A photo diary
by Shiuming Lai
a day after visiting the event, I couldn't remember
how or where I found out about Retrovision,
so it must have been good! All I do remember
is thinking what a splendid idea it was, and
that I must attend, in the absence (to my knowledge)
of any major Atari related events in the
UK. Around the same time I found out about Retrovision,
I also discovered there is now to be a UK edition
of the long established Jag Fest, in the summer. Nice, another one for the diary!
readers will have noticed our February issue
was somewhat delayed and also smaller than usual.
Other responsibilities in life left most of the
team snowed under and lacking preparation time
for Retrovision III, to be held in Oxford. Matthew
couldn't make it at all, thanks to the crazy
hours he's working in his day job.
arranged to go with my old friend Mike Rose (remember
the fabulous Fuji robot cover picture from Christmas
2001?), whose gaming tendencies lie firmly in the
retro era. Right up until the night before,
we still hadn't established where we would meet,
since he lives near central London and I'm way
out in leafy Surrey. A general disdain for British
public transport and insufficient time to check prices
and timetables meant we defaulted to going by
car. The M25 London orbital motorway has recently
been experiencing severe congestion (nothing
new there, then, though lately it seems to be
full of emergency vehicles), so we decided to
meet in town and get onto the A40.
8 March 2003
As ever when I have something
important to do, I woke up on time without the
assistance of an alarm. I was out of the house
at 07:10 and in Camberwell, London, by 07:55.
Mike was already there at the Texaco petrol
station next to the bus depot, with his bicycle.
We dismantled it to get it in the back of my
car then wasted no time heading north across
the River Thames, as Mike had heard there might
be a protest march later in the day. Cutting
through Victoria and then whizzing past Hyde Park we
got to the A40 near the Marylebone flyover,
except we couldn't get on to it. We got
under and around, and it was many years
since I knew this area quite well... After wasting
20 minutes or so I remembered the way (the road
signs were little help and simply made us go in circles).
Then it was straight cruising for the best part
of a football match to the tune of the Jackson
the time we reached what looked like the countryside,
with acres of fields and dramatically sweeping
hills, strong winds were affecting my car's
performance. I recently had a complete set of
new tyres fitted so it gripped as if driving
on fly paper but the headwind really
made me wish there was a turbocharger or V6
under the bonnet.
we passed a sign welcoming us to Oxford, then
the BMW Mini factory to our left. From here
it became apparent that we were lost, since
the map on the Retrovision web site didn't give
enough surrounding scope (in fact it suggested
to me the venue was in the middle of nowhere,
yet there were loads of houses and streets just
like back at home) and we didn't have any
local maps. We were over two hours early, though,
so that gave us breathing space and an opportunity
to hunt down some breakfast.
around 10:00, we got onto the A420 Botley Road
towards Oxford railway station. Crossing
over the canal, Mike spotted some graffiti on
a wall, "Cor, even the graffiti around
here is posh! Top quality graffiti!" and
then I saw the YHA (Youth Hostel Association)
building, one of the recommended boarding places
(for visitors going on Saturday and Sunday)
on the Retrovision web site. That was a good
sign. We must have been near.
to see a familiar landmark, we just flowed with
the traffic until we were lost again, on the
A4144 Woodstock Road. There were some places
to eat here, so I parked and we headed for the
greasy spoon café for an English breakfast.
It took ages to be served and was exceedingly
unhealthy but nice and filling!
seemed able to give us directions to our destination
so we did the very scientific thing of driving
around randomly in the hope of spotting the
venue, the Folly Bridge Inn. When this proved
to be taking us further and further away from
all signs of life, we quickly returned to the station
and asked at the youth hostel for directions.
ten minutes we found the Folly Bridge Inn, almost
in time for opening of Retrovision at 12:00.
The pub's car park was full and everywhere else
on the streets was strictly reserved for residents'
parking, so we found a car park further down
the road next to a children's playground.
It had a vague notice warning drivers to move
their vehicles "before dusk" or risk
inside the pub (where the only indication that
we were in the right place was a Retrovision
poster on the downstairs toilet door...) I
ordered some drinks and we sat down while we
set up our equipment, since Retrovision would
not start until 12:00. I had the digital camera,
and its all-important USB lead. Mike brought
a notebook PC, so I could preview the photos
at the event (and re-shoot any importants ones
that didn't make the grade), as it is very difficult
to judge the quality of pictures on the tiny
camera LCD. I also had the camera USB storage
device driver on two separate CDs, to be on
the safe side. At this point Mike was starting
to wonder if he had a copy of Windows 98 on
the hard disk, as the USB device installation
would require some system files from there.
