Gaming Village banner at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 The Turbo MMC interface for the BBC Micro Three of the SD / USB devices used at the event Outside of the Gaming Village marquee at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Setting up our machines on Sunday afternoon in the marquee at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Gaming Village marquee on the Sunday Consoles ready for Monday at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Norwich Retro Gamers banner at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Retro consoles in the atrium on the Sunday at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Vistors loving the games at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Demon Attack on the Atari 7800 at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Mario Cart on The Nintendo 64 at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Jet Pac loading on the Spectrum at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Luigi's Brew from Patrick's Art Room, at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 The Norwich Gaming Festival 'Gaming Village The Gaming Village at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Plenty of gaming fun to be had on the Friday at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Some of the great selection at Last Level Games, Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 NEC Turbogragx 16, Spectrum +2, and Amiga 1200 at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Retro Gaming Fun at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 I Just Wanna ... Candy, showing their wares at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Closing time for the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 Some examples from the 'drawing wall' at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016 More 80's home computer action at the Norwich Gaming Festival 2016

NORWICH GAMING FESTIVAL 2016

Anybody who has read my article on last years show will have a good idea of how impressive it had been, with the inside of the Forum being packed with talented people representing all aspects of video games. And you will also know that I was looking forward to 2016 to see how the guys at the Forum Trust would make this years event even better than last year. Well read on my friend, it was an amazing week.

Firstly, for reasons that will soon be made clear, this article isn't like my last one. The 2015 article tried to cover many of the aspects of the evet but this article, for the most part, focuses on a more personal experience. If you haven't read my article on the 2015 event, please follow this link to 'Norwich Gaming Festival 2015'.

As soon as the 2016 event was announced, in late 2015, I was already making plans to visit and deciding which days I could go. The event ran from the 28th of March (Easter Monday) to the 2nd of April. I had been wondering how they would improve upon the previous year as 2015 had been extremely good and had already expanded on the year before. I had even made a small comment on my web article jokingly saying I might even be involved in the next event (something that I had been thinking about for a while). So you can imagine my amazement (and complete joy) to find a feedback message on this website, asking if I would be interesting in a bringing some of my machines to the event. I had to read the message twice to make sure I hadn't misread it.

After a quick think about it, I knew that this was an opportunity that I couldn't miss. The chance to bring some of my collection to the event and let the public enjoy playing games on them was something I was excited about. So I replied and confirmed that was interested in attending. Their reply detailed the plan in more details, explaining how they were setting up a heated marquee outside of the forum to host their 'Gaming Village'. As the atrium and Fusion had been filled to capacity last year, it made sense that the only way they could expand was outside of the main building. I was invited to the forum to discuss my involvement and a few days later I was sitting in Cafe Marzano, enjoying a latté with Daniel McIlwrath and James Coates from the Forum Trust Limited.

The plan was to extend the systems available at the event, from the previous console timeline, to include some home computers from the 80's. I explained that I had a good selection of machines from Acorn, Sinclair, Commodore, Amstrad, etc, which was exactly what they were looking for. One point that I thought I had better mention was the loading of software onto these older machines. I had already purchased sd card storage devices for many of the machines and I wanted to check that they were comfortable for me to use these at the show. It was decided that not only was it fine but it might be useful for visitors to be aware of these devices as they may have had older systems themselves so might consider using them as well. They would supply me with two 6ft tables and we estimated that I should be able to display six machines easily. There would be power supplied but I needed to supply televisions for my own machines as their's would be used for the consoles on their gaming timeline. I hadn't really ever needed more than a couple of TV's as, at home, I'd never setup more than one machine at a time. I had an old 14" portable colour tv that I'd had for years plus a 20" crt tv (a bit of a beast) that I'd picked up on Freecycle. I'd also recently obtained a 16" wide-screen lcd tv but that was it, so it became clear I'd need to source some more for the event.

Our chat had been very positive, with James especially being into the 80's home computers and a big fan of the Sinclair Spectrum. I agreed to have a think about which systems I'd bring and obtain some more televisions. One issue that was flagged up was my coverage of the event because I had previously only planned to go on the first day (the Bank Holiday Monday) and the last day (Saturday) so hadn't booked any time off work. I was told that I would be next to Ed at Last Levels Games, who I knew, so I would at least have somebody to keep an eye on the machines if I didn't have anybody to attend on my behalf.

