Let's begin by admitting a grim reality, shall we? Texas pretty much sucks. Texas is characterized primarily by blistering, unbearable heat and the fetid stench of oil refineries, punctuated briefly by sprawling, smog coated cities choked to the gills with mobs of angry, dishevelled businessmen driven to madness by the punishing sun.
However, for the persistent and discerning gamer, there is a hidden jewel buried deep in the hill country of central Texas. Forget Houston, forget Dallas, and forget San Antonio, my friends. Place a marker on your mini-map to guide you to where I live -- an oasis of fun, smart, and cool marooned in a barren wasteland of fail. Your objective, my fellow freaks and geeks, is Austin, TX. Join me for a tour of the most gamer-friendly town in the Lone Star State!
I know I'm doing my part!
Austin is home to the University Of Texas, with one of the largest student bodies in the country. It's a proven fact, where there are college classes being taught, there are also students skipping those classes to play just one more deathmatch or grind for just one more piece of epic loot. It's also impossible to go into a Best Buy here without seeing the latest NCAA Football game being demoed (playing as the Longhorns, of course!) on a HDTV and console.
Austin is a hub for many high-tech companies, and much of the town's economy is tied into both the large computer / microprocessor manufacturers (such as Dell) and the smaller software/hardware developers.
Austin is ranked in the top 5 cities in the U.S. when it comes to free wi-fi access. Whether you're playing WoW on your laptop, browsing for new games on your iPhone, or downloading Patapon 2 onto your PSP, Austin has an abundance of places you can do it for free.
This bounty of wi-fi exists mainly because of the excellent selection of indie coffeehouses here. Fuck Starbucks. The smaller coffeehouses here let you ride their signal for free, and their coffee is better, too!
My recommendations for coffee and wi-fi gamers are as follows : Bouldin Creek
is in south Austin, where you can order a Leveller (pint of Guiness with a shot of espresso and chocolate syrup, hells yes!) as you're levelling. Spider House
is in central Austin, which is near the UT campus and often has live performance to go along with the cool atmosphere. And if you're in North Austin, I suggest a trip to Epoch
, where hippies and yuppies alike converge to surf the web and worship the bean.
We got shenanigans!
ABOVE : True story -- back in January, some CoD : WaW fans got their haxxors on with road-signs on Lamar Blvd here in town, programming them to warn people of the undead pandemic with messages such as "Beware! Nazi Zombies!"
You want industry? We got your industry right here! Most people aren't aware of how large an gaming presence we have here in Austin. This city has turned into somewhat of an MMO Mecca over the years.
I participated briefly in this transformation
during the game boom over a decade ago, as Richard Garriott turned his highly successful Ultima series into the revered Ultima Online MMO. Currently, you can find his baby NCSoft here working on City of Heroes/Villans, AutoAssault, and Guild Wars.
Bioware is here working on the Star Wars MMO that should have been KOTOR 3 (sorry, couldn't help myself). SOE is here supporting Star Wars Galaxies, and working on the DC Comics MMO. Vigil Games, under THQ, is here working on Darksiders and the Warhammer 40K game.
You'll also find smaller up-and-coming game houses working on card-based games, or iPhone and Wii games, such as Challenge Online Games and Mock Science.
Those are only a small sample of the game companies represented here.
Don't go back there, young Padawan -- that's where Tabula Rasa is buried.
If I mention the SXSW (South By South West) festival, most people will immediately think of music. Every year, a legion of hipsters of all shapes and sizes make the pilgrimage and crash the 3G networks, since every one of them is apparently issued an iPhone when they start listening to indie bands.
There is another side to the festival, however, where nerds like us can feel a little more at home. The SXSW Interactive
Festival runs concurrently with the music events, and offers many gaming related functions, such as panel discussions, tech-demos, and even some hands-on gaming with their Screenburn
event. It's no E3, but there is plenty of meat there for gamers looking to learn more about the craft. I plan to cover the event next time around.
Since I know the two demographics often overlap, tabletop gamers and comic book nerds have several excellent sources of crack here in our town.
Comic book and manga afficionados will find much to love at ABC
(Austin Books & Comics), where the claustrophobically arranged shelves stuffed to the hilt with inked goodness will make them feel right at home.
For those seeking anime, manga, minis, tabletop games, role-playing gear and more to go along with their comics, you'd do well to stop by Dragon's Lair
. They host regular tabletop gaming sessions/tournaments and are in general a safe haven for our kind.
"Now, which way do I go to get to Austin?"
And finally, I would be remiss to end any gamer's guide to Austin without mentioning the excellent local arcade. Not long ago, there were three excellent arcades on The Drag (Guadalupe St.) near campus -- Le Fun, Einstein's, and another arcade in the Dobie mall.
In the span of a 1-2 years, Le Fun was forced out of their location because the Scientologists next door wanted to expand and outbid them for their lease (damn you, Xenu, DAMN YOU!), the owner of Einstein's moved on to other ventures, and the proprietor of the Dobie mall arcade passed away.
There was plenty of interest in arcade gaming left in Austin, but nowhere cool to do it! So, former employees and partners from these previous arcades banded together to open the latest venue, Arcade UFO
They're serious about their cabinet gaming there, as they recently hosted a U.S. Tougeki - Super Battle Opera Qualifying tournament, and will be sponsoring the 6 winners when they travel to Tokyo to represent for us Yanks. Check it out if you're a serious arcade vet who wants a challenge, or a curious gamer like me who just like getting slapped around!
The mating call of the hard-core gamer.
So for gamers, there's a lot to love about Austin. From top to bottom, it's a nerd's paradise, and I hope that you enjoyed getting a glimpse into the town that I call home.