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David Newman - The Atari Times

David Newman

The Man Behind PhillyClassic
by Gregory D. George

March 1, 2001
Have you ever loved video games so much that you wished you could play them for hours on end with people who share your love for them? Some of us dream it, while others actually do it. David Newman is one of those people, and he was gracious enough to give us this interview. Don't forget to visit the PhillyClassic website at www.phillyclassic.com

Note: This interview was conducted shortly before the 2001 Show was to take place.

TAT: Who are you, and what is your involvement with PhillyClassic?

David Newman: Hmmm... "Who am I?" That's a darn good question. I'm currently spending lots and lots of money in therapy trying to figure this one out, so let me get back to you! As for PhillyClassic, I am the nut who created and organized the first show last year, in April of 2000. I saw the success of the biggest show in our hobby, Classic Gaming Expo (http://www.cgexpo.com) held annually in Las Vegas, and also smaller regional shows popping up in the Northwest and Central states - and I decided the East coast needed a classic gaming event, so I put it together. The show's official moniker is: "PhillyClassic - The East Coast Classic Gamer's Event."

Last year I had one co-organizer, Chuck Whitby, the webmaster of the Intellivision Gaming Network. This year, thank goodness, there are four of us organizing the different aspects of the show. Marc Pallante (webmaster of http://www.classicgamer.net) and Jeff Folejewski (webmaster of http://www.adventurevision.com) had such a good time at the event last year, they immediately volunteered to help out with organizing future shows. Little did they know I'd take them up on it immediately and consume every moment of their free time with PhillyClassic business!

What's the biggest challenge involved with putting this show together?

Well, the biggest challenge has evolved over time. Last year, the biggest challenge was getting the word out about the show and getting people to come. We had about 50 people total last year, give or take a few walk-ins. As of right now, we have pre-sold over 120 tickets, and expect another 20-25 people to walk in! This year, the biggest challenge is space. We started out with renting one meeting room at the hotel. It soon became apparent that we needed more space, so we added a second room for this year's event. We have over 3000 sq ft of floorspace this year, compared to 1750 sq ft at last year's event. And we STILL sold out of tables at the beginning of February. We're looking into 5000+ sq ft of space for 2002.

From how far away do people come?

We've got folks coming from Canada, Rhode Island, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, New York, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California (these people obviously missed the EAST Coast reference, but we love 'em for coming over!)

Are they encouraged to bring their own equipment?

If people have a table reserved, they are DEFINITELY encouraged to bring their own equipment for show-and-tell purposes, demos, hands-on gaming, or buying/selling/trading. Even if people don't have a table, we're going to have a "Trading Post" set up for people to buy and sell among themselves casually throughout the day.

What kind of tournaments will there be? BattleSphere perhaps?

Battlesphere will be on demo at the show, but we are not organizing a tournament for it this year. Tournaments will be running on two arcade machines, Tron and Joust. We're also going to be running the following tournaments throughout the day: Atari 2600 Warlords, Intellivision Frog Bog, ColecoVision Donkey Kong Jr., Nintendo Elevator Action, Genesis Space Invaders '91, Sega Saturn Virtua Cop 2, Dreamcast Bust-a-Move, N64 Goldeneye, PS2 Tekken Tag Tournament, and Coleco Handheld Pac-Man.

Will there be any retailers there? If so, who?

Absolutely. Mike Gedeon from Video Game Connection, Mike Chassin from Collector's House, the Classic Gaming Expo and Digital Press crew (John Hardie, Joe Santulli, possibly Sean Kelly), Tom Zjaba from Tomorrow's Heroes, and several others. PhillyClassic attendees are the ideal classic gaming audience -- they know what they're interested in, and are willing to spend the money on some real rarities and show exclusives. For example, Digital Press will be featuring a special PhillyClassic edition of a new PC game called Wave 49. We are also going to be debuting Andrew Davie's new 2600 cart, Qb, with a special show edition. And I just got word in from my co-organizers that we'll be debuting 2 other titles -- 4-Tris for the Intellivision and Christopher Tumber's Omega Chase Deluxe for the Vectrex.

How long have you been interested in classic games?

Let me put it this way: I was born in 1964, which means I was 13 years old in 1977 when the Atari 2600 came out. I was hooked early. I even liked some of the earliest arcade games like Gunfight, Night Driver, Sea Wolf, etc. Before the 2600 brought the video game experience home, I had quite a lot of fun with the Mattel handhelds - Auto Racing, Battlestar Galactica Space Alert, Soccer, and Football. I also bugged my parents into getting a pong console or two along the way. But the 2600 was just head and shoulders above anything as far as a 13-year old boy was concerned. 24 years later, it's still pretty nifty.

Do you think classic gaming will continue to make a resurgence, or is it a falling fad?

