Nerd Culture

Here's Everything You Need to Know About ZapCon 2017 This Weekend in Mesa

Benjamin Leatherman
The scene at last year's ZapCon in Mesa.
In the video game world, things tend to get bigger and better with each new edition. Fact. Hence the reason why the latest generation of consoles are more powerful than the last and many sequels to your favorite titles typically up the ante or jack things up to 11.

So it seems appropriate that local video gaming event ZapCon follows the same rules. According to co-founder Wes Cleveland, this latest edition of the annual convention devoted to playing classic arcade and pinball games is definitely bigger than ever.

This year's event – which takes place on Saturday, April 29, and Sunday, April 30, at the Mesa Convention Center – will feature its biggest selection of games to date, including around 200 different arcade titles and 130 pinball games. And every single one of these machines, many of which are loaned to the event by collectors and arcade enthusiasts, are available for free play.

Cleveland says that ZapCon, which originally launched back in 2013, has gotten larger each year due, in part, to word of mouth about the event.

“I think the more people learn about us, the more they want to get involved, and we welcome them with open arms,” he says. “[It] doesn't hurt that pinball and retro gaming is pretty hip these days.”

click to enlarge Pinball players at ZapCon. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Pinball players at ZapCon.
Benjamin Leatherman
ZapCon’s game lineup isn’t all that’s increased in 2017, however, as Cleveland says the number of tournaments and competitions featuring both arcade games and pinball machines that will take place throughout the weekend has nearly doubled in size.

"I think we might have around twice as many as last year," he says.

That includes a pair of new contests: one involving a round-robin high-score battle on a total of 10 separate arcade titles and the other requiring players to tackle various fighting games that will be chosen randomly.

“We tried to put together events to accommodate casual and serious competitors,” Cleveland says. “Hopefully people will have fun with them.”

He also hopes that ZapCon attendees will have a blast playing some of the rarities, hard-to-find titles, and even custom-built games that will be at the event.

There will be a couple of brand new Stern pinball machines, for example, including the new Aerosmith game. Several arcade classics will be featured at ZapCon for the first time ever, like the SNK run-and-gun favorite Ikari Warriors, the cops-and-robbers maze game Bagman, and Sega’s ninja-themed action masterpiece Shinobi.

ZapCon attendees will also want to be on the lookout for the addicting and fun indie title Skycurser and a custom-built version of the arcade game that served as a plot device in The Last Starfighter which was created solely for the event. (Although we’re guessing that you won’t be recruited to fight the the Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada for realsies if you notch a high score.)

What else should you expect if you attend ZapCon 2017? We've put together a comprehensive guide to the event featuring everything you'll want to know.

Just be sure to leave your quarters at home.

click to enlarge The scene at last year's ZapCon in Mesa. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
The scene at last year's ZapCon in Mesa.
Benjamin Leatherman
When and Where: This year’s ZapCon will take place on Saturday, April 29, and Sunday, April 30, inside the Mesa Convention Center, 263 North Center Street. Most of the activities, games, and vendor booths will be located in the main hall. Meanwhile, the Mesa Room will host the classic gaming lounge.

Hours: The event officially kicks off at 10 a.m. each day and will run until 11:30 p.m. on Saturday and 6 p.m. on Sunday. Attendees who get their tickets online in advance will be allowed inside an hour earlier than the rest of the public each day.

Prices: Daily admission is $30 for Saturday and $20 for Sunday. If you’d like to spend the entire weekend at the event, it’s $40 per person for a weekend pass. ZapCon T-shirts will be available for $15-$20 each.

Age Limits: ZapCon is an all-ages event and children are definitely welcome to attend. Admission prices for kiddos are $15 for Saturday, $10 for Sunday, and $20 for the whole weekend.

click to enlarge Two generations bond over an arcade classic. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Two generations bond over an arcade classic.
Benjamin Leatherman
Getting There: If you'd like to get to ZapCon as quickly and directly as possible, like Pac-Man zipping toward a power pill, take the light rail all the way to downtown Mesa. The station at Center and Main streets is a five-minute walk from the convention center and fares are $2 for a one-way trip, $4 for all-day access.

And if you’re driving, take either the U.S. Highway 60 or Loop 202 East freeways to the Country Club Drive exit and then head either north or south, respectively, to Second Street in downtown Mesa and then head east.

One of the best aspects of the Mesa Convention Center is the fact that there’s loads of free parking at the venue. Such will be the case at this year’s ZapCon.

Food and Drink: Neither will be allowed inside the main hall during ZapCon. Period. According to Cleveland, it’s due to the pristine nature of the games, many of which are of a vintage nature or were expertly restored. “We need to protect the games from soda and cheese,” he says. As such, the concession stand at the convention center won’t be operating during the con.

If you need to nosh, however, a number of local food trucks will be parked outside the main building throughout the weekend. The lineup includes Panini People and Queso Good during the late morning and early afternoon on Saturday, followed by an appearance by Po’Boys Barbecue and Mamma Toledo’s Pies from 4 p.m. onward. On Sunday, Left Coast Burrito and Paradise Melts will be serving from 11 a.m. onward and Great Pho King will be there from 3 to 6 p.m.

The gaming lounge will have a full-service bar available in the lounge area on Saturday night starting at 5 p.m. for those of legal drinking age.

As we mentioned, around 200 arcade titles and 130 pinball machines can be played at the event. (The full game lineup, which includes everything from After Burner to Zoar, is available on the ZapCon website.)

