Man, has it been a year already? Well no, not quite, but close. I look forward to this show every year. There’s not much like it here in Connecticut. There are smaller pop-up swap meets or shows. There are other conventions that happen like ConnectiCon (which I sadly had to miss this year) but those focus more on the general pop culture whereas this show is more about old-school games and such first, over the contemporary stuff.
This year, I didn’t get quite as much done in terms of photos due to an aging phone battery. But I still managed to snag a few. Some of the big names from last year weren’t able to return. But there were still a lot of personalities who made their way out. Including a couple of super-secret big names That I’ll mention a little bit later.
Saturday, I somehow managed to get up early enough to make the trek to Hartford. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found it harder and harder to roll out of bed before 9am. But it had to be done. Thankfully, Interstate 84 was mostly clear as I made my way into the State Capitol. Once I got to the Hartford Convention Center one change was immediately apparent, and that was the center had changed the way it was dealing with parking. There was still a greatly appreciated low rate for convention goers. But rather than paying upon departure, I had to pay upfront, and the tender had to be one’s credit card.
That said, once my card was scanned, getting into the garage was seamless, and the check-in line was done in the same efficient manner that it was last year. So here’s hoping that other shows booked at the center will adopt RetroWorldExpo’s approach. Before long, I was upstairs and entering the sales floor.
This year there were a fair number of new guests as well as returning ones. But I didn’t make it into as many panels. Nevertheless, they were present throughout the show and there were plenty of other things to do. As usual, there’s always something to do and even with a panel reduction, it was impossible to see everything and everyone.
I did get to witness the return of Big Bucks Entertainment who have done game show recreations for the last few years. This year though they did a panelist edition of Press Your Luck in which Pam from Cannot Be Tamed, “Pixel” Dan Eardley, and the duo of Carlos and Daniel Pesina (of Mortal Kombat fame) competed for the crown. Pam was far and away the favorite with a massive lead up until the end of the game. She passed the last spin to Raiden and Johnny Cage who earned a free spin and passed it back to her. Sadly, her next turn resulted in a Whammy taking away all of her points and giving the win to the Pesina brothers. There’s always next year.
After walking the floor a bit, I ran into several people I haven’t been able to see in a while. My pals Peter and Kat of Imaginary Monsters were there with the latest build of Grindblood, a Robotron 2084-esque twin-stick arena shooter. This build added a multitude of new selectable characters, including the Pumpkinheaded hero of Halloween Forever. It came along a lot further though there is clearly work to be done. The gameplay feels solid and responsive but there are understandably some glitches they’re in the process of ironing out. But what is there is pretty promising.
TheRenesance returned this year with his beautiful landscape paintings of iconic retro game scenes. He streams over on Twitch and you can get his prints and original paintings at The Gamescape Artist. He also does commissions. So if you need some classy art to spruce up your home or office or game room give him a look.
Tom Ryan’s Studio was also back. Another fantastic artist you should check out. He specializes in more pop culture-related art, but it’s amazing, professional work. He also has a bunch of enamel pins, screen-printed t-shirts, and other products you can get his artwork on. So definitely give him a visit.
Some of the other returning guests I got to talk to again were Dan Eardley and Norman Caruso aka The Gaming Historian. They’ve always been very friendly, down-to-earth fellows. If you get the chance to see them at a show don’t be afraid to go say hello. They had back-to-back panels on the second day that I’ll get to.
The aforementioned Pesinas were there as well as Tim Kitzrow who you may know as the color commentator in Midway’s classic arcade sports games like NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, NHL Hitz, MLB Slugfest or the recent Mutant Football League by Digital Dreams. Later on in the day the three of them would do a Monsters Of Midway panel where they talked about their time working together at Midway and the way the environment changed over the years after Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam had become household names. They were asked about the days of controversy over MK’s blood and fatalities and while they weren’t entirely insulated from it, it didn’t really deter them. And they didn’t really have contact with developers at other companies with games under fire for similar reasons. As a company Midway mostly would ignore that. They also talked about their departures from Midway. While Dan Pesina left over a lack of full compensation for his work, Tim Kitzrow would be with the company until the dissolution of Midway and would go to Electronic Arts for their take on NBA JAM reprising his role as the announcer. He had mentioned the wide difference between the tone between his time at Midway over Electronic Arts with the former feeling like a garage band operation where there was more creative freedom.
