The growth of Atlanta's Southern Fried Gaming Expo over its five years is reflective of the surge in old games over the last decade.
The release of the critically acclaimed documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters in 2007 first put retro gaming back on the map. Fast forward to the last couple of years as Nintendo's Classic NES and Classic SNES flew off store shelves, while retro arcades have popped up here and there across the U.S. Then earlier this year, the King of Kong story reached a crescendo when onetime Donkey Kong champion Billy Mitchell (portrayed as the antagonist in the film) was stripped of his title over allegations — investigated by Twin Galaxies, the last word on these matters — that he had cheated.
Fans of these games now gather at conventions around the country, including Atlanta's Southern Fried Gaming Expo. At this con, if the platform exists, they've got it. Players can try out various Atari, Intellivision, Nintendo, Sega consoles and more, reaching all the way back to Pong.
The convention also boasts a variety of fan panels (including one with Mitchell himself and Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day) and tabletop gaming. But the main attraction is the arcade games themselves, in their classic cabinets with '70s and '80s art, alongside pinball machines going back a half century, to pinball games for Doctor Who, Last Action Hero, Star Wars, several heavy metal bands, and more. It truly is a nirvana weekend for the retro arcade enthusiast.
SYFY WIRE spoke to Preston Burt, co-founder of the Expo — which took place this past weekend — about what makes this event so special and the state of retro gaming. Read our interview, and below that, check out some awesome photos from the convention.
How did this event come to be?
This started because of a lack of any kind of event like this in the Southeast. Some friends of mine from work, and the Atlanta Pinball League which I co-founded put together a plan to do this, had a Kickstarter, and in 2014 our first event, so this is our fifth annual event.
How has it grown?
It's grown quite a bit, incremental growth. Our first year we had 900 attendees and this year, we probably have between 3,500 and 4,000 attendees.
What have been some of the highlights this year?
We had a Zoar high score challenge. Zoar is a very rare game that you've probably never heard of. It's so rare that there is only one recorded high score, so somebody from our event was guaranteed to walk away as the second best Zoar arcade player in the world.
We have plenty of tournaments, and things like that but we always like to throw in a surprise. This year, we had an Extreme Eating Challenge where people had to eat hot peppers, and a timed challenge to down a bottle of Billy Mitchell's hot sauce to determine the winner.
What kind of crowd do you get at this event?
We have the really hardcore arcade and pinball enthusiasts, we have people who are big fans of competitive pinball players, and people who are really into restoring and collecting arcade games. But I found that our biggest audience is parents with kids, parents who grew up with this stuff, and want to connect with their kids on something they experienced in their youth.
I saw a little girl who saw someone in a Pac-Man costume, and she asked her dad "What's that?" And he said "That's Pac-Man," and she said "What's Pac-Man?"
Aside from Zoar, what other obscurities do you have on the show floor?
A really rare game out there today is called Death Race, and it was the first video game to cause an uproar over the level of violence in a video game, and I think it had congressional hearings because the purpose was to run over people in a car. When you look at it today, there are such rudimentary graphics, it's laughable.