Product: Classic Gaming Expo 2005
Publisher: Shows
Compatibility: BBC B/B+/Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #66

On 13th August 2005, Fairfield Halls, Croydon, a short walk from East Croydon railway station once again hosted the Classic Gaming Expo (CGE). Tickets, at £12 a pop in advance and more on the day itself, were not cheap. However, like Alton Towers, the one off fee did grant unlimited access to whatever retro arcade machine, 8bit or pinball table took your fancy. Due to work committments, it proved impossible for both 8BS and Acorn Electron World to exhibit there this year, so it was left to Mr Jeremy Grayson, of the BBC Games Archive, to keep the side up regarding Beebs and Elks.

For those of you who missed the publicity surrounding last year's CGE (or, to give it its full abbreviated title, CGE UK), the exhibition is modelled on the American model where it has been running for almost a decade. Over in the United States of course, you're likely to find a room filled with Nintendo and not a lot else. Whilst in the United Kingdom, there seem to be staunch supporters of everything from the Sinclair ZX81 to the Sega Dreamcast all ready to trek halfway across the country just to pick up some new gear and engage in the classroom bickery over which machine is best.

Anyway, both this year's and last year's events were organised by Chris and Christine Millard and, having missed the first CGE in 2004, I swore blind that if I could not exhibit at this year's, I would at least go. Despite the high entrance fee, I assumed (a) it would give me a chance to meet many fellow retro enthusiasts, (b) there would be a possibility that BBC and Electron software would be on sale, (c) there would be a number of bargains to tempt me and (d) reading Retro Gamer every month and using emulators on your PC is all well and good but there's nothing quite like getting to grips with the original machines.

I arrived at 11:00am with the event in full swing. The halls were heaving with an assembled populace in which males outnumbered women by roughly 30:1. In the entrance foyer were the first two real 'stalls' with boxes full of tape games piled high and the inviting message 'All Tape Games 50p Each Or Fill A Box For £15'. (Regrettably, the only Elk stuff on offer were the big box Acornsoft games that all serious collectors got hold of about fifteen minutes after getting their machine.) On the landing area above was the 'serious gaming area', with an orderly queue formed in front of each pinball table and each arcade machine in turn. Slap bang in the centre too, a bearded bloke proclaimed to be the best video-games player in the world!

It was in the hall itself though that the hardcore retro experience was to be had. Each entrant was duly handed a copy of a new magazine 'Retro Player', edited by none other than David Bradforth, by one of two suited security guards. And once inside, exhibitors stretched as far as the eye could see; pings, tings, chatter, bargaining and bartering filled the air and, as the magazine itself pointed out, the only question was where to start.

With an abundance of software on sale from the likes of The Attic Bug, Retrovideogames, Cronosoft, Retropassion, UKRetro and Retro Trader, it was a while before I calmed down enough to notice the official CGE UK stand where a gaming competition invited you to score the best times on Mortal Kombat, Pole Position and Dig Dug to win a MAME computer. The MAME (Multi-Arcade Machine Emulator) computer itself was also being modelled over at Ultimarc which was perhaps the most impressive stand in the whole of the show. Ultimarc manufacture durable arcade cabinets with 28" screens housing either your PS2, PC or Xbox and the quality of these had to be seen to be believed. I nearly stumped up my £700 for one on the spot! (However, common sense prevailed and I realised that in my current London box-room, there simply was not the space.)

Consulting the Exhibitor List for the main hall revealed no trace of last year's BBC Games Resources and similarly, there seemed to be no trace of Superior Interactive for the first two hours or so. Finally I found Jeremy Grayson drinking a pint in the shadow of World of Spectrum's stand with a BBC B, Master 128 and Acorn Electron for company. Also in attendance was one James Roberts - part genius (He was the man who broke the copy protection on Adventurous English and Star Drifter) and part obsessive compulsive, who proceeded to relate to anyone who would listen how he was working on new versions of Elite and Labyrinth for the Acorn Electron. This, regardless of the fact that both Grayson and myself had had the exact same conversation with him at least twenty times before - and, after several years, he was no further forward with either of them!

Superior Interactive, in the guise of David Bradforth, did in fact arrive and set up shop at about 2:00pm. However, the shop consisted of unsleeved CD's of Repton 2 and Desktop Repton for the PC at £10.00 a throw. In a room filled with buzzing Dragons, Spectrums, plug and play consoles and Playstations, with all manner of dancemats, eye-toys, light-guns and even maraccas and bongo drums attached, this stand therefore seemed a tad weak - there wasn't even a PC demonstrating either of the products! I can't condemn too harshly though, because the promised stand from Retro Gamer magazine was nowhere to be found at all! So, having been sponsoring and promoting the show for the past twelve months, it seemed Live Publishing had then not even attended! What is that all about?

Certainly however, many exhibits were gems. The little-known SAM Coupe (a 1991 computer that could play Spectrum software) was supported by samcoupe.com, which was even giving out free fanzines on photocopied A5 rather reminicent of the early EUG magazines. The Dragon 32's supporters were out in force too, with Dragon Archives opposite the door inviting all entrants to a quick game of Chuckie Egg before they proceeded. In case you're wondering, the Electron version is better! Over at Retro Planet, Sega Dreamcasts along with House Of The Dead 2, were going for an absolute song and the fact you could pick up a pistol and blast lumbering zombies to bits was doing wonders for sales...

The Attic Bug I had never met before but was very happy to find had two old Computer & Video Games Book Of Games on sale for £1.00 each, both featuring never-before-seen type-ins for the Electron within their confines. This was to be my first encouraging find and, on attempting to visit the area around James Roberts without getting involved in another conversation about what I had to say about his brilliant equipment (Ooer!), my eye fell upon a half-hidden box beneath the stall of Keith Ainsworth's Retro Gamer fanzine. Something almost seemed to speak to me about this box before I touched it and blow me away if, buried inside it, I did not find the ultra-rare Electron version of Snowball by Level 9, Starship Quest by the Elk Adventure Club and Nursery Rhymes from Database Software, all on tape! All three for six quid must have been the bargain of the day!

After dancing myself to exhaustion (to 'Oh Carol' and 'My Heart Will Go On', I am reluctant to admit) on an odd Japanese import console adapted to fit a PS1 dancemat, I checked my watch to discover that it was 4:30pm. They say time flies when you're having fun but where five and a half hours had gone I had no idea. This is obviously the real quality of such an event - one gets lost in the moment of it all! Jeremy Grayson was also happy to announce that he had found a pristine copy of rare title Rohak The Swordsman during the day and would also be returning home happy. On a balcony over the hall, one Matthew Smith (Creator of both Jet Set Willy games - however, not the programmer of the Electron version!) and band played out a variation on the theme from Impossible Mission and Yie Ar Kung Fu to really complete the Retro experience.

On the whole, CGE UK was therefore an absolutely unique experience and a very positive one, I believe, for every retro gamer who attended. The only real let down was the 'Retro Player' handout which is all simply information copied verbatim from back issues of Retro Gamer (but in black and white on low quality paper). Next year, I hope Acorn Electron World will attend with everything from Voxbox games to Music 5000 on display - and I look forward to seeing you all there!