03/14/2011

“I just quit my job and ate my children.” – Anthony Carboni (star of Bytejacker)

by Matthew Hawkins

Man, what a past couple of days.

8.9

First and foremost, my thoughts are with those in Japan, especially the ones that have been hardest hit by the initial earthquake, the ensuing tsunami, and the aftershocks that continue to rattle the nation. Since I do much of my work very late at night, here on the east coast of the United States, I happened to be awake when it all went down and caught a good deal of the devastation almost immediately afterward, as well as learned of details first hand from friends and colleagues, mostly via Twitter.

Pretty much everyone I knew is in either Tokyo or parts south, so everyone’s relatively safe and sound thank God (though shaken up nonetheless, given how the epicenter was just a little ways north and how aftershocks are still going on). Also thank God for the modern miracles that is Twitter, Facebook, Google Chat, and Skype, which have been the primary modes of touching base for many. Unfortunately, with each passing day, more details are revealed (like this heart-wrenching example) and grim reality has become all the grimmer; everyone in Japan s doing their best to maintain their resolve to a truly awe-inspiring degree, yet help is sorely needed. Hence why if you haven’t done so already, please donate to either the Red Cross (Apple has made it super simple, via the iTunes store) or any of the other charities that are lending assistance (a handy list can be found here). Fellow New Yorkers might want to support several local entities orchestrating aid initiatives, such as the Japan Society.

Additionally, Katie has plans to post drawing for sale, with 100% of the proceeds going towards earthquake relief. Here’s the first one (of hopefully many), and it’s of Astro Boy’s sis, Astro Girl…

… For those interested, head on over to Katie’s Etsy.

UPDATE: An old pal of mine, from my days at the Insert Credit/Select Button forums, just alerted me of yet another great way of supporting the cause

… There’s actually a bunch of designs to choose from (I’m also a fan of this one as well) and the profits from each goes to the Red Cross towards relief efforts in Japan. Thanks for the head’s up kappuru!

A Line Has Been Drawn

This past weekend was PAX East, and many were perhaps expecting a report from the big show, along with another healthy dose of cosplay pics. Which that was the original plan, till it became clear that Attract Mode would not be making a return appearance after-all. Some might recall that last year’s debut event was also the very first time myself and Adam teamed up, which ended up causing quite the stir. I then totally missed the deadline to submit press credentials, due to being busy as all hell these past couple of months! But even when a last minute window of opportunity opened up, I ended up turning the chance to attend down anyway. Why? Hate to say it, but I’m one of the many who was completely disgusted and turned off by the event… or at least giving the organizers the time of day… by the whole Dickwolves controversy.

For those who still haven’t heard, VERY long story short: Penny Arcade did a strip in which rape was part of the punch line, a feminist blogger immediately protested, and then Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, aka the two guys behind the comic, reacted to said negative criticism in perhaps the worst way possible. If Merriam-Webster ever decided to define the term “internet train-wreck”, the Dickwolves debacles would certainly qualify. What followed would include a bunch of ill conceived t-shirts, a Twitter collective that called themselves “Team Rape” and which went after anyone that objected to the strip and those behind it (including myself, albeit very briefly), completely f*cktarded accusations that one outspoken critic had lied about being a survivor to simply stir trouble (oy vey to say the least), along with the other side classifying anyone who enjoyed PA as being insensitive brutes (which isn’t exactly the case either), and a response from the Penny Arcade dudes to those who no longer wanted to attend PAX and requested refunds (that being “okay, you can have your money, but you’re banned for life from all future PAX events”, real classy given how so many victims of sexual abuse are afraid to speak up in the first place).

All of which, including my theory as to why all mainstream news outlets avoided the story, along with possible ramifications the aforementioned drama might have on the one truly good thing Krahulik & Holkins have done, aka Child’s Play (for the record, have never been a fan of the comic, which basically popularized the notion that if you can’t get the idea across in four panels, you can at least explain yourself in an accompanying blog post), was included in an essay for a brand new outlet that had just hired me! But because my first day has been pushed forward, till next week, I doubt they’ll be publishing such old news by then. Though I certainly don’t begrudge anyone that spent the weekend there, and will admit that at the very last minute, I thought about making my way there anyway, if only to get my mind off the situation in Japan. That and the chance to finally give Fez a test drive. Till it downed on me that I was in absolutely no state of mind to encounter some goober with a Team Rape shirt on. I guess what bums me out the most is that I do have warm and fuzzy memories of PAX East, since it was where I bonded with Adam (though I’m fairly certain that Disney Channel played a bigger role in the long run). Ultimately, the entire situation is proof positive of something I’ve been in denial of, that being how no two gamers are exactly alike; I’ve long felt that I could identify with any gamer, regardless of their choice of genre and the like, but I flat out refuse to be included with, nor identify myself with, any group that could be stupid enough to wear Dickwolves attire.