The next week was spent looking at the various machines in my collection and deciding which ones would be best to use. I had two criteria that would make it easier to use a particular system, one was the ability to use an sd based storage device (so I didn't have to try to load original media from tape and disk) and the other was that they could output their display via a scart lead or rca connections (this would make it easier to use on non-crt screens and also give a better image quality). It was obvious that I would have to at least represent the popular UK systems from the time, so the following were used.

Sinclair Spectrum +2 with a DivMMX Enjoy! cartridge

Commodore 64 with a SD2IEC external device

Acorn BBC Model B with a Turbo MMC SD interface (purchased for the show)

Amstrad 6128 with a USB floppy emulator interface (purchased for the show)

Amiga 1200 with an internal Gotek USB floppy drive

This left me with one, or possibly two, other machines to bring. The only other home computer that had an SD card device was my Atari 800XL and although this had been my first real home computer, I didn't think it would provide a decent selection of different games when compared to the Commodore 64 and other 8-bit machines. One of my gripes about last years show was that they had setup an Atari VCS in their console timeline but had only had a Qbert cartridge to play. As I had an Atari 7800 with several games (which could also play the original 2600 games), I thought this might be good machine to take (although it could only output to RF so no scart or rca). I had estimated that with the size of the screens, I could get one more machine and it had to be the Nintendo 64 as it was always popular plus I had Mario Kart and four controllers. I had also planned to take my NEC Turbografx 16 to use later in the week as many people may not have seen or played on one (I also had an Everdrive - SD cart - for the TG16).

So with the machines sorted out, now I just had to source some tv's. I looked on Freecycle but there weren't many, plus the ones I tried to contact never got back to me. Feeling a bit dejected I tried Gumtree. This site had a lot more and many were reasomanle priced as I was only looking for smaller sizes, 15" to 17" mainly. I was able to easily get another three televisions for prices up to £20 each and all offered scart, rca, vga, and RF. Another option I had was a scart adaptor to allow the colour monitor from my Amstrad 6128 to work on other systems. Next I had to decide which games would be best to make available as I wasn't really aware of great games on computers like the Spectrum and Amstrad (I hadn't owned them back in day so never really looked into their games catalogue).

Soon I had a list of around 20 good games for each system as well as eight cartridges to use on the Atari 7800 (a mix of 2600 and 7800 titles). I had to buy a couple of extra joysticks as I wanted to offer two-player games on as many machines as possible. Luckily I found a couple of Zipsticks for a decent price on Ebay, which were ideal for some potential heavy usage.

With the hardware and software selected, all that was left was to speak with my good friend and fellow retro gamer Hannah to see if she wanted to be involved with the event. She was interested in helping out and was even willing to help out on the days I wasn't there (which was an extremely kind offer). After discussing our coverage of the show it was agreed that we would both cover the Monday (a Bank Holiday so would probably be the busiest day), Hannah would then cover Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (whilst I was back at work), then we would both cover the Friday (as I'd managed to get one day off) and then I'd cover Saturday as Hannah had another commitment.

Now all I had to do was get the machines out of the collection (many were boxed so I had to carefully unbox them), load the SD cards / USB sticks with compatible game images, and test them all. The TV's also needed a little bit of tweaking to ensure that the image quality looked as good as possible on the flat screens. I was quite surprised with how good the old computers looked on the newer screens but I did have one issue. For some reason I just couldn't get the Atari 7800 to tune-in to the CRT and give a steady picture (which I thought would be easy). I could either get it with a half-decent image but buzzing sound or clear sound but a wavy image. I tried it on the flat-screens and eventually managed to get an acceptable image on the small Toshiba (which meant that one of the other machines had to use the little CRT - in this case the Commodore 64 gave the better picture as it had been a little washed out on the flat-screens). Some of the machines needed a bit of a clean and each were tested and the best TV was selected for the different machines. The joysticks were also tested, which was just as well as one of them had a problem!

