On Saturday June 9th 2018, this rookie went to her first Games Expo. Held at the Braehead Arena in Glasgow for its third year, Play Expo promised to be a big event full of both modern and retro gaming experiences, and I’m excited to share my thoughts on the event with you here.
This was much easier than I thought. I’d never been to the Braehead Arena before, but knew it was in the same general location as the Braehead Shopping Centre, so I hopped on the 77 bus and was there pretty quickly. Upon arrival me an my partner spent a few minutes getting our bearings and quickly decided that if we followed the man in the Mario t-shirt, we would probably end up in the right place. Surprisingly enough, our cultural stereotyping worked perfectly!
The Braehead Arena is sometimes an ice rink and sometimes hosts concerts (I seem to remember Megadeth played there a few years ago), so make of that what you will. I’m not sure it would actually be a great venue for gigs but for this purpose it does the trick – it is basically a large oval room surrounded by stadium seating with several smaller rooms attached. For this event they cordoned-off two ‘stage areas’, one for gaming tournaments, the other for cosplay talks and processions.
It also has a bar attached, selling alcoholic and non-alcoholic refreshments at sightly higher than average prices, and a selection of crisps and sweets. A hot-dog stand wouldn’t have gone amiss, but since the venue is actually inside a shopping centre (and you could come and go as you pleased) it wasn’t difficult to get decent food.
As you can see from the layout map, it really had a little bit of everything, from VR to table-top games. It had separate rooms for both LAN gaming and console-multiplayers (most of which seemed to be rhythm action games), and a really-quite-large pinball section run by the Scottish Pinball Association. You could casually enter tournaments of various games, or sign up to take part in the staged tournaments, which included Tekken 7, Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros.
There were TONS of arcade machines of varying quality and age, and there were a couple of sit-in (or in fact stand-on) cabinets in the form of After Burner (Sega, 1987) and Dancing Stage Euro Mix (Konami, 2000). There was also a very small Indie gaming section with a few (mostly local) developers present, although sadly I didn’t get a chance to talk to any of them.
The Rookie’s Gaming Experience:
So what did I actually play? Between me and my partner, we played quite a lot of games. Some were well-known golden oldies, others were modern games I’d never had the chance to play at home. Before we showed up I expressed the wish to play games with light-guns, and I was not disappointed. The first thing we jumped on was Time Crisis 2 (Namco, 1997). This was literally the first thing we saw free so went for it. It wasn’t entirely perfect – it was on a tiny screen, not the arcade version, but we still had fun shooting stuff for a few minutes to get our eyes in! I wanted to play lots of light-gun games, but the House of the Dead machine was swarming with
zombies customers the entire day.
My partner did however quickly spy the one game he had been determined to play before we showed up – Point Blank (Namco, 1994). We proceeded to play several rounds of this light-gun based joy, which my partner described as being a bigger version of the Shooting Range mini-game in Resident Evil 4. I struggled with it at first, not able to reach my target number of hits, and definitely not hitting the falling leaf with just one bullet, but I did get a little better as we went on, and I don’t think I hit any bombs the whole time. I did however lose 6v0, but since I’d never played it before I wasn’t going to be too hard on myself. Another arcade cabinet I played for the first time (and was dreadful at) was Mortal Kombat 2 (Midway, 1993). It was interesting to experience as it feels so different to all the other fighting games I’ve played. I have to say though that I don’t think I’ll be returning to it anytime soon!
Whilst my partner spent a while playing the Star Wars arcade game (Atari, 1983), I played a number of other arcade cabinets. I tried my hand at Asteroids (Atari), which being from 1979 is one of the oldest games I’ve had the pleasure of trying. My first couple of attempts ended pretty quickly, but once I got the hang of the controls I managed to do pretty well at avoiding asteroids and blowing up enemy spacecraft! Next I tried a game called Joust (Williams Electronics, 1982), which actually seemed quite fun, and may be the only game I’ve ever played where you are an ostrich and the main control is simply labelled ‘flap’. There were a lot of late 70’s and early 80’s arcade cabinets, and it struck me, as someone who never spent time in arcades growing up, just how cool the old cabinets look now.
