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Philly Classic 2001 - The East Coast Classic Gamer's Convention! (part 1)

Ryan - Righteous Game Gear Merchant
TastyKake Advocate, and
spot-on Vectrex Price Consultant

I was worried that it would be days before I would have a chance to write up my trip to classic gaming Mecca, but as luck would have it my office became infested with large winged antz today (which bite); descending from the ceiling like so many Giger-esque aliens. To make things even more condusive to work, our sys-admin chose to address this problem by finding a can of industrial cleaner and spraying it in the general direction of up. This can is really too priceless, as is the smell that comes out of it. Upon reading the indications on the back, (and after Matt had mysteriously left) we found that it has "a tendency to explode when in confined spaces", and that it is heavier than air and will "tend to displace the oxygen which is available for breathing". Since killer death antz promote creativity, I decided that I'd take the evening off. *cough* *cough*

This was the trip of timing. I can't really say that it was all good, but there certainly were so many instances where the timing of things worked out so perfectly that you really had to stop and ask if it had been pre-arranged. But, that will come later. Now I'd not seen hausmaus in a good many moons, so the fact that he was flying up for this show was certainly reason enough for me to drive down to philly after work on friday. I split from the office at the crack of 5 (well, ok, 4:45) and loaded my car up with just a few systems to pass the time:
  • Intellivision
  • Sega Master System
  • NES
  • Sega Genesis
I figured that should be enough gaming goodness to get us all prepped for the festivities to come. While rocketeering down south I realized that I was going to very handily miss the start time of the convention (well, that's even foolish to bother saying since the pre-show was supposed to start at 5, I believe) so I stopped at good ol' Hickory Run service plaza, home of an Auntie Ann's Pretzel shop and a wall of bathroom hand dryers. Well, that and the payphone are all that I've ever used there so my perception of the place is a little skewed. It's sort of like those sensory image maps that show the most sensitive parts of the human face in a size which is related to their relative sensitivity. You get these huge lips and ears and a little chin and forehead. So Hickory Run in my mind has giant hand dryers and a huge pretzel rotating on top of the McDonalds M. And it has a casino. A Rest-Stop Casino in my Mind. Where was I....okokok, so I get on the phone with hausmaus and he says that he and surpriseattackninja and The Mighty Edwards are eating at the Sheraton dining splendor and that no one has shown up yet. It being about 7:30 already I start to feel less bad about not taking the afternoon off from work to make the earlier drive. This feeling of absolution would change soon enough. Just as I was about to hang up and get back on the road hausmaus notices the first few souls starting to drift in the direction of the door to the convention. That was all I needed to hear and I continued my flight south, snaking from the NE extension to the Blue Route and finally through the industrial horror that is the vicinity of the philly airport until at last the Sheraton Suites Airport Hotel was within my reach. After being at work for 8 hours, and on the road for another 5 it looked a little like this from the road, but upon closer inspection all was well.

The disinterested parking lot gate d00d was reading a copy of Soldier of Fortune as I took my ticket from the machine and sped up the parking lot chute right up to the glass-adorned entrance, complete with white stretch limos and snooty looking people. Well, I know *three* people who weren't snooty, but rather were already standing there grinning with armloads of gaming excitement!

I made a mental note of good timing number one. I was really just so pleased to pull up to the Sheraton Suits Airport Hotel...MMMmmmizay in my Forge Tortoise and flash my lights excitedly at a passel of geeks standing there waving game systems in the air. I got the fast rundown which was thusly: right after I called them from the reststop-casino the people really started to pile in. So, now is when I started to feel that I should have cut out a little early to get there right at the start. I started to feel this even more strongly when they started to tell me about what they had scored there already. hausmaus had gotten a boxed Sega Saturn for $35, surpriseattackninja had found an Atari Lynx in a spotless case, which was FULL OF GAMES for $40, and The Mighty Edwards had found a Nomad for a reasonable price as well. Hopping in my bad chariot and making like the 5-0 were out ta get me, I flew into a space and hit the brakes. I was pretty sure that the *real* good deals of the night would have been snagged already by the truly savvy (and geographically convenient) gamers, but I certainly wasn't going to waste another minute before I got in there and checked out the lay of the land.
I hadn't been too sure what to expect out of this show. From the 'show layout' maps it looked like it was going to be in 2 rooms, but the size of these was really up for grabs. I figured that it might either look like the Grand Ballroom and have waiters in pacman shirts serving Tab in Reidel flutes, or it would be in the room reserved for tupperware parties and well, game conventions. I was pleased to see that it was a good compromise between the two, and that while not huge, there was certainly ample room for enough cool stuff to be displayed to keep us spending and gaming for many an hour. The first room was were the dealers would set up their tables and pedal their wares. A center bank of foldin' tables and an outer edge, were all draped with white cloth and just awaiting the heaps of gaming paraphernalia that were to come, and some had already been graced with yards of SMS boxed games, stacks of 2600 carts in various stages of cleanness, and tupperware crates full of NES carts looking for new homes.

