Last weekend (21st-23rd Feb) GEEK made it’s triumphant return to Margate, the event is billed as a celebration of gaming culture which brings back the gaming community to Margate, which was once home to some of the finest arcades in England. I myself have a historical link to Margate, as a child of the mid-70s/early 80s with a family caravan near Dover, I would spend my summers watching the morning cartoons which would be interspersed with Anglia television adverts for the eponymous ‘White knuckle theme park’ Benbom brothers, AKA Dreamland, and looking forward to the inevitable family trip there to enjoy the seaside sights and sounds. The Margate of that time period was bustling and busy, and even a little glamorous.

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What a difference a couple of decades make, the Margate of today is a ghost of it’s former self, the arcades dead or full of ticket redemption and gambling machines, and amazingly the first ever seafront branch of Primark! (Although I doubt it will be the last!) Looking at it’s faded glory, you can see that Margate needs an event like this, to try and remind people of what once was, and more importantly, what it could be, if the Dreamland Trust are as good as their word, and for the sake of the first roller coasters to grace this country, I hope so. At this end of the front, you really wonder how Rough Guide decided that Margate was an up and coming place to visit last year.Margate002

It’s only when you pass the harbour that you see the more aspirational part of Margate, starting with the Turner Contemporary gallery, from hereon the town is full of the kind of coffee shops and artsy craftsy places that made Brighton such a successful seaside experience. Change is coming, but slower than people expected, and definitely, GEEK is a step in the right direction.

WinterGardensThe event is held in the Winter Gardens, a large theatre dug into the seafront, apparently so that it didn’t obscure the views of the covenant that existed while it was constructed over 100 years ago. ‘Faded glory’ once again applies to this building, with posters advertising celebrities of the past, some no longer with us, some just returning to the limelight. Personally I really enjoy documenting such places, after the dissapearance of the arcades I loved, I want to capture any memories I can find out there, and Seaside Gardens did not dissapoint.

Posters001But what of the event itself? As I entered the first hall I was surprised how busy and crowded it was, there were stalls selling various items, games, t-shirts and themed goods of various types. Around the edges there were many inventive games, provided by the Video Game Carnival a group that create games using inventive home made parts, and also display older LCD and VFD games, all available to play and enjoy. I really liked the Laser based games, which can be projected on the flat surface of whatever you may choose!

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None of this prepared me for the sight that was the main hall, a cavernous area filled with consoles and computers of every description, some of which I’d never seen before. All of them loaded up with their most popular games, seating, working controllers and dilligent staff who keep things running extremely smoothly. Some consoles had description cards with a little history on them, so younger players could be educated. What you have is basically the arcade of your dreams, all in a thumping noisy disco environment, and who wouldn’t love that? Sure, there were consoles and games I didn’t care for, but there weren’t enough hours in the day to try them all, so you could pick and choose your favourites and wait for them to become available. I’ve been to events where actual playable games were limited, in this respect, GEEK had the player/console mix perfected, you never had to wait for long. I’ve never seen so many Vectrexes (Vectrexii?) in one place before!

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GEEK describes itself as family friendly, and that definitely held true, with ankle biters of all shapes and ages milling about. A few 0f them were quite skilled opponents on some of the games I played! If you ‘went home and became a family man/woman’, then you should definitely feel comfortable taking your own progeny to take in some gaming goodness. There was a small (VERY small!) 18 rated corner for the more violent games, populated entirely by Xbones, I think the entire UK stock was in this one place, and not a kinect in sight! And the kiddiewinkies really loved the minecraft corner, taking up nearly a third of the hall and sectioned off with a suitably pixelly partition, it hogged a lot of space, but with good reason, they had to limit entry such were their popularity, with a queue of children wrapping around the hall, if you have a Minecraft loving kid in your life, I would recommend arriving early for this event to avoid disappointment and tears before bedtime. Although maybe next year the games popularity will have waned a little, as if!

