Play Expo 2014: The Write-Up

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Long time no article written processors…that out of the way, let’s talk about Manchester’s Play Expo, which I was lucky enough to attend last week.

I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest, but what I experienced was pure retro-delight. There were new games to try out, strangely ones that were already released mostly…not too much to hold my attention, although I wished I’d have made the extra push to try out Team 17’s new offering, the lemmings-like sheep saving simulator, Flockers.

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It was slow progress at first making our way through the expo, I spent a good chunk of time playing Terminator 2: The Arcade Game on the Mega Drive, in one of the dedicated retro movie tie-in sections of the event. These exhibits were pretty cool, a fleet of systems were set up in a row that enabled you to sample the progression of several licensed games throughout the ages. There was everything from the aforementioned Terminator games (Terminator: Redemption, was featured here on Xbox, and it’s still a thrilling experience to this day) to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Alien franchise.

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Littered throughout these areas were cabinets displaying several original movie props, things from the likes of Star Wars to Robocop, I especially liked the inclusion of some props from The Last Starfighter movie. Let’s not forget the Delorian Time Machine from the Back to the Future series was there also.

Ok, after a quick toilet break I experienced perhaps the highlight of the day, a talk from Mel Croucher, creator and designer of Deus Ex Mahina, one of the most unique experiences in gaming. Mel was incredibly entertaining as he described the key elements in any video game are Dice (Luck), Ping Pong (Coordination), Chess (Strategy) and Bollocks. Bollocks of course is all the layers of flash a game throws at you to make you think you’re playing something truly special when in reality you’re just playing the same old thing repackaged. I agree with him. After the talk myself and my girlfriend purchased his book about the making of Deus Ex Machina and had it signed, he instructed us to read it somewhere snug, while being intimate with each other. Needless to say, Mel is now one of my new heroes.

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After lunch and a rummage through a load of over-priced retro games (which I confess I picked up a few of) we reached the true retro area of the event, hundreds of televisions connected to a dizzying array of different consoles, ranging from familiar favourites like the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to obscure delights like the JVC-XEye (a lovely piece of kit combining the Sega Mega Drive with it’s Mega CD add on in one neat package).

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We spent a good portion of time here, playing all sorts things, Keiko’s Fly Squadron on Mega CD was a particular highlight for me, a game which I will probably never own due to it’s high price point and it’s dependence on needing to own a Mega CD (a stupidly over-priced bit of kit on the second hand market). I also got to try out the Amiga CD32 for a short while, something I’d been curious about sampling for some time. It was ok…

Beyond this there was the Arcade area of the event and boy, what a treat that was. All the classic arcade machines of old lined up and free to play. A game called Crossbow kept us amused for a sometime with it’s early light gun type satisfaction. I got to play a Donkey Kong arcade cabinet which proved to be a much more natural and enjoyable experience than playing it on console. Honestly there was so much there to try and nearly all the classics accounted for. Something I thought was pretty neat was the inclusion of a Fix-It Felix Jr. Machine as featured in the animated movie, ‘Wreck-It-Ralph’.

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After losing several members of our crew to the joys of old Arcade machines, myself and my girlfriend, Claire found ourselves amongst the Pinball Machines, which after spending some time juggling balls on the Twilight Zone table I was starting to grow rather fond of, but time was marching on and a raffle for charity was being drawn, 1st prize was a PS4. Claire bought tickets but sadly she didn’t win that converted PS4. The 2nd best prize was a Sega Dreamcast (which was left unclaimed) and there were other treats like a bucket of sweets on offer. Strangely the prize of a small plastic Darth Vader helmet caused too eager young men to leap on top of each as it was thrown into the audience as a freebie. Their scuffle resulted in the rope barrier in front of the stage crashing to the ground as they wrested each other for the prize. They were promptly told to cut it out. I assume they’d eaten too many sweets and feeling a little over-excited, that or they were Vader’s biggest fans. If so they would have been lucky enough to meet Darth himself, David Prowse who was signing autographs elsewhere at the event.

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As the day drew to a close we just managed to catch the last part of a talk from Team 17, developers of amongst others, the Worms series (one of my all-time favourites).

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Just before we loaded ourselves into the Blast Process wagon to return home, we had a quick go on a brand new game, the very enjoyable Wulver Blade, a new side-scrolling beat-em-up developed by the folks at Fully Illustrated and Darkwind Media.

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With that we were off, after a full day of mostly retro-flavored, video gaming delights. As the sun set over the Manchester Eventhall that faithful Sunday evening I could hardly wait to come back next year and do it all over again.

– Tom Parry

Check out this super funky video that Blast Processor Mike made of the event below:

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