Manchester Play Expo Weekend

(pictures to follow)

The 11th and 12th of October was a significant date in any gamer’s calendar as this was the weekend of the Play Expo held at Event City just outside of Manchester. I’ve attended several events in the past, most recent was Games Britannia Live at the Millennium galleries in Sheffield. Even though Games Britannia was a much smaller venue, the event was a lot of fun, suffering only from a lack of decent seating. You can find my review of the event here on my blog. After a late start, we arrived at the Play Expo around 11:30am. The traffic was a little crazy and a lot of people were walking on foot towards the event. As we drove up in to the car park, we spotted people dressed in costume: Mortal Kombat, Ghostbusters, Mork & Mindy, Poison Ivy, Batman. There were all sorts and it was fun to see so many people dressed up, giving me a good feeling about the day ahead. Getting in was pretty easy, with very little queueing or standing around, but this could have been down to arriving a little late and missing the early morning rush. When we got in to the event boy was it big. If Play Expo is back next year, I might seriously consider attending both days. If you like arcade, pinball machines, retro consoles, 8 or 16 bit micros, then this place is for you. On top of that was the number of dealers tables offering board games, comics, posters, vintage games and hardware, plus developers showing off their latest indie and commercial software.

Team17

Fans of the Amiga will recognise the name Team17, responsible for such classics as Alien Breed and Worms. In more recent years they have released versions of these games for various other platforms, including iOS and Android. Worms is probably the game most people today associate with the company, given how popular it has been over the years. Flockers takes the cute sheep from Worms and places them in the guiding hands of the player, who faces an assortment of puzzles as they help their flock reach their goal. Throughout each level there are a plethora of nasty contraptions intended to maim, squish, slice, dice and generally eradicate the cuddly creatures. If you had an Amiga 500 back in the 80’s, you’ll be forgiven for thinking all this sounds familiar. Flockers is reminiscent of another rather famous Amiga title. Team17 could be criticized for not being awfully original with this new title, however I’m not so sure it’s deserved.

For the past decade, 3D games have pretty much been the bread and butter of gaming. Titles such as Skyrim, Call of Duty, Fallout3 and Batman Arkham Asylum have all attempted to provide a realistic, immersive environment for players to explore. I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing, Fallout3 and L.A Noire hold a special place in my heart, mainly because of how well they sucked me in. But by the same token, the popularity of 2D indie games such as Super Meatboy, Fez and FTL, should perhaps tell us something about gamer habits. I don’t believe games always need to focus on realistic, high-definition graphics to be appealing. Sometimes simplicity and good game play can be what attract the player. Flockers might remind us of Lemmings, but given that the latter was released in 1991, I’d say the time is well over due for a new spin on an old but otherwise great premise. Flockers has a lot to offer young and old gamers alike, whether you’ve heard of Lemmings or not. Navigating your tiny sheep to the exit and trying to avoid a nasty squishy end will leave you laughing or crying in frustration. It’s a gruesomely good game and well worth flocking to buy….yes, I did go there!

Games, Games, Games!

Where to begin? There were so many tables set out with amazing games, I could fill two articles just covering them. A Pixel Story, The Escapists, Octodad, Kaiju Panic, Raging Justice, that’s just naming the ones I can remember. I tried so many games on Sunday that I need to dig though my bag fodealersr all the cards and flyers, just so I can remember what they were called! I will at some point cover them in a later article as there really were some impressive titles. For now all I will say is bravo to Play Expo for getting all of those independent developers under one roof and giving players a chance to actually talk to them. Whilst my partner played Pixel Story, I stood and spoke to one of the games developers. Few times have I ever been able to ask a programmer about the inspiration behind their game. Truly a wonderful opportunity and one I really enjoyed. It is also worth mentioning that Pixel Story is a truly fantastic game, it feels like a Mega drive title, but with all the polish and refinement you’d expect from a modern game.

Cinemaware Talks and news about old and new releases

Sitting in on a talk by such a legend as Cinemaware really does leave the fanboy in me drooling with excitement. On the day, Sven, one of their developers discussed old titles and the difficulties faced during production. The Q&A was very laid back and Sven really gave the impression of someone passionate about the old games. He also went on to reveal that after remaking Wings, Cinemaware are moving straight on to another Kickstarter which will hopefully see another of their famous titles “Rocket Ranger” return to our computer screen in a new remastered form. The “special” video that announced the new project was something of an anti climax. So I’m looking forward to seeing how this story develops. As a big fan of Wings, I have to say that seeing these old games get fresh attention is great. Cinemaware games have always had that something extra special about them. Like Sven, I also hope they will get around to “It Came From The Desert”, if ever a game deserved remastering, this classic screams for it. So we can only cross our fingers and hope Cinemaware will get on it.

