(WINDOW DRESSING: Mr. Mark Santora is producing a quality video documentary of WOA '98. For information and ordering, visit, Mark's homepage at: http://home.earthlink.net/~santora.)
Suddenly, a Vegas weekend has passed me by and I find myself on a plane chasing a Sunday sunset toward the western horizon. The first annual Classic Video Game and Home Computer Show, otherwise touted as World of Atari '98, had come to a close. The people and the memories have bid me a fond farewell. While mere hours before I was saturated in a sea of camaraderie I now find myself heading home in an airship of anonymity. I did not win the "Asteroids" cocktail table raffled by Mr. Tim Arnold to benefit the Las Vegas Salvation Army, but I did carry with me a few small boxes of memorabilia that I consider just as priceless. And I carry a camcorder crammed with a few hours of video. And I carry a few chocolates for my wife and son as they stay up at home to ask me if I had a nice time.
I now feel inspired to share, with those who honored us by attending and for those who so desperately wanted to go, a report of the show from my unique perspective. It was an interesting change of pace for me. After so many years of attending Comdex, CES, E3 and a number of Atari-specific shows over the years as one of the crew, I am suddenly bestowed the title of Distinguished Guest. This time, I am not responsible to help set up walls of a booth, components of a kiosk or crates of literature. Instead, I am invited to verbalize my experiences at Atari, shake friends of old and new and sign an occasional request for an autograph.
Mr. Keita Iida and Mr. Don Rogers greeted me at McCarran International Airport around noon on Friday, August 21, 1998. Both gentlemen were anxious to help carry my bags. In spite of my insistence to carry them myself, Keita managed to grab one away as I put one down to switch hands. They took me to the Holiday Inn Boardwalk Hotel and Casino (http://www.hiboardwalk.com) located right on the world famous Vegas strip. The hotel required me to wait a couple hours to register so we checked my bags and a group of us drove over to TGI Friday's (http://www.tgifridays.com) for lunch.
In the earliest hours of my arrival I met all the core promoters. Mr. Rich Tsukiji has one of those last names that I can spell, but just cannot learn to pronounce. I feel redeemed, however, since I later learned he once misspelled my last name in the official program. Payback maybe? <g> In reality I have always known Rich as Rich and he has always known me as Don. We have always been on a first name basis from the first time we met. In fact, those years go back almost a decade when World of Atari was held at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California. It was at that show that Rich helped me to introduce Artisan Software in its first ever public exhibition. Rich filled the role of producer at WOA '98. The event is ultimately to his credit just like we owe him for the experiences at so many Atari-specific events over the years. It was good to see Rich again and to meet Rich Tsukiji II, the proud offspring of his father.
Mr. John Hardie was rubbing his tired eyes but still found plenty of energy to smile and welcome the guests as they arrived. John and Keita co-produce the Atari Headquarters web domain (http://www.atarihq.com). The two gentlemen actually coordinated most of the events at the show, helped solicit sponsors and arrange keynotes. By this time on Friday they have already spent a great deal of time keeping promises and schedules on track. Before it would be over, they would see it get much worse before it would get better.
Mr. Brad Kota, was an inspiration for this year's show. As a long time friend and colleague of Mr. Tsukiji, Brad helped to persuade him that there would be interest in a classic video game show. Brad's Best Electronics has always been a formidable icon in the industry with the world's most unique selection of hard-to-find components and parts for Atari video games and computers.
I soon caught up with Mr. Randy Stoller, a memorable young man who has a rare collection of classic game and computer products. Mr. Jerry Jessop worked at Atari in the late seventies and early eighties. Jerry did a variety of engineering projects at Atari. Mr. Dan Kramer is renowned for his work on the track ball at Atari in the early years. Mr. Leonard Herman, author of "Pheonix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames" and the "ABC to the VCS" (Rolenta Press, http://www.atarihq.com/features/phoenix.html), was setting up to offer autographed copies of his books. Mr. Sean Kelly, of Digital Press, set up next to Leonard to offer his Classic Videogame Commercial Archive on VHS tapes (http://www.xnet.com/~skelly/video.htm). Amidst all the hustle and bustle, mammoth crates were moved carefully into the vender area. Each one was marked "Atari Historical Society" (http://www.atari.nu) and followed closely by a Mr. Curt Vendel.
