Please read to the end to find this year’s MGC video I made!
Well, I successfully made it to MGC this year with no weather-related setbacks! I mean, it was cold — because why wouldn’t it be in April in Wisconsin? — but there was no snow and the drive there and back was smooth sailing, so to speak.
As I’ve mentioned previously when writing about MGC, I’ve never gotten to go on a Saturday due to my work (I’m a tattoo artist and the shop is a madhouse on Saturdays), but this year, I took the day off because I wanted to experience the stuff that I always miss because I’m usually only there on Sundays. And it was great!
My very first lesson learned from this year: BUY TICKETS IN ADVANCE. I’ve never had to wait long in the past, but now that MGC has gotten so much more popular, the line to purchase tickets at the door was literally probably three blocks long when David, my annual MGC buddy, and I arrived around 10:30 am.
At least it was indoors, and it actually moved fairly quickly. Eventually a staffer came down the line asking who was paying with cash, and sold wristbands right there to help expedite the process. Once wristbands were procured, we briefly examined the show’s two-story floorplan and headed up to the dealer’s room first.
Since I missed last year, this was my first time seeing the newly-arranged MGC at the Wisconsin Center, after feeling the Sheraton in Brookfield literally bursting at the seams during the event’s last few years at that location. The new setup is expansive and definitely feels like it can breathe a bit more, although the vendor tables and gaming areas still get a little congested — but at least it feels like you can now walk the floor fairly freely without the slog of fighting through a crowd the whole time.
Lots of stuff to buy, but I actually didn’t find a whole lot for myself — picked up a few inexpensive Japanese Game Boy games, and some magazines and books. Some dealers did have some good stuff, but it wasn’t exactly priced to move, especially not on a Saturday morning. That’s one advantage to going on a Sunday, actually — vendors are willing to discount so they don’t have to take all their stock home with them.
And to be honest, this year I was not all that interested in buying stuff — one of the reasons I really wanted to attend on Saturday was so that I could catch some panels and speakers, and also hopefully meet some of the special guests, which I always miss out on when I go on Sundays. My schedule was pretty full after 2:30 PM, so I wanted to get most of my shopping and gaming done before then.
Two people I got to say hello to right away were Brian Colin, creator of Midway classics like Rampage and Xenophobe, and Chris Kohler, Kotaku correspondent and Retronauts podcast regular. They both had tables with some stuff for sale, so I walked right up and started chatting.
I picked up a print of the classic Rampage artwork with the three heads of Ralph, George, and Lizzie from Mr. Colin, talked to him a little bit, had him sign the print and took a photo with him.
I had actually meant to pick his brain some more about Deathstalker, his canceled and resurrected laserdisc game, but I kinda spaced on it. Maybe next year!
At Mr. Kohler’s table, I grabbed a copy of his Final Fantasy V book and also had him sign that. It was cool to speak to someone whose voice I hear regularly on one of my favorite podcasts, and even though I have yet to finish FFV, I’m still interested in his analysis of the game and look forward to reading his book.
The main stage was in a back corner of the vendor area, so I also caught a lovely performance of jazzy video game tunes by ukulele diva Alicia Renee. We happen to be acquainted on Instagram, so when I spotted her in the vendor room, I took the opportunity to say hello.
Also appearing in this room were several of the stars of the original Mortal Kombat game, but I didn’t take the opportunity to meet them. Still, it was great to see them there and available for pics and autographs. I must admit, too, that I wasn’t terribly interested in some of the “bigger name” special guests brought in this year — Ernie Hudson, Eric Bischoff, and Ted DiBiase. While Ghostbusters is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I used to be a big pro wrestling nerd years ago, those types of celebrities don’t do much for me at an event like this. I come to MGC for video games and the people who make and play them, not for celebrities outside of that realm. Still, there were lots of fans eager to see those three, so more power to the MGC organizers if it helps bring people through the door.
Happily, I ran into a number of friends during the day, too – Dave, one of the Game Guys, who traditionally has one of the biggest booths at MGC since the Oconomowoc days and has also fixed most of my arcade machines; my tattoo client Jason, who’s got a Mario half-sleeve amongst other gamer nerd tattoos; Tim, an old friend who used to run a game shop and got me into E3 years ago (I’ll tell that story another time); and my old pal Chico, who I have not seen in 15 years! (Great to see all you guys!!)
After exhausting the dealers’ room, I went next door to the gaming area.
The first thing visitors were greeted with was a display of a full set of CIB NES games, presented by WATA Games — every single NES title, official and unofficial, licensed and unlicensed, in their boxes. It was pretty amazing.
Moving on, what was in years past the console and computer museum was now a much more open lineup of consoles and computers, all available to play. As usual, any and every console or computer you’ve ever (or never) heard of was here for visitors to take for a spin. There were even Superguns playing arcade PCBs!
The Fight Club and Shmup Club sections made their return and were placed here as well.
