After a three-year wait to get back to a normal schedule, Midwest Gaming Classic returned to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in full force this year. Having canceled the event in 2020 because…well, because 2020, then postponing the usual spring weekend in 2021 from April to November because…well, because 2020 again, April 28-30, 2022 finally saw MGC back in action the way we remember it from the Before Times.
MGC was once again gaming ground zero, with its usual amenities: the legendarily huge dealers’ room, the Gaming Museum full of game machines and computers ready to play, an artists’ alley, arcade games and pinball, tournaments, special guests, panels, tabletop gaming, and lots more.
Let’s start off on a great note: One of the highlights of my day was meeting Q*bert creator Warren Davis, and picking up a copy of his book, Creating Q*bert, to add to my ever-expanding library of video game history books.
I also tried to meet MGC regular Philo Barnhart, artist and animator for Disney and Don Bluth, who worked on Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace, and Dragon’s Lair II. A resident of the Chicago suburbs, Mr. Barnhart attends almost every year, but I’ve never stopped to meet him. It finally dawned on me that that as a huge Dragon’s Lair fan, I should probably do so and buy something from him. He had prints for sale as usual, but as I approached, I saw that he was also doing some original drawings. I was hoping to commission a sketch of Dirk and Daphne and was totally willing to fork over whatever price he wanted to charge me, but he was sort of busy working on a Little Mermaid piece and chatting with some other visitors, so I backed off. Maybe next year.
As usual, I cruised through the dealers’ room, looking for a trophy game or two to take home. It seemed that this year, there were a lot more non-video game dealers; lots of toys (too goddamn many Funko Pops, that’s for sure), and lots of arts & crafts. Nevertheless, there were still tons of games, so to keep from getting overwhelmed, I decided to pick a few specific titles and consoles that I wanted to search for to keep myself focused. I chose to look for R-Type for the Game Boy (loose or boxed) and Paladin’s Quest for Super NES (boxed). I was also on the lookout for an Atari XEGS and any Neo*Geo or arcade stuff that might be available. Welp, not one dealer had a copy of R-Type, so that was a bust. Nor did I see an Atari XEGS (or any other notable consoles) anywhere for sale. One dealer had three Neo-Geo AES games: Last Resort ($800), Eightman ($700), and Andro Dunos ($1200). Even though I would love to have picked up the two shmups, two grand was a bit rich for my blood, so that was also a letdown. Sean Kelly, patron saint of the Vectrex, had a table as usual, and he was selling a full array of reproduction Vectrex screen overlays. Coincidentally enough, I had been looking at them online not long ago and was considering ordering a handful; with all of them available here at MGC and Sean offering them at a special discounted convention price, I nabbed six beautiful overlays for my Vec. Eventually, I did find a boxed copy of Paladin’s Quest at one dealer, but it was in a display case, with no visible price, and the booth was so packed that I could not actually determine who worked there so I could ask. With claustrophobia setting in, I decided to call it a day in the dealers’ room.
Next up was one of my favorite parts of every MGC: The Gaming Museum! Rows upon rows of literally every game console, vintage home computer, and arcade hardware you could think of, open for all to play. While I don’t feel the need to play everything there — I can certainly skip over the Genesis playing Sonic 2 or the Atari 2600 with a pile of games to try out — I do have to spend some quality time with some of the machines that are on my seemingly eternal wish list.
First was the aforementioned Atari XEGS. This console plays all Atari computer cartridges, from the Atari 400 and 800 to, of course, the Atari XE. Its unusual grey-and-pastel color scheme and funky angled cartridge slot make it one of the most unique-looking game consoles ever.
There were also tons of superguns (units that allow arcade PCBs to be played on a home TV) hooked up to various arcade systems, such as Capcom CPS2, Sega Naomi, and more. I played a couple levels of Dolphin Blue running on a Naomi with a Hori RAP joystick. Sublime!
After putzing around with some other fun systems that I don’t own, like the NEC PC-FX, a Sharp X68000, and an MSX2, I settled in with my personal grail, the Pioneer LaserActive. Hyperion by Taito was the game of the day. Dang, I still want one of these things. Collecting for the LaserActive isn’t quite as expensive as Neo-Geo collecting, but it’s still one of the pricier consoles to add to your arsenal.
