On March 25th, the Ace Hotel in East Liberty was bustling with life. The quaint hotel was host to something at odds with the more rustic and low-key décor: a video game convention.
For its third year, the Pittsburgh Retro Gaming Convention moved to the historic lodge’s gym area to host its annual event. Vendors from across the state and beyond came to sell their wares to an excited crowd, full of young and old alike looking to get their gaming fix.
This convention is the only event that the Pittsburgh Retro Gaming group hosts a year, explained James Deighan, one of the organizers for the event. He gestured to the numerous TVs lining the walls, with attendees lined up to get a chance to play both beloved classics and new games from indie developers. “We want to expose the local community to local development of games,” he said when I asked about the bowls near each developer’s booth and the little cards reading “go vote!” The cards were for the Player’s Choice award- whichever game got the most votes would win. He later confirmed that the winner was Booty Diver by Xavier Orion Games.
Of course, it wasn’t just the developers who got a chance at victory. Tournaments for NBA Jam, Street Fighter, and Super Smash Bros were held, as was a silent auction. Previous years also featured a cosplay (short for costume play) contest. A live podcast of “Start the Beat Sikes” and “Grownup Humans” was recorded as well. For those playing a drinking game, a bar was tucked in the corner, offering beer and some mixed drinks (and pop for the kids).
Vendors, including Game Vault, Rick’s Games, and River City Games sat behind their tables, rows upon rows of vintage gaming laid before them, ready to be bought by eager attendees. And not just classics from the era of Atari and the Nintendo Entertainment System- newer games and consoles, such as the Wii U and PlayStation 4, were available for purchase. Fanart and merchandise (such as plush versions of beloved Pokémon) also had their place and prices. One booth (Black Forge) even had bags of coffee beans for sale.
For those who don’t drink coffee, there was another type of brew that may have caught your interest: homebrews. This subset of development is when a game is made specifically for an older system, such as the NES or Game Boy, and released physically. The results can range from fan games for existing franchises (Pokémon is a common focus), translations of games never published in the West, or even completely original products like Haunted Halloween ’86: The Curse of Possum Hollow by Retrotainment Games.
While the total number of attendees is still be calculated at the time of this writing, Deighan informed me that the event had over 1000 walk-ins, not including pre-sales. They also made over $2000 in proceeds, all of which is to be donated to the Children’s Hospital.
Before I left the bustling hotel, I talked to Brett Stanford, an employee working at the front desk. He was glad the event was such a success. “It’s great business for the hotel, especially the restaurant (The Whitfield is located in the lobby) and bar. Lots of people are coming out from the event, relaxing, grabbing a drink,” he explained before checking in a guest. A whoop of laughter filtered out from the convention in the other room. Maybe it was a wave of nostalgia from finding a new game, or someone beating their old high score.
Either way, game on.
Photos by Julie Kahlbaugh