The seething mass of bodies all packed into one place is a stark reminder of just how big games have become since I was but a lad in the ’90s where it was still seen, along with comics, as a geeky hobby. Now it seems everyone plays games, either casually on a phone or tablet for a few minutes a day or on a custom PC that costs a terrifying amount of money. Games are just part of everyday life now, and conventions are springing up all over the place. Now there are people from all walks of life celebrating a medium that has gone from strength to strength. Walking the concrete floors are kids, teenagers, moms, dads, businessmen, grandfathers, grandmothers and more. There are no barriers now that games have gotten almost complete mainstream acceptance, and it’s amazing to see.
This is 4TG’s second year, and stepping into the venue at Aberdeen AECC I was eager to see if it had gotten bigger since its 2016 debut. It had. Sure, the event isn’t managing to attract some of the big players just yet, so there’s no representative of Sony demonstrating a new exclusive or Activision showing off the latest Call of Duty, but there are some indie developers who want to let the public see their work, and up on stage there’s a Street Fighter tournament raging while the other side of the room has Overwatch matches being played as a large crowd watches on with rapt attention. Maybe Ubisoft isn’t here to reveal more about Assassin’s Creed or unveil the newest generic open-world game involving towers you have to climb, but that isn’t stopping thousands upon thousands of people having a bloody good time. They’re all at 4TG for the same reason, a love of games and that means, at least for the day, everybody is friends.
There’s no better example of that than LAN gaming. In the middle of the floor is a bunch of consoles and computers hooked up for some LAN action, and plenty of people are taking advantage. I’m one of them. I’ve barely been here about two minutes, and yet I’m already battling in the new Unreal Tournament which left me feeling more impressed with it than I thought it would, even if it is quite bare bones. It might have helped that I managed to win several matches, though, something that probably colored my perception of the gameplay. There’s a lack of conversation between the people sitting around the table which left me a bit disappointing, perhaps a symptom of them being used to standard multiplayer gaming, but there’s still a sense of camaraderie. People are throwing their hands up in despair or grinning at the others. At one point me and the person sitting next to me have a pretty epic back and forth battle that I eventually win, and as he puts his hands behind his head and grimaces a wave of satisfaction washes over me. Winning is fun, but it’s even better when you see the reaction of the opponent and then both share a smile.
Another bank of machines are playing host to CS:GO, and much like the Unreal Tournament zone snatching a free chair is unlikely due to the sheer volume of people walking around. Everybody wants a chance to play, so it’s good that for the most part people are putting in a match or two and then leaving to make room for others.
Off to the other side there’s loads of machines set up for Minecraft, and they proved popular with the kids. There are a few bigger screens for some split-screen action, too, which is nice to see. Other family orientated games are scattered around the place, like Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing Transformed, complete with two steering wheels, and some Super-Mario Brawl. There are some arguments that flare up over people who fail to understand the etiquette of taking turns, but even these are polite as other gamers step in and explain that other people need to get some time as well.
Retro gaming was nice to see back, too, with a load of classic consoles hooked up to a bunch of various monitors and TVs. Arguably some of my favorite moments were watching younger gamers trying to get to grips with mechanics and gameplay ideas that were almost alien to them. There was even a classic Street Fighter arcade machine setup which I couldn’t resist having a blast on before getting my ass handed to me. Fighting games are never going to be my forte.
Actually, no. I retract my statement. Watching people experience VR for the first time might just be the coolest thing at the entire convention. From children to adults to parents and grandparents the reactions were always fascinating to watch. This year we had several demo areas for things like Serious Sam and the same underwater demonstration that I tried last year, plus two indie devs were showing off their titles, too. As much as I enjoy VR I’m still far from convinced that it’s ever going to become something most people have unless we see large drops in price, both in terms of the headsets themselves and in the cost of the hardware needed to power it., Regardless, though, there’s no denying that VR is a stunning experience that captures the imagination and it was a pleasure just to watch other people try it out for the first time.
