PLAY Expo 2019!

You may have twigged that I’m kind of a massive retro gaming nerd. Turns out there’s more than one of us – enough, in fact, to justify a whole boatload of events around the north of England. Unfathomable…

One of these is the formidable PLAY Expo, which has been going for a good long while now, so I thought this year it could do with the good grace of my presence. Self-aggrandising comments aside, me and my good friend Chris popped over there on the Saturday. We only dipped our toes in, since it was our first time going, but I think we still got a lot out of it and had a reyt good day out. So what’s it all about?

Well…it’s all about retro gaming. (And a smattering of dirty modern gaming in and amongst. (Okay, quite a lot of it. (And not all of it dirty.))) As soon as you wander in, you’re hit with the array of things to do – there are arcade cabinets blaring out at one end, a boatload of CRTs at the other with a variety of retro consoles hooked up, and crowds of geeks wandering around drinking it all in. There was a LAN section, a streaming stage, and a bit of a theatre at the back for talks and other such frippery. It was a great atmosphere and you could tell that everyone who was here was probably having a good time.

Geeks gathered in gleeful glow of great gaming.

There were also a bunch of cosplayers, but since I didn’t recognise very many of them, I didn’t take any photos. Except this one of an ODST (please let me know who you are so I can properly credit you – forgot to ask!)

A cosplayer in homemade ODST armour, posing with an MA5C assault rifle.

Now, let’s just get the bad points out of the way initially, because there were a few. The main one for me was the LAN bit. It seems a pretty simple process to me – connect all the PCs together on a single network, and have them run either a game over LAN or from a dedicated server. The games on show weren’t terribly intensive – there was Doom II, Quake, one of the Unreal Tournaments (probably 2004), Age of Empires II, and a couple of other games. And yet, literally none of them were set up to quickly jump into a multiplayer session.

Even the Doom machines, which are normally a doddle to set up for LAN, weren’t up to snuff. They’d unceremoniously dumped Skulltag onto these poor machines – not even Zandronum or anything remotely modern. It made me a bit sad to see this poor showing. (Incidentally, if anyone at Retro Events wants a proper LAN setting up, get in touch…!)

How to annoy a sysadmin in three easy steps.

I’ll also quickly mention that the PCs running retro games were very, very basic, and felt like the sort of thing I see at work. Not ideal, but I guess they did a job.

Okay, that’s that. Onto the good!

It always makes me happy to see a bit of pinball, and the Northern Lights Pinball Show was there with an assortment of tables, from 70s…classics?…to popular 80s and 90s tables like Twilight Zone and Terminator 2. I do love a bit of pinball, and I feel like it doesn’t get enough recognition from retro gamers. They’re like video games, with objectives, lives, scoring – but with entirely physical components and a super high skill ceiling. I think people perhaps see it as a game of chance, but that’s a topic for a separate blog post. Point is, pinball is great. And all the machines were occupied, which was extra nice to see.

Two pinball tables from the 1970s, courtesy of the Northern Lights Pinball Show.

You also don’t see retro PC gaming represented very much outside of LGR and Nostalgia Nerd, so I was happy to see a rank of PCs set up for just that. Like I said, they weren’t perfect – ideally they’d be of-the-time spec, running DOS or Windows 9x – but they did a job. I saw RollerCoaster Tycoon, Theme Hospital, Blood, Duke 3D (which ran really badly), Deus Ex, Rise of the Triad…and too many more to list. Again, most of these were occupied and people were having fun with them. Keep the faith.

Nearby, there was a bit of a potted console history going on. Amongst the usual NES, SNES, Mega Drives and PlayStations, there was a Binatone pong machine, an Atari 800, a Grandstand machine I didn’t recognise, and a VideoPac computer that I also didn’t recognise. There was even a Neo Geo there, which I was surprised at – wonder how many people thought of walking out with that bad boy?

While they were all nicely displayed on CRTs, the quality of the displays wasn’t great. Then again, Trinitrons are hard enough to come by as it is – they’d be nigh impossible to find if these guys were hoarding them all!

Oh yeah, too many composite cables as well. There’s no excuse for that.

It doesn’t seem like there are many photos here, does it? That’s because I kept taking videos by accident. I’ll stick ’em on YouTube at some point, so keep an eye out.

I’ll just finish off by saying there were a few stalls knocking about, peddling their wares to the unsuspecting public. I feel like the prices were a bit higher than they usually are at the Retro Games Fair, but I still got away with a few bits. That Age of Empires, by the way, was literally the only big box PC game I saw that was in good nick. All the rest were tatty, torn, indented, and quite dirty. They had the gall to charge £30 for one poor game, which was crushed beyond recognition. Very disappointing. There was also a nice selection of Japanese imports, but aside from Dino Crisis, there wasn’t really anything I wanted at the moment. No Space Invaders 1500 for me!

Oh, and the Street Fighter II book was free. Maybe that’s a future YouTube video, because it’s hilariously bad.

Three PlayStation discs, Japanese Dino Crisis, a blue PS2 controller, a big box copy Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome...and a Street Fighter II Where's Wally knockoff. Looks like a great evening of gaming to me.

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