H.A.A.G. Expo 2005
Full report of this Houston area game show
By Darryl BrundageJune 29, 2005
Well well well, another year, another entertainment
expo. I've gone to music and sci-fi conventions for many
years now, my favorite being the music ones, especially
since Houston isn't exactly known as to having the
greatest music "industry" (and I use that term quite
lightly), since you can find all kinds of surprises at
one of those (especially if you just got back into
collecting vinyl over the last few years like I did).
After a gaming expo, all you have left are memories,
rather than something that you can play later again and
again (unless you actually buy a machine that's for sale
at the expo, that is). You can pick up cool stuff at a
sci-fi expo too, but THE most fun of the three are the
gaming expos, since they're hands-on!
Gaming expos are new to me, though, as this is only the second year in a row
I have gone to H. A. A. G.'s expo, which now has made me more worldly (cough,
choke *major sarcasm*) in the entertainment expo field...or the nostalgia one
"I'M MEEEELTING! I'M MELTING!"
In Houston, what's known as "spring" means "technically summer, which starts
in about February", which we've already had several days hitting the 80s to the
90s for the last several weeks (yet summer wouldn't "officially" start until a
few days after the H. A. A. G. expo, on the 21st), complete with 80% or more
humidity; I can't stress how terrible enough it is to let the cat out first
thing in the morning and exclaim "yech! It feels awful out here already!".
So, what's there for your typical Houstonian to do in June (until about
November)? One of three things:
- Stay indoors.
- Stay indoors and do something entertaining.
- MOVE to a different indoors if the air conditioning for #1 or 2 isn't
working (after you shot whoever was responsible for not getting it fixed).
Luckily there's H. A. A. G. to the rescue...the Houston Area Arcade Group (in
case you thought I was being rude), with their annual expo from June 17 (6 p. m.
until 2 a. m., more or less) through June 18 (10 a. m. until 2 a. m., more or
less). Unfortunately my report only covers the June 18 day due to some problems
(I didn't even know for weeks I was going to be able to go until the last
minute), but there's still plenty to show and tell about it, though!
will be reporting some things in regards to the June 17th show,
since there was a video and/or pinball high score contest, but unfortunately my
contact has not been available yet in order to provide me that information.
Since Greg at TAT here is very good at updating things on his site (if he's not
constantly doing it as it is
), then keep an eye out for updated information
And on another note, as I mentioned earlier, I also attended the 2004 expo.
Due to several problems, excuses, and/or possibly things I (probably) don't even
want to know about, that coverage took over a YEAR to go up, which you can check
out part one
and part two is
Unfortunately the website used well under half the pictures that I took,
so I apologize to all the people that I got their names for the photos and all,
I'll eventually see about getting my own web space, putting them up, and
updating the story with a link to them. Sorry for the problems and delays to
everyone that was involved with my first covering of the event, whatever they
THE ATMOSPHERE -- OR "I'VE GOT PAC-MAN FEVER"
Like last year's show, gamers were immediately greeted by the games H. A. A.
G. was raffling off (which I'll have the names of people and who won what at a
later date), which this year the first thing you saw in the hallway was the
great old Atari Football game (you know, the one with trackballs and x's and o's
for players); this was such an excellent game that even *I* played it back in
the day, since I've never really been into sports, nor sports games! Also as
usual with their raffles, the game looked to be in great shape, maybe even mint
condition. They also raffled off the old Space Mission pinball game, which I can
say it was also in good shape, since I played it. There were also a couple of
tabletop games in the hallway as well, with the obscure Moon Shuttle (totally
forgot about that game in the day!) up for sale.
Inside, music from the 70s and 80s (the time period that the majority of the
games came from) blasted through the speakers with old punk, rock, U2, Big
Country, etc. being played. As someone said that they were playing a pretty good
mix, I had to agree, as I think it was better than last year's (although I only
was able to devote about 3 1/2 hours to last year's show due to some
difficulties, which this year I got in about five...hopefully next year I'll
actually be able to attend both days!). Video game-related songs also were
played, of course, especially the staple of "Pac-Man Fever".