The second of the two rooms was filled with all sorts of wonders, most of which were not for sale. The better part of it contained arcade machines from back in the day, all set on free play. (Why we didn't spend more time here I don't know, and can only chalk up to sleepless-addled-brains). There was also a family of Vectrii here, the proud owner of which was demoing a game that he'd written for the system...recently. This is an aspect of the field that I was never really exposed to until this show, which is that the truly hard core fans, and those which have or can learn the technical wizardry to do so, delight in creating their own games for their beloved aging platforms. Having begun to look into this now, I'm finding all sorts of things which have been made for the 2600, the Odyssey2, the Vectrex...all really amazing stuff. I tried out this guys game, and it was basically like Asteroids (in other words: really cool!) but I only played it for about 30 seconds and certainly didn't see all that there was too it. What I really was focusing on was it being the first time I'd ever used a Vectrex. And I liked it. I really did. The controls were smooth, the most likely cancerous graphics were crisp and vibrant - it was like playing a game on the worlds best displaying oscilloscope, and it just ooozed vintage, which sets my collectors' heart all pitter-patter.

Not that I'm artsy at all, but there's something about the fade of the glow from a vintage arcade machine in a blurred photograph that seems to make the world just seem alright. I actually don't have too many pics from this room, and like I said for some reason we really didn't come in here and play anything, but I know that the machines that caught my eye were Joust, and an old Tron upright. I think that one of the reasons that we didn't feel compelled to play anything here was that we will forever be at once humbled, thankful and awed by what we all experienced one day many summers ago. In Philly there is an excellent science museum called 'The Franklin Institute' after Ol' Ben himself (now that's a name I've not heard in a looong time...wait, no, not that one). And they had an entire exhibit on vintage video games one summer. For some reason, that I'll never really figure out, though hausmaus can feel free to explain if he remembers, we didn't go until about a day before we all had to go back to college, and until about 5 hours before the place was going to close for the day. This was the grand ballroom. This was the brass ring. This was the open warehouse space that had hundreds of arcade machines lining the walls, forming islands around which the stunned gaming crowd would eddy, forming creative geographies that one could explore. It really was amazing, and brings a tear to my eye now. We were like starving men being given a loaf of bread and then having hollandaise sauce poured on it then told that our rich grandfather Brewster just left us $300 million with every turn around a corner that yielded new and wonderful surprises. I played the Star Wars sitdown, several flavors of Tron, so many more. When the 4 of us went to play Gauntlet (which you really have no excuse not to do in general, but if there are 4 people in your group that's like the 11th commandment from the tablet that Moses dropped) and threw in our shiny Institute tokens, we found that it was broken. Well, as we were all standing there with defeated looks on our faces, this regular looking guy comes walking up to us and asks what's wrong. After telling him our plight, he said not a word, but went straight to his work, field striped the controllers, then turned with a jerk...this guy was apparently the OWNER of all of this stuff, and he repaired the machine right there in front of us. He was my hero for a year.

I think that's why we all have trouble getting excited about any collection of arcade uprights. I mean, granted, we all still love to play them, but it's as if we've looked upon the face of The Lord, and everything else is just some sort of shadow. But I digress. Lets get back to the other stuff in the gameRoom, because it was really cool. In fact, they had something there that none of us had ever seen in person, but we'd all read about it. It was something so cool that the guy responsible for it had been the personal hero of hausmaus for a month sometime back around November. It was something that existed in such limited quantities that we never really figured that it would make it out of this guys basement. We had both seen an article on Slashdot about a portable Atari 2600 system.

That guy in the background had the real hookup on his table. I am assuming that he was one of the show organizers because he seemed to have a pretty firm grasp on what was going on (like the moving-in of the arcade uprights during the pre-show hours) and he had *such* cool stuff on display. I mean, look under his table there. He's got a boxed Vectrex just chillin', and he's got 6 of the mini-pacmans up for free play (incidentally, I have the one on the far left :-), and he's playing Dragon's Lair on the TV on the left (which I somehow accidentally got the splash screen for) off of a 3DO I believe. I can't remember how on earth I got this picture with *no one* in the way, other than the fact that it was the pre show and not as busy. I think this was another of the 'guide my sword' pics that I just have to be glad about. Not to even get into all the rare 2600 carts he had lying around for people to enjoy and play in the portable. I asked him if this was really the same one that had been featured in news stories about 6 months back. He said that the guy who made these had made three prototypes so far, and that this was one of them. He had called the guy up and told him about this show, asking if he could possibly get one of the units to display to the attendees.

