2012 Houston Arcade Expo - Part 1

Shawn Delahunty's picture

2012 Houston Arcade Expo2012 Houston Arcade Expo
Hello again dear readers, it's great to be back! Once more, my inner arcade- and computer-gaming aficionado has burst out of the dreary doldrums of "Crazy-Busy Normal Life", after being confined for just too darn long. I did so with some gusto this time, and took the opportunity to shamelessly gorge myself on an enormous and truly delicious smorgasbord of gaming: The 2012 Houston Arcade Expo.

Even as I write these introductory words, the whole 2+ day event is STILL going on. While it's scheduled to officially wind to a close in the next hour or so, from all the good folks I chatted with, the talking and story-telling and drunken networking will likely go on until dawn. For my part though, I had to throw in the towel a little bit early. For starters, I had to dash home and start cracking on this set of articles for you fine folks!

Not to mention that my ears are absolutely ringing from the roar of 120+ pinball and arcade machines running full-blast, and my eyes feel like they're covered in plastic-wrap. (Note to self: When binging for 10+ hours on video games and pinball, remember to blink.)

In short, the experience was AWESOME. I played every single game at the show. At least twice. And I even managed to not totally suck at a few of them. (NOTE: If you ever go to one of these events, BRING SOME EARPLUGS. Seriously. You'll thank me later. It was so loud by the DJ table that when I took out my earplugs to shout a question into the ear of one of the staff, my eyes were almost vibrating.)

So here I sit gentle readers, trying to collect my fuzzy and scattered thoughts, sorting through a rather huge assortment of digital photos, trying to figure out where to begin. I'm in that wonderful state of sweaty, twitchy, achey, adrenaline-soaked exhaustion that you can only get after a full-on bout with an arcade game in an upright cabinet.

Console gamers, I'm sorry, but you just CANNOT claim to get such a satisfying gaming experience while sitting on your couch. Even the goofy Wii Sports stuff is puny child's play compared to this. You aren't getting a real "Arcade Workout" until you are standing, feet planted firmly, literally shaking a 300-pound arcade cabinet by the sticks, frantically maneuvering your last man to avoid the enemies swarming in on all sides. THIS is what video gaming is all about. And judging from the hundreds of other folks I saw, with their eyes gleaming, most sporting cocky smiles and boistrous laughter, I'm not the only person who feels this way.

"The Arcade" is NOT dead my friends, not based on what I saw. It is alive and well, snarling and growling with an 8-bit PCM roar, clawing it's way back into the hearts of happy gamers everywhere. We just need to figure out how to make a sane business model out of it again.

This first article is going to be a little light on details, as I'm completely mentally fried at the moment--even a mildly stewed cabbage could easily outwit me right now. It's a combination of long hours at my day job, coupled with 2 rather late nights at the Expo, all topped off with the mental and emotional overload of playing every single video game that I ever knew. Add in about 1,000 more games which I'd never seen or heard of before on the home-consoles which were available. Mix that all together with some lovely Guinness beer, and you've got the perfect recipe for a very tasty, "Brain Bubble Milkshake".

So without further ado, let's get going. First up, are a couple of grainy videos I took on Friday night. Please pardon the truly crap video quality. These were taken with my aging Sony still-cam--it's making like 1997 with the 320x200 native resolution. I promise to upgrade to something more sane in the very near future.

The 2012 Houston Arcade Expo - A brief tour #1.

The 2012 Houston Arcade Expo - A brief tour #2.

As you can see, this is not a gigantic show, like some of the utterly huge ones in Dallas, LA, and elsewhere. But man was it packed. It was a non-stop stream of people the whole time. (And they say arcades are dead---pshaw!)

The Bazaar

Now we take a quick pictorial stroll through the vendor area. There were a crazy amount of doo-dads and spare-parts available for pinball machines, including side-art, replacement playfields, backglasses (the painted scoreboard section) by the truckload, and BOXES of electronics. This is truly a pinball-dominated show. Naturally, there were booths dedicated to "game room chotchkies" and "man cave collectibles". There were also a couple of pretty cool jukeboxes that were for sale.







There are some parts of the vendor tables which I've glossed over for now. Not because they aren't interesting, but because I cover some of it in more detail in the next few articles.

Pixel Drenched Goodness

Next up on the list for your viewing pleasure, is a sample selection of the various arcade games which were set on free-play for everyone to enjoy:










The games were scattered throughout the two main exposition ballrooms, with a couple leaking out into the hallway. I found this odd little side-scrolling shooter, sitting alone and nearly forgotten around the corner in a side hallway:
Mag-Max - The Lonesome OddityMag-Max - The Lonesome Oddity I'd never seen the thing before, and gave it a couple rounds of play just to test it out. While it's not a dreadfully rotten game, it is a fine example of terribly mediocre gameplay--one of the things which helped to kill arcades. The game had some "true perspective" side-scrolling of the backgrounds, which I'm sure were meant to wow the pants off customers. Yay for "Stunning Life-Like Scrolling Graphics"... (yawn.)