Keith Christensen, founder and president of H. A. A. G., performed all kinds
of duties (as he usually does), from providing a bunch of games to dee jaying to
making announcements to doing a cable show interview/tour of the place to
hosting raffles and playing with some lighting and smoke effects during our
stay. A lot of the time the place was kept dark, the further to take you back
into time when not only were arcades around everywhere, but they were also dark,
seedy places at times...
Of course, there was a happy, but busy atmosphere of people playing games in
three separate rooms, although the back room (right next to the bar) also had a
table where people could rest their tired wrists for a while, but keep their
mouths moving to boast (lie, possibly) about their highest score of the day,
have a beer and/or some catered food that was available. There was also various
sci-fi, fantasy, and video game merchandise (buttons) sold there too, which also
coincided with the door prizes this time around also mostly consisting of sci-fi
and other entertainment items (Star Wars posters and movies, a gospel/hip-hop
compilation cd, the locally made Laughing Boy movie, etc.), rather than video
game-related prizes of the previous years, like Pac-Man lunch boxes and all
(which I guess those are going to eventually run out anyway). However, they also
gave away the "official" H. A. A. G. hot sauce, made by a Pac-Man champion.
(Note--more on exactly what this is later once I hear back from my contact; it
The majority of the people at the expo were my age, in their 30s (or 20s),
although there were quite a few families with younger kids (pre-teens), and even
a few in their 50s on up; a nice mix altogether.
THINGS TO SEE AND GAMES TO PLAY
First off, in regards to the photos, my apologies for several games having
the camera flash in them, since the flash almost always goes off, as there's
no way to turn it off (yes, I even looked it up in the instructions! Plus it was
dark most of the time in the place anyway [which you won't be able to tell with
the photos, due to the flash]). Several game photos weren't taken "face front",
though, they were taken more to the side to minimize the blasted glare (the backglass to the Star Wars Trilogy pinball game gave off too huge a reflection
to include in a photo here, as well as the old mega-classic Space War game,
grumble grumble). Some photos still came out pretty decently, though.
Anyway, in regards to a much more complete gaming list, visit the H. A. A. G.
website at www.arcadecenter.com and check it out. It's more or less accurate,
although as "Pinball" Pete Christian (who owns the Starship Trooper pinny) told
me, several games had to be turned away that day...Tron and Star Wars (the
original Atari vector game) being ones that either didn't make it or they could
have been sold, as I know Tron was up for sale, and I know I didn't see that
S. Wars cockpit anywhere (there were a few games that I thought didn't make it
last year, but they got sold probably on the Friday of the event, as I was there
on that Saturday only). No way was I going to take photos of every single game!
(And besides, again, due to screen glare, some just weren't possible to
However, here's a list of
the Atari games that were there, at least!
- Asteroids Deluxe
- Canyon Bomber
- Crystal Castles
- Dig Dug
- Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters
- Food Fight
- Gauntlet II
- Space Duel
And THEN...THE CROWN JEWEL OF THE EVENING
- I, Robot
Oh my god!! Not only did this game not have a high production number when it
was released -- sources point to only 500 being made -- but there was also the
urban legend that a few hundred of them were lost and are at the bottom of an
ocean right now, due to the ship that they were being transported on sinking. It
was the very first game to have polygon graphics (way back in 1983), though,
being way ahead of it's time, and it's gameplay was also a bit unusual as well.
OTHER GAMES OF PARTICULAR MENTION (BUT LET'S NOT LEAVE OTHERS OUT JUST
BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT ATARI!) THAT YOU DON'T SEE EVERY DAY (OR EVEN YEAR, IF NOT
I got to see Space War for the first time since the 70s, probably. It was
especially nice to see a father and son team try it out as well (more on that
later; see the "Jane Goodall" section near the end [you'll see what I mean!]).
