I’ve decided to post more personal things, and things I actually want to write. This is one of them. The second part will probably turn up tomorrow.
There are people rollerblading on the prom. I am from the north, and we gave up on rollerblading in the late ’90s. The wheeled sport has yet to make its inevitable retro-ironic comeback in Hull.
The sea is a cool mix of blues and greens. It is not my sea. My sea is brown. My sea does not so much sparkle as fart and spludge up puffs of scummy foam.
I understand the hotels though. Some of them anyway. Chipped cream paint, net curtains faded to a strange brown. They look out on a thousand oceans up and down the coast of England. Stern Victorian faces crumbling against a sea breeze.
It’s hot. Pink clammy heat that makes my T-shirt curl and stick. The Hilton Metropole is not a hotel that makes sense to me. Its leather is free of tears, it’s carpets are plush and hoovered to the very edge.
The staff do not trudge, they bustle. Everything is purpose, specific, and I am a whale sinking in a puddle of sweat and travel stink. I decide it’s best to work out where I have to go myself rather than ask anyone.
There are signs and I follow them. I tell the man behind the desk my name and he asks if I said ‘Hairy’. I apologetically correct him, bashful for his lack of hearing prowess. I suspect it was my fault. The collar of his shirt is crisp and the collars of my shirts are all still tattered and in the north.
He tells me not to lose my pass, because then I’d have to buy a new one. I nod and smile and wonder if he has to tell everyone, or whether I’ve been profiled as a pass-loser.
I take a lanyard and carefully clip my pass on to it. This is my third lanyarded event pass. I don’t know where the others are. Maybe he was right.
I now have time to kill. I am awful at killing time when I’m on my own. Throttled by indecision I wander around the front for a while. Almost as soon as I step outside the Hilton a wind whips my lanyard half off my neck.
This isn’t rare. I am not a special case. Brighton sucks up passes like a brand vacuum. It demands fealty because I am trespassing. New places always know you’re wrong. They feel your foreign shape and respond against it. An immune system. This is a fact.
The gnarled, skeletal fist of the burnt pier seems to follow me as I plod aimlessly along. Later on I will learn it is covered in seagull shit. I’m surprised everything in Brighton isn’t covered in seagull shit to be honest.
I discover my two ports of call. A restaurant made of glass that faces out to the strange sea, and a hotel nestled amongst much larger buildings on the other side of the prom. They’re within spitting distance of the Metropole.
A huge holiday inn dominates this stretch of the seafront. It looks like a Jenga tower, blocks and blocks placed safely but not quite precisely. You could imagine it rain soaked and neon slashed on the cover of a Syndicate expansion.
One of the letters on the sign is missing. I don’t think it matters which one.
I head back to the metropole having not killed anywhere near enough time. I should have kept going. That’s always been my weakness.
I see a couple of people I know and exchange pleasantries, then shuffle off to find my first interviewee. I’m running it fast and loose because I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m going to say. More weaknesses.
It’s not really an interview. I’m just seeing a game. Strongs. It’s called LA Cops, and even if I hadn’t had three hours sleep the night before I still would have loved it.
It’s a punchy, tough touch screen shooter with some clever tactical aspects. Its murders are neon and swift, its developer a bundle of fresh polite energy. By the end of the meeting we’re both playing, Ollie on an iPad, me on an iPhone.
There’s something deeply social about it, and deeply anti-social at the same time. We’re sat in a room where the arm chairs are spongy creaking leather, the walls are adorned with art and fat picture rails, and we’re sat giggling and swearing because our little men keep dying.
For me that’s the heart of gaming. That connection between two people playing the same thing. He’s better than me, which is only fair. We’re in a room of greys and browns dishing out red gushing violence in a world painted in bright chunks of colour.
Too soon it’s done. It’s hot and humid outside. Close and unpleasant, with blue skies stretching between the arms of the bay. The facade of the metropole wouldn’t look out of place in a cheap painting of a street someone told you was in Paris.
I head to the press room to engage with my peers and write up what I’ve just seen.
I always feel like an imposter in press rooms. Partly because I am, and partly because I don’t know anyone. If networking was a game I would die in a spray of my own blood within the first few seconds. Weaknesses.
It’s rare that I feel like I belong anywhere. I am an awkward lump of meat, all confused bits that jut out and flop in to the way. If there’s only one place in a room that’s going to block people, that is where I end up stood.
