The Decline & Fall of Flashback Weekend

Over the years here in Chicagoland, fans of horror cinema could look forward to the annual Flashback Weekend Horro’Rama with great anticipation. Put simply, Flashback Weekend was every horror flick fan’s dream come true. It was an event where you could meet your favorite horror stars, writers, directors, other fans and mingle with them and get their autographs. It was also where you could watch as many horror movies as you could cram into three days time. In short, Flashback Weekend was horror film fan heaven on Earth.

No more. During the past few years, the quality of Flashback Weekend has suffered a precipitous decline. This even though the price for the Ultimate package has nearly quadrupled to the present $160 in just the last three years (which would not be a bad price if the quality had at least stayed the same). Among other things, the number of films shown at the convention has been slashed from 2002 when you could watch horror flicks in a special theatre reserved entirely for the purpose all day every day, to only four movies this year that are to be shown on a screen in the hotel parking lot. You can imagine just how the horror movie fans in the Chicago area feel about this.

One barometer of how to judge the quality of conventions such as Flashback Weekend is by the list of celebrities who have agreed to attend it, ususally in exchange for some cash. Previous conventions included major horror luminaries such as John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dean Koontz, Stephen King & Anne Rice. The most prominent celebrities signed up for this year’s convention are actors Bruce Campbell & Sid Haig, neither one of whom are terribly prominent on the horror scene.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of Flashback Weekend’s decline is the historical revisionism on its website. There, the claim has been made that these conventions have been held only since 2002. That is flat out false. Flashback Weekend horrorfests have been held since the early 1960’s when horror was not cool (or at least not as cool as it presently is). However, it has only been since 2002 that Anchor Bay Entertainment has owned the Flashback Weekend business.

This revisionism is fitting given the way that Anchor Bay has been running Flashback Weekend into the ground. The founders of Flashback Weekend were genuine horror fans who were content with breaking even. Ever since Anchor Bay took it over, profit and not quality has been the only thing on the minds of the convention holders.

Judging from the reaction from this writer’s fellow horror fans here in McHenry County, the decline in convention programming, coupled with the outrageous price increases will result in a massive drop in attendance. This drop will either force Anchor Bay to restore the quality to the show in future years or cause it to make further cut backs in the quality bringing the day when there are no more Flashback Weekends.

Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator

The Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator is an ambitious project that aims at enabling game enthusiasts to be able to play the arcade games of the past on the computers of the present & future. Here’s how the project describes itself:

On December 24th, 1996, Nicola Salmoria began working on his single hardware emulators (for example Multi-Pac), which he merged into one program during January 1997. He named the accomplishment by the name of Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, or MAME for short (pronounced as the word ‘maim’ in English, other languages may differ).
The first official release was MAME 0.1, which was released on the evening of February 5th, 1997 (23:32 +0100). Using a modular and portable driver oriented architecture with an open source philosophy, it soon grew into immense proportions. The current version recognizes almost six thousand ROM sets. Because MAME releases happen whenever they are ready, at one point the wait between new versions was almost 4 months. To help the agony of the users, a public beta system was used, with a beta release happening every 2-3 weeks on an average. However, now the beta designation has been removed in favor of a good old 0.xx version number. Also a work-in-progress -page exists, if you really want to know the latest information.

Even though MAME allows people to enjoy the long-lost arcade games and even some newer ones, the main purpose of the project is to document the hardware (and software) of the arcade games. There are already many dead arcade boards, whose function has been brought to life in MAME. Being able to play the games is just a nice side-effect. The huge success of MAME would not be possible without the talent of the programmers who joined to form the MAME team. At the moment, there are about 100 people on the team, but there is a large number of contributors outside the team too. Aaron Giles is the current coordinator of the project.

Dark Discoveries

Dark Discoveries is one of the very best horror magazines around. Every issue is chock full of scary stories and features such as interviews. In the current issue (Spring, 2005), there are interviews with horror authors Graham Masterton & Jon Merz. Very good stuff here.

Praise From Paladin

Here’s some praise that I received once from a fellow gamer (and frequent ally) in a game:

I must say Hftrex, I look fwd to even mixed and bad news in your dispatches. Outside of a small handful of English Majors, and believe it or not, an even smaller group of English Instructors, I find you to be one of the more ariticulate fellows I have come across.

I find your messages to be well worded with verbs tensed accurately, few typos, and a clarity in your messages that most of these trogs and throwbacks could never appreciate.

It has been a pleasure working with you. I will send you a test message for continued email communications re: game progress. Without you in the arena, I now feel like Hannibal Lector must have when he escaped in “The Silence of the Lambs.” It’s time to eat.
And I do not think White Castle will suffice.


Tinkering With Success

We are now 2 1/2 years into the 4-year Dusty Baker Experiment and if there is one thing that’s clear its that Baker likes to tinker with success even though the end results are almost uniformly poor.

For instance, when LaTroy Hawkins was signed in the 2003 offseason, he was one of the very best “set up men” in all of MLB. However, he had a spell as a closer that was pretty bad. You would think that Baker would have heeded the lessons of Hawkins’ history and keep Hawkins where he was really good at. After all, there were other relief pitchers who could have been tried out in the closer spot. Better yet, he could have gotten rid of the overly specialized postings of relievers to spots in the first place.

However, in 2 consecutive years, Baker had Hawkins try to close out games with the result that Hawkins became the target of fan wrath and also that Hawkins eventually came to lose his confidence. Now, it appears that barring a miracle, Hawkins’ MLB career is over for all practical purposes.

Another example of this is Corey Patterson. During his time in the minor leagues and in the pre-Baker Cubs, Patterson always batted #3 and was quite good at #3. However, Baker insisted on having Patterson bat leadoff and the results thus far have been very similar to what happened with Hawkins. Recently, in a misguided attempt to show that he is a team player, Patterson requested to be placed at leadoff and the results have been even worse than before. There is little evidence that Patterson will ever become proficient in that spot. Just watching Patterson play is an increasingly painful experience as it is clear that his confidence is wasting away day by day.

In both of these cases, there is a lesson that Baker seems unable or unwilling to learn: asking players to do what they cannot eventually make them unable to do what they formerly could.