On the Bank Holiday weekend of 2nd – 4th May, retro gamers from all over the United Kingdom descended on the North West for Play Blackpool. Run by the same team behind Manchester’s Play Expo, and in conjunction with funstock, this hugely popular event has now firmly established itself on the gaming calendar, and this year’s was the biggest yet.
In keeping with the oldest of clichés, there really was something for everyone. Those seeking a little nostalgia would find consoles dating back to the earliest days of home gaming, with many playable Atari machines on display. Perhaps strange given some of the amazing technology in other areas of the arena, but there is still something oddly addictive about playing Pong! From these early days, there were machines spanning the years right up to the PS4 and Xbox One, with a Halo Deathmatch Hub running across nearly twenty of the latter.
More nostalgia could be found in the arcade area of the hall, with dozens of classic games machines available to play for free. From Out Run to Space Harrier via a pair of very popular Star Wars machines, there was nearly every classic arcade coin guzzler you could think of. Free from any shackles restricted by budgetary constraints, several high scores (and lifetime bests!) were surely set over the weekend.
Alongside these rarities were some bang up-to-date examples of gaming technology and software. The virtual reality system Oculus Rift showcased several new games with designers on hand to answer any questions and demonstrate this amazing technology. There was also the first chance for gamers to get their hands on Skysaga: Infinite Isles from the Radiant World team. This open sandbox game allows players a unique world-building experience combined with various challenges and was an extremely popular area of the hall. Chief Technical Officer Andrew Olliver, one half of The Olliver Twins responsible for the Dizzy and Simulator range of games, was on hand all weekend answering questions and also found time to deliver a fascinating talk.
Other guests in attendance were Steve Lycett, who gave a real insight into what goes into making a successful racing game, David Rowe, the poster artist behind the cult television show Knightmare, and there was the first European public screening of a new documentary telling the story of industry pioneers Atari, introduced by Jeff Minter, founder of software house Llamasoft.
With a popular and well attended Cosplay masquerade, one of the qualifying heats for the Classic Gaming Championships, several in-house tournaments of FIFA, Halo and Street Fighter among others, and a trading hall ensuring the retro experience could continue unabated at home Play Blackpool really was gaming nirvana. The single biggest thing to take away though was the atmosphere. Set up like the best arcade you could imagine, with every console you could think of (and some you couldn’t – Goldstar 3DO anyone?) this is an event that is impossible not to enjoy. Roll on next year, but if you’re suffering withdrawal symptoms Play Margate takes place between 21st and 23rd August.