The following text was taken from Retro Reunited’s website.
An Organiser’s Diary
Despite taking 6 months of planning the event came around surprisingly quickly and was unfortunately over far too soon. I enjoyed almost all of the last 6 months and thought I would give you an organiser’s view of the show along with my highs and lows of putting on an event of this size.
Talking of size, a few people have asked why the event was limited to 280 tickets when the venue could have held quite a bit more than that. The reason for that is really down to economics. We had to think about how many we could realistically sell as if we had aimed for say 400 (which the venue could have accommodated) then our running costs would have been much higher for things like printing, insurance premiums, helpers etc. I think that the 300 people there (280 guests and 20 or so ‘crew’) ensured we had busy rooms but were not crowded and ensured people didn’t wait long for their machine of choice.
Thursday 10th September – The Preparation
This was the first key day in preparing for the actual event itself. The past 6 months had been about planning, marketing, promotion, selling tickets, working out logistics, arguing with the hotel, begging for special guests, spamming forums and a whole host of other virtual activities. But this was the day that we started the real work of packing up about 30 boxes of stuff, loads of TVs, arcade machines, power cables, posters, name badges, competition prizes and everything else. Luckily, Simon Burton (BoggyB68 on the forums) had agreed to make the trip from Kent so while he was travelling up the M1 (or whatever motorway it is that gets you from Kent to Huddersfield), myself and Laura lugged all the boxes from the upstairs games room and piled them up in the kitchen and lounge.
Simon arrived at about 4pm and after copious cups of coffee and a catch up we decided to get one of our biggest tasks out of the way. We had to move an Electrocoin Xenon JAMMA arcade cabinet from the games room, down the stairs and into the hallway. Anyone who has moved a cab of this size will know how heavy they are and how hard it would be for 2 weaklings and a woman. But we managed it and it was a lot easier than when the machine was originally put up there by a weakling, a woman and a man with a hernia!!
With the heavy lifting done for the night we then decided to nip out for a bite to eat and a few beers at a local Mongolian Barbeque restaurant. A few bowls of Kangaroo stir-fry later and we were back home ready to start the testing of many, many systems that have been left neglected in my games room for months or years.
I was pleased and surprised to find that systems such as the Phillips CDi, Atari Jaguar and Adam Grandstand all worked perfectly, despite having never been switched on in the 2 or 3 years that I had owned them. I was all delighted that all of the TVs that I managed to picked up from various car boot sales and charity shops worked too.
Sensibly, it was then an early night (well 11pm is relatively early) so that we were fresh for our long day of setting up.
Friday 11th September – The Setup
Friday started as any long day should, with lots of coffee and bacon butties.
Our first action of the day was to nip across to Leeds-Bradford Airport and pick up the third musketeer, Darren Doyle (Greyfox). Darren, who produced all of the wonderful art for the show, was flying in with his dad from Dublin to help out and to video the show for a DVD that will be released soon. After being absolutely stunned at the £2.50 car parking charge for being parked up for less than 7 minutes, we headed to the venue to check in. Half an hour of torture later (sitting in the bar but being unable to drink) we finally got access to our rooms and dumped our weekend bags. Next stop, Arcade Warehouse in Castleford.
A quick drive up to Enterprise van hire to pick up our transit van and then we were on our way (a lesson learnt over the weekend however is that you should always get a van one size bigger than you think you will need. Ours was a short wheelbase and whilst this provided plenty of room for all the boxes of stuff, we could only get one arcade machine in at a time, meaning multiple trips were required).
Then we were on the road, chugging the van up the M62 to pick up an arcade machine for the raffle. The Paperboy machine we were after turned out to need a bit of testing before it could be let out, so requiring little excuse we slipped off to find a local pub for a bite to eat. The pub we found however was an experience in itself. The locals were very friendly (if a little intimidating), but we thought it best not to ask for food and settled with a pint (unfortunately only shandy for me) and were regaled with tales of the 50th birthday party the pub had hosted the week before that had seen many rock acts (such as Saxon) turn up and play sets. Despite the pub being really small and having a fire safety capacity of only 60, they assure us that at least 150 people were there! Shame we missed it.
So not fed but at least watered, we headed back to the workshop to find the Paperboy machine working perfectly and after a few goes (just to test out the quality of the controls of course) we lifted it into the van (which was an absolute nightmare due to the machine being heavier that Vanessa Feltz giving Rick Waller a piggyback and it having no wheels), but not to worry, the lift in hotel meant we wouldn’t need to struggle with the stairs.