Carlos Pesina would stay beyond Midway’s end. When Warner Bros. bought the company he would join Netherrealm doing motion capture work (He was even Mokap in Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance) and more for every Mortal Kombat game and Injustice game. He retired from Netherrealm this year. They also talked about the importance of anyone working in a creative industry having a lawyer for legal counsel as some of the financial hardships they went through could have been potentially avoided had they known a legal professional who could have better explained their options. Dan Pesina spoke about how all of the original Mortal Kombat character actors and choreographers are still friends today.
While this panel was going on things really picked up when WWE Superstars Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods of The New Day crashed the show. While I missed seeing them it was pretty cool to have big surprise guests at the show. A friend of mine even got a chance to play the old WWF Raw Deal card game with them. Would have loved to have seen it. But as I’ve said, there’s always something you’re going to miss as there is plenty going on.
Some of the stuff I missed this year included the Blitzkrieg Pro Wrestling show, and some of the panels with names like Jeremy Parish (formerly of 1up.com) Game Dave, Lon TV, My Live In Gaming, and RetoRGB. I missed my pal Mike Levy of XVGM Radio and DYHPTG. I also missed Dan Larson (Toy Galaxy)’s panel.
But I did get some more time in with the arcade cabinets, pinball machines, and console games that were all set up on free play over the course of the weekend. FRAG returned this year and set up their high-score challenges. I didn’t sign up to compete for any scores this year but I did find myself going back a few times to play some games. Centipede returned So I did go back to that machine a few times on Saturday as it’s just a timeless arcade cabinet.
There were also some tournaments set up for Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate along with a few other games, which drew some respectable crowds. There were also New England qualifiers for a Tetris high-score challenge as well. I didn’t participate in any of the contests this year. Mostly because I haven’t put in nearly the hours it would require to play at a competitive level in them. That said, there seemed to be a pretty good turnout for both of the major fighting games. With Street Fighter 6 due out next year a lot of people are likely going back to Street Fighter 5 in anticipation.
I spent a fair time going around the vendor areas as well. I say areas because this year they had placed a few vendors near the tournaments and arcade setup. I also found that across from my pals at Imaginary Monsters, Premium Edition Games was there showing off and selling some of the games they were publishing for the Nintendo Switch. The representative was explaining to me that their business model differs from some of the other companies out there like Special Reserve Games or Limited Run a little bit. Namely, because they don’t generally stop at an initial print run with a small window. There’s a four-week ordering period and they tend to make more than the minimum number of copies if the interest seems to be there. Titles usually have standard and deluxe versions with extra feelies or collectibles inside of the latter. And there’s an insistence on including manuals with each title. They also adopted something the original Activision did in the 1980s. If you manage a set of achievements such as a high score, you can contact the company to get a patch. Ultimately it is similar to what publishers in the same space, but with a fairer ordering window for those who might not have the funds to order something the second it might go live. I did end up picking up a copy of Cathedral upon a recommendation from a friend. The Deluxe edition came in a beautiful package I haven’t had the chance to open yet. But I am looking forward to streaming it in the not-too-distant future.
There were also auctions again this year. I didn’t participate this year though, I was excited to see there were a few boxed Commodore platforms and accessories up for auction. There were a couple of Commodore 64 bundles and I even spied a 1541-II Floppy Diskette Drive. This was a revised update of the original Floppy Drive which was much smaller, and with slight improvements to the read/write times. Though you’d still want a fast load cartridge it was a cool thing to see as you don’t see them as often. A couple of friends were there trying to go for some of the items. One attendee won an auction on a working Sony Playstation store display sign in great shape for $600.