The notorious Death Race (which didn't have any relation with the
similarly-titled Sylvester Stallone/Keith Carradine movie of Death Race 2000)
was also in attendance, as it caused quite a stir back then due to players
controlling cars that ran over people. Unfortunately, whenever I tried playing
it, it was out of credits, grrrr. (Note: you can either alert one of the several
people who brought in their machines [they're usually there for most, or all of
the day] or Christensen, who will announce it over the P. A. system, as he had
the door to Interstellar [more on this game in a minute] unlocked when I told
him that it needed credits at one point.) I also played Sea Wolf, peering
through that viewscope for the first time since the 70s as well,
getting enough points for an extended play. Yay!
The fifteen minute fad of the 80s laserdisc games of Space Ace and
Interstellar were also at the expo. I'm sure most (or at least those of us that
are in our 20s and 30s on up that frequented arcades back then) are familiar
with the cartoon-like Space Ace, but I had totally forgotten that I even used to
play Interstellar back then. However, it's just pretty much a 3-D Galaga with
part of Xevious thrown in (i. e. there are parts of the game where you have a
target sighting that appears a few inches away from your ship in order to bomb
objects that appear on the ground), but it was nice to play it again to jog my
memory with all these years later. And not that it was a laserdisc game, but the
rare Joust 2 was also there, playing pretty much like the original (actually I
had played it a few times in the 80s and 90s), although the screens are more
crowded, as ruins appear that you must navigate around. There's also an
additional button that allows you and your flying ostrich to transform into a
much bigger adversary, and another rare one of Make Trax (in a miniature
cabinet) was also on hand for people to try to paint as many screens as they
could (I couldn't even make it to the third!).
Of course, there were also the usual plethora of hits from the day that were
in attendance as well, such as Donkey Kong (the original and Junior), Mappy,
Jungle King, Galaga, Kangaroo, Defender, etc., and some of the newer games (i.
e. 90s through the millenium) like San Francisco Rush 2049, Lethal Enforcers
(which got a lot of play), L. A. Machineguns and several Multicade machines, but
my feeling was a bit mixed on them: sure, Phoenix, Legendary Wings and Scramble
seemed perfectly emulated (possibly minus the sound, which I couldn't hear all
of, as the volume on a lot of the games are turned lower than the music that's
being played over the PA), but the Qix in Qix seemed to move too fast (granted,
it might just be my memory playing me false though), Major Havoc didn't seem to
handle quite right with the trackball, and was the joystick "response" (or not)
really THAT annoying on Ladybug? I always thought the Colecovision version's
responses bit the dust, but was the original also a bit difficult to control?
Unfortunately, on the flip side, the rare Blaster wasn't working, along with
Flim-Flam (a Pong rip-off, but a very rare four-player tabletop game), and a
virtual reality game was also out of commission; argh! I really wanted to try
that, the hell with how dorky I probably would've looked moving and ducking
around in its booth!
And let's not forget the pinball games! Luckily Christensen brought back Circus
Voltaire this year, which, due to my very short stay at last year's show, I
missed playing it, but I didn't know beforehand it was a prototype! (It didn't
register with me that "sample" on the H. A. A. G. web site meant "prototype that
makes it mandatory to give it at least one try".) Like a mysterious circus act
where you can't figure out how the performers could possibly do something that
apparently breaks the laws of physics, one giant
spinner on the pinball game stops the ball right in it's tracks and rises up to
reveal a demented-looking ringmaster (which you can see his green, ugly face
near the top right of the playfield in the photo I took). He encourages you to
hit him with the ball (which I gladly, immediately obliged once I got the ball
back after it was launched back onto the playfield), plus there was also a giant
green plastic ball (see lower left of photo) in the playfield as well that you
could also smack around.
There was also a pinball game from the 70s called Fireball that was not only
reported to be the first game to use a giant spinner (similar to the one used
years later in Circus Voltaire), but there were also buttons on the playfield
that were worth a bonus when the ball ran over them, but they changed the course
of the ball as it navigated through the board...having these buttons in the
center of the playfield wasn't exactly the best of ideas, as I've not only never
seen the idea duplicated since (granted, I'm no pinball expert though, maybe it
was tried again), but this is also the equivalent of gluing down sunflower seeds
onto a pool table and screwing up the direction of the balls that way. Kind of
takes the fun out of the game, although at times your flippers would move close
together, forming an impenetrable barrier that the ball can't pass through (and
end up down the drain).
