... or "Six Go Mad In Oxford"

The day started out fine...

... if a tad cold, which was good news as on/off rain was predicted throughout the weekend.

We'd booked rooms at a Travelodge Inn just outside Oxford, and this was our arranged meetup place with the intention of dropping off luggage and cars there to making our way into Oxford somehow. Hatrik, Dee and Rockwaldo travelled up from the south, arriving first around 11:00am. Access to the rooms was restricted until 4:00pm, so they hastily disembarked off to the nearest Little Chef for what passed as breakfast.

Sir_LANs (he of the DNS table - don't forget to bow to the Good Knight) and Dungeon Dave made it there a little later, travelling in from the Midlands, and joined the others for a coffee; at which point Mark Ross called in claiming that he'd lost his car at a filling station. Eventually he got his act together and appeared on the scene shortly after lunch, whereby we booked in and found that we could drop off our luggage.

Getting There...

A call to the local taxi rank ruled out the possibility of a people-carrier cab, so we plumped for two taxis instead. Another group at the hotel rang shortly after us to be told huffily that they'd already ordered taxis which were on the way; we feared the confusion may result in ours being cancelled but finally, two taxis showed up, seemingly from different companies, manned by two drivers that didn't seem to know each other, and both drivers not initially knowing where we were headed. What the hell is it with taxis? Anyway, ours followed the one that knew the way, the leading cabbie giving a running commentry on the sights and sounds of Oxford, taking great pains to point out the Gay nightclub to Rossy. We're still unsure why.

our sigs
Our siggys
The pub didn't look anything special, and upon walking in it looked like we'd picked the wrong place. However, the bar staff must have spotted the flashing sign above all our heads reading "GAMING GEEKS!" and pointed to a door leading upstairs. The welcoming chimes of arcade sounds, along with flashing lights pointed the way to heaven...

The top of the stairs was manned by a bouncer with a green head - we knew we were in the right place, here. In the doorway was a visitors' signing board which quickly gained our obligatory "we woz ere" scrawl and we headed into the noisy fray.

The games...

The room wasn't *that* large and was somewhat dominated by a Scaletrix table in the centre, being jostled at regular intervals by onlookers which providing an additional challenge to the racing circuits.

Near Wall
Near wall
Near Door
Near Door
Along the nearside wall were several home systems. I spotted Tempest2000 running on a Jaguar; I'd heard about Tempest2000 plus viewed a few screenshots amongst some rave reviews on the web but not actually seen it first hand.
GameCube in action
GameCube in action

My initial impression was that the graphics were pretty stunning and the sounds bubbly and exciting, but I guess this novelty would soon wear off after long periods of gameplay. I also found the moving playfield a bit disconcerting; on some levels it meant that the geometric shape could shift into such a position as to hide the incoming nasties, but perhaps part of the added challenge was that you had to move your player in order to change your viewpoint. I'd have a go later and see for myself.

Also along that wall were some games running on a GameCube (which again I'd heard about but not actually seen in action) as well as Xenon2 and Gyruss on two AtariST machines. Gyruss is an old fave of mine, particularly the stomping music (as I like Toccata D'Fugue ever since watching Rollerball as a kid) which really immerses you into the game. I'd played Xenon on the ST when it first came out - a roommate had an Atari and I recall him being blown away by the speech, which although good at its time, didn't seem that much better than "Impossible Mission" on the C64.

At the end of that wall of games was a cocktail Joust game - the only arcade game amongst the home systems, but my attention was grabbed by the opposite wall, which boasted of a wide-screen TV plus three cabinets and a pinball game.

Opposite Wall
Opposite wall
The widescreen TV was off at the time, but more about that later. One of the cabs looked like a Track and Field game but later found that it was running MAME, and would be the source of Rocky's finest hour to come...
Hatrik playing RoboTron
Hatrik playing RoboTron

The centre one was running Space Duel in a Major Havok cabinet, which I'd never played before but quite enjoyed playing as the selection of games gave quite a varying challenge. Although this wasn't set to free play, the coin door was open and it was a matter of flicking a switch to notch up some credits.

The other cab was a RoboTron game (which someone told me was quite rare, as it was the UK version rather than a US import). This wasn't set to free play either, and the coin door was firmly locked; I felt that this deterred a number of people from playing.

