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.)

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.