Corsair were in attendance, their little corner of the even being home to the likes of their Strafe RGB keyboards as well as glowing computers that had enough internal lighting to rival the sun itself. They were bright, gaudy, and thus in the middle of a massive gaming event a massive attraction. They weren’t selling anything directly, rather they were there to simply build their already sizable reputation. Given the waiting time I never got a chance to go inside and try out some of custom-built machines they were running, but I did briefly get some hands on time with the Strafe keyboard and was impressed. Maybe I’ll manage to snag one for a future review.
Razer were in force, seemingly every booth I looked at running a Razer laptop, keyboard, mouse or all three. Their double-decker black and green bus was back, too, and to this day I still have no idea what’s in it. The wait to get in is sizable, so two years in a row I’ve joined the line and two years in a row I’ve eventually given up and ambled off in search of food. Turns out Dominoes sponsoring a gaming event and supply huge pizzas is a dangerously alluring thing., One day I’ll pass through those hallowed doors into ther Razer bus, though. Maybe nirvana awaits me, eh? Or maybe it’s just a bus filled with green and black gear. Having spent some time playing Unreal Tournament using a Razer keyboard I can at least say I’d like to get some of their gear in for review. It felt nice, and its been a while since I’ve reviewed any of their products.
In the indie section I did get some hands-on time with a promising title by the name of Skye where players take on the role of a dragon cruising through a serene and vibrant valley. Taking place in a low-poly 2D landscape the focus is, according to the developers, on creating a more relaxed experience with some light puzzling. Despite the game probably not launching until 2018 they’ve already succeeded – amid the chaos and noise of a convention it was easy to get lulled into a relaxed state thanks to the smooth, responsive controls and simple puzzles. As a dragon you’re capable of interacting with certain objects such as giant magnifying glasses that are used to help some crops grow, or noisy bells needed to wake a character up. It looks like a game that isn’t going to blow your mind, but a low pricepoint, appealing graphics and the emphasis on relaxed exploration might make it worth checking out. Hopefully I’ll know more in the coming months.
I also sat down with Guardians from Squid Punch, a top-down arena-battler where you and three other people are given the chance to first lay down a few traps in the small arena before then spawning in and attempting to murder everyone, usually by pushing them into the various traps. It’s a fun idea but in its current state there wasn’t much to enjoy. Even using the basic kick felt off as there was a sizable delay between hitting the button and the game reacting. They admitted they were having problems, though. I’ll try to find out more over the coming months.
As for the guest stage there were a number of people who took a seat and chatted to the audience. Probably the highlight, at least to me, was the Scottish Youtuber panel as it was nice to see upcoming talent highlighted, and they were all down-to-earth people providing realistic and sensible advice to people who wanted to get into streaming or Youtube creation.
The stage was also used for a cosplay masquerade toward the end of the show. Being a more videogame focused event cosplayers were in limited supply, but there were still a few people who decided to don a costume and make some people smile. You can find a small gallery of the pictures I took of them below. Speaking of pictures, I do apologise for the quality of the snaps on display. The lighting isn’t conducive to photography and my own skills with a camera are far from impressive.
As you can see above there were even some pinballs machines where a competition was being held with a trophy going to those with the best scores. I’d honestly forgotten how much fun pinball machines were. There’s something very satisfying about pinging that little ball around, watching it bounce around a load of obstacles and paths. Sadly I can’t convince my family to let me put one in the house. They don’t know what they’re missing.
Oh, and did I mention they had archery tag? I mean, c’mon! That’s like….the most awesome thing ever.
But as appealing as the myriad of computers and consoles and pinball machines and crazy archers strewn around the venue may be, and as tempting as some of the shiny baubles to purchase are, it’s the people that make the event. There’s something indescribable about events like this, a sort of camaraderie that stems from a shared love of something. Their the kind of people you can strike up a conversation with, and then not see again until the next year, and so on and so on and so on until you’re all meeting up each year using zimmer frames.
With just two years under its belt I can’t quite recommend this as a convention worth coming from far and wide to attend. At least, not yet. Give it another year or two, though, and I can see 4TG becoming one of the UK’s biggest game related events and hopefully somewhere where even the large companies will want to have a presence. As it stands it’s incredibly fun and filled with people worth meeting, chatting with and then shooting in the head. In-game, obviously.
I mean, it’s almost like being sociable.