72 Scenes from the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, 2012

On September 30, I spent a geektastic day at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. I arrived early and got a look at many booths before they opened (later, they would be swarmed by thousands of attendees). For much of the day I was one of several referees for the Classic Tetris World Championship. The whole day was a joy -- a convention hall filled with classic games, from Atari to Zelda, with pinball in between. And, this being a Portland event, there were game-themed crafts everywhere. The expo organizers summarized the weekend like so:

• Over 3,000 attendees came through the doors over the weekend
• Over 160 arcade and pinball machines were on display for freeplay
• Over 70 retro video game consoles were set up to play
• There were over 70 vendors in attendance
• Our after-hours event was a blast with over 200 people dining and drinking until midnight right in the Mega-cade
• Our live auction was packed with over 400 attendees. At the auction we raised nearly $900 for Portland's Cat Adoption Team

I just want to emphasize that this event had a "Mega-cade" and it was, indeed, mega. I brought my camera and captured some scenes from the event -- some before the action began, some in the midst of it. Have a look, and click on any photo to enlarge:

Oregon Trail, 2012

This actually happened. In 2012. I have hope for future generations. (To the side of the mega-cade was a large area with various classic computers and game systems set up for free play.)

Atari 2600 - Combat

This also happened, in a little time-warp area in the back of the hall. In the closeup you can see that the game is Combat. Remind you of your childhood much?

Atari 2600 Living Room

Atari 2600 Combat

Scenes from the Mega-cade

The Mega-cade was frankly more mega than these photos convey. Rows of pinball machines, standup arcade games, co-op games, and lots of driving games -- all in freeplay mode! -- made for a geeky paradise. I kept returning to the updated X-Men co-op game, both because it was popular, but also because I had burned hours (and many dollars) on that game in years past.




Mega-cade - Pac-Mans!

I was particularly confused by this "Granny and the Gators" game. Click to enlarge, trust me. (The second photo is a detail of the play area.)

Mega-cade - Granny and the Gators

Mega-cade - Granny and the Gators detail




Here's the X-Men game. Note that in this modified version, instead of two CRT screens, it has one large (and quite nice) LCD.

Mega-cade - X-Men

The family that plays X-Men together...stays together.

Mega-cade - X-Men

And here's a Back to the Future pinball game on the fritz. When was the last time you got to see inside a BTTF pinball game?! (Click to see the guts, especially on the latter two shots.)

Mega-cade - BTTF

Mega-cade - BTTF

Mega-cade - BTTF

Mega-cade - pinball

Mega-cade - pinball

It's hard to see here, but this is a parent teaching a child to play the Empire Strikes Back game. This kid's gonna grow up right.

Mega-cade - Empire Strikes Back

Mega-cade - Empire Strikes Back

Games, Games, Games

There were thousands of game cartridges (and some floppy/CD games) on display, plus some other neat memorabilia. Here's a look at part of what you missed.

Movie Posters

NES Tetris: "From Russia With Fun."



Well, this is neat

I picked up some excellent Tetris fridge magnets from this vendor:

Game Art

Game Art

Color Basic

Hey, look -- modern Atari 2600 games!



In case of emergency:

Game Repair Manuals


Nintendo Power

NES Games

NES Controllers and Weapons













This booth was helping an autism charity. There were crowds around it later in the day (this was taken before the doors opened).



Retro Systems

Lots of retro game systems were set up on the show floor -- you could play most of them, and many were also for sale.

Guess what costs $200 these days:

Intellivision clone

The Power Glove: it's so bad. (And it's $249.99.)

Power Glove

Check out the price tag on this:

R.O.B. System

R.O.B. costs less on his own, out of the box:


Colorful PlayStations

PC System

My father had a system much like this one. Portable!

Note: We almost never do this, but 72 images—that's a lot of images. So we're splitting this into two pages.

PC System

Note the game pucks on top:

Apple Systems


Game System

Game System

Game Systems

This Vectrex has a steering wheel!


I was blown away to see a real live Computer Space console. If you don't know what that is, read your history.

Computer Space!

Computer Space controls

Computer Space!!!

Classic Tetris World Championship 2012

The Classic Tetris World Championship started three years ago; its birth is documented in the film Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters. This year, as I refereed, I caught a few poignant moments.

Players practice just before the 32-player bracket head-to-head matches began.

Tetris trials

Matt Buco (left) topped out in his crucial second game, leaving the game in his opponent's hands. (I featured Buco's Tetris max-out in January.) At this moment the crowd cried "Buco!" in disbelief. Ben Mullen (right, crouching), another Tetris master, watches in concern. At the far right, Tetris master Dana Wilcox looks on. In the following round, Buco, Mullen, and Wilcox were all eliminated. (I refereed the Mullen and Wilcox matches.)