It was only upon arriving back at the venue that we were advised that the service lift was out of order. The only 2 options then were to take the machine up the fire escape (2 flights of outdoor concrete stairs), or manouver it around the hotel and through the public lift. We settled on the lift only to find that we would need to get the cab onto the wheelchair stair lift for this to be possible. Unfortunately, the safety arms on the stair lift that give the wheelchair a hug whilst in transit were far too narrow and we had to quickly abandon that idea. Luckily though, just as we were starting to fear the worst, we were advised by a suited man that he had just fixed the service lift, so with a cheer of joy we changed direction and followed him to where the lift was situated. But as was becoming clear, nothing in this business is simple. The service lift was through a small corridor and inside the hotel kitchens. It took some precision driving to navigate the cab, balanced precariously on a little 4 wheel trolley, to get into the lift but we eventually made it and finally put it in place in the Arcade Zone.
A few table layout alterations later and Simon, Darren and I headed back to my house to load up the boxes and TVs and bring them back to the venue. We also managed to squeeze the large arcade cab we had earlier moved from upstairs into the van and arrived back at the venue, parked at the back by the fire escape and started lugging heavy boxes up the stairs. By this point others had also arrived and were busy setting up, so the room resembled something of a bring and buy sale or the aftermath of the blitz.
With the boxes all unloaded it was now the turn of the cab. But due to its size we decided we had no chance of getting it through the narrow walkway to the lift and decided to take it up the stairs! With 6 of us risking all sorts of injury to inch the machine up I was exhausted and starting to despair when we finally got it in position. But with another trip back home to pick up a cocktail cab, a Pac Man fruit machine and some more boxes, there was no time to wallow.
Upon returning with our next load and once again struggling up the stairs with unbelievably heavy equipment, we walked into the main room and it felt like a fairy godmother had waved here magic wand. Whilst we had been away an amazing transformation had taken place and many of the tables now looked amazing with numerous systems laid out on them and the venue was starting to take shape. With a new sense of optimism we started unpacking our boxes and setting up the overcomplicated wiring plan.
During this time Korina Abbott, Community Manager for Ubisoft, arrived to set up her 25 years of the Turtles area and we all decided to head to the bar for a few well earned pints. 2 hours later and it was back to the grindstone and at something like 2am I had to kick a large number of people out and send everyone off to bed (or the bar).
Upon finding that the bar stopped taking cash at 11pm we were about to call it a night when the lovely Mrs. Clarence (wife of RG forum member Clarence) insisted on buying a round and came back with double shorts for all. So after toasting a job well done, we all poured ourselves into our respective beds and enjoyed a few hours well earned rest.
Saturday 12th & Sunday 13th September – The Show Must Go On (eventually)
With the alarm set for 8am, I inevitably received a phone call at 7am so decided to get a shower and head off to breakfast. In the restaurant a number of familiar faces had arrived such as retired event coordinator Chris Wilkins (Boyo), so a chin wag over fruit and yoghurt set me up for the next stint of setting up.
A week or two before the event the hotel kindly informed us that they required every machine to be fully PAT tested to comply with their insurance. With so many different people displaying a multitude of ancient hardware, this was never a possibility and we were for a moment thinking of blagging the hotel and telling them that we had left the certificates at home. But common sense got the better of us and we agreed a compromise whereby an electrician would inspect all the machines prior to the start of the event. So a mad rush to get the remaining systems set up and then an even madder rush to get a number of 13 amp fuses swapped out with 1 amps before we were passed as safe and the event could officially take place.
The last activities were getting two classic machines up the fire escape. Jon Stoodley had brought his refurbished Pac Man machine along and Tony Temple his Missile Command. Both machines looked virtually brand new and we were extremely careful not to damage them (though it appears that someone else was not so careful later in the day causing a nasty scrape down one side of Tony’s beautiful machine).
The clock reached 11am and we still weren’t quite ready, so the queue of people in the lobby had to wait patiently, but at 11:25 we finally opened the doors.
