Product: Retro North 2007
Publisher: Shows
Compatibility: BBC B/B+/Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #68

Two years ago, Chris & Christine Millard held the CGE UK event on the outskirts of London. I went along, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a burst of colour in the rather dull retro computing calendar, with a good showing from practically every on-line gaming store I'd ever encountered. This year launched a new exhibition, Retro North, a slightly smaller scaled event out in the Peak District. Having failed to exhibit the rather splendid array of addons and programs I have collected at any of the shows so far, I made the eight hour round-trip to Glossop; Acorn Electron, Electron Gommc, Project Expansions' Sound Expansion Cartridge and Millsgrade Voxbox in tow.

The duration of Retro North, organised by self-confessed retro machine junkie Keith Luthner, was stated to be 11:00am to 11:30pm - offering the opportunity for a mammoth twelve hour marathon, if you were so inclined. Certainly there was a lot on offer - I counted up over thirty machines, all with their own table, selection of games and television hooked up to them, on display in the entrance hall. The venue was the Glossop Rugby Club, in a T-shaped clubhouse. Leading off from the entrance hall was a bar, a hatch in the wall serving a big selection of unhealthy food, and a large area occupied by the stand Console Passion. Dotted about this same room, at least on arrival, was a table containing the various prizes for the raffle and a selection of seats for the Q & A session, scheduled for 15:00pm.

The computer action therefore was concentrated in the entrance hall, in a fairly wide corridor with computers seated in front of large conservatory-style windows. Practically every format had been catered for - and everyone's favourite games were already playing on most of them. Perhaps the best way of evoking the atmosphere in words is with a description of what I found on my arrival. As I walked in the door, to my left was a Sinclair 48K loading up Jet-Pac (Whoever had rewound the tape had obviously nipped off to play something else in the meantime!); to my right was a BBC Master with Impossible Mission loading. Looking along the left hand side of the corridor, in turn there was: Phillips CDi, Sega Dreamcast, Sega Megadrive, Sega Master System, Colleco Intellvision, a PC with MAME fully running, and an arcade machine with Puzzle Bobble whirring away.

At the very end of the corridor, Weekend Gamer (http://www.weekend-gamer.co.uk/) were exhibiting (A range of free goodies were being given away to anyone who passed by!) and to their right Cronosoft had both a Commodore 16, a Commodore 64 and a Spectrum 128K demonstrating their latest professional releases (Jonathan Cauldwell, their main programmer, was not in attendance but his intriguing game Quantum Gardening was being snapped up by a few people). Following on from this, down the right hand side of the room: Oric 48K, Sega Megadrive, Nintendo 64, Super Famicom, PC Engine, Amiga 500, and my Acorn Electron squeezed in between it and the BBC Micro mentioned earlier.

The atmosphere was more relaxed than that of CGE UK, with attendees being practically encouraged to use the computers themselves to load and play the games they wanted to. They were also able to walk both the length and breadth of the clubhouse carrying their pints of beer with them. A pint of beer resting next to someone's pride and joy games collection didn't sit too easily with me, but maybe I am too uptight. It was noteable that there were no accidents, and it was clear that everyone there was having a very good time. Tickets had been limited to 100, but, with some attendees staying for just two or three hours, the doors were thrown open around midday and the whole of Glossop decended upon the place.

The event was not without its problems however. Particularly around 13:00pm, the clubhouse was temporarily bathed in sunlight - I'm sure I was not the only one suddenly twiddling with the brightness button on the tv I was looking at, straining to see the half-finished game that had suddenly been oblierated due to the proximity of the large windows. And the Question & Answer session, taking place right next to a bar full of people, and two extremely loud Bubble Bobble and Super Space Invaders arcade machines, became incredibly difficult to hear.

On top of this, and rather sadly, for all the interest the Electron received at Retro North, I really need not have bothered to bring it along. Not a single person stopped to look at it, let alone choose a game to play from the full ADFS catalogue I had downloaded onto it! Half an hour after the doors opened, the opening page (which I had laboured over) showing the Retro North logo remained resolutely stationary, whilst all around it people flocked to use its neighbours. In desperation, I booted up Chuckie Egg. Not a nibble. Then Repton half an hour later. Nada. My mind raced for anything that might tempt people over - Boxer, Arcadians, Felix In The Factory... Same old story.

Not that I could really blame them - when you had the choice of battling it out on Goldeneye on the N64, or picking up two guns and blasting your way through Virtua-Cop on the Dreamcast, or playing Guitar Hero on the Ninendo Wii, one-screen platformers and overhead maze-games in glorious four-colour had very little "hook" in comparison. Even if I had had an amplifier to hook up to the Sound Expansion Cartridge, which I hadn't, the Elk would have had a hard time being heard. Without one, the blips and beeps emanating from it were drowned out by background noise completely.

I combined my efforts to flog this dead horse with pottering up and down the corridor, meeting all manner of people and playing some of the games I'd only read about (Dragon's Lair being one of the highlights). After six hours however, I was all retroed out and it was time to call it a day (which was a shame as I saw a pair of marracas and a Sega Dreamcast just being set up as I was walking out of the door).

As with CGE UK, the time I spent there passed very quickly. However, unlike with CGE UK, I did not come away with such a warm feeling that retro gaming on the original machines was all so well and good. Despite appearances, the shows were very different beasts. CGE UK attracted a wide range of contributors; Retro North attracted a wide range of machines - and a few contributors. At Retro North, there were no large stalls selling tape games for the old formats (although Console Passion did have a few on offer in a cardboard box; Cronosoft of course sells new games) yet at Retro North, it was easier to meet people - because everyone was squeezed into a much smaller area.

What I probably need to make clear is that Retro North was a runaway success. I'm glad I attended, as I'm sure are all the other people that went. However, it was a day mostly for getting drunk, having a laugh and communally playing on computer games with your new-found friends. Exhibiting there brought some things into sharp focus. Firstly, there are practically no two-player games on the Electron for such a crowd to enjoy. Secondly, even if there were, those people who enjoy playing retro games are uninterested in finding out about the Electron, and the addons that were produced for it. Finally, this complete disregard shown to the Electron - compared with say the Spectrum, the Oric or the BBC - means that, obviously, Acorn Electron World will not be attending subsequent events to exhibit again.

This sounds very harsh, but of course this in no way should detract from the success of the event itself. Luthener is to be heartedly congratulated on putting together a show which was not only a lot of fun for everyone but will doubtlessly lead to new alliances in the retro computing world as a whole being forged. He will also have encouraged many people to go to eBay to pick up the game they rediscovered at Retro North to enjoy over and over again. My review of it is simply mixed because I have mixed feelings about what happened at it. Ironically, I thought that exhibiting at Retro North would bring the attention of the Electron and the web site to a host of new people. But, since I returned from it, I have lost a lot of motivation for both the Electron itself and continuing the website. After all, if the attendees are representative of computer users as a whole, then no-one cares, do they?