It seems that Manchester is increasingly becoming the place to be for exhibitions and special events. The 20th of July saw a record breaking Comic-Con in the city with just under 20,000 visitors, whilst October saw the fourth year of Vogue’s fashion night out – for the first time ever – come to Manchester, well now we can add to our roster of expos and conferences, the much needed Mancunion games exposition, Play Expo.
Most of you gamers out there will perhaps heard of the US Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) or the German hosted Gamescom – the largest gaming expos in the world; where developers and companies release their plans for the next year and debut new tech for the whole world to see and try out. On the second weekend of October, EventCity’s answer to these conferences kicked off in earnest for the second year running in the form of Play Expo. Yes that’s right – gone is the need to go on an epic journey in order to attend one of these gaming expos, now all you need to do is hop on the 250 or X50 bus and head down to EventCity in Trafford! As an avid gamer I jumped at the opportunity to go along and cover the Sunday’s events for the Tech and Entrepreneurship website, www.greatpreneurs.com
As I stepped of the bus, I instantly knew I was in the right place for the expo, to my left was a man – presumably with a lot of spare time on his hands – who had fashioned an almost perfect Thor costume, hammer included, from his own materials. Alas, I had forgotten about cosplay at gaming events like these, something which was to give me and my colleague a bit of a shock later, when we were approached by a disturbingly real looking special forces soldier.
There are four sections to PlayExpo, re.play, now.play, pro.play and cos.play; representing retro games, current / next-gen games, pro gaming tournaments and cosplay respectively. I truly was taken aback by the sheer size of the expo, I knew it would be big but this place was absolutely huge, with various stalls, ranging from large centerpieces showcasing the next generation of games, to the smaller independent stalls such as a retro games related cupcake stall (which although very niche, seemed to be in high demand at this type of place!)
Now.play was predictably the most popular section of the expo, with keen gamers being able to try out the latest next gen kit – including Assassin’s Creed 4 on the Playstation 4, the Wii U with upcoming Mario (of course) games, and what I was most excited about, the Oculus Rift. For those of you who don’t know, the Oculus Rift (pictured) is a technology that’s going to revolutionise the way we play games. Forget Microsoft’s Kinect and forget Sony’s Move, this is going to be the market leader in computer games immersion. The virtual reality goggles work as you would expect, once you put them on your entire field of vision is taken up with game footage. Instead of moving the in game character’s head with an analogue stick, you look around. If you turn left, your avatar looks left. It is a simple change, that had a truly profound effect on me. I put it on and had to go through a tech demo, something designed to really show off the kit; the idea was that I had to escape a rapidly collapsing evil lair. The level of immersion was immense, cliche as this sounds, it actually felt like I was in the game – which didn’t help when bats came out of a coffin and flew towards my face, whilst the floor below gave way into a giant pit of lava. It was so good, that I don’t think I could’ve played it for much longer, as my character was jumping off of high ledges, my legs in real life would brace for the fall – it was so immersive that I almost had post traumatic stress disorder after my five minute ordeal in that dungeon.
Re.play was much less taxing on my health, it involved a celebration of everything retro; from a huge collection of around eighty different pinball machines, to massive versions of the original Gameboys. I went, as an early nineties kid, on a bit of a nostalgia trip; managing to have a go on some absolute classic machines including the Nintendo SNES and NES, the Sega Megadrive and some of the much older Atari Joystick games. Overall, the section had a great, vast array of different machines for people to play on and reminisce about older, simpler times.
Pro.play gave gamers the opportunity to engage in competitive and recreational LAN based gaming tournaments, featuring popular competitive games such as Counter-Strike, Halo 4 and Tekken Tag Tournament. I passed on these tournaments, as I’m really not that good when it comes to competitive gaming and didn’t want to get publicly annihilated. If those competitions are your sort of thing, I’d highly recommend you head down to Play Expo next year to prove your worth against others! Finally, the Cos.play section provided a series of talks and stalls, where those interested in Cosplay could learn more about how to make authentic costumes and where they could buy materials from. The talks were led by various almost carbon copies of much loved fictional characters, such as Master Chief from Halo and the Avengers to name but a few, I must admit I was a little jealous of the guy in the awesome Iron Man costume, he looked pretty authentic!
Overall, it was a great day, although I’ve tried to cover everything that was there, it’s very difficult to name every indie developer, piece of new kit, new games being unveiled and talks that took place in Event City over the weekend. I strongly recommend that if you have any interest – no matter how big or small – in the gaming industry, that you save the date for the Play Expo 2014 when it is announced. You definitely won’t regret the trip, I assure you.
By James McClaren, Editor of www.GreatPreneurs.com
Pictures within this article were either taken on my camera, or from http://www.playexpo.net/