This week, I have been mostly playing…

…with balls on sticks.

By which I mean, glowing balls on sticks. Like these:


Although I got a PSVR headset on release day, I was a bit slow in snapping up a pair of Move controllers to go with it … principally because I wanted to be sure the PSVR wasn’t going to be a blur-o-vision-vomit-torture-machine before throwing more money at my set up. By the time I’d decided that it’s actually a pretty impressive bit of kit, and had seen enough non-nausea-inducing titles to keep me happy, all of the move controllers in the UK had sold out, and the price-gougers had moved in. So I put myself onto the Amazon waiting list, and amused myself with non-move-controller VR experiences in the meantime.

Fast forward a couple of months… and on Christmas Eve (great timing!) a parcel arrived at the Shepherd household, containing the aforementioned devices!

So far, I’ve tried 3 move-controlled games…

The London Heist is part of the “Playstation VR Worlds” collection (essentially, a disk full of tech demo mini-games). It’s the only title on the disk which benefits from Move Controllers — so I’d completely avoiding playing it until the Move wands arrived.

It’s good fun, but — as expected — feels more like a VR demo than a full game. It’s a short London Gangland romp, which alternates between various characters shouting expositional dialogue at you in cockney accents, and first-person-on-rails shoot-the-enemies levels. That said, the finale — a high-speed shoot-em-up in the passenger seat of your getaway van, is absolutely glorious; using one hand to fire your machine pistol, while the other hand grabs ammo clips and feeds them into the gun is a great gaming experience. But it takes a while to get to the good bit, and it doesn’t last anything like long enough 🙁

Next up, Holoball. Holoball is — to my knowledge — the only room-scale VR experience on PSVR. It’s basically like playing 3D pong, with dual-wield tennis rackets, in a distinctively TRON-like environment.

It’s beautifully fluid, the controllers track brilliantly… and I managed to play it for all of 10 minutes before smashing my hand into a real-world light fitting and getting very disapproving noises from Mrs S. Fortunately, nothing was damaged. But that one probably isn’t getting played again until we move house. Oops.

Finally: Until Dawn:Rush of Blood. It’s an on-rails twin wielding shooter (literally, on rails, as it’s set on some kind of crazy ghost-train roller-coaster), and it is the single most terrifying entertainment experience I’ve had in years.

Seriously, just watching that video gives you no idea just how much your fight-or-flight instinct kicks in when those things get RIGHT UP IN YOUR FACE, in glorious 3D VR. The move controller integration works brilliantly. It’s terrifying, visceral, and very very scary indeed.

So, yeah, so far, I’m impressed. The move wands might not be as feature-rich and high-tech as the HTC Vive controllers (the only other VR-specific controllers that I have any experience with), but for a cheap-and-cheerful, consumer-friendly console game controller, they’re very impressive indeed. Good stuff! 🙂

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Game On 2.0

Whilst tidying up my blog, I discovered an old draft post from November 2015, written following my visit to the Game On 2.0 exhibition at Newcastle Centre for Life. I guess I got distracted by other things and never got around to finishing this post properly … but I thought it was worth resurrecting what’s there 🙂

Game On 2.0 is a touring history of video games, featuring over 150 fully-playable exhibits. It was in Newcastle for most of 2015, then moved on to Oslo for 2016, and will shift to Rome in early 2017. These pictures come from a visit I made quite late on in its Newcastle residency — it was a wet, weekday afternoon; school trips were leaving the venue as I arrived, and I had the exhibition mostly to myself for a couple of hours.

This is the entrance area, with a fenced-off (and presumably long-out-of-service) Pong Machine.

Some more fenced-off-and-unplayable early exhibits — Computer Space and something else? The wall projection to the right was connected to an arcade controller (and — I presume — a copy of MAME), with a random game selector front end. When I tried it, the game that popped up was Pengo. I *love* Pengo, but it’s a prime example of a game that doesn’t work very well at all with an 8-way stick. Yuk! 🙁

Next came a row of “early” arcade machines and — slightly inexplicably — an MB Vectrex Console that had been encased in a stand-up cabinet that completely hid the device from view. This seemed like a weird thing to do, considering how unusual/unique this particular console is. I can only guess that the donor machine was smashed up or in pretty poor shape 🙁

I was surprised by how well Mine Storm stood up against the full-size vector arcade machines on display. So surprised that I went straight onto eBay in search of a Vectrex of my own the next day 😉

Disappointingly, Bride of Pinbot was out of service. It was the sole pinball machine in the exhibition, and also happens to be my personal all-time favourite pinball machine … so I was massively disappointed not to get a play 🙁

There was a lone Atari Jaguar displayed near the start of the next section of the exhibition, running Tempest 2000. I don’t own a Jaguar, but I know this game has a reputation for being awesome, and I usually *love* tube shooters + Jeff Minter games. Maybe I was just having a particularly good day, or I’d missed a difficulty setting somewhere, but this seemed way too easy — I was gaining bonus lives far faster than I was losing them. It’s the only game in the exhibition that I got bored with and walked away from half way through :/

Then… there were aisles and aisles of home computers and consoles. Pretty much every home gaming platform you could think of. And many I’d never even heard of.

