Sunday, August 27, 2006

This Horse-Vet, a Cake Stylist and a Morrisey-dancer walked into this bar...

...and Prague that included fake job titles, "Duck Wee" and Russian combinations...

This was my 4th attendance of Game Convention, having been at all the shows since 2003, when I helped Sega do the PR for Worms 3d. The show is held in Leipzig, in the east of Germany, quite a bugger to get to (without spending all day in airports) so my trick is to travel to Leipzig via Prague, which is not only cheaper (£90 return flight) but quicker all told - and usually much more fun.

Getting there...

This time, I was travelling with Kilburn, Bryan Reynolds and Craig of Game Republic. Since we're pretty busy right now, our objectives for the show were really just to catch up with everyone and continue discussing other business opportunities. Funnily enough I don't think any of our titles were actually being promoted at the show either, so there was no real need to be present in our publishing partners' booths - which for anyone who has ever had to do that, is a blessing, I can reveal.

We set out early doors on the morning of Tuesday 22nd and a fairly straight forward flight/travel plan saw us arrive pretty much on time in Prague, at around 3pm. There was no real evidence of crazy security delays and we even had time for a couple of Guinness' before ambling through the departure gate and out onto the runway just a few minutes before we were due to leave.

Our hire car in Prague was upgraded to a Merc, which sounds a lot grander than it might have been since it was a 2.2ltr diesel and didnt really carry a lot of "oomph" which is useful on a 140mile drive which includes sections on autobahn's, winding border crossings, usual roadworks and a lot of trucks and shall we say "diversions" at the side of the road.

I'd taken my TomTom along and I'd got the German map data the week before, which luckily enough also covers the Czech Republic, pretty much perfect for this trip - especially as we had a bit of a problem last time, mostly in and around Prague. We had a bit of a laugh with the voice-settings but ended up settling on Mr T - not that he had too much to say since once you leave Prague's Ruzhnye airport, there aren't too many turns right through to Leipzig; we went via Chemnitz rather than Dresden - and no stop to gawp at Colditz castle this year.

Our German Home

We arrived at our Hotel, the Advena, which was in Markrandstadt - some 5 miles or so south-west of the city centre at about 6.45pm. Unfortunately, even though I'd booked some six weeks previously, it was still too late for us to enjoy the benefit of a central hotel location - but since the exhibition itself was well connected by autobahns, it didn't make too much hardship.

En-route, we had only stopped briefly, near the Czech-German border since Bryan wanted a lighter so he could stop and have a cig - I'd usually say "fag" but given the inproprietary nature of all things roadside in this area of the world, it's safer to stick with cigs. Apparently the hordes of gypsy-stores selling cheap tat, gnomes and cat-baskets are unofficial "get it here" signs in this part of the world, although some of the more brazen women were just walking about half-dressed, flagging passing drivers down. We'd had a bit of a laugh about the gnomes and stuff, but wanted to crack on and get to our base before having a cheeky beer or two.

Our hotel was pleasant, if a little basic, but on previous trips - and most trips, truth be told, we don't tend to spend too much time in there. The only real inconveniences were very tiny beds (I've noticed this before in Germany) and inversely proportional door-key fobs which weighed about 8kg so you were forced to leave them behind in reception. Taxi's also took 30mins or so to arrive, but at least that gave us chance to sample the Erlinger pilsner in the hotel bar.

Night one - "Having a quiet one"

As usual, the early start (6.45am for me and even earlier for Bryan) meant that we were pretty whacked when we got to the hotel so we decided to have a nice, quiet steady night, get something to eat and not go mad or anything. We got a cab to the centre for around 8pm and immediately proceeded to the town square area to grab a beer at The Kildare, an Irish bar we frequented the previous year.

Unfortunately - and not for the first time - good intentions fell flat and at 6am, we staggered back to the hotel after spending time at various establishments, playing Perudo (after meeting up with Wouter, a mate who currently is at Atari) and ending up drinking Black Russian cocktails when the excited and very keen bartender made us a special Margarita which was quite the worst I've ever experienced.

