SUPER! BitCon is held every Spring in Oklahoma City, and in its first year (2014), it attracted 2,000 people. One of the most anticipated draws for 2015 is the Gaming Museum, predominantly curated by Joe Sullivan, the Retro Gamers’ Society PR Chair. Sullivan is not only a collector of rare (and strange) gaming artifacts, he’s also so knowledgeable that merely asking, “Hey, what’s this?” will prompt an off-the-cuff explanation not only of the product itself, but why it exists, and where it’s been. The personal nature of the tour is helpful not only for educational purposes, but also for the general draw of attendees to the booth. Having someone manning the museum makes it much more approachable, creating quite the pleasant experience.
The first item that drew my eye was a rifle case sitting between two gaming cabinets. I’m an avid shooter, so I was wondering what on Earth a rifle was doing in a convention center devoted to games. Sullivan proudly opened the case to reveal a modified AR-15 and a Super Nintendo cartridge (as well as a pristine Super Nintendo that was still in its original packaging). The history behind this piece is fantastic, and showcases the many ways in which video games can shape the way our world works.
In 1993, the US government commissioned Super Nintendo to help them train the National Guard more cheaply and efficiently, using the new Super Nintendo Entertainment System. In response, Sculptured Software created the Multipurpose Arcade Combat Simulator (MACS). Using an AR upper (the section where all of the removable parts come together), a special magazine (where the bullets usually go) was attached for battery power, and a light sensor was placed at the end of the barrel. This tracked where the gun was aimed, while soldiers essentially played a more advanced version of Duck Hunt. A cord that connects to the SNES controller ports is also toward the end of the barrel.
The light sensor at the end would track movements in different ways, not only allowing soldiers to fire at on-screen targets, but also to tell how well they were controlling their aim and grip. It sounds either boring or dangerous to most, and indeed, this is the military, where rifle training isn’t just for paper targets. This application of a video game programmed by the most popular gaming company of the time is something many people wouldn’t even think about, which is why having it in a museum at a convention is so startling and interesting.
Only 600 MACS cartridges were made, and there were several versions with different types of training. While they’re not in use any more (hence why private collectors such as Sullivan can acquire them), the history behind this piece of gaming equipment is very important, not just for the military, but of showing just how far gaming has come, and the wide array of applications it can have.
SUPER! BitCon 2015 takes place March 28-29 in the Oklahoma Expo Hall at the Oklahoma State Fair Park. Admission for adults and teens is $10 for both days. Children under 10 can get in for $5. Veterans, current military members, and those over the age of 60 are allowed free admission. If you missed it, stay tuned here at IGM for more news about this up-and-coming convention, including more technology features, and interviews with panel members and special guests. You’ll also find a short video below in which Sullivan explains why he loves SUPER! Bitcon.