Like most kids at the time, John started his gaming career with an Atari 2600 and amassed a small army of cartridges which led to marathon, all-night gaming sessions with his cousin. He later sold his VCS to purchase the newly-released Atari 5200 Super System, which brought the arcade experience home (except for those controllers). Still envious of his friends and their Atari 800 computers with all those cool games, he decided to purchase the latest and greatest Atari computer: The 1450XLD. Sadly, this was John’s first meeting with vaporware as the system never came to be, and he instead used his college tuition grant to purchase an Atari 800XL with disk drive. Video game heaven had arrived on Earth.
After two failed attempts at college due to playing videogames in the student lounge (instead of attending that Pascal class), John joined the U.S. Air Force in 1985. His 800XL followed him to San Antonio, Texas where he became interested in running a BBS and eventually set up the Earthport 2 and, later, The Manhattan Skyline bulletin board systems. Over the next few years, he was recruited into the Alamo Area Atari Users Association (whew!) — A.A.A.U.A. for short — where he served as Vice President until 1990. During this time, he also began repairing Atari 8-bit & 16-bit computers thanks to electronics training from the Air Force and an offer from the local Atari Dealer (Atari-ville) to run the repair side of their business.
Backtrack to 1986/87: John read, with interest, a letter in Antic magazine where the writer asked about a device called the Atari 1090XL Expansion Interface. The editor responded that it was never released (bringing back memories of waiting for the Atari 1450XLD) and that they had one in the office that they used as a door stop. This triggered something in John’s mind as he was fascinated by the possibilities of such a fantastic device and wanted to know all that he could about what it did and why it was never released. He began a search to find out how he could get one for himself, and thanks to the help of Atari dealer B&C Computervisions and $50, he had his prize. The collecting bug had been released and a new journey had begun!
Fast-forward to the ’90s where John started a career with Verizon while still collecting games, prototypes, and memorabilia. During this time, he joined the ranks of Digital Press as a senior editor while taking over the duties of Section Editor for the Atari portions of the Digital Press Collector’s Guide. With his friend Keita Iida, he launched the Atari Gaming Headquarters website, one of the only sites at the time dedicated to the history of Atari and its products. In 1998, he helped organize the World of Atari show in Las Vegas. In 1999, he launched CGE Services, a company set up to run the annual Classic Gaming Expo, a show dedicated to the history of videogames and the people who created them.
John spent most of the 2000s raising a family, finally finishing college (they don’t use Pascal anymore), and always still collecting. In addition to running CGE, John and his partners mobilized the Classic Gaming Expo Museum, taking the exhibit on the road to such industry events as GDC and E3. In 2010, with partners Sean Kelly and Joe Santulli, their museum exhibit was taken to the next level with the formation of the 501(c)(3) non-profit, the Videogame History Museum. In the two years since, support for the museum has exploded, ranging from donations of rare artifacts to numerous requests from industry trade shows to bring the museum to their event.
Merging the old with the new has always fascinated Sean Kelly. Having started as a simple game player back in 1979 when he was first introduced to Intellivision, Sean followed a similar path as many other gamers at the time. He sold off and upgraded his hardware to the latest model multiple times and even progressed into 8-bit computers. Just a few years after the crash, he realized that he really wanted his old Intellivision games back, and so it began…
The long, lost Intellivision games were pretty readily replaced, but interest quickly grew in other consoles of the time. Soon a respectable ColecoVision and Atari 2600 collection began to form, containing rarities such as the Atari 2600 Magicard which was obtained from another local collector. The idea of other people out there searching for games was very appealing, and Sean sought out ways of networking (long before there was an internet as we know it today, mind you) with other people across the country with a similar interest in the “classic” videogames. Initially, calls were placed nightly to local BBSs (bulletin board systems) across the country where ads were placed by collectors looking to purchase classic videogames or connect with other collectors.
After a couple of years of some hefty long distance bills, Sean launched his own BBS in 1989 that he ran on his Amiga computer. He called it “CGSG,” which stood for “Classic Gaming Survival Group.” It allowed others to call in, and post messages about classic gaming and network with other gamers across the country. It was through this network of collectors that he was finally introduced to Joe Santulli, a videogame fanzine publisher at the time, and John Hardie, who was a fellow collector. The BBS hosted self-made “checklists” of every game made for every system and Sean quickly began to realize that he was more interested in the information about the games than the games themselves in many cases: which games were released, which games were only rumors, which games only existed in prototype form, and which games were released in limited quantities and why. Luckily, Joe Santulli had been asking those same questions and compiling data of his own that would eventually be published as The Digital Press Collector’s Guide.
