PlayExpo, Event City, Manchester, 13-14 October 2012

by WordChazer

Two solid days of pings, whistles, bleeps and electronic noise. Lots of gaming. And cosplay. And good food. And drinking. What’s not to like about PlayExpo?

This year ideally located at Event City, next to Manchester’s Trafford Centre, the event was scaled up from the version known as Replay and held last year in the quirky Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool. Unfortunately the greater cost did preclude some exhibitors from attending, but there were still a number of specialist retailers on hand to part gamers from their cash as well as areas for the pro-gamers, pinball and arcade machines, a History of Gaming wall, a cosplay stage and rank after rank of retro kit of all kinds to play around on.

Binatone and Munchman, Tournaments and Wii-U

A Binatone tennis game in colour.I found an original Binatone video game, the only difference from the one I played until it broke was that this one was in glorious Technicolor. There was a whole line of Game and Watch machines (Snoopy Tennis, anyone?) a Grandstand Munchman, a console running Caveman and the obligatory versions of Manic Miner - here, have a T-shirt - and Donkey Kong to prove that I never knew what I was doing with these games in the first place even though I enjoyed playing them!

Meantime the cosplayers were giving talks on how to modify ordinary clothes, usually from charity shops, into costume props, how to trim wigs and how best to approach the thorny issue of personal hygiene when in costume all day. In one area a dedicated band of arcade gamers were going at it hammer and tongs as most of the machines were on freeplay all weekend. Further round the venue was a tournament area featuring Bomberman and other multi-player games and a larger area for the pro-gamers on Halo 2, Medal of Honor and similar. Various large firms had displays including EA and Nintendo, who brought a Wii-U with which to tempt people. No, it was for viewing purposes only, no playing allowed.

Pro-gamers and Cosplayers had Their Areas Too

The quieter area towards the back of the venue was where the pro-gamers were located, they all had their cans on and were in full concentration mode whenever I swung round past them. Meantime the queue to see the Wii-U stretched at times up to the 2 hour wait sign, which meant that I never did manage to clap eyes on it.

In any case the cosplayers provided more than enough diversion for me. Many were in anime or kawaii costumes, but there was a winged purple dragon from Guild of Thieves as well as several macramé chainsaw totin’mamas. It made a change to see them instead of the Stormtroopers and Doctors Who normally in attendance at Collectormania and LFCC, but I am conscious of the fact that my knowledge of gaming cosplay characters is not good. I don’t play the right kind of games, obviously, being a Tetris/Fishdom/Pacman geek. RPG really isn’t my bag (as she wanders off to have another bash at Fishdom on the PC). Apparently, talking of Fishdom, there was an arcade version of the game on show briefly on Saturday. Maybe a good thing I never saw it, or I would have been the one responsible for breaking the arcade machine it was on. As it was, that had already happened by the time I saw the machine on Sunday.

Newsflash – Retro Machinery Breaks

That’s the worst thing about retro gear – it breaks. That’s also the best thing about retro gear, in that it can often be revived with the use of an Arduino microcontroller, Raspberry Pi-run programming and an SD card to improve the memory function. Many older machines now feature floppy drive emulators running on an SD card which replicate and improve on the machine’s existing (and now possibly failing) memory and allow hardware which is otherwise totally functional to continue being used.

The Event was a Success, Thanks to Months of Planning

All in all, this was a very successful event. The organisers reported that they had more footfall than they had anticipated. Certainly the choice of venue had something to do with it, as everything desired by a gamer needing a break was within walking distance. The one complaint we did have was that the food and drink within the venue was overpriced. But with the variety of bars, cafes and restaurants close by, everyone was catered for. Those in hotels had a bar tab and a choice of food on site, whilst those visitors staying in bed and breakfast accommodation were able to choose from the many food halls located around the Trafford Centre for their meals. But that’s a whole new article.

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This article originally appeared on on 19 December 2012. It was removed at the writer's request in February 2013, and appears here with slight revision and additional photographs.

Updated: 12/25/2013, WordChazer
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