By 3 p.m. on Friday, the show appeared to be coming together quite well. (I was happy. I finally received my key to room number 463.) Anyone in the know, however, knew things were not going as well as hoped. There were problems. Throughout the afternoon, Rich Tsukiji had to run around Las Vegas city offices to accommodate a variety of exhibition permits that had previously not been required. WOA '98 was becoming a much bigger show than some people had anticipated and an entirely new plateau of permits and licenses were suddenly required. With a lot of hot Vegas sweat and a heavy dose of Tsukiji finesse, Rich pulled everything together just as the city was locking the business office doors closed for the weekend.
Meanwhile, back at the not-so-okay coral, Keita sat next to a pair of gold plated pay phones in the foyer of the convention floor. He had long run out of quarters to feed the phones and was now typing out the same numbers into his cellular phone that Don Rogers pointed out in a thick edition of the Las Vegas yellow pages. The mission: get between six to eight 19-inch color televisions to the show at a reasonable price before the rental stores closed and WOA '98 commenced. The long awaited "Battlesphere" tournaments must go on, but no televisions had shown up as originally planned.
Ultimately, Keita and Rich resolved their emergencies to everyone's satisfaction, but the energy was building and the pressure was mounting. Mr. Bruce Carso and his wife and family arrived with their 15-foot box truck direct from B&C ComputerVisions (http://www.myatari.com). Mr. Tim Arnold had his classic coin-ops to unload. Mr. Jerry Jessop and Mr. Dan Kramer had a large rental van full of artifacts for the Classic Game Museum. Artifacts that included the very first "Computer Space" ever manufactured and an original coin-op "Pong". Mr. Steve Kipker and his crew from Steve's Software (http://www.atarionline.com) set up countless boxes of computer and gaming software featuring notable mentions such as "Air Cars" ($75) for the Atari Jaguar and "Visicalc" ($1) for Atari computers. All new in originally shrink-wrapped packaging of course.
Keita and John would not get much sleep again this long and anxious day. Even at late night hours, they had yet to set up their own contributions to the museum that required a painstaking system to catalog and arrange all of the displays and exhibits. Much of this time I didn't feel right just standing around. Everyone was working so hard. I did my best to document the course of events with my camcorder, but I did set it aside for a while to help Bruce and Cathy unload their truck.
At 6:30 p.m., the doors opened across the hall of the main convention hall to the formal reception area. Persons connected directly to the production of the show took a well-deserved break and pre-ticketed attendees were all invited. There were two cash bars, a great sound system playing the soundtrack from "Tempest 2000" and wall-to-wall people. Rich asked me to make a few opening remarks. People who know me do not think I am much capable of making just a few remarks, but I managed to prove them wrong this time around. I thanked Rich, Brad, John and Keita. I urged others to find them and thank them all as well. Rich asked me to tell them how to get their programs for the show and I closed with a formal welcome to each and everyone in attendance.
Not too long after the reception, activities began to settle down to a realistic pace. Most of the venders had found time to sigh and only John and Keita were still in a mode that some say resembles panic. In spite of it all, Rich, John, Keita and a few others including myself broke away to get some dinner at Applebee's Neighborhood Grille and Bar (http://www.applebees.com). I am familiar with the Applebee's chain, but I have no idea where Keita took us that night to get there. The trip allowed me to renew a friendship with Rich and we filled in a lot of blanks for a number of old Atari anecdotes from days gone by.
Immediately after dinner, we returned to the Boardwalk and Rich, Keita and John returned to work as if they had never yet started. The appeal of the slot machines overcame me and I began to throw money away into as many of them as I could. Ouch. By around 2:30 a.m. I returned to room 463 and reread my keynote speech one more time. Well, two more times. Hmmm, a few typos. Maybe it turned out being several times before I actually turned out the lights around 4 a.m.
