I’ve known about CAX for a few years now but haven’t had a chance to go until this year. The experience I came away with was liberating. Being younger (22) and growing up in an area without any great arcades nearby means my knowledge of arcade games is lacking at best. This weekend was as educating as it was entertaining. I played games like Tempest, Tapper and Smash TV for the first time. Games I had never seen before, let alone played but have been hearing about on the Bombcast for years now. Having this arcade experience was incredibly enjoyable and I now have a great appreciation for the era of the arcade. The show itself was a perfect size; no machine had more than 2-3 people by it at any time, making it easy to play whatever you’re interested in. To have all of those classic sound effects going off as well gives the place a fantastic atmosphere.
The machines were running free play which made it much easier to try anything and everything. This was pivotal in the experience. I came into the show wanting to play a lot of pinball, despite being terrible at it. Thanks to the free play, you get to learn a table and actually see what makes each one unique. What the draw of each game was. I had my first exposure to great tables like Star Trek: TNG, Attack from Mars, Medieval Madness, X-Files and so much more. I came away not only having a context for popular pinball machines, but also what a few favorites are.
On the drive to the show a friend and I were talking about our various arcade experiences, at least the few we did have growing up. I recalled my first experience at the Metreon in San Francisco when it opened. There was a particular machine that stuck with me, a multiplayer third person arena shooter which used a trackball to look left and right and a joystick for movement. It always stuck with me but I couldn’t think of the name at the time. While doing our initial walk around the show, we came across 4 cabinets, each with the same white trackball I remember from childhood. The game is The Grid by Midway and it is still as fantastic as I remembered. It’s those types of stories that encapsulate the event to me.
As a result I don’t see myself missing California Extreme hereafter. It’s something that the Penny Arcade Expo lacks and an experience you just can’t get many places anymore. If you ever get a chance I highly recommend going.
As a side note, one of the first things I did upon getting home was buying Pinball Arcade on my PS3 and getting one of the table packs with it. I have had the iOS 99 cent version since it released but I needed my fix until it arrives on PC!