A quick PA announcement from me and the Retro Gamer editor Darran Jones stepped on stage to say a few words and the show was officially open.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur really. Whether that was due to running around like a blue-arsed fly sorting out systems, organising the QAs, saying hello to everyone, making PA announcements and all the usual stuff that organisers have to do, or whether it was to do with me having my first pint as soon as Darran finished speaking and my last at 4am in a club in Huddersfield, I’m not sure. But I can say that I enjoyed it immensely so I will try and give you some of my highlights…
The power cut – inevitably at this kind of show, a pint of beer will get knocked over and you just have to hope that it lands on an empty space of carpet or in the lap of an Amstrad fan. Unfortunately for us it landed on a 4 way electrical socket and shorted the whole of the main room. I didn’t see it happen, but I was particularly amused that it was Mat Corne’s team (the guys who put on the Byte Back show) who were responsible!
The interviews – Getting big names to attend these shows can be a very difficult thing and you are always at the mercy of them getting a paying gig that means they cancel at the last minute, but at RR we seem to have been blessed by the gaming gods in that even though we had a couple of cancellations we still had some of the biggest names in retro gaming turn up and not only chat on stage, but mingle and have a beer with the hoi polloi. I am infinitely grateful to each of them;
- Korina Abbott – Trying to get commercial companies to embrace an event that carries little financial benefit is like trying to get Archer MacLean to write a football game (i.e. it won’t happen – I know cos I asked him in his QA!). But Korina broke that trend and not only came to talk about the history of Ubi, but also brought a pre-release version of their new Turtles game for us to play on and gave us a ton of stuff to auction for charity. On top of that she was a lovely lady who knows here gaming, as a few people found out when they chatted to her in the bar on Saturday night
- Archer MacLean – It was touch and go whether Archer could make the show, but he made the 3 hour drive from Banbury and showed just why he is still one of the most respected developers in the business with his entertaining and knowledgeable QA. Archer also brought an import copy of his fantastic new racing game Wheelspin for the punters to play on ahead of its EU release
- Charles Cecil – This was one of my highlights of the whole weekend. Due to exciting activities in the main room needing our cameraman, Charles’ set was delayed. But rather than go back to the bar and have another half of Guinness, he sat down and started to chat with the people who had congregated ready for his QA. By the time the camera was free this intimate little chat had expanded and there was no way we could have interrupted it. Sitting there having a chat like we were all old friends was wonderful and Charles has fantastic stories to tell (I especially like the story about when he met DaVinci Code director Ron Howard) and felt honoured to have been there
- Jon Ritman – Jon was always the first person on my list when I was looking at who I wanted to bring in and luckily he was also the first to say yes. By the time Jon went on we had overrun horribly and I fear that a few people had already gone home and missed him. But regardless Jon was still a delight and even though Darran Jones tricked him into saying that the CPC was better than the Spectrum, he is still one of my gaming heroes!
*Please note that there were other special guest as part of the Acorn World exhibition. I am sure these were equally as exciting but I was too busy with other things to see them
The Raffle – we took over £200 in raffle ticket sales and I thoroughly enjoyed hosting it aided by Jon Ritman picking the tickets. I know some of the prizes were on the duff side, but there was also so good stuff and one lucky Geordie walked away with a nice Paperboy arcade machine (well it is actually in my hallway, but he will be picking it up soon).
The Marathon – When we decided to bring the Janey Thompson’s Marathon arcade machines to the event, we did not think that anyone would attempt to complete the game (which requires more than 2 hours of repeated button bashing, Track and Field style). But when we all heard that Phil Lancaster had reached the 25 mile mark we thought we would give him some encouragement, so following a ‘donkey kong kill screen’ style message (a-la King of Kong) a large crowd gathered to cheer him on. You could see the pain in his face as he reached the final straight, finishing the 26.4 miles in 2 hours and 58 minutes! It was a mammoth achievement that we thought we would be talking about long after the show had ended. But unfortunately for Phil, Simon Skelly smashed his time just the following day, knocking 36 minutes off the record. Simon is convinced he can get that time down to around 2 hours and will be making an attempt on his own record very soon. This time it will be recorded for submission to Twin Galaxies!
The Arcade – Arcade cabinets are very heavy and a pain in the arse to move. They are also very temperamental so to have such a good selection in the arcade zone made me very happy. Being able to offer an original Asteroids, a Pac Man cabaret sized machine, a full size Missile Command belonging to world champion Tony Temple, a Battlezone machine, the Janey Thomson bartop machine, a JAMMA cab, a MAME driving cab and 2 other MAME machines was far better than I had ever expected or hoped for.
The RR Game – Jason Kelk is a talented programmer, but giving us a chance to put a lucky visitor inside one of his wonderful games is amazing. The game, including our new digitised hero, was released as a party edition of the game GR9 Strike Force and a high score competition was held. Darran Jones won the day and took home a collection of Psytronik games as his reward. I am now looking forward to the special edition that Jason is producing with me as the hero!!!
