Listener Stories

North East Retro Gaming – Gateshead – 2-3rd July 2016
By Neil McEwan (Neil1637)

One year ago, I attended NERG ’15, my first ever arcade event, wowed by the whole experience, I penned a short write-up of my trip, which the guys at Ten Pence Arcade Podcast, kindly published on their website.

Fast forward 12 months and it was time for this years rendition, but this time my tickets were for the full weekend and with a little more experience and a few friends made over the last year, I was once again ready to embrace everything the event had to offer.

I hadn’t intended on writing anything this year, but a couple of people at NERG have asked me to, so here we are. If this turns out to be crap, blame me, if it captures even just a little of the atmosphere, then thank them.

The date was Friday 1st July 2016, the time was somewhere between tea and bed, and at home in Carlisle, I laid out my clothes for the next day; jeans and obligatory retro game themed T-shirt (opting to choose a rather resplendent Donkey Kong number, my kids had bought me for Father’s Day) and packed my overnight bag with the essential items; underwear, second retro themed T, deodorant (it is difficult to under-estimate the importance of personal hygiene when in a room filled with hundreds of people and machines, all radiating heat), the latest edition of Retro Gamer and a healthy supply of biscuits – chocolate hobnobs, of course.

On Saturday morning, I was up and at them, bright and early, eager excitement fueling my impulse to just get going and begin the weekend’s adventure. I bid farewell to my wife and kids and left my house in plenty of time to ensure I eked every moment NERG ’16 had to offer.

On my journey eastwards from Carlisle to Gateshead, with myself for company, my thoughts turned to last years event and what that had brought; an amassment of arcade cabinets, a plethora of pinball machines, a cacophony of consoles and a smattering of stalls trading various merchandise and I wondered what would await this time round. I had also been flooded with updates via Twitter (other social media sites are probably available but I can’t be arsed with them), from Phil – the stalwart organiser and ambassador of the event, so had an inkling of some of the machines that would be there this year.

Before I knew it, the hushed tones of my Satnav informed me that we had reached our destination, and I pulled into the carpark of the Gateshead Public Library, situated next to the Leisure Centre. Time check 09:55hrs, time to quaff a quick banana and stretch the legs.

The entrance to the event was open and I made my way in. The QR code, loaded ready on my phone screen, was presented to the lady on the door, who provided me with two fluorescent wrist bands in exchange. I donned the green Saturday band and secreted Sunday’s pink variant into the deepest recess of my wallet and made my way through to the seating area, awaiting acknowledgement that we were able to go through.

And then we were in, the doors opened, wrists checked for neon bands and through. The change of venue, I think was bigger this year, an expansive sports hall, filled to the brim with arcade greatness. Dozens and dozens of cabinets lined in four huge rows stretched from one end of the hall to the other. A double row of pinballs was next. Hoards of tables brimming with consoles from every era after these and the outer edges filled with traders tables overflowing with consoles, games and memorabilia.

The first thing that hits you is the sight, eyes madly flickering left to right, taking in the expanse of cabinets, seeking out personal favourites, (Berserk, Robotron, Pole Position, 1942, Candy driven Bullet Hell Shooters), noting the expected dedicateds, (Donkey Kong, Pacman, Space Invaders, Outrun) and widening at a glimpse of rarer games, some previously unseen, (a stunning Tempest, Roadrunner, Ghostbusters pinball).

Secondly, you realise that your ears are being bombarded with the glorious sounds of processors, programmed in an era when arcade games were in their heyday. And as you try and make sense of this crazy mix of sounds you start to pick out some familiar sounds, (Donkey Kong’s start up, Sega’s Game Over, Yeah!)

Thirdly is the smell. The cabinets exude a scent that is unique to them, gathered over years of being out in the wild, in rooms filled with smoke, sweat and maybe even tears, as literally thousands of people have poured over them, leaving a part of them (and maybe the odd cigarette burn) behind and when amassed in such numbers the aroma subtly permeates the atmosphere.

Now I could talk about the games I played and the pick-ups I bought, however there has been many videos on social media and I would rather concentrate on what I feel is more important. “More important than gaming at a gaming convention?” I hear you ask, suitably perplexed at where this may be going, well yes. Allow me to explain….

Last year at NERG, I had only just started to really get into this hobby and although I had been posting on the forums, I only knew people by their forum identities, I had no idea what they looked like or who they were. But happy in my own company and surrounded my so much goodness, it was never a real issue, and I still enjoyed my day, although undoubtedly I had walked past many of the people I had been typing to, without ever realising it.

Fast forward a year and I really wanted to make this more of a social event, for myself. Aided by being able to attend the full weekend, and after some very loose organising on the forums, a small group had been gathered and I was looking forward to meeting up, playing some games, talking shop, then going out for some fine food and hearty alcoholic beverages, before regrouping and doing it all again the following day.

