Portland Retro Gaming Expo Day 2: Exhibitor Hall & Panels
Our report from Saturday, October 20, 2018 from the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, the biggest retro gaming convention in North America.
The opening of the Exhibitor Hall for the Portland Retro Gaming Expo marked the opening of the convention in full. Tons of exhibitors filled the entire hall with their wares. Essentially a flea market fully stocked with retro games and related media and hardware. Everything from the Magnavox Odyssey and Atari 2600 to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, custom ROM cartridges, emulators, art, t-shirts, posters, books, old Nintendo Power issues and other magazines, laser discs, vinyls, trading cards, jewelry, cosplayers, and even more were all available to be browsed, haggled, and purchased by anyone in attendance.
Throughout my time looking through the countless stacks and bins of cartridges and CD cases I avoided the urge to buy Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid among other games I already own digitally or can easily purchase elsewhere. However, I came across four Neon Genesis Evangelion games for the Sega Saturn for around $5 each that I ultimately ended up purchasing. They were: Neon Genesis Evangelion: 1st Impression, Neon Genesis Evangelion: 2nd Impression, Girlfriend of Steel/Iron Maiden, and Neon Genesis Evangelion Digital Card Library, all for $20 total.
Some of the cooler things I saw among the exhibitors was one with custom ROM cartridges that used a base game and either continued or told a different story, such as a sequel to I believe Pokémon Ruby-Sapphire, a custom game that received a sequel of its own. These were fan games repurposing cartridges and using custom art for the box, they set themselves apart from other pieces of media for their uniqueness. Another recurring thing that stood out were the multitude of boxed copies of games that were way too expensive for me. Games upwards of $100, always kept behind glass cases and always drawing the eyes of anyone who enjoys the rush of an expensive purchase that may just end up sitting on a shelf untouched.
I also got to attend several panels including The Law v. Video Games by Norman Caruso (The Gaming Historian) and Joey DeSena (16-Bit Gems) brought up six court cases that helped shape certain elements of games as far as copyright protection, fair use, etc. The cases included in this talk were: KC Munchkin, a Philips game for the Magnavox Odyssey 2 that bore great similarities to Pac-Man. Atari sued Philips because Atari owned the exclusive license for the play-at-home version of Pac-Man. While Atari initially lost the first case they won in their appeal. This set the stage for copyright and how it applied to knock-offs. Next was the $5 Nintendo coupon, a result of a settlement with the attorney general of every state in the US. This began when Nintendo fixed prices (not allowing retailers to sell consoles/games at a discount) on the NES and its games and paid nearly $5 million in fines and legal costs and sent $5 coupons to all NES owners that would give them a discount on Nintendo products. This was similar to Sony’s settlement with the FTC in 2015 due to misleading advertisements for the Vita that resulted in $25 of PSN credit or some games. Earlier this year Sony settled again, this time for the “fat” PS3 and the OtherOS feature that was stripped as part of a firmware update. Tengen’s deceit in order to get access to Nintendo’s patented 10NES lockout system was also covered, as well as Jack Thompson’s circus act of a lawsuit blaming Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for the murder of three people in 2003. Nintendo’s attempt to block sales of the Game Genie was another black mark on their history, and their argument that it created derivative works did not hold up in court. Lastly the impending loot box case in Belgium was touched on due to their governments labeling of loot boxes as gambling and EA’s subsequent non-action to remove them from FIFA 18. The massive backlash from Battlefront II last year continues onward.
I was also able to attend the “Intellivision Entertainment Keynote Address” by Tommy Tallarico. This event has already been covered previously, my only addition is that he has got a lot of heart but I’m not confident in its success.
My last panel was the “Game History and Preservation” by Ken Horowitz of Sega-16. This was a very good panel about the many challenges of preserving video games for the future as well as some recommendations on how everyone can help overcome those challenges. Obstacles include firmware updates, server maintenance costs, hardware maintenance costs, licensing, publisher/developer closing down, and source codes being lost or deleted. It was a reminder of the many elements that go into preserving previous games as well as the challenges an all-digital or all-streaming future would present to continue those efforts. His stressing of interviewing key members of development teams was also insightful, especially alongside his own examples of people who passed away shortly after his own interviews with them. His advice for those who want to help is to reach out to people and do interviews, focus on one area, raise awareness and discourse, scan documents, and fact check sources.
Closing out the night were two events, the Live Game Collectibles Auction and the Annual Cosplay Contest. The contest was held in the same area as the Tetris World Championship stage. While the usual assortment of Nintendo characters were represented (and yes there were a few Bowsette’s on the floor throughout the day) some niche characters as well including Toan from Dark Cloud and a humanized Pokémon whose name I did not catch. At the same time was the auction, which wasn’t as fast-talking as some may have hoped. Proceeds for certain items were being donated to the family of Don Russell, a well known and kindhearted video game collector among the retro community who sadly passed away in July to cancer. Items auctioned off during my visit were a Mario Kart: Double Dash standee ($130~), Cruise Chaser Blassty, a Squaresoft PC-8801 Game And Soundtrack Record ($500), A Sharp NES TV system ($850), a NBA Jam banner ($260), and the first of several mystery boxes that sold for $1600 that included: sealed copies of Atari 2600 games Yar’s Revenge, Realsports Baseball, Defender, Armor Ambush, Super Challenge Baseball, Twerps, Commando, Space Attack, and a non-sealed Asteroids, a 64k memory card, Bravely Default collector’s edition, an Atari 2600 QT food pedal controller, Colecovision puffy stickers, Portland Retro Gaming cards and shirts, and a National Video Game Musuem hat and shot glass. This first mystery box was purchased by Steve Lin.
While I don’t have the funds to appease my internal collector’s desire to own everything, it was still fun to walk among the vendors and look at everything on display. It was like the ultimate gathering of mom and pop shops that still sell PlayStation 2 games that you missed out on. Panels were entertaining and informative, and introduced me to people I may have never happened across otherwise. Sunday won’t be as packed and is a shorter day, but should be just as fun to walk around. You can view an image gallery for Saturday’s trip below.