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H.A.A.G. Expo 2006 - The Atari Times

H.A.A.G. Expo 2006


December 1-2 report
by Darryl Brundage

December 16, 2006
Good ol' annual H.A A.G. (Houston Area Arcade Group) expos: they're a great way to have a good time by playing video and pinball games of your youth, and all set on free play, after paying $15 for a one day ticket (or $25 for a weekend pass).

Not to mention games that you might have missed -- or just never played, for whatever reason -- from back then.

And games that came out even way before you were BORN.

And the chance to win door prizes and compete in competitions, if you wish on the latter.

Plus it's also a good way to beat the horrible Houston heat and/or (which it's usually "and") humidity, due to the show always being over a summer weekend (which, for the last two out of four years, the show has been held in June).

However, for the first time ever in it's now five year history, H.A A.G. actually occurred in December this time around.

Well, THAT'S different.

SO WHY THE DELAY?/WORDS OF DOOM!

I asked H.A A.G. founder and president Keith Christensen why H.A.A.G. 2006 ran so late, which he replied that The Texas Pinball Expo (which quite a few H.A A.G. members also attend) didn't get their usual fall date, and with "hoping to capture the Christmas crowd, which we did, this was the must successful on[e] to date!" So that was nice to hear/read.

Christensen e-mailed everyone on his H.A.A.G. mailing list weeks before the show telling of reasons as to why it'll be a good idea to have the show during December, one of which would be "It will be COOL! No heatstrokes!" (Note: I had deleted the e-mail a while back, so that might not be an exact quote, but it's probably close, at least.)

Well, that almost cost him there, due to, just a few days before the show, temperatures were still in the 80s. Luckily it cooled off right before the show, which, even though the 80s usually aren't considered "heatstroke" material here, it still stinks for this time of the year, even though H.A A.G. isn't an outdoor event. Christensen said that H.A.A.G. participated in an "Indian weather dance 24 hours before the show to ensure cooler weather!" (Ha! But a missed photo op for me, though!) Christensen believes the show will be here in December from now on as well.

And speaking of which, why don't we just go into that show, shall we?

THE ATMOSPHERE -- OR "I'VE GOT PAC-MAN FEVER" (And Atari fever...and Williams fever...and Midway fever...and...)

Even before you actually get into the show, there's already things to grab your attention in the hallway leading to one of the main gaming rooms, like some tabletop games, and this year proved to be no exception. However, there was also a person there (who asked not to be identified) selling manuals for coin-op games from his years at working at arcades. Even as you could tell from the photo he had manuals for popular games like Tempest, Klax, Q*Bert, etc., he also had some that are very rare nowadays, like the laserdisc game of Thayer's Quest.

Ok, time to get inside the place!

Due to the time period of when the majority of the games that were present upon original release, music from the 70s and 80s was played over the P.A. I would say I don't know where else you could hear everything from a range of Lipps, Inc. (you know, with their one hit wonder of "Funkytown"), Rush, Men Without Hats, Culture Club, Bananarama, etc., but there ARE 80s clubs out there...but do they have classic video games to play too? Probably not! (There were also video game instrumentals that incorporated sound clips from the mocking alien from Space Fury and scores of other games, which was a nice surprise, since I had not heard that before!)

H.A A.G. also has several tournaments every year, along with scores of door prizes, which weren't all video game related, as they ranged from music cds to Star Wars posters to t-shirts and all. Again, I won one of those cds myself, although last year's win was due to them calling out my ticket number that you get at the door; this year I "knew" the answer to the trivia question as to what was the last pinball game made by Williams before they went out of business (Star Wars Episode I) and what year it was released (2000).

I actually would have won two, since I heard something about a game that came out in the 70s that was banned, which I figured was Death Race, but I was busy playing Donkey Kong... and saying I could have won THREE prizes is a bit of a stretch, since there were about half a dozen people yelling "ATARI!" and "HERCULES!" as to the name of the biggest pinball machine ever made and who made it. So I'm not sure how it was determined who won that time around!)

