It’s now been two full weeks since the third annual Southern Fried Gameroom Expo ended in Atlanta. This year, it found a new home at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly hotel; the venue simply outgrew its previous home, which is most definitely a GOOD THING.
For the previous two years, the event has been an outstanding two days of classic pinball and arcade games side-by-side with modern versions of the same style games. For a daily fee, visitors can simply walk up to any pinball or arcade game and push a button to play… no tokens or quarters required. This year, however, SFGE also introduced tabletop games to the mix, offering up 14,000 square feet of gaming tables and inviting companies such as Asmodee and Renegade Game Studios to demo their games.
Joining the list of official sponsors this year was Geekdad… YEAH! In attendance, four Geekdad staffers including Preston, Will, Z, and me. We even put on a discussion session called GeekDad: Raising Generation 2.0. FYI — GeekDad was also the sponsor of the board gaming area — the GeekDad Tabletop Experience. I’ve got more to share about the event, but I’m also including some feedback from the other geek dads in attendance below. I absolutely cannot wait for next year; the event organizers (that includes Preston) have really outdone themselves year after year, and there’s no doubt that SFGE 2017 is going to be bigger and better. Rest assured, GeekDad will be here to give you heads-up when dates are known and registration is open.
As one of the organizers for the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo, my experience at the convention is a bit different from others. Rather than spending my time playing games, I am busy frantically running around to make sure things seemingly go off without a hitch. Unloading and setting up almost 250 arcade, pinball, and console games requires a large amount of power cables and an even larger amount of volunteer staff. With this being a new, larger location and adding the unknown element of the GeekDad Tabletop Experience, before the convention started my stress levels were at DEFCON 2.
By the time the doors opened and people started having fun, most of my worries melted away. One of the biggest thrills, and one of the reasons I wanted to start SFGE was to see my generation share the love of gaming with their kids. Even though I don’t get to play the games, seeing families having fun together is more than enough motivation to keep me going. I’m pleased to say that everything did go smoothly and we were thrilled to see that our first foray into tabletop was a success (Thanks Will & GeekDad!).
Editor Note: GeekDad Will James was the SFGE official organizer of the GeekDad Tabletop Experience, and he did an outstanding job of coordinating with the hotel to have an amazing gaming space set up, inviting game developers to come and demo their games, and emcee’ing a few panels.
Other highlights for me at SFGE were seeing old friends, checking out the amazing cosplay costumes, and some of the other new additions to the show like live professional wrestling (“Say what?!” you ask? Trust me…it was awesome!), giant Jenga, and the Artemis simulator game. I’d be lying if I didn’t say hanging out with Lance Guest (star of The Last Starfighter) wasn’t cool and something that would have been completely unfathomable to me as a child. On top of all that, I helped organize our first silent auction and was blown away with the donations and bids that allowed us to donate $1500 to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Despite all of my responsibilities, I did manage to squeak in and play a whopping three (yes, 3) games over the weekend! I got to try my hand at the new Ghostbusters pinball machine, which was beautiful and so much fun. I played the new Rob Zombie Spookshow International pinball machine from Spooky Pinball, which although I’m not a RZ fan, I dig what Charlie and Spooky Pinball are doing as a home-grown manufacturing startup.
My favorite game I played was actually one that I own and can play anytime I want. While walking around with one of my friends, he stopped me and challenged me to a game of Street Fighter II, to which I happily obliged. There was smack talk aplenty. I was a tad rusty, and the game was close, but I’m happy to report I’ve still got what it takes to win. I look forward to a rematch at next year’s Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo.
Though we’ve only been attending for a couple of years, the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo has already become a tradition in my family. It’s a thing we look forward to, an event we plan in advance. It’s a circled date on a big paper calendar that we gaze at regularly with grand anticipation.
Things got off to a bit of a rough start this year when I forgot the one undeniable rule of commuting in the southeast—the only thing more unpredictable than Carolina traffic is Georgia traffic—but the kids and I still managed to arrive in time for me to take part in GeekDad’s Saturday panel discussion. I hurriedly picked up our badges only to turn and see GeekDad Will, who happily directed us to the appropriate room where Jim and Preston were also waiting.
The panel was small, but the give-and-take with the audience more than made up for it. We shared stories, swapped product recommendation, and genuinely had a great time talking about gaming with our kids—as my own children half-watched from behind their 3DS systems in the back row.
Afterwards, the GeekDads and I hit up one of the con’s newest and most immersive gameplay experiences, the glorious multiplayer sci-fi nerdgasm that is the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator. Ironically, my kids were the ones who clearly skewed toward the more retro fare, with the little ones being particularly drawn to an out-of-the-way row of ancient yet glorious Gottlieb pinball tables (and one particularly beautiful 1977 Bobby Orr “Power Play” machine by Bally).
