51 Shades of Geek

OKGE (Oklahoma Gaming Exhibition) 2003

OKGE 2003When OKGE organizer Jess Hardesty first announced a Tulsa gaming expo in the summer of 2003, I may well have been the first person to jump aboard – I was so there. And despite not having been to a gaming event at that time (OKGE was announced before I went to Classic Gaming Expo 2003), I signed on for two tables. What the heck was I thinking? From n00b to exhibitor in no time flat.

Now, on the drive back from Tulsa to Fort Smith, I can’t decide which was better – being a guest in Vegas or running a table or two in Tulsa. Thing is, they’re two completely different things. I love CGE, it’s a well-run thing, but I’m just not sure I’d have the nerve to run a booth with that kind of a hardcore audience – besides which, I really have nothing to sell. My OKGE tables were strictly set up so people could play machines they haven’t laid eyes on in years – or ever.

The sad thing is, I had to work a double shift the Friday night immediately before OKGE, so I was groggy to say the least. Probably OKGE 2003shouldn’t have been driving in the first place. At the last minute, my friend Kent joined the Phosphor Dot Fossils caravan, which provided me with some extra peace of mind – I could actually vacate my table briefly. With setup scheduled for 7am, and the doors scheduled to open between 8 and 9, we had to hit the road as close to 5am as possible to make the two-hour drive.

We got there really late, actually. Everyone else was already set up! But there was only a handful of guests already in the hall, so we set about setting games up first, and then display pieces. To my horror, I’d forgotten to bring an extra 75-to-300 ohm convertor, so Kent managed to go to a Wal-Mart next door to the Hilton and procure one – the last one they had in stock. By the time OKGE 2003we were all finished, we had two Playstations set up with old-school controls and import-retro-compilation goodness, two Odyssey2s, and, running through a jerry-rigged Frankenstein monster of a video setup, the original 1972 Magnavox Odyssey, pumping its signal through an old VCR driving an old green monochrome monitor. Keeping the dear old thing up and running throughout the day proved to be our second biggest challenge, but Kent quickly figured out what the problem was and began keeping a regular eye on it.

A look at the Phosphor Dot Fossils booth, complete with toys on display, racing light cycles, and fun aplenty. Talk about having to make your presentation count – due to a no-show, Phosphor Dot Fossils wound up right next door to AtariAge. As a result, I split the vacant table with the AtariAge guys – I only needed about one third of it, and they badly needed the extra space of the other two thirds. Good thing I was looking at the AA table from the side instead of from in front for most of the show – it helped me forget momentarily that I’ve never seen so much stuff that I wanted to buy on a single vendor table.

OKGE 2003Thanks, I’ll take one of each, please.

Albert Yarusso showed me the finished version of Backfire – still awaiting approval from designer Chad Lare of course – of the label and manual whose artwork was designed by myself and picked by Chad in a recent AtariAge contest. The cartridge turned out great, but I’ve gotta say the manual turned out even better.

OKGE 2003

OKGE 2003For a first-time convention, OKGE was expertly run by Jesse Hardesty, who – with his wife and mother there to help – sweated over the details to make sure everyone else was having a blast. They ran a high score contest, organized random drawing for door prizes (I donated a working Odyssey 300 Pong clone and a Sears Super Video Arcade Intellivision clone, as well as a Tron soundtrack CD and other goodies). Everyone seemed excited about their prizes!

OKGE 2003I was excited about the crowd, myself. Jesse estimates “at least 100” attendees, and I think he’s being conservative. I’d double that number at the very least. And many of them came and stayed the whole day – I saw many faces, representing many age groups and even ethnicities, circulating through the room for the entire duration.

OKGE 2003

OKGE 2003Originally, my plan was to bring a ton of machines – i.e. 7 to 10 of them. As luck would have it, I have many more machines than I have actual screens – and this is a good thing, as five game stations spread across two-and-a-third tables were just far enough apart to avoid being elbow-to-elbow.

OKGE 2003Good thing, too, because for a non-sales exhibitor, we got a lot of business – and I’d estmate that a good 80% of it was to ogle the Odyssey. People who had never seen it before, who had never seen such a thing in their lives, were just entranced by it – and with good reason. Even if you’re well-acquainted with Pong-style games, you’ve never seen anything like the Magnavox Odyssey in action. I met people who remembered seeing them back in the day, and many more people who’d never heard of one. The weird manual English control had everyone mesmerized.

One of the day’s highlights was an attendee who came up to my table and said he’d never seen an Odyssey2 before, but he had once accidentally bought a Wico trakball for the system, thinking it would work on his 2600. I told him he had picked up a rare treasure indeed, and then he said “Do you want to see it? I can go to my room and get it.” I think you can guess my answer! He came back a few minutes later and left it with me – an honest-to-God and very rare Odyssey2 trakball – while he went and browsed the other tables.

OKGE 2003One thing about Wico’s Odyssey trakball is that it requires an AC adapter, something Kent pointed out to me after looking at the back of the controller – and something which wasn’t in the box. I had a few assorted items like that with me, but I wasn’t about to fry someone’s holy grail by misjudging the voltage required. I’m guessing that there’s not enough juice flowing through the Odyssey joystick I/O ports to power the trakball’s sensors. As it was, the fire button did work, but the controller itself was dead without power – my characters on any given game just descended to the bottom of the screen instantly. I tried it out with Killer Bees and UFO, two games that seemed like they’d be good candidates for trakball control. When the owner of the trakball returned to retrieve his treasure, I told him he could probably make decent money off of eBay with it – but I also gave him my web site’s business card and told him I’d be more than happy to buy it off of him too! Sadly, I didn’t get his name. But holy cow, I got to get my hands on a Wico Odyssey trakball – and not in Las Vegas, amazingly enough. I’ll keep everyone updated on my attempts to acquire this item! If I had brought cash with me, I would’ve made OKGE 2003him an offer on the spot. Wow. (Editor’s note: I was later able to acquire the trackball for my collection, and it has returned to the show many times.)

Other rarities were on hand in a locked cabinet of museum items on loan from Curt Vendel. I didn’t get to grope those items though! It’s funny – I’d just seen the Atari Mindlink controller, the Atari 5100 (a more compact 5200 variant), and the clear-casing 7800 mere weeks before at CGE, and I hadn’t expected to see them again so soon.

OKGE 2003

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