Oklahoma Video Game Expo 2011

I don’t find myself regularly in a lot of exotic cities, so my list of what they smell like is going to be meager and unimpressive. That’s fine, because we were all going to think less of me when this article is over anyway. Denver smells like dust. Rochester smells like a fish fry. Vegas smells like burning. And the first experience I had with Oklahoma City was that the area just outside the airport smells like the inside of an arcade cabinet.

There’s a difference between an arcade and an individual cabinet. Arcades, the place, often smell like bung. Nerds don’t bathe anywhere near as well or as often as they should, so they get their sweat on everything. I will never understand the mentality that lets guys think that a long shower at an expo or convention is optional. You’re on vacation. Time has no meaning. I’m in there rotating around like me and spam are gonna feed a dozen hungry Hawaiians.

Arcade cabinets, though, have a not-unpleasant scent like old wood and electricity. I know that’s not really poetic, but I (honestly) left my Kindle on my flight home from Oklahoma City and I was (honestly) reading Wodehouse for the first time before I lost it to prep for this. All I am left with are insipid comparisons like that one since the bulk of the weekend was spent around media that dealt with two-word commands, but I’ll get to that.

Anyway, I’ve got a bunch of arcade cabinets in my home, and I’ve had to do basic tasks on a few of them, so that scent has become inviting, and that’s what I’ll remember most about Oklahoma City. Now, I was quickly in Flack’s truck, and he’s transported dozens of games with it, so for all I know that could be why. The part of Oklahoma City where the Thunder play could very well smell like Jack Sikma’s taintfuzz.

The Oklahoma Video Game Expo has been operational since 2003. I believe they skipped 2007, but other than that, it’s been around every year since. Flack, a Oklahoma resident, gave me a heads-up about the show a few months ago, and I thought it would be a great thing to attend. Flack has countless stories about acquring retro computers and arcade machines. In fact, you can even buy his books on the Kindle. If you were on the right plane last night, you could read them on MY Kindle. I’m really more torn up about this than I thought I’d be. Who will the dead authors on the screensaver haunt now?

The OVGE welcomes vendors selling stuff, and guys just displaying things. Flack’s just recently started making text adventures. I’ve been doing it since 1999. We’d both recently finished a game (HANGAR 22 for him, Cryptozookeeper for me) so he got a couple tables at the expo so that we could not only promote our wares, but hook up a bunch of old computers running text games as well. Flack, Jeff Martin and Brian Green had the following in place as the lineup:

– A Commodore 64 running Adventureland for the first half of the show, and Questprobe Featuring the Hulk for the last half.
– An Apple II that ran Oo-Topos. (Oo-Topos, though it has an early parser, is an absolute favorite of mine. I was completely surprised that it was there!)
– An Amiga running Guild of Thieves.
– A TRS-80 that had a built-in monitor with two floppy drives. This ended up playing an early revision (25, in fact) of Zork I.
– Laptops that ran HANGAR 22 and Cryptozookeeper.

Our expectations was that hardly anyone was going to pass the table and play games, which was fine. We’re all extremely realistic about how much interest there is in the genre these days, with the key phrase probably being >GET LOST. But Get Lamp had come out recently… there had certainly never been an interactive fiction setup at the OVGE before… and Flack, Brian and Jeff knocked it out of the house with the old computers, as those were up, working, and interesting to this crowd regardless of what they were playing.

I can’t get over how many young kids actually gave text games a shot. We were across from some stand-up arcade and pinball machines. We were adjacent to some Super Nintendos that had, among other games, Mutant Turtles ready for kids. All those stations had a lot of attention. All of those stations had more attention. But by the end of the expo, people had made it to the mid-game of Zork I. People had gotten out of the locked room in Oo-Topos, which is nigh impossible, considering the game doesn’t exactly give you a room description if you type >LOOK. I’m terrible guessing the age of kids, but some of them aged age… nine? To twelve, maybe? Some of them aged 9-12 really saw the games as challenges to overcome, rather than relics with parsers that show a drawbridge, and then don’t allow you to raise it, lower it, look at it, or draw it.

Some games didn’t quite hold up. Someone had typed “>this game sucks” into Guild of Thieves at one point. GoT did have the most awkward interface, since Magnetic Scrolls games default to a picture taking up 80% of the screen, a stylized font that was tough to read via the Amiga’s scandoubler, and a UI that (I don’t think) you can click and grab to adjust the amount of text and graphics? Considering I thought that reviews like that would make up the bulk of what people typed in, I was delighted to see it only happen once.

I did have an experience with Crypto I’ve seen modern-day authors have before: I read through a transcript and saw that someone typed in “sing” and “boogey” while I was away. Now, there is (spoilers) no point in the game where you need to sing or get down (in that particular way). I wrote thousands of lines of code to try to anticipate what a player could do, of course. I wrote a system to allow for aiming a gun at people to stop them from hitting you — checking for the instant the gun was down — and I made it completely optional. Just in case they wanted to play it Monolith-style. But people will come up, try a couple verbs you’ve never thought of, and that’s that. It’s fine, of course — this is sort of text games’ thing. But I’ll be adding boogey as a synonym to >dance in the next game.

(It drives me crazy when people talk about an expo and the games there, and don’t mention the lineup. It’s the “can you remap the controls?” of arcade write-ups — often forgotten, always missed. Present was Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Sky Soldiers, Pengo, Gorf, Gaplus in a Galaga cab, Gimme a Break, Tank II, Joust (cocktail), Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Pac-Man (perhaps a Ms.?) and a Neo-Geo. The pinball lineup was: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Addams Family, Elvira, Super Mario Bros., and Mutant Turtles.)

There wasn’t quite as much retro hardware to purchase as I would have hoped for. If you wanted a 2600 or a Sega Genesis, you had options. Early in the show, Flack thought he was buying a single Apple IIGS. Due to a mistake in communication, he ended up buying the vendor’s stock. All of it. Two IIGSs, a monitor of some ill repute, and a bunch of MacIntosh stuff that I never got a bead on. I purchased an Atari 2600 BASIC Programming catridge so I could finally get Human Resources off my ass with their endless requests for certs.

I can’t stress enough how fun the show was. It was $5 admission to get in, and if it’s the sort of thing you’re into, there was plenty there. I was up late hanging out with Flack in his home arcade the night before, and we needed to be on the road by six, as the show was in Tulsa. We were starved for sleep, but there was something energizing about being around that crowd. It was an enormous amount of fun, and I’d like to think that if it took place on the same weekend next year I’d fly in from Colorado and attend again, since this way my dad will know it was intentional and not a coincidence. Props to OVGE organizer Jesse Hardesty for setting up a fun show with a really electric vibe.

Update! Here is Flack’s post regarding the show.

Ice Cream Jonsey


  1. […] EDIT: Robb Sherwin wrote his own thoughts about the show over at Caltrops. […]

  2. […] I wrote a blog post detailing my full experience with the expo, with photos over here on Caltrops. […]