This weekend was the “big thing” in my life up to this point. This would be a defining moment in my life. (P.S. in case you don’t notice, I jump between present, past and future tense in this write-up. I’m not submitting this for a writing award, so just bear with it.)
Friday, August 19, 1994
The shenanigans started before we even got into Ft. Lauderdale. Continental (which we were forced to take via Blockbuster’s arrangements) only had direct flights from Newark. Mom and Dad decided to go an alternate route: THE DREADED TRANSFER. Actually, the transfer wasn’t too bad in itself, but it was just annoying to do. I personally wouldn’t have minded to go from Newark directly to Ft. Lauderdale, but whatever. Being 11 means deferring to your parents once in a while.
Mom and I arrive at Ft. Lauderdale sometime in the afternoon. We’re greeted at gate by a representative from Blockbuster (ahhh, the days before post-9/11 airport security.) After we get our bags, we get to the hotel (Pier 66) to check in. I honestly wish I could remember more details, but so it goes.
At 6:30 was the welcome reception / dinner. There, we met with other players and some video game experts. For those who’ve read GamePro magazine while Scary Larry was a writer, he was there and he introduced himself to me, but me being the shy dolt that I am, I’m too scared to say anything to him. (His name tag said “Lawrence” on it, which really hammered home that the Scary Larry pseudonym actually had a person behind it. Full Disclosure: Scary Larry was fatter than I imagine he would be.) During the dinner, they served lasagna, which was very good. Mom was surprised I ate it since, at that time, the only food I ate that had red sauce on it was pizza, but I wasn’t about to complain about the free food.
During the dinner, we met our team members. While each of us were individuals fighting against each other, we were grouped together so that it was easier for Blockbuster to manage the players. As I expected, I was well below the average age for our group (as well as the finals as a whole). Surprisingly, I was not the youngest. That honor belonged to one other kid who I believe was 9 at the time. I don’t remember any of my teammate’s names, sadly.
Before the dinner ended, a brief promotional video was shown to young
consumers competitors. NBA Superstar Shaquille O’Neal pimped a game that would change the video game world completely. Betcha don’t know what game I’m referring to. According to my documents, Rudy Ruettiger (the guy whose story is what the movie Rudy is about) made a motivational speech, but I don’t remember it. I’m sure it was inspirational and motivating, but since it wasn’t Sean Astin addressing the crowd, I’m sure no one cared. (Well… I didn’t.)
To sleep we go…
Saturday, August 20, 1994
7:45am is breakfast. 7:45 is too early, but then again, I’d be starting middle school in September, so this is pretty much preparation for the inevitable. Competitors take shuttles out to the convention center to get to the opening ceremonies at 9:00.
This is the part where I paint the picture of the con space, but since I suck at communicating, I doubt this will come across well. When coming through the front doors, you first feel it’s very cold. Yay for air conditioning, but boo for Blockbuster for telling us to dress lightly when we’d be spending all day inside. Directly ahead is the main stage, where the tournament systems are set up. This is where all tournament games will be played. The main stage was set up with stadium-seating and was partitioned into two equal halves. The Sega Genesis players were on the left side, and the Super Nintendo players were on the right. The ceremonies started off with our two co-hosts: Jonathan Taylor Thomas of Home Improvement fame and Jenna von Oy of Blossom fame. They spoke a little bit (mostly about how much they suck at video games [I think]) and we were on our way.
The competition proceeded like this: A game is played by a team (7-8 people). After they’re done, another team plays the game, rinse and repeat until all teams have played that game, then they go onto the next game. With this format, a team will play a game about once an hour for however long the game needs to be played (usually about 5 minutes.)
Now, there were plenty of distractions in the convention center between game play. Lots of distraction. I particularly stayed to the left side of the center which featured the following beta versions of these games: Beavis and Butthead, Maximum Carnage and Super Return of the Jedi. You could tell they were betas because they were set to be unbeatable (in the Beavis and Butthead game, there’s a level where you have to outrun an senior citizen in a motorized wheelchair. In the version I played, the guy always goes faster than you can run, so the level couldn’t be cleared. The release version of the game has the guy go slower, so the only way you can lose is to hit too many obstacles which would slow you down enough to be caught.)
Something I didn’t do that I wish I did was get the autographs / pictures of the 2 celebrity hosts. I was too concerned with playing video games to care about once-in-a-lifetime celebrity appearances. I did run into Rudy though, but again, since he’s not Sean Astin, I didn’t care. I did, however, get an autograph from a very indifferent Glen Rice. He signed the back of my Nintendo Power magazine. Sadly, I don’t have that magazine anymore. (Kids, this is what happens when you let your mom clean your room for you.)
Important to note: a good amount of the Genesis players complained about the game conditions for Sonic 3. The specs required that everyone starts at the Hydrocity Zone, the 2nd level of the game. To expedite game play, Blockbuster had saved games with the Angel Island Zone already completed. Everyone at this stage in the tournament knew about the 50,000 points trick in the Special Stage, and everybody used it. However, a complication arose: if one player completed a Special Stage, i.e. got the emerald, then the game would save that info. When that player is done with the game, and the next guy comes up to play his game, he’s gonna go into the special stage expecting special stage #1 and get #2 instead (personal testimony: I played #3). This inconsistency would come into play later.
6:00 rolls around the hosts / Blockbuster reps address the players before the shuttles take them back to the hotel. They explain that the evening activities will include a free trip to Blockbuster Entertainment’s game room / mini-golf course. Mom and I participated, and I used up the $5 game card in about 10 minutes (arcades that took cards instead of coins… I never saw, nor did ever see again, something like that). We take the last shuttle back from the park to the hotel where we rest up for our final day in the tournament.
Sunday, August 21, 1994
First thing in the morning is we checked out of the hotel. I believe our bags were taken to the airport while we had breakfast and played video games.
Shuttle to the convention center at 9:30. I learn without surprise that I didn’t make top 14. Luckily, the 2 wildcard spots are still up for grabs. The info sheet said the wildcard game was supposed to be randomly selected. However, for Sega, because of the Sonic 3 inconsistency, they chose that to be the wildcard game. “Yus!”, I think to myself.
So I play the game, get to the special stage, and then, in a moment of pure nervousness and STUPID, I make a turn too soon and ruin the perfect attempt. So, no 50,000 points, and no hope to get into the finals. Eh.
The finals play out in single elimination fashion. When we get to the semi-final round (the FINAL FOUR (of video games)), we learn that being a video game master means adapting to new games on the spot. This means the finalists would play a head-to-head match in a game that hasn’t been released. Remember Friday night, when Shaq said we need to get ready? Well, here it is, the big payoff: Shaq-Fu. For those who don’t want to click the link, Wikipedia says it’s one of the worst games of all time. And here we are, getting the first look at it. Lucky us? The final match for both systems was NBA Jam. Exciting times for both systems (each game was projected onto big screens so everyone can watch.) I don’t remember specifics after this: the championship ceremony, the lunch back at the hotel, the flight back to Long Island, one big blur.
So there it is. My weekend of fun. Now, it’s time to rent The Wizard.
Next entry: The appendix: Scanned PDF’s of all the documents I have, censored so I don’t accidentally give out people’s phone numbers, addresses and stuff.