I walked out of the rain like an old school desperado, flying sheets of water pouring over my old school duds. I looked up at Hall C of the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center with a grin. Nothing says journalism to me like when I get to wear a cowboy hat and duster. Too Many Games is widely considered by people who travel in my circles to be one of the greatest gaming experiences in the region, especially if you’re a fan of old school gaming. I was a man on a mission, complete with my standard convention backpack. It was go time.
As I walked up to the building, I saw a throng of scruffy smokers hanging out under the awning. Their eyes were focused everywhere other than the massive waves of water pounding down on us. Something wasn’t right here. These people weren’t wearing the right T-shirts, and were definitely wearing the wrong beanies. There was a distinct lack of video game T-shirts and relevant paraphernalia. These were hipsters in action, not game geeks.
I asked one of them: “Hey, where’s the registration line?”
The gentleman turned to me and said, “You’ll have to go inside and ask.”
The doors were locked. I waited a minute, and just as I sneaked inside, someone stepped out of the building into the monsoon behind us. I was greeted by the sight of ten thousand instrument cases in a massive exhibition hall. I have not seen so many implements of music before, nor do I expect to see such disciples of hard and soft rock again. I stepped out into the rain, confident in the powers of the Old West, and my legendary duster to protect me. I stared up at the convention hall sign before me, gritting my teeth.
It proudly proclaimed: “Convention Halls A & B: TOO MANY GAMES! Convention Hall C: Philadelphia Guitar Expo”.
It was going to be a long walk.
The Greater Philadelphia Convention Center is not unknown to me. I’d gone to ZenKaikon for years, and it had briefly taken the center as its home after we were banished to the wastes with the fall of the Scanticon hotel, and the rise of the Valley Forge Casino. I cracked my knuckles as I stepped inside, and I immediately knew it. That almost military bunker-style entrance was old hat, and I knew if I took an immediate right, I’d find myself where ZenkaiLARP 2012 had briefly called home. Those were strange times, and like Zenkaikon, I too had been living through transitions since.
But that was then. I was a teacher now, and occasionally, a reporter. I got into the Registration Line, and wondered how many people would ask what I was cosplaying as. I was surrounded on all sidies by my people: they wore T-shirts exalting the heroes of our youth and present, people who we did not just love to see in action, but were able to become for hours at a time. We were all gamers here, men and women united in our love of flashing lights, colors, and the sounds of an 8 Bit NES sound chip.
It’s been hard to be a geek in the last few years. Gamergate and related shenanigans have made just enjoying things with other people weird as hell. I’ve always felt that being a geek meant that, man or woman, you were united with countless others in your love of awesome stories. Other people seem to think “you must be a cisgender white dude”, “you must know X about Y series to Z memorization levels”, and that “if you don’t meet the above criteria, we’ll kick you out of the clubhouse” are valid responses. (See also: Sad Puppies.) I saw the diverse crowd at Too Many Games, and I’m heartened by the fact that people are still awesome.
My musings aside, there are ways to tell how popular a convention is becoming, and I immediately realized that Too Many Games was top-tier when I received my usual convention packet. I rummaged through the usual welcome papers, and I had to ask the friendly registration attendant:
“Hey, do you have a schedule of events?”
She said, “We DID, but we ran out of them.”
There are a lot of conventions in the world, but you know that people like what they see when you have so many attendees beyond initial growth projections that they run out of schedule programs. I walked into the massive convention, still dripping wet. I found myself struck by a sense of wonderment: Games. Scads of them. Dozens of booths arranged around the convention center and a massive selection of playable items from the new school to the old school.
As I plowed through the booths, I saw something incredible: Etrian Mystery Dungeon.
The attendant immediately responded, “Oh, you’re a fan of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series?”
“Oh, I’ve played it, but I’m more of a fan of the Etrian Odyssey Series.”
He looked like I’d kicked his dog.
I’d failed his Hardcore Test (every geek has one, whether they’ll admit it or not.) That’s okay though, he’d failed my hardcore test too. After all, Mystery Dungeon isn’t just Pokemon, it’s also Shiren the Wanderer (which Etrian Mystery Dungeon has a class based off of.) And Etrian Odyssey is one of the greatest dungeon crawling games ever devised. (Although, I’d strongly advise anyone who wants to play the original play Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl. It’s a remake rebalanced to be a little more accessible.) In any case, this fusion of two of the greatest dungeon crawler games ever created was too good for me to ignore. My money hit the table as soon as I finished reading the back of the box. No matter what happened after that, I knew there had been a positive outcome to this trip.
