Hi everyone. In anticipation for this years superb North East Retro Gaming event on July 1st and 2nd 2017, I’m going to share my experience of the last two years.
This my (most) local event and one that I have been going to for the last 2 years and one that I will always support, as it is a great weekend and must take the organiser, Phil Murphy (aka Big Phil), ages to sort the logistics.
If you can get there, please do, play some games, buy some stuff and say hi.
(The extract below was written up after the 2016 event and originally published on the Ten Pence Arcade Podcast Website – I will put some links to both this and the NERG site at the foot of this page.)
One year ago, I attended NERG ’15, my first ever arcade event, wowed by the whole experience, I penned a short write-up of my trip, which the guys at Ten Pence Arcade Podcast, kindly published on their website.
Fast forward 12 months and it was time for this years rendition, but this time my tickets were for the full weekend and with a little more experience and a few friends made over the last year, I was once again ready to embrace everything the event had to offer.
I hadn’t intended on writing anything this year, but a couple of people at NERG have asked me to, so here we are. If this turns out to be crap, blame me, if it captures even just a little of the atmosphere, then thank them.
The date was Friday 1st July 2016, the time was somewhere between tea and bed, and at home in Carlisle, I laid out my clothes for the next day; jeans and obligatory retro game themed T-shirt (opting to choose a rather resplendent Donkey Kong number, my kids had bought me for Father’s Day) and packed my overnight bag with the essential items; underwear, second retro themed T, deodorant (it is difficult to under-estimate the importance of personal hygiene when in a room filled with hundreds of people and machines, all radiating heat), the latest edition of Retro Gamer and a healthy supply of biscuits – chocolate hobnobs, of course.
On Saturday morning, I was up and at them, bright and early, eager excitement fuelling my impulse to just get going and begin the weekend’s adventure. I bid farewell to my wife and kids and left my house in plenty of time to ensure I eked every moment NERG ’16 had to offer.
On my journey eastwards from Carlisle to Gateshead, with myself for company, my thoughts turned to last years event and what that had brought; an amassment of arcade cabinets, a plethora of pinball machines, a cacophony of consoles and a smattering of stalls trading various merchandise and I wondered what would await this time round. I had also been flooded with updates via Twitter (other social media sites are probably available but I can’t be arsed with them), from Phil – the stalwart organiser and ambassador of the event, so had an inkling of some of the machines that would be there this year.
Before I knew it, the hushed tones of my Satnav informed me that we had reached our destination, and I pulled into the carpark of the Gateshead Public Library, situated next to the Leisure Centre. Time check 09:55hrs, time to quaff a quick banana and stretch the legs.
The entrance to the event was open and I made my way in. The QR code, loaded ready on my phone screen, was presented to the lady on the door, who provided me with two fluorescent wrist bands in exchange. I donned the green Saturday band and secreted Sunday’s pink variant into the deepest recess of my wallet and made my way through to the seating area, awaiting acknowledgement that we were able to go through.
And then we were in, the doors opened, wrists checked for neon bands and through. The change of venue, I think was bigger this year, an expansive sports hall, filled to the brim with arcade greatness. Dozens and dozens of cabinets lined in four huge rows stretched from one end of the hall to the other. A double row of pinballs was next. Hoards of tables brimming with consoles from every era after these and the outer edges filled with traders tables overflowing with consoles, games and memorabilia.
The first thing that hits you is the sight, eyes madly flickering left to right, taking in the expanse of cabinets, seeking out personal favourites, (Berserk, Robotron, Pole Position, 1942, Candy driven Bullet Hell Shooters), noting the expected dedicateds, (Donkey Kong, Pacman, Space Invaders, Outrun) and widening at a glimpse of rarer games, some previously unseen, (a stunning Tempest, Roadrunner, Ghostbusters pinball).