We were all really impressed, especially the guy on the TV in the background, though we didn't actually get a chance to try it out, we watched a few other "we're not worthy" fans take it for a spin. We were told that it has a bit of a cooling problem, but that it's being worked on. The best part is that the builder of this device is hoping to start selling them when he is able. More info is available on his site that you can link to from above, so check it out.
Also on the table was a laserdisc player spinin' up Joysticks. Now, I'm really behind on my old-skool 80s video game related movies, but as usual, hausmaus has the wizzdom. A quick pole of the guys turned up this list:
  • Cloak and Dagger
  • Joysticks
  • The Last Starfighter
  • Tron (of course)
  • D.A.R.Y.L.
  • both hausmaus and I want to say that the name of the movie that came out right before the release of Super Mario Bros. 3, where the autistic kid is a l33t gamer, was called The Wiz. But the only thing I can find with that title is a Broadway adaptation of the Wizard of Oz with an all black cast.
    (edit: The movie is The Wizard!, 3/17/07 - cp)
That lead alone has given me some new (old) movies to check out which will most likely be excellent fodder for review on the site. I figure that it's time to search the ol' ePay for some vintage laserdisc action. I mean, I've got the pioneer multi-tray special, so I might as well use it. I've actually had great fun watching the THX widescreen copies of the holy Trilogy on it recently, which will be even better in the fall when I get my movie theater set up. Here I was trying to get a shot of the JoySticks laserdisc cover, which didn't come out at all, but you can certainly tell from that screen shot that this is a kwality film!

But let's return to the other room.

Piles of vintage game ware the likes of which I've never seen. Even though there were only a few guys set up to sell their stuff, it was really an amazing sight to see. I really started to wish again that I had gotten there on time, but there was still enough cool stuff left to satisfy even the most discerning player.

What gamer wouldn't bust a nut to be there? I mean, look at that! You can't even see the table, and so many systems / sq. foot are represented it's just unreal. I actually ended up with that really slick looking "The Quest for the Rings" box which is a mint copy of an old Magnavox Odyssey2 game; one of 4 (one of which was not released) that were made in that style and have really not been duplicated since (in terms of game play and having lots of physical objects to work with as you play). Having not played it yet I really can't comment on it much, but my Odyssey2 systems should be here shortly and a good time will be had by all. You can see that the selection ranged from Playstation games (like Roll Away) through Sega 32x, on down to the older 2600 and Intellivision carts still in box. By the time I'd gotten there about 1/3 of the tables were populated with a wonderful array of stuff. I could only imagine what all had been there a few hours ago; what wondrous first picks I'd missed. The guys told me that there had been 3 Vectrex systems, but I saw that they were well gone by now. hausmaus reported seeing one particularly Gollum-like fellow gripping his newly-purchased (I assume) vector based system close to his chest, and shuffling from the room hunched over it and darting glances side to side. Yes, this is the sort of reaction that the Vectrex will being forth from the true gamers and collectors. Being a little from column A and a little from column B myself, I wanted one. I wanted one very much, but there were none to be had. This isn't to say that there were none to be SEEN. There were, actually, quite a *few* to be seen, but they weren't moving. On the other side of the room this guy who looked like he'd probably shoot me if I took a picture of his stuff (we'll call him Coolio for the rest of the article) had a big spread of old shot stuff like pacman and racing games. So, I had to employ the Stealth qMart Photography Technique of slipping the primed and flashless camera out from under my coat, and taking a roughly focused and aimed shot.

I know that I have that red thing on the right some place, but right now my memory fails me as to what it is exactly. Coolio had that loose one, and one in box, though. Set up for the pre-show there was also a guy up by the entrance to the room who had a collection of pretty nice stuff. He had a Vectrex sitting there on display and I asked him if he would be willing to part with it, but my request was met with almost immediate refusal. I'm sure if the price was right it would have worked out, but I wasn't ready to make that sort of deal at this hour.

So much more to say. So much more to write. So many more games to play. But no hours left in the night. So, gentle reader, it is with this brief installment of the Philly Classic review that I must leave you. But fear not! Soon will come part 2, and it will finish the evening pre-show, along with a description of the wonderful goods that I left the show with. It will detail our exploits to WaWa to get tastyKakes and hoagies, and it will chronicle the 9 hours we would spend playing games that night until the dawn broke and it was time to become likewise as the morning brought the official event of
The Philly Classic!

...come sweet slumber, wrap me in thy purple cloak....
hmm...doesn't even rhyme.

Charlie, 4/23/2001
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