After a rather frantic month leading up the show, when we had to move house, the time came to load up the car and take the equipment the event for setting up on the Sunday. It was a bit of squeeze getting everything into the car (the 20" CRT took a big chunk on it's own!). But we got in and soon we were on our way to the city centre. I had been keeping an eye on the weather and was pretty concerned that we were going to get the tail-end of hurricane Katie. The wind was already getting up as we pulled up outside the marquee. I met Hannah, who was already there and having a chat with Ed from Last Level Games. The tables were already setup so we started to position the TV's and decide where everything was going to go. Thankfully there was just enough space to get the seven machines setup with space for joysticks / joy pads. By now the marquee was starting to flap about a bit and the rain outside was starting to come in under the marquee. With everything laid out ready to go we popped over to the main building to see how everything else was going. As we walked back past the marquee, on our way to the pub, I just hoped everything was still going to be there in the morning.

And so at 9:30 I arrived at the marquee and found that it had been vacated (except for my kit which was still lined up on the tables). The high winds had caused an issue with the roof of the marquee and everybody had been moved into the Atrium. It was mad rush to get all the kit over to the main building and I have give a big thank you to the festival volunteers who helped me with the move. Even whilst I was still setting up the machines, visitors were stopping by for a chat and after sourcing some more power leads, we were up and running.

The Atrium was a hive of activity and Monday was really busy. It was great being in the atrium with the rest of the festival and there were people stopping by all through the day. The kids (and adults) were having fun on the machines and a number of people stopped by for a chat. We did have one rather embarrassing situation though. I was standing by the BBC Micro, talking with a couple of friends when I heard a pop. I instantly knew what had happened and I quickly had to turn off the BBC. A capacitor inside the power supply had blown and there was now a small cloud of 'magic smoke' rising from underneath the computer (as well as a rather strong smell). We tried to clear it as quickly as we could but the smell wouldn't go away and our actions had drawn the attention of one of the Forum staff who came over to find out what was going on. I put on a smile and explained that it wasn't anything major and thankfully we were allowed to carry on. The BBC was fine after that as I was running it through the RGB video, the fact that the capacitor had blown didn't affect the machine (it was used to filter out noise from the AC line and would only have been a problem if we were using the RF output). What had been more concerning was that just ten minutes before the 'event', a chap had been filming the BBC with a full-size tv camera. Whoops!

Apart from our little hiccup, the day had went really well and we had people popping by and playing on the machines all through the day. Any previous concerns that visitors wouldn't be interested in the computers were well and truly dismissed by the end of the day. Another issue I had was getting the Spectrum DivMMX cart to work. For some reason, whenever I turned the Spectrum on with it loaded, I just had either a pure white screen, or coloured lines down the screen. I tried for a while to get it working but in the end I was forced to try to load some of the tapes that I had brought for show. I hadn't planned to load the tapes, I had brought them so people could get a feel for how the game cases looked. I ended up loading Horace Goes Skiing and later we had Jet Pac. It was quite fun loading the old tapes and caused a lot of bemusement from the youngsters who wanted to know why there were moving lines on the screen and when they could start playing the game. James popped over in the afternoon and had a few games on Horace, he was back in the 80's for a few minutes.

At the end of the day I had to pretty much switch off the N64 to get the kids to stop playing Mario Kart. I didn't know whether we would be back in the Atrium on Tuesday but as I wasn't going to be around I had to rely on Hannah to sort things out. It turned out that they had fixed the marquee so the Gaming Village was up and running as planned. I checked in with Hannah, via text, during the day and after getting everything setup and working, it turned out to be another busy day, as did Wednesday.

Unfortunately Hannah couldn't make Thursday and I really couldn't leave work as we had people off already so I quickly emailed Daniel and Ed to see if they could help. My concern was that except for Atari 7800, the N64 and maybe the Amiga (as it auto-loaded whatever disk image was previously set), the other machines needed commands to get anything working. I managed to get into the city during my lunch hour and popped into the marquee. The place was really busy but the Spectrum, C64, and Amstrad where all sitting at the basic screen. I quickly loaded a disk onto the Amstrad (as I hadn't received my USB emulator at that time), and then moved to C64. As soon as I moved off the Amstrad, a kid sat down and started playing Hunchback. While I was waiting for the SD2IEC to finishing loading, I watched him play this game, which he had probably never seen before. The first go was over pretty quickly and the second one wasn't much longer. But by the third game he had mastered the jumping and within seconds was breezing through the screens with almost perfect jumps. I was impressed.

