The trip out there with John Dennis was about as smooth as you can imagine, which given the recent grief getting to Copenhagen the other week, was very much welcomed.
Even the taxi was on time, never mind the train and despite a hiccup at the security entrance (and a bit of a queue) we were through and able to enjoy the delights of a fine, moderately balanced English breakfast with no real rush or hassle. I even had a cheeky Guinness to celebrate, which James North-Hearn of Sumo was happy to point out went along with my breakfast "diet"... "Just the one", I said.
The flight was a bit bumpy given the crappy weather and a storm moving in over the UK (later to deliver tornadoes to London!) and we more or less made time, only 90mins so not much of a hassle. From Lyon even the bags displayed their keen-ness by leaping out of the bag-belt first and 35mins later and we were pulling up outside "Le Phenix" in Vieux Lyon, an oldy-worldy hotel in the old sector of the town - chosen for it's proximity to the bars and clubs we frequent when we are in town and also due to the lack of available taxi's - especially in the areas we tend to be around dawn.
We had a good look around and down the main thoroughfare which led to a nice old square and a very pretty Christmas market, which thankfully we weren't with the spouses so we got away with a 5 minute butchers and some jokes at the odd tat they were pitching.
After an hour or so of milling about and taking a few photos, it was time to head back to Vieux Lyon and the relative safety of our favourite Lyon boozer, The St.James. The pub, an Irish Ale House (it says here) is run by an American, Wendle, and was formerly assisted by a dutch guy and a brazilian called Bruno, both of whom are now sadly in other parts - they were a great laugh, especially Bruno who probably single-handedly holds the record for getting Perudo and it's associated "Banter" the quickest of anyone we'd met, let alone a "foreigner". Word is that Bruno is now working in Barcelona and coveting a position in a games house following the good hours we spent playing Perudo and talking games-industry shop in the previous couple of years.
After checking into two rooms which could only be described "Aunt Hilda's back attic" we set about having a mooch around town, which for the uninitiated is mostly the built up area between both rivers that run through Lyon; the Rhone and the Soane. As you'd expect with a large city twixt two rivers, there are tons of bridges and maritime bits and bobs - and a glut of entertainment based moorings which are rather nice, especially in the week known as "The Festival of Lights" which by coincidence, is the week that Game Connection is held and is allegedly world famous if you live in Lyon (a bit like the notoriety of the "World Coal Carrying Race" which is held in Gawthorpe, near to Team17's offices). However on reflection, the spectacularly lit Lyon is a mite more impressive than several pagans wandering around a Maypole, carting sacks of coal 1/4 of a mile to the Boot & Shoe pub - but only just. Besides, the view of the lights wasn't too impressive from the St.James pub on Rue St.Jean.
In the St.James, it was steady-away until later on when the Swedes arrived and we met a few other folks. As you would expect, it got messy later and there is mention of us going to a club, I briefly recall a steak in a nearby restaurant and staggering about the hotel, but that's about it - apart from some fuss about an "exclusive club" we didn't manage to get into. There was talk of me "dancing" (hereby now known as "swaying"). I did send a text message approaching 5am, which was hardly great preparation for the first day of meetings given we'd got 17 of the buggers booked.
Shoe's knicked 'em?
So, first morning of the event and a loud knock at the door at 8am, suffice to say that I'm fairly tired and bleary eyed. "Breakfast, come on!" comes the shout from John, I nod and sit on the bed... 20mins later and another knock "I've ordered the cab!". Oh bugger, I'd dozed off, so I leapt in the shower and got myself into a semblence of order. Until, that is, my shoes were nowhere and I mean NOWHERE to be found. Panic set in. It was senseless and whilst the odd item is known to go AWOL, I must admit that shoes - new Merrels in particular - are not part of my usual repertoire of things to misplace, truth be told I usually fall asleep in them.
With another knock "It's waiting, I'll see you down there" I rushed down to reception, asking if anyone had seen my shoes - there was a blank stare and a funny grunt, which to be honest is fair enough without any description of said lost itmes and my broad, slightly panic-stricken Yorkshire accent. I shot back up to the room to have another look (there was a famous incident years back when I'd put my shoes in a bread-bin at home) only to find that I'd locked myself out of the room, so it was back down stairs, back down the elevator and wait for a maid to turn up. At this point, I was also tip-toeing around the street to where the cab was (it was also raining) having to tell John that I'd meet him there as I had no shoes and more than likely I'd have to get some new ones. There was the second blank stare of the morning and it was only 8.30am.
