Monday, September 14, 2009
We were a few miles from Huddersfield, when the burgers began to take effect.
The weekend of 12-13 September 2009 marked the first Retro Reunited event in the UK – two days of meeting up with forum friends, hedonistic drinking, carvery meals and a lot of really awesome classic videogames. Click on the pics for higher res. My camera is awful, so here's a link to a random flickr account I found, with some nice bright photos! And here.
On this odyssey was your faithful reporter, plus five other gaming fans, including the editor of Retro Gamer and a fellow freelancer. Travelling from England’s south coast we piled into an 8-seater people-carrier and began the 6-hour drive north, to Yorkshire. The bearded to non-bearded ratio of those in the car was 50/50. We arrived at the hotel holding the event around midnight, when the RR organisers were still setting up the halls. By also staying at the same hotel, it ensured not far to walk each morning.
The following morning we headed out for breakfast. A local postman gave directions to a place which turned out to be a Buddhist café. This intrigued me, and I was interested to see whatever exotic foods they served. One of my compatriots though asked if they served bacon butties, and when told no, the vote was to instead find a Macdonalds or greasy spoon. (in case you're wondering, the title of this post is based on a Hunter Thompson novel - though it sorta ties in with our breakfast escapade)
The main event opened at 11 with Retro Gamer editor Darran Jones giving a brief intro. The rest of the 2 days was taken up with guest speakers, including Jon Ritman (Monster Max, GB), Archer Mclean (Dropzone), and Charles Cecil (Broken Sword). Other people mingling during the day were an artist from Ocean, the UK Pacman hi-score champ, the programmer behind Rise of the Robots on the Sega Genesis, a Ubisoft rep, and other cool people.
Retro Reunited was divided into 2 main halls, one featuring primarily 8-bit micro-computers, doubling also as the bar area and speaking hall, with the other featuring arcade machines plus a wide selection of games machines and stacks upon stacks of games. At a rough guess, omitting the emulated PC-in-a-SNES, I’d say there must have easily been around 250 games running on native hardware. Probably more! There was perhaps too much, and I found it sad that when faced with rows of rare and obscure Super Famicom games, most people went for the easy option of Final Fight 2. Personally, I avoided anything which was familiar or which I would otherwise have easy access to.
My personal highlights included playing on an Action Max, a strange VHS tape-based games system from the 1980s, where you attached a red light to the screen of your TV and aimed a lightgun at various white flashing circles as a movie played. Hit the white circles, which were overlaid on to ghosts, or other bad guys depending on which tape you played, and you scored a point while the red light flashed. It lacked any form of interactivity, and due to the horrendous detection of the lightgun was an unplayable mess. But an awesome, weird kind of mess.
Next was a PC-FX, which were it not at the event I would otherwise never be able to play. Chip Chan Kick was a fun, Bubble Bobble-styled 2-player co-op action game. It had some great arcade action. Then there was Kishin Doji Zenki: Vajura Fight, an outstanding scrolling brawler which reminded me of Guardian Heroes. The sprite-based visuals were fantastic and fluid. Myself and another guy got really far, and it was probably my favourite of the PC-FX games available. Super God Trooper Zeroigar, the only shmup on the system, was also available, but it was kinda awful. Nice animated cinemas, but it was excruciatingly difficult, and not much fun. Finally I played a lot of 2-player Battle Heat, a purely anime FMV-based beat-em-up. Despite being tricky to work out what to do (it’s basically paper/scissors/rock played out with FMV clips and Street Fighter pad combinations), it was unique and a lot of fun. I wish some western games had been so experimental (Supreme Warrior isn't quite the same...). There was also a dating game, but I never tried that. Right next to this was a Famicom Sharp Twin system, with SMB2, Otocky and Almana no Kiseki.
The halls housing the TVs were massive, roughly divided into themed sections (Nintendo, Sega, Atari, Weird, etc). There was also a Sega CD, which after a lot of work I eventually managed to find enough plugs to switch on (lying under the tables facing a wall of live plugs made me fear an untimely electrocution - the amount of juice getting sucked out must have been crazy). There was no games so I donated for the weekend my PAL-patched copy of Popful Mail, though few people seemed interested.
On the other side of the room was a Super Famicom with 16 cartridges. Ranma 1/2 was excellent, as always. Sword Maniac I discovered was the Japanese named for the X-Kalibur game. Super Back to the Future II, despite having average reviews in Super Play magazine, was a lot of silly fun.
There was also UFO Kamen Yakisoba, plus an SFC game I’d not heard of before: Ghost Sweeper Mikami, which, though little more than a simple walk-and-slash game featuring a sexy anime heroinne, was really good fun to play. The highlight of the collection was Magical Pop’n, which to me had some serious Metroidvania overtones.
It was also the first time I’d ever had a chance to play on a Virtual Boy – at least until the batteries ran out. Tennis was good, as was Vertical Force. I didn’t get much time on anything else.
