Our Trip to MGC 2023

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Lincoln and I took off on a father/son adventure and attended Midwest Gaming Classic 2023 in Milwaukee. We’ve been home for about 2 weeks now, and I’ve been reminiscing about the great time we had. Here are some highlights from our trip.

Lincoln and I touched down in Milwaukee on a frigid Thursday evening. After picking up our luggage and hitching a ride to the hotel, we settled in late, but with enough time to rest up for the gameBadge3 workshop scheduled for the next morning at 10am. I set the alarm on my phone for 8am, which would give us a solid 7 or 8 hours of shut-eye before my Apple Watch would gently tap my wrist to bring me out of dreamland. We dozed off snugly in our hotel beds, with visions of Mario dancing in our heads…

The Highlight of the Weekend – Ben’s gameBadge3 Workshop

Friday morning began with a jolt. Lincoln and I were both jarred awake by the loud buzzing of the alarm from the hotel room clock radio. In my eagerness to get some sleep the night before, I neglected to check the clock radio to ensure the alarm wasn’t set, and the previous guest had set it for 6am. After going back to sleep for a little longer, we arose and drug ourselves out of bed. We then ventured down to breakfast, where we both feasted and consumed copious amounts of black coffee before hiking over to the workshop conference room.

There were two workshops on Friday – one at 10am, and another at 3pm. I’m amazed at how quickly the time flew by. I’ve taught dozens of classes and workshops in Microsoft as part of my day-job, so I’m rather accustomed to how things normally run on “game day”. This, however, was a different beast – it was more energizing than exhausting.

Everyone heads-down working on their gameBadge3

I really enjoyed meeting both Stuart and Kevin, who were also assisting with the workshop. Stuart had taken the time beforehand to write a Windows app that made getting the games loaded onto the gameBadge3 so much easier than doing it manually.

Stuart set up shop in the back of the room, ready to blast firmware onto each gameBadge3 that came his way

I have to say, I was impressed by the level of preparedness displayed by the workshop attendees. Some of them came armed with a treasure trove of maker equipment, ranging from very nice soldering irons and multimeters to magnifying equipment and even fume extractors. It was great to see that everyone came prepared; I had several loaner soldering irons on hand, and I don’t remember having to loan any of them out!

At the end of the day, both workshops were a huge success. Everyone went home with a working gameBadge3, which is a great feat, in and of itself. That said, we did have a few dead boards. I brought those home and plan on repairing them and giving them out on Twitter. If you want one, follow me, and keep an eye out for my post offering them out in the next couple of weeks.

Enjoying Some of the Events and the People

During the conference, we had the chance to watch the Midwest Tetris Championships, which turned out to be quite interesting! The skill and precision displayed by the competitors was mind-blowing, as they navigated the falling blocks at lightning-fast speeds. The excitement in the room was palpable, with periodic shouts of “Boom! Tetris for Vince!” and “They’re neck in neck!”. I honestly didn’t know that Tetris could be so exciting to watch!

We also attended a couple of the panel sessions this year, which we didn’t take the time to do at last year’s MGC. The first was a session by Retronauts personality Bob Mackey, along with Gary Butterfield and Kole Ross called “The History of Food Mascot Games”. Despite the random A/V challenges during the session, they brilliantly covered several food-based video games from over the years. I was already familiar with a couple of them, such as the games that feature the 7-Up Spot character, but there were a few that I had never heard of. The most outrageous being a game called “Chase the Chuck Wagon” for the Atari 2600, which came about from (of all places) a dog food commercial!

The Retronauts session was both hilarious and interesting!

> Click on the image below to try out the Chuck Wagon game for yourself! Press 1 to start a 1-player game, and control your dog with the arrow keys.

We also attended a session called “Gaming Trends”, which featured several prominent YouTube personalities – Coury Carlson, Marc Duddleson, John Hancock, Adam Koralik, John Riggs, and Steven Wright Jr. This session was disappointing, as it turned out to just be a Q&A session from the audience and didn’t actually talk about any gaming trends. It was interesting hearing these guys talk, but if I had known the session was going to be just Q&A, I wouldn’t have stayed for it.

Several YouTube personalities banded together for the “Gaming Trends” session

At one point during the weekend, I saw Clint from LGR walking through the hallway. So, like any crazed fan should do, I said hi, shook his hand, and told him how much I appreciated his videos. He didn’t look too freaked out after being stopped by a rando like myself, so I’ll take that as a good sign.

Spending Way Too Much Money

The vendor area was a voluminous marketplace, situated next to the main gaming area. As you walk the aisles, you’re greeted with row after row of tables set up with goods, either directly or loosely related to classic gaming in some manner. And I have to admit – there were a couple of vendors with whom I really struggled to see the connection to MGC. In particular, the gutter guard people…? I suppose classic gaming enthusiasts need to keep their gutters clean, as well! Aside from that, there were vendors hocking wares that were generally suited for younger folks, such as the guys selling the croc charms. There was something for everyone.

Thankfully, I learned my lesson from last MGC, and walked into the marketplace with my wish list in hand. In addition to listing the consoles and games that I was in search of, I also listed the maximum price I was willing to pay. And I’m so glad that I did, because it would’ve been really easy to overspend there. Many of the sellers really jacked up the prices on their goods. Some of the insane prices I saw included an Atari Lynx for $400 (which the seller justified by saying it had an IPS upgrade), triple-digit NES consoles, and overpriced copies of cartridges in poor condition.

Amidst all the price gouging, however, there were a couple of reasonable vendors, whom I was happy to hand my money to, and check a few items off my list. For example, I picked up a boxed copy of Wonder Boy III and Double Dragon for the Master System for $62 – which was a great deal, in my opinion.