Yet I still made it to PAX East, not physically, but in spirit. Well, via quote/sound-byte form to be exact. Was delighted to discover via numerous peeps’ text messages and the like that the American Classic Arcade Museum was still using a quote from me like last year. Here we have Chris Burke, aka Glomag, posing alongside!

Speaking of arcades…

The Next Level

Two weeks ago, I spoke about the closing of Chinatown Fair, along with a curious arcade/bakery/possible prostitution ring in the same neighborhood (the latter of which didn’t get nearly as much attention as I had hoped, but that’s just how it goes sometimes). BTW, here’s a video that details the dismantling of the former.

Well, as some of you might know already, like those of you who read the New York Times, Chinatown Fair is back! Somewhat. And those familiar with the article might have also noticed that I was mentioned! Well aside from being quoted, I lent assistance to the NYT reporter, Ariel Kaminer, by getting her up to speed as it pertains to the local scene and the wild word of gaming as a while. So how did that all come about? Last Tuesday, Ariel contacted Stephen over at Kotaku, in hopes of gaining some insight for an upcoming article about the just closed Chinatown institution, to learn more about its historical and cultural significance to be precise. When he confessed to not being an expert on the subject, Steve instead referred her to me, and I got a phone call almost immediately afterward. The first thing I blurted out to Ariel was “You know it’s coming back, right?” And to that, she responded with a very confused “Ummm… excuse me?!”

Which wasn’t such a shock; hardly anyone knew at the time, and the absolute only reason I had any said info was thanks to Jenn. News of Next Level Arcade, the brainchild of former manager of Chinatown Fair Henry Cen, was broken by a food blog of all places, one of the 10,000 sites that she visits on a daily basis, or so I imagine. Reminder to self: I really need to check out her mystery sandwich delivery service! Back to my initial conversation with Ariel; given her complete unfamiliarity with the world of gaming, especially on a local level, and considering how much research I had done on the subject over the years, I inundated with tons of historical facts and personal anecdotes. Problem was, the one thing she needed the most, I didn’t have, that being solid information pertaining to the Chinatown arcade. So when Ariel asked if I was interested in helping her find out more, and perhaps be part of the story (at one point there was going to be a video component and I would have been the official tour guide as it pertains to the NYC game scene, which obviously never came to be), I jumped at the chance. Why? Because it was my chance to set the record straight.

The truth of the matter is, most gaming news outlets have never done all that great of a job covering Chinatown Fair. Again, a food blog had broken the story of it’s supposed rebirth. Though in the defense of my colleagues, it’s not like those connected with CTF have made reporters’ jobs any easier, with one person saying one thing, and another not just saying the first voice was wrong, but also calling him an idiot. And those who frequented the place were equally clandestine. When I began working on an article for EGM in which CTF featured prominently, interviewing the locals at a fighting game tournament in progress was like pulling teeth. So I figured, with the big name rub of the New York Times, this was my chance at least. Though on a more practical level, I just wanted to make sure that when we went to our destination later in the week, that being what sounded like Chinatown Fair 2.0 in Sunset Park, there’s actually be something waiting for Ariel, myself, and the video crew.

Examined numerous articles and blog posts, and as noted, due to the quality of reporting in many instances, not much was hardly useful. But the comments was where real gold could be found, mostly folks correcting the author’s mistakes. It was only via Gothamist’s post on the subject, via someone wanting to set the record straight, that Ariel and I discovered: “Next Level is not the new Chinatown Fair. Henry is branching out and opening his own store. CTF itself is still working out its current legal issues their new location is not finalized yet. “ Curious. A point that was also reinforced on Facebook later on, though more on that in a bit. Eventually I was able to isolated the name of employees at the place down to three: Valentino Ventura (an employee that was often mistaken as the manager in various reports), Benny last name unknown (who appeared to be just another regular employee), Samuel Palmer (a kindly looking older gentleman that was the actual owner, or at least one of who knows how many that was positively identified as such), and Henry Cen (the manager, as well as one who was basically the public voice for CTF).