The Rhythm – Rock Band is always popular at these events, but the timing of the Beatles Rock Band release could not have been better. I am no big rock fan, so I much prefer songs like Here Comes The Sun and Octopus’s Garden to Don’t Fear the Reaper or The Ace of Spades. The best of the night though was the song that ended the event at about 12:30am on Sunday morning. A group of about 5 or 6, led by myself and BoggyB shared one microphone to belt out a truly awful rendition of I am the Walrus. Luckily it was so late that I don’t believe anyone managed to record it!
The after show party – having been drinking for over 12 hours, we certainly didn’t want to stop when the event closed, so the camp split off into two with one group (we like to refer to them as ‘the oldies’) heading to the hotel bar and the other (‘the hardcore’) headed off to see what the nightlife was like in Huddersfield. So our chariot (a 6 seater taxi) arrived at 1am and we all piled into Tokyo’s pub/night club. 4 hours, plenty of beer and a bag of chips later we got back to the hotel to retire. Our lasting thoughts on Huddersfield? The ratio of stunning looking girls is extremely high, but despite being a University town it appears their intelligence is not!
The Competitions – As always we have high hopes for competitions with loads of people battling for the crown. But true to usual form they take far too much organisation and are more often than not shrunken into mini battles. There are always fun all the same and the worthy winners were;
FPS games – Craig Denson. Craig is my nephew and the organiser of that competition. Some may cry fowl play, but I just think that gaming skills run through the blood line!
Driving games – Anonymous. Steve Perry organised this one and unfortunately I was a little drunk when he told me who won, therefore they didn’t get crowned or a prize. Well done though, whoever you were
Shoot’em Ups – Shaun Scott. John Sczepaniac of Retro Gamer fame was absolutely convinced he was going to take the prize for this, but organiser Mat Corne dealt a killer blow by not choosing Japanese bullet hell shooters and instead going for much older classics. The final being Space Wars on the Vectrex
Football Games – By the time I got around to running this a lot of systems had been put away, so we reduced it down to just FIFA Champions League and the prize was taken by Geordie Matt #2 (the other Geordie Matt being his lucky mate who won the Paperboy machine). A fine performance to say that he was one of the hardcore who were clubbing until 4am!
Beat’em ups– Another steward’s enquiry could have been called here as organiser Duncan Woodward chose the game and then trounced everyone at it. But just like X Factor, the judges decision is final.
The Auction – lots of very generous people donated loads of good stuff and all in the name of charity. If I am honest I was a little disappointed at the amounts a number of items went for and think that we maybe should have held this on Saturday when more people were there and they hadn’t blown all their cash on the expensive hotel beer. But we still made a nice amount for a great charity. After the show I realised however that I had completely forgotten to auction all the nice stuff Ubisoft had brought, so this will all go on eBay and the proceeds added to the charity pot.
The Lows – An event of this size is always going to have a few problems. Unfortunately most of ours were of my doing, but nothing too serious;
- The Paperboy arcade cab. This was working fine when we picked it up but decided not to work during the show. It did however fire up nicely on the Monday though, so whilst the punters didn’t get a go over the weekend, the hotel staff did!
- The Janey Thompson cocktail cabinet. We should have had 2 Janey Machines running so that people could go head to head. Unfortunately we didn’t have the keys to the machine to get inside and turn it on. Or so I thought. They were on my keyring all weekend!!!
- The clearing up – When all the enthusiasm has gone and you are knackered from a hard weekend of organising, drinking and playing (and very little eating) the last thing you want to do is spend hours packing up and shipping everything home. It turned out to be a far bigger job than we had accounted for and ended up requiring us to stay at the hotel for an extra night (which did give us an excuse to stay up until 3:30am in the bar though). We finally finished moving the last of the arcade machines at 2pm on Monday. Good job we all took that day off work!
The Future – the question everyone asks as soon as a show ends is ‘when is the next one?’ or ‘will you be doing another?’. The answer to both I suppose is wait and see, although one is more certain than the other.
There will definitely be another show and I am aware of talks for July next year, though who runs it, where it will be and how big it will be are not yet clear. But as for me, I have had my go and I like to think I have improved on some aspects of Retro shows that went before. So now it is time for someone else to take up the reins and prove what a great community we have, as I am now off for a very, very long rest!