Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Midwest Gaming Classic 2015 Recap

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MGC-BannerLogoLgThis weekend, thousands gathered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to celebrate the Midwest Gaming Classic (MGC), the Midwest’s largest retro gaming show and I was lucky enough to attend.  While the convention proper didn’t officially start until Saturday, Friday night was chock full of great activities and great people already eager to get a sneak peek at what MGC 2015 had to offer.  I hadn’t been to MGC within the last few years due to my daughter being born and me moving out of the local area, and in that short time it has grown from a Convention that took over chunks of the Sheraton to completely taking over the hotel itself.  There are perks to that, of which this article will discuss, and if you wanted to spend 48-72 surrounding yourself with games, gamers, and optional sleep, that was completely possible.  It was a blast, complete with Gaming History 101 having its own panel, and whether we are invited back or not, GH101 will be at MGC 2016.  Here’s an overview of just what the show had to offer and what you can expect where you to attend next year.

A loyal fan of John's Arcade

A loyal fan of John’s Arcade

Upon checking in, even the lobby was full of games.  It was mostly tabletop, but I noticed plenty of portable and laptop gamers relaxing at tables to hunt a few monsters or even fight a boss in Conker’s Bad Fur Day.  A complete tabletop shop was posted up in front of the games and I was shocked at how many hours of the day staff was on hand to meet all your Magic: The GatheringMunchkinD&D, and other needs, some of which were even showing off newer games to potential customers.  Throughout the weekend, this was the spot to find someone to play with, day or night, although I will admit that it became a bit more of an adult atmosphere chock full of alcoholic beverages and people stepping out for a smoke after the midnight hour.  That’s not to say it wasn’t fun, I had a blast just watching a table play some game involving werewolves and villagers, completely taking the concept and running with it.  It was a great welcoming to the show for all new arrivals.  If you had a pass for the Friday night preview, your little green wristband allowed you an all access pass to the gaming museum, pinball hall, arcade hall, console wars hall, and some of the showcases as the people were setting up.  I have to give credit to all of the hardworking individuals that set up an impressive showcase, because they had to tolerate people like me just walking around aimlessly, asking questions, and of course sipping a beer in a flimsy plastic cup as I passed thousands of dollars in hardware for each machine.  Everyone was kind, courteous, and even answered questions and set up machines for me to play, impressive indeed.  I also had an opportunity to grab some dinner at the lounge area, which would transform into the panel discussion location the next morning, and get to meet some of the people that traveled from all across America to enjoy this year’s MGC.  One was a father of four who had the will to drive four kids from Detroit to Milwaukee so that he could share his appreciation for gaming with them and let them see how we all as a community celebrate our joined hobby.  There were many other great people, all of them with similar stories, most of them from well out of state (Georgia, Nevada, Philadelphia, etc.), and almost all of them with families that they brought along to enjoy the show.  As the preview event came to a close around midnight, I did even get an opportunity to share a drink and conversation with none other than Ben Heck, the tech guru who has made some of the coolest console modifications I’ve ever seen.  The man is a genius in the world of old school electronics and quite a funny individual in person.  I apologize for not having a photo with him, it just didn’t seem the right atmosphere for it and I didn’t want to geek out.

