Geek 2015 – Margate, Kent, UK

Los Angeles has the Electronic Entertainments Expo; PAX stretches from Massachusetts to Texas; San Diego is home to Comic-con; London houses the MCM expo every year; and then there’s the small seaside town of Margate in Kent. Although don’t be put off by the apparent David amongst Goliaths, GEEK (which stands for Game Expo East Kent) is the hugely popular exhibition of everything related to ‘play and games;’ a celebration of classic and modern video games, board games, card games, cosplay and stalls packed full of merchandise, memorabilia and crafty novelties. We certainly couldn’t afford to miss out on the greatness that was practically on our doorstep. Nerd is the word…

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Nestled in the Winter Gardens on Margate’s seafront held between the 19th and 21st of February, the three-day event that is GEEK 2015 accommodated a plethora of old and new gaming consoles from around the world. Set into different zones, there was a chance for paying members of the public to play different types and genres of games. From action, sports, simulations, shooting, fighting and puzzle games spread over all generations of Nintendo, XBox, PlayStation, PC and Sega systems (to name but a few). It was hard not to be spoilt for choice on what you wanted to have a go on next. Ever wanted to play on a Nintendo Famicom with a mouse? Never got round to playing a Dreamcast? Want to know all the fuss is about with the new Call of Duty? Felt the need to show off your battling prowess in Pokémon against real players? All of these questions could be answered. With the main hall featuring the massive selection of gaming consoles, another full of exhibitor’s stalls with a secondary stage set up for interviews and a final Chill zone complete with niche indie games and mood lighting, there was always something worth your time.


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Starting with the exhibition hall, you could get all your game and pop-culture related merchandise from this opening hub allowing you to purchase retro games, character prints, and mugs, wallets t-shirts or even classic sprites made out of Hamma beads. You could also pick up your copy of the Geek Gazette – a useful souvenir guide full of articles, interviews and information on all that was happening over the weekend. Set to the other side were board games and players teaching others the ins and outs of their favourite past times. Another hidden gem was the simple computer arrays made of old egg boxes and some that replaced input devices with forks and knives. The stage headed the front of the space which held informal interviews with YouTubers and indie developers as well workshops with cosplayers and the Saturday afternoon’s cosplay masquerade (other days held talks about video game narratives, a showcase of the Unity gaming engine and storytelling workshops over the weekend). On the upper gantry, more board gamers were set out and there was also an opportunity to meet with the previously mentioned YouTube personalities and ask them questions one-on-one.

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The main hall held the meat of the event; a vast room full of the consoles before and during our existence. We jumped straight onto Puyo Pop Fever on a GameCube – a colourful but crazy falling blocks game – and although we had no idea of the controls, we picked it up very quickly and were battling it out to see who could get the highest score. Saturns, Mega Drives, PlayStations, NES’ and SNES’ caught our attention the most as we played through some well-known titles such as Clockwork Knight, TOCA 2, EA Hockey and Yoshi’s Cookie. The sixteen XBox 360’s playing Halo deathmatch tournaments centred the room; Hearthstone had a few machines dedicated to its own mini-contests and newer blockbusters such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, WatchDogs, Far Cry 4 and Need for Speed Rivals on current generation consoles were contained in an 18+ area for obvious reasons. Having never played some of these on a newer system, this gave us the opportunity to try them out. It was also good to see some of the greatest and newest indie titles such as Fez, Thomas Was Alone, Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy, I am Bread and Screamride hold their own against the likes of FIFA 15 and Halo’s Masterchief Collection. Although no-one could compete with the greatness of Minecraft. It had its own special area with a queue to get in and its own tournament. Not hard to understand as it’s one of the biggest selling and most popular games. Another selection of stalls then sold modified Gameboy’s, figurines, cartridges and table top games which included our personal favourite, Rory’s Story Cubes (review imminent).


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And if you wanted to take things a bit easier and remove yourself from the scale of the event, there was also the Chill Zone filled with ambient lighting and independently developed games that reflect on the cool and calm. Whether you wanted to jump from cloud to cloud as you drift through the storybook world of Castles in the Sky; explore as a rolling cube in a geometric domain in Cube and Star: An Arbitrary Love; sore over Journey’s sand dunes; float through the neon-rainforests of The UnderGarden or simply watch a projection of someone else wander through a world of beautiful glowing particles in A Light in Chorus. This zone also became a small theatre later on in the day as it showed the 2012 documentary, ‘Indie Game: The Movie’; a nice change of pace from the hectic Main Hall.