After getting the C64 working, it was onto the Amiga 1200, which had crashed running Dynablasters. I managed to get it working but didn't get time to load a game on the Spectrum and several visitors had asked me questions while I was getting the machines up and running. I could have easily stayed for the rest of the afternoon but work beckoned so I had to leave (I got back late as it was!).

I was back on Friday and after getting a coffee, I met up with Hannah and we got everything up and running for another busy day. Although the area we had in the marquee was a little cramped compared to the Atrium, we had enough space to setup all the machines. I'd designed some flyers which I wanted to leave for visitors to pick up but didn't have any spare table room. Thankfully Patrick (from Patrick's Art Room) was kind enough to allow me to use up a corner of his table. Talking of Patrick, he had some stunning artwork on show that was based on (mainly) Mario and other videogame related characters. Hannah took a few pictures of some, so I added one to the images on the left to show just how good they were.

Friday had been another busy day and I had made a little change to the setup by swapping out the Nintendo 64 with my NEC Turbografx 16. I had brought it along on the first day but whilst setting everything up had realised that I'd left the power supply at home, d'oh! Luckily I also brought the Amstrad so this ended up being used instead (although I had to rely on disks as I hadn't received the USB floppy drive emulator at that point). The TG16 wasn't as popular as the N64 but I loaded Galaga '90 and it drew in a few players. Several people asked what it was as it hadn't been officially released in the UK and my version was actual a european one that had PAL output. I had brought the Everdrive card with me so I could mix it up a bit but with only one controller it had to be solitary game for anybody.

I was really surprised at how popular the BBC Micro had been. I knew many would recognise it from their school days but the younger kids loved playing Snapper, even with that rather dodgy analogue joysticks. Another talking point was my E.T. cartridge for the Atari VCS which I'd brought along for fun. With it's recent 'infamous' headlines regarding the digging up of the Atari surplus stock in New Mexico, it was recognised by many. And as is the way with something that was blamed for the videogame crash in the USA (something I think is a little harsh as it was only part of a bigger problem), everybody wanted to play it to find out how bad it was. The funny thing was, some that played it actually said it was that bad. Personally I think that Pacman is worse, those flickering ghosts give me a headache!

I am friends with a certain Graham Humphreys, who apart from being a local lad, is also active in developing games for the Amiga (since the age of 17) and was heavily involved in producing the book 'The Ultimate Guide to Amigas PD Games'. I had been following his current game 'Maxwell Mouse' via his Facebook posts and I thought it would be cool to see if he wanted to come along and maybe demo his game (even if it was just to me). As luck would have it he was off that week and was eager to pop in and show-off his title. I download a demo copy of the adf as well as his earlier game, Downfall (which also had a AGA version). I loaded up Downfall in the morning and had a couple of goes. It was a great little game and with simple controls it was popular with kids (some of which had never tackled a chunky Zipstick joystick). It is one of those games that has that 'just one more go' vibe and it is quite addictive. When he arrived, we loaded up Maxwell and gave me a little demo. It was a nice little puzzle game with some clever humour and what was impressive is that his games were written in Amiga Blitz Basic. He was the main programmer for Remainder Software, with other members of the team doing the sound and some of the graphics. It was really nice to meet Graham and we discussed the possibility of staging a game challenge in 2017, based on something he could code and there could even be prizes awarded to the most skilled players.

And so it was soon the last day of the Festival and I was amazed at how quickly the week had gone. Being the weekend, I had expected it to be busy and I wasn't wong. The marquee was full to bursting with eager visitors wanting to check out the popular Gaming Village.