Lynn, my wife, refused to bear the Las Vegas heat with me. She knew I would be pre-occupied and decided playing mom was a most important role at home. As always, she turned out being the wise woman I know and adore. Saturday was hot long before anyone had a chance to complain about it. Staying at the same hotel as the show was wonderful and the uncomfortable heat was felt only near the windows. I arose at 8:40 a.m. By 10 o'clock I walked past a long, long line of attendees who clearly wanted the doors to open sooner rather than later. At approximately, 10:07 a.m. the doors pushed back the crowd as they opened and the crowd calmly funneled themselves into the exhibition floor.
I took a lot of videotape and will need to dedicate a day to review it all. But from recollection, there were items for sale and items for display. There were displays for display and displays for sale. There were mint condition Ms. Pac-Man dolls offered by Jack Berg Sales Company, a firm based in El Paso, Texas. There were hard-to-find coin-op art panels available from the Atari Historical Society. There were mint copies of "Metorite" ($75) for the Atari 5200 game system offered by Atari Headquarters. Mr. David Naghi and Mr. Robert Rienick introduce nYko Technologies' (http://www.nyko.com) new Classic Track Ball for the PlayStation (http://www.playstation.com) game console.
In a center aisle, Tim Arnold kept track of the raffle total with a makeshift tally redesigned from an old pinball game. Each of his targeted $1,500 rung out with a loud bell and Tim would make hourly announcements of small prize winners using a handheld megaphone.
At 10:30 a.m., I entered the keynote hall (a.k.a. the reception area from the night before). There was a small number of people there awaiting my arrival for my keynote. "Phew", I thought to myself as I knew speaking to just a few people would be a stress-less task. At that moment, Keita Iida saw I was ready and ran across the hall to announce my speech. In an instant, the crowd from the venders area swarmed to the keynote area and left only the rearmost group of chairs unclaimed.
I enjoy speaking. I have performed in some amateur theater in my younger days and I know no shame to admit that I enjoy a little notoriety from time to time. This was different. People were seated before me truly interested in what I was about to say. (http://www.icwhen.com/articles/keynote_82298.html) Was my talk too short? Would it be too long? Would it be meaningful or sound like rambling? I decided the best thing to do was do it. I had 19 (very small) pages of script and I tried hard to refer to it as little as possible while looking at my audience as much as possible. It must have not been too bad. People asked a number of great questions after the talk and followed me into the corridor to ask more. One very attractive young lady wanted to know if I was the founder of Atari. I said "no".
Now that my keynote was over, the pressure of the weekend had been lifted from my shoulders and I was free to do nothing more except enjoy the show. And I did. Big time. I met with Mr. Rob Fulop, designer of "Demon Attack" for the Atari 2600. I saw the rare Cosmos, the holographic game system, designed by Atari before Mr. Jack Tramiel sold holograph technology to American Banknote (http://www.abnh.com). I saw rare prototypes such as "Dukes of Hazard" for the Atari 2600. I saw an early mold of the Atari Portfolio computer. I saw mint condition still-packaged Colecovision carts. There were photocopies of rare internal Atari documents. One collector showed me an entire box of badges for Atari employees from many, many years ago. At 5 p.m., the exhibit hall for the first day came to a close, but a swap meet commenced in the keynote area that lasted a couple hours.
That evening, I met David Naghi and Robert Rienick in the hotel lobby at 7 p.m. Robert's wife, Betty, also caught up with us and the trio escorted me to Gordon Biersch (http://www.gordonbiersch.com) for dinner. David and Robert shared a number of great things they have planned for their product lines. Meanwhile I enjoyed a tremendous garlic-rubbed hanger steak and an unusually decadent slice of cheesecake.
There was no rush for me to get up terribly early on Sunday. I wanted to be there when the doors opened at 10 a.m. and I was. My new camcorder also takes digital stills and I exploited some of the pre-show inactivity to take pictures of the coin-ops scattered throughout the hall. When the doors opened, a steady stream of aficionados came and left throughout the day.
