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California Extreme 2006

So I spent this past weekend checking out California Extreme. This year was the 10th year for the show, though I think I've only made it there for the last 7 or 8. Regardless, it was, as usual, a great time. Played a few good games of Mappy (barely missed cracking 150k), made my usual pilgrimage to In-n-Out Burger, played some rather challenging games of Elevator Action with the difficulty cranked waaay up, and checked out the usual collection of Atari prototypes, which included a couple of new ones this year, including Firebeast (coming soon to MAME) and the laserdisc version of Road Runner.

But the real highlight of the show, as usual, was the Atari panel, where a bunch of former Atari/Midway developers get up on stage and basically reminisce about the old days while answering questions from the audience. What was even cooler was this year Eugene Jarvis joined them. In fact, before the Atari panel, he basically spent an hour talking about the evolution of Robotron, which was just fascinating. He was asked all kinds of questions about the various bugs and their causes, and discussed the development of the game from start to finish.

Right at the end of the Atari panel, someone in the audience asked them what they thought of MAME.
Holding my breath for the responses (I know at least one or two of the ex-Atari guys are not supportive), I was completely stoked to get a hugely positive response from Eugene Jarvis saying that he loved what we were doing to preserve arcade history. Ed Rotberg also had some nice things to say about the work we do. If anything, that made my year right there.

After the panel, I got a chance to shake hands with Eugene and talk to him a little bit about the blitter timings in his games, especially Robotron, where everyone complained how it impacted gameplay, and Cruisin' USA, where the lack of blitter timings makes for a better framerate than the original. Eugene was really great to talk to and completely gracious in every way. I know he also got stopped for some interviews along the way, so hopefully other folks out there will get a chance to hear him speak.

I also had the pleasure to meet Dave Shepperd, former Atari/Midway tools and OS guru. Dave is just an amazing fount of information: if you get him started talking on a topic, he can go on at length with incredible detail. He worked for Atari from the late 70's and kept right on through the Warner buyout, the Midway buyout, and right up to the end, so he has a really broad perspective on what went on in the company throughout its history.

At the show itself they had the usual large assortment of games, though it was more video game-centric and less pinball-centric than past shows, from what I remember (this is good for me, as I'm not much of a pinball guy). The laserdisk game collection was smaller than previous years, which means they didn't have Cliffhanger (the only laserdisk game I really like). They did still have a decent set of laserdisk games, though I could have done without Thayer's Quest, which was right next to the Mappy and which just drones on and on and on with its incessant terrible computer generated speech synthesizer. I was seriously tempted to, ah, temporarily disable the machine, but chose to restrain my anger. :)

Apart from the Road Runner laserdisk prototype, the main other notable new game I hadn't seen before was Moonquake, which was the last Bally/Sente game that was never released. It runs on an Amiga 500 with ROM board, but there is still something mysterious about the game code that makes it not work in MAME (it appears to be very well encrypted, which is odd for a prototype). The game itself is sort of a slow-paced Q*Bert game set in space. Like most prototypes, you kind of realize why it was a prototype (i.e., it's not very good), but it was worth seeing.

All in all, a good show this year!