Monday, January 30, 2023

Hangin' with The Last Starfighter Cast - Lance Guest and Catherine Mary Stewart - at the Houston Arcade Expo

This past year was incredible for retro gaming conventions. After numerous covid cancelations the previous couple of years, gaming cons were back in full force, and I got to attend many of them as a guest author, gaming historian, and YouTuber.

None was more special than the Houston Arcade Expo (held November 11-13 at the Houston Marriott Westchase), where I got to hang out all weekend with actors Lance Guest and Catherine Mary Stewart, stars of the 1984 sci-fi classic, The Last Starfighter, one of my favorite films. The plot borrows from Star Wars—frustrated young man living in small town gets recruited to fight in an interplanetary war—but with a video game plot device.

Guest is also known for appearing in Jaws: The Revenge (1987) and Halloween II (1981), and he played Johnny Cash on Broadway in the musical, Million Dollar Quartet. He’s a fine, often-under-appreciated actor, and he’s a heck of a nice guy.

I’m certainly a fan of Guest, but I was even more excited to meet Stewart, star of such films as Night of the Comet (1984), one of my favorite B-movies, and Weekend at Bernie’s (1989), where she starred alongside Andrew McCarthy. I discovered Stewart when I was a teenager and saw her play Kayla Brady on Days of Our Lives, which my mom watched religiously. I was struck by Stewart’s beauty, found her to be incredibly likeable onscreen, and quickly developed a crush. At that point in my young life, it never would have occurred to me in a million years that I’d get to meet the gorgeous actress, much less hang out with her.

Since Guest, Stewart, and I were guests at the Houston Arcade Expo, along with such luminaries as Mortal Kombat artist Paul Niemeyer and NBA Jam voice actor Tim Kitzrow, the five of us spent a fair amount of time together throughout the weekend. Our tables, where we signed autographs, posed for photos, and talked with fans, were lined up in a row, and we spoke periodically during breaks in the action.

Among other fun facts, Stewart and Guest told me they weren’t gamers at all. Stewart said she recalls playing Pac-Man a little back in the day, but that’s about it—she joked that the other games were too complicated. In Night of the Comet, she was an expert at Atari’s arcade hit Tempest, but she told me she wasn’t actually playing the game. She was just going through the motions, and Hollywood magic did the rest. My son Ryan, who helped me at the show, joked around with Guest about the fact that Jaws: The Revenge is hardly a great movie, but that he loved it and watched it over and over when he was a little kid.

The Houston Arcade Expo is hardly a typical gaming con. It is more like a weekend-long party, with live music, confetti and glowsticks, long hours (vending, gaming, and more goes on late into the night), plenty of drinking and revelry, and in general a highly festive atmosphere. The Saturday night cover band was a big hit, with convention goers dancing to the music. Lance, Catherine, Paul, Tim, and I gathered near the front of the stage during the set, singing along and having an absolute blast.

And then something unexpected happened: Lance got up onstage and jammed with the band. He played guitar and took lead vocals on three tunes, including an inspired take on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Last Dance with Mary Jane.” As he belted out the tune, I was wedged at the front of the stage between Cathy (as she told me to call her), who was dancing along, and Keith Christensen, who was rockin'
his head off. Keith runs the show, and I’m eternally grateful to him for inviting me to such an awesome event--what a fun and absolutely unforgettable time!

A man who loves to party, Keith got onstage and sang with the band. Cathy also joined in, playing guitar, and Paul and Tim took turns playing drums. Did I get up onstage? Heck no! The only instrument I know how to play is the stereo, and trust me when I say that no one wants to hear me sing.

While hanging with fellow guests was the highlight of the weekend, the 2022 Houston Arcade Expo was a great time all around. I got to play modern and vintage pinball machines, I did a panel on the 40th anniversary of the ColecoVision, I had some great conversations with attendees about retro gaming and other topics, and I sold a bunch of books. As they say, a good time was had by all!