I loaded the new game into my pack. I found myself dreaming of resource exploitation, money, and D&D adventurers taking on Cthulhu (see Etrian Odyssey III, one of the greatest games of all time.) As I wandered, I spotted a booth where the Sega Genesis classic Sonic One With Kirby was playable. This was one of the more bizarre moments of my trip, as seeing the Nintendo star running through Marble Garden Zone was like seeing a new Spyro the Dragon game that was worth playing. I found myself playing, and as time went on, demoing it.
“So, it’s Kirby in Sonic One??”
“Yeah”, I said, “Rom hack with a physical cartridge. It’s not really Kirby though. He’s got a single double-jump, and he can suck in some enemies by doing what’s a spin dash in later Sonic games. See?”
I demonstrated. As a side note, I saw that the move would also suck in nearby rings. Vital, as Kirby had no health bar, just the usual Sonic “you die if you get hit without any rings” setup. This was no Super Mario Crossover. I could not play Kirby like Kirby, and I was unhappy. But hey, it was a great concept. Looking back, I think that it will be interesting to determine which year of my life I’d transformed into such a gaming grognard. Regardless, this gaming desperado had to move on. I passed the controller, and called it an experience.
I checked my phone. I had missed the people that I had wanted to meet at Too Many Games, they’d come and gone, as it turned out, I’d arrived at the convention late. I was used to Saturday Night conventions being an all-evening affair. As I considered my options, a guy running a booth covered in awesome games from every era said:
“Hey, did you take our picture?”
I blinked. I’d been holding up my phone, maybe he got the wrong idea?
“Um, no, I didn’t.
He said, “No, can you take our picture?”
I looked to his partner: she was the perfect model of Cloud from Final Fantasy VII. The cosplay was fantastic, excepting the sword as large as she was. But who carries a sword as large as they are on a convention floor? Thinking back, I wish I’d gotten a photo.
“Oh.”I said, surprised, “Oh! Sure, no problem.”
I took the photo of them together, and handed them back their camera. The booth guy went back to his customers. The woman engaged me:
“Thanks! This convention is great!”
Oh god, she was talking to me. I had to say something witty!
I said, “I love your cosplay by the way, it’s perfect on everything, excepting the lack of giant sword.”
She said, “Well yeah, but have you ever tried to carry one of those around a crowded convention hall?”
“Oh totally. You could kill someone that way.”
We both laughed, and I said:
“I hope you enjoy the rest of the convention.”
She said, “You too.”
We parted ways and I felt as though I had acquitted myself admirably. These people were friendly, and the atmosphere was fantastic. It was about then that I realized something I was in a massive convention hall full of oldschool games. I could find anything here. I stared around me, and I started to smile. There was one game I played and never beat in the N64 Era: Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon. It was an old-school 3D platformer with significant Zelda influences in the days before “Ocarina Of Time” sounded like anything other than a 60s hippie-centric rock band. It was also an absurd N64 game, and the fact that I hadn’t beaten it was not for lack of trying. Back in the N64 era, Memory Cards were that thing that Playstation gamers needed. N64 cartridges had built-in save space in nearly every game. Memory cards did exist for it, but the number of games that needed it could be counted on two hands. Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon was one such game. It was never my video game, it belonged to my buddy Alex, and with no Memory Card as a kid, I’d tried several times to and speed run through it, and I always got stuck after the fourth dungeon. It was the same every time: I could never find Kyushu. The Plasma Fortune Teller would always go “PLASMAAAAAA, go to Kyushu, TO THE WEST!” And I would get lost in the desert trying to track it down.
This was all before the days where a quick internet search could reveal all of the strategy guides you ever needed. I had an old Game Informer Strategy Guide for it once, but I’d lost it.
This was my chance.
I had my N64 in my apartment. I needed Mystical Ninja and a N64 Memory Card, and I could finally put to bed one of the old trials of my childhood.
I began my quest to find the game.
Finding retro games, consoles, and parts is always a question of time and distance. Every five years, the world of consoles changes, and a new world of gaming comes into being. In some cases its easier than others: the Wii was backwards compatible with Gamecube games, the PS2 with PS1 games, it created a sort of continuity.
But even then, there was a time when you could go to a Gamestop or EB Games and pick up a generations old console, a stack of games a mile high, and do it all without breaking the bank. Then Gamestop decided that they would no longer carry games prior to the generation before the current one. It changed everything. Suddenly, if you wanted to play an older game, you’d have to hope it was re-released on Steam, Virtual Console, or some other online service, or you’d need to find a specialty game shop.
Or a beautiful place like Too Many Games.
I began my search. It wasn’t easy. Rows upon rows of game related booths, the conversation went the same way for about a half an hour:
“Hi! You wouldn’t happen to have Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon?”
Response: “Nope”, or “We had one yesterday.”
