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The Comedy of Errors

Preview: GameCity5

25 October 10 words: Al Needham
illustrations: Rikki Marr

Nottingham kicks off a week-long videogaming sesh with the return of GameCity, but be warned: lolling about on sofas is not encouraged

A videogame conferences may sound like a spod’s wet dream, but the reality can be crushingly mundane; a load of suits waffle on about a game that’s not going to be out for another year. There’s a massive queue to have a go on the games that are available, but not finished yet. Some poor cow dresses up as Lara Croft. Etc...

GameCity, on the other hand, is massively, refreshingly, gloriously different. A true festival of interactivity, GC has been responsible for some of the most bizarre events in town over the past half-decade, including a Mario tea party, piano concerts of Sega themes in a 14th Century church, games developers being grilled by Notts kids, a live recreation of Crysis in the Market Square and a successful attempt on the world record for most zombies in one place. Imagine a festival where videogames receive the same respect as the music and movie industries, and you’ll have a slight idea what GameCity is about.

What can we expect from GameCity5? Loads, quite frankly, but the main highlights will be the bringing together of Nottingham Primary Care Trust and the mighty EA Sports – of ‘It’s In The Game’ fame – to create the world’s best health club, which’ll be staffed with trained professionals and sporting celebs, in an attempt to stop you from being a fat get and a lazy dosser. We’ll also be the first people in the world to have a bang on EA Sports Active 2, the Wii Fit-beating exercise console experience that comes with its own working heart monitor.

The other huge element to GC5 is the launch of OpenGameCity, a creative free-for-all binge where ideas from the likes of you are hoovered up and expanded upon in an attempt to extend the boundaries of what a festival can actually be. All you have to do is hit up the application process on the GameCity website and add your name to reserve space and time in one of the myriad venues – and as long as it’s not illegal, dangerous or offensive,

Iain Simons, Director of GameCity, talks about this year’s fest, taking videogame legends to local pubs and zombie fracas-related issues…

So, the fifth GameCity. Do the expectations get greater year after year?
I’m not sure we know what the expectations are, to be honest. There was a bit of a worry after the zombie fracas of 2008 that we’d need to do more/bigger/stupider, but the temptation to just upscale has always been something we’ve tried to resist. I think a lot of people come along expecting a lot of different things, and usually they come away with a lot of different impressions. It’s a stupidly multi-faceted event, and increasingly so - but at its heart we’re basically all song-and-dance lovers.

We can vaguely recall noises a while back about GameCity4 being the last one. What happened?
I think we started to re-evaluate what the whole thing was. One of the constant questions we ask is; ‘what’s the point of GameCity?’ There have been several moments where I’ve not been sure if we’d continue, but events post-GC4 - kicking off the GameCityNights gigs, Keita Takahashi’s playground in Woodthorpe, working with a more persistent team and a bunch of other things I’m not supposed to talk about yet - basically made us realise that GameCity isn’t going to just be something that happens during half-term in October.

GC’s renowned for giving independent developers a platform – but isn’t there a danger that it’ll become a victim of its own success, with bigger players taking notice?
Yes - but that presupposes that bigger players taking notice is necessarily a bad thing, which perhaps it isn’t. The main problem we’ve always had with dealing with big publishers is that there are a limited number of event models that they either can - or want - to consider. A few years in, we’re now in the position where we can point to stuff we’ve done and demonstrate to bigger publishers the kind of thing that they might want to do in the future. Basically, if we hired out the Arena and sub-let the space to publishers to fill with hundreds of sampling pods, our job would be simple. But we don’t, and it isn’t.

What do your guest speakers – who number amongst some of the biggest names in videogame history - think of Nottingham? Is it hard to get them here?
Actually, the biggest problem we’ve always had has been getting people to come from London – the American and Japanese developers come here with little or no persuasion. Fact is, a few years ago we turned down the chance to do GameCity - insert other city name here - as a franchise, largely because it’s about Nottingham, and to try and rinse and repeat it anywhere else can only dilute that. All of the overseas folks have had a brilliant time here - not just because of GameCity, but because of Nottingham. Keita Takahashi has opted to try and realise one of his biggest personal ambitions here with his playground. He’s not doing it for the money, he’s doing it because he loves it here.

Do you take them to Yates’s and the like?
I’ve not personally taken anyone to Yates’s yet, but one of my favourite memories was Alexey Pajitnov – the man behind Tetris - demanding, unprompted, to be taken to the Trip for a pint. Keita’s favourite haunts include The Peacock - he has a taste for real ale.

If you could get anyone from the history of videogames to speak at GameCity, who would it be if Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo wasn’t available?
Hmmm… I’d love to get Jeff Minter of Llamasoft back, as he’s amazing, but I think most of all I’d like to hear from David Crane, the designer of Pitfall!, mostly because he made so much stuff I loved as a kid. I wonder how he feels about Activision today.

What’s the future of GameCity?
Probably perilously uncertain, with a number of things we don’t have that much control over, but I’d like us to fight on. There’s a lot of new stuff we want to do and still have things in a holding pattern from years ago that we’ve not managed to realise yet. One thing’s for certain though: it’s definitely more than five days in October. The OpenGameCity platform, which we’re testing out this year, is a really important development to us.

Sonic or Mario?
Mario. I’m offended that you’d even ask.

GameCity5, across the City Centre, 26-30 October. Prices vary, mostly free.

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