But the custom chips and circuitry to perform that parallax mapping couldn't do a thing for the unremarkable, boring, hand-drawn sprites which just sort of wandered above the pretty-pretty background. Everything was disconnected from the ground in a weird sort of "floaty" manner, and the controls were sluggish. It didn't help that the game music was horribly annoying and repetitive, which is inexecusable given the state sound development had reached in 1989 when the game was released.

A Mix of New Tech

Outside the main exposition ballroom, there was this interesting set-up:



It was a networked 3D battle mech arrangement, with voice/headset chat. The price per game seemed a bit steep to me, but they did a pretty brisk business at the show. Talking to the guys running it, they actually do a booming business out of their main location. The teenagers were absolutely eating it up, though I did see some younger kids going up against their fathers and siblings.

Living in an Alternate Reality

There was also a token effort at the costumed antics of Comic-Con and other conventions:

Ghostbuster PackGhostbuster Pack

Some costumes were more cute, as you have to add in the "kid-fan factor". Here, a little Jawa watches her Dad play Frogger on one of the custom cocktail arcades provided by a visiting vendor.

Young Jawa GamerYoung Jawa Gamer

Captain Cosplay ConfusionCaptain Cosplay Confusion The other costumed participants were, um.... unremarkable, and only showed up sporadically during the event. There was however one hilarious instance of what I can only term, "Cosplay Confusion". I wasn't sure what to make of this rather schizoid hand-painted outfit...

I'm not even sure what the hell to call this guy: Captain Iron Storm Boba Trooper America Fett Man? The 3 and 4 year old kids were suitably awed by the guy, so I'll give him +5 brownie points for trying.

To be continued...

That's all for Part #1. In the next few articles, I'll cover more details of the arcade games, consoles, and pinballs which were at the show. I'll also provide more information on:

  • The efforts of a locally-founded Indie gaming studio to get itself bootstrapped via Indie-GoGo.
  • My playing experience on a very rare pinball game which I'd never seen "in the wild" before.
  • A lengthy conversation I had with one hobbyist/vendor/budding-entrepreneur who is building some absolutely terrific reproduction arcade cabinets, right here in Houston.
  • Whatever other juicy tidbits I was able to uncover at the show.

Thank you everyone for reading, and I'll be back shortly with Part #2! (I just REALLY need to get in a nap first.) Cheers!


Chris Kennedy
Chris Kennedy's picture
Joined: 08/31/2008

Shawn -

It is too bad we didn't meet up for this one. I am actually in two of your pictures above as well as the second video. Man. I really do need a haircut.

It really grew a lot this year. This was my 7th year, and it keeps getting better. This was the first time that I can remember visitors being able to play Vectrex, Virtual Boy, 3DO, and Jaguar in addition to the usual suspects. Sometimes the CDI makes an appearance, but the niche consoles/devices continue to show.

Shawn Delahunty
Shawn Delahunty's picture
Joined: 08/01/2011
Hate that I missed you Chris

Geez man, sorry about that. When I originally booked the ticket online, I'd thought to myself, "I should Email Chris and find out if he's going." The week leading up to this was completely INSANE for me at work, and it completely slipped my mind. I'll tag up with you next year.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
Great reports, Shawn, thanks!

Great reports, Shawn, thanks!

Nathaniel Tolbert
Nathaniel Tolbert's picture
Joined: 11/06/2010
You guys are lucky! I wish

You guys are lucky! I wish we had something like this around here. Sadly I cannot think of the last time we have an Expo like this here, if ever. Maybe one of these years I can convince my wife to let me head down for one. The only thing that would make my nostalgia complete would be the Showbiz Pizza band playing somewhere in there.

Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Joined: 09/04/2006
No civilization here either.
Nathaniel Tolbert wrote:

You guys are lucky! I wish we had something like this around here. Sadly I cannot think of the last time we have an Expo like this here, if ever.

Same here. It's inconceivable that there would be an expo like this in my red neck of the woods.

You'll have no trouble finding a friggin tractor pull derby, though, I'll tell you that!

Fascinating stuff, Shawn. It looked like a world of fun!

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006

Recently attended a similar Expo called Replay 2012 in Manchester UK. Great stuff. And I know how it feels completely missing people you know and discover that they are actually on your photos or in your videos! :)


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