MInecraft001Nestled next to the Minecraft madness was the indie area, and since this is an indie site, we’ll take a look at some of the games that took my fancy.

Bopscotch – Leda Entertainment

Format : TBC

Bopscotch001Bopscotch was described to me as a temple run style game with a strong multiplayer focus. And that’s pretty much what you have here, the demo unit used 2 xbox controllers to manipulate your blob like character, and you used left and right to control your speed and a button made you jump, well, not exactly jump. You slam and jump, as the character bounces merrily along the stage you have to pace your speed then try and line up the bounce to the slam action, propelling yourself over the many obstacles. It reminds me a lot of bounder but with a side on view, and as with bounder, the control takes some getting used to. But the frustration soon passes, and skill comes to the forefront, which is important, because the strongest selling point of this game is the multiplayer mode, a split screen race to complete a set number of laps before your opponent, which was the mode being shown off that day. The challenging play makes it a fun racer, and most interestingly of all Leda Entertainment are shooting for complete cross play. This means that no matter which model of phone, tablet or otherwise you may own, you can take on opponents in the wild wherever you find them, that’s some interesting coding, and we look forward to seeing the results, so far no release date is set, but you can keep up with them on their website for future details.

Tengami – Nyamyam

iOS (Windows/Wii U later this year)

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Available right now on an iphone near you, Tengami is a gorgeous game. Rendered in a Japanese ‘ukiyo-e’ style, it’s a point and click with a relaxed pace and pop-up book paper puzzles and  stylings. Once I put on the headphones provided the din of the noisy GEEK hall melted away and all was calm, the sound design is superb and really evokes a feeling of rural olde worlde Japan, some of the puzzles are a little abstract, but for a short 1 and a half hour game that’s probably for the best. None of my waffling will really explain how very pretty this game is, so please enjoy some screenshots…

tengami_forest_wolf tengami_ocean_mazeWhen this polished title is released to hungry Wii U owners this year, it’s going to be huge! You mark my words!

Timmy Bibble’s Friendship Club
– Force of Habit

PC/Mac

TimmyBibble002Described by me and agreed with by one of the authors of this game, TBFC is Atari Combat cross-fertilised with a twin stick shooter. And it’s a lot of fun! The (totally irrelevant!) story is that the imaginary friends of a small child are fighting over who he will spend time with in the morning, what follows is his fever dream in which you take on your opponents. There’s a demo available right now on the Timmy Bibble website, so you can give it a shot right now if you so wish, but a word of caution, you will need to be well equipped. Speaking to the makers, what they really wanted people to enjoy in TBFC is the wonderful feeling of taking on your friends and family in a game that’s easy to learn, and darn fun to master as you rub your victories in your (real) friends faces! So to play you will need at least 2 things…

  1. More than one controller
  2. A willing victim friend (1 is good, but 3 is better!)

Harking back to such pleasures as bomberman, it’s all about gathering around the screen and aiming for victory over your nearest and dearest. Your character has 2 attacks, a gun which has limited ammo and a dash that can either snatch bullets from the air or smash into your opponent for a physical attack. One hit kills, so rounds can last just a few seconds, and although your bullets are limited, they endlessly ricochet until they find a target, so your dodging/shooting skills will be tested to the limit as the screen fills with bouncing bullets. The game is still in the early phases, but what’s here right now is pretty darn good, the version I played seemed a little improved over the demo, so there will probably be even more improvements to come, we look forward to it greatly, as do most of the visitors to GEEK, who gifted it with the People’s Choice Indie Award! Congrats!

TimmyBibble001In closing, I’d like to thank the staff and organisers of GEEK for allowing us to visit them and see what they had on show. Already they’re talking of what plans they have for next year, with the return of more arcade machines and the apparently much missed pinball tables we look forward to coming again already! With events like this occuring in Margate the spark of fun and games is still burning, and here’s hoping that with the return of Dreamland it will be fanned into a roaring flame!

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