Last year, after PAX Prime 2011 ended, I found out there was a local retro games convention around Portland called the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. Apparently it had been running for several years, and I was unaware of its existence, so I decided to head over to the event. Despite the small venue – it was at a DoubleTree convention hall not too far from the Lloyd Center mall – I had a blast buying a few games to fulfill my ever-increasing collection.
Cut to 2012, and the Portland Retro Gaming Expo came back for its seventh year. This time, they kicked things into overdrive as they moved facilities to the much larger Oregon Convention Center just off downtown Portland. Though the ticket prices jumped due to the venue change – $20 for a day, $25 for both days – I still expected to have a lot of fun.
The Computer Space cabinet is pretty cool only because it hits that perfect style of the 1960s: round yet angular.
On Saturday, I grabbed a friend along for the ride. He hasn’t played much video games, but did remember messing around with the old Kaypro, Macintoshes and Commodore 64s that some of the vendors had, while occasionally talking about the classic Atari 2600 and NES eras. I’m honestly amazed he was willing to put up with me being an obnoxious nerd about some of the things.
Naturally like any retro games convention, the place had many different vendors selling off all sorts of things: Old computers, Nintendo Power magazines — likely will increase in value since they’re shutting down — NES and SNES game reproductions, Tiger Electronics handhelds, various toys and figures, comic books and other assorted nerdy things. There was an absolute breadth of stuff there. My wallet took a hit during the whole event, which I talk about in another blog post.
The Retrogames Roadshow in action. Pictured from left to right: John Hancock, Steve Lin, “Gamemaster” Howard Phillips, and Chris Kohler.
After me and my friend roamed around the main hall and played a few arcade classics like Galaga, Robotron 2084 and that pinball/arcade hybrid Baby Pac-Man, I walked into the small auditoriums they had for the convention’s events. Chris Kohler (of Wired at the time of this article, now at Kotaku) was doing his Retrogaming Roadshow event. It’s a fairly simple thing: people bring up interesting gaming things and basically seeing if they’re worth anything.
Later during the panel, there was a surprise guest: Howard Phillips, formerly of Nintendo during the NES glory days, now advertising himself under the “Gamemaster Howard” brand. He’s lately been posting stuff on Facebook and other social media sites, showing off most of the old stuff he had from his Nintendo days, such as a promo booklet for the Nintendo AVS — the original name for the NES — back from the 1985 Consumer Electronics Show. Honestly I was not expecting these people to make the trek to Portland, but hey, anything to talk to Chris — and have him recognize me! — and ask him how much my Japanese copy of Hot Shots Golf 2 is. (Turns out it’s worth nothing. Oh well, I only spent $5 on it.)
I still bought a couple of things on Saturday, and bumped into Howard Phillips at the show. I asked him about why we never got the original Super Mario Bros. 2, since it was one of those apocryphal stories that he was the impetus for why the original Super Mario Bros. 2 never made it to the US until years later, and why Nintendo reskinned Doki Doki Panic into the US Super Mario Bros 2. Turns out it wasn’t nearly as clear cut as that. He gave these reasons: “It was too similar to the original, and I hated the poison mushrooms and the wind sections!” It was still neat to talk and hear stories from him about those days, as those aren’t as documented nearly as well.