULAR MENTION (BUT LET'S NOT LEAVE OTHERS OUT JUST BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT ATARI!) THAT YOU DON'T SEE EVERY DAY (OR EVEN YEAR, IF NOT *DECADE*)

I got to see Space War for the first time since the 70s, probably. It was especially nice to see a father and son team try it out as well (more on that later; see the "Jane Goodall" section near the end [you'll see what I mean!]). The notorious Death Race (which didn't have any relation with the similarly-titled Sylvester Stallone/Keith Carradine movie of Death Race 2000) was also in attendance, as it caused quite a stir back then due to players controlling cars that ran over people. Unfortunately, whenever I tried playing it, it was out of credits, grrrr. (Note: you can either alert one of the several people who brought in their machines [they're usually there for most, or all of the day] or Christensen, who will announce it over the P. A. system, as he had the door to Interstellar [more on this game in a minute] unlocked when I told him that it needed credits at one point.) I also played Sea Wolf, peering through that viewscope for the first time since the 70s as well, getting enough points for an extended play. Yay!

The fifteen minute fad of the 80s laserdisc games of Space Ace and Interstellar were also at the expo. I'm sure most (or at least those of us that are in our 20s and 30s on up that frequented arcades back then) are familiar with the cartoon-like Space Ace, but I had totally forgotten that I even used to play Interstellar back then. However, it's just pretty much a 3-D Galaga with part of Xevious thrown in (i. e. there are parts of the game where you have a target sighting that appears a few inches away from your ship in order to bomb objects that appear on the ground), but it was nice to play it again to jog my memory with all these years later. And not that it was a laserdisc game, but the rare Joust 2 was also there, playing pretty much like the original (actually I had played it a few times in the 80s and 90s), although the screens are more crowded, as ruins appear that you must navigate around. There's also an additional button that allows you and your flying ostrich to transform into a much bigger adversary, and another rare one of Make Trax (in a miniature cabinet) was also on hand for people to try to paint as many screens as they could (I couldn't even make it to the third!).

Of course, there were also the usual plethora of hits from the day that were in attendance as well, such as Donkey Kong (the original and Junior), Mappy, Jungle King, Galaga, Kangaroo, Defender, etc., and some of the newer games (i. e. 90s through the millenium) like San Francisco Rush 2049, Lethal Enforcers (which got a lot of play), L. A. Machineguns and several Multicade machines, but my feeling was a bit mixed on them: sure, Phoenix, Legendary Wings and Scramble seemed perfectly emulated (possibly minus the sound, which I couldn't hear all of, as the volume on a lot of the games are turned lower than the music that's being played over the PA), but the Qix in Qix seemed to move too fast (granted, it might just be my memory playing me false though), Major Havoc didn't seem to handle quite right with the trackball, and was the joystick "response" (or not) really THAT annoying on Ladybug? I always thought the Colecovision version's responses bit the dust, but was the original also a bit difficult to control?

Unfortunately, on the flip side, the rare Blaster wasn't working, along with Flim-Flam (a Pong rip-off, but a very rare four-player tabletop game), and a virtual reality game was also out of commission; argh! I really wanted to try that, the hell with how dorky I probably would've looked moving and ducking around in its booth!

And let's not forget the pinball games! Luckily Christensen brought back Circus Voltaire this year, which, due to my very short stay at last year's show, I missed playing it, but I didn't know beforehand it was a prototype! (It didn't register with me that "sample" on the H. A. A. G. web site meant "prototype that makes it mandatory to give it at least one try".) Like a mysterious circus act where you can't figure out how the performers could possibly do something that apparently breaks the laws of physics, one giant spinner on the pinball game stops the ball right in it's tracks and rises up to reveal a demented-looking ringmaster (which you can see his green, ugly face near the top right of the playfield in the photo I took). He encourages you to hit him with the ball (which I gladly, immediately obliged once I got the ball back after it was launched back onto the playfield), plus there was also a giant green plastic ball (see lower left of photo) in the playfield as well that you could also smack around.

There was also a pinball game from the 70s called Fireball that was not only reported to be the first game to use a giant spinner (similar to the one used years later in Circus Voltaire), but there were also buttons on the playfield that were worth a bonus when the ball ran over them, but they changed the course of the ball as it navigated through the board...having these buttons in the center of the playfield wasn't exactly the best of ideas, as I've not only never seen the idea duplicated since (granted, I'm no pinball expert though, maybe it was tried again), but this is also the equivalent of gluing down sunflower seeds onto a pool table and screwing up the direction of the balls that way. Kind of takes the fun out of the game, although at times your flippers would move close together, forming an impenetrable barrier that the ball can't pass through (and end up down the drain).

Meteor was also there; I had totally forgotten about this pinball game that was also a movie license. It was fun playing this one again for the first time in years, and it was for sale, too! (No, I didn't buy it.) I also got to play the Haunted House pinball game for the first time ever, since one was at my college dorm, but it never worked; the thing has three sets of flippers altogether (one pair is hidden until you earn a certain bonus to reveal that third pair's playfield)! There was also the very rare Joust two player head-to-head tabletop pinball game, but it was only working on and off during the evening...but it got lots of play when it was actually working!