jp_pinballSaturday was not only the biggest day at the show, but a big day for me.  At noon I was presenting the Gaming History 101 panel about video game magazines of the 80s and 90s along with guests “Trickman Terry” Minnich and Ken “Sushi-X” Williams, both former Electronic Gaming Monthly writers.  Despite this fact, I was on the show floor at 10 am to take in the festivities as a seemingly endless line of convention goers attempted to enter at the front gates by the vendor tent.  Instead of fight all those newcomers I decided to book back around to the arcade area and hopefully get my hands on some of the newest pinball machines and classic arcade games before the no cost (aside from the ticket to get into the show) coin-op room was dominated by the crowd.  The space that the arcade now occupies used to be the space utilized by most of the convention the last time I was there, and thanks to the crowds, drinks, and noises it reminded me of being at an old school arcade from the mid-late 80s immediately.  I can’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to go with me (perhaps next year, most likely the following year) just to show her the time machine that is classic 80s arcades.  I didn’t count the total, but it had to be nearly 100 video arcades and probably twice that many pinball machines all lined up and stacked in rows just like you remembered.  This gave me an opportunity to jump right into Metallica pinball before others noticed its presence, but also casually drop by and attempt a new high score at Donkey Kong or beat on a challenger in Darkstalkers.  Pinball has come a long way in the last few years, thanks largely to Stern, who had recent machines being shown off like The Walking Dead and newest game Whoa Nellie, but also thanks to Jersey Jack Pinball, who also
had a few releases in the last few years like Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit, and finally Dutch Pinball showing off its impressive The Big Lebowski pinball machine. ds_arcade Sure there were only like one or two of each machine at the show – they cost close to $10,000 these days – but rarely at a packed convention do I only have to wait
for 3 or 4 players in front of me to get a crack at the machine.  That’s not to say it’s all about new pinball, not in the least, as I was able to enjoy T2GorgarJurassic Park and The Lost World, as well as plenty of others on the show floor.  The same can be said for the video arcades, which featured everything from the aforementioned pre-Jamma classics to more modern greats like Tekken 2, any Capcom CPS 1-3 fighting title, and The Simpsons.  If you drove, the best part about the whole experience is that everything on the floor was for sale.  This is good and bad for the arcade from a random attendees perspective.  On one hand if you see a cab or pinball you truly love, it can typically be had for a respectable (and often negotiable) price for you to take right off the floor, and I can tell you this was happening at a consistent rate.  On the other hand, perhaps you had been waiting all afternoon to get your hands on that Star Trek: The Next Generation pinball to play a quick game from your childhood, only to see it being hauled off to a happy collector before you got a chance to approach it.  The give and take is part of the experience, but there was enough variety that hopefully you could find something you were looking for.  I have a few more comments about the market of certain games and pinball machines, but I’m saving those for a vendor buy/sell article later in the week.

panel_schedIt was then time for the panel and I wish to thank my guests and any of you reading this who came out [side note: thanks to Dan and Mark for helping plan the whole thing and get it under way].  We had a mostly full floor, participation, cheering, laughing, no one I noticed walked out, and even some people on the other side having lunch coming over to thank us for the presentation.  Terry and Ken are great guys with a lot of details and stories that came out of that more “hardcore” era of games press and I hope to have an interview with each of them in the coming months for all of you.  I also was able to capture the audio and although it was done with a portable recorder, it sounds like it came out quite nicely and should be live on the site and podcast feed by tomorrow.  With my successful presentation done and the rest of the show ahead of me, it was time to delve into the void that was the vendor area.  While I already mentioned that my findings there will be on a later post, I have to say the vendors continue to impress.  Back in 2008 when I attended for the first time, the vendors were clearly the biggest draw to the show, and while they still have that function today, these shops and random sellers have moved to the back lot to be a huge tent of nothing but commerce.  You can get lost for hours buying, selling, bartering, and just feasting your eyes on the many things that are all available provided you have the money to back your wants.  It was interesting to see the year over year trends and what has gained and lost value, not to mention what was surprisingly missing from the show – again, which will be covered in a later article.  There was a vast tabletop section, some great bottled sodas, live bands playing video game music or providing 80s dance-offs, and free air hockey at a few tables in the back.  This was particularly useful if you came to do business but needed to park some friends or family somewhere for a few minutes (or hours).  Once I had enjoyed about 90 minutes of scanning, searching, asking, and fingering through stacks of games, it was time to get some lunch with listener/reader Matt F.  This guy had some great stories about being involved in game development in the 90s as well as the world of collecting and wiring arcades, so I hope to have an interview live with him some day and I greatly appreciate him coming out to support MGC and see us.  Beyond that I spent most of my time watching panels that discussed pinball creation, documentaries, a cosplay contest, and even more sneaking back for arcade/pinball play.