A Google search produced this video, which I found curious for a number of reasons. For starters, Cen was super young, still in his 20s it would seem. Further investigation revealed that he was a professional gamer, in the realm of Street Fighter of course, with some signs pointing towards him being active still. My initial hunch was that he was a Chinatown Fair regular who basically began working there. It certainly would help to explain how, an establishment that was seemingly run by older, not seemingly wanting to be involved gentlemen, could keep the place up to date with offerings like Arcana Heart. Looking further still showed a person whose personality was quite polarizing, which was somewhat evident in the aforementioned video. Not a big surprise, since a major part of that world of pro Street Fighting involves having a strong ego. When I came across Henry’s Facebook page, I came across the following wall posts by the man: “I’ll be opening the store this friday and saturday from 4pm-whenever people feel like going home. Remember, if I don’t know you, don’t bother to come. We’ll be open to the public when the store is officially open.” & “The place is not open yet, it’s still under construction. I’ll just be opening on the weekends for private gatherings.”

To be honest, my initial impression was an attitude that was somewhat indicative of the rather territorial and non-inclusive nature of many hardcore fighting fanatics that I’ve experienced in the past. Though the video shot during it’s first day of operation was indicative of a place that was not ready to be open, plus besides, it’s Cen’s baby and he can do whatever the hell he wanted. Though I had hoped that me might be interested in opening the place for Ariel and I, as well as answer some questions. Sent a Facebook friend request (which at this point has yet to be approved) and also began asking people I knew, mostly game journalist buddies, what their interactions with him, along with the rest of Chinatown Fair management was like. The basic sentiment was how everyone (Cen in particular) were not the friendliest of people to deal with, let alone pin down.

It was then when I remembered a random tweet made by my buddy Dan, back when everyone was going crazy over Fuck Yeah Nouns (including myself… be sure to check out the two posts immediately afterward for even more yucks). Since Dan knew the name Henry Cen, I wagered that he might know a few things, and that definitely turned out the case. It was from him that I learned that those fancy Street Fighter 4 arcade cabs and other Japanese offerings were courtesy of Cen himself. The specifics were not clear, but Cen due to his resources (perhaps from some help of his pro SF buddies and related connections) was able to supply Chinatown Fair with said goods, which in turn transformed the place into a place where serious competition could flourish. I had also reasoned that at a certain point, there had been a following out between Cen and the rest of the CTF management, as evidenced by mid-February in which one person (Henry) would go on record by stating that the place was indeed closing, and another (Valentino if I recall correctly) would claim the other person is an idiot, they’re not going anywhere.

A notion that was further reinforced by that video, in which only the fancy Japanese hardware was present; up until that moment, I somewhat assumed that the rest of on its way, but couple with the brand new information, the comment on Gothamist, plus connecting the dots, it was clear that there might be two brand new arcades in the wake of Chinatown Fair’s closing. Originally there was reports of it moving to Williamsburg, so when word came of Next Level being in Sunset Park instead, I basically gave a sign of relief (though to be honest, I would have chosen Flushing, aka Chinatown Queens as the ideal location, though Sunset Park is certainly a nice alternative, due to its being right next to Brooklyn Chinatown, albeit somewhat tricky to get to). Sorry, but Billyburg is SO not the right place for CTF’s offerings, especially its people; once again, I cannot possibly imagine CTF’s regulars rubbing elbows with Barcade’s Friday night crowd. Sure it would be hilarious, but ultimately a disaster of epic proportions. Yet all of a sudden, the possibility was alive again.

I passed along my findings and updated theories to Ariel, and we decided to check out the place anyway. Ariel also tried reaching out Henry via Facebook, and surprise, she got a response! I tried explaining that he probably held much disdain for anyone with a traditional/mainstream game journalism background, which I honestly still can’t fault him for. Unfortunately, by this time, the clock was clicking, so instead of waiting for Henry’s okay to open the doors for us we decided to head directly to Next Level, with hopes that he’d be around and let us in. Unfortunately, the place was shuttered as feared and no one was clearly around…

While standing on the windy street, as Ariel called the video crew to let them know that there really wasn’t much to see, I spotted a dude who appeared to be a Chinatown Fair regular. I actually had assumed that we’d run into at least one or two, making the pilgrimage to see if the games their new hallowed ground was possibly open. The dude was exceptionally shy, but eventually Naquan Holland opened up to Ariel and myself….

