ZapCon in leveling up. Organizers of the two-day classic arcade and pinball gaming event taking place next month in downtown Phoenix recently announced that they're expanding the scope of the event to include numerous game-related activities that don't involve mashing buttons.
According to Wes Cleveland, who's helping put on ZapCon along with fellow local old-school joystick-head Zack Johnson, attendees will be able to screen several documentaries devoted to retro gaming, as well as attend workshops and discussions covering repair, restoration, and maintenance of pinball machines.
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Currently, plans are afoot to screen four different documentaries during ZapCon -- which goes down on Saturday, April 6, and Sunday, April 7, at the Renaissance Phoenix Hotel. The lineup includes High Score, a 2006 film by NYU grad Jeremy Mack concerning die-hard gamers who collect retro arcade games, and Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball, about the lengthy history of said coin-operated machines, the "near-lost art of pinball design," and how its industry has vastly diminished into near-obscurity.
"[Pinball games], I would say, are not as rare as arcade games. They're still making them these days and there's only one major manufacturer making 'em, but there are a couple mom-and-pop shops out there are still putting them out," Cleveland says. "But as far as classic arcade-style [game] industry, that's done. You can't compete with the home console market, so there really isn't any incentive to make 'em like they used to."
Such subject matter is at the heart of Jeff Von Ward's 98-minute doc The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time, which covers the rise and fall of the arcade gaming world from a billion-dollar trade in the 1980s to a niche hobby populated by enthusiasts and collectors of quarter-munchers.
In other words, the same sort of folks that will be both attending ZapCon and bringing their games to the event.
Cleveland, a freelance graphic designer and animator for Assymetric Publications (the local company best known for creating the infamous online game Kingdom of Loathing) says the films "fit well" with ZapCon's focus and came about after Von Ward approached him about showing his film at the event.
"He caught wind of ZapCon after we announced it and thought it would be a good place to show his film," Cleveland says. "I figured since we were showing his [movie], we might as well find some other ones to show, so I did a bunch of research and found three more and working on maybe another one or two."
Before you ask, however, that doesn't include legendary 2007 arcade-nerd documentary King of Kong, as Cleveland says he wanted to feature more obscure gaming flicks.
"I'm trying to find stuff that's not available on Netflix or whatever, so I stayed away from King of Kong," he says.
Cleveland and Johnson also recently announced that ZapCon will also feature a performance by infamous local Nintendo cover band Minibosses (natch), who will perform on Saturday night.
In addition to the music and movies, the event will offer a few workshops conducted by Kris Bliznick, owner of Phoenix repair shop Firebird Pinball, regarding how to restore pinball machines and both "basic maintenance stuff" and such specialized topics as how to rebuild power supplies. A weekend-long tournament will also take place, hosted by the members of the Arizona Pinball League.
Per the ZapCon website, more than 65 different pinball games that will be available for play. There will be almost as many old-school arcade titles present as Cleveland and Johnson have so far arranged for more than 60 games, most of which will be on loan from local collectors, to be at the event.
For those who weren't able to make it to the jam-packed Artcade Show held at Parazol Studios during February's First Friday, more than a dozen of the games decorated by local painters and featured in the exhibition will be at ZapCon -- including A.P.B., Rolling Thunder, Punch Out, and Gun Smoke.
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Cleveland, who grew up in both Phoenix and Tucson, remembers going to such arcades as Golf 'n' Stuff in Southern Arizona or the bygone Video Round-Up in Scottsdale as a child and teen, says he hopes that all of the retro game helps some attendee relive the days when such joints were prevalent.
"We're trying to recreated the old arcade environment so those of us that were there can relive it and people who have kids can show them what its was like when we were their age," he says.
ZapCon takes place on Saturday, April 6, and Sunday, April 7, at Renaissance Phoenix Downtown. Admission is $15-$20 for a one-day pass, $25-$30 for the entire weekend.