California Extreme was a different style of convention for me. I had only a little information going into the exhibit hall, but once inside, I was in something fairly close to my childhood heaven. While I haven’t been in a proper arcade like those in my childhood for a long time, this place far exceeded anything I had previously imagined. Understand, I had thought by and large, the era of the Arcade was over. Still, to think that so many different arcade machines covering the variety that was presented in that was possible without this convention would have been mind-boggling. For me, seeing something like this was a trip back in time but it was also seeing the evolution of the Arcade and Gaming. I saw machines I had never seen before as well as saw Pinball Machines in styles and designs that I had never thought about. In a way, this was as educational as it was entertaining.
The pinball machines caught my eye especially. I got my own introduction to Pinball and some tricks for it from my late Godfather over 20 years ago. While I was incredibly familiar with the modern style of pinball, with the digital score display, animated scenes displayed in lights, alleys and numerous other features, I had never seen some of the earlier models that built the base for this line of gaming. Seeing these older models and playing on them presented a completely new challenge as they operated in a radically different way. On one machine, there were multiple balls displayed in the machine and by launching the ball into some of the alleys, it would abruptly change to a different ball. While not a new concept in its basics, in my experience, it was confounding and took me by surprise as I had simply expected the ball to fall through. The score display also threw me off, as I was used to Pinball machines being able to handle a score in at least the millions; to see even a few models that had score displays that only went up to the ten thousands was different. Still, they were all fun to play and something that I wish I had previously had more experience with.
Perhaps the biggest attraction overall for me were the arcade machines themselves. While I enjoyed pinball as mentioned above, video games are much more a love in my life. I saw machines I had never thought I would, like Dragon’s Lair, Joust (1 and 2), Asteroids (and Asteroids Deluxe) and several Star Wars arcade machines. Many of these gaming cabinets I had assumed had simply vanished into the halls of private collections but they re-emerged for this convention. Some machines were custom built and it was obvious in ways, still, it was a marvel to see them. A prime example of this was the Super Street Fighter II HD Remix and the Nintendo Compilation cabinets. I still enjoyed playing on them, as it showed the general impact of the arcade style of play. Many of the games I knew and loved as a child I first learned about in the arcade, like Mortal Kombat and some of its clones (like Primal Rage which I managed to play a little at the Convention). There were a few arcade relics that deserve mention simply for their execution and originality: The Grid, Propcycle, and Panic Park. The Grid offered a good twist on the third person shooter, making for addictive action and supporting up to six different linked cabinets. The incentive to keep playing was obvious once you had won a few games and realized you could keep playing for free. Propcycle just offered not too many games do, a reason to keep in shape. The gameplay focused around the pedaling from the user to control the speed and their leaning motions to guide the craft along. It was a game I loved playing a local theatre when I was a lot younger. Being controlled like that simply was a charm of the era and something I just adored. It brought back a lot of good memories. I never really was good at it though … Panic Park though was something else. It was very easy to control, simply by sliding the paddle you had left to right, you had to balance and dodge your way through a series of mini-games to reach the game. It was designed to be a multiplayer, with the option of honestly giving your friend a good shove (or at least their paddle) to make sure you got the right landing spot.
The most interesting twist overall for any of this was simply the fact that if one desired, many of the machines were for sale. For a convention, initially it seemed a bit odd, but from another viewpoint, it made a lot of sense, as many people there would be interested in classic arcade games that couldn’t be found anywhere else. The lowest was around $300 for Toobin’ and some cabinets were selling for over $1000. It was something that I had not expected to see at a Convention, but I would not complain especially if one had the chance to get the cabinet they wanted.
In conclusion, while not as social as many other conventions, I didn’t see any Cosplay, there wasn’t much lost for it. It was a much quieter convention, but very enjoyable nonetheless. Will we return? It is likely.