Arcade Armageddon 2012: Not Just For Nerds

Video Armageddon?
The first annual Arcade Armageddon was a video game tournament and concert party extravaganza that happened this past weekend. For $15, you could enjoy an all day party, starting at noon, with eight hours of preliminary tournament rounds of three games: Soul Calibur V for the X-Box 360, Mario Kart 64, and Smash Brothers Brawl for the Wii. Tournament entry was $15 per game. Prizes included money from the pool of entry fees, some anime gift bags, and something you’ll read about later. To entice a larger crowd, the event organizers wisely chose to bring in some related music acts. That said, I really only wanted to see the Minibosses live, but I decided to go with an open mind to check out the rest of the games and the bands. Since I went with my brother, at the very least we could hang out and laugh at some of the stupidity. Fortunately, there was much more in store.

The Day of the Show

I had to work the day of the show until 3PM, which actually worked out quite well. I wouldn’t have enjoyed watching eight hours of preliminary rounds when I really only knew Mario Kart 64, although if I would have known how completely lame the competitors were, I might have been tempted to step into the ring to show them how it’s done.

The Awkward Soul Calibur V Finals
The Commentators (Some Dude)
I’m not a Soul Calibur fan, which made the first half of the event very awkward, and not so much because of the game, but because of the commentators: Some Dude and Chun-Li. I never caught Some Dude’s name, but he looked like a short Louis CK lookalike, except his brand of humor consisted of baseless jokes about people’s appearances, mocking people at the event for being nerdy, and other statements to generally make people feel uncomfortable. When someone asked us why one of the contestants was calibrating his arcade stick, he told the audience to quiet down, like we were in a library. Maybe he was better suited for Anti-Arcade Armageddon.

The Commentators (Chun-Li)
The second commentator was a staff member dressed up as Chun-Li. On that note, I was surprised by the female representation at the event. Apologizes for bringing this topic up so suddenly, but this event truly showed a solid progression of the representation of women in videogaming. There were gamers (none of the finalists, which might have made a difference in the Mario Kart 64 finals), girlfriends showing their support, and women of all types there to have fun and enjoy the event. We still have a ways to go toward videogame equality, but this was a good indication that we’re making progress.

More Beef with the Commentators
I’ve only played a bit of Soul Calibur over the years, and I’m still not sure if I’m glad one of the finalists picked Voldo. On the one hand, I’m not sure why Voldo escaped from Silent Hill, but on the other hand, he does offer comedic gold during his fights, much of which was left unsaid by the aforementioned dull commentators. They did occasionally joke about his more obscene contortions, but overall, the commentary track was sorely needed. It’s the kind of thing that turns an event from barely watching some dudes playing some fighting game and softly hearing the Cure with more clarity than the game, into a fun and lively event.

“Drop the Fruit!”
Before the game, when the room was not in library mode, I had talked with the guy next to me about the event and in particular the Minibosses. The guy’s name was Pete and during the game when he said one of the characters sounded like she was saying “Drop the Fruit,” oh, did I run with it. We joked about that and got one or two other people laughing as well, which I’m sure confused the rest of the audience, and especially the librarians, but hey commentators, you sucked. Try actually commenting on what you see on the screen next year. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what’s going on or not. Make something up. We did and had a blast.

Who Was The Winrar?
The witch girl, or the little girl, or the little witch girl won. However, she may not have actually been a witch, or a little girl. I couldn’t tell you other than a dude playing a female character won, and she wasn’t Ivy or Voldo, so I guess that talk of videogame equality wasn’t completely out of place, unlike this brief mention of a Black Mage cosplayer I talked with, who I forgot to mention until my second draft of this article.

These Were The Best Mario Kart 64 Players in Washington?
Did These Guys Even Play This Game Before? Honestly, Wow.
Maybe the stresses of playing against other people on stage made things a little hard. They were all guys, so maybe it would have been different if any gals joined the tournament. What I can say is I was amazed how no one used Power Slides at all during the final rounds. That trick doesn’t always work in every stage, but hey, read up on some tips on playing the game before going to the event. Don’t worry. You don’t even need to read any advanced strategies. Just do some research! You’ll probably be the only one to do that. My brother and I played quite competitively against each other for years, so watching the finals was truly, painful to watch. Agonizing, really. The AI on 50 CC had more life than that.