Moving past the Gaming Museum, I was looking forward to the usual rows upon rows of arcade and pinball games. There was plenty of pinball, as usual; however, this year, things were rather sparse on the arcade game front. Usually, people bring in their machines to contribute to the arcade display, and oftentimes they’re for sale. This year, it seemed there were only a handful of video arcade machines, and most of them were going to be auctioned off on Sunday. To me, it was a bit disappointing compared to the staggeringly massive arcade and pinball rooms of past MGCs.
Still, I kept a positive attitude as Stern had about half a dozen of their new Godzilla pinball machine, which I was eager to play! I stood around for quite a while hoping a machine would open up, but…none did. Sigh.
In keeping with the recent kaiju pinball theme, I was also hoping to play Jersey Jack’s new Ultraman pinball…but that was constantly occupied too. Now I was getting frustrated.
At least Skee-Ball was there!
Wandering around to some of the farthest corners of the convention center, I did find a couple more special rooms. Guys Games and Beer had a room with some fun stuff in it, including a few Vectrex machines and a homemade Vectrex arcade cabinet.
The Garcade, a wonderful arcade in Menominee Falls, Wisconsin (in the Milwaukee area), had their own room with a bunch of machines they had brought. I have been meaning to get back to the Garcade for years, but haven’t had a chance; I did show my support by picking up a Garcade t-shirt, however.
Before I talk about the end of my experience, I guess I have to address the issue of my own time crunch on this particular day:
Having attended MGC every year since 2004 (except in 2018 when we had a freak blizzard on the day I was going to go), it was a rough few years since the last time I got to go in 2019. I did have a weekend pass for the November 2021 event, but I couldn’t make it. A friend of mine did go that weekend, however, and told me that it was somewhat sparsely attended in general. So I was more than ready to jump back into action this year, with a number of interesting panels on the schedule and an eagerness to treat myself to some sought-after games for my collection.
Unfortunately, my own schedule had other plans. While I did take the day off work on Saturday, April 30 to attend, my wife and were actually leaving for a trip to Las Vegas the following day, May 1. Originally, our flight out was supposed to be at a comfortable late-morning time, but the airline changed everything so that we now had to fly out at 5:45 a.m., from the Milwaukee airport which is 2 hours from where we live, which meant that I had to be up at 1:00 a.m. the night (er, morning) after MGC…which meant that I couldn’t to stay at MGC too late, because I had to drive almost 2 hours back home so I could get ready for our trip and try to catch a few hours’ sleep before we had to be up in the middle of the night!
All that said, I was also disappointed in the scheduling of the panels. Now, let me make it clear that it was no fault of the MGC organizers at all, it just didn’t work out with my timeline. There were a couple panels I really wanted to see — Kelsey Lewin from the Video Game History Foundation, Retronauts’ Jeremy Parrish, and Norman Caruso, the Gaming Historian were giving a talk on game history, and there was a panel on video game YouTubers with the Seattle crew of John Riggs, Metal Jesus, and John Hancock — but these panels were at 5 and 6 pm, and I really couldn’t stay that late. (Norman had a table in the dealers’ room and I would have liked to say hello as I really enjoy his work, but like Philo, he was mid-conversation when I strolled over to his booth.) Even more frustrating, there were panels I wanted to see the following day, Sunday, including one with Tim Lapetino, author of the amazing books The Art of Atari and Pac-Man: Birth of an Icon, but of course, I wouldn’t be there. (In the past, it always seemed the best panels were on Saturday, which is why I decided to start going on Saturdays. Maybe I have to do the whole weekend next time?)
So, to make a long story short (too late), I left MGC mid-afternoon without really getting all I was hoping to out of it. But that wasn’t MGC’s fault, as I said, and I’m also not really mad about it at all because my wife and I were about to embark on a much-needed break in Sin City (where, interestingly enough, this story sort of continues — more on that later).
Despite it not being the best Midwest Gaming Classic weekend I’d ever experienced, it was certainly good to see it back to full strength after the hiatus that the whole world has been on for the past couple years. If nothing else, it’s a sign of hope for things finally getting back to normal-ish, and for everyone to be able to enjoy the things that bring us together.