The 4th and 5th of May saw the return of Replay Events’ Play Expo to the English seaside town of Blackpool. Play Expo: Blackpool 2014 was a celebration of gaming in all of it’s guises: retro, arcade, computer, current and future and the best bit was that it was totally open to the public. My first taste of a Play event was Play Manchester in late 2013, and that was as a member of the paying public. This time however, I was there as an exhibitor with online retro-gaming community RetroCollect, so I got a slightly different perspective of the event. The one thing that remained constant from my previous visit was that it was a lot of fun and a gamer’s dream. As mentioned, I was at Play Expo: Blackpool as an exhibitor and part of my remit was to help run the UK Classic Gaming Championships (CGC), where members of the public were invited to take part in various retro-console based challenges. The overall winner of the CGC over the weekend was presented with a number of prizes by Storage Hunters TV presenter Jesse McClure. Apart from the CGC, visitors to Play Blackpool could try their luck at hundreds of free to play classic arcade games – from Turbo Outrun and Daytona USA to Defender and Salamander, pretty much every major classic arcade cabinet was there.
Next to the arcade area, the home console hall allowed gamers to sample pretty much every home console ever made, from the more common systems like the Mega Drive (Genesis) and SNES, to more uncommon systems such as the Neo Geo CD, Vectrex, Amiga CD32 and Famicom Twin. More recent systems like the original Xbox were set up in another area and allowed for huge LAN death-matches on Halo 2, while another zone was set up for both PC LAN games and demonstrations of new indie games. For me, the most impressive thing I experienced was the Oculus Rift. I managed to try one on for size, and was treated to a rolling demo built with the Minecraft engine. I was pretty much blown away by the experience and it totally changed my opinion of the Rift from ‘quite unfazed’ to ‘mind blown!’
As well as being able to play games on various platforms and take part in competitions, gamers could also indulge in some retail therapy in the trader’s hall, where a multitude of independent retro gaming market stalls were selling all kinds of rare and obscure items alongside more common titles for most systems. Annexing the traders hall was a small area where consoles were set up displaying a selection of unreleased games – one of which was the legendary Toejam & Earl 3 for the Sega Dreamcast. Throughout the two-day event, there were also talks and conferences held by industry veterans, and inventor Clive Sinclair also made an appearance in his Sinclair C5 electric vehicle of the future!
Overall, Play Blackpool was a huge success and I met some great people from the gaming scene. The next big Play Expo is Play Expo: Manchester 2014 in October and I will definitely be there to soak up some more retro – and current gen – gaming atmosphere!