Until I was invited to give a talk at Manchester's Play Expo a couple of years ago, I hadn't been to a games expo in decades. Working for Digi, I'd been to a bunch of European Computer Trade Shows, a few arcade industry conventions, but nothing as a bona-fide punter.
The last one I'd attended was held at Wembley Conference Centre in the early 90s. I remember that I bought a converter which allowed me to play NTSC games on my PAL Super NES, along with a copy of Smash TV (and then bent the pins in my SNES cartridge slot putting it in - and had to send it off for repair...).
What's weird, is that I probably could've done the same this past Saturday. As well as buy a Vectrex, a Neo Geo, an Amstrad CPC... But what was really odd for me, was picking up games packaging that - in some cases - I hadn't held in my hands for almost 30 years. It was weird because it wasn't weird; when it came to something like Revenge of Shinobi, I could've been plucking it off a shelf in my bedroom, having just played it the night before.
Well, I could've done had I ever actually put my games away on a shelf, rather than just scatter them across the floor like I always did...
As well as the dealer stalls, Retro Revival, like other retro games events, was full of games that were free to play; arcade games (including a bunch I'd never seen before - hello, Fire Truck!?) and pinball machines (I can confirm that a Johnny Mnemonic pinball table exists), as well mouldering classic consoles and computers. Alas, despite some of my best lingering near one on Saturday, I've still never had a go on a Virtual Boy.
Arriving at Revival, almost the first face I saw was Dave Perry's... somebody I never thought I'd meet again...
Dave Perry was being interviewed on camera as I walked into Banks's Stadium, Walsall. It was quite the coup for the organisers to get him there; he's been away from the world of gaming for some 18 years, having since carved - quite literally - a career as a tattoo artist.
I never really knew Dave. Our paths crossed from time to time; we'd be at the same events, and he spent a while working as a PR person for THQ. And, of course, it was a Fat Sow story about him which led directly to Mr Hairs being asked to leave Digitiser.
Certainly, like most of you, I knew him more through his TV and magazine work. With his iconic bandana, he was one of the faces of 90s gaming in the UK, along with the likes of Dominik Diamond, Big Boy Barry, and my very good friend Violet Berlin.
A controversial figure, his bandana, his apparent confidence and arrogance - I never worked out whether it was real or a front - and his clever brand-building, brought Dave as much scorn as it did success.
It's probably fair to say that a lot of this stemmed from jealousy - here was one of us claiming, overtly cockily, to be the greatest gamer in the UK, dating celebrities and models, and being written about in magazines as one of the country's most eligible bachelors. Frankly, gamers are rarely less than snide, and here was somebody who seemed to almost enjoy being a target.
I can't remember specific instances, but given Digi's generally disrespectful tone, I'm sure we joined in the snideness. I kind of regret how some of Digitiser's popularity was built on that sort of cynicism.
ARTICLE OF FAITH
Weirdly, while trying - for the purposes of this piece - to find which magazine listed Dave as one of the country's most eligible bachelors (Company, if you're interested), I stumbled across an interview with him from 2007, in which I'm mentioned. Apparently, I'd taken exception in my old Edge column to an article he wrote for MCV - the games industry trade paper - about the representation of gaming on TV through celebrities and other "media icons".
I don't remember either piece, but Dave correctly stated that I was wrong. While I totally get why he once had a tendency to rub people up the wrong way, gaming needs people like Dave Perry. It benefits from those public faces.
Even if we do have to suffer them saying stuff like "I have always been way better looking than your average journo" and "I have found that just having an enormous knob has always been my greatest asset with the fairer sex..."
We've got YouTubers, of course, but we've lost those go-to people and mouthpieces that the mainstream can access. It's something I could never have been back then - I'd always be too self-conscious, feeling too exposed if I displayed a need to be in the spotlight, too worried it might make me unlikeable... while secretly being a bit envious of those who simply didn't care about the grief that would inevitably bring them.
I mean, I don't give two flaps what anyone thinks of me now - you've got Found Footage as very clear evidence of that - but in the 90s, when having that sort of status and spotlight might've meant something to me, I wasn't equipped to pursue it.