Like last year's expo, there were also pinball board testers on display, which ensures that everything on a person's pinball machine is working correctly. I briefly talked with Tim Maleck about them (who was available to answer questions about them), which he said that they're built to order, usually for $200-300. He said the company that makes them has been around for 20 years, sounding like a must-buy for serious pinball owners, as pinball parts do break down over time, and with pinball games and arcades floundering, this is a mandatory purchase (in my opinion.)

Again, for a complete list of games and all, check out the H. A. A. G. website at www.arcadecenter.com, as my points of interest that I listed here might not necessarily coincide with yours (plus going through each and every game would severely add to the bulk of this report! But you can't argue that Death Race being there wasn't noteworthy, among others!)

THINGS TO SEE, GAMES TO PLAY, AND PEOPLE TO ANNOY

Now it's time for something a bit more light-hearted, as this is just a little something that I do every year in regards to the games that were there. In case you are a very slow and/or the type of person that can't tell the difference between fact and sarcasm, this list is NOT to be taken seriously...no one at TAT (including myself) is responsible if you try these acts out yourself!

OR, HOW TO ANNOY PEOPLE AT A GAMING EXPO

  1. When playing Donkey Kong and you get to the second screen, complain that picking up your girlfriend's purse and umbrella doesn't make you feel very manly. If you're female, complain that you don't understand why you have to save Mario's girlfriend, since you're prettier. (If you're not, you can always point out that she's taller than Mario and it'll never work out anyway.)

  2. When playing Asteroids, say "what's with this black and white crap? Where's the colorized version?" (note: that's in regards to Blasteroids, which came out almost a decade later)

  3. When someone's playing the Elvis pinball game, say "Oh. Wasn't he the English guy who used to smash his guitar onstage?"

  4. Also in regards to Donkey Kong: tell everyone (make up) that there were other "relative" Kong prototype games (or claim they were released in Japan only), like Mrs. Donkey Kong, Uncle and Aunt Kong, Twice-Removed Cousin Kong, Donkey Kong Jill Junior Kong, etc.

  5. When playing Gauntlet II, and someone's health runs low, and the game tells you "____ (character) needs food, badly!", say back, "look, they're selling food right outside the bar next door, so go buy some yourself, you cheap son of a..."

  6. Adorn the Haunted House pinball machine with Halloween decorations. (Gamers looooove it when you put them in a certain gaming mood.)

  7. When some Defender wiz is playing the game and racking up a huge score, say "what's THIS button do?" as you press Smart Bomb. (And if you think you can get away with it more than once, say "ohhhh, pretty!" with the first time you do it.)

  8. When browsing through the menus of a Multicade cabinet, say "whoa! A game for every one of my personalities!" Speak in a different voice for every game that you browse through. Keep talking until everyone around you abandons whatever game they're playing.

  9. When someone's playing the Major League pinball game, ask them what their opinion is of the Minor League pinball game.

  10. When someone's playing Smash TV, bring in a real tv, set it down next to the machine, and say "Hulk SMASH!" and smash it. (Don't...do...this...to the...classic game...)

  11. When someone's playing the Medusa pinball game, say "man! My roommate dated someone once who looked like that! Talk about UGLY!"

  12. When someone's going to (or is) play(ing) Killer Instinct, say you liked the game Irritating (or Minor) Instinct better.

  13. Hang around Food Fight with a big bowl of Cool Whip and a mischievous look on your face, waiting for someone to approach...

  14. When playing The Sopranos pinball game, talk like a gangster, saying things like "you gonna keep playing dat game, or am I gonna hafta breaka your face?" if someone's hogging it for too long.

  15. Dance around in a grass skirt whenever someone's playing the Hula-Hula pinball game. Place a lei around their neck.

  16. Stand around with a shovel by Dig Dug.

  17. Sneak up on someone playing the South Park pinball game and yell "BEEFCAKE!"

  18. If someone can get far enough on Journey to the part where the digitized recording of "Don't Stop Believin'" starts playing, say "I stopped believing when Steve Perry had to leave the group". Or say that they never would have made it as a band if the tv show American Idol was around back then.

  19. When someone's playing the Twilight Zone pinball game, say that The Outer Limits show (and pinball game) was better.

  20. Stand around the Atari Football game, complete with a baseball cap, a glove and/or bat, badgering passers-by into playing a game with you. When someone points out that you're wearing baseball, and not football gear, say "I am not! You're just intimidated that someone this much into a game is going to beat you! Chicken!"

  21. When someone's playing Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters, say that there were sequels of the game of Escape from the Planet of the VCR Monsters, Escape from the Planet of the Al Gore Robot Monsters, Escape from the Planet of the Jack Tramiels, etc.

  22. When playing I, Robot, say "where's Will Smith?"

  23. Act like you're about to play one of the pinball games that are so old that they don't even have flippers, studying it and asking "does this thing have multi-ball?"