Other systems included Saturns, Dreamcasts, Amstrads, Spectrums, 2600s, 7800s, Amigas, Nomads, Gameboys, some heavily modded systems, a PC-in-SNES, a CDi (though sadly missing my beloved Zelda games), plus a 3DO, brought in by a cool guy who’d randomly emailed me once. One of the event’s best elements was accidentally bumping into numerous people spoken to previously on forums! I also had a chance to play Shinobi X on the Saturn, and contrary to what a lot of people say, I think it's excellent.
There were also several stalls selling games, old and new, at crazy bargain bin prices.
Besides the games there were some cool tournaments. I missed the FPS one, but managed to reach the finals of the shmup tourny. First was a hi-score challenge on River Raid (Atari 2600), with me placing 3rd out of around a dozen entrants. The top four then played head-to-head matches on Twinkle Star Sprites (Saturn). With this done, the final was on Space War (Vectrex). I was winning 9 to 6, and needed only more round to claim victory. It was at this point I got a serious case of the yips and flaked out, losing 4 rounds in a row. The fighting tournament turned out to be just Street Fighter II, winner stays on, which started with one guy winning, and then continuing to win for the rest of the afternoon. I didn't stand a chance.
CAPTION: Darran scores over 130,000 on this C64 shmup
There was also a score competition on a newly developed C64 shmup (which I forget the name of, sadly). It was kinda like a side-scrolling version of 1942. Retro Gamer’s editor took the seat when the highest score was around 37,000, and promptly finished the game, scoring over 130,000. I played afterwards and ranked 2nd, with over 40,000, but by the end of the day was relegated down a couple of places.
Various other events also took place. A lucky-dip nabbed me a mint condition copy of Jet Set Radio and a C64 plug-n-play joystick. And on the first evening there was a raffle, with prizes ranging from T-shirts and games, up to a Paperboy arcade machine worth around £400.
The second night had a games auction (with money going to charity), with a mix of retro and new stuff. I picked up a PS2 game bundle with Silent Hill 3 and ZOE: Second Runner in it, for just £5. Bargain! Even better was that one attendee was giving away an enormous 36in, top of the range, SD CRT TV – perfect for playing retro games on. I promised to give it a good and it was mine.
The guest speakers were interesting, especially Charles Cecil, who jovially chatted for several hours with everyone gathered round him. He revealed a lot of fascinating things about Broken Sword, plus connections to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code. My only disappointment was that while he revealed innumerable facts, little of it was recorded, perhaps leaving them to be lost to time. But I did snatch some notes down:
For Beneath a Steel Sky, the voice-acting was done in the front room of a sound engineer’s London house, with a bus driving past on the road outside every half-hour. The interesting thing was, though, that allegedly the guys involved in the recording went upstairs to smoke some weed at one point, and the actors joined them, with the result that none of them read their lines in quite the same way upon returning.
Also, when trying to come up with a name for Lure of the Temptress, Charles wrote a long list, and at the bottom, for a joke, he put “Lure of the Temptress”. Thing is, the publisher chose that from the list. Which was fine, except the game contained no temptress, and no luring. The exec’s reply was simply to put some in. This resulted in Charles and co going back to the game and tacking on a whole new section to justify the title.
Another thing which really stood out for me was that the event was populated by so many really good folks. Piles of CDs, cartridges and Hu-Cards, with some games worth close to a hundred pounds, were stacked up on all the tables without anyone keeping an eye on them. There was a wonderful sense of trust that they would remain there until the show’s end, and that they’d be looked after and kept in mint condition. I also met a lot of really awesome, quirky people. One was a professional UK wrestler, with the muscles to match, who carried my 36-in TV back to the car. Another was a movie special effects maestro, who’d been involved with the rendering for several big name films.
One of the funniest characters I met was a cherub-like kid, no older than 5- or 6-years old, who was an absolute demon at shmups – with the exception of Super God Trooper Zeroigar (which I actually think might be impossible). At first I asked if he wanted a second player to join him on Zero Gunner (DC), naively thinking I’d help him out with the tough bits. With a high pitched chirp he said “Sure!”, before promptly giving orders to “Focus on the little guys while I take out the train!” He was actually very good, and it was genuinely scary, because he was getting REALLY pissed off when I screwed up. Believing that angry children are quick to turn to tantrums and tears, I didn’t want to become “the guy that made some kid cry”, so after hurriedly getting a game over I thanked him for the game and moved on, leaving him to finish it alone. Whoever you are, weird Shmup Kid, I salute you and your taste in games!
Like so much in life it was over before we’d had a chance to appreciate things. It was a sad end when we left, with 6 hours of driving and work the next day beckoning, but it was a fantastic 2 days, with far too much to see and enjoy given the short time, and organised and attended by some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
There was tons more going on, but I’m too tired to type anymore, so will instead leave you with this selection of videos from the event.
Posted by Sketcz at 4:40 PM