And this is where NERG ’16 really shined out, loud and proud for me. I won’t name names, in case those persons have a reason not to be publicly linked to the event, secret MI6 agent leading a double life or maybe having an illicit affair with Jame’s beautiful Tempest screen, etc. But suffice as to say that the difference for me between the two events, were poles apart. The gaming was broken up by introductions and banter as those I knew, introduced me to other’s they knew, and so on, meaning that it was hard to walk more than a few cabs without bumping into someone I now knew. Even the gaming itself was transformed from isolated enjoyment to 2-player battles; mini high score challenges and learning new tips and tricks from others.

Returning to a slightly personal viewpoint, I put a bit of time into Hunchback, reaching the final screen, which I did not know even existed until having a chat with another gamer and after some encouragement and congratulation I witnessed it for myself – which was not at all bad, considering the joystick’s left direction didn’t work! And I also played Robotron more than I ever have – with no twin stick set up at home, it’s a game I like but never get to practice to be any good at. Encouraged by a newly made friend, who could loop this game with ease, I started to get it, increasing my score by tenfold over the weekend! Well happy.

At the end of Saturday’s play, the activities turned to more night-time based shenanigans as our motley crew of merry men, unleashed themselves upon the great Toon of Newcastle. Guided by the Maximum Power Up hosts and accompanied by the Ten Pence Arcade Podcast party we sought out real ale, proper pubs and (eventually for most) some food. Obviously the surreptitious details of this evening remain firmly in the unpublished knowledge of those that attended only and it would be wrong to advertise them here!!! Although quite how I ended up gaffa taped to a penguin on the Tyne Bridge I may never know!!!

Then it t’were Sunday and time to do it all again. The venue, this day, seemed a little less busy, maybe those that had came to buy more than play had not returned for the second day, leaving the floor slightly more free for the gamers amongst us? But this in no way detracted for the enjoyment, possibly allowing for more access to the machines if anything.

The support for the event was abundantly apparent throughout, from the number of visitors, the amount of machines provided, the traders that tried their best to ensure you got what you wanted at a pretty decent price, through to the venue itself providing a good space for the event at relatively short notice. Yes there was a little bit of light pollution on some screens from the massive skylights above, but hey, it is a sports hall 364 days of the year, after all. One thing I did like about the venue was the ability to go upstairs onto the seating gallery where you could look out over the entire room, which allowed you to really capture the magnitude of this event.

I have to end this by saying a massive thanks to Phil for putting on yet another truly spectacular event, including all those both on stage and behind who helped Phil make this what it was. But also to those friends I met, both old and new alike, who really made the weekend memorable.

Until 2017.

Neil1637’s Write Up Of The NERG 3 Event

The date was Saturday the 20th June 2015, the sun was shining (a good omen) and at 9:15am I left my house in Carlisle and the journey eastwards began. NERG 15 the adventure had officially got underway. The A69 was surprisingly quiet, the gods really were looking down upon me, with only one aging gentleman pootling along in 3rd gear, who was soon dispatched. I had quickly looked up the venue on my Google map (other apps are available), prior to leaving and knew my turn off from the main road and figured that such a prestigious venue as the International Sports Stadium would be well signposted from there-in.

Leaving the security of the dual carriageway behind, I entered into Gateshead proper, passing the familiar Sage building, but still no signs to point me in the right direction and traffic was getting busy. I fumbled out my phone and fired up the satnav app, resting it somewhat precariously behind the gearstick, against the aircon controls. Comforted by her soothing tones, and heading in the right direction, I speeded up and confidently swung round the next roundabout, as my phone, affected by the tremendous 0.3G I managed to pull, slid effortlessly from it’s perch and skittled around in the passenger footwell !! DOH! As I tried to reach for it, clearly not happening, but for some reason we try anyway, as if the mere act of trying will enable your arm to double in length and reach the object, a familiar brown sign appeared ahead, directing me to turn next left, which I did, to find myself at the venue!! Top signposting!!!
Anyway, I was there and so it would appear were hundreds and hundreds of other people.!!! I followed the vehicle procession, past car park after car park, into a very pretty field, where I abandoned the motor, checked pocket for ticket, grabbed a bottle of water, confirmed tic-tacs in pocket and followed the throng of excited people back to the entrance, trying not to skip as I went. As I walked towards the doors, I observed the people ahead and around myself, categorising them as I went; there were lots of teenagers, all dressed in sporty lycra type garments, lots of parents, most carrying coolbags likely stuffed full of food/drink; a lot of younger kids, excitedly grasping their dads hand, choosing to show their excitement by openly skipping alongside; some adults who had chosen to really enter into the experience by dressing up as their favourite character from game or film; and the rest were the normal(ish) bods with whom I categorise myself.