vendor_tent

Sunday is lighter day for the convention and convention goers.  The show floor is open from 10-5, significantly shorter than the previous day, the entrance fee is halved, and to be honest you’ll see fewer vendors with merchandise completely picked over while many of the special locations, arcade/pinball contributors, and attractions begin packing up a few hours before the show ends.  This may not be ideal if you’re going for your holy grail of gaming, want to see a classic game you haven’t played in years, or wish to be part of the larger group, but it’s a fantastic opportunity outside the Friday night preview to see all the wonderful things MGC has to offer for free to all attendees.  Panels continue throughout the show, including a fascinating showing/interview on the original teenage hackers that used 414s in the early days of computers to do some major invasions.  The museum is also open, which provides you with showcases of just about every domestic (and many import) computers and consoles from gaming’s history.  This was an opportunity for me to sit down and play consoles I knew all about but had never seen in action like the Nuon, PC-FX, and FM Towns.  I also got to see some the computers Jam was talking about like the Amiga, Atari ST, and even some of those PAL-only microcomps.  You could also see games on consoles you know that you never had the setup to play like Elemental Gearbolt on PS1 with twin Guncons, Virtual On for the Dreamcast with the custom controller, four player NBA Jam Tournament Edition, and a LAN party of team deathmatch in Duke Nukem 3D on old school PCs.  If you’re more set on modern or mainstream items, the hallway just outside of the museum was featuring modern day fighters like Super Smash Bros. (8 player setup), Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- with arcade sticks, Killer Instinct 3 with arcade sticks, and of course Mortal Kombat on PS3 with arcade sticks.  On the other wall were known consoles offering certain games and challenges, like a side-by-side opportunity to try Rondo of Blood on the PC-Engine CD and Dracula X on the SNES for comparison.  There was also Final Fight on SNES and Sega CD for comparison, Primal Rage on 3DO and Saturn for comparison, and of course who doesn’t want to play a classic 27″ CRT featuring the Japanese port of Guardian Heroes.  If you’re not a fan of those, don’t worry, they swapped everything for the likes of Resident Evil 2 on N64, Gates of Thunder on PC-Engine CD, Super Mario World on SNES, Starblade on 3DO, and many more.  Each console changed games at least a three times during the show, which I appreciated.

museum

Finally there were the “downstairs” areas where you could see new games in development (look for coverage on that a bit later), custom arcades and shops, media groups, Galloping Ghosts was there with the Primal Rage II cabinet (which I sadly was unable to find before I had to leave the show), and plenty of community showcases including a comprehensive Turbografx-16 archive that I’m looking forward to covering later this week as well.  Needless to say we have tons of content from the show going live, but in a nutshell that was the myriad of options as to how you could spend your time at the Midwest Gaming Classic.  Watch all this week for daily coverage on top of our normal offerings (those don’t cease just because we were at a show).  Thanks for having us MGC 2015, it was a blast.

For details on this year’s show or for continuing information on the next year’s show, head on over to midwestgamingclassic.com.  Each year MGC is in April and new info on the show usually begins around the beginning of that given year.

Written by Fred Rojas

April 13, 2015 at 12:53 pm

2 Responses

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  1. this is awesome, wish I could make it. One of these years the Rojas and I will face each other head to head in the retro ring and then its on like Donkey Kong or whatever game we decide to use

    jamalais

    April 13, 2015 at 3:18 pm

  2. These kinds of events should really happen more! It’s such a great opportunity for gaming enthusiasts and even for people who just want to engage in a casual, fun activity that they have never tried before. It’s quite amazing as well that these games can transcend generations and allow people, no matter what age, to enjoy.


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