Joystick Junkies Unite

Fantastic Arcade

Plopping Austin's biggest gaming personality, Richard Garriott, in the keynote speaker position at the head of the Fantastic Arcade – just before a panel titled Declaration of Independents – might feel like a slap in the face to all things indie. The guy has enough clout and cash to go to space, for chrissakes. However, the man was sending out plastic baggies full of floppy discs labeled "Akalabeth" before most of the snot-nosed Johnny-come-latelies who largely populate this new gaming arm of Fantastic Fest were even having 8-bit wet dreams. Who better than the unofficial father of DIY programming to sound the indie gaming alarm?

It doesn't have the cultural cachet that indie movies or music have (or had, depending on how you look at it), but the hope is that some folks outside of the insular circle of indie gamers and designers will recognize where a large amount of the original ideas come from. The Fantastic Arcade could go so far as to convince some nongamers that one doesn't need to spend 40 hours shooting impeccably rendered aliens to be part of the club. Now is your chance to spend time with the cool kids of game design, because they'll all be drinking and high-fiving one another in the back parking lot of the HighBall. That is, when they aren't putting on their professional faces for the panels, game demos, and screenings.

Those professional faces will be lit up by the glowing screens filling the HighBall ballroom, transformed into an old-timey (read: Eighties) arcade replete with games placed in those mammoth cabinets of yore. Spotlight games will be playable and vying for your audience award vote. If voting isn't your thing, the showcase games also run the gamut from art games (like Superbrothers' Sword & Sworcery EP) to message games (Operation: Pedopriest has a message, right?) to polarizing titles (Super Columbine Massacre RPG!; self-explanatory) to locally made titles (e.g, Canabalt, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor).

The campus-area video-game emporium Arcade UFO will host daily gaming tournaments, including a Left 4 Dead 2 killing spree set in the virtual Alamo Drafthouse of your nightmares.

Need a break from the inundation of pixels? Check out the real-world panels on gaming's present and future, starting with indie poster child Jonathan Blow and others talking about game design sans endless bureaucracy (see our interview with Jonathan Blow on the Screens blog at Other questions to ponder at the panels: why so many games involve elves, why movies based on video games can't be good, and why Texas is lousy with program-it-yourself game designers. Any remaining questions will be drowned out in the bleeps and bloops nearby.

The Fantastic Arcade sets up headquarters at the HighBall, 1142 S. Lamar. Get a VIP pass to all four days of shenanigans for $60, or buy single-day passes for $20. For the cheapskates and starving programmers, there's a $10 single-day pass to only the game demos and arcade portion of the fest.

  • More of the Story

  • Passion Project

    Fantastic Fest and its home base the Alamo Drafthouse have only gotten bigger, but its heart – pure and pulpy – stays the same
  • Oh, Ho, Oslo!

    Norwegian spotlight

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Fantastic Fest Arcade, Jonathan Blow, Richard Garriott

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