The annual mecca for Retro gamers – Replay Expo, was held this weekend in Blackpool – at the Norbreck Castle hotel. Being somewhat interested in Retro Gaming, the Spaceman went along to check it all out.
Tickets were £10.00 and pretty reasonable considering the amount of potential gaming which could be undertaken.
The Hotel itself looks like an old white mental hospital with its strangely turreted roof, out of place on the very Northern end of the Blackpool promenade. It has a huge recreation style centre built on the back and has generally seen better days – inside and out.
The venue was split into sections : Arcade machines spanned the perimeter of a large room and in the centre, sections of every possible machine you could think of set out on rows and rows of tables with seating.
Vectra’s, ZX Spectrum’s, Amstrad’s, C64’s, Atari’s, Amiga’s, Gameboy’s, NES, SNES, Megadrive’s, Philips CDI, Amiga CD32 and so on, all the way up to Xbox 360’s, Kinects and PS3’s. In another adjoining room, every kind of Pinball machine you could think of.
There was also a bar, handy for a post game pint or three and there were market stalls which sold old and new games, consoles, spare parts, T-Shirts. One thing I thought was well clever, was someone selling a brand new ZX Spectrum game which they had just written and coded for Spectrum, it was a kind of Pacman/Manic Miner style clone but looked very impressive for a modern day Speccy game.
In the other part of the Hotel, was a conference with guest speakers throughout the day, Spaceman caught a rather interesting talk from an ex-Imagine Software company exec, who talked about their role in the company during the 1980’s heyday.
The Expo also gave you the chance to try machines which you maybe grew up hearing about but never got the chance to play yourself.
For instance, I had an Amiga A600 in the early 90’s and when the Amiga CD 32 came out I really wanted one, but the problem was – no one else in my year at school had, or was going to buy one.
This meant I would have had no one to swap games with, so I never got one. Well here at the Expo, I could finally lay my hands on the real thing, and exercise some pre-pubescent curiosity.(Glad I didn’t buy one now, anyway!)
There were knockout tournaments on the go allday for games from Street Fighter II, Halo to Call Of Duty MW3 to a pinball machine tournament (although the Pinball tourn. cost money to enter for some reason!).
Everything else was free to play and there was no limit to the amount of time you could spend on each machine. Sometimes, it would be annoying to have to wait for someone to finish their go but on the whole, people were respectful of the fact others wanted to play.
There wasn’t much of a queue of people waiting for each machine, bar the people playing the machines themselves. Sometimes it was good just to stand and watch someone else playing a game, especially if it was something they were really good at – such as Sonic The Hedgehog. It was interesting to watch young kinds playing the old Sonic with some great skill – the bridging to two different generations by at least twenty years.
I just tended to have a quick go on each game and then move on, and I was like a very old kid in a sweetshop and wanted to get on as many different games as possible.
Highlights included : a 4-way and 8-way player Bomberman game’s, a full band Guitar Hero setup, MAME emulators in Arcade machine cabinets (which meant a choice of hundreds of games on one machine!) MAME emulators rigged up to massive wall projectors.
Personal highlights for me included : Operation Wolf Arcade machine, Dirty Harry Pinball game (complete with gun shaped ball spring loader) and an old Amstrad playing a game called ‘Oh Mummy’, this was a game I remembered well from my childhood which was a Pacman/Repton type clone.
The event was hosted by Max and Obe – (ex-Hollyoak’s actors!) Who did little spots and also judged the best dressed Competition won by a Girl who looked like the Wolf from Zelda. Their were a few other foxy babes dressed up as various characters, such as Poison Ivy from Batman.
Normally, I get bored standing around at most events but here I was on the go from 9 till 4 and I enjoyed every minute of it. There is something for everyone and it was great seeing young kids discover the magic of the old Arcade machines, just as I did 25 years ago.
The only moderate downside was that some consoles and arcade machines were busier than others, most people were respectful enough not to hog a game for too long but some were busy all day.
It was also handy to have a official Expo bracelet which allowed you to escape the noise and sounds of the event and hotel, to take a stroll along the Promenade or to go and get some food.
So on the whole, it was a top day and there was plenty there for adults and kids and the Spaceman will be definately be back next year.
You can sit at home and play any game on the MAME emulator on a PC, but sounds and smells of a real arcade machine and joystick/button mashing are as much part of the experience as the game itself.
Let me know if anyone of you attended and what you thought of it.