The technical side of things was still at the forefront of Sean’s interest in 1990. Despite no formal training in electronics, he set out to come up with a way to extract the data held within the cartridges he’d been collecting. He felt the importance of having a complete collection of the games was only part of the task at hand. An archive of all of the data was equally, if not even more important. Over a period of 3-4 years, he designed and built devices that would allow him to “read” the data on the cartridges and store it to a file on his computer, eventually making its way to a CD-ROM for permanent archiving. Over the years, he would amass a data archive for thousands of games, including many of which there was only one or two known copies.
A CD archive concept was taken one step further around 1995 when he began work on what was one of the most ambitious projects of its time. It’s hard to imagine the enormity of it because such information is readily available today on the Internet, but over a span of about three years, Sean scanned every cartridge, every box, every bit of memorabilia and everything else he could find and published the Digital Press Collector’s Guide CD-ROM companion which indexed these thousands of scans into a searchable database. The CD was burned from a glass master and sold for the first time at World of Atari in 1998.
Sean’s next project was The Videogame TV Commercial archive. Another concept that has been eclipsed by the modern Internet, Sean amassed the largest collection of videogame-related TV commercials of its time. Thousands of Beta home videotapes were purchased at thrift stores all over the country and skimmed through to see if there were recordings from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s. An archive of over 200 commercials was amassed in this fashion and sold as a compilation VHS videotape.
In the mid-1990s, homebrew game development became popular on many systems, but the Vectrex was one of the first to see such activity and also the most popular. One of the biggest problems with publishing a game or compilation cartridge on the Vectrex was having a plastic cartridge shell to put your creation into. Real Vectrex games were fairly pricey, making them undesirable as “donors” to use for new games. Sean stepped up and took on yet another project – making a replacement Vectrex cartridge casing. Taking it one step further, he set out to make an exact replica of the original. An original was blueprinted down to the last millimeter and a mold was cast in China where it resides today. The final product, which came after over $10,000 was personally invested by Kelly, was a perfect copy of the original with no apparent differences. Such projects are more commonplace today, but the replica Vectrex cartridge shell was the first of its kind. Thousands of these shells have been used by homebrew publishers over the years.
At the 1998 World of Atari show revival in Las Vegas, Sean attended as a vendor where he met his friend John Hardie who was lending a hand to the show’s organizer. After it was determined that World of Atari would not continue due to lack of profitability, Hardie and Kelly broadened the concept and changed the name to Classic Gaming Expo in 1999. In 2000, Joe Santulli was asked to join the team and the trio has been organizing Classic Gaming Expo ever since.
The early 2000s would see Sean take on another first. Together with another collector, they would each take a previously unreleased game and produce cartridges, instruction manuals, and even top quality boxes and release the games to the public for the first time — not only preserving the data, but also making it available to be enjoyed the collecting community at large. Homebrew and prototype game publishing is fairly standard today, but back in 2000 it was unheard of, particularly with the attention to detail given to the two games released that year by Kelly.
The Videogame History Museum is not something Sean Kelly and his partners John Hardie and Joe Santulli began on a whim or started out of the blue. It is a natural progression of what they have been doing all along for the past thirty years, and nobody is more qualified. A couple of organizations over the past few years have shown up and thrown money at the concept of a Videogame History Museum, but none have even come close to the amount of experience and knowledge obtained by the founders of the Videogame History Museum.
Though his studies led him through a twisted labyrinth of mathematics and philosophy, somehow just about everything in Joe’s life has revolved around videogames. In 1991, Joe formed Digital Press, an organization devoted to the documentation and archiving of videogame history, with his best friend Kevin. By 2005, his team had published seven books and over sixty bimonthly publications as well as a ColecoVision game (designed by Daniel Bienvenu) and two music CD’s (performed by Tony Fox NYC).
Since 2000, he has been a co-organizer of Classic Gaming Expo, an annual Las Vegas event that connects the icons of gaming with the fans of gaming’s rich history.
For about four years, he was a published writer for Tips & Tricks Magazine. He was the original author of “Collector’s Closet,” a monthly column dedicated to videogamers who not only play but also collect. He has done other freelance work for other gaming magazines as well, including Electronic Games (the “Relics” column that ran in the mid 90’s), Video Game Collector (as price guide editor), EGM, and Manci Games.
In 2005, Joe opened a “brick and mortar” retail game shop in Clifton, NJ that reflects his exaggerated passion for videogaming and is clearly his new home.