Well, I don't know -- among the people I know and respect in the hobby, we're in it for the games. We were classic gaming hobbyists BEFORE it was "trendy" -- God, is it really "trendy" (what the heck is wrong with some of those people?) -- and I imagine we'll still love these old games once the cultural "fad" has passed.

What were Hasbro Interactive's mistakes? If classic gaming is so big, why didn't their games prevent them from selling Atari?

Boy, that's a good question. I'm not even sure they made any "mistakes." But I'm also no entertainment software industry analyst. I CAN tell you I bought a number of their products. I think some of their conversions/updates were more successful than others. Pong and Breakout are great. Missile Command and Centipede and Frogger didn't do it for me. But I haven't seen any of the sales numbers, so aside from my personal experience, I don't know how popular these remakes were with the public at large.

Collector's sometimes pay big bucks for games and systems. Do you think the Jaguar will eventually become a prized collector's item?

Let me correct the assumption behind this question. Collectors do NOT pay big bucks for systems. Atari 2600s, 5200s, 7800s, XE Game Systems, Intellivisions, and ColecoVisions (and Jaguars for that matter) can all be had for $50 or less (sometimes much less if you get lucky at a thrift shop, flea market, or garage sale). There are very few truly rare game SYSTEMS. The AdventureVision is one, for sure -- we'll have several of these on display at PhillyClassic thanks to my co-organizer Jeff who is the premier authority on these little babies. His entire website is dedicated to the AdventureVision platform. If the Jaguar is going to a prized collector's item, it will be for games like Battlesphere. Unless the system was extremely limited in it's production run, like the AdventureVision, it's going to be the games that make the system valuable.

Why are so many people interested in classic gaming? It's not just age, because there are many younger gamers interested in this too.

This is one of the first questions I asked myself when we were putting the show together last year. I was curious mainly because my co-organizer Chuck is 19 years old. I actually asked him last year how the heck a 19-year old got interested in classic games, and he said it better and more simply than I've ever heard it explained -- "They're cool." Well, that's certainly true. The "cool" factor is helping the hobby -- younger people, even some 12 and 13 year old kids, see these games at a friend's house or in a parent's basement and say "Wow - neat!"A second factor is that the '70s and '80s are back in style, and video games were a very big part of the 1970's-80's cultural phenomenon. So were VW Bugs, disco, and bell bottoms -- they're ALL back! And then the third factor is people my age, the ones who grew up with these games, maybe even never left the hobby, who now have the financial and time resources to pursue it full-tilt, maybe get some of the systems they could never get as a kid, and start some serious collections of game software.

Why have so many games today abandoned the classic premise? These games can be finished in a few days and you never play again.

Well, time moves on. Technology moves on. Not everything good is classic. By the same token, not everything classic is good. I have a Playstation and an N64 and a Gameboy Color and a PC, and I buy and play games for them as well. Gameplay and fun factor have always been number one for classic gamers. Graphical glitz has always taken a back seat. But then, take a game like Goldeneye for the N64, which marries terrific solo (AND multi-player) gameplay with slick modern-day graphics, and throw in the James Bond license, and that game is one of the top 10 console games of all time, in my opinion.

What makes a classic game, "classic?"

This question comes up from time to time in the newsgroups. Basically, the term "classic" as some would define it, includes console game systems manufactured prior to the Nintendo Entertainment System. With arcade games, it's more difficult to draw the line, but some would make a similar cutoff somewhere around 1985. Some people think "discontinued" means classic - is the Dreamcast classic? Nope. Some people think "old" means classic - is the Sega Genesis classic? Nope. Some people define the term classic in "bits" -- up to 8-bit systems are classic, 16- and 32-bit systems are not. Take your pick of definitions.

Is Sega on the road to becoming the next Atari?

There are many parallels there - the "wars" for example: Sega vs. Nintendo and Atari vs. Commodore. Also, I feel that both Atari and Sega consoles had technological advantages over their corresponding rivals, Commodore and Nintendo. Both Atari and Sega lost market share to slightly inferior technology due to marketing blunders and short-sighted cost-saving measures. And third-party support evaporated quickly for the Sega Master System, while Nintendo's policies on NES cart manufacturing were nothing short of brilliant. They were in total control of their third-party software releases, and they could release as few titles or as many on their own schedule as conditions allowed. I don't know if this offers any further insight into your question, but I just recently picked up a Saturn console and some games, myself! And, hey, when is your first issue of The Sega Times going to be available online <grin>? Seriously, Sega makes great software and I think it's a smart move for them to focus on their strengths.

Thanks much for your time David. I'm sure those attending the PhillyClassic will have a wonderful time!

Thanks. This year's PhillyClassic is shaping up to be a tremendous time for all. Keep up the fine work on The Atari Times!

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