Meteor was also there; I had totally forgotten about this pinball game that
was also a movie license. It was fun playing this one again for the first time
in years, and it was for sale, too! (No, I didn't buy it.) I also got to play
the Haunted House pinball game for the first time ever, since one was at my
college dorm, but it never worked; the thing has three sets of flippers
altogether (one pair is hidden until you earn a certain bonus to reveal that
third pair's playfield)! There was also the very rare Joust two player
head-to-head tabletop pinball game, but it was only working on and off during
the evening...but it got lots of play when it was actually working!
Like last year's expo, there were also pinball board testers on display,
which ensures that everything on a person's pinball machine is working
correctly. I briefly talked with Tim Maleck about them (who was available to
answer questions about them), which he said that they're built to order, usually
for $200-300. He said the company that makes them has been around for 20 years,
sounding like a must-buy for serious pinball owners, as pinball parts do break
down over time, and with pinball games and arcades floundering, this is a
mandatory purchase (in my opinion.)
Again, for a complete list of games and all, check out the H. A. A. G.
website at www.arcadecenter.com,
as my points of interest that I listed here might not necessarily coincide with
yours (plus going through each and every game would severely add to the bulk of
this report! But you can't argue that Death Race being there wasn't noteworthy,
THINGS TO SEE, GAMES TO PLAY, AND PEOPLE TO ANNOY
Now it's time for something a bit more light-hearted, as this is just a
little something that I do every year in regards to the games that were there.
In case you are a very slow and/or the type of person that can't tell the
difference between fact and sarcasm, this list is NOT to be taken seriously...no
one at TAT (including myself) is responsible if you try these acts out
OR, HOW TO ANNOY PEOPLE AT A GAMING EXPO
When playing Donkey Kong and you get to the second screen, complain that
picking up your girlfriend's purse and umbrella doesn't make you feel very
manly. If you're female, complain that you don't understand why you have to
save Mario's girlfriend, since you're prettier. (If you're not, you can
always point out that she's taller than Mario and it'll never work out
When playing Asteroids, say "what's with this black and white crap?
Where's the colorized version?" (note: that's in regards to Blasteroids,
which came out almost a decade later)
When someone's playing the Elvis pinball game, say "Oh. Wasn't he the
English guy who used to smash his guitar onstage?"
Also in regards to Donkey Kong: tell everyone (make up) that there were
other "relative" Kong prototype games (or claim they were released in Japan
only), like Mrs. Donkey Kong, Uncle and Aunt Kong, Twice-Removed Cousin
Kong, Donkey Kong Jill Junior Kong, etc.
When playing Gauntlet II, and someone's health runs low, and the game
tells you "____ (character) needs food, badly!", say back, "look, they're
selling food right outside the bar next door, so go buy some yourself, you
cheap son of a..."
Adorn the Haunted House pinball machine with Halloween decorations.
(Gamers looooove it when you put them in a certain gaming mood.)
When some Defender wiz is playing the game and racking up a huge score,
say "what's THIS button do?" as you press Smart Bomb. (And if you think you
can get away with it more than once, say "ohhhh, pretty!" with the first
time you do it.)
When browsing through the menus of a Multicade cabinet, say "whoa! A
game for every one of my personalities!" Speak in a different voice for
every game that you browse through. Keep talking until everyone around you
abandons whatever game they're playing.
When someone's playing the Major League pinball game, ask them what
their opinion is of the Minor League pinball game.
When someone's playing Smash TV, bring in a real tv, set it down
next to the machine, and say "Hulk SMASH!" and smash it.
(Don't...do...this...to the...classic game...)
When someone's playing the Medusa pinball game, say "man! My roommate
dated someone once who looked like that! Talk about UGLY!"
When someone's going to (or is) play(ing) Killer Instinct, say
you liked the game Irritating (or Minor) Instinct better.
Hang around Food Fight with a big bowl of Cool Whip and a mischievous
look on your face, waiting for someone to approach...
When playing The Sopranos pinball game, talk like a gangster, saying
things like "you gonna keep playing dat game, or am I gonna hafta breaka
your face?" if someone's hogging it for too long.
