Being in Texas, as awesome of a state we are, gaming events are actually hard to come by. When I was told that there was an event called the Fantastic Fest with the Fantastic Arcade happening in Austin, well how could you resist that kind of name?
I showed up in Austin on Saturday of the event having missed the first 2 days of the event (stupid normal job and stupid normal life). Mike and I stopped by the Alamo Drafthouse on Lamar Street to pick up our press passes, and there we saw plenty of people hanging out at the Drafthouse. For those who are not in South Texas, the Alamo Drafthouse is a movie theater unlike any other. Some will have anime nights, zombie nights, Lost nights, and simply provide a theater experience for more than just the movies that are currently in all the other theaters. It’s become a favorite of mine to go to here in San Antonio and is by far a better way to watch movies in a theater. Plus they serve beer and food while watching the movie which is always a good thing.
After we received our press releases, we headed to the Highball that was a few shops away. The Highball is a kind of ritzy looking lounge that you would see in Mad Men (and they have showings for the show along with drink specials), and it has its own bowling alley in it. This kind of place could only be found in Austin. To the left and right of the entrance were several Xbox 360s units playing several XBLA games including Trials, Comic Jumper, Hydrophobia, and Super Meat Boy. Scattered on the bowling side of the Highball were multiple classic arcade games that were on free play which I partake in a few games of Gauntlet. In the back of the Highball was a separate lounge that they were calling the Fantastic Arcade.
We met up with our third staff member, Kyle, and began to look around. It sure didn’t take long because most the lounge wasn’t that big. What they had done, and it was pretty damn cool, was they took several standard arcade cabinets and rigged them up to play several indie games. These indie games ranged from surprisingly fun to very weird to downright depressing.
If there was a game that caught everyone’s eyes was Nidhogg. Designed to be played on the NES, this is a 2 player fencing game. Each player can do high, mid, low attacks with their sword as well as fling the sword across screen. If you don’t have a sword, you can still use your fists and feet although it won’t be much of a fight if your opponent still has their sword. One hit will kill your opponent and either player will have to proceed to the end of the screen that they’re facing in hopes to make it to the final winning screen where some sort of monsters eats the winner. Pretty simple right? I thought so too until the interesting gameplay mechanic is that your opponent can respawn. So if you kill your opponent right away, he’s going to respawn about 10 seconds later for you 2 to fight again. Sometimes he’ll spawn behind you and sometimes in front of you, but every time you’ll have to fight or find a way to get by him to run away. If your opponent kills you, then he’ll have to make his way across screen and then you’ll respawn to stop him. It made for some interesting and kind of long battles for a seemingly simple, short game.
One of the weirdest games, and there were a few, was Enviro-Bear 2000 where you control a bear that needs to drive around and get food. What’s strange is that you can only use one hand of the bear with the mouse meaning that you can steer the car your in and hold the gas at the same time. Instead you have to put a clock on the gas and steer. It’s all just very very strange.
As for depressing it doesn’t get any sadder and somewhat disturbing than Ulitsa Dimitrova. You play a homeless Russian kid in St. Petersburg who has to break windows to get alcohol for his prostitute mother so she can give him money for cigarettes. The kid can steal hood ornaments for money and give booze to kids for cigarettes as well. There’s only one part that’s different than the rest when you interact with another girl and the two kiss to only have the girl taken away by her father. I’m sure there’s a message here, but I was a bit put-off by the whole game. And as a shock to me, I was concerned about the kids that came up attempting to play the game. I guess I’m getting old.
Along with these indie games were several well known indie games spread out via laptop such as Trine, Machinarium, and �. When I showed up, there was also a Left 4 Dead 2 tourney that was going on with teams of 4 fighting off the zombie horde with the winner being the team that lasts the longest. Rather than any of the regular levels of Left 4 Dead 2 being used, a special Fantastic Fest map was created just for the event. The map was a recreation of the Highball and Alamo Drafthouse. Every room and theater was recreated allow players to hunker down in of the theaters in the Drafthouse or the VIP rooms of the Highball. While our team put up a valiant effort especially since we were 4 strangers working together, we only lasted 7:52 while the winner survived well over 10 minutes.
