Watch Dogs: Legion and memories of London

Many people have been working from home this year due to COVID-19. I’ve been stuck at my kitchen table with my laptop and conference calls for around 250 days and haven’t been to London for work or pleasure for almost eight months now.

I can’t deny that I’m enjoying not having to get up so early for the commute or forking out far too much money on train tickets; and it’s nice not having to deal with the fumes from all the traffic or cramming myself onto an overcrowded tube. But I do find myself occasionally missing the city and that’s not something I ever thought would happen. There’s something special about it when you’re able to catch it at the right time, those earliest hours in the morning when it feels as though you have the whole place to yourself.

Friend-of-the-blog Phil decided to stream Watch Dogs: Legion on his Twitch channel last month so he could give everyone watching a virtual tour of London. He visited many of the locations where we’ve hung out in real life and it was fun remembering the stupid stuff we’ve done together to in the past. Here are some of his favourite shots from the title (because we all love taking pretty pictures in video games), along with our memories of what we got up to in each location.

Barbican: more than meets the AI

In September last year, we had the pleasure of going to the AI: More Than Human exhibition at the Barbican. A roped-off section towards the end of it contained a robot called ‘Alter 3’ with the body of a bare machine and a genderless mask for a face, which ‘learned and matured through interplay with the surrounding world’. It was one of the weirdest things we’d ever seen: there was something very unsettling about it, and the expressions it pulled made it almost seem as if Alter 3 had become self-aware.

Caledonian Road: the place where we made a new friend

The Meltdown gaming bar on this road was where we first met friend-of-the-blog Ben back in late 2013. We’d met through our respective sites and after chatting for a while, found out that he worked in a nearby area – so what better excuse to meet up for a drink? We hit it off like a house on fire as soon as he’d stepped through the doors and, over several pints and conversations about video games, it became obvious this was going to be a beautiful friendship. Seven years later and he’s still putting up with us.

Embankment: the marathon walk turned sour by Haribo

Phil and I thought it would be a great idea to take part in the Shine Night Walk for Cancer Research with another work colleague in 2011, a marathon event completed through London overnight. We found ourselves taking a break during the early hours in the morning by the Embankment, watching the river and eating Haribo – which turned out to be one of the worst decisions we ever made. The sugar hit our bodies, so we all felt nauseous for the rest of the walk and were glad when we finally dragged ourselves over the finish-line at around 07:00.

Southbank: the Winter Market where the market was missing

It’s tradition to finish working at lunch-time on the final day of the year at our workplace so we decided to use the free afternoon to visit the Winter Market at the Southbank before saying goodbye before Christmas in 2019. The only problem was that this time around, the ‘market’ part was kind of missing: we found about ten stalls and a bunch of hipsters sipping on mulled cider at pop-up bars. We decided to skip the event and instead took a slow walk up the river, which was much nicer.

Kings Cross: the worst escape room ever

I wasn’t happy when I heard we’d be doing an escape room here as a work team-building exercise but breathed a sigh of relief when I found out Phil and I had been put in the same group. That was the highlight though and thank god he was there to make it funny, because the experience itself was pretty bad. Everything was run down, the plug-socket among the shower-room mosaic tiles in the section which was meant to be a ‘sewer’ totally ruined the effect and the staff were lazy. At least Phil’s puns brightened the day.

Westminster: reliving our youth in the arcades

Right next to the London Eye is Namco Funscape and it’s here that we spent an afternoon for yet another team-building event in the summer of last year. Thankfully, it was nowhere near as bad as the escape room above! Phil and I hung out in the arcade, trying to win enough tokens so enable a colleague to win a prize, before sneaking out early and taking a walk along the Thames in the sun. It probably wouldn’t be a place I’d go back to but it was nice reliving the nostalgia of the London Trocadero for a while.