As far as I can recall, there were no real major incidents save for Kilburn smoking, it was just that we were chatting and drinking for some time and the time flew by and before we knew it, the sun was coming up.

At the show, day one.

Fortunately I had (as I normally do) not made too many meetings for first thing, so we left around 10.30/11 (once we'd rounded everyone up) and headed for the show, which took around 20mins on a very fast autobahn despite a cock-up with Mr T early on that had me going down a one-way street the wrong way and getting some abuse from a passing cyclist. After parking in the huge and distant event car-park myself and Kilburn got in quickly since I'd pre-booked tickets, the other lads having a more laboured entrance.

We had a bunch of meetings and talks until about 3.30-4pm at which point Kilburn took the car back to the Advena and went to get a bit of kip. I headed back to the centre of Leipzig around 5-30pm and went for a meal with Craig (pizza and red-wine cum motor-oil that came in a 1.5ltr bottle, which got left) before meeting up with Phil from Sony, Nina from Game Horizon and later on, a bunch of other folks - but no Kilburn as he'd elected to try and fully recover from the previous evenings exertions.

Later that evening we walked the "few blocks" (it was a couple of miles, as it happened) to the Nordic event, which was held in a bar called "Shady" and we spent a good couple of hours with our hosts, Sten, Per, Tobias and co before we said our goodbyes and set off back, with a few of us managing to save our legs and grab a cab back to the Kildare.

On the way to the Shady bar, we noticed all the large pipes that are around Leipzig at tht moment, part of the huge under-city tunnel construction project. We joked that these pipes must surely carry some shizen and that this made the pipes "Das Super Shizen Pipen" and this then developed into a game idea that myself and Phil really liked the sound of and it got mentioned a fair few times... so keep an eye out for that one day!

Note to anyone wanting a very good Margarita in Leipzig, Shady is where it's at - with not to mention excellent mediterranean dishes from North Africa - Shady himself banged on about his "special mint" which he has imported from Morroco and uses in his Mojito's (remember those?) but to be honest, it looked, felt and tasted like any other Mint i've had although it was fairly fresh.

Back at the Kildare we had arranged to meet with a few publisher friends from Sega and Codemasters, with James from Sumo Digital. We proceeded to have a few drinks, laughs and so on which culminated in a bloody brilliant couple of rounds of Perudo with Pete O'Donnell and Dean Trotman being really lively given our past experiences playing the game in Lyon, France, at the superb Game Connection events. Most of this was fuelled by the Black Russian cocktails we were drinking - or rather were until the Kildare had sold out of the ingredients (Vodka, Kahlua, Coke and a bit of Guinness, in case you are wondering).

After the Kildare closed we headed to a nearby nightclub and this is where things get a little hazy for me, since Sega and Codies were buying rounds of shots. I can barely remember much after a couple of rounds of flaming Sambuca, but do recall poor James from Sumo on fire when there was a bit of a spillage-idiot going on with the Sambuca... it got poured on his arm/hand so when one got lit, his arm went up - pretty messy but good fun - I don't think it was major burns or anything and certainly not as bad as some guy setting fire to his head at the Tiga do in London last September. There were other shots and apparently I danced at some point, but I'm not quite sure at what time we left or how I got back... I knew it had been pretty heavy as Craig (who I was twinning with at the Advena) was in his bed with just the one shoe on. As it happened, this wouldn't be the first and only time this trip - but at least we'd made it back without major burns or significant embarrasment (dancing aside).

At the show, day two.

Since Kilburn was fresh as a daisy, he elected to drive - a good thing really given I was a little "fuzzy" so to speak. There was no sign or movement from either Bryan or Craig so we set off without them and also went to collect Nina from Game Horizons who was stopping even further out from us. Mr T got us there, but only just, electing to send us to a village pond rather than the hotel she was at. We only just made the show too, with us having to stop to let the poor girl out who was suffering from the previous heavy night.

A quick word about the show, which was as good as it ever was really - great for meetings, excellent quiet, co-ordinated event space and huge, massive consumer halls at a distance. This day was the first that consumers were around and this meant chaos to a certain extent so we quickly nipped into the business centre for some peace and quiet.

