PLAY Expo Glasgow 2017

Hi everyone and thanks for popping back.

This weeks update will cover this year’s Play Glasgow event, my first exhibition event of the year and one I hadn’t attended before. Unsure of exactly what to expect, as not only was it my first Glasgow event it was also my first time at a Play Expo branded exhibition.

That said, the website pointed towards a lot of the usual mainstays of retro and modern gaming, along with merchandise stalls, competitions and guest speakers, so with familiar territory promised, hotel booked, tickets purchased, it was time for a road trip, up north.

I live at the very top of England so, in well under 2 hours, my satnav gently promised that one final left turn would see me having reached my destination. And it was correct.  The event was held in the Braehead Arena, which is attached to a huge shopping and leisure complex. Ample free parking at the centre made short work of that necessity and within 2 minutes of closing the car door, I was inside, following the signs to the arena event.

It was exactly 10am, event start time for those who had pre-ordered tickets and the queue of said lucky people snaked away from the doors, around the corner and down the hall.  The mix of people congregated, ranged from; young kids, holding their parent’s hand in their hands, eagerly pulling, peering around the person in front, trying to gain a glimpse of the anticipated goodness that lay ahead; groups of 20-something friends, each holding their precious mobile phones in their hands; couples of all ages, holding each other in their hands, him happy that he had finally found a girl who loved gaming, her planning ahead as to the shopping she was going to enjoy dragging him around tomorrow; those of a certain age, lucky enough to have experienced the majority of all the exhibits the first time around, holding nothing in their hands, but wondering if they had held something earlier and now forgotten where they had put it or even what it may have been – (I fall into this category); there were those, fully embracing the optional cos-play dress-code, their hands grasping an assortment of foam-clad weapons and trinkets from other-worlds; and finally there were undoubtedly those whose hands had chosen not to grasp a bar of nature’s soap – for some considerable time.

But this is what makes these events.  It is the disparate nature of attendees that makes the contents of the exhibition so diverse.  If only middle aged men who love Atari arcade machines went, the event would most likely fail to bring in the crowds and become obsolete rather quickly.

And once I had passed through the handbag searches ( I did not take mine), collected the obligatory leaflets, map, schedule of events flyer, I was in and treated to this fine sight.

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To the left you can see a large sweeping swathe of pinball tables, beside which are rows of original arcade cabinets, including the star attraction, a lovely full motion Outrun Deluxe.  Next along were table after table after table, all sporting a vast array of consoles and televisions from yester-year.  Moving further right the arena was divided by a wealth of current gen consoles, including some new, Indie developers proudly sporting their wares and others showing plans for future projects, including the fabulous Spectrum Next showcased by the great Jim Bagley.

On the other side of the arena was a smorgasbord of stalls selling all manner of merchandise and gaming related items, from keyrings to consoles, T-Shirts to tea mugs, art works to working carts and lots, lots more.

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Further more the outer halls surrounding the arena’s main floor, were also filled with even more zones, including a dedicated Minecraft server, lots of other LAN setups, a table-top gaming area and a virtual reality zone too.

Rather than go through all the games, cabinets, consoles, which would take forever, have a look through these photos and see how many you can spot.  My personal favourites from this event are hidden some where in these photos, take an extra minute and see if you can find these too;

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Pinball – Big Deal by Williams.  A great early electro-mechanical pin from 1977, which included 4 player action.

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Cabinet – Road Runner by Atari.  A game I had only played once before, but all this was soon to change. (Second cab in from left on top photo).

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Console – Vectrex, distributed by GCE between ’82 to ’83 then by MB thereafter. A great vector based unit. (Top photo, front row, far left).

But as I’ve said before and hinted at above, the event would be nothing without the people and I now try and split my time between playing and talking.  I met up with some old  regulars and found some new friends to boot. Too many to mention here, except for one standout introduction that deserves a line or three as it made the event for me.

As I touched upon earlier, at the event was a Jim Bagley, fronting the recently kickstarter-funded Spectrum Next project.  You can read more details about this exciting new computer on the official kickstarter page HERE, where it recently smashed it’s required target by nearly 300%.

One of the key people behind the venture is Jim Bagley, a person I had heard of in many conversations and magazine articles from both back in the day up to present times. A notable programmer for the Spectrum, with famed arcade conversions of Midnight Resistance and Cabal,  and a figure who has been active in the world of computer programming for around 30 years. On returning home I dug out this article in Retro Gamer Magazine, issue 124.

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Keen to meet and speak to Jim, about new ventures and past projects, I was introduced to him by an old friend at the event, a Mr Shaun Holley, 50% of the 10pence Arcade Podcast team, who was also at the event, and the three of us talked and enthused about the new Speccy and other stuff alike.

Later that day, Shaun and I had done a walk-around the floor, recording all the arcade cabinets and were picking out a few favourites to play some two player games on; Tempest, Moon Patrol, Pole Position, Asteroids, Robotron, Joust, Defender, etc, when we came up to Atari’s Road Runner cabinet, a game that neither one of us had really ever played before.

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But encouraged by the familiarity of the characters, Atari’s branding and the instantly recognisable sound effect – “MEEP MEEP”, we stood up to the plate and played some games.  We were rubbish.  As is often the case until you start to understand the game and more often than not, you find someone better than you to play the game, whilst you watch/steal their techniques.

With today’s generation, they simply look towards their hands, where their mobile device is permanently installed and load up YouTube for it’s self-educating stream, but in my era, this had been more a case of watching the big boys in the arcade, crowded around their chosen cabinet, to observe how they played the game.  So with a few games in and neither Shaun or I, advancing particularly well and ready to move off, Mr Bagley, appeared by our side and started talking about the game and if we liked it.  He seemed to know what he was on about, so I moved aside and let him take the controls, where it became evident that he did indeed.  And rightly so, as we discovered, this was a game that Jim had actually converted, back in the day, from the arcade for the Spectrum home computer, where he had been given access to a supplied arcade cabinet as sole programmer on the project.  He was a bit rusty (sorry Jim), but he knew his stuff and game by game, those rested but not retired skills, slowly started to come back.  But whilst Jim began to remember, Shaun and I started to learn, and we hogged  the cab for over an hour, (sorry everyone else), trading personal bests and high scores with every credit.

Every game saw progression made, with level after level completed, the all important bonuses secured and the scores were now rocketing past the 300k mark. We were completely hooked, not only to the game itself, but to the competitive camaraderie that had been created within our collective. We had a complete blast, so much so that, the event had actually finished around us and looking up from the cabinet we were virtually the only ones left.

I met up with Jim again on the Sunday and we had a few more goes, trying to better the scores of the previous day, I thought I had it nailed with a score of 427000, until Mr Bagley found some inspired skill, evading Wile E Coyote further into the game than anyone else had, scoring just over 450000.  It was never beaten.

Jim: The best man won.

It is hard to share just how much joy this brought to my event experience. In fact as I type this, recalling the details, I am smiling broadly.  Who would’ve thought that I’d be trading scores, shoulder to shoulder, with one of the great early programmers, of my era of home computing, someone whose games, lined the shelves in my childhood bedroom.

Someone who above all else, was a great guy, easy to talk to, not so easy to beat.

So thanks Play Glasgow, for a wonderful weekend.  Thanks Shaun, for the introduction.  Thanks Atari, for making a great game. And thanks Jim, for almost letting me win.

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PS:  I will be all over this at NERG next weekend.  Your score is mine…………..

 

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