Promising V.R, Minecraft, indie titles, deathmatches and more; Play Expo got off a to a good start with clear skies and the ability to get people in on time and in a nice orderly fashion clearly putting it ahead of Blackpool’s last nerd convention of late. But how did it hold up on the inside and more importantly did I manage to win anything? This is………………………………………………………………………………………
Running the weekend of April to May Play Expo, as you may be able to guess from the title, is a convention dedicated to gaming and what I loved was that we’re not just talking banks of PS4’s and a few old cabinets here or there. On show was everything from tic tac toe through pong and up to the Oculus rift.
In the main hall ran a few banks of arcade cabinets with the likes of Point Blank, Crazy Taxi and House of the Dead drawing the biggest lines and that would be my first point to anyone thinking of coming. Pre-book and make sure you get there early. The place never felt overcrowded but you could see it filling up as the day went on. The extra hour you get inside for pre-booking makes a difference as you go from jumping on anything you want without a thought to either cueing up or making strategic leaps from empty cabinet to abandoned console.
Past the rows of people trying to play all the classics one handed, while they record their “high scores” with their other, sat the home consoles running from pong up to the N64 with consoles and titles in-between I’ve never seen nor am I able to pronounce. Past them was the modern era as banks of X-box and PS4 ran the newest titles to entice you in along with a Formula one car that someone clearly didn’t trust to park on the streets of Blackpool for a day.
Don’t worry smug, superior P.C players there’s room for you two, out of the way down the corridor where you can argue about specs and cards and the size of your dongle. Of course they put the glorious P.C gaming master race next to the most primitive games going as elves literally threw sticks on the ground probably just to really wind them up. Of course when P.C gamers have Jedi Academy, counter strike and Doom death matches to go at it’s not like they’re going to be that fussed about who they have to share the room with. Not that this was the safest space for modern gamers as they tried to come to grips with the complexities of Command and Conquer. Or maybe it was just the cut scenes that broke them.
Meanwhile Dark Cleo were on hand to help people understand how to turn a board game on and explain how the touch screen was able to feel so realistic and life like while the animation and frames per second had to suffer. Meanwhile the rhythm section got a little under served with Donkey Kong’s bongos, a rock band, a D.J station and some maracas. The Oculus rift was allowed its own private room with Colonial Defence Force: Starfighter running on a loop.
The follow up to every decent 90’s space sim that favoured dog fights and suspense, over Elite’s epic space trucker simulator, was a decent thrill ride and a truly immersive experience. I’m not saying I’d run out an buy an Oculus Rift over it but I’m considering the 2d version when it is finally released on Steam, with the VR version currently in early access, and until then will be rooting around for my lost joystick and going through GOG’s library for a few suitable titles to tide me over.
But what would a convention be if not for a place to buy over priced tat and what an array of tat they had. There was Dante showing off the wonders of 3d printed swords for cosplayers and a whole room given over to stalls lined with classic titles and consoles all tested and ready to go. Funko Pops dominated one wall while their competition was spread out meaning you were forever tripping over giant headed pop culture references. Body pillows looked down on the cake counter and plushies of every Anime going were on sale.
Of course there was also the cosplayers out in force with Studio Ghibli down to wrestlers happy to stop for a chat and pose for a picture or two depending on how long it took the idiot to work his camera.
Though I do have to question some of the scheduling of the event at this point for leaving much of the day open and then putting talks on at the same time as the parade, especially when signings from the talk were part of the give away in the Saturday parade. Now at other cons you might say that this way if you don’t want to watch the cosplay parade we’ve put something else on for you and the same goes for the other way round but at something like Play there was already enough on for those not wanting to sit through the parade as people leapt on the chance to snag the now open cabinets left in the audiences’ wake.
I think there is definitely enough here to warrant a two day convention especially if you got sucked in to a game like Firefly. Food is on hand at the bar with the likes of burgers and hot dogs and there are three sandwich shops/ chippies running along side the hotel but again get there early as they will get swamped easily with the chippie managing to run out of plates while I was there and I managed to “beat the rush”.
Overall the event was well worth it and I reckon you can get your money back simply due to the free cabinets and pinball machines on offer. At least if you’re no pro like me and would normally be stuck sinking in pound after pound to keep the game going. As for the most important question asked, I managed to win at Virtua Fighter and Pong and then promptly loose at everything else. Including many that weren’t co-op.