From Burger Time to Tapper, from the iconic Ms. Pac-Man to the nigh inexplicable Journey arcade cabinet, they got their fill of games from a bygone era. More importantly, though, they got a feel for what true arcade culture—the sights and sounds and unique physicality of those beloved game dens of my own youth—was really all about.
James Floyd Kelly
As with most events like SFGE, my activities tend to run together and blur in such a way I cannot recall what happened on which day. I was able to attend SFGE for two of the three days (Sat and Sun, but not Friday) and it consisted mostly of pinball, arcade, pinball, arcade, pinball, boardgame, arcade, pinball… you get the idea. In between gaming, I did manage to get to speak to some of the numerous game sellers who sold complete games, replacement parts, and other game-related products. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things, but here are a few stand-outs that come to mind.
Like Preston, I also got to play the new Ghostbusters pinball game quite a bit. It was too much fun. I don’t know what the event’s official high score was for the weekend, but my best game was 44,000,000 and I was feeling pretty good about it. Quite a few nods and some knuckles from some bystanders. I guess I did okay.
One of the arcade games I returned to over and over was Tron. It was one of my absolutely favorites growing up. During one game, I noticed an older gentleman standing behind me watching. After my eventual de-rezzing (death), I turned to let someone else play. This gentleman smiled and asked “You like Tron?” I said yes. He introduced himself as Bill Adams, the creator of the Tron videogame. WOAH! We chatted about the game for about five minutes; turns out, he also came up with the idea for another of my favorite arcade games, Spy Hunter. (He left Williams before it was actually finished, though… but still… HIS idea!) I shook his hand, told him thank you for creating such a key game in my childhood, and walked away with a big smile.
I’m sure a lot of geek dads are fan of The Last Starfighter, right? Well, Lance Guest was on hand to sign autographs and chat with attendees about his career. I returned Sunday with my Blue-Ray 25th Anniversary copy and got him to sign it — he’s very personable and loves talking about Starfighter as well as his other credits (including Halloween 2). Oh, and there was a full-sized Starfighter arcade cabinet that someone brought to SFGE for visitors to play. Lance was invited to play and there are photos going around… I missed it! NO!
Tucked in with the pinball and arcade games were a number of companies demo’ing their products, and one of them caught my eye quick — Edladdin Controllers had these amazing looking one and two-player joystick boxes for sale that could be connected to old Atari, Commodore, and Intellivision consoles. I grew up with the Atari 2600 and I remember how fragile those controllers could be after a few months of torture testing. The consoles are customizable — color, layout, and type of joystick (4-way or 8-way or hybrid). Very high quality boxes, and great if space is an issue for you. (I’d love 5-10 arcade cabinets in my home, but they are definitely space hogs.)
For those looking at creating a full-size arcade cabinet of their own, Monster Arcades was back again this year and showing off even more amazing CNC-cut kits. Last year they were starting to sell parts as well, but this year they announced they’re also in the printing business! They are developing some of their own graphics and themes that buyers can choose from… or they’ll help you design your own. They had this MONSTER 4-player MAME cabinet that I got to play Gauntlet on with three other players… it was amazing. They have full uprights, pedestals, and cocktail cabinet options. My favorite, however, still has to be their Bartop design… eye-catching, space-saving, and a nostalgic look.
In between the arcade and pinball play, I constantly found myself floating to the new Geekdad Tabletop Experience… aka the board and card game tables. When I first arrived early Saturday morning, players were sparse… but later in the afternoon, the area was booming. I got to run a game of Descent (I stunk at playing Overlord) as well as get in a game of Mysterium with Will James. Over the two days, I found myself dropping into a few other games that I’d never played before. The area was buzzing with players, and I told Preston and Will that I really do think that SFGE has the potential to become a substantial boardgaming event, especially for the southeast.
Near the gaming tables was the crew from Galactic Quest, comic book and gaming store (two locations, actually — Buford, Georgia and Lawrenceville, Georgia. I got to chat with Kyle (owner) and Sean (manager) about their company and its goals, but more importantly I saw too many times to count their crew (in the photo below) sitting down and demo’ing boardgame after boardgame. Kyle has some big ideas of his own, and I plan on keeping in touch with Galactic Quest for some of their upcoming events. (And I’ll cover them for GeekDad.) And a big thank you to Kyle for providing my son with a free issue of Hero Cats of Stellar City, a new comic book that Galactic Quest is putting out (Kyle handles script and type, Marcus Williams is pencils and paint, and Ryan Sellers is inks and polish.)
I’m going to include some more photos below, but you can check out the official SFGE photos here. Do check it out — you simply will not believe how many pinball and arcade games that SFGE managed to squeeze into one hotel.
If you can make it next year… do! Coordinators Preston Burt, Shannon DeWitt, and Patrick Wall outdid themselves this year (as well as their crew chiefs), and I’m certain as word spreads that SFGE will continue to grow and grow.