This is my first official™ zine entry and I'm starting things off with a real hum dinger!
The Vintage Computer Festival Midwest, or the VCFMW for short, is the midwestern branch of a larger network of conventions that celebrates the vast and complex history of computing. This year's event was the 17th one of these to happen, but for me it was my first!
Me and my partner Jesse drove in to Elmhurst friday afternoon, the day before the show. After checking into our luxurious room at the Holiday Inn I realized I needed some supplies, so I went and made my first official stop of the weekend: Micro Center!
I really wish I had more time to give this place a good thorough browsing, since it was so big and I had only gotten there about an hour or so before they were closing, but what little I did get to look at was pretty cool. I don't get to browse big specialty computer stores often, most of them around my neck of the woods are of the "Buying Best" chain store variety, so this was a treat.
One of the neatest things was seeing all the DIY electronics components on the walls, it reminded me of when I was in high school and I'd pore over the component drawers at RadioShack, imagining all the silly little things I could make if I had enough money to blow on this stuff. There wasn't a single Raspberry Pi in stock unfortunately (no surprise there though, darn chip shortages!). I really want one for experimenting with BBS software eventually, and they also didn't have any external usb floppy drives. However, I did end up snagging a new power cable for my laptop and this really snazzy new mechanical keyboard with clicky blue switches and rgb lights, because every modern keyboard has to have led lights by law since we live in a dystopian cyberpunk future now.
After shopping at Micro Center I went back to the hotel to pick up Jesse and we went to Galloping Ghost! They make the claim that it's the biggest arcade in the world and after witnessing it firsthand I'm inclined to believe them. The first room alone is an impressive collection for any arcade, but then you walk into another room with an equally huge number of machines, and another... and ANOTHER. It just keeps going! It felt like a maddening maze of endless glowing crt screens, squelchy tones, and humming fans, which was pretty neat.
I came across several rare arcade machines in varying levels of condition throughout the place. Machines like "Death Race" from 1976 that's known as the first arcade game to get boring adults up in a tizzy about violence in games. They also had an official "Half-Life 2" candy cab from Japan with a unique dual joystick setup, as well as an unfortunately broken arcade version of "Super Monkey Ball" that has a banana shaped controller. I also love that they have a recreation of the Mr. Big painting from "NARC", one of the most gloriously over-the-top Regan era anti-drug psa games in existence.
After escaping the labyrinthian halls of Galloping Ghost, we went back to the hotel and called it a night. The next morning was the first day of the convention and wowzers was the place busy! I ended up finding some street parking down the block, which luckily wasn't too far away from the convention center. I've been to Comic Con in San Diego so I know about crowds and this place wasn't on THAT level, but for the modestly sized convention halls it was a relatively tight squeeze.
The event was worth braving the crowds though as there was a lot of cool stuff on display. There were honestly too many things to even try and point out in a single article, so I'll just briefly mention a few things of particular interest I managed to notice in the sensory overload playground.
First thing I was greeted by was the entrance hallways lined with people selling their goods and wares. I ended up buying a huge pack of floppy disks so I can finally start taking photos with my Sony Mavica. I also came across the booth for Dave's Retro Video Lab, a youtube channel with a central focus on retro A/V equipment. They had the camera Marty uses durring Doc's temporal experiments on display so you know I had to take a photo with it.
Next I went through Zone D, which had some really cool interactive exhibits. They had a bunch of vintage Weather Channel equipment all hooked up and was even broadcasting the current local weather on a short range signal. They also had a series of telecommunication devices all networked together through a local switchboard, so you could pick up a phone on one end of the room and a phone on the other would ring. They even had fax messaging capabilities! Another neat relic was this beefy teletype machine someone was busy at work on, programming something neat I would assume.
Moving on to the next huge hall, there were a mix of more cool displays, vendors selling their various wares, and the Tech Youtube People™ booths. There was a huge spread all laid out for the Magnavox Odyssey, showing off several neat little advertising pieces and accessories, all leading up to the most impressive part of the collection; Ralph Baer's "Brown Box".
There was also a large collection of Sillicon Graphics machines with a suite of programs loaded up and running. I'm pretty sure they had one of the beefier SG machines running multiple instances of quake on several different monitors, which is such a gloriously silly thing to do with something that was originally designed to mainly be in scientific research laboratories or special effects houses. A couple of them had the networking graphic interface running that's famously known as the "Unix System" from the hacking scene in Jurassic Park.
Shoved into the back nook of this space was the YouTuber booths. They had some neat displays featuring some builds and projects from their videos. One of them, The 8-bit Guy, was selling some DOS compatible games he'd made himself, which next year if he's there again I'll definitely have to pick up a copy since I'm now working on a retro computer build that'd be compatible (more on this later).
I also ran into a person who's probably my current favorite tech Youtuber...
All jokes asside LGR was a really chill person and so was his brother, they had the Megaluminum Monster and Industrial IBM build both there, proudly on display. They also had the knock off iMac there and paint was open, so Jesse and me kinda had to leave our mark. Coming across a paint program in the wild is like coming across wet cement, the compulsion to leave a mark is almost too great to ignore.
On the other half of the hall was some more vendors and displays. One was a computer that had the same Yamaha sound chip as the SEGA Genesis, so they were able to take actual tracker files extracted from Genesis games and had the sound card playing them back in real time.
There were also numerous setups of pretty much every major personal computer system. It took me a second to get my bearings again but I got a BASIC program running on a Commodore PET. It was of course a variation on the "HELLO WORLD" program, but I at least took a tiny bit of effort and made it a recreation of the "Look Around You" intro.
There were some neat panels that went on during the festival, but most were pretty full considering the previously mentioned crowd growth this year. The YouTuber pannel in particular was standing room only a good half hour before the panel even began. Also since standing room area was pretty echoey and incoherent, and since I knew it was going to be recorded and put on YouTube later, me and Jesse decided to skip it and continue wandering around the show.
On our second pass through of the convention we came across pretty much all our major purchases for the weekend. First thing I found was an in-box copy of Leisure Suit Larry 3, with both 5.25" and 3.5" floppy versions. I love old point and click adventure games so it was cool finally being able to buy my first boxed copy of one.
We also came across a booth that was selling all sorts of PCjr accessories. I'd never heard of the PCjr before this and I was immediately enamored by the look of it. It's an IBM computer so it has that industrial design philosophy behind it, but since it was designed to be a Commodore64/ZX Spectrum killer it has a slightly more family appliance look going on.
I mentioned before I'm starting work on a retro PC build and unfortunately we couldn't afford the entire PCjr system at the time, but we could at least afford the monitor! I figured it was a good price and of all the parts of a computer to ship, the monitor is always the trickiest/most expensive. So if I can't find a PCjr to go with the monitor by next year's event, I should hopefully have enough saved up by then to go ahead and get the rest.
We continued to explore into the evening, meeting new like-minded people and tinkering around with loads of tech I've never heard of until now. We weren't able to stay longer than the first day unfortunately, but I'm planning on making a full weekend trip out of it next time. I've always been into tech and discovering how things used to get done, but this event really rejuvenated my passion in the subject. It was a great event overall and I'm already looking forward to next year!