Away from the arcades and retro gaming, I also played quite a few more modern games. We spent a while in the multiplayer room, including a brief stint playing Guitar Hero, which I argue wasn’t set up properly because I found it really hard (but maybe I’m just out of practice), and I also tried Donkey Konga (!), which was an alarming amount of fun once I worked out what the symbols actually meant (and a nice member of staff came over to fix the disk and explain the controls), but it made my hands hurt pretty quickly so I can’t imagine investing in that one! My partner spent quite a while in the multiplayer room playing Micro Machines. I mean…we tried to play it in multiplayer, but you remember how I often say I’m not very good at video games? Well, Micro Machines was a good case in point. I still enjoyed watching it though as I’d never played it before!
Towards the end of the day the crowd started to thin out which meant I got a chance to get onto the current consoles, which I’d been really excited about as I don’t own either a PS4 or an XBox One. There were LOTS of games on offer, and I jumped on a fair few of them – Ori and the Blind Forest (Moon Studios, 2015), which I found both too hard and too beautiful, TowerFall (Matt Makes Games, 2013), which I really enjoyed for the 5 minutes I played it, Dragon Ball FighterZ (Arc System Works/Bandai Namco, 2018), which was totally bonkers and finally (finally!) Tekken 7 (Bandai Namco, 2017). If you’ve read the blog before you may know that I love Tekken, however I’ve been sceptical about the most recent installment for a while. It did play nicely though, and I had a few enjoyable battles against my partner, but I’m still not entirely convinced. What’s wrong with it you might ask? Well…Hwoarang (of goggle wearing fame) now has black hair and an eye patch instead of ginger hair and goggles *gasps*. That’s enough to put me off. I also found the menus rather unappealing, and the interface reminded me of the horrible Tekken 6, rather than the far superior Tekken Tag Tournament 2.
Play Expo isn’t just about playing games, there are also other things to watch and enjoy. I don’t have a great deal to say about the tournaments that took place as I didn’t watch any of them – I don’t really enjoy watching eSports at all, and never even tune in to watch game streams on Twitch, so this was never going to be my thing.
There was also a Cosplay stage, and I saw a fair amount of good cosplay wandering round the event, but didn’t actually watch any of the shows and sadly didn’t manage to get any pictures of it. There were LOTS of people in maid and butler cosplay because Maid In Scotland were there (that’s a Japanese maid cafe in the heart of Glasgow…yep….didn’t know we had one of THOSE did ya *winks*), and although I didn’t watch their show they did look incredible.
There was also a pretty sizable retail area where you could buy ALL the Pokemon plushies as well as countless imported and/or rare video games. I don’t collect games so I couldn’t point out any particular rarities that were on offer, but the sheer number of Japanese imports available definitely impressed me. I had to fight hard to stop myself buying both a light-gun and a lamp shaped like Captain Toad, but then, I suppose you can’t have it all. I did however make two purchases (from the same stall) that I want to share with you here, because I was blown away by the quality of art at this one particular outlet.
I came away with these gorgeous pieces of foil art, from Silhouette Artwork, a Glasgow based artist who produces both foil-cut character art, and monochrome ink work of many anime and video game characters. I fell in love with the purple foil Faye (from Cowboy Bebop) as well as the stunning green foil Skull Kid (from Majora’s Mask). The artist also had images from the likes of Fairy Tail, Sword Art Online, Trigun and Fire Emblem. I wanted to give them a big shout out here as it is some of the best video game art I’ve ever seen, and on top of that they were lovely people! They have an Etsy shop (and do commissions), so if you’re after some art for yourself or for a gift, do go and check them out!
Play Expo Glasgow as a great day out and a good way to experience my first video game expo. It was busy but not too busy, there were lots of games on offer to please everyone and some really excellent original merchandise on sale. I think it could have stretched on a little longer into the evening to give everyone a chance to get to play the games they had been unwilling to queue for – I was desperate to try the VR zone for example, but it seemed like a waste of time just standing waiting. All in all though it was a great experience, very much worth the £15 entry fee and I will definitely return should it come back to Glasgow next year!
So, have you ever been to a Play Expo event and want to share your experience? Or maybe you have tips for me as a rookie games event attendee? Let me know in comments!
Thanks for reading,