I was up on Friday morning and rode out to Gare du Nord to catch an early Eurostar train to London. The trip from Paris to London is about two hours total which, for someone that grew up with the vast distances of Ontario, is mind-boggling. It’s a comfortable, easy ride and really the more civilized way to go. Sure, it’s more expensive than flying and takes twice as long in transit, but the overall experience is quicker since both train stations are located centrally, so you don’t need to go through the extra hassle of going out to the boonies to get to an airport, and you don’t have to deal with all that airport bullshit. The entire check-in process, including passport control and security, took less than five minutes.
My first order of business in London was to make my way to the Pixel-Lab‘s Playful event. It was two tube stops from the station, but I decided to stretch my legs and walk it, without a map, and with the faintest of directions. It had been almost exactly a year since I’ve last been in London, when I spent three months there, but it easily could have been two weeks. Everything was instantly recognizable and navigable and despite the unfamiliar destination I managed to find my way without getting lost. Screw Google Maps, Human Brain™ is the real impressive application.
I arrived at Playful during the first break and stayed for all subsequent presentations. It was hit or miss. Some people were clearly not too comfortable in front of a crowd, others were just reading out their script, and others were engaging and entertaining. Russell Davies‘, James Bridle‘s, and Rex Box‘s, somewhat clunky but amusing overhead projector and transparencies powered, presentations were the standouts.
During the lunch break, after a bit of Twitter-tag, I met up with Alex aka. rotational in what would be a precursor to many internet people first meetings. As they say on that side of the Channel, he was a good chap. We talked about the conference, writing for games, the magazine gaming business, and the internet like all true nerds would.
After the conference I headed towards my London City hotel, again by foot. The streets of London are far more stressful than the streets here in Paris. It was the evening rush-hour, already dark, and the hustle and bustle of the place felt very North American to me. I could feel my blood pressure rising just by being surrounded by it. Maybe I’m projecting, as I’m living a very casual, laissez-faire life over here.
I eventually found my hotel, just around the corner from the Eurogamer expo, and to my pleasant surprise I found that I had been upgraded to a deluxe suite. It was wonderful. A room more than five times larger than my current apartment. A large screen TV, two desks, a sofa, a speaker above the toilet so you could listen to the TV while you took a shit, and a cavernous shower larger than the entirety of my current washroom. I knew I wouldn’t want to leave.
So I didn’t and I skipped the Eurogamer Expo for that day while I relaxed and, later in the evening, headed out to The Crosse Keys pub nearby for the Indie Arcade Show & Yell arcade where I would meet up with more internet people, mostly consisting of those weird and crazy people of the Idle Thumbs forums including one of the organizers of the event, David aka. Nachimir. It could have been a disaster of an event — the plasma screen in the venue, specifically chosen because it had a plasma screen, didn’t work, putting a kibosh on any potential showing — but David’s tireless efforts to salvage it with a crowd of drunken indie devs and a megaphone turned it into a fun, if a bit disorganized, yelling match.
After a wonderful sleep and breakfast in the hotel I met up with Aubrey and we headed for the Eurogamer Expo and, not surprisingly, straight for the Indie Arcade. This tiny room with a bunch of PCs had more creativity and heart than the rest of the expo. There I played Joe Danger, easily one of the best games of the show, and chatted with the nice Hello Games people. Terry Cavanagh and Alex May, other swell chaps with whom I’d play 4 player Super Mario Bros co-op later in the day, were there to show VVVVVV and Euphloria, respectively. There was Time Fcuk and Squid Yes! Not So Octopus! and Super Yum Yum and Shooting Starcade. Leaving this little room and entering the vast spaces where the “mainstream” games were held was shocking in its contrast.
The problem with shows like this, where a lot of different games are placed within view of each other, is that they reveal just how same-y most of them actually are. No where was this more evident than in the 18+ basement where God of War 3 sat next to Dante’s Inferno. As I watched Aubrey fight some enemies by aimlessly swinging around a weapon in a dark area as some giant stone colossus menaced in the background, I looked behind me to see, in a completely different game, someone fight a bunch of enemies by swinging around a weapon in a dark area as some giant stone colossus was pissed off in the background. Then I played Bayonetta and I fought a bunch… stone colossus. It was all very depressing.
There was a Street Fighter IV machine — actually, a Playstation 3 inside a Taito arcade cabinet (?) — that was drawing crowds and, in the basement, a the Wii fighter Capcom vs Tatsunoko. Some dude was hogging the game, taking on all comers. I grabbed the second player Wii arcade stick (didn’t know there were any) and picked my characters and then that dude proceeded to unleash multiple ten billion point of damage, literally, combos on me before I could even figure out how to do anything. I managed to get about two punches in the match and quickly left in disgust. This one moron did more to dissuade me from ever looking at this game than anything in the actual game itself. Way to go!
Heavy Rain was in the basement, which was too good for it. It should have been under the basement, dismantled, buried in concrete to be forgotten for a thousand years.
The game of the show, as far as I’m concerned, was the one that didn’t involve shooting, stabbing, or racing: New Super Mario Bros. Wii. If you were to judge all games at the expo by the amount of laughter and camaraderie from its players, as opposed to the typical, solitary dead stares most had, Super Mario Bros was the clear winner (Left 4 Dead 2 was second.) The simultaneous four-player co-op was a fun, competitive and cooperative, tour de joy. Much like the indie stuff, it stood out amongst the crowd as a sole beacon of colour. I just wish they didn’t use two Toads for players three and four.
Afterwards, there was another pub session. The joys (and hats) of Hook Champ were often cited.
Sunday afternoon was lazy and rainy, spent mostly on a sofa with Street Fighter IV, Geometry Wars 2, and Channel4’s Peep Show. I wanted to reacquaint myself with the Lady of Shalott while I was in London, but I was tired and this was the most suitable end to the weekend before the evening train ride home.
Unfortunately, the entire trip made me miss my game consoles even more. Once a gamer…
- Excuse the journaly nature of this entry.
- Heavy Rain really was complete shit. I’ll probably elaborate on this later.
- I stayed at the Apex London, which I recommend for obvious reasons. But I’d probably still recommend it if I wasn’t upgraded to a larger suite since the staff there was friendly and helpful.