You know, it's nice being part of a community. Even if it's one viewed as a bit geeky or even weird by some less-informed (not to mention judegemental) people. Forums like the splendid Retro Gamer one are great place for like-minded enthusiasts to share knowledge or just chat about whatever, but every now and then a few determined individuals organise an event for fans to gather, chat, share a few drinks, and of course play retro games! The most recent of these (at time of writing) was the R3Play Expo in Blackpool, north-west England.
There have been a number of previous events already which I have personally not attended for various reasons (not least the travelling usually involved) but this year was different. After being asked to write for the official R3Play magazine, I started to consider actually going to it! Sure enough, four hours and four trains later I was in Gloucester to meet up with my good friend Luke before we headed off again in his car to Blackpool. A further five hours of motorways, during which we listened to various classic videogame music to suitably set the mood, and we were there...
In and Around the Hotel:
I certainly wasn't the only Retro Gamer forumite attending R3Play - there were dozens there! Many of them were staying for the full weekend of the show and had booked rooms at the Bipsham Inn Hotel. Unfortunately I was unable to get a room there as it was fully booked (I found out why when I got to Blackpool - it's not very big!) so Luke instead arranged our hotel. The one he chose was, sensibly enough, the Norbreck Castle Hotel - the very venue of R3Play itself! I later discovered that the other guys from the forum had actively avoided this hotel due to its supposedly horrifying rooms and service, but to he honest, aside from a bit of noise, I couldn't really fault the place - decent sized room, lush breakfast, decent facilities, and we couldn't have been much closer to the event itself!
The Show Itself:
Almost immediately upon arriving in Blackpool in the early afternoon of the first day, we started looking for R3Play. We found the hotel easily enough (with the help of the GPS on my phone!) but the event was a little harder to find, and that would be pretty much my only criticism of it. There were no signs outside of the venue and we had to ask several people before we found it. This must've cut down on the number of opportunistic visitors, but nonetheless, found it we did, and it was a sight to behold!
All along the left wall was a loooong row of arcade machines on free play, the far left corner was home to various games found on XBLA and the like such as After Burner Climax and the newly released Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Between this and the far right corner where Retro GT has a stand populated by many splendid t-shirts and other game-related bits and bobs was a couple of DanceDanceRevolution games and a raffle area being hosted by RG forum's MohicanKid.
The right-hand wall was home to a large Console Passion stand on which many desirable consoles were for sale, including a PC Engine Duo, an orange Dreamcast, and even a ROB the Robot! Beyond this was the large stage area which was being used by the awesome ProjectorGames and hosted by Adam and Hannah who provided a fantastic opportunity to play various multi-player games on large screens. I was eager to participate in their 25-player Bomberman games (I even won a few rounds!) but there were plenty of other games to choose from too. Big thanks to them, it was great fun and one of the highlights of R3Play for me.
Along the corridor beyond the right-hand wall was a bank of pinball machines which were so consistently busy I never managed to play on any of them! There were also a few stand-up driving games including one of the most important items at the whole show - an OutRun machine (although sadly it seems I've lost my touch with that great game - lots of practise required!). Also in this area were several rooms. One of them was occupied by Jeff Minter showing off some of his games. He was very friendly and interesting to talk to, and I was also able to play Tempest 2000 for the first time! Also to be found were Dave and Anna of The Attic Bug who were hosting an Ocean themed room with some fantastic items for sale including a New Zealand Story t-shirt purchased by yours truly! Many of their fine wares are still available via their eBay store, so check them out! The last room in this area was occupied by The National Museum of Computing which contained some fascinating items too, dating right back to valve-based computers. Just outside this room were various classic computers including a BBC running Chuckie Egg, a Vectrex running Scramble, and even a Spectrum running Twitter!
Here are a few pictures of the event:
More pics coming tomorrow...