Good to see the ZX Spectrum being represented by 3D Death Chase … this was one of the first games I owned on the Speccy, and it was cool to revisit it after all this time. Also interesting to see that they were running the games on real hardware; I *had* wondered how they’d deal with all those old home computers that needed to have games loaded in from audio cassettes, and whether they’d cheat and have a PC hidden somewhere running an emulator … but, if you squint at the picture, you can see that it’s got some kind of modern day SD Card thinger on it, which is presumably used to boot up a ROM image on power-up. Clever!

(Points deducted for the awful choice of controller on the speccy exhibit though! Possibly the least ergonomic / most uncomfortable Joystick I’ve ever used. It’s a shame you couldn’t prod the rubber keyboard)

Parappa the Rapper merchandise … scary to think that this game is now 20 years old. Gulp!

And I know that everybody too young to hang around in arcades in the 1980s is never going to understand why Dragon’s Lair is such a big deal … but for those of us of a certain age, being in the same room as these original animation cells comes pretty close to having a religious experience. Great stuff!

Moving into the (slightly) more modern console era… I was amused to see a full Steel Battalion rig. Amused because I’ve got one of these in a cupboard in my man cave 😉

They also had a side-room containing an xbox kinect running Mizuguchi’s Child Of Eden. I’ve also got one of these. But it’s not in its own room. Yet.

A Nintendo Virtual Boy — not working 🙁 … there was also some kind of VR-in-a-spherical-treadmill thing nearby that was roped off; I’m not sure if that’s because it was broken, or because it needed an attendant to look after it. There wasn’t much sign of staff members while I was at the exhibition; maybe they (and the machines) were recovering from the School trip that departed as I arrived.

The exhibition ended with another room full of arcade machines. They were a bit of a mixed bag, but the star of the show was a fully-working Star Wars machine — it was only the stand up version, but beggars can’t be choosers 😉

It must be a good 30 years or so since I last played one of these. I *just* managed to crawl into 9th place on the high score table after several attempts, but it was an absolute blast. Great game, in fantastic condition for its age. Almost worth the price of entry alone!

There was also a Defender cab tucked away in a corner. Whenever I go to a retro event, I seem to end up playing an awful lot of Defender 😉

Posted in Gaming, MAME, pinball, Retro Gaming, Travels | Leave a comment

ADP Riot Tour

Jimmy Cauty’s Aftermath Dislocation Principle has arrived in Newcastle…

I’ve been excited to see this since our last encounter with Jimmy and his model village, under a railway arch in London, back in January. At the time, Jimmy mentioned that he’d had an idea to fit the whole work into a shipping container, drill some peep-holes in the sides, and take it to Liverpool for an exhibition. After our chat, the project evolved into a full-scale tour of 36 “historic riot sites” around the UK… including Newcastle upon Tyne.

The work is quite different, now that it’s housed in the shipping container. There was a a funny narrative going on in its model village incarnation; the inhabitants of the ADP seemed to have figured out that they were trapped in a model village – you could see them looking over the edge of the table in places; even practising their golf drive into the void at one spot. The new world of the ADP doesn’t have edges — only walls. The giant pyramid that the policemen were building (New Bedford) and connecting suspension bridge have been removed… and the peep holes and views are less well curated than they were in the model village (apparently they just had to guess where to drill them into the shipping container!).

Although the model itself is a bit less impressive, the container itself is fascinating — it’s picked up lots of graffiti, stickers, and urban art on its journey around the UK. Some of it KLF-related … other bits quite reflective and philosophical.

I thought it would be cool to add something — a burning riot invader. It’ll be interesting to see if it follows the tour all the way to the ADPs final destination: The Garden of Eden, Bedford. I’ll be keeping my eye on social media 🙂

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NERG 2016

This weekend saw the 4th annual North East Retro-Gamers event in Gateshead (NERG for short) — basically an excuse for fans of retrogaming to gather in a very big room for 2 days, play old games, and buy gaming memorabilia at over-inflated prices.

This was the 2nd NERG that I’ve attended. If you squint carefully, you can just about spot me in this picture. Honest 😉

(Hint: I’m wearing a leather jacket, playing Pengo, and standing next to a blonde girl playing Millipede).

It’s a fun event, and it’s great to see, hear and smell(!?) all the old arcade cabs, and to get to play some non-virtual pinball machines 🙂

My personal highlights for this year included:

Bride of Pinbot! My all-time favourite pinball machine, access to which I was so cruelly denied at last year’s Game On 2.0 exhibition! … actually, it was a bit of a bittersweet re-union, as this particular machine was starting to show it’s age a bit, and didn’t play much like they used to back in the day. No fault of the owner, I’m sure… just a sad reminder that age gets us all, eventually 🙁

The event was held in a different venue this year — Gateshead Leisure Centre. Although it’s spatially very similar to the usual venue (a big hall at Gateshead Stadium), one of the things that the organisers hadn’t anticipated was the fact that the roof at _this_ venue has large skylights in it. As you can see from the photo, this caused a bit of a glare on the Pinball and cocktail arcade cabinets. Fortunately, next year the event will be back at the Stadium again.