Timing is everything, ladies and gentlemen.
Then I saw a booth labeled: “Another Video Game Con”. I liked these guys already, as they obviously knew the kind of business they were in. I threw down the money, and planned the reconquest of the first dungeon in my mind, but now I had to find the memory card.
That took another twenty minutes. I found myself at a booth labeled “All Things Video Games.”
The mother lode. After a minute of looking around, he pulled out a large plastic bucket full of memory cards from every generation of gaming that used them. I took a further look at the booth. Refurbished Nintendo 64 controllers, SNES controllers, if it could be used to play a classic video game, they had it. I gave them scads of cash, as I suddenly decided that I desperately needed that refurbished Nintendo 64 controller.
Impulse buys will be the death of me.
I thanked the guy at the booth profusely, and he asked me to try and look up his shop if I was ever in Woodbury, New Jersey. I took his card, accidentally lost it, but made it a point to link them regardless. The selection was fantastic. Which left me with a problem: my personal objective for the day was complete, but I had no idea what else I could do for the rest of the show. I found myself lost in the throng. I really wish I’d planned this trip more than a day in advance, and even then I wish I’d planned it beyond “Go! See what you can find!”
And that was when I encountered Linkara. The host of Atop the 4th Wall (“Where bad comics burn”) has always been one of my favorite internet personas. I blanked as I walked past one booth, right up to his, and had an immediate fanboy reaction.
“Oh wow! Linkara! I Iove your show!”
Yes, I know his name is Lewis Lovhaug. But my brain and my tongue are like an 80s Buddy Cop Duo: highly dysfunctional, and prone to argue with each other at the drop of a hat. That and, would he have preferred me leading off with “Mr. Lovhaug?” We chatted briefly about the show, and about the DVDs he was offering for sale at the convention, and I totally threw a few bucks down for his Secret Origins DVD.
I wandered over to the food court, and found myself staring at a menu that included “Chili-cheese dogs”. I was going to hate myself later, but damned if I wasn’t going to enjoy things on the spot. I sat down at an empty concession corner booth, and began to pound down my absolutely delicious, bowel-destroying meal; and it was then that I spotted a discarded events schedule for Too Many Games 2015. I pulled it over and took a read. The Megas had performed, and I’d missed it. Mega Ran was performing Sunday, and a whole bunch of other awesome bands and rocked out over the course of the weekend. There was so much I’d missed, and so much I was going to miss.
Dejectedly, I made my way back to the “Another Gaming Con” booth, and drowned my sorrows by playing the Mega Man 5 game they’d made available. As always, I started with Charge Man, as he was the most vulnerable of the bunch once he’d finished his big locomotive attack. I played, and listened, and felt the past wash over me. Unfortunately, I forgot that Charge Man’s slide kick had no effect on Star Man’s flying star attack idiocy (seriously, some bosses are just ridiculous), so I decided to call my playthrough there.
That was when things got weird, but good weird. I’ve made many acquaintances over the years, and they’ve gone all over the world. I’m too lazy to ask for permission, so we’ll call my old friends the Bonnes. (As one of them went under the name of Tronne Bonne for a long time, I’m sure she’ll approve.) The Bonnes are awesome. I met them at LARP years ago, and not too long after I met them, they ended up in Japan. And then Mr. Bonne got a job at Inti Creates and… I have never been so jealous in my entire life. He gets to work with guys like Keiji Inafune and Koji Igarashi for gods’ sakes! I mean, holy crap! Talk about job of a lifetime!
I’d heard that they were in town, and I ended up sidestepping up to the Inti Creates booth and bam! There was Tronne Bonne, but I didn’t recognize her at first, as I was used to seeing her with her Tronne Bonne wig, so there was that moment of shock. Anyone with heavy duty Cosplay and LARP buddies knows the moment well, in which you find yourself staring at someone trying to imagine what their normal face would look like without the makeup. I have a good friend named Sarah who continues to confound people, as when they meet her outside conventions she isn’t in bright blue bodypaint. Finally, we talked, and it was a fantastic, if brief reminder that LARPers never forget. Then we briefly played a game at the booth that worked like a light-gun shooter, except you were shooting girls with love bullets and causing them to act in ways that generally require eroticism and heavy petting. I lost some faith in humanity just being in the game’s presence, but gained continued respect for Japan’s ability to be hilariously perverted.
And then the voice resounded over the loudspeaker: “We’re closing down for the day. Come back tomorrow when we reopen!”
And then I left, once more into the vicious monsoon outside. I briefly glanced back at the convention hall as I worked my way back to my parking space by The Guitar Expo. I had to wait another year for this. It will be worth the wait though.
After all, just yesterday, I finally found Kyushu.