It was literally non-stop for most of the day with plenty of kids having fun on the machines and many people stopping by to chat about the old machines or to ask questions about their machines. One of the best stories was from a young lady who I saw admiring the BBC Micro. It turned out that her school was one of the first in Norfolk to get a BBC Micro and the local BBC news team had visited the school to film an article for the evening news program. She had been chosen to sit at the machine whilst they filmed and being a little shy had covered her face (much to the annoyance of her mother who saw the clip later that day). Staying with the BBC, I also had a gentleman who recounted his father who had been a doctor and had been given a BBC Master computer to store records on. This was early on before the machine had officially been released for sale. There were so many great stories from people who had come into contact with the BBC Micro at school or had owned one of the computers when they were kids. There were people who owned older machines and were looking to sell and others that had machines with problems. I always took the time to try and help, I was impressed that so many people still owned them. I even met a couple of fellow collectors and had a long chat about the more rare machines and the pitfalls of buying these online. It was so nice to be able to share my hobby and knowledge with so many people and I even had one kind gentlemen who donated some of his son's old items to me, including an Atari ST with a nice collection of software as well as large collection of Spectrum tapes and magazines (Ray, if you are reading this, I want to let you know that I've had some great fun playing on the Atari, I am truly in your debt).

Saturday was a really nice day, with bright sunshine and little wind so I decided to head out and have a stroll. After popping to the market for some chips and then swinging by to see my old friend (from OSB days), Paul, at One Step Gaming, I headed back to the Forum. Vibe City Brass Band where playing some classic retro videgame themes outside The Forum and some of the cosplay visitors were acting along to the music. I also took a quick look around the main Atrium before heading back to the marquee. I guess it would be no surprise to hear that the Atrium was as busy as the 'village' and the place was a hive of activity.

I had one more surprise to experience and that was the arrival of my friend Martin Ballatyne, who many may know as an actor in films such as the Dark Knight, where he played one of the Joker's henchman, as well as parts in some of the Harry Potter films, and others. I have known him from our One Step Beyond days and he was at the event to judge the cosplay competition. He had popped in to say hello and to ask if I had found anything else about a game he had acquired but hadn't been able to find much about. It was a Laurel & Hardy game for the Commodore 64 and I was able to track it down on GameBase 64 but even there the details were quite sketchy. Anyway, after a quick chat and a selfie, he was beaconed over to do the judging.

A few short hours later the event was closing and everybody was starting to pack up and leave. Due to some hangers-on, I was the last to pack up and it was a little sad to have to turn everything off for the last time and start unplugging and boxing it all up.

But I had experienced an amazing week and even my initial reservations about whether the machines would be popular was truly proven wrong. Being my first time taking machines to events (normally it was me playing on other peoples machines) I was worried that the aging hardware might not last the long hours and of but I was extremely happy to see all systems last the week with flying colours and behaved (mainly) as they had back in the 80's.

I asked James if he wanted to add a little something to this article and this was his response.

We’re really pleased with how the Norwich Gaming Festival went this year. Once again, we improved on the previous year, going bigger and better and helping people of all ages learn lots more about the industry and to celebrate gaming.

It was fantastic to have the Norwich Retro Gamers involved and the retro machines they brought to the festival allowed us to cover an area of gaming we’ve always struggled to represent in the past. Loading Horace Goes Skiing from a tape is an experience every child should have! It was nostalgic, educational and most of all, really good fun!

Before I finish this article, I just want to recount one last thing that happened just before the event came to a close.

There were a couple of people playing on machines and I took a step back and waited for them to finish their game. I walked over to the 'drawing wall' and there was an elderly gentleman standing and watching the machines. I stood beside him and we got talking. He told me it had been his 80th birthday and although he wasn't into games, he did note how everybody was having fun and it dawned on me that the visitors to the festival had covered a huge age-group, 8 to 80, and even younger than that. He also mentioned how I must have been enjoying myself as I had had a big smile on my face and I got thinking, had I been smiling like a crazy person all the time? But then again, I was having fun, just like the rest of the visitors.

And with a very successul event over, I had the confidence to attend other events and even if I only made a yearly visit to the Norwich Gaming Festival (assuming they would have me back), then I would be extremely happy. I was now not just a visitor, but part of the event.

If anybody reading this did visit our tables, please get in contact via our Feedback form and let me know what you thought.

 

Article by Gary, Images by Gary & Hannah - October 2016