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But of course this was only the tip of the iceberg since we only went for the Saturday. Earlier that morning there was a Guinness World Record attempt to beat the quickest time in completing Bricking It in Time Splitters II. There were different retro gaming tournaments running throughout each event too with a Sonic challenge each day, a Mario Kart 64 challenge on the Friday, Street Fighter II on the Saturday and finally a Super Smash Brothers Melee closer on the Sunday with prizes from each awarded to the best player. With enough differences each day to warrant a subsequent visit it made for a very unique day out. We had missed the early ticket sales online but on they were reasonably priced at £15.50 on the door and you definitely got a lot for your money. Friday and Sunday were slightly cheaper but only by a pound or so but with it being the start of the weekend, it was easy to see that the Saturday was priced the way it was. Either way, no matter what day you could have chosen, you wouldn’t have felt any less out-of-pocket.


Getting around was fair also; the map included in the guide was clear but having a list of what was on offer from the off would have been a great way to go around and essentially tick off our favourites or finding something that sounded good. Luckily a lot of what we played was found with our eyes and that was probably and arguably a better way of discovering. A few machines did cease to work but that’s only understandable when a twenty something year old console is running throughout a day of a busy play through and lots of play styles. On the other hand, seeing older Master Systems and NES’ continue through it all just shows how they can continue under pressure.

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And so our time at GEEK 2015 was a pretty epic trip down memory lane, reliving some of the nostalgic games we used to play and also getting a chance to try something different which may have otherwise been overlooked. We have both been avid gamers for a long time and so this event has given us a taste of gaming exhibitions; something neither of us has experienced before but it’s something that we would wholeheartedly recommend to gamers and pop-culturists alike, no matter what the scale. Although compact, GEEK 2015 offered us a new insight into one of the world’s biggest and best mediums. Hopefully we’ll get chance to go to the event in 2016. It certainly beats sitting inside and playing video games all day.

Words by Jimmi and Kat

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E3 2014 Conferences Round-Up – Microsoft

E3

E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is arguably the biggest and boldest annual video gaming convention ever to grace the planet. Held in sun-drenched Los Angeles, the big guns of the gaming industry including Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony showcasing brand new hardware and games. The event is a pantomime of lights, music, noises and good old’ fashioned video games. Held exclusively to the press and industry members, the entire convention is streamed online for all us norms to watch at home. And that’s exactly what we did. People from all around the globe watched with bated breath waiting for what the next big announcements were coming to PC’s and home consoles over the next few months and beyond. This is a list some of the notable games and software that hooked us to spend all our hard earned money on the most expansive and by far best consumable media there is.

XBOX Computer giant, Microsoft had a bit of a tough time last year. They had launched their new XBOX ONE and had been feeling the heat of the backlash from fans who weren’t particularly interested by it always online features, compulsory Kinect, TV connectivity and social aspects. They were then blown out of the water when Sony revealed that its next-generation games console would be cheaper and had none of this. As a result, Microsoft did a 180 degree spin over the course of year that seems very far away from their original idea by removing the Kinect, allowing used games and so on. Never-the-less, Microsoft had to pull out all the stops for this year’s press conference. And they did…

CODS

Arguably one of the biggest franchises ever, Activision’s ‘Call of Duty’ kicked off E3 with their upcoming Advanced Warfare as a timed exclusive. Set in the near future, the game features the traditional elements of a first person shooter packed with mech-suits, drones a plenty, jetpacks, fancy, new age rifles and walking robot things; very reminiscent of games such as ‘Titanfall’ and later ‘Killzones’’. Although admittedly, ‘Call of Duty’ is not everyone’s cup of tea, the gameplay demo does look brilliant. It has a high quality of polish that you would expect from a console of this high spec and visually ‘Call of Duty’ hasn’t looked better. Dialogue is bit cheesy and best described as ‘American gun-ho’ (“You gotta go now… It’s okay. I’ll see you on the other side” FOR FREEDOM!!) which I feel is the suit of every military shooter ever made; it was like America was made to win wars but only in fiction. But that aside like Call of Duty’s before it, ‘Advance Warfare’ sets to sell millions again and be just as popular and for that reason alone, it was a worthy opener.

Sunset Overdrive

A colourful, over-the-top, somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on the traditional monster shooter. ‘Sunset Overdrive’ doesn’t take itself so seriously and from what we saw, the new first party exclusive is refreshing and exciting. We’re told that energy drink have been polluted and are now turning people into disfigured mutants that are slowly engulfing Sunset City. And the best way to get rid of them is by blowing them to high noon whilst grinding hand rails and zip-lining with a crowbar. If the game is anything the trailer sets it out to be, ‘Sunset Overdrive’ is going to be packed with one-liners, epic combos and comic-book violence. Although not particularly lengthy, the demo was full of quick paced action that emanated a great, chaotic and simply fun tone.

