Play Expo 2016 - a retrospective

Last year I had just started becoming more involved in the retro gaming community; writing a couple of reviews for GamesYouLoved and regularly posting on my Twitter & Instagram accounts - the Play Expo in Manchester was my first gaming expo and I had no idea what to expect so the whole event pretty much blew my mind!  

Article by Darren Browne - aka @KingMonkey25

I think for any gamer their first Play Expo event is like being a kid in a candy shop with so many things to actually do; vast arrays of coin-ops and pinball machines on free-play, huge amounts of retro computers and consoles all set up ready for you to either try for the first time or rekindle some fond memories of your youth, retailers selling vast amount of gaming goods, virtual reality (both new & old versions!), cosplay events and more!

Play Expo 2016 Manchester

My first event was mainly spent with fellow GYL team member Andy Pryer aka @clammylizard playing as many arcade machines as possible and seeking out things like Oculus Rift to try for the first time. During my second Play Expo in Blackpool a few months later I played less games but spent more time going around with Chris from GYL getting to meet industry legends such as Bob Wakelin and Jim Bagley as well as Henrique Olifiers after he had revealed the Spectrum Next!

So a year on from my last Play Expo Manchester event and things have changed quite a bit - my retro gaming collection has increased substantially, along with my followers on my Twitter & Instagram accounts and I now tune in to retro gaming podcasts and YouTube channels.

My main focus has always been Twitter and it's on this platform that I've got to know various folks from the retro gaming community albeit mostly by their Twitter aliases - it always seems surreal that you 'know' these people online but rarely know their actual names or even know what they look like! 

The 8th & 9th of October saw Play Expo arrive once more at Manchester's EventCity and having experienced 2 different Play Expo's I wanted to experience more than just playing the various machines and, after moving to London just a week before the event and therefore downsizing my storage space, I wasn't looking to buy anything. This meant I was able to spend my time seeking out the people I usually listen to on podcasts or interact with on my social media channels and this was what I was looking forward to most - finally meeting the various people from the retro gaming community.  

Having a press pass organised by GamesYouLoved meant I got early access so I did manage to avoid the huge queues outside and upon entering was met with the sight of Barricade and Bumblebee from the Michael Bay Transformers movie franchise - not a bad way to start!  I had a quick blast on a few arcade machines before seeking out the rest of the GamesYouLoved team.

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After meeting up with the GYL crew myself and Andy Foster (@andyfostergaming) headed off to get some pics of the queue outside before heading over to the arcades to challenge each other at a few games. The arcade is truly amazing - such an amazing job by the Replay Events crew and Retro Games Party.

Our battle on Sega Rally being one of the closest races I have ever been involved in; the lead constantly changing hands until the timer got us both with Andy still leading!  For those that follow Andy you will know he is a huge fan of Daytona USA and this definitely showed when he trounced my times on that machine! Along the way we also bumped into Aaron and Andy from the RGDS podcast team as well as Sean Holley from Ten Pence Arcade and would later join them & various others (@miggybaz) in the afternoon sun (surely a rarity in Manchester in October?!) for the RGDS Megacast & probably the toughest set of gaming questions ever devised!

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Sensible Soccer follow-up, Sociable Soccer made its playable debut at Play Blackpool and I ended up becoming the first ever Sociable Soccer champion! I stayed in touch with their development team so knew they would be at this event and, as Andy hadn't played it, we headed over to the stand where we found Sensible Software co-founder Jon Hare trying to get his game running on some PCs.

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As it was going to take a while to get the PCs running, Jon let us experience the game's 'God mode' via a Samsung GearVR headset; the game is definitely playing well and many improvements have been made since I last played in Blackpool.. Whilst there myself and Andy met Neil from GaminGuys and Retro Rich (who is a lot easier to spot than most Twitter folks due to the fact he wears the same cap as his Twitter avatar, Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury)!

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One of the best setups there was run by Tom Charnock from The Dreamcast Junkyard, loads of consoles running various games were available but of course Andy went for Daytona and the DC steering wheel controller!  

Other highlights for myself included playing on a VirtualBoy for the first time; the game was Mario Tennis and although I found it tough to time my shots, I was impressed with how good the 3D effect actually was considering it's age and no, I didn't experience nausea or headaches! I also got to sample old school Virtual Reality via the 'Virtuality' headset - graphically basic compared to what we are seeing now from PlayStation VR & Oculus Rift but great to have actually tried it, made me appreciate how tough it probably was for the contestants on BBC 2 VR prog Cyberzone!

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There are always so many amazing retail stalls at Play Expo Manchester and this year was no exception, Console Passion always bring a great variety of modded retro Japanese consoles with them but a massive tip of the hat must go to Allan McCluskey's staggering import collection - this was his first event and with only one table and vast amounts of games on various platforms at superb prices, the stand was constantly busy every time I passed by and Allan did a sterling job to manage/survive the 2 days all by himself, I know for certain he will be more prepared for the next event and look forward to seeing him at future events as I'm sure many collectors do, including the GYL staff who picked up some minty Japanese Megadrive bargains from Allan very early in the day!

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For those that have yet to attend a PlayExpo event I can confirm that it is definitely worth the effort (I travel from London myself) and there is so much to keep you entertained I recommend going for the 2 days if you want to cover everything - especially if it's your first event as I guarantee you won't get everything done in one day! 

I am always impressed at how friendly these events are; such a great community spirit with people not hogging machines and hardly any queuing for games (PlayStation VR being an exception and was crazily busy all day) and giving support to all the cosplayers - special mention to the family who all dressed as Lara Croft and the guy in this suit pictured with myself and Andy! And if you do go, make sure you keep an eye out for the GYL team!

Article by Darren Browne - aka @KingMonkey25

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