Past this was the pinball area, presented by Stern and Marco Pinball. Pins are always heavily represented at MGC, with Stern themselves bringing TONS of their latest machines. This year saw the return of the Black Knight after 35 years with the official debut of the new Black Knight: Sword of Rage!
This beast was easily the biggest draw, with the music — a new version of the classic Black Knight 2000 theme — done by Scott Ian of Anthrax and Brendan Small of Dethklok. I gotta say, after Metallica, Iron Maiden, and now BKSOR, Stern is really embracing the metal with their pinball, and that’s super cool with me.
Stern’s other latest machines, such as The Munsters and The Beatles, were here as well, and so was Deadpool and Batman ’66 (which I played and really enjoyed). And beyond the Stern stuff, tons more pinball was available. Even though I pretty much suck at pinball, I’ve always enjoyed it and I’m happy to see it thriving.
In the adjacent corner of the room was the vintage arcade — rows upon rows of classic video games and pinballs, always one of the major highlights of MGC. Even if you don’t shop or attend panels, you can easily spend a whole day here just playing arcade machines.
But speaking of panels, once 2:30 rolled around, I headed over to the Garcade Presentation Hall and parked it there for the next three panels on the schedule, which were the three I really wanted to see and just so happened to be one right after the other.
First was Frank Cifaldi and Howard Phillips, who were there to discuss the preservation of Nintendo history. Cifaldi is doing amazing work at his Video Game History Foundation at gamehistory.org, and Phillips is, of course, the legendary Game Master of Nintendo Power fame. Most of their 45-minute time slot was actually spent telling stories of Howard’s days at Nintendo, and when they realized they were running out of time, they quickly announced that Howard will be working with Frank for at least the next five years on preserving Nintendo’s historical information and archival materials from Howard’s personal collection. I actually could have listened to them talk all afternoon, everything was fascinating!
The next speaker was Eugene Jarvis, someone I’ve wanted to see for a long time. Jarvis, as you should probably know, created iconic games for Williams back in the Golden Age of arcades, such as Defender, Robotron 2084, Narc, and Smash TV. He’s been at the last several MGCs, but again, I’ve never gotten a chance to see him, so this was one of my main goals this year. Eugene currently runs Raw Thrills, a company that manufactures large-scale arcade games, many of which I talked about back when I visited Level 257 in Schaumberg last year. He talked a bit about what Raw Thrills has done and what they’re up to currently, before taking questions and inevitably talking about the old days. When asked what his favorite game of all time was, he proudly unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a rad Space War t-shirt underneath. A kinda cool moment was after his talk, as people were mingling about and changing over for the next panel, when Howard Phillips approached Eugene, and the two shook hands and chatted — I’m not sure if it was the first time these two legends had met, but it kind of looked like it may have been.
Finally, the last panel I was there for was Retronauts, my favorite gaming podcast. Jeremy Parish and Bob Mackey were joined by Caitlin Oliver and Chris Kohler to talk about the Game Boy for its 30th anniversary. I’m not sure if they were recording it for a podcast episode, but it was mostly personal histories with the GB and thoughts about where it stood in video game history.
Leaving the room, I spotted Eugene Jarvis talking to a couple of people, and I really wanted to meet him, so I kind of walked right up and awkwardly joined their circle like a dork until I caught his attention. I apologized for interrupting, but just wanted to say hello and shake his hand, and asked for an autograph like a total fanboy. Of course, I had brought along something for him to sign — the insert from the 1996 PC release of Williams Arcade Classics, which was my introduction to emulation, as well as the first time I had learned about who was behind many of those games. Eugene was super friendly and chatty, and of course I asked to get a photo with him. Goal achieved!
By now it was almost 6pm and we were winding down, but I wanted to take one more cruise through the dealer room, and I’m glad I did, because I ended up meeting Saru, the creator of FX Unit Yuki! I interviewed Saru for the second issue of the RGSH fanzine, so we were already somewhat acquainted and had a nice chat. I had him sign my Yuki instruction manual and, of course, got a picture.
After this, we decided we were done and headed out, although there were some other goings-on that I would have liked to check out — there was some sort of game show on the main stage that sounded pretty fun, so maybe next year I’ll make sure I stay til the bitter end. There were also after-parties at a couple of nearby arcades, so one of these years I really will go whole-hog and do everything.
As it turned out, Sunday was a snowy day and many people had trouble flying out of MKE airport. But luckily, it seemed to me that MGC was a smashing success this year and hopefully it made up for last year’s weather-related troubles.
As always, MGC was a highlight of my year and I’m already looking forward to next year — and next time, I’ll have a lot more friends to meet!
And, as promised, here’s a video walkthrough I made from this year’s MGC. Sorry for some of the camerawork — I should probably invest in a gimbel if I’m gonna keep making videos, right? Anyway, please enjoy, and I’ll see you next year!