Gaming is not really that old as a culture. As a child of the 80’s, I’m one of the first generations to experience gaming from it’s infancy on through what it is today. So when I hear the term ‘retro gaming’, a lot of nostalgia pops into my head. Of course, when I heard of the 2nd Annual Retroworld Expo in Wallingford, CT at the Oakdale Theatre, I knew that it was something that I could not miss.

Retroworld expo trade floor 1

Not really knowing what I was in for, I managed to contact a few other local gamers from an online club I’m a part of to kind of ‘soften the blow’. I’ve been to a few other conventions and there’s nothing like experiencing it with a few other people. So, I brought my son Jaiden to tag along and we braved the modest crowd of fellow local gamers.

Now, as a disclaimer, I did not set up interviews and thouroughly research everyone that would be there. As a retro gaming noob, I didn’t know any of the retro gaming experts and youtubers that were attending (and there were quite a few). Given a day or so of attending, I figured I would be able to experience all that made Retroworld Expo what it was and that was my intent. Fun factor was my goal and that is what I aimed for.

Instantly, I noticed that my collecting dreams could certainly come true here. While there were only a few rows of vendors with classic consoles and games to purchase, the selection seemed pretty good. As Radlib spun some gaming inspired EDM-like tunage, a pretty diverse crew of localites shopped and geeked out over the offerings. I discussed with one of my ‘club-mates’ how I wanted to see about getting to know a modder who could do some emulator work for me and he pointed out that this was certainly the place to come to find out. While I didn’t follow up on my own request, just seeing the various vendors and their stock gave my confidence that if I was truly that serious, I could easily find someone. Satisfaction checkbox one!

Of course, my son Jaiden, who really isn’t that into video games, was a bit lost as he didn’t really recognize much aside from an occasional Nintendo character here and there. So, in order to bridge the gap, we strolled on over to the freeplay arcade! Tucked away in another annex to the side of the main ‘showfloor’, arcade cabinets and about half a dozen pinball tables lined the wall. Given my many years of visiting arcades, my thoughts instantly jumped to “why didn’t they fill up some of the space in the middle of the floor with more games?”. Sure, the ‘arcade’ would seem a bit cramped considering it is freeplay if they did so, but gosh darnit that’s the way arcades were!

Once I got over the quantity, I couldn’t help but respect the decent selection of cabinets that included Asteroids, Afterburner, Popeye, Pacman, Ms. Pacman, TMNT, Robocop, Mortal Kombat (can’t remember which ones but I think 1 and 2), Killer Instinct, Donkey Kong, NARC, Defender, Star Wars, and a few more. Sure, I could have thought of more that should have been there, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed in the ones chosen to be there. I watched my son spend time between TMNT, Rampage, Popeye (which REALLY confused him on what was going on), Pacman, and a slightly broken version of the wireframe Star Wars game and loving every minute of it.

arcade scene 2

As we joystick’ed out time away, bands like You Bred Raptors? and Lame Genie set the tone. I would occasionally recognize the gaming covers being reimagined and remixed and all it made me want to do is hop back on my computer find a few more original soundtracks to plug into my playlist that I play as I stream.

Once that fun was done, I realized that there really wasn’t anything that I wanted to buy per se. Still, a quick walk by a random table led to a few celebrity encounters that I think my son will remember. Dressed in a fake superhero outfit was a large and yet kindhearted man that I later came to realize was WWE Hall of Famer Tony Atlas! He greeted my son and because asking him a series of questions before showing of pictures of him slamming Hulk Hogan and posing with The Rock’s father. Mixed in with those on the table were drawings that he had done himself that were quite amazing. As a casual sports entertainment fan and realizing that he and The Rock’s father, Rocky Johnson, were the first black WWE World Tag Team Champions. Of course, I couldn’t pass up an autograph and photo op. Not to many of these legends remain.

My son Jaiden with the autographed drawing of WWE HOF'er Tony Atlas
My son Jaiden with the autographed drawing of WWE HOF’er Tony Atlas

A short walk away, Olga Kurkulina who played Mother Russia in Kick Ass 2 was stationed. Beautifully powerful, she easily scooped up my son in her arms as we took a picture together. I remember wondering why she hadn’t been used in more action films given her size and presence in the movie. Standing next to her, I feared for any stunt person meant to be struck or slammed by her!

As we continued to browse around, I decided to partake in at least one of the panels. As I scanned through the listing in the schedule, I instantly gravitated to Master Daniel Pesina’s Q & A session. Considering he was the original Johnny Cage, Scorpion, and Sub-Zero, it was very interesting to listen to his stories about the intent of the game and how the original game came about. Not only was the game only intended to produce around 200 cabinets, the cost for the creation of the original was under $10,000. As he spoke of the low-fi ways they filmed certain maneuvers, it was interesting to hear that Midway eventually had to abandon attempts to recreate the magic that was the original game engine and filming process. Master Pesina’s energy and geeky excitement was contagious as he answered all questions about the game and its creation (as well as the movie). It was so interesting to hear about how the original backstories for the characters morphed away from him and his friends’ original intent for the game as the sequels rolled along. Not only that, the rift between the original team and Midway caused them not to be involved with the production of the movie as well. Even so, Master Pesina did feel confident that he’d be able to pull together most of the original team for an upcoming Kombat Kon to be held November 19th-20th at Galloping Ghost Arcade in McCook, IL.

Master Daniel Pesina of Mortal Kombat aka Johnny Cage
Master Daniel Pesina of Mortal Kombat aka Johnny Cage

My son and I then proceeded to check out the free console play area which had Halo, Street Fighter V, Duck Hunt, NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat, and quite a few other games all sprawled out on various classic consoles. We watched a few other gamers play some of the fighting games for a while before partaking of a match of NBA Jam. Of course, my son had NO clue what was going on. As we played, one of my players was ‘on fire’ and it blew his mind! ‘How do you do that, dad!?’ Needless to say, I won the game but joy was had by all involved.

We continued to take a look at other vendors selling board games, comic books, jewelery, geek soap, and even promoting nearby LAN party stores before wrapping up the day with another round of free arcade play.

As we walked out, the appeal of letting my son enjoy the cabinets I remember from my days in the arcade was classic in the most retro of ways. Watching him struggle yet have fun with the likes of numerous side scrollers and pinball machines was priceless as I would share with him stories of the times I’d spend in arcades or with various classic consoles. While I know retro gaming is something that you can share with your kids at home, conventions like Retroworld Expo just seem to have that ‘IT’ factor that level up that nostalgia a few more notches. Especially since the crowds are low and access to the freebies are high, this was certainly an event we’ll both remember.