Geek 2014 has come and gone and it has been a very interesting expo for all involved.
I’ll explain a bit more of what this expo is: originally created several years back as an attempt to both create a fun and family friendly gaming expo, it was also put together to try and boost Margate’s flagging tourism industry. Now with its 2014 event having finished, it’s time to look back at all we’ve seen and whether 2015 is worth planning for.
Truth be told, this is not your usual gaming expo like Eurogamer and Comic-Con, the majority of the titles featured at this event are retro, physical, ‘odd’ titles and indie. There are a few modern titles and no real companies outside of the few independent groups here to showcase their titles. But this isn’t a bad thing, though, as it has the knock-on effect of making the whole environment a lot more welcoming. For instance, it’s easier to run up to titles on display, chat with others and play multiplayer titles with random people. Interestingly, because of this, GEEK 2014 also manages to achieve one of its main goals and that is having a large family friendly gaming event with parents bringing their children along, many of the younger ones playing on games and consoles much older than them and enjoying every minute of it.
The family friendly nature of the event continues throughout the entire show with arts and crafts, science experiments with popcorn and custard, as well as an amazing seaside-like display with face cutout standees and giant Gameboys running Tetris (Courtesy of the Video Game Carnival http://www.videogamecarnival.com/). It doesn’t mean that non families are left out, though, with an open bar available, a ‘Late-Night’ 18+ only part of one of the days and 18+ rated titles such as Call of Duty: Ghosts and Dead Rising 3 off in a sideroom (with supervision staff making sure that everyone was of appropriate age)
All of this works well with the expos’ other main point and that is to try and bring back tourism to Margate as a whole. The event manages this in a number of different ways. Firstly, as already mentioned, is the emphasis on family friendly entertainment. Second would be several events that have been setup throughout the day: from the ‘Margate Tourist Trap’ where teams race around the area outside the expo to try and recreate several old photos, to a rather odd ‘Make me a Robot’ event at the Turner Gallery where – with use of a Wii remote and some other items – you are superimposed on a large screen, complete with robot lazer-shooting arms. It sounds strange, but was incredibly fun.
The whole family friendly element does fail l in one aspect, however and that is the availability of food. There happened to be very little choice with basic snacks available throughout the venue with one open-hot food point, offering a rather bland selection of items. If GEEK does want to push along with what they are doing, they need to provide more options. On another slightly unrelated note, despite having wifi at the event, it was very on/off with plenty of disconnects throughout, making certain things – such as journalists attempting to live-tweet the event – more difficult than it should be.
It’s also difficult to get a good signal for mobile phones in the building and around the nearby area, so it may be worth picking out a place to go locally to make calls or eat food.
As usual with these sort of events, the guys at Replay Events (http://www.replayevents.com/) did an amazing job with the retro side of things. The main expo floor was covered with almost every single type of console and genre imaginable. Tables were divided into years with the likes of the Ps1 and Ps2 being across the hall from the Atari 2600 and the obscure Dragon32. Also present were Sega consoles (Megadrive, Master System, Sega Saturn and Dreamcast), Nintendo consoles (NES, SNES, N64, Gamecube and several Japanese variants) and old-school computers (Hello Amiga and Commodore). Each console was completely free to play and the selection of titles was superb.
As usual, there was the odd rubbish game hidden around (such as the near-unplayable Quake III Arena for the Dreamcast) as well as the occasional title that relied too heavily on unlocks (Tekken 3 missed most of the character pool, for instance) but these are more minor issues.
Replay Games also had several tournaments featured throughout the day with a large Halo 2 LAN setup (16 screens and consoles around in a massive circle) as well as the first stage of their ‘Classic Gaming Championships’ where players took on a number of old-school titles to try and get the best score. The overall best score was then given a place in a final to be held at PlayExpo Manchester later this year. I gave it a good spin and managed to come second place, so close!
If anyone else is tempted to give the tournament a go, it will feature at multiple other expos throughout the year (See http://classicgamingchampionships.com/ for more details).
Over to the independent games, StandPoint was definitely the big highlight of the selection there. Currently still a work in process, the game, described by the devs as a mashup between VVVVVV and Portal, has you racing through hallways and corridors, flipping gravity to try and work out the game’s puzzles while trying to avoid danger. As it stands, the game looks incredibly good with clear lines throughout, with a narrator whispering to you as you play, giving a bit of a stealthy tutorial while showing the player various game mechanics. Still, while the game does play like a dream, it needs to find something to make itself stand out a little bit more. I’m hoping that good things come from this for the team.
For an idea of what the game looks like, take a peek of this…
Next up is the winner of the GEEK2014 ‘Indie Choice’ award, ‘Timmy Bibble’s Friendship Club’, a fast-multiplayer arena game where you play as one of four imaginary friends competing to see who will be Timmy’s imaginary friend on that particular day. Each character holds three bullets and when these bullets are fired, they continually ricochet off walls until they either hit and kill a player, or they are grabbed by a player via a head-butt charge attack. Matches are incredibly fast-paced with arenas being generated randomly. Its success is no surprise given the family-friendly, multiplayer emphasis. That said, if it does get a full release, there needs to be a lot more content with a singleplayer campaign being a must (with similar titles like ‘Gentlemen!’ not doing too well, partly thanks to a lack of non-multiplayer content).
The wonderful ‘Smudged Cat Games’ also showcased several titles at the event, the main one being ‘Gateways’ (which is already available on Steam) ‘Gateways’ allow you to travel across a metroidvania style lab. It’s very portal-esque but as soon as you start grabbing the more interesting ‘Gateway Guns’, things change. For instance, you’ll have portals that can shrink and even enlarge the character, then there are portals that shift gravity around and portals that cause time-jumps. It’s an incredibly fun game but also quite bad to showcase at a gaming expo, thanks to the length of time needed to find or get used to certain mechanics.
Other titles were also present, such as the strange puzzle/strategy game ‘Eufloria and the ‘League-of-Legends’ style ‘Awakening of Heroes’. Overall, the titles showcased were varied and exciting for sure. Personally, ‘Standpoint’ was the star of the event for me and despite not winning the indie vote prize, it displayed a great amount of creativity and fun. I shall be looking forward to a larger release later down the line.
Overall GEEK 2014 was a great event which managed to feel inviting and personal in a way most video game expos never can. Here is an expo that’s proud of its heritage, proud of its community and proud of the games it showcases. And you know what, that’s pretty brilliant.
Bring on GEEK 2015!