Product: In Da 80's 2011
Publisher: Shows
Compatibility: BBC B/B+/Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #74

There are few places less fitting to hold a retro gaming/homebrew coding weekend than The Lass O' Gowrie pub, on Charles Street and a stone's throw from Manchester's Piccadilly rail station. The pub features Spectrum cassettes nestling amongst the beverages and a wall of dead Amiga 500s and Amstrads, stuffed deer-head style, and spray-painted in neon colours. For the weekend of the 16th & 17th July 2011, it also played host to In Da 80's, a Retro Software engineered get-together which had much of the variety of the bigger Retrogaming festivals that are now springing up. The main difference - the prevalent turnout of 8-bit Acorn coders.

The largest part of the pub was given over to a selection of retro computers and consoles, some in the event proving far more popular than others. In addition to BBC Micros and Acorn Electrons, a Spectrum 128K sat in one corner next to a Sega Megadrive, with a few standup arcade machines (Paperboy and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom), three table arcade machines (on which the games were periodically changed) and a ColecoVision offering the delights of early versions of Donkey Kong Junior and Burger Time. The 'snug', in a smaller room downstairs, offered a place for the in-crowd, largely consisting of Acorn 8-bit programmers from both the UK and the Netherlands, to share new products and coding ideas.

There were also a number of events which took place upstairs, including a showing of the movie Star Wars and comedy standup. The air was filled with Eighties hits - Madonna and The Pet Shop Boys in abundance - throughout.

Entry was by ticket only between 10:00am and 6:00pm each day and, interestingly enough, one of the first people I spoke to at In Da 80's was somewhat at pains to point out that events such as these were something of a delicate balance. Firstly, they needed to be attractive enough to enough people to make them worthwhile - whilst not becoming so popular that there were far too few tickets for those who would wish to attend. Secondly, that the trouble was that if no-one reviewed the events themselves, they were forgotten quite quickly. I wholeheartedly agree. Events like In Da 80's should be chronicled and photographs on Facebook or Flickr can only really provide a few percent of the information.

So, let's see. What was memorable about In Da 80's? Was it Kees Van Oss's Acorn Atom conversions of classic games like Chuckie Egg, unveiled for the first time? Or indeed, the 3D PC version of the same game? Or was it Graham Goring's comedy geekathon, with a quickfire selection of computer observations and a fair share of adult humour? Or perhaps Danny Pensive who did his own routine interspersed with some recollections of the Tynesoft Boys Club? And who, if they did not experience it first-hand, will be quite able to capture the mood of the stripping Star Wars trooper (Male, wholly male audience - Why?) and stripping Sonic The Hedgehog (Female, wholly male audience - could've watched all night!) Or was it actually the Gents toilet, which was situated behind a glass windowed door and felt to the touch that if you did not very gingerly balance your arse upon it, it was in danger of toppling over?

The very trouble with reviewing an event such as In Da 80's is that the incredible range of activities that were on offer means everyone who attended it will have come away having met different people and having had different experiences. Socialising was not confined to the 'snug' - far from it, most people were having fun playing games like DUCK HUNT on the Nintendo in the bigger area, or leaving the pub entirely for a meal.

In Da 80's, despite branding itself as a 'Homebrew Coding Weekend' (Probably a mistake!) was not all just about the computers. The Spectrum 128K for example, stood motionless throughout the whole day, resolutely fixed on the opening menu. No-one loaded a tape into it and consequently no-one played a single game on it. Those who started up one of the old Ataris - complete with fiddly one-button analogue joysticks! - soon wished they hadn't either. Myself, I discovered ATOMIC ROBOKID on the Megadrive for the first time, recorded an interview with Kevin Edwards (of Galaforce fame) and put together a short demo called YO MAMA under the banner of the Organ Grinder's Monkey.

Kevin Edwards was not the only big coding name in attendance either. Kenton Price, who wrote many games for A&B Computing back in the day, was also doing the rounds, as were Andy Walker and Jim Bagley. It was also interesting to hear Danny Pensive's recollections of meetings he had had with Dave Crofts when the latter worked for Tynesoft. These were delivered under the guise of a cheery, but more innocent, Benny Hill characture which I couldn't decide was genuine or all part of the show. From memory, it went something like this, with long pauses each time there is a full stop:

"And he wrote a game. And it was called Winter Olympics. But it didn't sell very well. Because it was rubbish. And then he got a job doing something called anti-aliasing. And that was where, if you had an old game in two colours, and you magnified the image, you needed to find a colour that was between the black background and the colour you'd magnified. And it all had to be done by hand. So he did that all day. And then he went mad. And I never saw him again."

Of course, there were some inevitable disappointments. Miss Sweet Cherry Kiss's PacMan boogie, prominently billed on the In Da 80's literature, was notable for its complete absence from the repetoire. And, as alluded to above, one would suspect a naked fatboy stormtrooper twirling his nipple tassles around would, if billed, have positively encouraged people to stay away. There was a round of applause when he finished, yes, but it had the unmistakable touch of applause because he had finished.

The Burlesque dancing by Ginger La Roux (subsequently posted on YouTube) was short and, as some more of the more observant members of the posse pointed out, it was "nice that she had gone to the effort" of wearing red high heels, twirling a hoop and putting stars onto her body (before they were discarded). Why? Well, because she was in fact emulating Sonic The Hedgehog. I can honestly say that the fact she was meant to be Sonic was completely lost on me. My mind must have been on other things.

Ginger La Rouge Performs The Sonic Striptease At The Lass O' Gowrie

All of the new games Retro Software is promoting heavily at the moment were available - Hard Hat Harry 2 by Tom Walker, an Acorn Electron (and SNES!) version of Repton The Lost Realms, new BBC/Electron games Mazezam and Hyper Viper, not to mention all of the unexpected new Atom titles (which could be played in the bigger room on a genuine Acorn Atom). Oh, and if you have an Android-based mobile phone, the weekend heralded the release of Beebdroid - BeebEm on your phone.

So you had industry pros, homebrew coders, new games, old games, beer, arcade machines, retro computers, comedy and the odd naked woman. It's difficult to adjudge event as anything other than a roaring success in the circumstances. If I had to make one small criticism, it would be that, unlike at other events of this ilk, the arcade machines were not set to Free Play. This meant if you wanted to play them you had to pump them full of money despite paying an entrance fee. A small point, yes, and the arcade machine probably belonged to The Lass so perhaps an unfair one. But still valid, I think.

It's not known yet if In Da 80's is returning next year. Hopefully it will be and many of the social and coding partnerships formed over this extraordinary weekend will be rekindled. Perhaps Acorn Electron World will also put something 'official' together for it too...