Dance around in a grass skirt whenever someone's playing the Hula-Hula
pinball game. Place a lei around their neck.
Stand around with a shovel by Dig Dug.
Sneak up on someone playing the South Park pinball game and yell
If someone can get far enough on Journey to the part where the digitized
recording of "Don't Stop Believin'" starts playing, say "I stopped
believing when Steve Perry had to leave the group". Or say that they never
would have made it as a band if the tv show American Idol was around back
When someone's playing the Twilight Zone pinball game, say that The
Outer Limits show (and pinball game) was better.
Stand around the Atari Football game, complete with a baseball cap, a
glove and/or bat, badgering passers-by into playing a game with you. When
someone points out that you're wearing baseball, and not football gear,
say "I am not! You're just intimidated that someone this much into a game is
going to beat you! Chicken!"
When someone's playing Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters, say
that there were sequels of the game of Escape from the Planet of the VCR
Monsters, Escape from the Planet of the Al Gore Robot Monsters, Escape from
the Planet of the Jack Tramiels, etc.
When playing I, Robot, say "where's Will Smith?"
Act like you're about to play one of the pinball games that are so old
that they don't even have flippers, studying it and asking "does this thing
When someone starts up any laser game (Space Ace, Interstellar, etc.),
say "dammit! I was watching that cool cartoon! Change the channel back!"
When someone's playing the L. A. Machineguns game, say "oh yeah, I liked
them a lot, I have all of their albums". (note: that's in regards to the
heavy metal band L. A. Guns)
When someone's just finished playing a virtual reality game, try to
convince them it's still going. Mumble about The Matrix having them and they
Pick up one of those squeaky clown's noses from the floor by the Clowns
video game and say "hey, one of those clowns dropped this!" When a player's
last clown has died, start singing "where are the clooooowns"...
If there's someone at the expo wearing an Atari shirt, ask them how many
Intellivision games they have.
When someone's going to play Death Race, chide them for what a sick game
it is, saying that you liked the (made up) game Life Race better, where you
had to race around in a car and plant flowers. Call them "hippie killer".
Look up and down the Star Wars Trilogy pinball game with a confused look
and say "where's Jar Jar?" Start talking like Yoda during a game,
improvising as to what's happening while it's being played: "ball extra have
you earned!", "all hope is lost along with ball. Over game", etc.
I'M NOT JANE GOODALL, BUT... (MANNERISMS / VARIOUS THINGS)
Like physically ducking your head when you're flying through the trench
segment and avoiding the catwalks in the Atari vector Star Wars game, there's
always certain things happening in a room full of arcade game[r]s... here's a few
tidbits I thought to be interesting that I caught here and there over the hours:
I heard a bunch of free games popping up all over the place on pinball games
(which I earned a few myself!). It's funny, back "in the day" this was
considered to be an accomplishment and a joyful way to spend more time playing a
fun game by earning a free one, but here where the games are on free play, it
doesn't exactly matter then
At one point Christensen was paging John Costa, the owner of the Haunted
House pinball game, that it was down and needed to be fixed. Um...that's because
it's haunted, Keith. (Ok, maybe only *I* was the one who found that to be
During one certain gameplaying session with Robotron: 2084, I got killed
during a wave...
Me: ( * # !
Guy next to me at Burger Time, about a second and a half later: ( * # !
This happened twice during that evening.
At one time during the expo, two people were playing Qix on two different
Multicade machines at the same time, which I thought was pretty cool
At another time, a father and son were trying their hand at a game of Space
War. "Fly into the sun, dad! Fly into the sun!"
Yeah, SURE, kid! That way, the kid would end up getting an extra point (I
don't think the father fell for it)
If that's the case, then gimmie your wallet!
Even though I'm not really doing this write-up in a "professional" capacity,
I still treat it as such, getting peoples' names and making sure they want to be
on the net (if they're featured predominantly in photos, that is...if they're in
the background or their backs are turned, it's pretty much "anything goes"
So, at one point a guy apologized when he stepped into a picture right after
my flash went off, but I said it was no problem, since I didn't see him in the
photo (I think that was him that I ended up catching part of his leg at the
bottom of the Canyon Bomber/Skydiver photo, though, as you can't see
everything in that tiny preview window in the digital camera ;) ). I told them
I was doing a piece for TAT and if they wanted in on a photo.