Secondly, you realise that your ears are being bombarded with the glorious sounds of processors, programmed in an era when arcade games were in their heyday. And as you try and make sense of this crazy mix of sounds you start to pick out some familiar sounds, (Donkey Kong’s start up, Sega’s Game Over, Yeah!)
Thirdly is the smell. The cabinets exude a scent that is unique to them, gathered over years of being out in the wild, in rooms filled with smoke, sweat and maybe even tears, as literally thousands of people have poured over them, leaving a part of them (and maybe the odd cigarette burn) behind and when amassed in such numbers the aroma subtly permeates the atmosphere.
Now I could talk about the games I played and the pick-ups I bought, however there has been many videos on social media and I would rather concentrate on what I feel is more important. “More important than gaming at a gaming convention?” I hear you ask, suitably perplexed at where this may be going, well yes. Allow me to explain….
Last year at NERG, I had only just started to really get into this hobby and although I had been posting on the forums, I only knew people by their forum identities, I had no idea what they looked like or who they were. But happy in my own company and surrounded my so much goodness, it was never a real issue, and I still enjoyed my day, although undoubtedly I had walked past many of the people I had been typing to, without ever realising it.
Fast forward a year and I really wanted to make this more of a social event, for myself. Aided by being able to attend the full weekend, and after some very loose organising on the forums, a small group had been gathered and I was looking forward to meeting up, playing some games, talking shop, then going out for some fine food and hearty alcoholic beverages, before regrouping and doing it all again the following day.
And this is where NERG ’16 really shined out, loud and proud for me. I won’t name names, in case those persons have a reason not to be publicly linked to the event, secret MI6 agent leading a double life or maybe having an illicit affair with Jame’s beautiful Tempest screen, etc. But suffice as to say that the difference for me between the two events, were poles apart. The gaming was broken up by introductions and banter as those I knew, introduced me to other’s they knew, and so on, meaning that it was hard to walk more than a few cabs without bumping into someone I now knew. Even the gaming itself was transformed from isolated enjoyment to 2-player battles; mini high score challenges and learning new tips and tricks from others.
Returning to a slightly personal viewpoint, I put a bit of time into Hunchback, reaching the final screen, which I did not know even existed until having a chat with another gamer and after some encouragement and congratulation I witnessed it for myself – which was not at all bad, considering the joystick’s left direction didn’t work! And I also played Robotron more than I ever have – with no twin stick set up at home, it’s a game I like but never get to practice to be any good at. Encouraged by a newly made friend, who could loop this game with ease, I started to get it, increasing my score by tenfold over the weekend! Well happy.
At the end of Saturday’s play, the activities turned to more night-time based shenanigans as our motley crew of merry men, unleashed themselves upon the great Toon of Newcastle. Guided by the Maximum Power Up hosts and accompanied by the Ten Pence Arcade Podcast party we sought out real ale, proper pubs and (eventually for most) some food. Obviously the surreptitious details of this evening remain firmly in the unpublished knowledge of those that attended only and it would be wrong to advertise them here!!!
Then it t’were Sunday and time to do it all again. The venue, this day, seemed a little less busy, maybe those that had came to buy more than play had not returned for the second day, leaving the floor slightly more free for the gamers amongst us? But this in no way detracted for the enjoyment, possibly allowing for more access to the machines if anything.
The support for the event was abundantly apparent throughout, from the number of visitors, the amount of machines provided, the traders that tried their best to ensure you got what you wanted at a pretty decent price, through to the venue itself providing a good space for the event at relatively short notice. Yes there was a little bit of light pollution on some screens from the massive skylights above, but hey, it is a sports hall 364 days of the year, after all. One thing I did like about the venue was the ability to go upstairs onto the seating gallery where you could look out over the entire room, which allowed you to really capture the magnitude of this event.
I have to end this by saying a massive thanks to Phil for putting on yet another truly spectacular event, including all those both on stage and behind who helped Phil make this what it was. But also to those friends I met, both old and new alike, who really made the weekend memorable.
Below are some links which are well worth a quick click on;