These shows were kind of the centrepiece of the games industry year, and they were an enjoyable couple of days out of the office.
Providing we avoided the corner of the show floor which always, without fail, smelled of sick.
We'd arrange a bunch of appointments with PR people, pick up demos, free t-shirts that we were never going to wear, enjoy early versions of games, chat to developers, and marvel at the scale of some of the booths: one year a full-sized castle had been built in the centre of the hall, replete with its own feudal lords.
Some of the PR representatives we'd enjoy seeing more than others. Stephen Hey from Ocean never failed to be utterly charming. Simon Byron - now one of the hosts of the superb One Life Left radio show - was always appreciated for his honesty regarding which of his games were clearly awful. Steve Starvis from Eidos was pleasant, but always seemed a bit bewildered and unnerved by us.
One year, he made a big deal of asking what we thought of his holdall; apparently, in our ECTS write-up the previous year, we'd referred to him as having "a girl's bag". This time he'd accessorised with a more masculine sack to ensure we didn't do it again.
Public relations must be a horrible job.
I can't imagine the weary grind of always having to be nice to people, for fear that they might say something negative about your product.
Nevertheless, there were numerous PR people who simply wouldn't even attempt to pretend with us. Many were dismissive, others ignored us completely, and some were outright hostile.
One in particular always treated us with barely concealed contempt. Imagine our delight when we turned up to his booth one year to find him capering and twitching about his booth, evidently coked off his gourd, treating us like his oldest friends, and letting us take whatever we wanted from an enormous box of music CDs.
I'm not one to harbour a grudge, but I sincerely hope he's had the most awful life imaginable, and perhaps died in some painful, protracted fashion.
Admittedly, we had no guff-given right to expect these people to give us the hour of day, but we were hitting up against the Teletext Effect. It didn't matter that our readership was higher than pretty much every games mag of the day combined; people thought Teletext was shit and archaic, and that we must be shit by association.
A lot of our viewers were casual gamers - if they were gamers at all - and back then, that audience was looked down upon (side note: I'm pretty certain that we coined the terms "casual" and "hardcore" gamer, now common parlance among the hoi polloi of Gamesville).
Sometimes people just didn't like us because we were us, and we can hardly blame them for that. Sega Europe's Mark Maslowicz was a genuinely nice guy, who dealt with us despite how we would strive to exasperate him time and again.
When asked not to report that we'd seen people playing on a Nintendo 64 in Sega's offices, we reported that we'd seen people playing on a Nintendo 64 in Sega's offices. After we overheard a private conversation in the lobby of their HQ, revealing the game that was going to be bundled with the 32X, we stoked his paranoia by refusing to name our "inside source". When left alone in his office for five minutes, we drew a large penis in a notebook on his desk.
On the whole, without a physical copy of a review to waft under their managers' noses, the ephemeral nature of Digitiser counted against us. Almost as soon as a review was up it was down again. We'd generally get invites to the various launch parties, but the exotic press trips we got wind of, through other journos, were rarely offered to us.
Fortunately, we were about to have an encounter which would change all that.
That first year we attended ECTS, we had an unexpectedly friendly meeting with Nintendo's PR. Nintendo weren't ever anti-Digi, and impeccably professional, but they were always kind of distant and remote.
After the meeting, he told us there was someone who wanted to say hello - and swiftly introduced us to one Violet Berlin who'd been lingering beneath a table, or something.
Violet, in case you're unaware, was - along with Dominik Diamond, host of GamesMaster - the closest the games industry had to a celebrity back then. As the co-host of CITV's Bad Influence, alongside Andy Crane, she was the original gamer girl.
Which, I accept, is a horrible, skin-crawling, patronising term, and utterly meaningless.
But in media terms... that's sort of what she used to get labelled as. The real Violet wasn't just some media puppet however; she was the real deal - a proper gamer, who probably knew more about games than either Tim or I.
We assumed that Violet had been hired by Nintendo in some capacity to press the flesh, and encourage us to like their games. In actuality, Violet had heard that Nintendo's PR chap had a meeting with us right after her own meeting with him, and had asked if he could introduce us. She was a proper fan of Digi; she almost did a good job of playing it cool, and not gush too much.
Slightly confused by the encounter, we arranged to meet up later that evening, at one of the parties.
Generally, the evenings after ECTS would involve a party or two - back then I was still young enough to enjoy a party or two. Money was no obstacle to the games industry in those days; potentially why so many of these companies are no more.
One time, we watched young the Steve Coogan perform a stand-up set. Fresh off the success of The Day Today, most of us expected some sort of searing character satire. What we got was a Mike Yarwood-style performance, with Coogan performing hoary old impressions of people like Frank Spencer and Jimmy Savile. Because games journalists are awful, and drunk, he got heckled worse than I've ever seen anyone heckled.
I don't remember much of what we discussed with Violet at that first ECTS party - other than our favourite Abba songs. I do remember I dropped a bottle of beer on the floor, although pick any night at random and you could be fairly certain I've done that.
A month or two later, we went with Violet to Norway, on our first ever press trip, in support of US Gold's Winter Olympics game. We got to "do" the bobsleigh, stand at the top of the ski jump, and got told off by Violet when we had an uncontrollable fit of giggles during a tour of the Olympic soccer stadium - or "sucker" stadium, as the tour guide insisted on pronouncing it.