Being an IT manager, of course he had done this,
except it seemed to be missing an essential
CAB file containing some even more essential
VXD file... What a disappointment! Over the
next half-hour of tweaking and fiddling in vain,
a big guy with a green head walked behind, that
was Mark Rayson the organizer. Still, we tried
to make the blasted USB driver install. It didn't,
so Mike fired up Uridium 2 on his Amiga emulator
for a quick blast.
Uridium 2, hmm... Reminds me of Mirax Force on
my 800XL! "The battle
begins... Game over..."
passed, there was no announcement anywhere about
Retrovision, but it was way past 12:00. We packed
our gear and headed upstairs - sure enough,
the event was already alive and buzzing.
How did all these people get up here without
Sarah Rayson the Cheshire cat, welcoming visitors
and taking payment on the door.
To the left of the entrance, Mark's
wife Sarah, to the right, a Joust cocktail table,
straight ahead, a large table covered in Scalextric
for some racing action! All around the sides
of the room were different retro machines with
monitors and television sets perched on the
most colourful collection of beer crates ever
assembled in one place. Jeff Minter, the man,
the legend, then walked out with a group of
what we could only presume were Llamasoft fans...
Probably heading for the bar downstairs or something.
Wow, that was amazing! I must have first read
about Jeff and Llamasoft in 1987, in one of the 8-bit Atari
magazines, and I'd just seen him for real! Mike
was also very excited.
welcomed us like old friends and we explained
our predicament with the USB driver, and asked
if he could help sort a Windows 98 CD. Luck
would have it he had just rebuilt a machine
with Windows 98 and could bring us a CD very soon.
big television screen near the Joust machine
was connected to a Jaguar, running Tempest 2000.
I sat down to play this, feeling very self-conscious
with Jeff Minter hovering around nearby! Mike
came over and sat down and we had another look
at the notebook, would you believe the USB driver
then magically installed and everything worked!
I played Joust a lot, what a great game.
Getting a chance
to talk to Jeff Minter seemed difficult as he
was always surrounded! I caught him at the bar
and he very kindly autographed my copy of Trip-a-Tron
(I'd also brought my Tempest 2000 soundtrack
CD for this but accidentally left it in
my car), then whipped out a personal DVD player
to show me a video of his latest work. At first
sight it looked like a kind of super-VLM, but
I did't dare say such an obvious or potentially
thing (especially almost a decade after the
launch of the Jaguar). It turned out to be an
abstract 3D shoot-'em-up and boy did it look
good! Mike was hanging around and got his photo
taken with his hero! I had the pleasure of registering
my copy of Llamatron with a beer, cheers!
Mark Stoneham playing Atari's Space Duel.
Super Sprint on MAME.
heavy duty arcade style controller.
must confess to doing far more talking than
game playing, as the atmosphere was very chilled,
and I could recognize faces from the Club area
of the Retrovision web site so had to introduce
myself ("Hi, I'm number 34..."). Having
the notebook PC really made it easier to explain
when people asked me what I did, I simply loaded
up the MyAtari web site stored on the hard disk.
Probably couldn't do that at any other type
of party though!
the battery started running low (and my throat
was very sore), there was not a chance
of plugging in anywhere in the main event room
to recharge. The bar staff downstairs were very
helpful and found a place for me to plug in
and do some work on the magazine while charging.
I managed to sit on a table where Matt Allen
(AKA Mayhem, the C64 game collecting fanatic)
also decided to have his lunch. We chatted for
a bit and got on to the subject of the Game
On exhibition at the Barbican in London last
year. I had previously read his review of the
show on his web site, which is why his name
sounded vaguely familiar, and mine likewise
to him, since I'd mailed him with my feedback.
Matt also happens to live near where I
this interesting conversation, regular MyAtari
contributor Thomas Wellicome finally arrived.
In another spooky co-incidence, Matt had just
mentioned Lords of Chaos, which Thomas had just
reviewed in the February 2003 issue of MyAtari!
Thomas Wellicome enjoying a pint downstairs as
I work on the show report.