  24. When someone starts up any laser game (Space Ace, Interstellar, etc.), say "dammit! I was watching that cool cartoon! Change the channel back!"

  25. When someone's playing the L. A. Machineguns game, say "oh yeah, I liked them a lot, I have all of their albums". (note: that's in regards to the heavy metal band L. A. Guns)

  26. When someone's just finished playing a virtual reality game, try to convince them it's still going. Mumble about The Matrix having them and they must escape.

  27. Pick up one of those squeaky clown's noses from the floor by the Clowns video game and say "hey, one of those clowns dropped this!" When a player's last clown has died, start singing "where are the clooooowns"...

  28. If there's someone at the expo wearing an Atari shirt, ask them how many Intellivision games they have.

  29. When someone's going to play Death Race, chide them for what a sick game it is, saying that you liked the (made up) game Life Race better, where you had to race around in a car and plant flowers. Call them "hippie killer".

  30. Look up and down the Star Wars Trilogy pinball game with a confused look and say "where's Jar Jar?" Start talking like Yoda during a game, improvising as to what's happening while it's being played: "ball extra have you earned!", "all hope is lost along with ball. Over game", etc.

I'M NOT JANE GOODALL, BUT... (MANNERISMS / VARIOUS THINGS)

Like physically ducking your head when you're flying through the trench segment and avoiding the catwalks in the Atari vector Star Wars game, there's always certain things happening in a room full of arcade game[r]s... here's a few tidbits I thought to be interesting that I caught here and there over the hours:

Me: ( * # !

Guy next to me at Burger Time, about a second and a half later: ( * # !

This happened twice during that evening.

Yeah, SURE, kid! That way, the kid would end up getting an extra point (I don't think the father fell for it)

If that's the case, then gimmie your wallet!

So, at one point a guy apologized when he stepped into a picture right after my flash went off, but I said it was no problem, since I didn't see him in the photo (I think that was him that I ended up catching part of his leg at the bottom of the Canyon Bomber/Skydiver photo, though, as you can't see everything in that tiny preview window in the digital camera ;) ). I told them I was doing a piece for TAT and if they wanted in on a photo.

That threw them off guard for a few seconds, to say the least. Then one of them spoke:

Guy #1: No one would want to look at a picture of ME.

Guy #2: If people saw a photo of my shirt, they'd go blind!

We all had a good laugh over this, as, at the time, I didn't even notice he had on a blazingly bright orange Hawaiian shirt (guess that's what happens when you stare at a bunch of screens for hours.)

Then later in the conversation, when I was getting his name to accompany his photo with, we mentioned something about a certain someone at the expo, which I asked if he (Christian) was related to that other guy.

He said that his name was Christian, the other guy's name was Christensen...meaning Keith.

Whups, I knew that. I had just been playing games for too long at the time ;)

Well, even though I listen to death metal with vomit vocalists and all, lets still say Christensen needs to keep his day job...his real one, and the other one where he hosts a certain gaming expo once a year

Then I realized (after a while) it was coming from the Jokerz! pinball machine.

That was annoying.

Why, thank you.

FADE TO BLACK (THE DOT ON A VIDEO GAME SCREEN)

Well, another year, another expo came and went. A few games were out of order (but that's to be expected), but most, in general, looked and played pretty well (especially Sea Wolf, Interstellar, most of the pinball games, and Asteroids Deluxe, with it's still-crisp vector display, and it played like a DREAM, as it was in great shape).

I actually was feeling a bit sad upon my final hour or two before I left, for some reason. Strange, I'd never felt this way at the end of sci-fi and record conventions. Oh well. There's always next year, as well as other expos though! (Maybe it was because Christensen didn't have the Quake arcade prototype this year ) Besides, my number came up at one point for their door prizes, which I won a big promo flier of the show, a compilation cd, and the locally made movie Laughing Boy. Can't beat free stuff, after all.

Plus I guess I got the last laugh with that, too, I suppose you could say.

KUDOS

Thanks to everyone who allowed me to take photos of them ("Argh, now I'm blind and can't enjoy any more games, THANKS!" Har, everyone's a comedian), sorry if I either misspelled your names or got them switched (for the photos that had several people in them), just e-mail Greg at the site in case any corrections are needed.

Thanks to all the game owners who make up H. A. A. G. who went to the trouble for the upkeep and displaying of their games (treat 'em well, everyone! Uhhhh, the games, I meant...well, actually, if you want to buy a beer or something for the game owners as well during an expo, I'm sure that's allowable.)

Thanks to a bunch of cool (and/or patient) people that I met and got to chat with here and there over the hours, it was nice to meet fellow gamers who still prefer the "real thing" over emulation.

2007 addition: while bored one night, I suddenly decided to make a video slideshow of this set to music, but unfortunately with YouTube's resizing and all, most of the photos came out looking blurry. Oh well, you can still check it out if you want, which also has some photos from the next year's expo as well.

View the Photogallery




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