After I dabbled in a few indie games and failed at the Left 4 Dead 2 tourney, I spoke with Arcade UFO owner Ryan Harvey, aka Fubarduck. He was in charge of the DDR tournament that was taking place and would be handling the Fantastic Cup that was happening on Sunday. The Fantastic Cup is a Super Street Fighter 4 tournament where players qualified from the four major cities in Texas: Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. He was excited about the Fantastic Cup, but was pre-occupied with the DDR event happening at that time. While I’ve played my fair share of DDR, I saw one of the competitors getting a score that I couldn’t even come close to getting.
For Saturday, the event was a little dead but then that’s when I realized that University of Texas was playing which makes the city of Austin a ghost town for those couple of hours. I finished my day with a visit to Arcade UFO to get some much needed competition in Super Street Fighter 4. After an hour drive home, I would have to be up early to get ready for the second day of the Fantastic Arcade and specifically for the Fantastic Cup.
Sunday had me up somewhat early. I picked up my writer Mike and off to Austin again. This time around, we had a schedule to keep as we had set a time to speak with Burnie Burns from Rooster Teeth. He was doing a panel for Fantastic Arcade regarding Machinima which his company has been all about for several years. Unfortunately, a lack of communication between us left me without an interview when I finally showed up in Austin. It was when I was searching for him in the Alamo Drafthouse that I had realized that I didn’t even know what the guy looked like. I only recognized him by his voice. With that, I headed to the Highball and tried to get some time with Twisted Pixel. There I met up with Kyle again who had entered the Fantastic Cup last minute qualifiers where he didn’t go far at all. Not that he’s a bad player, just that the competition was pretty fierce. I also saw that Ciji, aka Starslay3r, had shown up to the Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock tournament that was going. After speaking Kyle about my non-interview, he said to try and show up to the panel to see if I can catch Burnie. We had some time before anything else was happening so I decided to go for it. The panels were held in the theaters themselves and one was just for Fantastic Arcade panels. I walked inside and saw that the last panel was still finishing up. Deciding to leave, I saw a guy talking to a volunteer and sure enough, I recognized the voice. It was Burnie aka Church. I went up to him to make sure it was him, introduced myself, and asked if we could reschedule for a sit-down interview at his office. Burnie was very cool about everything and now I’ll spend a little time at the Rooster Teeth office with Church himself. After that, it was time to head back to the Fantastic Arcade�after a sandwich at Thunder Cloud Subs that was located in the parking lot. Good meatball sub, just very messy.
I played a few more games, watched some matches, talked with gamers, and relaxed a bit in hopes that I could find the Twisted Pixel guys in order to get some time to talk about Comic Jumper. After the qualifiers finished, it was announced that Twisted Pixel would be showing off their game. Sure enough, I saw the CEO of Twisted Pixel, Michael Wilford, pass me by. I spoke to him back at SXSW and immediately recognized him. A quick talk on the side and he said we could do an interview once he was done with the presentation. After a complete showing of their never before seen Manga level, Michael came by to show me to their developer room.
Located across from the bathroom (sexy, I know), the developers had their own rooms to show off their games. With a disco ball, a big LCD and a 360 decked with a Comic Jumper case, we sat down to talk a bit about the game.
After the interview it was time to finish watching the Street Fighter action. Sadly, San Antonio didn’t have the best showing with a well known player from Dallas winning it all. The Guitar Hero finals were shown on the big screen as well with Starslay3r taking on a local player with the song of choice being, of course, Rush. It was a furious battle with the difference in score being only 2000 points which is almost nothing in a game of Guitar Hero.
With the tournaments done, the staff of the Fantastic Arcade went on stage to give some thanks to several people that worked on the event, and prep for the next event: Starcade. For those who don’t know, Starcade was a 80s game show that had video games. Kids had to answer video game trivia and play some games with the top scorer winning the game. I want to say that I remember watching the TV show, but it didn’t matter, I wanted to play.
I had hoped that there was some sort of random pick or something where I could try to enter, but that didn’t happen. Instead 2 guys went up there, and I had a feeling I was going to be annoyed by their lack of game knowledge. Sure enough, first question was �Who guards Donkey Kong’s cage in Donkey Kong Jr.?� They’re dumbfounded faces made me rage and I had to restrain myself from yelling �IT’S MARIO YOU IDIOTS!!� It didn’t get any easier to me after that with their game skills or lack thereof.
With that last bit of annoyance, it was off back to San Antonio in hopes that we can come back to the Fantastic Fest next year. And hey, who knows, maybe our site will be there helping out. We’ll see.
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