It was then when I came to a realization; arcades in NYC are going to be all right. Many had wondered if this new place would be able to attract Chinatown Fair’s regulars, and the answer is a resounding “absolutely.” Given how many of the faithful travel from all corners of the tristate area to begin with, an extra couple of minutes into Brooklyn is not going to matter. Besides, the neighborhood is quite chill, with plenty of excellent food options nearby (and not all that different from Mott Street when you get down to it).

Later that evening, Ariel was able to finally speak with Cen, as illustrated in her article, which confirmed a number of suspicions that I had. Easily the most curious revelation was how Babycastles was set to acquire the other parts of Chinatown Fair. All of a sudden, rumors of the move to Williamsburg made more sense, though I have no idea if those plans to open up a space on Kent Street, which I first heard of months ago, back when I was still in regular contact with Kunal & Syed, included Chinatown Fair elements to begin with. Or, if it was some new possibility that opened up once news of CTF’s potential closing began to circulate in February. At the very least it explained what “Secret Trustafarian Plan of 2011″ meant, which was posted on my Facebook wall, along with a series of curious exchanges (like this most recent example).

In the end, it’s perhaps the best for Babycastles. I have no idea what their exact plans were, but I cannot possibly imagine a DIY arcade housing running Canabalt right next to a DDR machine making any of sense. Also, hate to say it, but as much of a undeserved wrap that the outfit gets for the “hipsterfication” of gaming (an attitude that even I had to fight against when curating shows late last year), incorporating pieces from an arcade that had so much reverence amongst a specific (i.e. hardcore) audience into a completely different environment, one that is in many ways the polar opposite, is akin to tattooing a big bulls eye onto one’s chest. It simply would not go over well, no matter how well meaning the intent might be, and given what a weird place and time we’re at as it relates to game culture across the board… I haven’t even made mention of how, on the same weekend that CTF closed in NYC, an equally revered establishment shut its doors in LA… and especially when one remembers that the core idea behind an arcade in the first place is a gathering spot for like-minded individuals, care and consideration must be applied at all costs and at every turn. Ultimately, it would only work if they had gotten the total package, but the heart and soul of what Chinatown Fair had become is now elsewhere, along with the mindshare of its core audience.

Still, there’s a chance that King of Fighters 98 might end up in some other Billyburg space, only to be tagged from top to bottom and drenched in Four Loko shortly afterward. Ariel found my negative attitude towards the Williamsburg connection exiting after-all rather curious, and asked “Would you rather those machines then simply vanish? Is it not better that they exist somewhere, for those to get to it, regardless of the cultural aspects of the new environment?” A certainly valid observation. And my response was… which I’m sure will get the ire of many… that it’s sometimes better to have the memories of something great, something pure, then let them be tarnished by ill-conceived attempts at keeping things going. Sorta like how the new Star Wars movies have affectively ruined the originals. Or something like that. Because when you really get down to it, it’s not the games that make an arcade, but the people that frequent it.

At this moment, even with the fate of “Chinatown Fair” in question, its spiritual successor is about to take foot. Despite it not being the place for me, that’s perfectly fine. In the same way as PAX has also illustrated, there’s all kinds of gamers out there and they all deserve their own space. As far as arcades go, we’ll soon have a new home for the hardcore, the hipsters (and yuppies) still have Barcade, tourists have their Dave & Busters, and we still have our curious mish-mash of indie arcade/music venue/artsy-fartsy gallery that is Babycastles. At the end of the day, options exist in New York City, and that’s good in my book. Oh, and my fave comment on the matter, via Kotaku’s write-up on the NYT article, regarding Cen’s vaguely mob-like sentiments as it pertains to Next Level being founded on the principles of respect: “Honestly, if they have both SSFIV AE *and* bubble tea, I don’t care if the place is owned by mecha-hitler, I’m still there.”