Halo: Master Chief Saga

The franchise that started it all for the original XBOX as a console way back in 2001 was announced to be released on XBOX ONE letting owners play the entire Master Chief saga in HD from start to finish. ‘The Master Chief Collection’ starts with the very first ‘Combat Evolved’ right up to the most recent ‘Halo 4’. The collection boasts user-created playlists allowing players to choose which moments of the story they want to play without having to go through the entire narrative first. Maps have been recreated especially for the ONE. Halo was one of those franchises that didn’t move me until I played it. The settings and vistas looked amazing on the older original XBOX and 360 and they are only set to get a lot more attractive in the newly retouched worlds for the ONE. Although nothing new for XBOX fans that have stayed true to Halo throughout its rise, this is surely going to be a big hit for those who want to re-live one of the best shooters ever created whilst keeping them tied over until ‘Halo 5: Guardians comes out in 2015’ or simply get into the franchise.

The Division

One of the sure-fire hits of last year’s E3 closed Microsoft’s conference. Ubisoft’s third-person-shooter-cum-massive-multiplayer-with-elements-of-role-playing set in an infected New York shows a co-operative mission that highlights a lot of smaller details that can be missed on first glance. Last year, this insane attention to detail was picked up and this year was no different. From bullet holes in glass windows, the closing of the doors on cars for added protection and the tiny details on the head up displays such as holographic maps and recreations. Although heavily scripted – I as well as the rest of the gaming community know for a fact that no one talks the way the players did in the demo in actual online games – the look and feel of this game looks enticing. Ubisoft came under a bit of scrutiny from players of ‘Watch_Dogs’ for not looking like the E3 gameplay footage and we’re hoping they’re not going to pull the same stunt on ‘The Division’ because it looks incredible at the moment

Honourable Mentions

The next ‘Forza Horizon’ is set to expand on what was created in the original with new weather dynamics, day and night cycle and tonnes of new metal from the likes of McLaren, Lamborghini and Ferrari to create this petrolhead’s paradise.

Capcom went one further with titles. Their new DLC for the epic zombie-slayer ‘Dead Rising 3’ is called ‘Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX plus α.’ It mixes all of Capcom’s greatest characters and lets you use them to, well, slay more zombies.

Moon Studio’s ‘Ori and the Blind Forrest’ and builds upon what was done by games like Journey and Limbo by looking simple yet gorgeous and full of life and maybe even spiritualism in this side-scrolling adventure platformer. Playdead, who also made ‘Limbo’ also showed ‘Inside’, a game with a similar look and dark feel.

Microsoft also showed off a plethora of independent titles in a montage (Stylized as ID@XBOX) with turn based beat-em-ups such as Aztez; side scrolling platformer ‘Might No 9’; real-time strategy, ‘Plague Inc: Evolved’; and ‘Grave’ which looks to be a horror adventure game.

2012’s Tomb Raider reboot scored highly so it was not a surprise to see a teaser trailer for Lara Croft’s latest instalment title ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’.

Who Was Not Mentioned?

Kinect

Erm, the Kinect. After last year’s E3, Microsoft was adamant that the Kinect’s features with the XBOX ONE would make gaming and home entertainment experiences better than ever before. Every XBOX ONE up until recently came with a Kinect camera. Now it has been turned into essentially a peripheral add on, the price of the ONE was slashed and it seemed the Kinect had been all but forgotten about. Without the mention of Disney’s and Harmonix Fantasia: Music Evolved and Dance Central – which primarily uses the Kinect – for a brief moment, then there wouldn’t have been anything at all related to the Kinect. Neither were there mentions of the TV features that littered a good part of the conference last year. Not that this phased anyone as the now-Kinect-less and cheaper console now means that it brings it on par with the PlayStation 4.

 

So Microsoft well and truly turned it around this year. No seething fans, no ridiculous inclusions that some people won’t use and no Kinect. They played it safe and in return showed some epic games excited us all. ‘The Division’ looks fantastic and Assassin’s Creed Unity shaping up to be another classic (more from that on Ubisoft’s conference) but as personal favourite highlight, ‘Sunset Overdrive’ proves that something fresh and exciting can always be a unique selling point.

 

 

Words by Jimmi