All over: treasure-hunting with Quietschisto

When Quietschisto from RNG told us he’d be visiting London last year, it seemed like the perfect excuse to combine an adventure with sightseeing. A HiddenCity treasure-hunt lead us across the city and had us solving challenges and interacting with people we met along the way. At one point, we had to climb the steps shown at the location opposite and we felt like we were going somewhere we weren’t allowed to enter – but at the top, we had a lovely view of London with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background.

Have you ever played a game set in a location you’ve visited in real life and if so, did it bring back memories for you? Hopefully we’ll see the end of the COVID-19 lockdown soon so I can meet up with Phil in person again – and fingers-crossed that happens by February so he can join us for our GameBlast21 marathon stream.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


London: the HiddenCity

My fondness for escape rooms shows no signs of stopping. I recently completed my sixth this year and it was my proudest achievement so far: we escaped with around 13 minutes left on the clock and were the first team to get out.

When Quietschisto from RNG revealed he was going to be visiting London for a week last month, it seemed like the perfect excuse to combine an adventure with sightseeing. I found HiddenCity through a Google search and it seemed to offer just the sort of thing we were looking for: a treasure-hunt across the city where you had to solve challenges and interact with people you met along the way. We opted for the Bright Lights Evening Trail so we could explore London by dusk and take in the sights along the Thames.

Our journey started outside the National Theatre on the Southbank and, shortly after sending a text message to the number provided, we received our first clue. The mix of cryptic sentence and number code threw us off and we were left scratching our heads for several minutes. It took a bit of logical thinking but we got there – and this puzzle put us in the right frame of mind for the rest of our adventure. We sent our answer in a reply and soon got message back confirming that it was right, with directions to the next location and another clue.

The next challenge was more the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a cryptic crossword. It mentioned ‘squeezing’ and then ‘enlarging’ objects, which actually referred to removing letters and then adding them back into a title shown on a plaque beneath a nearby statue. We found that it took us a little while to get our heads around the style of the clues an the types of responses they were looking for; but after correct answers to the first few, we realised we were on the right track and picked up our pace.

Our adventure took us around central London, across the Golden Jubilee Bridge to Embankment, through the markets of Convent Garden and then on to Holborn. Even long-time Londonders Phil and myself saw some new sights as our experience took us down backstreets we didn’t even know existed. We came across a lovely little area in the Seven Dials full of colourful buildings and growing plants, which turned out to be home to the studios where Monty Python’s Flying Circus was produced.

Perhaps the highlight of our journey was when we received a clue pointing us to a bar. We had to go inside and say a particular phrase to a member of staff – which kind of worried us as they might not know what we were talking about! There was nothing to fear however because the barman handed over a shot glass of something and told us that the main ingredient was the answer we sought. Thankfully it was something recognisable and our response was correct, but this new type of ‘physical’ challenge geared us up for the last leg of the adventure.

I’m pleased to say that we completed it with no hints given or time penalties received, despite getting a little lost around Holborn for a few minutes towards the end! We treated our game as a casual one and reached the final destination in just over two hours and 20 minutes. But I can imagine how adding a competitive element would give it an exciting edge; if there had been other teams competing against us that night, I’m sure we’d have been running for the next clue rather than taking a slow stroll.

It was a really enjoyable experience and there are a few photographs from our evening below. I’d love to do another one of HiddenCity’s games soon so watch this space!

Bright Lights Evening Trail photo gallery

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Namco Funscape London: a round-up

When I was a teenager in the 1990s, I used to visit the London Trocadero on weekends. At the time it was home to a SegaWorld amusement arcade that included games and indoor rides so it was easy to get lost in there for a while. It started to change though when the venue was renamed to ‘Funland’ in 2000 and gradually we, along with other visitors, stopped coming.

Fast-forward to 2019 and my department at work was organising its annual summer party. It turned out the director had decided this would held at Namco Funscape this year – part of the Bandai Namco group and just like how the Trocadero used to be when we were kids. So on an afternoon at the end July, we all cleared out of the office a few hours early, crammed ourselves onto a sweaty tube train and made our way over to Westminster for an evening of fun and games.