After the first day came to a close, some friends and I headed over to City Steam for our annual post-con beer and dinner run. They recently put out a new Blueberry Sour Ale, called Twist, a new Pilsner called Steam, and a new IPA called Cosmic Impressions. All of which were quite good as was the Kielbassa and Sauerkraut I had for dinner. If you’re in Hartford, it’s a great place to go as it just has an inviting atmosphere. And they also do comedy shows there from time to time as a lot of times stand-up comedians come through the state on their way to Boston or New York City.
My Sunday started a bit later, but I still made it in time for two panels. This year I got into The Gaming Historian panel. For 2022, Norman Caruso gave us all a sneak peek at his current project that I won’t spoil here. After the presentation and a Q & A session about it, it was time for Jeopardy. This year he was able to find a patch for the Jeopardy program he uses that now allowed the contestants to buzz in using their phones. As usual, there were a lot of questions you could know by having watched many Gaming Historian episodes. Although there was an entire category of answers to questions not yet covered on the show.
Immediately following that was the Pixel Dan panel. Like last year Dan Eardley talked a lot about the creation of his book The Toys Of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe which if you haven’t seen is a phenomenal guide to Mattel’s many action figure lines based around He-Man. The book itself has pretty much every action figure, vehicle, playset, and accessory available in all of the various Masters Of The Universe toylines from 1982 through 2019. With a bio for each character and photos of every toy both in the original packaging as well as loose with its accessories. It even has photos of the toys’ gimmicks and features in action. It’s a great guide for both passing fans who may want to reminisce about their childhood toys as well as hardcore MOTU fans who want an in-depth checklist of what to look for when searching for toys to add to their collections.
It took him approximately three years to make as it involved flying around the country to photograph toys in various collectors’ homes. Photo shoots of the rarest toys could be filled with a lot of anxiety as accidentally damaging those pieces could prove to be a very costly mistake. He also talked a bit about the next project in the works without mentioning what the IP might possibly be as there are some final steps that have to be confirmed before it can move forward in an official capacity. There was a nice open question and answer forum after that with the fans in attendance and as always he was very cordial to everybody at the convention.
After the panels, I found myself reconnecting with some friends on the floor I don’t get to see as often in person as I’d like due to distance and time. I ran into fellow streamer DNick55 who had been ecstatic to find some of the Splatoon amiibo figures he’d been missing. My pal Russ Lyman was around the floor throughout the show, and I got to catch up with him a bit. My buddy Aldo who streams on his twitch channel occasionally was there as well. I played some Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 against him and was thoroughly destroyed. A couple of my other buddies were at the auctions, and my pals BestSpudsPlay were volunteers this year so I ran into all of them a number of times. RFGeneration was back, and I got to chat with Bil McGee a bit about some limited vinyl records he had out for sale as well as some bad fighting games. Sadly nobody at the show had a copy of Criticom for me to show him. But I did get to show him a clip of Maximillian Dood famously suffering through some of it. Which got a lot of laughs.
But alas, the show came to a close. This year the time just flew right by for me. I wish there was time to see everything but unfortunately at any show that is impossible. Still, it’s one show I always try to make it out to. Not only for the events and panels. But for the camaraderie. As we get older there’s just not the same amount of time to get away from work or life commitments to see your friends in person or meet other people into the same stuff you are. Particularly if they live several hours or days away from you. So that aspect is one of the best things about this show in particular. It’s big, but not so big it’s solely about the games. It’s akin to a smaller theme park. You can spend the day and go on more than three rides. But you’re still not going to have time to ride all 75 of them. In spite of that, it’s a fun time for any fan of video games old or new.
After the show, I walked across the convention center with my pals Kat and Pete before they took their 6-hour trek back home. We stopped at Bears for dinner. If you haven’t been to one they have three locations here in Connecticut and recently expanded into North Carolina. It’s a great barbecue restaurant. I had some insanely good pulled pork and Mac & Cheese. But after a good meal and some conversation, it was time to head home. I didn’t get much of a haul this year but what I did get was pretty cool. I ended with the Premium Edition Deluxe Edition of Cathedral for the Switch, a Jakks Pacific Namco plug & play I picked up for a coworker who was looking for one, and of course an excellent Gamescape Artist print of Wily Castle 2.
I already can’t wait to go to next year’s show. It’s a fun weekend I look forward to every year.