Bowser Sleepwalked His Way To Victory
Bowser was the only one playing during Mario Raceway. One very important strategy for playing Mario Kart 64 is using the items that appear in Question Mark blocks on the stage. I only spell it to inform the finalists, because they weren’t even aiming for the blocks. The occasional player did get an item, but overall, they just didn’t know what they were doing. I remember one player had a green shell, and didn’t do anything fancy like hold down the Z button to drag the shell behind him. I watched as he held that shell in his inventory, drove directly through a row of Question Mark blocks, and then randomly shot the shell off a minute later. Oh, and for the last lap, Bowser had about a quarter lap lead on everyone else.

Everyone’s First Time Playing Bowser’s Castle
Watching all four players simultaneously stop for over 30 seconds at one of the Thwomp traps was hard for me to stomach. Mario actually managed to lead by what I could safely say was a full half lap for more than half the game, if only because of how grossly inaccurate that statement was, but that seems to be the theme of this particular paragraph. What were the rest of the players doing? Bowser almost caught up at one point, Toad was keeping up, and I don’t even remember the fourth character. It was just that pathetic. I even forgot that Mario won the tournament. Maybe it was a sympathy win.

Power Sliding Against Jonny Nero Action Hero
I was so disgusted by the preceding events, I just had to see if I was really bad enough to save the President. The bar had some games set up, which I’ll write about later on, and after a bit of looking around, I saw someone playing Mario Kart 64. He had just beaten Koopa Troopa Beach. Good, I thought, at the very least, someone with enough ability to actually complete four rounds. I asked “hey, can I play you?” He said sure, I let him pick the stage, and we started on Wario Stadium. I hadn’t played the game in at least two years, but soon enough I remembered how to play. We started talking about the whole event and it turned out was chiptune musician Jonny Nero. “Anamanaguchi with vocals.” Check it out.

Tell Me How You Did At Mario Kart 64 Already!
On the Wario Stadium stage, I had two spinning green shells and another one in reserve. I ricocheted the two shells off the wall just before the gap, and shot the last shell directly behind me in the middle of the lane. We were both amazed when it actually hit! Turns out that was a really good strategy, because he was caught off guard by the two shells. I never used to play that dirty before. I won the first round, and picked Rainbow Road as the next stage. Turned out it was his least favorite stage. Oops. This is a really great stage to practice Power Sliding, and I really started to pick it up again. I fell behind and Jonny Nero ended up winning that round, so picking his worst stage worked out. We started playing a third stage, I forget which one, because by the time we heard the Icarus Kid(s) play Dr. J, with beats and inspiration from Startropics, we both decided to check that out instead, which I’ll write about later.

R.O.B. Nearly Takes the Gold in Smash Brothers
R.O.B. vs Snake
Before the contestants took the stage, my brother said with some hesitation: “I played against that guy…” After the incredible display of amateurs playing Mario Kart 64, I was surprised by his tone of voice. As the slightly better Smash Brothers gamer between us, I knew he’d be a good judge of the event. He didn’t fair well, so I knew this was going to be a better game overall. Hey, they actually played the game before the tournament. That’s worth at least watching. When one of the contestants picked R.O.B., I knew this was going to be well worth watching. My brother also told me they were playing the “Balanced Brawl” version, so R.O.B. could actually stand a chance. How did R.O.B. fair? He stayed mainly in defense mode and couldn’t get close to Snake, who was jumping all over the place. Too bad. I wanted to write the headline, “Arcade Armageddon: R.O.B. Takes Gold.”

Bowser vs Falco
The contestants took the stage, and the commentators finally got the good idea to ask the players questions like “what character are you playing?” and “any strategies or thoughts?” rather than their questions during Soul Calibur: “what deodorant do you wear?” to obviously meek gamers. Come on, Some Dude. That’s a low blow and you’re a jerk. One of the players said “I’m playing the bird.” You know who lost? The bird.

Contestants! To Your Stations!
That means Snake versus Bowser. I think Snake took it. I didn’t really care. My guy lost. The winner took home a boxed NES copy of Super Mario Brothers… 3! Which he didn’t even seem the least bit interested in owning.

