It's now a little over two weeks since I returned home from Las Vegas, Nevada and my brief excursion into Classic Gaming Expo 2001 (CGE). Since I hadn't been to previous CGE's, I didn't quite know what to expect. I do know that I'm extremely disappointed by what I saw, however, and I'll explain shortly.

I arrived at the show nearly an hour early, and watched as the line to enter blossomed to almost 150 people. Several wore shirts from previous CGE's. Yet others wore clothing proclaiming that their favorite console was [Insert early 80's console here]. Others were like me...wearing just plain T-shirts. Ah, the classic clothing. I finally found where to get the badges (after walking past the area four times), picked up my reserved badges for my wife and I, and waited in line patiently. Well, I waited in line patiently. My wife found the nearest slot machine to occupy her time until 15 minutes before the door opened. Then, she waited in line with me patiently.

Once the doors opened, we quickly filed in to find...a swap meet. That's the only way to explain it. Several retailers were there flashing their wares. Companies were showing off new titles for old consoles, old titles for old consoles, old clothing advertising old consoles, old toys based off of old games for old consoles, etc. Except for the museum, a collection of laser games and really old arcade games (that weren't for sale), and the Atari 2600 competition running in the back corner, everything had a price on it.

At the front was a band playing remixes of Commodore 64 songs, at least for the first hour of Day 1. They played "M.U.L.E.", and it was good.

There were a few interesting occurances. Don Bluth and the crew behind Dragon's Lair were together in the same room for the first time in 18 years signing autographs. (An autographed Dragon's Lair poster was $25.) It was rather fun briefly talking with them. (Don Bluth says that he wishes he could return to "The Secret of NIMH" universe, but can't, because someone else did a sequel, and it wouldn't be right contradicting that sequel. He also says that a feature film based on Dragon's Lair is about 21 months away.) The Atari 2600 competition in the back had Decathalon and Kaboom! contests going on for the World Record books. (I was an early runner for top dog on Decathalon, but was quickly buried.) TechTV wandered around the show floor asking tons of inane questions. (Nothing really that far from the norm for them, eh?) And they had a "Classic Gaming Jeopardy!" contest going on as well. There were a few discussion panels, but unfortunately, no real content or insight seemed to come from them.

For the most part, though, I was disappointed. It seemed like nothing more than a giant yard sale to me...but the more I thought about it, the sadder I became. Not because I'd wasted money on this show, but because shows like this had to exist at all. Let me explain.

At least in the "Classic Gaming" aspect, this industry has a lot in common with the movie industry. Both had formative years where experimentation was key, and everything seen was new; then, an evolutionary phase, where the old experiments were refined into working patterns; and finally, a stable phase, where the working patterns dominated the market, and little innovation was seen.

People who are classic movie buffs fondly remember the old black and white movies, the early color films, etc. They mentally filter out the crap, and as such, remember that all movies back then were simply golden. Same with classic game buffs. I know that I try to mentally block out the old crap games, while trying to remember the classics...but now, thanks to MAME, Stella and other well-written emulators, you can truly see that there was some total shit back then. Come to think of it, there's some total shit right now.

People try to remake the good classic movies. People who remember the original hate the new version. People who never saw the original can feel the spirit of the original inside it. Same with games. Several people who remember the original "Frogger" fondly hated the 3-D remake, but it hit enough nerves with people who had never played it, that it became one of the best selling games of the last two years!

Finally, classics aren't limited to an era. "Silence of the Lambs" is a classic. So is "Gone with the Wind." For games, we have everything from Pac-Man to Sinistar to Doom to Tomb Raider and beyond. True classics distill the true essence of what they can be into their most basic form. "Silence" is the most absolute form of "evil." Pac-Man is the most absolute form of "collect and run."

At least to me, the show was a waste because I felt that most of the people there were wallowing in the classics rather than celebrating them. The 80's weren't the end of innovation. They were the beginning. All of the games today owe a debt of gratitute to the developers of yore. But we, as gamers, owe it to ourselves not to tie ourselves down to an era. Tying ourselves to the original platform guarantees that when we die, our classic games die with us. We should do whatever is in our power to help the classics reach new audiences. Emulation is one way; remakes are another. Hopefully, we'll find more ways.

In closing, I don't think I'll be going back to another CGE. I feel that this industry is stil in the evolutionary phase, and that my classic gaming knowledge and experience is better used helping solidify this industry's gameplay so that future generations can look at the games that they play then, and see a small part of the games we played long ago.

Mike Russell