The sense of nostalgia walking in was huge: the flashing lights and beep-boop sounds felt like returning to those weekend visits as a teenager. I was sad to see that the old ‘rocket’ escalator hadn’t made its way to the venue and we had to make do with standard escalators to take us down to the reserved area in the basement. A selection of pool and ping-pong tables had been set aside for us along with a private bar, and I think that made most of my colleagues forget their disappointment.

After a couple of drinks and some time to cool off under the air-conditioning, Phil and I went back upstairs to check out what was on offer in the arcade. It felt smaller than the old centre at the Trocadero but was still as loud and had the familiar circular dodgems track situated in the middle of all the games. Although we gave that a miss, we did jump on Pac-Man and Connect 4 – and even found a Tomb Raider machine among all those dedicated to mobile titles like Flappy Bird.

I had a thing about those old Zoltar fortune-teller machines when I was young and would always make a beeline for them during family trips to the seaside. It therefore pleased me to see one of these tucked away in the corner and we couldn’t resist finding out the fate of one of our colleagues. Obviously the cards are written to be vague enough so they apply to absolutely everybody, but after a couple of beers it’s hilarious when it seems as if someone’s life has been foretold.

It was a pleasant night out topped off by a walk along the Thames in the sun, and although It was good to feel like a kid again I’m not sure I’ll be going back to Namco Funscape soon. As can be the case with many commercial arcades like this, I’d imagine it would be quite expensive if we’d gone there independently of a paid-for work event; and the strange smell of feet everywhere was a little off-putting (I guess that’s what you get for having an indoor bowling area in the heat).

Have you been to the venue and what did you think? And are there any better amusement arcades in London that are worth visiting?

Namco Funscape London photo gallery

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Rezzed 2018: a round-up

This past weekend saw us attending 2018’s Rezzed expo in London. Thousands of gamers hit the rooms of the beautiful Tobacco Dock to get their hands on over 200 playable titles and meet their creators on the show floor, as well as attend developer sessions by some well-known designers and find out how to get a job in games at the GamesIndustry.biz Career Fair.

In the introduction post published on Friday, I mentioned that the thing I love most about the event hasn’t changed in the six years I’ve been attending. That’s the atmosphere: a real vibe of support for independent developers where everyone comes together to celebrate indie gaming. It’s not as flashy as some of the other annual events and you can really get to spend some quality time with upcoming titles.

Although the atmosphere was still there this time around, the event felt different somehow although it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our time at Rezzed however; we had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend and be attending again next year. Here are the highs and lows of 2018’s show along with a few teasers about the posts coming up over the next week.

Highlights

Surely the best thing about Rezzed was being able to attend again with Ben (who wasn’t able to come last year) and getting the chance to meet the awesome Luke from Hundstrasse in person! It was also good being able to catch-up with Terry from gamingatheart, Will and Murr from geeksleeprinserepeat and Kevin from The Mental Attic. It was lovely to see them all and hopefully we’ll bump into each other again at EGX in September.

The other highlight was being in the front row for a developer session with Tim Schafer, one of the designers of my beloved Monkey Island. This was pretty apt considering the increase in the number of narrative games on the show floor this year; I’ve added quite a few titles to my Steam wishlist including Disco Elysium by ZA/UM and Lamplight City by Grundislav Games, both of which are due to feature in a post coming later this week.

My stepson Ethan attended again and continued making friends after striking up a bond with Gillian Hickman from Other Ocean last time. This year it was Steel Rats by Tate Multimedia which caught his attention, and lead designer Rafal Sadowski kindly chatted to him while he played. The guys from Muse Games also remembered him from the PC Gamer Weekender in February and we had several rounds of Guns of Icarus Alliance with them.

