Roundup: Play Expo 2014 / 30th of October 2014
Thanks to the great staff at Replay Events, we were cordially invited down to Manchester to experience the shenanigans of the Play Expo, a mixture of retro gaming, indie development studios, industry discussions, cosplayers and more. Taking place across the 11th and 12th of October, these two days packed in more than 20,000 attendees into the expo’s EventCity setting, and very few of which - if any - will have left disappointed with what they saw there.
The first day for us was marked by the jaw dropping quantity of retro arcade machines, childhood favourites such as Bombjack, Operation Wolf, Midnight Resistance, After Burner and Outrun to the 90’s Sega classics, Daytona USA and Sega Rally. We wandered around like children in a sweet shop, our jaws suitably nestled between our knees, it’s no wonder that we had been informed that the expo would play host to Europe’s largest collection of arcades and pinball machines, there more than 100 of the latter, all of which were swarmed with crowds throughout both days of the event as everyone clamoured to try out some of the best games that the medium has to offer. But the show wasn’t entirely devoted to the realm of retro gaming, new independent studios filled out a large proportion of the venue, showcasing their latest wares, there were vast arrays of stalls selling of manner of gaming merchandise, games and consoles, including a makeshift Game Seek store, they were the official retail partner for the event. Additionally, there were competitions on the go, including one for the ever popular, League of Legends, and a massive presence from Dark Cleo who maintained a large area devoted entirely to board games. As if this wasn’t enough though, celebrities were on hand to dole out autographs and photographs to the eager crowd, including the great Chris Barrie and legendary Star Wars actor, Jeremy Bulloch.
We watched a presentation given by New ‘N’ Tasty developer Just Add Water who discussed the challenges of remaking such a beloved game, along with the many changes that they made, as well as the reasoning for doing so. Also discussed were some of the proposed modifications that never actually made it into the final version of the game, including the intriguing of “trapped wind” wherein Abe would be able to hold in his flatulence to unleash a much bigger, and far more deadly move. Just Add Water set the tone that was to follow, a series of informative and interesting talks brought the whole event to life, which on the first day included the brilliant Charles Cecil discussing the origins of the Broken Sword series, how it came into being and the vast array of influences that sculpted its tale of the Knights Templar. Day one was rounded off rather perfectly with a debate on the merits of the Sinclair Spectrum versus the Commodore 64, battling for each side of the debate were some of the most consistent game designers of the 80s, including the legendary Jeff Minter who fought on the side of the latter. On leaving the venue for the day though, we clamoured to secure the man’s autograph as others bowed down before him as though Wayne Campbell before Alice Cooper. Richly deserved though.
The second day of the show was another cracker, the venue was less crowded but still packed full of enthusiastic gamers eager to get their hands on both new and classic games alike, or cosplayers looking to show off their devotion to the cause. For us though, following an obligatory lap of the venue, the day belonged to the incredible Mel Croucher who gave a talk about “the greatest game that you will never play”, Deus Ex Machina, the ground-breaking multi-media extravaganza that brilliantly paired a synchronised soundtrack and narration to the visuals, it also featured an all-star cast including the likes of Ian Dury and Frankie Howerd. Based on Shakespear’s “The Seven Ages of Man”, Deus Ex Machina was a massive critical success, but an overwhelming commercial failure that proved to be rather costly to its creator. Still, Mel Croucher has led an interesting life, working with music genius and guitar virtuoso, Frank Zappa, for some time, he has endured a near death experience and is waiting for the opportunity to release his revamped version of his original masterpiece, as the original featured in the book “1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die”, there will soon be no better time to do so. Mel was on hand to talk to fans and sign autographs, we had a chance to speak to him after the talk, so with any luck we may yet be able to do a more in-depth feature on the man and his work.
Sunday was also about the games for us, we took the opportunity to stop by the indie stands, taking in Fully Illustrated’s (AKA Michael Heald) Wulverblade, a gorgeous, new hack ‘n’ slash that he is currently creating for PC, and Xbox One via Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program, its glorious hand drawn artwork looking rather stunning in full 1080p resolution. We’ll be featuring an in-depth look at the game in the weeks ahead, so keep an eye out for that one. The scrolling beat ‘em up is also in for something of a revamp if Makin Games have any say in the matter, we stopped by to try out their upcoming release, Raging Justice, an unashamedly old school brawler that the team plan on bringing out early in 2015 for PC, console and mobile platforms. The brief blast of gameplay that we tried showed off the early stages of character development that will see the player unlock new moves as they work their way through the game, the art style of chunky and combat fairly satisfying, this is another title that we will be keeping a close watch over.
Team 17 were on hand with several titles that they are developing or publishing, including recent release, Flockers, and the upcoming ID@Xbox title, The Escapists, that the team are currently porting across from the one man developed PC original. The studio must have had around five games on show, yet they assured us that there were others en route too, and that the future of indie development on both PS4 and Xbox One was most assuredly bright. The Escapists was featured by Microsoft at their big indie showcase at this year’s Gamescom in Germany, so evidently the guys at Team 17 are certainly doing something right, and we will endeavour to discover exactly what that is in the weeks ahead.
As far as gaming goes though, Jeff Minter’s Llamasoft stole the show, on display, the team had an Atari Jaguar running Tempest 2000, whilst beside that, they had a Nuon equipped DVD player running the overlooked gem, Tempest 3000 - this presented my first opportunity to finally play the game, and whilst it certainly didn’t disappoint, it was rather overshadowed by the company’s latest hit, TxK. Released early this year on the Playstation Vita, the team are hard at work porting the game to both PS4 and PC, which gave us the opportunity to try out both, and needless to say, they left us gobsmacked. On PS4, the team had the game running in 3D, whilst it is sure to be Project Morpheus compatible, no such device was present, but still, destroying enemies resulted in a more than satisfying array of particles being sent flying out of the screen towards the player, the effect was mesmerising and it added a real sense of depth to the game. The PC version that we were able to try, however, was running on Oculus Rift, the much touted VR technology that is taking the PC world by storm, and by Jeff Minter’s own admission, he was unsure exactly what utilising the tech was going to bring to the game, and yet he, like us, was completely blown away by the fundamental difference that the headset made to the overall experience. Unlike standard 3D which sees the player seemingly move back from the action, the Oculus headset quite literally puts gamers into the game itself, personally, I found it a tad disorientating at first but this quickly passed, which left me free to marvel at the effect the system had. I spoke with Mr Minter about the possibility of an Xbox One version of the game, they have not entered into discussions with Microsoft about making this a reality, but based on my experience with the game, this is a situation that the US company needs to rectify as soon as possible. TxK is undoubtedly another Llamasoft hit, and in both 3D and VR environments, it is nothing short of stunning, the game is currently due for release early next year, when it will be a must have title on both of its confirmed platforms.
Before leaving for the long trip home, we stopped by the celebrity area where both Dave Prowse and Kenny Baker were talking with fans, yet beside them sat the wonderful Craig Charles, so I managed to snag a cheeky autograph before departing, which managed to round off a fantastic weekend rather perfectly. The Play Expo may not have the high profile nature of its bigger brethren, such as EGX, yet for lovers of all things gaming related - particularly the retro fanboys like ourselves and the staff at Retro Gamer (they chaired the Spectrum/Commodore debate) - this may just be the ideal event for you. I’m obviously not alone in saying this too, after all, we were joined by more than 20,000 others for one terrific weekend in Manchester.