The following year Violet wrangled it so that we went with her to Los Angeles, courtesy of Virgin Interactive. Two days in the office, getting to see some of the new games they had in the pipeline, followed by a week just fannying around in LA, getting the worst sunburn of my life, and going to Disneyland and Universal Studios.
The highlights of the latter including being thrown out of a photographic studio for wanting to cross-dress, and the E.T. ride. As you go in you're asked for your name, for the purposes of your "Intergalactic Passport". Tim told them he was called "Bollock" - clearly, the ride operator thought it was some exotic, perhaps Slavic, name, and didn't pause to question it. As the ride came to an end, E.T. himself was there to wish us goodbye.
"Be good, Boll-ock!" he croaked.
One night went out to a restaurant and bar owned by Jeff Lynne from ELO - who was sat there chatting to customers. We watched a cabaret singer do her thing beneath the retractable ceiling, working her way around the room, sitting on laps, and encouraging customers to sing along with her.
When she got to us, she clearly saw us flinching and wincing, and just moved on. Spot the British.
On our final evening in our absurdly plush LA hotel, we'd taken slightly too much advantage of their free tequila hour (returning to the room a number of times, each time with several trays laden with tequila-filled tumblers). Following a fairly epic game of hide-and-seek, Tim and I decided to have a race around the hotel. For reasons that I can't recall, Violet had done our make-up, I was wearing a rubber Batman mask, and had no top on due to my sunburn. As Tim approached the finish line, I decided to rugby tackle him.
He was so hungover the next day that he thought his broken ribs were stomach cramps brought on by the booze. I was so hungover that I blocked my hotel room toilet, and checked out having flooded the bathroom.
Our friendship with Violet lasted beyond Digitiser, and though I've not seen her in years - life's like that as you get older - I still consider her a mate.
At some point, we asked Violet if she fancied writing a monthly column for us. Or she suggested it. Either way, this evolved into Panel 4, with a "lazy Susan" of writers - Violet put us in contact with Amiga Power veteran Stuart Campbell, and Tim enlisted his friend Adam, who wrote for Loaded. The fourth of the monthly columns would be viewer written.
Digitiser had expanded in other ways; I also had a friend called Adam, who became the third official member of the Digitiser team.
Adam and I had known each other for a few years - he was one of my weekly role-playing game gang - and I knew he had a good imagination, and wanted to write. What I didn't know is that he was the winner of a Digitiser limerick competition, having entered under the name Mr Cheese. His entry was far and away the funniest and most Digitiser-y.
We'd been struggling with the amount of correspondence we were dealing with, and - when I found out that he was the mysterious Mr Cheese - asked whether we could bring Adam in to help us out. Over time, Adam contributed to the reviews, and the chips and teats, and - well - he'll be along in a day or two to give you his side of the story.
It's worth pausing for a minute here. If you've read this story from the very beginning, you might be able to put yourself in my position. I had never planned any of this. I had never - for one second - imagined that any of this might happen to me. I was a geeky sort, who liked drawing and a quiet life.
Running a successful Teletext games magazine, getting piles of free games every day, going to parties and becoming friends with celebrities, and getting to travel around the world. I laughed every single day, for most of the day. My life until this point had been comfortably mundane. I'd never really yearned for more than a stable family life, and a job that I enjoyed. It was surreal. It was bizarre. And I could scarcely comprehend my luck.
On the day we arrived in LA for that Virgin Interactive trip, Tim and I went for a walk - not that there's anywhere in LA that you can actually walk to. But I remember turning to him and asking: "Can you believe this?"
We then concluded, with hubris, that we deserved all of it.
Fate duly tempted, it wouldn't be long before everything started to go a bit wrong.
At some point, Tim's friend Adam stopped writing for Digitiser.
I may be mistaken, but I think he might've asked for more money and was refused. Or written something offensive. Whatever the reason, it was fortuitous, because our editor had found who he believed to be the perfect replacement: Leslie Bunder.
Leslie had been a freelance technology writer, who'd written for a handful of games magazines, including the ill-fated weekly multiformat title Games X. His style wasn't, shall we say, an obvious fit for Digitiser.
But Leslie was friendly, had a kind of manic, slightly neurotic energy, and we liked him. But there was something about him being foisted upon us which set alarm bells ringing.
Our evil Deputy Features Editor would give us looks which seemed to say "I know something you don't". If she'd had a moustache it would've been waxed, and she'd have spent time twirling it in front of us. She and Tim - who's never quite as diplomatic or eager to be liked as I can be - had a particularly fractious relationship. Neither disguised that they disliked the other, and she almost oozed glee at the thought of Tim getting into trouble.
You might think that this all sounds overly suspicious, but we were right to be.
Tim stumbled across a memo to Leslie, from our editor, telling him to familiarise himself with Digitiser. If we hadn't already been overly suspicious we'd have had no reason to read it, but we were on edge. And with good reason: there was a secret plan to remove me from writing editorial altogether, fire Tim, and replace us both with Leslie Bunder.
One way or another we were living on borrowed time. It wasn't a question of if it would all come crashing down, but when.
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART FOUR by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - PART THREE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - Part Two by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: DIGITISER - Part One by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: 16-BIT - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: 16-BIT - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ARCADES - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ARCADES - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: SEGA MASTER SYSTEM - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: SEGA MASTER SYSTEM - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: ATARI - PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: ATARI - PART TWO by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ZX SPECTRUM PART ONE by Mr Biffo
GAMES OF MY YEARS: THE ZX SPECTRUM PART TWO by Mr Biffo