The days meetings flew by and at about 4pm we were ready to leave - Kilburn again electing to take the car back and meet us in town later on. That evening most of us were supposed to be going to the Nvidia party but we'd got so settled at the Kildare that we all felt like staying, which we did until late - with James Gill, Dean Harvey and so on joining us from Blaze as well as some other dev guys from the Liverpool area. At this point James knocked over a pint all over me (which left my jeans reeking of Erdinger) and there were plenty of Black (and white) Russians being knocked back.

At some point, quite a few people left, including Nina (who'd been suffering most of the day and had an early Friday flight) as well as the Blaze guys - but the rest of us partied on a little before ending up in an odd nightclub (we'd tried to find the one we were in the night before with the sambucas) and it didn't take me long to work out that it was "one of those bars" where it'd be ok if Ken took Jeff and Mary took Jane... suffice to say that I wasn't in there very long, myself and Phil leaving for the confines of an even less celubrious establishment, but at least, for us, it was quite hetro in there. That place is now referred to as "Ivan's bar".

The other guys never sussed apparently which left Craig trying his luck all night (without success) on a plethora of dungaree-wearing activists. I do remember having a pop at the guy behind the cash desk since he was wearing a Man Utd shirt - and noticing he'd covered it up moments later when I left with Phil - this was either very polite or just a full on indication of just what the place was in my cynical old eyes.

I got an email from Phil in the early hours of the following day which (and I quote) said "Tell Kilburn that dirty ginger bastard shagged both those lesbians" - this rather made me laugh out loud.

So then, three nights away and three 6am finishes. It was beginning to take it's toll - and the next day we were travelling to Prague, that quiet back-water...

And so, to Prague...

I eventually awoke about 9.59am, I remember the time specifically since reception called to say check-out was at 10am, which was very kind of them. I was feeling a little worse for wear, but noticed that Craig was once more in bed with his shoes, so I imagined he was much worse. I called the other lads and got them to rouse themselves since we needed to check out (later to become czech-ing out and czech-ing in) and eventually we left about 10-30ish.

Having got to Leipzig by A/B-roads I thought we'd be better off cracking some dust off the autobahns and going to Prague via Dresden, since I recalled more cat baskets and gnomes that way when I first came by road a few years previously. This journey, of some four hours, with the four of us like death warmed up, turned into one of the longest of our lives, with more collective sighs than at Sunderland's entire home games in last years premiership. It was no small matter of relief when we arrived at our hotel in Prague around 2pm. Kilburn and Bryan heading straight to bed (not together, I might add).

Also, it's worth noting that unlike the previous year, this time we had a decent hotel (President-Casino Hotel, highly reccomended). Last year we stayed in what can only be described as a run-down Turkish prison. It looked a bargain and near the airport, but it was the least best place I've ever stayed in. This time we had a lovely place, big rooms, shiny stuff, clean blankets etc. It was a really major relief that it was nice since we were all feeling rather shocking. We agreed to get some kip and think about going out at about 8pm or so.

After 10mins, I'd spoken to Craig and having got a second wind (mostly through relief of getting out of the car) and so he came down to my room where we were going to chill and listen to Croon FM (this being my collection of up-lifting 60's and 70's nonsense) but when he arrived, I'd played the wrong play-list on my Mac and I'd played the "Up for it" one - 2 doses of the Doors later and we went out "for a bite to eat".

We had a good walk around the old square and over to Wenceles Square etc before settling on a pizza. It was after the second glass of wine in the worlds largest Pizza establishment that I declared "I can see where this is heading". We left after 3 bottles of wine, grinning like madmen, with Craig going into total serial abuse of the Czech natives, who, by this time had started to ask us something about "Charlie Weed" every time they passed - we'd begun to ask them about "Charlie Brown" but they just looked at us oddly. We'd also been asking the Czech's about courtesy (it does happen) and it appears that thank you is pronouced dakrwee - however it seemed much more sensible and memorable to retain this as "Duck wee" - close enough to the real version for the Czech's to know we were seriously having a go and amusing enough for our own entertainment.