The pinball game was an Attack From Mars game, set to free play, thoroughly noisy and in the process of being clocked by someone who didn't look old enough to reach the flippers.

Far Wall
Far Wall
Classic Speccy
Spectacular Classic?
Further towards the corner it looked like someone playing Regulus under MAME on a TFT screen and X-Arcade, and the end wall had another selection of home machines, amongst them a Vic20 (playing GridRunner) and C64.

We strolled around, taking in the initial sights, but it was starting to get a bit crowded up there and although the upstairs bar served drinks, it was only over-priced bottles so we ended up downstairs where we could at least talk plus get a decent pint.

Table Footy!
Table Footy!
Get the boot in!
Rossy contemplates a pitch invasion
Down in the bar was table football. Bad move. A buncha classic gaming freaks had congregated on a Yakfest and what did they play? Table football.

The next two pints witnessed Rocky United hammering first LANs County then Rossy City. The fact that Rocky's opponents all played uphill had no bearing on the final outcome. Honest.
Rocky's Arse
"Does my arse look big in this?"
Gang of Geeks
Gang of Geeks
Nugget of Nerds
Nugget of Nerds

By this point, I'd been glugging on an empty stomach and thought it'd be a good idea to grab a bite, and the bar staff told me that they were about to print off some menus for meals later on. So we posed for some group photos, grabbed another pint and then vanished upstairs.

Back upstairs...

The cabs were getting crowded, so we moved to the back wall with Rossy taking to Karate Champ while Hatrik and I played a couple of shoot-em-ups on the MAME PC in the corner. I spotted a small box the size of a 4-pack sitting on the floor: a subwoofer! I cranked up the volume and searched for a noisy game to play, settling - both ironically and childishly - on RoboTron. Stomping! The deep bass thuds rattled the floor; I could feel them through my chair. Although I'm not that good at the game, Hatrick said I'd attracted an audience but they were probably curious to the source of the sounds.

Several others who played after us looked like they were novices, although I noticed one player lasting longer than most. When questioned, it in fact turned out to be his first go at RoboTron but he'd played plenty of LlamaTron. Now that would would have been a right screamer with the soundbox full-on, but unfortunately it wasn't around.

Still, to keep with the "noisy" theme I contemplated SmashTV but instead fired up Defender and configured the keyboard (as I'm a long-time BBC Planetoid player). I was worried about moshing the keys too much, but the owner said it was only a cheap keyboard, and consequently I discovered that the space bar didn't always register a "reverse", meaning short games. Well, that's my excuse anyway.

Rocky's score
"Can you see the Score?"
And again!
"Well, Punk - can you?"

Lans and Rocky discovered a "waggling joystick" trick in "Track and Field" that they'd not known about, which prompted them to challenge each other, waggling their joysticks and pressing their buttons contentedly.

Lans seemed to lead the field but Rocky eventually triumphed (is there nothing this boy isn't good at?), taking several screen shots to record the occasion. Later he was seen to sneak his camera out of his pocket at regular intervals, just to give his comfort factor a boost...

Space Dueling
Space Dueling
Is barging allowed?
I got my arse whopped on Space Duel when playing against Dee. We switched to playing the "collaboration" game, in which case I still ended up with a lower score. So I challenged Hatrik, who still beat me anyway. Note to self: must practise more.

The room was filling up, so we headed back downstairs for a respite from the flashing lights and chaotic sounds, plus a brief bite to eat whereby we discovered that Rocky dislikes tomatoes but wishes that he didn't, as they look so plump and welcoming, and LANs views any foodstuff green as evil. Also Hatrik adores toast, which Rocky views as a good substitute for chips. But more on that later.

The room seemed quite empty when we returned but soon filled up - as we never saw anyone else follow us downstairs, we wondered where everyone went. Later on, we twigged: there was a back door leading to outside stairs where a lot of the gamers had slipped away for a curry... which sounded a good idea later.

This is how it's played...
"This is how it's played..."
Watch the expert!
"Watch the expert!"
Upon our return, LANs played some glossy shoot-em-up on the GameCube (which looks a stunning machine, but the game looked like another 194x with super-silky graphics). I tried out a few other games: Xenon2, which I couldn't really remember how to play, but for which I was told "you're supposed to hit the ball things, Dave". This advice soon changed to "actually, you're better off avoiding the ball things altogether, Dave" which explained the low score after numerous collisions.