Casual Gaming in the Bar
Hanging Out and Playing Gauntlet
I’m going to jump around here because I didn’t write notes at the time and had no one to text with to do some running commentary. Scratch that, I did have one friend that might have been interested, but he was working so I didn’t want to interrupt. To give a quick layout of El Corazon, if the main stage area is in this big room, then off to the side past the restrooms was the bar. My brother and I drifted that way after the Soul Calibur finals. He got some food, we chatted about the event, and saw some people playing Mario Kart 64 that obviously were not in the tournament. Gauntlet for the NES was on the projector with a four player controller adapter no one had seen before. I was too interested in playing Gauntlet with four people to take notice. We ended up playing with Pete, the guy I was talking with about the Minibosses, and that was really how videogaming should be. Number One: hanging out with friends. Number Two: playing a videogame together. Gauntlet, Contra and River City Ransom are excellent examples. It was fun just to go through the levels without any sweat over who was winning.

Contra Teaches Teamwork
I was wandering around looking at some of the other games. I saw this guy beat Contra with a second player, and his second player left, so I swooped in and asked if I could play. “With or without the Konami code?” I replied, “I haven’t played in a while, so we could try without, but I’ll probably suck.” We got up to the second level and lost. I asked if we could try with the Konami code, because I suck horribly and am willing to admit I don’t remember how to put in the code. Here’s my Hardcore Gamer credentials. I give them to you gladly. We actually did much better this time around. I put it like this, “if I die, I’m not too worried. I have 29 more to go.” We got up to around level 7 or 8, and we only lost about four lives each, which I say is not bad. The thing I noticed as well after level four was how much teamwork is involved in Contra. You can’t just rip and run through the stage if you have a second player. You have to time your jumps so you don’t leave your partner behind, such as on the stages where one player might go on the upper platforms and the other goes on the lower platforms, and all of a sudden there’s no more lower platforms. Or the waterfall stage with the moving rock platform. Especially cool was picking up on this teamwork instinctively with a complete stranger. This is my definitive evidence, my “Argument for Videogames as Positive Learning Tools,” and I think any collaborative group could benefit from at least starting off by not wanting to kill each other in real life. I’ve seen it too many times in my professional career, and maybe a little Contra could help show that hey, it’s not about your way, or my way, it’s about killin’ some videogame dudes and maybe beating the game. Together. (Aww.)

“Pick Any Game You Want”
So the bar had at least a half dozen consoles set up with less than 97 different games. They included the aforementioned Mario Kart 64 (hint: they played better in the bar than the losers on-stage), Gauntlet, Contra and Super Mario Brothers 3. Also: Street Fighter II, Super Mario Brothers 1, Soul Calibur, Smash Brothers and Kid Icarus. It’s Kid Icarus! KIIID ICCARUSS!! (Sorry for the lame transition.)

The Saga of my Unsigned Icarus Kids CD
Make Up Your Mind: Kid or Kids?
Normally, I would expect this sort of electronic music to be just a DJ on a laptop playing party music. What sold the show for me was that the main guy brought in a drummer, and announced the event as “the Icarus Kids,” with some emphasis on the plural form. I guess officially, it’s the Icarus Kid, but for that night, the plural form really sold the show, because they were playing off each other, so it felt more real and grounded. That might be the thing that keeps me away from enjoying more electronic music, besides maybe the whole high energy rave culture. I don’t mean to paint the picture what it wasn’t. A rave this was not. This was some 30 to 40 people hanging out on a dance floor having fun.

Talk About The Songs Already, Man
Dr. J (Star Tropics) was great. Hearing that theme as a solid cover, then broken down was cool. Same with the drums. They started playing Maru Mari (Metroid) and by about halfway through, I bought the CD for $10. The guy we played Gauntlet with, Pete, was good friends with Dan Crowdus, the Icarus Kid, and I told him I bought the CD later on. I had some small intention of getting my CD signed, but here was the thing about Dan. Please excuse the loose analogy, because he plays mainly Nintendo cover music rather than Sega music, but the guy was a human Sonic the Hedgehog. He even had a mohawk. He was sprinting around the area with boundless energy. I saw him at one point in the back seats before the Minibosses came on. I pictured the scenario if we swapped places. I’m hanging out with my girl, or some friends, and some dude comes up to me asking for an autograph while I’m trying to relax and remain Anonymous. He seemed like one of those hyper extroverted guys who probably wouldn’t mind, but I figure better not to be rude on this one. Besides, the main event, man.

