EARLY one chilly Saturday morn, when the sun had scarcely risen and the world was still in sleepy slumber (all right, it was eight o’clock, but I consider that pretty early for a Saturday) a trio of hardened, battle-weary Spectrum-owners, consisting of Andrew, David and myself, left the quiet suburbs of the city on a journey to its centre and to that den of iniquity, the infamous PCW Show.
Upon arriving at Earls Court tube station en route to Olympia, my suspicions that the show was going to be popular were confirmed; the platform was jam-packed, and when the train arrived everyone crammed into it in something akin to one of those silly record-breaking attempts that Noel Edmonds used to organise. It was a little uncomfortable, but constituted a great way to meet new people; ‘excuse me but your elbow is in my ear’ was an obvious method of introduction.
We all managed to creak and groan our way to Olympia, and once there most people began a frantic race to get a place in the queue. However, remembering having to stand in line for an hour last year, with only paper aeroplanes made from leaflets to amuse us, we had wisely bought tickets in advance and were able to walk straight in. Well, that is to say we would have walked straight in if the ticket-holders’ entrance hadn’t been obscured by the main queue that encircled the huge building; but at last we located it and, after taking a deep breath, we ventured in.
The first thing that happened was that we were viciously attacked and mugged by two PCW Show representatives who relieved Andrew of two pounds in return for a thoroughly useless show guide.
The 1986 show had been amazingly BIG. This year’s was stupefyingly BIG. Almost everything had grown in size: the crowds, the stands, the monitor screens, the prices of the hot dogs... The adverts were huge too, but the one hanging from the ceiling for US Gold’s tritely-named new GO! label was so large it blended into the background — afterwards neither David nor Andrew could actually recall having read it!
The posters had swelled too, from little A3/A4 things to enormous monsters hitherto seen only in CRASH Christmas Specials. Unfortunately the free plastic bags hadn’t grown to compensate, so most of the posters got rather crumpled and torn during the course of the hectic day.
David came up with the ingenious idea of tying several of the widely available helium-filled balloons to his plastic bags in order to lighten the load, However, the first hour of the show always degenerates into a deranged paper chase as everyone struggles to collect every available freebie poster and catalogue; I collected five tons of trivia and threw away everything except for my CRASH carrier bag and one price list when I returned home.
The upshot of all this was that the balloons proved incapable of carrying such a load, and so we decided to tie them all together and ended up with ten balloons on a string as many metres long, which I then carted around for the rest of the day, weaving it in and out of signposts and the like. This was of course very silly (though not quite as silly as the people breathing helium from the balloons and then talking in squeaky voices) (such as Richard Eddy on the CRASH stand — Man Ed), but the balloons made a good mascot and everyone looked up in the air as they walked past.
The sight of ten colourful balloons proved to be a useful reference point when we got split up later in the day (especially when we were almost crushed to death in a crowd from which real screams were emanating — I kid you not).
Balloons in tow, we pushed and shoved our way around the hall. I don’t intend to describe everything there, but there were a couple of things that caught my eye: the enormous Ocean and Imagine stands were filled to overflowing with arcade machines, promotional videos, and demos... not many games on home computers, though, I suppose Ocean knows that the arcade conversions are rather lacking when compared to their originals, and would prefer not to disappoint the ever-hopeful home-computer-owner.
Beyond said Star Trek was almost ready, which was great news, except they’d said that the year before... the Mastertronic stand was so full of other companies’ products that I only worked out it was really the Mastertronic stand when I looked in the show guide... there were Z88s, Amstrads, and Atari STs running a lot of impressive graphics but not many games.
There was also even a bookshop; this was of special interest to us as we were looking for an obscure textbook supposedly only available in Manchester. It wasn’t available, however, and Andrew had to go on an illegal undercover raid into the ‘restricted’ business section of the show, wearing a false ID card and pretending to be called Martin. The book wasn’t there, either, but there were plenty of besuited gentlemen and WORDSTAR clones (WORDSTAR being the only program that has been copied more times than Knight Lore!).
Back in the main hall, there was plenty of gratuitous sex and violence to keep everyone happy; there was Strip Poker II from Martech, and adjacent to that the Palace stand was adorned with larger-than-life posters of Maria Whittaker.
On the violent side, some deranged Rambo lookalike was striding around waving grenades. Other characters in costume included a Yogi Bear pushing Piranha’s licence (smarter than the average bear but not smart enough to get out of wearing a sweaty bear suit all day), and the villain from Gremlin Graphics’s Basil The Great Mouse Detective, who went around pickpocketing all and sundry and making people laugh.
But despite Piranha’s promises, I failed to see Berk from Trapdoor, and had to make do with the cartoons they played continuously. On a more positive note, there was some really promising stuff on show: Martech’s 2000AD licence Sláine should be great, Incentive was promoting Driller with lots of carefully-chosen freedom-oriented records to go with the concept of Freescape (see the CRASH 3-D feature — Cross-Referencing Minion), there was SUPERNOVA on the PLAYERS stand (c’mon, a little plug for my own game won’t hurt, will it?), and Hewson’s Nebulus looked clever, featuring some ingenious circular scrolling.
The very playable Marble Madness was very attractive in its Amiga incarnation, and of course there were the Newsfield stands, which this year were manned by real celebrities (as opposed to last year when I hadn’t heard of anybody that I saw there).
The PCW Show is as much fun as it’s always been. Just make sure you go in there with your eyes wide open, laugh off the silly razzmatazz of the big stands, and take absolutely nothing there seriously. You’ll have yourself a great day out.
See you there next year... balloons and all.