Lowlights

While Schafer’s section was a highpoint of the weekend, the other developer sessions were unfortunately lacking. In previous years I’ve always found at least a few I’ve wanted to attend but the range of subjects on offer this time just wasn’t as interesting, and nothing else caught my attention. The presentations have always been something I look forward to when going to the expo so I was little disappointed.

Alongside the increase in narrative titles on display this year, there seemed to be more games in general and additional space had been filled at the Tobacco Dock which was good to see. However, there seemed to be fewer ‘standout’ titles: those you see as you walk into a room and think to yourself ‘I simply have to play that.’ That’s not to say I didn’t find some gems – simply that they were harder to come across this time.

And to anyone reading this who works for Eurogamer and coordinated the event: please sort out the food next year because it wasn’t great! A gamer can’t live by chips, cans of coke and Mars bars alone, you know.

Did you attend this year’s Rezzed event? If so, what did you think of it and what was your game of the show? There’ll be a few more posts coming over the next few days and in the meantime, take a look at the photo gallery below to see what we got up to.

Rezzed 2018 photo gallery

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Rezzed 2018: the fun starts today

This morning sees the start of 2018’s Rezzed. The expo is hosted by the team behind EGX and features many playable pre-release games on both PC and console, with a strong focus on indie titles. Developer sessions by well-known designers give attendees the opportunity to find out more about their projects, and creators are happy to answer questions out on the show floor.

This will be my sixth time at Rezzed and the thing I love most about it hasn’t changed in all those years. The atmosphere is one in which everyone comes together to celebrate indie gaming and there’s a real vibe of support for independent developers. It’s not as flashy as some of the other expos and there aren’t as many publishers trying to push their wares into your face, so you can really get to spend some quality time with upcoming titles.

I’m going to be at the event all three days and it’s special this time around for several reasons. Firstly, the lovely Ben will be joining my other-half and I today after being unable to attend last year so we’re all really excited! My blogging-partner-in-crime loves getting the chance to chat to developers and find out what their up to, so who knows: maybe this is just what he needs to ease him back into writing on the blog.

Secondly, my stepson Ethan will be joining us on weekend. We took him to Rezzed with us for the first time in 2017 after deeming him finally old enough and he had such a good time; he called it ‘one of the best conventions he’d ever been to’ and took a real liking to Giant Cop, his first virtual reality experience. It’s going to be a bit of a family day out as Ben will be bringing his son along on Saturday too.

Then on Sunday, we’ve got some partying to do: both Pete and I turn another year older this week and will be celebrating levelling up at the expo. There’s nothing like playing a few video games, yelling at pixels on s screen and taking down a few opponents to make you feel ten years younger. If we have any cake left, we might be willing to share it so come and say hello if you see us.

And finally, there are plenty of awesome people who are going to be at the event. We’re looking forward to catching up with Will and Murr from geeksleeprinserepeat along with Kevin from The Mental Attic, and we’ll hopefully get the opportunity to meet Luke from Hundstrasse (I owe him a coffee after missing him at EGX) and Khinjarsi from Upon Completion. I guess we really had better save some of that cake…

Tim Schafer, man, person, sitting

There are loads of games on show this year and I’ve marked out 15 in particular that I’d like to spend some hands-on time with. These include Harold Halibut and Raji: An Ancient Epic, two titles I backed on Kickstarter but which sadly weren’t successful. There’s also the fact that Tim Schafer, one of the designers of my beloved Monkey Island, will be doing a developer session today – hopefully I’ll be able to get a seat.

If you haven’t yet bought your tickets and would like to attend, head over to the official website (there are still some available at the time of writing) and be sure to check out our gamers’ guide to London for some tips on places to visit. Let us know in the comments below if you’re going and we’ll keep an eye out for you!