The True Musical Mastery of the Minibosses
I first heard the Minibosses about eight or so years ago. Since I lost my Hardcore Gamer credentials, let me make it up by saying at that time I found everything I could by the Jenova Project: all four songs. I can also tell you that I’ve missed the Minibosses play in this area at least four times, including a number of their PAX appearances. Watching the Minibosses was important to me, not just because of how long overdue it was, but because as I discovered, the Minibosses are actually highly skilled musicians worthy of exposure outside of their niche of “old video game music.”

Play Free Bird!
The main running joke of the night was the audience requesting random songs. Of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” was the first request. It’s such a staple of music that you can’t get around it. Another good joke of the night was that people kept asking to hear Duck Tales, even when the band just finished playing Duck Tales. This video will give you a good idea of the context. So they ended on good note when the guitarist Aaron Burke said after using playing Duck Tales, “why ruin a good thing?” and they played Duck Tales one last time. There were plenty of other random requests, Halo being one, but the one I truly think was the best was when someone said, “Shut Up and Jam!

Us and Them
Unlike seeing most bands like Motorhead, Van Halen, and Sleep, there wasn’t this huge barrier between the band and the fans. I got up nice and close when I saw Sleep, but about halfway through I was about three people away from a very violent and sudden moshpit, which puts a damper on the whole enjoying the music thing. For bigger bands like Motorhead that have international fans and hundreds or thousands of seats, it makes sense to put up big safety barriers and have general admission and then the cheap seats. The only problem with this is it depersonalizes the music. It’s much harder to connect with the band and the music. Sure, you have the people hopped on something fierce that start talking directly to the band, even though you’re in the nosebleed seats. Still, much of the magic for the rest of us is lost. I could see Van Halen better on the monitors, with all these crazy effects they were doing with the camera, than in real life. What’s the point of even going to these types of “massive stadium arena concerts,” when you can watch YouTube videos up close in better quality for free?

Getting Lost in the Music
Good question. I think something about it has to do with the goals you have for seeing a band, or doing anything, really. If you play Mario Kart 64 because you want to completely annihilate your friends and the finalists of big name events (is that joke done?), then you’ll probably find yourself with no one to play with. If you play Mario Kart 64 because you want to hang out with some friends, you’ll probably have a much better time, and maybe even learn something new. The same thing is true for going to a concert to hang out and see some bands. The mindset is key. Arcade Armageddon seemed like a good place to hang out with new people, so I went with that mindset, rather than the Serious Academic Musical Researcher Man with the honorary title of Mr. Doesn’t Have Fun. Guess what happened?

No! Just Tell Me About The Music Already!
As I stopped caring about song titles and formalities, I picked up on something very cool. The bassist and one of the guitarists switched instruments at least twice. I can’t tell you what song, but at one point the “new” guitarist played a song that was atypical videogame music: very high pitched chords. At first, it was almost overwhelming, but here’s the thing about that: he was intricately playing some of the hardest notes to reach on the guitar. In other words, this was shredding of the finest caliber. The sort you might attribute to some big name guitarist or obscure guitarist if you were on a music forum.

The Minibosses, Ph. D
The Minibosses learned from the true masters of videogame music. The videogame composers of the 80s and 90s were on a brand new frontier. Many invented their own instruments from scratch, using archaic programming languages. With these homemade tools, like early Blues musicians that were too poor to buy guitars, they created some of the finest music of their genre; music that transcends borders. This “cutesy” videogame music has an air of sophistication that, as I saw last night, takes a master to master. It was truly a sight to behold. Last night, the Minibosses went from “cool, they play videogame music” in my books, to a viable entry in some of the most well played technical music around. The Minibosses play with enough room to breath to show an understanding of music – the joy, the emotion, the feeling of hearing something truly transcendent, the type of music that gives you chills down your spine as you realize you’re listening to something truly worth spending time hearing – that goes beyond mere guitar noodling.

Closing Thoughts
Remember that talk early about videogames as a positive influence? The focus on “serious face dot jpg” gaming makes it seem too weird to have fun. Loosen up a bit, don’t concern yourself if someone you’re talking with doesn’t know the specific technical terms for a videogame you’re talking about. It’s all fun and games.

About Zombiepaper

My interests are very specific and sometimes esoteric: writing, videogames (EarthBound), movies (zombie, martial arts, and animated), music (listening and bass guitar), thrift stores, philosophy, and toys. Also, Cowabunga!

Posted on June 27, 2012, in Music, Video Games and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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