Matt Buco and Ben Mullen

Ben Mullen watches as Buco's score is beaten, removing Buco from play. Let me be clear: Mullen was Buco's competition, but he was not happy to see this happen. Update, Sunday, Oct 7: Breaking news update -- Mullen maxed out NES Tetris one week after this photo was taken. Good job, Ben!

Ben Mullen

Trey Harrison was defeated much like Buco. In this shot, he has already unplugged his controller, knowing his top-out score will be beaten. Seconds later he was eliminated.

Trey Harrison

The final rounds of the tournament were a bit fancier. You may recognize the setup from Ecstasy of Order; this is the quad-panel Tetris screen as players competed. You can also see my phone live-streaming the action.

Tetris finals - screen

Here's a closeup of the first-place trophy (there was also a cash prize). This thing is a fingerprint magnet.

Tetris first prize

And here's Jonas Neubauer holding his trophy aloft as the fog machines kicked in.

Jonas Neubauer wins!

That's All

You really want to go to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo next year. I'll be there, and taking pictures. Come beat X-Men with me, okay?

Unraveling the Legend of Polybius, the Most Dangerous Video Game of the 1980s

For several decades, a creepy urban legend has circulated in the darker corners of online forums devoted to vintage video games. The tale goes that in 1981, a game with some unfortunate side effects appeared in a few suburban arcades in Portland, Oregon. The game was said to have been housed in an all-black cabinet, and while playing it was fun, gamers soon noticed they were feeling terrible after their sessions—suffering from extreme anxiety, seizures, night terrors, and an obsessive desire to continue playing. Some were even said to have attempted suicide.

To make matters even weirder, men in black supposedly visited the cabinet every few weeks to collect some kind of data—not money—from the back of the machine. And just a few months after it appeared, the game was gone. Its name: Polybius.

Some said the game was connected to MKUltra, a (real) CIA program experimenting with behavior modification techniques and LSD from the 1950s through the '70s, although no evidence of that was ever found. Recently, Great Big Story's series "8 Bit Legacy: The Curious History of Video Games" set out to investigate Polybius, and found some surprising truths behind the mystery. They also found some fans attempting to recreate the game—hopefully minus the ill effects. You can learn more below:

8 Clever Ways to Recycle Your Old Nintendo Equipment

For retro game players looking for a simple fix, the recent arrivals of Nintendo’s official NES Classic and Super NES Classic game systems have been an exciting purchase. The systems—when you can find them in stock—boot up dozens of classic games via an HDMI port. That’s left a pretty big inventory of original consoles and cartridges collecting dust in attics.

If you’re crafty and you dig the Nintendo aesthetic, check out these ideas for how to repurpose your old game gear into something new. (A word of caution: Modifying electronic components carries risk of electric shock, so we recommend being careful and using good judgment.)


A Nintendo console is shown after being modified into an alarm clock

Instructables user arrmayr0227 uploaded this tutorial on a better way to wake up. You’ll be splicing together a gutted NES console with a digital alarm clock, then rewiring the controller to set the time. The reset button acts as a snooze bar and the power button sets the alarm.


Video game artisan Fluctifragus offered a step-by-step breakdown of hollowing out an old NES console to make room for your tuna sandwiches. The interior components can be removed with a screwdriver; the remaining screw posts can be clipped and filed down with a rotary tool. Two small hinges will keep the top and bottom tethered together.


(Or coin purse, if you prefer.) Instructables user Zenilorac detailed a controller hack that involves separating the part by removing the back screws and then gluing a fabric-based zipper around the edges.


Lehmeier at Instructables perfected a new way of antagonizing your cat by rigging a laser diode and 9-volt battery into the NES’s light gun accessory. Pulling the trigger will allow power to pass from the battery to the diode.


For Mario, it’s always time to eat mushrooms. Your schedule is probably a little less predictable. He can still help you tell time with this tweak from Instructables user BeanGolem. The clock hands are spray-painted, while the cartridge is split in half to allow for a clock mechanism (available at most craft stores) to be installed.


A Nintendo Advantage controller is used as a guitar pedal
wenzsells, Instructables // CC BY 2.0

The joystick-equipped Advantage controller was one of the earliest peripherals available for the NES. Using this guide from Wenzsells, it’s the perfect size to double as a chassis for a pedal kit. The “turbo” knobs control volume, while the A button acts as power switch.


A Super Nintendo cartridge is used as a wallet
stalledaction, Instructables // CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Who doesn’t want to show a bartender their ID by flashing a Super NES game cartridge? Instructables user Stalledaction crafted this conversation piece by fitting a transparent plate to the front and adding space for keys and a USB drive.


A Nintendo controller is operated as a computer mouse
Courtesy of Ryan McFarland

Ryan McFarland came up with a novel use for an old controller: turn it into a PC interface. An optical mouse is inserted into the chassis, while the A and B buttons serve as the left and right selectors. You’ll need, among other things, a Dremel tool, a hot glue gun, and about four or five hours’ worth of patience.


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