As I entered the large glass doors, I was presented with the pleasant smell of cooked breakfasts from the café area (more on this later) and continued to follow the masses passed reception and through some open turnstile type glass gates, which is where things became slightly clearer with a large sign pointing myself and some of the others to the left for NERG 2015, whilst the aforementioned energetic, sportswear clad people, continued straight ahead and out into the athletics stadium, where a large schools completion was taking place. Down the corridor I walked, with the levels of anticipation increasing with every corner turned, and there were a lot of corners, each one emblazoned with another sign, pointing me towards my goal. Then the walking slowed as a slight queue formed as tickets were being checked and scanned, ahead of a large set of double doors which were open and alluded to glances of what greatness lay through them.
Ticket out, wristband on and I was in. Initial glances purveyed a large sports hall, and I mean large, with a huge ceiling height, filled with all things gaming related. Immediately to the left was a double row of inward facing arcade cabinets, preceded by the star raffle prize (which sadly I did not win), The Back To The Future pinball table. (NB: There is a really good and comprehensive walkthrough on this week’s Ten Pence Arcade Podcast where they list pretty much every cabinet, pin and console, so please listen to that to save me typing all of those.) Next to this double row was…… another double row of cabinets, all playing, all working with the exception of one dead jamma cab. Next to this double row was………. A double row of pinball tables. The next area was mixed with various vendors with their stalls set out, littered with all kinds of merchandise, from fluffy toys, to t-shirts, to games and consoles, plus lots, lots more.  Then the next area was filled with tables sporting an entire cacophony of consoles from yesteryear, some of which I have owned, some of which I wished to have owned bitd, some of which I had never heard of, let alone been able to play on. Leaving the final row to yet more vendors and the wares for sale. There was also an area put on by Clarkcade’s with some beautifully made bartop cabs.

There was a serious amount of stuff to take in. Although this was my first time at NERG I have been to the Arcade Club a couple of times, and the first visit there, I remember having spent too much time, walking around looking at stuff that I ran out of time to play and had left wishing that I had had at least one go on each machine. So with this philosophy firmly set in , I set about playing each and every machine, finding some old favourites, some absolute classics as well as playing games that I had heard of but never played and others that I hadn’t even heard of.
Some of my standout machines (and this is very personal to myself) were, Bombjack, Gyruss, Outrun, Powerdrift (deluxe cab), Centipede, Missile Command, DK, RallyX, 1942, 1943, Pole Position, Championship Sprint, but that really doesn’t scrape the surface. Then I got into the pins. Now I have never been all that into pins (I’m still young – that can change!!), but I don’t really know why I’ve never got into them, however at my last visit to the Arcade Club, they had a better collection that last visit so I gave them some time. So when presented with such a beautiful array of pins at NERG, I delved deep and didn’t re-surface for some time. The pins were busy, but as with the cabinets, if you stood behind someone, once their game was over, they kindly stood aside and let you on. The more proficient pin people were very helpful too, (in a similar way that when you go into a restaurant abroad and although you might be willing to try and speak in the local lingo, they normally seem to be able to sense your inability and help you out), guiding me to various ramps and targets, depending on what the many flashing light and commands were shouting at me. Am I a converted pin addict, probably not, but I had a load of fun on games that I would never buy, nor even shove a pound in, in favour of something else, and I think that is what events like these are all about. Pins of note, for me; T2, AC/DC, White Water, Starwars, Spiderman.

Go to events like these, get well and truly stuck in and try everything, even if you don’t know what you are doing, just try and you might just discover some hidden treasures.

But less about me, more about NERG. Before I knew it, it was 2:30pm and my stomach called. Back to the café I headed, through the maze of corridors and corners, following the smell of freshly made food. When I got there it was RAMMED!! Not only had half of NERG decided it too was lunch time, but so had all the parents attached to the aforementioned athletic offspring. Having said that, they had about a dozen staff serving, what turned out to be really nice food, very quickly and efficiently, along with proper coffee and all for relatively few of my English Pounds, I was very impressed by the whole set-up. Not only that but you then get to eat your big fat curry (very generous helpings too), overlooking the running track and try to remember what it was like to be young and full of energy again!

Suitably refreshed it was time to return, this time I spent a bit of time going over the dozens of consoles, sometimes watching others, sometimes playing, but there were really just too many to stand any chance of getting through them all, with some having literally hundreds of games on disc to choose from. The stalls and merchandise on offer were again vast, but for myself it was all about the cabs and pins, personally I just don’t have the time for retro console gaming right now, so a lot of the merchandise was not for me, but if it was your bag, I imagine you would be like a kid in a candy shop, with loads of said kids persuading their dads (without too much resistance) to buy game after game. There were also a lot of cuddly toys and anime/manga related stuff as well as T-Shirts, mugs, jewellery, keyrings, framed prints, books, basically everything you could have wanted/expected to see.

At one point, in the middle of the afternoon, the heat in the hall, reached fever-pitch, despite the presence of three very large industrial air-conditioning units being on full blast. But the fire doors in each corner were opened with very friendly security staff, in NERG emblazoned T-Shirts letting us pop out for some fresh air, without having to negotiate the myriad of corners and corridors.

All in all this was an amazing day, where I played all I wanted to play, met some old friends and made some new ones, I had to travel back that night, as I had commitments on Sunday or else I would have upgraded my ticket to return the next day. Oh well, there is always next year, isn’t there Phil?


PS: I’m not sure on exactly which people come together to make this happen, (I know the main ones) so it would be wrong to name some and not all, but to all those that did make NERG 15 what it was, from me – THANK YOU.

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