Hatrik said later that his attempts at Xenon were also poor, but that was down to time erroding his knowledge of patterns and techniques. I was never that good at it in the first place!

However, my capacity for steering into moving objects would have been training for Joust but I didn't try it out as I've not really played it before, but was content to watch others battle both birds and inertia. I was told later that this cocktail had an unusual design feature: players sat next to each other (rather than opposite); something I'd not noticed before.

Vroooom (2)
"Er.... Vroooom?"
Scouse Thief!
Stealing hubcaps...
The Winners
Winner's Rostrum
Rossy & I tried out the Scaletrix. He kept winning, but then he's from the "drive it like you stole it" school.

He was convinced that it was the driver and not the car that delivered his winning runs, so I tried racing his silver Ferrari with the old Mk2 Escort so that his defeat would be doubly crushing.

Turns out that we were both wrong - when the cars were swapped, no amount of "magic scouse spirit" could make his Mk2 catch my Ferrari: that car stayed firmly glued to the track.

The Yak!
The Yak!
Yak yakking
Yakking with Yak
Yak plus
"Who the hell was that Scouser?"

We finally met and chatted to the Yak briefly ("These are small and far away") before the large screen TV was fired up for a demo of Tempest3000. The lights were dimmed, and this formed the centre of attention for quite a while.
The Box!
The Game
The Game!
The Yak
The Designer!

Dazzling geometric wireframe shapes shimmered down playfields made of coloured lightbeams while laser-written words swept in from the playfield's vanishing point to explode against the screen in a mass of blury glowing pixels.

It is indeed an impressive game, full of great sound effects and soft, trippy blurry images, but at some point I felt that the effects detracted from the gameplay somewhat, rather a curious turn for the Yak who espouses gameplay above else.

We're convinced that Rossy succeeded in upsetting the Yak somehow; Rossy claims he only asked "how does this differ from Tempest2000?" but it probably came out as "what a cock of a game".

Even Rossy was impressed..
.. he forgot to drink!
No Beer!
.. so we necked his!
Nonetheless, the game was replaced by a trippy sound-to-light demo which we watched for a while, marvelling at the colours before feeling that it soon got a bit repetitive. Others thought so, and started drifting off to return to their games.

I was surprised to see someone playing Missile Command on the MAME cabinet and discovered too late that it had interchangable control panels, which was a pity as I'd have liked to spun some other games on the upright cab. Rocky was glad that he'd recorded the hi-score table, and showed everyone the show just to ensure we'd seen it.

Mmmmmm.... curry!

Rossy contemplates his bath...
Curry was still preying on our minds, and after helping Rossy neck his backlog of drinks (yer a poofter, mate - the Taxi driver had you sussed when he pointed out the Gay nightclub!) we slid off to find a curry house.

The initial hunger meant that we walked the wrong way down the road for a good mile or so, in which Rossy tried to clamber over a bridge wall for a dip in the river and - failing to do so - invited the Canadian boyfriend of a passer-by to do so instead. I'm guessing that we may see a decline in the number of Canadian tourists pretty soon....

Eventually we happened across a curry house which was in the process of closing up shop and would only let us in if we were fast eating. "Yup", we agreed, and promptly settled down for a leisurely curry...
Group Shot
We're lovely people...
... but a bit knackered.

Topics of conversation revolved around how modern games seem to have fitted into a cliched category (driving, polygon fighter, shoot-em-up, first-person combat/adventure etc) - Rossy & Rocky were particularly vocal on the subject but I can't say I disagreed with the situation of today's games. Ironically, I was chatting to someone (female) on the same subject, as I pointed out that Centipede was written by a female developer who wanted a game that broke away from the "blasting aliens" theme, and she was unhappy that a lot of modern games seemed to be designed for a male audience.

After a few group shots, we managed to book a taxi from the Curry House that got us home quicker and cheaper than the original trips out (what the hell IS it with taxis?) whereby the discussions drifted into the early morning, touching subjects such as the games we played today, our opinions on the Yak's stuff and Rocky's "Track And Field" scores, lest we forgot!

In all, a grand weekend. Must do it again sometime.. we may beat Rocky at one (just one game). And shouts out to "Chicks that dig Unix"!