The press room is small. Not many press-mans have turned up for the Evolve chunk of the conference. There are a couple of wide leather chairs, and a stretch of tables against a wall.
People are doing journalism. Fast rattatat journalism on Mac books with stickers on them for brands or games or I don’t know I don’t look at them. I just sit down on one of the leather chairs and get out my iPad.
It’s fine. I am allowed to be here. No one is going to ask to see my credentials. No one is going to balk at the idea of a mobile writer sharing their hallowed air and beat me to death with an oculus rift.
They don’t either. They talk to each other like normal people who have known each other forever and I instantly become more awkward and stare so intently at my iPad that I get a headache and I’m not typing anything and that’s how they’ll find out so just fucking type something.
Now the chair is creaking. It is going to break. This is a fact. I will forever be the giant quiet mobile jerk who broke one of Develop’s chairs and ruined it for everyone else.
I type something. Lac ops is a gameaboutshooting mans. That doesn’t even make sense. These bastions of the journalistic world always make sense and here I am mumbling out rubbish.
And all the conversations are going on and should I say something. Do I know any jokes about free-to-play? Are there any jokes about free-to-play?
LA Cops is a good.
This is fucking hopeless. I consider biting off my fingers. But then they stop talking and get some free bottled water and tap their Mac Books and I think of a killer first line and suck it you well adjusted utterly non-terrifying people who are just doing your job. Suck. It.
I finish the words about LA Cops and I still have time to kill. I kill it by walking into town to find a cash machine. I grew up near the sea. If you can smell salt near a cash machine then it will charge you £1.80 and clone your card. This is a fact.
I don’t kill enough time though, so I lean on a wall outside the Metropole and look at the horizon and think how cool and mysterious I look even though there’s a small stain on my shorts from where I dropped some lasagne on them last night.
Eventually I see someone I know, so I stop being mysterious and pasta-soiled and head down to the venue for the night’s reveries.
I help to hang a banner. It goes up straight and remains straight for the whole night. We leave it at the end. You might think it was because we couldn’t be bothered to take it down, but I expect it was because it was so perfectly hung the higher-ups decided to leave it as a monument to banner hanging.
Between banner hang and banner-bandon I drink free beer and judge people. People’s games. Networking is always easier when you already know most of the people there. We talk about games and it’s like being in a gang.
Journos are always the naughty kids at these things. Even sober ones. We chitter when the grown ups are talking, swear like troopers, and look sullen when we’re hushed.
This is a side-effect of our line of criticism. We are still allowed to play with toys all day. More than that it’s actively encourage by people who wear suit jackets. And so our outlook is eminently childish.
We might be real grown ups deep down, able to express feelings and make risotto and know what risotto is, but push a bunch of us together and we become incorrigible ragamuffins. Especially if there’s crisps. And there’s almost always crisps. I don’t even like crisps. This is a fact.
More than once during the night I have two drinks in hand. I bicker and flirt and make jokes that fall so flat they may as well have been eulogies. But it’s not me. It’s seven pints and two bottles. It’s not comfort, it’s bravado.
It might be who I wish I was, but it’s not who I am. I eat roast stuffed aubergines in a Greek restaurant, then squeeze into the smallest toilet cubicle I’ve ever seen. Another aubergine and I would not have been able to reach the toilet. I don’t know if I meant that how it sounded.
We go back to the party but it’s done. I shout at Alistair Aitcheson for a bit and then feel bad because I’m obviously shouting and I didn’t mean to. Outside on the walk to the hotel everyone says I have big hands and feet and I say I know because I do, but in a drunk way that doesn’t make it sound like I’m the morose thud of a man I actually am.
The hotel is confused about us checking in because its internet connection probably whoops and whistles when it dials into the phone network to download 50-something KB of data a second. Eventually it is not sorted and we are told to go to bed. Then we have to ask the way to bed.
Cups of tea. Talk about films. Angels & Demons is hilarious. Seagulls scream because fuck you sleepers, this is our town now. They’re shitting on things outside the window but none of the things are my things.
Last night there was a fight in one of the rooms next to some friends. One of the friends thought they were just packing. This is what sleeping does to you. I imagine a giant apologetic man with a tea tray rolls into the room to apologise for the check-in mistakes.