On this day, I had a greater opportunity to sit in on some of the other keynotes. First, was a presentation from Dan Kramer and Jerry Jessop. They told a number of stories from their days at Atari as renegade engineers. If the audience was not spellbound, they were laughing at an intentional quip or waving their hands to ask a new question. Also this day, I sat in on a talk by Mr. Bill Kunkel, co-founder of Electronic Games Magazine. Bill spoke of the early trade shows and the horrific videogame industry crash that tore many of the companies apart. Dave Staugas was WOA '98's surprise speaker during mid-afternoon. Dave spoke how he survived the Tramiel takeover and created a number of games and applications for Atari over the years. The keynotes, as well as the other events at World of Atari '98 are being documented by Mr. Mark Santora's video. For information on ordering this video visit http://home.earthlink.net/~santora.
In late afternoon, I introduced myself to Mr. Derek Mihocka of Gemulators Inc. (http://www.emulators.com) who was demonstrating Gemulator '98. This incredible device allows Atari ST, STe and TT software or Apple Macintosh, Mac SE or Mac II software to run at lightning speeds in a Windows environment for prices way under $200.
Also intriguing at the show was the new Lynx TV converter by Wizztronics (http://www.wizztronics.com) shown by founder, Mr. Steve Cohen. The device enables users to play Atari handheld Lynx games directly on a standard television even a big screen! The resolution looked fantastic and the picture was incredibly stable. For under $150 users can finally see and play Lynx games on a full size screen.
Nearing the end of the day, the Auction was held and nearly one hundred items were put up for bid. Mr. Alan Miller, certified, licensed and bonded auctioneer, U.S.A. Auctions, conducted the auction. A number of one-of-a-kind and unusual artifacts and products were shown and blocked. Rich Tsukiji whispered to me that this was undoubtedly the world's first professional auction of Atari products.
Around 4 p.m., Tim Arnold picked the last few winners of the raffle. (Darn, I did not win the "Asteroids" game.) Activities in the main hall had died down and venders had already begun to pack things up. In the far corner, Jerry Jessop and friends were doing their best to sell off items still on the table. I wanted to spend some time filming the "Battlesphere" tournament, but it was always so crowded in that corner of the hall. Mr. Scott Le Grand and Ms. Stephanie Wukovitz of 4Play (http://www.best.com/~sebab/dvidgames/dsphere/sphere.shtml) had the crowd captive, but by the time I got back over to there following the auction, the winner was declared and gone.
There is no way to explain the pleasures that come to us at events such as these. Those of us in the industry love it. We remember unpacking trainloads of boxes and crates for the Winter or Summer Consumer Electronics Shows or a Comdex. We remember working late at night wondering all the while if the booth would be completed by the time the show started. We remember gathering late at night to fulfill traditions at a local pub or restaurant. We remember new product launches and all those times that something was supposed to work and didn't. World of Atari '98 serves as a forum for us to recall those memories and to relive them through the stories we tell.
For those who love the industry, but are not employed as a part of it, I know it is equally fun to be a part of WOA '98. I know because I am uniquely a part of that crowd too. I got into the business as a happenstance and as an outsider who swore to myself that I would never forget how it felt to press my nose against the glass looking in. I don't believe I have ever failed that personal promise. Some said at WOA '98 that I started a trend to get the programs autographed. I managed to get almost everyone although I missed a few. There was Rob Fulop who I did miss in spite of intentions otherwise, but I did get Mr. Michael Mika of Next Generation Magazine (http://www.next-generation.com). I missed Marshall Rosenthal of the LA Times (http://www.latimes.com), but I did get Ms. Van Burnham of Wired Magazine (http://www.wired.com). I got most all of the venders that I have known over the years to sign my programs and of course the likes of Sean Kelly, Leonard Herman, Jerry Jessop, Arnie Katz, David Staugas and the rest of the World of Atari '98.
I am not certain why I did not see representation from Hasbro InterActive (http://www.hasbro-interactive.com) A lot of people would like to know what their plans are with their new acquisition. A lot of people want to know why ATARI.COM seems to have been abandoned since JTS (http://www.jtscorp.com) shut it down (especially me since I produced the original site for Atari). People like Mr. Nolan Bushnell would have been nice to see one day. Other names that would have fit in well with the atmosphere would have been Activision and Williams.
Just the same, I had one heck of a great time.
Do I have any regrets at all? Yup. I regret losing as much as I did in the slots.
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