Thomas strutted his stuff on Tempest 2000, beating
my abysmal score to the point of embarrassment,
so I swiftly moved on... Elsewhere in the room
there were all the other quintessential European
'80s home computers like the Amstrad CPC, Amiga,
Spectrum +2 and a smattering of Japanese
consoles. It would be very difficult to cram
much more into the space available not to mention
finding the time to play them all, though perhaps
I only say that for only having been there for
half a day. Possibly the most "interesting"
machine was a blue PlayStation, this wasn't
just a re-casing job, but one of the official
developer debugging machines. Everything else
on display was the same as what consumers got.
Thomas loves Xenon 2 on the ST!
Andy Wood on the left and some guy
young lady called Rain playing
Atari's Asteroids on MAME.
I'd have loved to stay
for the whole weekend (and curry afterwards
- I love curry, and if anyone doesn't know,
so does Jeff "Vindaloo" Minter!) but
both Mike and I had work to do, not to mention
we had to get my wheels out of that car park.
That was too bad because we missed a whole load
of stuff like VLM 3 on a Nuon machine and lots
more talking and gaming.
journey back to London was much easier as you might expect.
On the way, we passed a few places where I used
to live but I was in auto-pilot so couldn't even think
where we might stop for some food. We ended
up going down Regent Street in London (absolutely
jammed at 18:00 on a Saturday) to get back across
the river, ending up in East Dulwich, a place
with no shortage of good food. Let me tell you
there is an excellent restaurant here on Northcross
Road (off Lordship Lane) called the Thai Corner
Café, and if you don't book a table you just
won't get in... I forgot its telephone number,
assumed there would be space for just two, and we
didn't get in. How nice to be able to run a
business so successful that you can turn away
customers, Mike lamented.
was quite surprised to hear that Retrovision
has so far been a quarterly, rather than annual
event. Now I think about it, that seems feasible,
as it's not one of those huge commercial exhibitions,
and everyone had a great time in the cosy atmosphere.
It was great to attend the Retrovision III show in Oxford the other day
with Shiuming - you instantly know you're in Oxford as there are loads of
nice stone buildings and Japanese tourists everywhere. It's a bit cleaner
than the Elephant and Castle I thought!
When we arrived Mark the
organiser really looked the part in his beautiful green make-up and gave us a
very warm welcome. What a nice friendly bloke. Apparently Mark had left his
"Ming the Merciless" robe at home and the power had blown up the night before
- but he wasn't going to let that stop him having a good time.
After a few fags
and pints of beer all the problems seemed to magically sort themselves
out! Sarah his wife sat at the front of the bar ticking people off as they
came in and everyone seemed so nice and friendly. Good start.
remembering seeing some rather shocking red wallpaper in the pub below, going upstairs into Retrovision III
I could see Robotron in an arcade cabinet
across the room through the archway fairy lights... then I saw a table top
arcade Joust... In case you're wondering about what kind of people go to
these things - it
was a complete cross spectrum. Everyone was talking computers that day - people helping you out explaining the games you were
playing. They had lots
of music on the go and flashing coloured lights - with pinball machines and
Scalextric in the middle of the room. Cool! I walked past a shaggy black
coat and saw a bloke with long hair and thought, "That must be Jeff Minter".
It was great to finally get to say hello to Jeff Minter after all these
years of playing his games - what a treat. I mentioned to Jeff I've got a Defender arcade machine - apparently he's got
one over in the USA and we talked about how it was one of the best games
we've ever played. He was a good sport and even did
the honour of posing for the obligatory cheesy photo with me. After complimenting
him one hundred times he was very humble - "I'm just a
bloke" - then again could anyone "normal" write something so
Tempest 2000? "Nuff Respek" to you Jeff for being so, err, humble!
After I got thrashed on a
Japanese shoot-'em-up by a ten year old
kid I swiftly moved on to the arcade cabinet of Robotron and starting shoving
in my 20 p pieces like nobody's business. Robotron, like Defender is an awesome
display of colour and psychedelics (one of the best games I reckon) and I
really got into those pulsing glowing screens again. Oh that took me back for
a brief moment in time. Ooh and those two knobby joysticks on Robotron - is
it me - or does anyone else really like the feel of them?
C64s, Amigas, VIC-20s, an Atari 65XE (running Gyruss and Boulderdash) - so
lots to keep an 8-bit junkie happy.
the organiser with the green head - summed up the day for me: He said it's
the best feeling in the world getting all his mates together for
a blast-'em-up and downing a few beers. And you know, I understand exactly what
he meant! Nice one, Mark!
So 4.8 out of 5 for the day - slap on
the wrists and 0.2 points deducted for not having that Vectrex at the front
of the bar working... still there's always a next time!