Gamers’ guide to London

There’s less than a week to go until my favourite event in the gaming calendar: Rezzed. I’ve been to each one since 2013 and the thing I love most about it is the atmosphere as there’s a real vibe of support for indie developers. Everyone is really friendly and open for a chat, creators and gamers alike, and it’s possible you’ll come away with some new friends as well as a few games to look forward to.

For those who haven’t been to the expo before or who aren’t familiar with London, the big city can be a daunting place and it’s easy to find yourself in hipster-hell or an overpriced pub. It’s therefore dangerous to go alone so take this: a handy guide to the best places to visit and hang out once the Tobacco Dock has closed its doors to Rezzed attendees for the evening. Let’s start sorting out your itinerary…

By night

I love The Heart of Gaming but sadly haven’t been since it moved from North Acton to its current home in Croydon last year as the new location is a bit difficult for me to get to. It’s well worth a visit though if it’s anything like it used to be: this non-profit arcade showcases classic arcade machines and consoles. I spent many an hour here working my way through The House of the Dead and kicking the other-half’s butt at Street Fighter.

From classics to current: on the other end of the scale we have DNA VR, the first virtual reality arcade in London. I haven’t actually visited myself due to being one of those unlucky individuals who suffer from motion sickness but I’ve heard positive things about this place. You’ll need to book in advance and it’s a little pricey, but it’s a good alternative to having to fork out for your own VR kit.

Previously called The Loading Bar, Scenario spans two floors: on the top you can grab a gaming-themed cocktail and play board games, while on the bottom you’ll find the Games Lounge with both new and retro consoles. It’s another venue I haven’t visited myself yet but it’s well-known and has been going for a while – and there’ll be a stand a Rezzed so you can find out all about it.

Now here’s a gaming bar I’ve visited on numerous occasions. Meltdown isn’t the newest or swankiest in London; to be quite frank, it’s a bit of a dive and could do with a visual makeover. But it’s really laid back and a great place to go if you want to grab a beer and a controller, or watch others play HearthStone or League of Legends. It’ll always hold a special place in my heart as it’s where I first met Ben, my blogging partner in crime.

And now for something completely different: Drink, Shop & Do, just down the road from our previous stop. If you’re looking for randomness then this is the place to come. The local hipsters tend to love it here and so it can be a bit annoying sometimes, but it can be fun if you manage to get past that; expect LEGO robots, dance classes, houses made of toast and various craft workshops.

By day

The Gfinity Arena is the UK’s first dedicated eSports venue and brings together teams from around the world to battle for honour (and big cash prizes). Over 600 spectators can watch them show off their skills on StarCraft, HearthStone and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. While none of these titles are exactly my cup-of-tea, I’m planning to go so I can experience the atmosphere of a proper eSports event at least once.

No trip to central London is complete without a visit to the megastore branch of Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue. I’ve spent so much time (and money) here over the years browsing through the aisles with friends; expect to leave with an empty wallet and a few bags on your arm. Doctor Who fans might wish to check out the book signing taking place at 18:00 on Friday, 13 April 2018.

As part of this year’s London Games Festival, the Games Character Parade will be taking place at 12:30 on Saturday, 14 April 2018. Hundreds of cosplayers of all experience levels will take to the streets of the city to show off their skills so expect some great photograph opportunities. You can even take part yourself; entry is free and all you’ll need to do is complete the form on the website.

The London Gaming Market is the place to go if you’re looking to buy retro video games, consoles and merchandise – and as luck would have it, the next one is taking place at the same time as Rezzed on Sunday, 15 April 2018. The last time I went with the boys in November, my stepson ended up spending most of his pocket money and I bagged some excellent Monkey Island artwork by Cave of Pixels.

That’s not the only thing happening on the Sunday… I’ll be celebrating another year of levelling up at Rezzed with the boys. There’s nothing like playing a few video games, yelling at pixels on a screen and taking down a few opponents to make you feel ten years younger. If you’re at the event, do come and say hello – if we have any cake left, we might be willing to share it.   🎂