Tournaments for games this year included Star Castle, Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters, Donkey Kong, Track and Field, and Robotron: 2084 from the video game realm; from the electro-mechanical game side (I'll get to that machine later), Phantom, and from the pinball side, there was Wizard, Joust, and Cosmic Gunfight; whew! (I'll update this later with the scores and the winners' names; sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.)

THINGS TO SEE AND GAMES TO PLAY

If you were made or just distributed by Atari, Atari Games, Atari, Inc., Tengen (Atari's alias for about 15 minutes), but NOT Infogrames "Atari" (luckily), say "here!"

AND THEN, THE CROWN JEWEL OF THE EVENING

Wow! Although nowhere as interesting as last year's bizarre game of I, Robot, still, a piece of gaming history like this is pretty amazing to see in person...if you didn't pass it by in the dark of the arcade, since it had no marquee lights, and it was very small. (I'll have more about this in my "Jane Goodall" section near the end.)

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*)

Please note that this isn't a scientifically-conducted list of what I think people will find of interest, it's just some random games here and there. For the full list of games, check out the H.A A.G. web site (www.arcadecenter.com); however, several games didn't make it that were listed, like Frogger, neither Space Invaders (the original and Deluxe, although they appeared on some of the Multicade machines), Q*Bert and the very rare sequel Q*Bert's Qubes (argh! Never even knew that one existed until about a year ago!), the Pong rip-off of Flim-Flam, the Guns 'n Roses pinball machine, etc., along with several others.

There was a good mix of the "classics" era, as usual, as I played Gorf for the first time in years and years and years. The Track and Field tabletop also got a bit of play, along with Dragon's Lair 2, and I was personally really happy over Star Castle, Rally X, and Bosconian making it as well...none of which I had played since the 80s or 90s.

As far as the "newer" games went (i. e. 90s and up), there was Air Combat, Cruis'n Exotica, Hydro Thunder, and the Star Wars Trilogy was a nice surprise, since it wasn't listed on the games to be expected page on the H.A A.G. site, as that's one of my favorites! There were also several Mortal Kombat machines as well, along with the ultra-rare Quake machine, which probably ranks an 8 or a 9 on a 1 to 10 scale of arcade rarity (with less than 30 made). The game belongs to Christensen, who believes it's THE original prototype of the game (the coin box isn't even wired!), which he obtained through a series of contacts and trades and buying copies of the software and a marquee, along with getting it to run on a regular PC; nice work, if you can get it, I suppose!

Not really falling into a video game, nor pinball category, there was also Phantom from the 1960s, which kind of combined a mechanical game from back then along with a...pop-up book, I guess :P Kind of hard to describe, unless you saw it for yourself...

Then, representing the pinball side ("and over in this corner..."), there was the general favorite of The Addams Family. Other newer ones included Doctor Who and both the High Speed machines (High Speed and The Getaway [High Speed 2]), along with the newest of them all, Pirates of the Caribbean, which just came out this year!

Getting older as we go along, though, the rare Joust tabletop was not only there, but it seemed to be working this year! (It kept on having problems last year.) The first ever talking game (with the disturbing demonic backglass artwork) of Gorgar was also there, along with the even older pinball games of Miss-O, Top Card, and Buccaneer. Even though I like ramps and the multi-ball as much as anyone else, sometimes it's good to play something where the fanciest thing to have on a machine is a spinner, you know?

And, if you didn't even want that much, there was Major League from the 1930s, which combined baseball with Pachinko. (Note: the pinball games from back then were more like Pachinko machines, but tilted, rather than vertical.)

Again, check out the listing at the H.A A.G. website for a much more complete list, rather than the very brief ones I have here.

And, there's more!

FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER(S)

With MAME and various Multicades (a Williams Multicade, among others), you never really know what to expect, and this year some people had gotten especially creative.

One machine that was there that was a surprise in itself was a mini Rally X machine, which I had never seen before as it was.

But it was a Multicade. And not all of the games worked out on it, either, since not having two buttons next to each other to play Scramble made it pretty much unplayable, unless you enjoyed whisking one hand from one side of the joystick to the other to press both buttons; forget it! (I. e. a button was to the right of the joystick, the other to the left; too difficult to do!)

As I had met two guys last year who returned for another day of gaming -- Kirk Poorman and Tom English -- they spent quite a bit of time on a couple of the Multicades. Poorman had stated that he was interested in owning one of the tabletops eventually (a good move, since a lot of people, in general, don't have the space for an upright machine), however, with one of the ones that they played, the players had to change seats when the other player's turn was up; what the hell?! That's just really, really wrong.

There was also an SNK-themed Multicade-type machine (see photo), which Christensen said belongs to Phil from OmniCon, which he believes that it was a demo cab that SNK sent him (sorry for the sketchy details, as I didn't check it out).

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 (or that were supposed to have been 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 [MOSTLY CLASSIC] GAMING EXPO

  1. Ask why there are no Pokemon-themed games.
  2. When someone's playing The Addams Family pinball game, hum the theme from fellow similar-themed tv show The Munsters. Complain about how Grandpa couldn't have possibly been a *real* vampire, since he was outside during the day during some episodes.
  3. When someone's playing Mortal Kombat 4, say that the original was better. (Or Mortal Kombat 2...or 3). Complain that there's been too many sequels, along with hopes of no one ever doing a prequel.
  4. When someone's playing Big Run, say that the Small, Medium, or Super-Sized Run games were better. (No, those games don't exist....hopefully.)
  5. Likewise, say that the games Cruis'n Normalca, Cruis'n Ghettoca, or Cruis'n Cobblestoned Road With Ye Horse-Driven Cart were better than Cruis'n Exotica (which don't exist, blah blah).
  6. Wear an outfit that's a cross of something futuristic (like some kind of the flashy "disco metallic" clothes that sparkle...whatever they're called) and something from an old western (cowboy hat, boots with spurs) and hang around Cosmic Gunfight. Ask a "partner" if they'd like to participate in a "duel" (two player game), should they come moseying up to the machine...yee haw!
  7. When someone's playing Popeye, say that Olive Oyl, Wimpy and/or Bluto should have had games named after them too; after all, they weren't just supporting characters in the Popeye cartoons, they were LEADS! (Gamers loooove people who appear to have too much time on their hands while pondering things such as this.)
  8. Also complain that Olive Oyl never got proper recognition as to being the first supermodel and that the later 70s model Twiggy stole her entire image from her. (Again, gamers love things such as this...)
  9. Lay down lances, armor, chainmail, whatever/etc. on the Joust tabletop. Pick up an item whenever someone approaches the machine and ask them if they want to REALLY Joust...heh heh. (Also have a saddle ready, explaining [if anyone would have the nerve to ask] that it's for your flying bird.)
  10. Eat popcorn (or something just as noisy) as someone plays a Pac-Man game, being careful to time your bites at the same time that whatever Pac-Man it is for that particular game (regular, Jr., Ms., or Super Pac-Man) is eating. When a monster is eaten and escapes from a Pac character's stomach, say "BURP!"
  11. Say Star Trek and Star Wars sayings at those machines, but "confuse" them: say "use the Force" when someone's playing Star Trek, or "Live long and prosper" when someone's playing Star Wars (sci-fi fans looooooove it when you get the two mixed up).
  12. Hand out "The Evils of D and D" pamphlets (note: this is a real-life pamphlet that was created years ago, due to religious groups taking offense to the hundreds of times the words of "witch", "devil", "warlock", "demon", etc. were used in the various Monster Manuals and all of the original game) to anyone who walks up to the Dungeons and Dragons machine to play it. (Arcade expo attendees loooooove it when you're looking out for their spiritual well-being instead of playing anything.)
  13. Set mousetraps around Mappy. Or catnip. Or both.
  14. To freak someone out when they're playing Gorgar, walk around by the machine speaking in tongues while having your eyes rolled up to the back of your head (or as far as you can get them to go). Or if you have those novelty contact lenses that are yellow or red, wear those instead. Learn to levitate (if you can't already) and do that too.
  15. While someone's playing Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters, fill in the machine's spoken dialogue with *other* famous sci-fi robot sayings, like "Klaatu barada nikto", "R2-D2, where are you?", "DANGER! DANGER! WILL ROBINSON!", etc.
  16. Hang around Pong, looking confused, and ask passers-by "where's the voice synthesis? Polygon shading? Pre-rendered backgrounds...COLOR?", etc. Pretend it's an ATM machine and claim it took your bank card.
  17. Start conversations about who was your favorite Doctor Who when someone's playing that pinball game. Also say "witty" things like "Doctor What? Who? Who's on first?", etc. (The same can be used for The Who's pinball machine, where you can mistakenly call it the "Doctor Who" pinny instead.)
  18. Hang around Safe Cracker with a wire hanger. Ask people what kind of car that they drove to get to the expo in, while gleefully rubbing your hands together in anticipation of their answer...
  19. When the Sinistar says "run!", DO just that: run away from the game. Hide behind another game around the corner, which, when he says "coward!", poke your head out, yell "I am NOT!" back at the Sinistar machine, then duck your head behind whatever machine you're hiding behind again.
  20. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, who's on the backboard display of the Scared Stiff pinball game...eh, no. Never mind. Too rude, too easy a joke there.
  21. Shuffle decks of cards while hanging around the Top Card pinball game.
  22. Do the "MORTAL KOMBAT!" yell as people are playing one of the Kombat games.
  23. Say that Black Knight wasn't THE best "knight" pinball game out there, Red Knight was the best. Or Purple or Green Knight...but not Yellow Knight, he was a sissy.
  24. Also complain about the lack of decor from that pinball game, saying that it should have been colorized, making it Green and Yellow Polka Dot Knight instead, or something just as nauseating.
  25. Offer people Dramamine when they're playing Gyruss, saying that going around and around in circles makes you ill. And have an air sickness bag nearby too, as "proof" of this.
  26. Likewise, with Track and Field, stand by the machine while leaning on crutches, saying you were injured from playing it. Or do stretching warmups before playing, saying you don't want to pull anything by accident.
  27. Have a display on radar detectors around the High Speed games. Have a lecture ready on which ones are best and how to get out of speeding tickets, should a person ever get pulled over by the police.

And the brakes stop there, har!

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

Various things happen in a roomful of games and people playing them; here's a few:

Robotron: 2084

So I'm doing pretty decently, having a lot of men in reserve, and didn't lose many on the dreaded Tank wave (which I usually choke on at home)...then the blasted game froze up :P

Looks like Armageddon happened a lot earlier than I expected :P

Pong

Pong ALONE gets it's own brief section!

Other Stuff

PERSONAL NOTE/APOLOGY

Unfortunately, this article hasn't turned out as I planned at all.

I came home Friday night and discovered, to my disgust, depression and anger (going through a bunch of emotions, whee!), that several of the photos had come out blurry, for some strange reason, once I downloaded them to the computer.

The next night I took TONS of pictures, hoping that wouldn't happen again, with the same results. Twenty five photos got deleted, totally unusable (and I don't know how many others from the first batch I killed either). Considering I only do 30 photos a year for the last two years as it is, that's a really horrible failure number.

I don't know much about photography, but I think the deal is that the shutter speed needs to be slowed down in case there's problems with photos of that kind of nature (i. e. with tons of unnatural lights in a photoshoot area). Granted, the camera's several years old (which I'm sure is part of the problem), but photos of the cat around the house and anything outdoors (with natural light) still come out looking pretty decently; things with a lot of unnatural lights (like, oh, video games and pinball machines) don't.