Meanwhile, in San Francisco…

Stuff On The Wall

As also noted in my last update, a little thing called Game Over 4 went down at Giant Robot SF Gallery recently. And from all accounts, the opening shindig was a rager! Many have already seen Meat Bun’s account of the evening, highlighted with an awesome shot of Nathan from Capybara, Dan from before, plus Attract Mode’s official representative. Though I have a few additional pics of my own, courtesy of Nicolas Magnier, who maintains the very awesome game image blog GameOvr

Unfortunately, with so many bodies in the rather tight gallery/store space, getting detailed shots of all the wonderful stuff on the wall was a challenge to many, Hence why I asked my good bud Slonie to swing by afterwards, and here’s what he got…

Check out these awesome old-school Sega piece by Lamar!

God, I am SO in love with this slime girl piece by Mariel

UPDATE: Damn… this particular piece here is blowin’ up over at the photo dump!

Hey look, it’s stuff by Mar?!

UPDATE: I totally forgot to include Zen Albatross’s opening night report! As well as to check and see if Giant Robot had updated their Flickr or not; indeed they did.

I promised last time that, when the three Attract Mode pieces go on sale over at the Giant Robot online shop, I’d pass along links. So here they are…

To nab Farel‘s piece, simply click this link!

To own Hilary?s print, just hit this link!

And to score Cory‘s, this URL will make it happen.

Long Story Short: Trading Places (Yes, The Eddie Murphy & Dan Aykroyd Movie, That Trading Places) Predicted 9/11

One last thing, something I simply have to pass along, aka my latest obsession over the past few days. There’s enough material here to warrant an entire post, which might still happen! Till then, please check out the most insane YouTube video ever (yes, it’s so amazing that I’m actually embedding it, something I almost NEVER do):

Basically, it hails from the most insane website ever, one that attempts to “connect the dots” between various matters that are not within the grasp of our consciousness and other hooey like that. Though as you might have noticed from the clip above (please do yourself a favor and watch the entire ten minutes, its SO worth it), the key to their madness is where they find their evidence; when you have the time, please also check out this other informative video, which draws from Hellboy, Hook, Harry Potter, Ducktales, Sobe the energy drink… Oh my God, IT ALL CONNECTS!!!

  • Sonictail

    Man you really should have broke that chinatown wrieup off into a seperate post, you seem to have worked your ass off to get to the bottom of it. Nice Work!

  • http://www.fort90.com FortNinety

    Thanks Jon! And yes, I did indeed work my ass off to get the full story! And yeah, I suppose I should have broken everything down into separate posts… there’s more than enough material to justify it! But you know what they say; old habits die hard.

  • Terry B

    Implying the Penny Arcade guys have anything to do with the @TeamRape trolls who sometimes read the site (and are mostly a handful of 4channers under several accounts each) is like saying the Pope is connected to the KKK bc they are often christian.

    Also, its worth noting that at no point in the dickwolf comic was rape the joke, but hey, controversy means free page views right? It brought me here.

  • http://www.fort90.com FortNinety

    I honestly should have gone into greater detail with my grievances re: the Penny Arcade guys and how they handled the situation. Again, I spelled it all out for that other outlet (which as already noted, was not published due to my start date being pushed), and didn’t feel like repeating myself.

    One thing I made sure to point out was how I personally did not find the offending comic all that offensive, mostly due to the fact that, as you pointed out Terry, rape is not part of the punchline (though it was very much part of the gag). Later on, Mike and Jerry would point out how the strip was simply commentary on the nature of morality in video games, and how it’s almost entirely dependent upon the rules that game’s world is governed by, which can be very much arbitrary (and to an extent, how it’s simply a reflection of the people who create the games).

    Which is all fine and good, and I stated in my previous essay, if they just said all that to being with, NONE of the shitstorm that followed would have happened. But no, they reacted in the most childish, stand-offish manner possible. Did the PA duo have anything to do with @TeamRape? By basically adding fuel to their fire at key points (just refer to the timeline that has already been linked), I’d have to say yes. You don’t have to be directly involved in something to still lend support to a cause or movement.

    BTW, and for the record, I am by no means implying, nor have I ever, that everyone who likes PA are as ignorant or regarded like the trolls. I in fact know quite a few fans of the comic, who have been shocked and saddened by the situation (quite a few have noted that Mike & Jerry have said some pretty stupid shit in the past, but they totally topped themselves in this instance).

    Anyhow, despite our differences in opinion, I hope you enjoy your stay Terry!

  • Pingback: Fort90 Journal » “Oh man, I messed it up. Can not go back to Japan?” (part one of two)

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