At the 2021 Houston Arcade Expo, which narrowly missed being canceled because of covid, I had the pleasure of appearing with fellow guest Sam Jones, who played Flash Gordon in the 1980 camp classic. That was amazing, and he was super cool and friendly--we even worked out a trade: one of my books for a signed Flash Gordon movie poster! Since Flash Gordon is one of my favorite fictional characters, and since I love that film, I couldn’t imagine anything topping that, but the 2022 show was even more exciting.

Keith has yet to announce his special guests for 2023, but he has posted on social media that the show will be held the weekend of November 10. That’s obviously a ways off, but I’m already counting down the days. Will Keith top 2021? Is it even possible to top 2022? I can’t wait to find out!

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Clearing the Air: Pat Contri, a.k.a. The NES Punk, Trashing Me On His Podcast & YouTube Channel

Proof that Pat considered me a "backbone" of his NES book during the writing and editing process and was very happy with my reviews, saying I did a "great job." He even included my reviews in the second edition of his book. He only started trashing me after my Omnibus books starting coming out, and he began seeing me as competition. 

Years ago Pat Contri, who plays the character The NES Punk on YouTube, asked me to contribute to his then-forthcoming NES Guide Book, which came to be called the Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library (1985-1995). It was released in 2016. I wrote 60 reviews and reflections (nostalgic stories, cultural impact, etc.) for the book and was proud to take part. Pat was and is a popular YouTube personality, and I was excited to be part of such a high-profile (relatively speaking) project. Pat was fun to work with, and he was actually a pretty good editor on the project, making some suggestions for me to beef up some of my reviews with more detail.

Unfortunately, a few years after the book was published, things went south. He deleted my reviews from the third edition of the book (which was his prerogative, and which I wouldn’t have minded if he would have handled it better), began ghosting me at video game conventions (which got awkward), and starting saying nasty things about me on his podcast and YouTube channel (which was part irritating, part amusing).

In his comments about me on his podcast, he would refer to me sarcastically as “the famous author,” and he even called me a “passive-aggressive asshole.” I always assumed he didn’t mention me by name because he didn’t want to draw attention to my YouTube channel or my books, which is probably true. I think he began viewing me as a competitor instead of a friend once my Omnibus books started coming out, which I’ll get to in a bit. However, in a recent podcast/video, he threw the gloves off and called me out by name and said some things I’d like to clear up and correct.

To answer a few quick questions brought about by Pat and his pal Ian’s recent take on me, here you go:

1. Yes, I played all the games I reviewed in Pat’s NES book thoroughly, though I didn’t beat them all. Yes, Pat paid me to write the reviews upfront, and I never expected royalties (sorry if this was ever unclear). I genuinely liked the oft-criticized Magic Johnson’s Fastbreak, though I admit nostalgia for the game colored my opinion. (I would have given Double Dribble 4 stars, BTW.) Pat rewrote my Rad Gravity review and gave me full credit for it--that’s the type of thing editors do sometimes, so not a big deal.

2. As far as I can tell, Pat thought my reviews were perfectly fine (he even said I was doing a good job) until he saw me as competition when my Omnibus books started coming out. After that, he called them “garbage” on his podcast. If he thought my reviews were garbage, he wouldn’t have published most of them in the SECOND EDITION of the book as well. My reviews in his NES book are no better or worse than his or Ian’s or the other writers—they’re about on-par with the other entries (this isn't rocket science), which you can see for yourself if you have either earlier edition.

Further, and this is the most important point, in a friendly email marked Dec. 07, 2016, he implied that he WANTED ME TO WRITE FOR HIS SUPER NINTENDO BOOK MONTHS AFTER HIS NES BOOK WAS PUBLISHED. This proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was happy with my reviews in his book until he saw me as competition. It also shows that I was forthcoming in telling him I was working on a large SNES book with high production values.

3. I don’t have “animosity” toward Pat because of him deleting my reviews from the third edition of his NES book. I was irritated and in fact felt betrayed by him for not telling me ahead of time (or ever) and having to discover it on my own. He subsequently ignored my very polite DMs inquiring about it, and he even ignored a message I sent congratulating him on his highly successful Kickstarter for his SNES book. He had every right to do with his book what he wanted, including removing my reviews, but he didn’t handle it professionally in my opinion.

4. After Pat deleted my reviews from his NES book without telling me, and without answering my DMs about it, and ignoring me at conventions, I made an objective, extremely fair video about who wrote the first complete NES book (it’s complicated), giving credit to several authors, including Joe Santulli, Jeff Wittenhagen, and Pat himself. Each of the NES books by these authors has merit. I could have simply trashed Pat in the video, but that’s not my style, and I didn’t view him as an enemy or anything like that anyway. I figured an objective video with some history was more useful and more substantive than a drama video, but the latter would’ve certainly gotten more views. I try to get along and be reasonable and civilized with everyone, and I never take personal shots at those I disagree with (which they do briefly admit to in their recent video). I suppose this is one reason why Pat and Ian call me passive-aggressive.

5. They said in the video that I “suddenly glommed onto the Intellivision Amico” immediately after they got skeptical about it. That’s completely untrue. I’ve been a fan of the original Intellivision since I first played it in 1980, and I love the idea of retro-reimagined games. My interest had nothing to do with them, and I was onboard with the idea behind the console the first time I heard about it. When they started making nasty remarks about the Amico and former Intellivision CEO Tommy Tallarico (which turned out to be justified in many cases), did I root even more for the console to succeed? Yes, but that’s much different than me being for the Amico simply because they were against it.

6. Were Pat and Ian ultimately right about the Amico in many respects, such as it not coming out? And about people getting screwed out of their investments and pre-orders? Sadly, yes. I thought the Amico was a cool idea, especially early on, but Tommy and Intellivision mishandled it horribly. As such, I did a video on the mistakes they made and how I canceled my pre-order. I never got hateful toward Tommy about the Amico—I simply stated my views as objectively as I could—which I guess makes me passive-aggressive.

7. My video about the Play Date was actually pretty even-handed. I said I didn’t “get” the handheld console, the same way a lot of people didn’t “get” the Amico, so I could empathize. Was my Play Date video a response to Pat and Ian’s video about the Play Date? Not really, as I recall. I simply thought the system was an interesting parallel to the Amico: an underpowered, overpriced console that I wasn’t interested in, compared to the Amico, which I was interested in, despite it being underpowered and eventually overpriced. I saw some irony there and felt it was a good topic. I was honest in my assessment about the prospective Play Date at the time, based on what I saw of the thing in action on YouTube. I was unimpressed with the tiny (if clear) black-and-white screen and the awkward crank that shook the system when you played it. I would have said so if I thought that it looked cool—I try to be as objective and as honest as possible in my videos.

For some added perspective on all of this, let’s go back to the first time I met Pat and our subsequent encounters.

I was a vendor at the 2009 (or perhaps 2010, I forget which) ScrewAttack Game Convention in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. This was a fun (and fondly remembered) show hosted by Craig Skistimas and company. Pat approached my table, said hello, and started flipping through a copy of my then-most recent book, Classic Home Video Games:1985-1988 (the cover dates refer to console era—the book features a write-up for every US release for the NES, Master System, and 7800). He told me that he was planning on writing an NES book of his own, but that he had something bigger in mind: a full-color hardcover book with screenshots and the like (my CHVG book is more like an encyclopedia with game synopses and relatively few black-and-white images).

At some point—I can’t remember exactly when or where—Pat asked me if I’d like to write some reviews for his book. He said he would write the majority, but that he was going to include some contributing writers on the project. I expressed interest, and we had a series of highly congenial phone calls. We share a lot of common interests and had some interesting conversations about writing, pop culture, the NES, and more. He had a clear vision for his book, and I was excited to take part. At the time, I was a full-time freelance writer and always grateful for paying work as well as added exposure. We agreed on a sum that suited us both (he paid me upfront for my work as I turned it in), and over the next few months, I played and replayed more than 60 games and wrote up my reviews and reflections for those titles. I repurposed some of my reviews from my previous projects, which I told him upfront I was going to do, such as the website (the late, lamented All Game Guide) that Pat references in his recent video, but I played the games anew and polished up my reviews accordingly. Admittedly, some of my opinions of retro/vintage games are colored by nostalgia.

When Pat’s NES book came out in 2016, I was super excited and did an unboxing on my YouTube channel. The previous year, I promoted the book on my website. I shared the full Kickstarter campaign on my website (which I deleted when it was no longer relevant). I even included the book in a roundup of retro gaming books I did for the Fort WorthStar-Telegram and a few other outlets, being sure to include a disclaimer that I was a contributing writer. I didn’t expect further compensation—no royalties or anything like that—but I was happy to help promote the book without him or anyone else asking me to. I was just pumped up about it!

From time to time, Pat and I are guests at the same retro gaming convention, such as the Portland Retro Gaming Expo and the Midwest Gaming Classic. We always said “hey” to each other in the past, and sometimes people would bring me Pat’s book to sign. I would also tell people to check out Pat’s book if they hadn’t already. I asked Pat at a PRGE if he wanted to do a book panel sometime, and he said no, which of course was his prerogative—not a big deal. One time at Retropalooza, I volunteered to take him to a shop to get his phone repaired, but he had already called an Uber. He did a panel at Classic Game Fest, and I stood in line to ask him a question. When it was my turn to as my question, he referred to me as the author of The 100 Greatest Console Video Games, which I thought was cool. I texted him from time to time, and he would usually respond. In short, we were what I considered to be acquaintances and even friends. Pat published a second edition of the book, and most of my reviews and reflections were in that edition as well.

Then things got a little off-kilter, which I’ll explain in a bit. Instead of doing a fourth volume in the Classic Home Video Games series, I decided to do a full-on Super Nintendo book, complete with box art, cartridge photos, screenshots, vintage ads, and the like. I also included Insider Insights (supplemental stories about certain games from other content creators), the idea of which I got in part from the stories in Rob Strangman’s Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman book. I was also inspired by the “Lore” stories from Digital Press. I didn’t pay for these Insider Insights, but the contributing writers were very excited to tell their stories and see them in print, especially in a professionally published (by Schiffer) book that would appear in actual brick-and-mortar stores, such as Barnes & Noble. These “contributions” were literally that: contributions.

And I am eternally grateful for the from-the-heart work people have written for the Omnibus books. The Insider Insight writers list reads like a retro gaming all-star squad. Everyone from Kelsey Lewin to John Riggs to Shawn “RGT 85” Long to Console Wars author Blake Harris to Intellivision programmer David Warhol to New York Best-Selling Author John Jackson Miller has contributed awesome tales about games they had a particular interest in. And this just scratches the surface—I have had probably more than 200 contributing writers, most of whom have worked in the industry in one way or another. Pat is always quick to ridicule me for not paying these contributing writers, but I’m not forcing anyone to do anything they don’t want to. The contributing writers have been extremely supportive, and many share my posts and videos. I've had my publisher send some of them review copies as well.

After The SNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo and Its Games, Vol. 1 (A–M) was published in 2018, Pat stopped by my booth at a show and flipped through a copy, and we spoke briefly. The encounter seemed friendly enough. I went by his booth later to get a pic with him and his NES book and me with my SNES book. I sort of detected he wasn’t thrilled to be in the pic, but I may have been misreading the situation (so to speak)--I wasn’t sure. Regardless, he did take the time to be in the pic.

As I referenced earlier, my Classic Home Video Games books, while professionally published (by McFarland), are relatively simple guides to numerous old consoles, with brief write-ups for each game. Pat didn’t seem too concerned about those books. As a matter of fact, he once told me via FB messaging that my CGVG 1985-1988 covering the 7800, NES, and Master System “wasn’t an NES book.” However, my Omnibus books are very slickly produced with deluxe hardcover binding, thousands of full-color photos, hundreds of thousands of words, etc. As far as I can tell, Pat’s attitude toward me changed when he saw my first Omnibus book. I believe he suddenly felt like I was competition, and he didn’t like me encroaching on “his” territory, even though I have been at it much longer than him. My Omnibus books are fairly similar to his Guide books in terms of basic structure but with plenty of differences to make them stand apart. You can check out sample pages on Amazon too see the differences.

After Pat saw my SNES book(s), I saw his behavior toward me begin to change. The timing sure seems to suggest that, anyway. He suddenly stopped mentioning my name on his podcast when he would talk about guests at video game conventions we were both doing, and he started acting strangely around me at said conventions, like he would rather be anywhere else than around me. I would still try to make small talk with him, but he seemed uncomfortable. He also blocked me on social media. And then the trash-talking on his podcast began. My support for the Amico and his conflict with Tommy, who I was friends with for many years before the Amico debacle, only made things worse. Somehow, things have gotten to point where we are what…enemies? Seems silly, really. I don’t like drama, nor do I see Pat as an enemy, so I hope we can at least be polite to one another moving forward, but that’s entirely up to him.

Pat can always reach out to me via social media or give me an email ( if he wants to clear the air. He can also call me any time. It’s possible he has misconstrued what has transpired over the past few years regarding all of this, and I’ll be happy to discuss it. It’s possible I have misunderstood his perspective as well. If his attitude towards me changed for reasons other than him seeing my Omnibus books as competition, I’d appreciate him telling me. After all, there are two sides to every story, as they say. Or am I just being passive-aggressive?

Thanks to everyone who has made it this far, and to everyone for your continued support!



Sunday, January 8, 2023

My Video Game Convention Plans for 2023 - Guest Author & YouTuber Brett Weiss

I'm so excited for convention season!

Here’s my schedule for 2023 so far:

*Midwest Gaming Classic (Milwaukee): March 31-April 2

*Corgs (Columbus, OH): May 13

*Classic Game Fest (Austin): July 22-23

I'm sure I'll be doing several more. If you're a gaming/pop culture convention promoter and would like me to come to your event as a guest author/YouTuber, feel free to give me a shout, and I'm sure we can work something out. Thanks!

Here's my updated bio: National columnist Brett Weiss has been a gamer since 1975 and a professional gaming writer since 1997. He’s the author of 13 books, including The NES Omnibus Vol. 1 and 2, The SNES Omnibus Vol. 1 and 2, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987, and his latest, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games:1988-1998. With his Classic Home Video Games series, he wrote the world’s first complete guides to numerous video game consoles, including the Atari 5200, Atari 7800, ColecoVision, Intellivision, Vectrex, Odyssey2, Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System, Neo Geo, TurboGrafx-16, and Sega Genesis. He also wrote the world’s first and only encyclopedia about the rock band KISS.

A frequent guest at video game and pop culture conventions around the country, Weiss appeared in the 2021 documentary “Playing With Power: The Nintendo Story,” and he was in The History Channel’s Nintendo episode of “The Toys That Built America: Snack Sized.” He’s written for countless publications, including Game Informer, Fangoria, Filmfax, Robot Magazine, The Writer, Mystery Scene, The Comics Buyer’s Guide, Alter Ego, Back Issue, AntiqueWeek, Video Game Collector, Video Game Trader, Classic Gamer Magazine, Game Room, The Pingame Journal, and Old School Gamer Magazine. He’s also worked for AtGames and Opcode Games as a consultant, editor, and writer, and he’s the host of the YouTube show, Tales from a Retro Gamer.