Oculus Rift, VR and sea sickness

So finally I’ve been able to try out the famed headset; the device people are all in a buzz about. The game I was able to play was “GhostShip” which sets you aboard a large space ship, wandering around in your space suit, shooting anything that takes a dislike to you. Overall the experience wasn’t that bad, but it also wasn’t as good as I’d expected. The headset allows a much greater freedom of view than a conventional monitor. While moving around with a controller, you can look around at your environment using the headset. For example, I was able to look behind myself while walking forward, much as you can in the real world. Looking down I could see the inside of my space helmet and the various instrument readouts. Overall these are cool features, I’m not sure if they improve game play as much as add another dimension to it. Parts of the net are humming about this device and for £500, I expected it to knock my socks off. In reality, the graphics of “Ghostship” didn’t impress me that much. The one and only monster I encountered, looked like something from a 90s first person shooter. Realism wasn’t improved when it became stuck against the wall, walking on the spot behind a bulkhead that was jutting out of the wall. The Oculus rift is a great concept and really improves upon the early VR devices, but it still feels like a technology with a long way to go, perhaps my opinion would be different had I tried a different game. “Ghostship” looked okay, but that’s its, just ‘ok’. I was expecting amazing and for the experience to leave me in awe and wonder, wanting more. In reality I walked away thinking £500 was a little steep for what I’d experienced. While I can’t confirm this, I have read that some users are only able to use the Oculus rift for 30 minute sessions. Using it for any longer, causing symptoms akin to sea sickness. So for now I’ll stick with a monitor, keyboard and mouse setup. Not because it’s what I’m used to, but because frankly Oculus doesn’t bring enough to the table to convince me its better.

-While writing this article, I spoke to a friend who knows a little more about the Oculus Rift than myself. He suggests the game or even the model of headset could be responsible for my less than amazing experience, assuring me that with the right setup, the headset is pretty impressive.

On the subject of VR technology, I had the pleasure of trying out a 1000CS VR machine from the 90s. Powered by an Amiga 3000 equipped with some pretty expensive video cards, the unit I tried out was linked to another 1000CS sitting only a few meters away. I later discovered the game we played was called Dactyl Nightmare. Set in a multi level arena, where the aim of the game is to shoot your opponent as many times as possible before the time runs out, all the while avoiding the nasty Pterodactyls, which have a habit of swooping down and picking you up and dropping you from mid-air. I feel somewhat guilty admitting this, but I had more fun on these dated VR units, than I did with the Oculus Rift. Admittedly I have a soft spot for old technology. Anyone who follows my blog will have noticed this by now. The fact that this article is being typed out on a Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 pretty much says it all, but the truth is I did indeed find the 90s VR units more fun and I can’t honestly say why. Possibly because I was pitted against another player, who was trying as hard as they could to shoot me. If asked to choose between a 1000CS and the Oculus rift. I have to tell you, I’d be inclined to choose the 1000CS. Even with dated graphics, if you get a few friends around, I could see it being a lot of fun.

Dealers

Play Expo had the best assortment of dealer of any retro gaming event I have been to. Games, Consoles, Micro computers, you name it and it was probably there. Boxed ZX80’s, C64’s and original Playstations. The assortment of games was also staggering, I’m only too thankful I couldn’t pay by card, otherwise I might have dug a very deep hole in my pocket! I spotted a boxed pair of wireless Atari VCS joysticks going for £40, which I thought was a very reasonable asking price. However my 2600 controllers have pretty long cables already, so even though I was tempted, I didn’t really see a need. Wireless controllers are a little superfluous to my Atari setup. What surprised me the most were the prices.

At events like these, dealers sometimes will hike prices up artificially high. But for the most part, they were pretty reasonable. Even the boxed ZX81 was priced pretty well. In the end I picked up a copy of ‘X-files’ for my PSone. I already own this game for the PC, but finding a modern PC that will run it is a bit of a challenge, where as setting up the PS2 for a little gaming is pretty easy. Not all of the dealers sold computer merchandise. Some sold old 80s pocket LCD games, board games and clothing. Some even sold cosplay accessories, such as hats, swords and clothing. There was also comics and board games. The selection was varied, with something there for everyone. Having the dealers at the event was a massive plus for me, but never did I feel like it over shadowed the other parts of the event. It all felt surprisingly well-balanced.

Final thoughts

I left Play Expo feeling very positive. If indeed the event is returning next year, I certainly would jump at the opportunity to attend again. It was an amazingly fun day, packed with so many things. If you haven’t been, then seriously you are missing out on one of the best retro gaming events in the North of England.

Til next time keep on geeking!