Gaming has never had celebrities in the way that, say, TV and movies do. We don't have our stars. We need the Dave Perrys back, as Marmite as he might've been. The need for those gaming icons was very apparent on Saturday, when Dave donned his bandana and hosted a Golden Joystick games competition between members of the public. The crowd clearly loved it.
Having seen him as I entered the building on Saturday without the headgear - and then a short while afterwards walking past him in the gents - he was only tangentially recognisable. It made me realise how clever that bandana was, in terms of it being part of his public persona, and building his brand. It was notable, back in the day, that whenever I saw Dave in real life he wasn't wearing it.
Fair play to him that he kept it on for the remainder of the day, happily posing for pictures and chatting to people. He seemed to be in his element.
My panel went fine I think. It's hard to tell; being on a microphone, behind the speakers, can be a bit disorientating. The Found Footage clips seemed to go down okay. I don't think I said anything too iffy.
I'd been shunted to the end of the day, when most show attendees had already left, and given a 45 minute slot, compared to the hour everyone else got (though I'm sure we overran). Consequently, the audience was pretty sparse compared to the ones at Digifest and Play Expo, but I know my place. I'm not Rare, or Gremlin Graphics, or making a new ZX Spectrum. And I'm certainly not Dave "Gamesanimal" Perry.
I mean, I thought it was a bit strange in the first place that originally I'd been scheduled to be part of the same panel as him. Having never been the "face" of TV shows, nor one of the UK's most eligible bachelors, I've also been knocking around again for a couple of years now. I'm old news. Dave, I'm sure, has more to talk about than could fit into an hour-long panel - especially if he was sharing the microphone with a rambling gobshite like me.
So when we got split up, and I was given my slot time... I wasn't enormously surprised. My main disappointment was that I thought it would've been interesting to do a panel with Dave because I've talked about the story of Digitiser so often now that I'm sure people are sick of it. I thought it might've given me something fresh to talk about.
Fortunately, my host - the excellent Paul Davies from the Retro Asylum podcast - knows this, and kept the Digi-related side of the proceedings fairly brisk... before segueing into talk of Found Footage.
The official reason for Dave not being able to do a panel with me was because he needed to head off early. Suffice to say, when I turned around at the end of my panel to answer some questions from the audience, I nearly vomited up my own sternum when I saw Dave sat at the front, grinning.
I lost my thread, and suddenly worried that I might've already said something indelicate, or that - upon seeing him - my mouth might run away with itself; as I explained to the audience on Saturday, I have a terrible troll living inside me who has a tendency to go out of its way to get me into trouble.
Afterwards, I made a point of saying hello to Dave. I figured, we're two old journos (though he's probably aged better than I have, and doubtless shares none of my profound phobia of gyms) who had taken our knocks in the games industry, had some time away to let those bruises fade, before returning and remembering why we were there in the first place. I wasn't letting him get away without a handshake.
I'd gotten the sense that getting to be the Gamesanimal again - if only for one day - meant a lot to him, in much the same way it did to me when you were all so nice about the return of Digi a couple of years back.
As it turned out, there was no catching up. We didn't really get to do more than pose for a couple of photos. He still has the slick polish of somebody who spent a long time in the media, whereas I - not least because I'm self-conscious of how much weight I've put on in the last couple of years (an irritating side-effect of being sickeningly happy and contented) - am as shambolic as I've always been. Shove a camera or microphone in my face and I act like a clown, whereas Dave, pro that he still is, knows how to pose and be composed.
I'm glad he came out of gaming retirement, if only for one day. I hope - for his sake - that he enjoyed himself enough to do more. Certainly, I think it'd be interesting to sit down for a beer with him and compare battle scars.
Being Mr Biffo again has been beyond rewarding for me. As I'm sure I've said many times, I'm hugely appreciative of your kindness, what it has led to for me, and how it has contributed to a stability and happiness (and waistline, cheers) I never really had in the years after I stopped writing Digitiser.
I feel I owe you all a massive debt of gratitude - whether you backed me on Patreon or Kickstarter, or just read this site regularly - and I hope some of that gratitude came across on Saturday.
Also, it's directly your fault that this has happened: