The 2001 Classic Gaming Expo
The Classic Gaming Expo 2001 was held in the Union Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada on August 11th and 12th, 2001. The exhibit hall opened at 9:00 am and long line formed early.
While watching the participants enter the hall, I counted 11 Atari T-shirts all ranging from basic red with black writing to navy blue with pretty silver silk screening. The overall atmosphere could be described as a combination reunion scattered with fanboys.
Registration was well done and very organized, which is surprising for a low-priced convention. That's Ernest Pazera on the right with the Gamedev T-shirt. We received a nice program and laminated badges. The badges proved to be very good to have, as the hotel had a guard checking badges. He was very good at his job!
The Expo Floor
Here are some very cool Arcade Cabinets for the Home Computer. Two different types of stand alone cabinets. One has a trac-ball, joystick, buttons, etc. . . every type of controller needed to play the 50 emulated arcade games. Cost: $3,995 / $2,995 ($1,000 less without the computer). The games played flawlessly and the unit is really very nice. More information can be found on the website www.hanaho.com.
Keith Robinson, our Burgertime chef, worked for Intellivision from 1981 to 1984. The apron and the hat are from the original release of Burgertime!
Keith was able to buy back some of the game rights which included some unreleased titles. Thus, the Intellivision Lives CD was born. The CD includes 50 games with the history of each game and interviews with the designers. It's a very complete compendium. The 2001 Expo debutes a new Intellivision Productions CD, Intellivision Rocks. This CD includes Activision and Imagic games. Both CD's are available for purchase from the Intellivision Productions website.
Keith's favorite game is Astrosmash. It takes up less than 2k of space on the standard Intellivision cartidge. There is a second game on the cartridge, but it was too close of a clone to Asteroids and was pulled. Keith demonstrated Astrosmash, and I must say it was an addictive little game. Simple, fun, and gets your heart pounding.
We also played Anteater, which was an unreleased game for the Atari 2600. Again, this game was a lot of fun. Intellivision Productions is trying to gain distribution rights for this game.
Intellivision Productions released Sea Battle and Swordfight in cartridge form at last year's Expo. They were selling some leftovers at this year's Expo.
When asked his opinion of the current game market, he said that the market seems to be split between games designed solely for the gamer versus games that are family oriented. He also sees a resurgence of nostalgia of the old Intellivision style games with the increase of games developed for the web, cell phones, and PDAs.
Intellivision wanted to find out if the console would melt if left in a hot car. So, the engineers put a console in the oven and set it at 150 degrees. They came back after a couple of hours to a totally melted console. When they checked the heating settings, they realized their mistake. They set the oven at 150 Celsius; not Fahrenheit. Needless to say, the console did not work.
These folks are celebrating their 10th anniversary and they thought they needed a unique way to commemorate this milestone. So, they wrote a brand new game for Colecovision, Ms. Space Fury (Daniel Bienvenn wrote the code, Sylvain DeChantal designed the graphics). The official mascot of Digital Press is Space Fury, a bigheaded, one-eyed, green alien.
If you haven't guessed it already, Ms. Space Fury bears a striking resemblance to Space Fury, with the addition of a bow. It took four weeks to code the game and four weeks to test. They built the cards themselves. Labors of love abound on the Classic Gaming Expo floor.
Marc Oberhauser is a German fan whose latest labor of love released Combat Two to the public for the first time ever. The game was completed in 1982 and was never released. Marc was able to get the code and hand manufactured each cartridge himself. Only 250 copies were made (each one is numbered) and Marc sold out at the convention.
For folks who have been collecting cartridges for a while, the name Jerry Greiner is a familiar one. Jerry (far right in the picture) used to have email auctions where you could get some good deals. Jerry G has expanded and has one of the most comprehensive booths for game collecting.
Occasionally on the Expo floor, strange and bizarre music would blare and any ability to be able to hear anyone talk was impossible. Here's a picture.
Dragon's Lair 3D is being released this year and Don Bluth showed up to help promote its release. He signed posters and anything folks could convince him to sign. The line was huge.
Atari was demonstrating an anniversary edition CD for Dreamcast. The CD was nice. Here's a picture of one of the games being demonstrated.
9:30 am Saturday Panel Discussion
John Seghers, Steve Woita, Rob Newman, Bob Polaro
John was one of the top programmers for the Atari 5200 game system. In addition to the fantastic Gremlins (arguably the best game made for the system), John also designed RealSports Soccer and the completed by never released Xari Arena. John created several development tools as well including a four voice, touch pad controlled music editor. After Atari, John worked on the NES version of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for Taito Software.
John answered a question about why were the 5600 controllers so flimsy. Apparently Atari knew that the controllers break because a head engineer took the controllers home to allow his kids to test them. They broke within weeks. The plastic for the controllers had already been cast. The head guy held a patent on the design and had the authority to approve the product.
Some of John's favorite games are Qix, Gravitar, and Tempest.
Steve started at Apple where he co-designed a device called the JOYPORT wich was licensed by Sirius. The Joyport allowed 4 game paddles and 2 Atari controllers to be hooked up to an Apple II. Steve later went to Atari where he designed three games for the VCS: Quadrun (the first home videogame with voice that didn't require extra hardware), Taz, and Asterix. After Atari, Steve did more contract work for Apple before going to Tengen to create Super Sprint for the NES.
The panel was asked if there were any games they wished they had designed. Steve said Stampede. One of Steve's favorite games is Demon Attack.
Was there any competition between the programmers? Steve said that there was some competition. Rob Newman said that once royalties got involved, it became much more competitive.
An Engineer in Atari's L.A. lab, Rob was instrumental in the development of wireless data distribution technology which led to his becoming a founding manager of Electronic Publishing Systems (EPS), a joint venture of Atari and Activision in late 1983. EPS developed the "Electronic Pipeline", a game service for the Atari 2600 that was to sell wireless game cartridges with which users could select and play up to 40 different games each month for a low monthly subscription fee. The service was in alpha testing and four days form installing the transmission equipment in the first test market when it was indefinitely postponed due to Warner's sale of Atari in 1984.
Rob was asked when was the last time he had played one of his games. He said he showed Demon Attack to his niece. She played it for 10 seconds and said it was stupid.
Rob said he started with Atari and wrote Superman with paper and pencil. The programmers would turn in the code to women who would type it in and convert it to paper tape. The games would take 5 minutes to compile on a PDP11. The code was only 4k. When asked about source code control, all the audience was treated to was a big smile and laugh.
Bob's game career started with Commodore where he designed the PET titles, Baseball, Stock Portfolio, and Blackjack. He jumped to Atari and released States and Capitals, Hangman, Biorhythm, Lemonade Stand, and Mugwump for the Atari 8-bit computers. Bob really hit gold when he moved into 2600 development with such unforgettable titles as Defender, RealSports Volleyball, Desert Falcon, SprintMaster and Road Runner. He also designed the 2600 version of Rampage for Activision.
Bob was pretty quiet during the panel discussion. He did say that his favorite title still remains Missile Command.
11:00 am Saturday Panel Discussion
Jamie Fenton, Franz Lanzinger, Susan McBride
At Bally, Jamie designed the classic pinball game, Fireball, which was designed for home use. She later went on to design the Bally Astrocade and the Bally Basic Interpreter. Her arcade achievements are numerous including such classics as Gorf and Robby Roto. Jamie then formed Macromind and coded the fantasic MacroMedia Director.
Wizard of Wor, one of Jamie's hits
Jamie started working for Dave Nutting Associates (DNA) as an industrial designer. She worked on several pinball games such as 1776. She also worked on Fireball, which was a home pinball machine. Jamie worked on one of the earliest video arcade games, Wizard of Wor. She went on to show a video diary she kept while coding Ms. Gorf, which was a knock off of the Star Trek movie. The game is currently lost, as no hardware exists which can play it, but there are some pictures of it on tape, which we got to see.
A screenshot of the "lost" game Ms. Gorf, which was intended as a sequel to the classic Gorf. The play of this level was a bit like Robotron, as you had to move and shoot simultaneously to wipe out the Gorfs. One particularly cute feature shown later was the "Clone Machine". It would drift around the screen, and if a Gorf entered it, two would pop out the other side!
Gorf, the original
Franz worked as a programmer and game designer at Atari Games, Inc. and Tengen. Early on in his career he programmed and designed the groundbreaking arcade hit, Crystal Castles. A terrific video game player himself, Franz even held the world record for the arcade version of Centipede for six months in 1981. At Tengen, Franz worked on Toobin' and Ms. Pacman for the NES, and Genesis and Rampart for the NES, SNES.
Franz talked about how initially a project would be assigned one programmer and one artist for each title. The number of artists grew to five animators per project.
Susan is a graphic artist who was with Atari for many years. After sharpening her skills on the arcade smash hits, Crystal Castles, Gauntlet, Gauntlet 2, and other Atari coin-ops, she moved on to work on numerous Atari Lynx and Jaguar projects.
Susan was initially a film animator and was referred to Atari by her professors at film school. She had a student film called Muncha Muncha and featured a small character which was essentially a precursor to Pac-man.
Susan answered the question regarding what she considers a classic game. She considers a game a classic if the game is still played 10 to 20 years later.
Susan also said that the development cycles differ between the arcade games and home entertainment games. The arcade games require more robust hardware and therefore have a longer development cycle.
Long before the Playstation folks had the harebrained idea to make the Playstation II into a home computer, the Intellivision folks had the harebrained idea to make their console into a home computer. Needless to say, it sold pretty poorly.
I would have killed to own one of these jackets when I was younger! Look at all the cool patches. These patches were given free to Activision game players who got a high score and sent in a Polaroid of the screen. There aren't many of 'em out there, but here they all are.
And you thought the Hasbro lawsuit was something new. Game of PACKRI MANSTER anyone?
A fine piece of Japanese kitsch. Yars Revenge Fly Spray!
I was also thrilled to be able to meet Kate Botello of Tech TV's Extended Play. Two bottle-redhead geeks with giant smiles!
All in all, the convention was a lot of fun to observe. I enjoyed listening to the "behind the scenes" stories and eavesdropping on some fanboys' conversations ("The processors in the
Shelly Hattan isn't a game developer, but she's married to one.