That threw them off guard for a few seconds, to say the least. Then one of
Guy #1: No one would want to look at a picture of ME.
Guy #2: If people saw a photo of my shirt, they'd go blind!
We all had a good laugh over this, as, at the time, I didn't even
had on a blazingly bright orange Hawaiian shirt (guess that's what happens when
you stare at a bunch of screens for hours.)
Then later in the conversation, when I was getting his name to accompany his
photo with, we mentioned something about a certain someone at the expo, which I
asked if he (Christian) was related to that other guy.
He said that his name was Christian, the other guy's name was Christensen...meaning
Whups, I knew that. I had just been playing games for too long at the time ;)
And speaking of which: while trying to get recruits for one of the high
score contests, Christensen threatened to start singing (uh, sort of) if he
didn't get enough volunteers. Well, he delivered on his promise (threat),
coming up with an amusing song (even though it didn't rhyme) on the spot,
putting in words about earning a trophy and all if people would just join.
Well, even though I listen to death metal with vomit vocalists and all, lets
still say Christensen needs to keep his day job...his real one, and the
other one where he hosts a certain gaming expo once a year
There was a certain area of the expo where I played a lot of games (Joust 2,
Asteroids Deluxe, Interstellar, Circus Voltaire, Meteor, etc.), which I kept on
hearing this "nyuk, nyuk, nyuk" coming from a machine over and over. What, they
have The Three Stooges game here? (Did that game have voice synthesis?) I
couldn't find it, nor where it was coming from. I was confused.
Then I realized (after a while) it was coming from the Jokerz! pinball
That was annoying.
And, last but not least, when I was talking to Kirk Poorman (whom I had
taken a photo of with his friend Tom English), I turned to finding a TV camera
pointed at my notebook. It was a person from a local cable show, who had
interviewed Christensen, which the cameraman thought I was a judge for the
gaming contest, since he said what I was doing "looked official".
Why, thank you.
FADE TO BLACK (THE DOT ON A VIDEO GAME SCREEN)
Well, another year, another expo came and went. A few games were out of order
(but that's to be expected), but most, in general, looked and played pretty well
(especially Sea Wolf, Interstellar, most of the pinball games, and Asteroids
Deluxe, with it's still-crisp vector display, and it played like a DREAM, as it
was in great shape).
I actually was feeling a bit sad upon my final hour or two before I left, for
some reason. Strange, I'd never felt this way at the end of sci-fi and record
conventions. Oh well. There's always next year, as well as other expos though!
(Maybe it was because Christensen didn't have the Quake arcade prototype this
year ) Besides, my number came up at one point for
their door prizes, which I won a big promo flier of the show, a compilation cd,
and the locally made movie Laughing Boy. Can't beat free stuff, after all.
Plus I guess I got the last laugh with that, too, I suppose you could say.
Thanks to everyone who allowed me to take photos of them ("Argh, now I'm
blind and can't enjoy any more games, THANKS!" Har, everyone's a comedian),
sorry if I either misspelled your names or got them switched (for the photos
that had several people in them), just e-mail Greg at the site in case any
corrections are needed.
Thanks to all the game owners who make up H. A. A. G. who went to the
trouble for the upkeep and displaying of their games (treat 'em well, everyone!
Uhhhh, the games, I meant...well, actually, if you want to buy a beer or
something for the game owners as well during an expo, I'm sure that's allowable.)
Thanks to a bunch of cool (and/or patient) people that I met and got to chat
with here and there over the hours, it was nice to meet fellow gamers who still
prefer the "real thing" over emulation.
2007 addition: while bored one night, I suddenly decided to make a video slideshow of this set to music, but unfortunately with YouTube's resizing and all, most of the photos came out looking blurry. Oh well, you can still check it out if you want, which also has some photos from the next year's expo as well.
View the Photogallery