The photo spread, as it is seems to suggest, is that video games outnumbered pinball machines four or five to one (which was really far from the truth); 26 photos, less than five being pinball machines, is a pretty bad ratio.

And the presentation of mostly classic games wasn't supplemented by the offshoots of the MAME, Multicade, the "newer" (i. e. games manufactured from the 1990s up) ones of Hydro Thunder, Air Combat, and Star Wars Trilogy, the very rare Quake (although luckily I have a photo of it from the 2004 expo here), and the brand spanking new, just released this year Pirates of the Caribbean pinball machine. All of those were blurry. I tried shooting from various distances, angles, NOTHING worked. I also wanted pictures of more people as it was (I didn't even get a photo of the registration table, which is mandatory in the Unwritten Rules of Expo Coverage), but my confidence had been pretty shot as it was, I was afraid those would come out looking bad too.

Granted, you should always look to the positive of things, which I'll admit that a lot of the photos didn't turn out too bad as a whole. For anyone who's photo I took that aren't happy with the results -- reminds me, Karl Kuhlenschmidt, if we're both at H.A A.G. '07, I'll take another one to try to make it up to you, that one turned out pretty bad indeed -- I do apologize, which, even though I wouldn't have had the money to buy another camera, I would have spent some time checking out the troubleshooting part of the camera manual to see if I could have helped out in correcting the problem somewhat (or making it less worse, I guess I should say), since I had no warning whatsoever that this was going to happen.

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

Well, another year of H.A A.G. came and went. Some vendors started packing up at 11:30 or so Saturday night (just when I was leaving as well), although the shows sometimes go on until 2 a. m. Since I only got in a few hours at the 2004 and 2005 shows, this was the first one that I was able to attend both nights, which I saw my very first awards presentation of the winners of the games' tournaments, earning nice trophies.

I always hate having to leave, as it's a sad thing to do after a day of going back to your past, full of fun and memories, without having to worry about your problems (aside from maybe tired wrists and/or finger blisters).

However, as I was talking to vendor "Pinball" Pete Christian (who usually brings his Starship Troopers pinny machine) the night before, and told him about some people getting the wrong idea about the expo when I told them about it, as I have been asked before "did you get any games for your _____?" (insert name of a home video game system here), which I said no, it's a coin-op games ONLY expo, no home games.

Christian nodded in agreement, saying something to the effect of that it's just people bringing in their [arcade] games for others to enjoy, "that's all it is".

And he's right: that's all it is.

But in the darkened hallways of the arcades of yesteryear that are now an endangered species, that's quite a lot, actually.

KUDOS

Thanks to everyone involved with H.A A.G. for bringing in their machines and all, fixing them as they screwed up, and supplying credits (if the coin boxes weren't open, and make sure to alert an attendant at the sound board if this happens!), as usual.

For Michael Hart, wherever he may be...

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 previous year's expo as well.

H.A.A.G. 2006 Photo Gallery




Reader Comments for H.A.A.G. Expo 2006

HAAG Expo by LS650 on 2006-12-17 09:13:10
This article is a great read!
Great Article by TL on 2006-12-18 05:56:29
This is really a great article and I have learned so much from it, also having the show in December would be a blast, Christmas lights outside and glaring lights from gaming inside, plus sales may soar for these games because everyone there would dream of having one of these games for Christmas. Your article is awesome and I love the detail.
Thanks! by Darryl (author) on 2006-12-18 11:17:18
Thanks guys. I don't know if several games had a "soar" in their sales (there's several available for purchase every year), but this was the biggest event that H. A. A. G. has had to date (funny, the crowd seemed to be it's "regular" size to me as it had been the previous two years, but you can't always tell by looking!).
Hello people! Nice site! by bitch-juggernaut. on 2007-01-09 15:23:48
Hello people! Nice site!
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