As always, the Mesa Room will serve as a lounge equipped with a slew of home gaming consoles of the console variety. This year, the folks from Retro Livingroom will also set up and showcase a number of classic systems from gaming history, ranging from the Magnavox Odyssey 2 and ColecoVision, to the Sega Saturn and original PlayStation.

click to enlarge A glimpse at one of the many pinball tournaments held at ZapCon. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
A glimpse at one of the many pinball tournaments held at ZapCon.
Benjamin Leatherman
Competitions and Tournaments: If there’s one thing that gamers are big on (other than gaming, of course) it’s showing off their skills and pwning the competition. They’re likely to do both at ZapCon via the various contests, battles, and tournament that will transpire at the event.

Pinball competitions are a big part of the weekend. As such, there will be tournaments for men, women, and kids (all of which cost $2 per person to enter) as well as the annual Pinball Rodeo (which is free).

When it comes to arcade games, there will be separate high-score competitions for the original Donkey Kong and a remixed version of Donkey Kong Jr. Meanwhile, local retailer The Gaming Zone will offer both a Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Tetris tournament at its vendor booth. A Cyber Troopers Virtual-On Oratorio Tangram tournament is also planned, and Mesa game bar The Grid will host a big tourney involving the popular 10-player game Killer Queen.

Cleveland says two new contests will debut at ZapCon 2017. There’s a “Random Fighters” tournament hosted by local YouTube series This Old Arcade, which – as its name implies – involves players taking on different fighting games chosen randomly. And gaming guru Sid Seattle will put on a round-robin-style high-score battle featuring 10 different arcade titles.

Entertainment: Beeps and bloops won’t be the only sounds that will fill the air at ZapCon. Local video game music cover act Minibosses will perform a “Loungeybosses” set, which features more laidback tunes, on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the event’s retro gaming lounge.

After-Parties: ZapCon will go pretty late in the evening on Saturday. That said, attendees who still want to get in some gaming and drinking afterwards can head for Bonus Round in downtown Phoenix where anyone wearing a ZapCon lanyard or T-shirt can get 25 percent off their bill. They'll also have their own Ms. Pac-Man competition where having the highest score will win you a gift card. Downtown's Cobra Arcade Bar and The Grid in Mesa will also be open on Saturday night.

click to enlarge Taking aim with the NES Zapper in the lounge at last year's ZapCon. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Taking aim with the NES Zapper in the lounge at last year's ZapCon.
Benjamin Leatherman
Schedule and Events: Here’s the complete rundown of what's happening and when at ZapCon, including the start times for every competition and tournament.

Saturday, April 29

9 a.m.: Doors open for ZapCon pre-registrants and contributors.

10 a.m.: Doors open to the general public. Meanwhile, the Pinball Rodeo and the qualifying rounds for the IFPA, women, and kids pinball tournaments – as well as the Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. Remix competitions – will all start. Retro Livingroom will also begin showing off the Fairchild Channel F console in the lounge.

Noon: Sid Seattle's 10-game arcade round-robin competition begins in the Starfighters Arcade booth. The Magnavox Odyssey 2 will also be available for play in the lounge area.

2 p.m.: The Street Fighter 3 tournament kicks off.

4 p.m.: The Random Fighters fighting game tournament gets going and Retro Livingroom will show off the Vectrex in the lounge.

5 p.m.: The bar in the lounge area opens for business and the award ceremony for Sid Seattle's round-robin competition takes place.

6 p.m.: Retro Livingroom will show off the ColecoVision in the lounge, the Cyber Troopers Virtual-On Oratorio Tangram tournament kicks off, and the finals of the kids and women’s pinball tournaments takes place.

7 p.m.: Tag Team Pinball competition begins, and Sid Seattle will attempt to set a world-record high score on Mr. Driller.

8 p.m.: The Killer Queen Tournament starts at The Grid’s booth while the Donkey Kong-related competitions wrap up. Meanwhile, the Minibosses will perform in the lounge.

11:30 p.m.: IFPA tournament qualifying ends for the evening and ZapCon wraps up its first day.

click to enlarge Playing pinball at last year's ZapCon. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Playing pinball at last year's ZapCon.
Benjamin Leatherman
Sunday, April 30

9 a.m.: Doors open for ZapCon pre-registrants and contributors. Finals for the “B” and “Classics” divisions of the IFPA pinball tournament gets going.

10 a.m.: Doors open to the general public and the Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. Remix competitions resume for the day. The Neo Geo Arcade Entertainment System will also be available for play in the lounge.

10:30 a.m.: Finals for the "A" division of the IFPA pinball tournament.

11 a.m.: Tetris tournament begins.

Noon: A second Cyber Troopers Virtual-On Oratorio Tangram tournament starts and the Retro Livingroom will presents the Sega Saturn system in the lounge.

1 p.m.: Sid Seattle will attempt to set a world record high-score on Mr. Driller.

2 p.m.: The Street Fighter Alpha 3 tournament starts and the Sony PlayStation will be available in the lounge.

3 p.m. The award ceremonies for the Donkey Kong-related competitions take place.

4 p.m.: Award ceremony for the Pinball Rodeo.

4:30 p.m.: “Best of Show” award ceremony at at the Firebird Pinball booth.

5 p.m.: The Sega Dreamcast will be available for play in the lounge.

6 p.m.: ZapCon 2017 ends.