Later, around 7.30pm or so we went to get Bryan and left Kilburn asleep again - now termed "Half Life" since he'd missed half of the night-life on this trip and headed out back to the Old Square again. Upon approach we heard some guitar noodling that sounded very Pink Floyd'esque and when we arrived at the square, it turned into a very surreal event.

Imagine, if you will, a huge mechanical Praying Mantis, with a guy sat between the eyes shooting fireworks at the crowd, a band dressed as chinamen on the back of the insect and five blokes on springy-pogo sticks bounding about (25ft in the air) hissing at people. I remarked (in a cheery racist fashion) that it must be Chink Floyd but in case you don't believe me, Czech this out... LINK

After we got over the shock of seeing that - which was awesome, especially as I'm one to proclaim such stuff as total nonsense we settled down for some drinks near Wenceles Square and decided on the course of the evening's fun.

Jobs for the boys

First things first; inventing job titles for discussion with people during the night - everyone asks what you do, so we wanted quality fake ones. I plumped for "Horse Vetinary", Bryan went for "Cake Decorator" which through reasoned debate was enhanced to "Cake Stylist" and it took 20mins to sort Craig out since he'd been intent on "Swiss Handball Finalist, yet runner up" which we felt was a little too esoteric even for the Czechs. Even "Swiss Handball Champion" was a bit vague and not good enough so given his visual likeness to Morissey, that bealing, 80's flower-waving crooner from The Smiths, we decided upon his role to be a "Morissey Dancer" i.e. he was hired out to impersonate said celebrity at 80's parties to supplement a meagre income. All sorted then.

We then spent 2-3hrs or so in an Irish bar just off one of the corners of the Old Town. Necking lots of Gin & Vodka. During this time, there was plenty of "Duck Wee" and Craig abusing the natives and trying to get off with anything that moved - including an Irish hen party that resembled coal miners.

Myself and Bryan then begun to coach the poor lad in the arts of "amiable abuse" which is the art of taking the piss but both parties coming out with a smile. This was shortly after Craig had abused the pub's DJ by declaring his music "shit". Something had to be done. 5 mins later, with the DJ charmed and "Age Of Aquarius" blasting out, things were much better.

After we'd left the pub we went for a walk-about and it's at this time (12am ish) that Prague really does enter it's seedy side. With all manner of gypsies, sellers, buyers and dodgy buggers running about, you really need your wits about you. One bloke asked if we wanted to "shag a monkey" which made us laugh a lot but I asked if he had any cats "I can lay my hands on one" he said as we disappeared into another bar.

We went on total walkabout, trying to crash a party we saw going on in an apartment block but they wouldn't let us in, Duckwee or no Duckwee. I'd announced over the intercom that someone had ordered charisma for their party, but they didn't bite. Pity that, it would have been fun (we think).

We eventually found ourselves in "Red Chateau" a great pub we found last year and Bryan was overjoyed to see the same guy behind the bar as last time. We stayed there for a while, until the sun started to come up again and make it four lots of 6am nights out.

Food Buckaroo

After that we headed back to the hotel and cracked out Croon FM again. Craig ordered some room service nosh and promptly fell asleep. When it arrived, Bryan and I amused ourselves by decorating Craig with a couple of the sandwiches and throwing chips at him in a kind of Food Buckaroo but he never surfaced or even flinched. Later I cleared it all off to leave him guessing at the photos the next day! I did hide one of his shoes though.

After that, it was time to grab a few z's and get myself ready for "Hangover Cubed" which is twice as bad as "Hangover Squared" - a term handed to the ill-effects that you get when you dodge a hangover by drinking through it the next day. I hadn't had a hangover since I arrived, so I was in deep trouble. I had it for 2 days... and it was a mare.

There was little else occured on the morning before the flight, Kilburn (once again fresh) drove us ok and the rest of us were a little worse for wear, me especially so. Our flight was delayed because the "Chicken Machines" were down, according to the Czech announcer and we eventually landed, 1hr late on Saturday afternoon.

And there was me hoping for a quiet few days, with a trip to friends looming (++ Wine), Matt and co up from Sony for a leaving bash on Tuesday (++ Cider) and Team17's summer party on Friday night (++ allsorts). Rock & Roll.

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