TRON … I’ve been wanting to play this oldie again for a LONG time. (The cabinet was also present at NERG 2015, but out of service when I visited).TRON has a mechanically-unusual joystick with high-resistance diagonals, which makes it difficult to play the game properly under emulation (there are entire internet forums devoted to trying to hack a TRON stick using modern components!), so it was interesting to get my hands on the real thing.

One corner of the room was devoted to Williams cocktail cabinets… including StarGate, Robotron 2084, and this Joust cabinet. I’ve never seen one of these in the flesh before; it’s unique amongst cocktails as both players have to sit on the same side of the machine. Fans of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One might remember the hint to sit on the left 😉

All in all, it was an enjoyable day of gaming; lots to do, and I bumped into a lot of people I knew during the course of the day. My only criticism would be that _some_ machines (particularly the more popular pinballs) were very difficult to get a game on. There aren’t any formal rules on how long you can spend on a particular game (everything is free play), and _some_ players are a bit more courteous about giving up a machine than others are. And some people are just outright arseholes; they’ll see you’re waiting, and then just blatantly coin up *another* 4-player game on a pinball, and proceed to play all 4 parts themselves. Grrr!

As the venue gets busier, the situation gets worse … so try to get in any must-plays early on. (It might be nice if the organisers would put up some kind of guidelines on expected etiquette… just for the benefit of the sociopaths in attendance).

At least there was always a Defender cabinet or two standing free throughout the day, so I always had something to fall back on. Some people have _no_ taste in games. Luckily 😉

Posted in Gaming, Retro Gaming, Travels | Leave a comment

Games played: September

September stats

A bit of a quiet month this one, with only a single trip to Newcastle Gamers, and an awful lot of solo gaming.

Having clocked up quite a few plays of the new “art box” edition of Onirim in August, my most-played title of September turned out to be its Oniverse successor, Sylvion.


Sylvion is, essentially, a Plants vs Zombies clone in single-player card game form. Bad guys appear at the right of the playfield, and march towards the left. You drop stuff in their way to hinder their progress, and if too many of the bad guys make it through your defences, bad things happen.

It plays well, but it’s a lot of effort to set up (at least, for a solo game) and processing each turn takes a fair bit of card manipulation and concentration. Plus, it requires quite a chunk of table space too. If it wasn’t for the psychological inertia involved in getting past these hurdles and taking the game off the shelf in the first place, I expect this would probably have got even more plays 😉

Aside from Sylvion and Onirim, my other solo-gaming experience of the month was the 1-player variant of Uwe Rosenberg’s old-school cube-pusher, Merkator. Disappointingly, this didn’t turn out to be a particularly edifying experience; I wouldn’t recommend it that way. (The multi-player version, on the other hand, is rather good!)

Newcastle Gamers on the 12th saw a long-overdue outing for my copy of Dungeon Lords — I think this was the first time I’ve played Dungeon Lords since getting all the Anniversary Edition extras almost a year ago(!). We stuck with the base game, and it was a really enjoyable session… I definitely need to get this one out a bit more regularly.

New Dungeon Lords coinage!

Dungeon Lords was followed by a game of Mogul, an old (2002) game, and the origin of a push-your-luck auction mechanism which was subsequently re-purposed for the (very popular) filler game, “No Thanks!”. Sadly, aside from the neat auction aspect, Mogul is pretty dry, and tricky to get your head around on your first play. I’m not sure the board element (new for the 2015 edition) adds a lot to the game either. It was interesting to play for the historical perspective, but — having now ticked it off my list — I’d probably just choose to play “No Thanks” in the future.

My Newcastle Gamers visit was rounded out with a 2-player game of Trambahn, and a 4-player game of “Onward to Venus” – the game of 19th century interplanetary colonialism. The last time I played Onward to Venus I enjoyed it a lot… but this session was a bit… “meh”. I think the mix of action chits we drew from the bag this time simply wasn’t conducive to an interesting game. It’ll probably be a while before I can convince people to play it again. 🙁

Other September plays included a few goes at The King of Frontier (a game so good that it warranted its own post!), a second outing (finally!) for my copy of Russian Railroads (which was very enjoyable), a 2-player try of the Neuhauser Bockerlbahn scenario for Snowdonia (I’d previously only played this solo; it worked great with two), a deathmatch playthrough of Tash Kalar (I enjoyed this far more than my previous experience with Tash Karar, where we’d jumped straight in to the advanced “High Form” of the game), and my first ever play of Battle Line, a 15-year-old Reiner Knitzia “classic” for 2 players, which I’ve somehow managed to avoid playing until now.

Which was fine.

For a 15-year-old game.

Highlight of the month: Finally getting my hands on a copy of King of Frontier. It’s a lovely game!

Lowlight: Solo Merkator. Should probably have just cracked open Sylvion for one more try instead 😉

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