Familiar Sights

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“Hey, what’s that on your shirt? Is that from a game?”

I was a bit surprised at how common a refrain this was from fans and vendors alike at the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo in the Washington State Convention Center over the weekend. I was wearing an orange T-shirt with a horrifying image of Dark Souls’ mimic, which people could identify as probably from a game, if not exactly which one. Then again, this was a retro game event, so maybe most there just weren’t as familiar with newer games. Or maybe I just have weird taste.

Whether you like old games or new, there is a certain comfort to shows like SRGE. You can reliably find activities like game trivia (which I unfortunately missed) and panels, an open bazaar of people selling game-related art and trinkets and (of course) games of all ages, not to mention a chance to play multiplayer Steel Battalion.

For the uninitiated, Capcom’s hardcore mech combat game for the original Xbox was infamous for its 40-button controller simulating the cockpit of a giant bipedal tank. Though I own the game, the damn controller is such a pain to set up that I haven’t touched it in years – the most potent memory I have is playing six or seven years ago, when I struggled to get out of the loading hangar in the first mission without being blown to pieces by incoming missile fire. Playing deathmatch against a herd of other lumbering beasts was probably reason enough to come to the show. I even managed to get a few kills in.

I apparently had missed most of the day’s action by the time I made it downtown, and at first glance SRGE seemed rather quaint, taking up only part of the fourth floor inside the massive building convention center. If you’ve ever been to PAX Prime you know every floor in the entire space is usually bursting with people – yet like its Portland-based cousin, SRGE has been getting bigger every year. In that light, graduating to occupy even one floor of the massive convention center over smaller venues elsewhere in Seattle is actually pretty promising.

Obviously shows like this should be popular here, since Seattle is very much a town for hobbyists and nerds. Aside from PAX, there’s comic con, anime conventions and other shows throughout the year, on top of the sizable indie and triple-A developer influence throughout the city. I can only imagine SRGE will double its size in 2015.

A friend (Kinsey Burke, who organized the event) told me earlier in the day the SRGE’s allotted space had been packed, though I was still able to make the rounds, speaking with a number of vendors and event participants. The general sentiment followed that everyone was impressed with how big the show was this year, and even with smaller crowds you could feel the enthusiasm as people hunted for this or that rare game.

I didn’t have much luck at the bazaar, but it’s fun to browse anyway – and it did net me a new copy of For Answer, the Armored Core game Hidetaka Miyazaki directed before taking on Demon’s and Dark Souls – for a steal. Plus, just knowing that other people around me are pawing through old original Game Boy games or buying up copies of obtuse old-school stuff like Castlevania II makes me happy.

The Free Play room was unfortunately Galaga-free – I had been craving a game of the arcade classic since I left for the convention center – though I did find a weird Japanese arcade machine running The Outfoxies, an interesting and fun sprite-based arcade game from Sega that works like a 2D proto-Smash Bros. (I ended up settling on Gradius III to satiate my arcade shooter craving.) It is a rare thing to see so many orange Gamecube controllers in one room.

Given the size of Portland’s retro game expo, which has blown up to two or three times its size over the past four years or so, it’s probably a given that SRGE will as well – there’s no reason for it not to. I’m looking forward to it.


Follow Steve Haske on Twitter @afraidtomerge.