Double Dragon and Wonder Boy III for the Sega Master System

I also was able to check another handheld console off my list, when I found a Neo Geo Pocket Color in great condition. I picked up that one for $135. I probably could’ve gotten a similar or better deal online – but being able to inspect it, play it, and verify its condition before purchasing it made it worth the money in my opinion. Every now and then you luck out with an online purchase, but I find that I more often have to put more money into restoring a console purchased in an online marketplace than I would’ve agreed to pay for originally.

A Neo Geo Pocket Color in great condition!

Something different this year was that the food stands were set up in the marketplace. This was good for the vendors because people had to walk past their tables to buy food, so it drove more foot traffic. But the setup was also good for the attendees, as it was quite a bit more organized and less chaotic than the placement of last year’s food vendors. There were also more choices in food – though Lincoln and I opted for the wok place that we enjoyed eating at last year.

Before moving on, I want to point out one more thing about the marketplace area, which I thought to be a bit strange… the giant wrestling ring in the back corner. Lincoln and I didn’t catch any matches, but apparently there was an amateur wrestling organization there showcasing some matchups. I’m not convinced that there’s a logical connection between wrestling and classic gaming enthusiasts, but I guess we all enjoyed controlling Hulk Hogan in one of the many WWF wrestling games over the years. Still, I have to wonder if we’re going to see more stuff like this next year… a monster truck show, perhaps?

I was pleasantly surprised by some of the rare items I encountered this year. There was a guy that had 3 Sega Nomads for sale; in fact, I regret not at least asking how much he wanted for them… probably out of fear of shock! But I did see that someone on Twitter had picked up a Wonderswan, which is a really cool find. Despite all this, I was really disappointed to not come across any Virtual Boy games to help finish off my collection.

Classic Arcade and Pinball Pursuits

MGC wouldn’t be MGC without the exhibition hall filled with arcade and pinball machines. Lincoln and I spent loads of time playing on various games, and like last year, there were a couple of arcade games that we took the time to play all the way through.

The first was the classic Double Dragon arcade game, where we became martial arts masters Billy and Jimmy Lee, punching and kicking our way through waves of bad guys to save Billy’s girlfriend. Surprisingly, the game was way more difficult than I remember it being growing up. Even pulling off the iconic jump kick proved to be quite the challenge! Despite the difficulty, we kept at it, and finally took down the boss and rescued Marian.

Lincoln’s clearly in awe of my Double Dragon skills

The other game we spent some time playing all the way through was Konami’s X-Men arcade game from 1992. I played as Cyclops and Lincoln played as Wolverine, as we worked our way through the stages to defeat Magneto and rescue Professor X. I really enjoy these 4-player side-scrolling beat-em-up arcade games. There’s just something satisfying about mashing buttons and progressing through levels. I’ll be building a 4-player arcade cabinet for my basement later this spring, and these games are the ones I’m most looking forward to playing on it.

We defeated Magneto… for now

And of course, we couldn’t pass up the chance to play some pinball machines. Since I’m in the market for a machine and I’m not quite sure what I like yet, we spent quite a bit of time playing several different games. I realized during the weekend that the ones I enjoyed most had multiple levels and side stories. I spent some time playing the new Foo Fighters game by Stern, and I have to say this was my favorite pinball game there. It has great stories, fun gameplay, and the soundtrack was amazing, as you’d expect. However, I’m going to buy something used and a bit less expensive, for my home, so the $15,000 price tag on the limited-edition version that I played was easy for me to pass up.

Navigating the Hurdles

As you can tell, we had a great time. I think it’s worth taking a moment, however, to cover a couple of things that were a little more challenging about the weekend. First, compared to last year, MGC felt much more crowded. I know the ticket sales were higher (which is a great thing!), but the overall experience didn’t feel like it grew with the increased audience size. I noticed a couple of new things, but the experience largely felt the same as last year.

Alongside of that, the schedule of events was rather chaotic and difficult to keep track of. The calendar on the web site was slow and difficult to navigate throughout the day in the convention center. Even more frustrating, however, was that the calendar on the web site didn’t seem to be complete. I would periodically pass a monitor in the hallway of the convention center, with a scrolling schedule – and in that schedule, I would find events that I didn’t see on the web site. Or maybe they were listed on the site, but I just missed it because it’s difficult to navigate. Certainly, some form of a schedule builder would be a welcome addition to MGC.

Game Over… Until Next Year

Our time at MGC this year was an absolute blast, as it forged valuable memories that are worth much more than the cost of the trip. The event offered not only a fantastic opportunity to relive some nostalgic gaming memories but also allowed us to create new ones together.

As a father, I truly appreciated the quality time spent with my son, bonding over our shared love for these classic games and pinball machines. The excitement and camaraderie we felt with others made the atmosphere even better. But the “guy time”, in particular, was special… we spent way too much time in front of video games, slept in late every day, and ate really unhealthy food… I mean, who could resist the allure of smothered chicken wings and questionable Chinese food while living it up in gaming paradise?

One of the standout moments was getting the chance to help with the gameBadge3 workshop, alongside of Ben, Stuart, and Kevin. It was an incredible experience to be part of this hands-on learning session with three of the coolest guys anyone will ever meet… and we were thrilled to see everyone walk away from the workshop with a working system! It added another layer of excitement and connection to our time at MGC.

We’re already looking forward to attending MGC again next year, eager to see what new games and experiences will be waiting for us. This event has become more than just a weekend of gaming – it’s a cherished opportunity for us to connect, enjoy our favorite pastimes, and create lasting memories. If you’re considering attending, I’d highly recommend it – not only for the games but also for the chance to bond with your fellow gamers and, most importantly, your loved ones.

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