Turning Back the Clock - R3PLAY 2010 Report
By Ian Wilson - 14 Nov, 2010
The UK retro gaming scene seems to be getting bigger and bigger as each year passes, and thanks to magazines like Retro Gamer and websites like our very own Mean Machines Archive there's a real community out there who dedicated time to keeping those precious memories alive. After all, we can't just let it all be forgotten can we? (Someone needs to remind the youngsters there was life before Call of Duty!)
There have been several retro gaming shows over the years, none of which I've attended since I only reignited my passion for those 16-bit days in late 2008. Therefore, it was with a great deal of excitement that I made the trip to R3PLAY - a two day expo which took place on the 06th & 07th November 2010 and was organised by the CGEU - along with my brother.
The event was held in the exhibition & conferencing section of the Norbreck Castle hotel in Blackpool. It's probably fair to say Blackpool as a town is past its best - once a haven for British holidaymakers in the summer, it now seems to be kept afloat by aficionados of cheap lager and an irksome succession of hen parties and stag nights. However, it seemed fitting that it should play host to a retro gaming event - I'm sure we all have childhood memories of arcade gaming in our local seaside resort, and for many of you, Blackpool was probably the venue of choice. On a personal level I often frequented Pier Amusements in South Shields playing classics such as Street Fighter 2 and Final Fight. This venue has since been demolished in recent years and unfortunately it's an all too common story amongst retro gaming fans, so it's apt that Blackpool - which thankfully still has many of its arcade-packed piers intact - plays host to this event.
Doors opened on Saturday 06th at 10:30AM, and first impressions upon entering the hall were how big it was (it certainly had the 'wow' factor) and secondly how great the lighting was - a very well executed and subtle blue neon effect which created a fantastic ambience (like arcade halls of old). The attendance figures for R3PLAY were superb - according to the people in charge, a whopping 1,600 passed through the doors on Saturday and 1,200 on Sunday. There was unquestionably a real buzz about the place. Iain Lee hosted the show in the absence of the original host Gail Porter - whilst the male attendees were no doubt disappointed (I was!) it must be said that Iain did a great job and was a genuinely funny bloke. He's also got a true passion for retro gaming and so was naturally suited to the role.
One of the first things I noticed was a row of Japanese Candy Cabs which were in action, having never played on one before this brought a huge smile to my face! We proceeded to take ownership a machine which was running an interesting shoot ‘em up (didn't catch the name, regrettably) and, taking advantage of the free play, followed on to complete the game in co-op mode. A good start to the weekend! Splatterhouse was on display on the Sunday also and proved popular, as did all the machines in general. Patience was certainly an advantage in this area.
Speaking of “free play” this was another fantastic feature of R3PLAY - all of the arcade and pinball machines were set to this mode by default which meant you didn't need to scrap around for 10 pence pieces (or 50 yen in the case of the Candy Cabs!). Apparently some people complained about the cost of the weekend tickets (£20) but taking the above into account, along with the plethora of computers & consoles available, I genuinely considered it to be good value.
The beauty of R3PLAY is that it wasn't simply confined to retro gaming; the show spanned 30+ years of gaming history with machines featured like the BBC Micro (anybody else use these to access teletext on school lunch breaks?) right up to the current generation systems such as the PS3 and Move controller.
Retro-wise, there seemed to be an endless supply of tables set-up with a huge variety of consoles and computers all ready to play. Personal highlights include the PC Engine which was running Bomberman using the 4 player tap - this really was fantastic fun and it's a game that just doesn't seem to date. On the subject of Bomberman, there was also a 24-player game running at various points on the main stage in the hall! The joys of a retro classic combined with modern technology.
Steel Battalion on the Xbox was a very popular machine throughout the weekend also. Featuring surely the largest controller ever made, it can initially look like quite a daunting game to get to grips with. However there were useful instructions which explained the basics and with the help of a R3PLAY staff member (thanks Vinny) we soon got going, with our mech warrior trekking through the battlefield searching for targets. It's really quite a unique and immersive experience.
There was a Neo Geo running throughout the show (along with a CD system) and this was another console that drew the crowds. I remember these well as kid but never did own one - this was true early 1990's gaming exotica. We were therefore rather pleased to get our hands on some good old fashioned beat em up action with King of Fighters 98 - a great game and I honestly forgot how many rounds we played. Good times, indeed.
Amibay were well represented at the event and had a wide variety of Amiga computers including the interesting Minimig and CD32 console. There was also some LAN action taking place with Quake, which unfortunately we never got round to playing.
