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Video game expo in Irving brings fun from all eras to all ages

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IRVING -- Most of us have had a video game collection at some point in our lives (heck, most of us still do).  But Estil Vance is next-level with his collection, owning around 200 of the big arcade-style games!

"I [started with] two machines in a very small home and it just grew from there," says the gaming aficionado.

Thankfully he enjoys sharing them, lending more than 50 of his games to the fourth annual Let's Play Gaming Expo at the Irving Convention Center.  The expo was started by a group of friends who simply thought it would be a cool idea, and it has nearly doubled in attendance each year.  The main draw is unlimited game play of all kinds--both video and non-video--from old-school Atari to the latest Xbox titles, with tournaments, exhibits, and specials guests mixed in.

"My dad usually hangs out in the arcade playing pinball," says co-founder Christian Deitering, "if I had time you'd catch me in the free-play area playing Nintendo, and then [my] kid would be down here playing Minecraft at Microsoft.  So really there's something for everybody."

This year's event even offered the chance to play the original Tetris game from Russia released in 1984 on a 1980s Russian computer--but don't worry, it wasn't connected to the internet so hacking was not a concern!

However those classic arcades are arguably the most popular each year.

"There's something about walking up to a physical cabinet," says Vance, "having it dedicated with lights and artwork, that makes it different than going home and plugging a cartridge or a disc into something and playing it."

Vance didn't stop at just buying arcades, though.  Inspired by his love of movies, he also makes arcades, the results of which are known as "home brews."  For example, the video games featured in the original Tron and The Last Starfighter weren't actual games; they were just computer graphics created for the films.  Vance programmed real versions and installed them in arcade cabinets to look like the real deal from decades ago--and most people don't know they aren't.

"People swear they've played it [before]," says Vance.  "I say, 'You can't have, it didn't exist!'

"It's a lot easier than people think.  There's tons of resources out there now, so if you want to make your own machine and you code, it's pretty easy."

But something that's not easy for Vance: getting to the top of the leaderboards in his games.

"I never really make the high scores, even on machines I consider myself good at," he laughs.  "I try to erase the high scores whenever possible."

That may be colder than a blast from Sub-Zero, but at least it's fun while it lasts, right?

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