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Monday, June 9, 2008

Dungeons & Pinball

posted by on June 9 at 12:39 PM

Let’s compare examples of fandom in downtown Seattle from Saturday. If you walked by the Paramount in the afternoon, you would have passed a line of maybe 25 people—mostly teen girls with too much makeup—staking their claim on the front row for that night’s Panic at the Disco concert. If you’d happened upon Neumo’s at 9 a.m., you would’ve seen a line over 70 deep. So what band was getting more people riled up so early in the morning? A band of warriors and thieves.

The Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition launch party saw about 500 visitors on Saturday, according to reps from game makers Wizards of the Coast. From the look of it, they didn’t expect nearly that many; the round tables on Neumo’s floor were crammed full of DMs and players, and the wait to join a game ran up to an hour. What’s interesting is how little the event fueled a reason to show up. No huge giveaways, unless you count a shit-ton of free Doritos baggies (which I guess work like gold or mana for D&D addicts). And D&D4E technically launched the day before (according to Wizards, has sold their entire allocation of the release’s first editions). So why the crowd? There’s something to be said about the game’s makers hanging out and running fans old and new through zillions of rule changes. There’s also something to be said for nerd sanctuary.

I’m not a D&D guy, and I regret not making more time to hang out at Neumo’s on Saturday to learn the new system, so I can’t exactly pass judgment. Still, I talked to a few people who expressed a unified D&D4E sentiment—it’s fun, it’s faster, it’s more streamlined… but “it’s not D&D.” One person compared it to World of Warcraft, another to Final Fantasy Tactics—funny that D&D, whose every bit and detail was mimicked in the original video game RPGs, is now accused of turning the tables. I’m hoping to get some time with the system in coming weeks and talk about it; at the very least, I created a character on Saturday: an ice-breathing dragon-man. The dude needs to freeze a dwarf or something.

The main reason I didn’t stick around wasn’t the same as Paul’s geekphobia (since when is D&D too nerdy for a book addict, anyway?). It was the utter opposite: I had to feed my arcade jones and attend the Northwest Pinball and Gameroom Show. These two events weren’t really that different, celebrating archaic forms of gaming that are nowhere near the Xboxen and Wiis of the world, yet still draw crowds of hundreds that wait in lines to play. Highlights from the show were a Guns ‘N Roses table (complete with half-naked groupies drawn on the table) and a bizarre thing called Hyperball, in which you shoot pinballs out of turrets to spell words… but it looks like it’s from Blade Runner, so it doesn’t feel educational. I’d babble more about awesome tables—and even an Asteroids cabinet that entranced me somehow—but I may as well shut up and wait for Kelly O’s video of the day to go online in the next week or so.

Also in attendance was Steve Wiebe, the Redmond native from the documentary King of Kong, who did an hour-long Q&A session. Though he seemed bewildered that so many people were interested in his quest for the Donkey Kong world record (and no, he’s currently #2), he was pretty gracious and humble about the attention. I don’t think there’s an unlikeable bone in that guy’s body. What was weird was that his wife (featured in the flick as well) sat at the very front corner of the room on a table, almost as if she were on display. I couldn’t help but glance at her emotionless face as her husband answered endless gaming questions—particularly his affirmative answer when asked if Billy Mitchell, the crazy pro gamer he has competed against, was one of the best things to ever happen to him. From the look on her face, it’s almost as if she had to freeze her every muscle so she wouldn’t shake her head in response, grab a mallet, and obliterate the marriage-decimating Donkey Kong cabinet that stood to Wiebe’s left.

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I liked the World Cup table the most. I'm not a true pinball freak so it may be a bit simple, but being able to make it scream GOAL GOAL GOAL every 5 seconds was life affirming.

Posted by harold | June 9, 2008 12:56 PM

Was never into D&D, but it's somehow way cooler than watching sports on TV (especially sports you don't play yourself). At least there's a level of participation.

Someone probably already posted a nerd joke while I was typing.

Posted by Dougsf | June 9, 2008 12:57 PM

Comparing a circa-1985 D&D monster manual with a monster list from the original Final Fantasy is an interesting exercise. Virtually all of the monsters (four fiends included) are completely ripped off from D&D - horrible paralysis-inducing zombies especially.

Posted by Chip | June 9, 2008 4:00 PM

Hyperball was pretty awesome, but my favorite was still The Twilight Zone, since it had so much going on under the glass, but didn't have the "I don't even know what's going on" chaos of Hyperball.

Posted by donte | June 9, 2008 4:16 PM

Mr. Jessica (aka LushyJ) and Mr. Original Monique (aka Fleshy Man Toy) went to the D&D thing for a few hours on Saturday, but showed up later because they didn't want to be seen with the pack of nerds lined up at 9a.m. outside Neumo's. Mr. Jessica then spent the remainder of the weekend talking about it to anyone who would listen. They seem to think it's awesome, and will probably talk your ear off about it at Slog Happy if you ask.

Posted by Jessica | June 9, 2008 5:00 PM

That was my Asteroids game, feel free to come play it in my basement arcade next time I throw a party Sam. But really, Tempest is where it's at.

Posted by dan10things | June 9, 2008 6:02 PM

Sam, if you want to sit in on my Saturday game, you're more than welcome, as long as you bring a 6 pack of beer.

Posted by Joh | June 9, 2008 6:23 PM

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