There were a huge number of other consoles and computers available to play due to the selflessness of the many collectors who loaned their machines for the weekend. In addition, many arcade machines were available to play and for most people this would have been their only opportunity to relive memories playing classics such as Star Wars Arcade, Donkey Kong and The Simpsons. Speaking of the latter, me and my brother (together with another two retro gaming fans) managed to complete the game from start to finish - I have fond childhood memories playing this as a kid so it was nice to finally see off Mr Burns! Again, all these machines were free to play (which is a bloody good job considering the lives I went through playing as Homer in The Simpsons!).
In a long corridor to the right of the main hall there was an area which became known as “pinball alley” due to the ten or so pinball machines sat together in a row against the wall. This was a very busy section of the show and a person queuing behind players engrossed in the machines was a regular scene. Terminator 2 stood out in this area and to me it was a machine which just hasn't seemed to age - it's still great entertainment hearing Arnie talk throughout! Others of note were Terminator 3, Back to the Future and Family Guy. Engineers (more than likely the people who kindly brought the machines to R3PLAY) were always at hand should anything go wrong - which bearing in mind their age, did happen occasionally.
As I've already mentioned this was also a show where modern gaming had a face. Sega were represented with a stand which included Crazy Taxi on the 360 (out later this month) together with the 2D rebirth of our favourite blue hedgehog in Sonic 4. Nintendo brought their Unleashed tour to R3PLAY and we got the chance to play the new reworked GoldenEye on Wii - this was cracking fun even if my brother (playing as Oddjob) did manage to kick monkey ass and defeat me (playing as Jaws)! There was also the chance to play other recent releases, such as the brilliant Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.
This meant there was a great mix of people attending the show - those wearing their rose-tinted glasses and reminiscing about times gone by mixed with those eager to compete on FIFA or Halo via the European Console League area.
Speaking of competitions, there were various events which ran throughout the weekend - highlights being the Sensible Soccer and IK+ tournaments, where the winners played creators Jon Hare and Archer Maclean respectively in the finals.
Talks were also arranged throughout the 2 days and it was a pleasure to listen to Jon Hare natter about developing old favourites of mine on the Commodore Amiga, such as Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder. These talks were held in the conservatory area of the hotel and proved a nice relaxing break from the noise of the gaming hall - definitely a welcome addition to the itinerary.
People wishing to make gaming-related purchases were catered for by sellers such as Console Passion (with a wide range of retro games and consoles) and RetroGT (selling their gaming related T-Shirts). Local retailer WHO also had a stand where they were selling sci-fi, movie and fantasy related merchandise. Some people attending seemed a bit disgruntled that there was only the single retailer selling retro games / systems (Console Passion) but with the sponsorship money involved I can understand this on some level as it was more than likely a factor in R3PLAY happening at all.
So in summary, R3PLAY was truly an event where the retro gaming community came together and there was a fantastic atmosphere throughout the weekend. If you were ever unsure on how to use one of the many consoles / computers there was always someone nearby to give you a helping hand. A hobby such as ours is still considered “geeky” by the wider public so it was great to be amongst people who shared a genuine passion and interest in retro gaming.
It's yet to be “officially” confirmed but a return to Blackpool next year for “R3PLAY 2” is almost certain to happen. Hopefully the tremendous success of this first expo will make this an annual event and I'm sure as many people would attend again if not more.
Finally a genuine thank you goes out to all of the people involved in organising the show - I for one thoroughly enjoyed it.
Photos courtesy of Chinnico (Retro Gamer forum)
Jamie O'Neill - 15 Nov 2010, 09:41 GMT
Whoa, I never knew that Ian re-established his passion for 16-bit retro back in late 2008, that means that he has built up a class Mega Drive collection in a really short period of time - Fair play!
Reading this makes me feel like I get to experience a bit of R3PLAY, even though I didn't make it. Free play arcade gaming sounds ace, and with 1600 people attending just for the Saturday, there were a shed-load of retro gamers to enjoy it.
Four player 'Simpsons Arcade' is always going to be boss, and just imagine getting to play Jon Hare at Sensi, or Archer Maclean at IK+, that would be awesome. I am disappointed that I did not make it to R3PLAY '10, I think that I would have enjoyed meeting other gamers from the retro community the most, especially all the people I chat with on forums and Twitter. Ah well, I'm defo defo going to attend next year's event!
Nice one Ian, this a spot-on R3PLAY report and great vid/photos too!