The Austin Chronicle

Paging Dr. Mario

Game Over Videogames' Classic Game Fest

By James Renovitch, June 26, 2009, Screens

These are the days when a war-simulating video game gives grandpa flashbacks. When playing a basketball game on your plasma HD screen via the highest of tech gaming systems prompts a roommate to ask the score of the game, not realizing that the NBA's not in session. But when did reality become the aim of gaming? And is reality really more fun than your imagination? Anyone who's controlled Q*Bert for hours trying to minimize the titular creature's swearing jags or ridden an ostrich in an attempt to destroy knights mounted on buzzards in Joust knows that reality is overrated.

Sometimes simplicity and accessibility are the name of the game. Eighties and Nineties game designers knew that, and so do the people at Game Over Videogames, who specialize in everything old and gamey. That's a compliment.

The flagship GOV (at Anderson and Lamar) is organized meticulously, purposefully, and chronologically, with Atari in the front and the nearly cutting-edge PlayStation and Xbox (sans 360) games relegated to the back. However, a trip through the Power Pads and Zelda T-shirts to the way back of the store reveals a reliquary of retro gaming systems and peripherals (e.g., R.O.B. for the original Nintendo) –a testament to the passion that the staff has for the classics. The man behind the passion is owner David Kaelin (see "Runnin' With the Wolf," Jan. 27, 2006), who has expanded the business to include locations in South Austin and Round Rock.

The main obstacle for the store that has no competition except for eBay is getting word out of its existence on a relatively paltry advertising budget. Enter last year's first-ever Classic Game Fest, which managed to both remind people how addictive and fun the elder games are and showed Austin where to get its fix. The plan remains the same this year.

That plan includes the Alamo Drafthouse's Rolling Roadshow screen in the parking lot, vendors, video-game movies inside, a retro love seat (not as dirty as it sounds), and special entertainment that Kaelin will say nothing about except that it will be both "game related" and "nostalgic." The screen looks impressive towering over the Game Over building, but the high tech, digital bits and modern wiring just don't speak Atari's language. Thankfully Pong and Joust –the first two games on the docket –are so wildly popular and ubiquitous that they have retained their 8-bit-and-under looks but have also been updated for platforms that can be translated into 2009.

The games span time from the early Seventies to the turn of this century: Pong to Super Smash Bros. In between you have the aforementioned Joust, the jaw-dropping (at the time) two-on-two action of NBA Jam, and the Tetris knockoff Dr. Mario. The latter was a request from numerous contestants in last year's events.

It's the aged titles that draw a crowd and make the tournament unique. Kaelin explains: "Stores have tournaments sometimes, but they're usually games like Halo or Guitar Hero. You get those 10 people who are ringers, and other people won't go because they know the ringers will be there. But with a game like Pong, there are no ringers in Pong." In other words, don't think the Joust skills you had in grade school are going to translate to victory on the big screen. That even playing field makes for fun across the board, for gamers and noobs alike, especially since the whole event is free to both onlookers and contestants.

Perhaps all these years that serious game developers have been re-creating reality, they should have been creating fun. If nothing else, fun is something people can agree on.

Game Over Videogames' Classic Game Fest runs every other Friday starting with Pong on July 3 and ending with Super Smash Bros. on Aug. 28. Sign-up for the tournament starts at 7pm, entertainment at 8pm, and tourney action on the big screen starts as soon as it's dark enough to see what you're doing (usually around 8:45pm).

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