Anyway, once re-acquainted with my room again (thanks to a surly maid who looked like she was in fancy dress - and nothing like the french maids of sexy legend) I turned the place upside down, checking everywhere, I was totally and utterly gutted. After a few moments of quiet reflection, I'd have to swallow the bitter pill and try and get some more in town - I'd just have to settle for being late to a meeting or two and two very wet feet. Walking into town in socks wasn't a comfortable thing to negotiate with a thick head.
Anyway, back down the short flight of stairs to the lift, where there's a big queue (we were on the 4th floor) and the room had space for about 4 people, not 3 people and a sweating, anxious Yorkshireman still half-pissed. So I thought sod it, I'll go down the stairs.. two flights down I heard the lift ping so I raced for it, passing a table on my way. "Wait.. whoah..." there, on the table, are my shoes, both of them (fortunately!) in perfect working order... my feeling of total and utter jubilation inside are only mildy comparable to the birth of my first child. Not only that, but there are 4 perudo cups and dice next to it. I have no recollection of playing, don't know anyone else in the hotel besides John (who is in the room next to me on floor 4) but DO remember safely leaving the set of dice in the St.James since thats the only place we play it... anyway, this paled into insignficance compared to the joy of shoes, so I dropped the dice back in the room and headed to order a taxi. I managed to get one quickly and only ended up 15mins late, some result. And most amazingly relieved.
After discussing the incident with a few "friends" - I was later universally known at the event as "the guy with no shoes" for which I believe I have Sten Selander to thank. Not bad for the 1st day of the event. I've oft spoke of our rock&roll lifestyle, but hell, this time I had sole.
The day itself passed busily without incident, save for some really good meetings which was very cool. Word seems to have gotten around about our endeavours (not my shenanighans) and it's really nice to be spoken of with great respect and such. That said, we had a meeting with a group that does the "Crazy Frog" games and kept interupting him and saying "Go on, do the voice!" - after 10mins of nagging, he relented and went "Ring Ding!" with a look of embarrased resignation on his face. Well, it made us chuckle, as did most of our meetings which we did with an air of cheeky humour and fun, especially as we were attending the show with no development capacity in the short term and no games to really pitch at publishers - we were just catching up and talking future opportunities.
It's never dull when Reynolds' is in town...
First, a little disclaimer. Bryan's long-suffering wife always asks me to look out for him and to a fair extent I do. However, without kids-gloves, there is really only so much you can do, especially when I'm a bit of a handful myself. So in advance, Debs, I apologise for his sorry state and believe me, I really did try and sort him out - unlike the playful extremes of Food Buckaroo in September.
We'd been at the event all day and Bryan and Craig Albeck had travelled from the UK, via Schipol - not doubt availing themselves of beers along the way. We arranged to meet them in a boat (yes.. stick with it, I know there's previous there) which was a pre-party to the Game Connection event and was held in a boat called "Le Marquis" which is a bit sade, I know (ouch..)
We couldn't get a cab so ended up walking the 3-4km from the conference centre with a random scandinavian developer. We got there about 8.30pm and proceeded to lap up the free ales and food. After an hour, John decided that he'd have an early night (he'd not been so good most of the day after going "all in" the night before) so the rest of us; myself, Bryan, John Sanderson, Sten, Craig, Dean Trotman and Noah all went to the very swish "Q-Boat" club next door - which was very, very nice. We had a few mojito's in here before deciding that it had turned into a typical developer party (i.e. 500 males glancing longingly at about 6 females) and we decided to leg it to the old town again and recommence fun there.
After sweating our nuts off in the Smoking Dog, an English bar just up from the St.James, we ended up back in the St.James where there were a bunch of the usual suspects; the Falcus Bros, James North-Hear, Dean Trotman, Noah of Sega, Nina & Carri of Game Horizon and Mick Morris of Audio Motion.
After apologizing to Wendle for the noise we'd apparently made in the street after closing the night before, we proceeded to chat until it was closing once more, whereupon we ended up in a bar round the corner. At about 1pm, half the folks decided to call it a night, but myself and Bryan felt like carrying on and I knew just the place, since I'd been in the night before... (it all came back when I'd had a few)
Cue us going down the street next to the river and knocking on doors/ringing bells playing Club Roulette. When you do this, a little hole opens in the door, they look at you and you get either "Non!" (usually) or if, you've won the French Lottery, you get a "Oui!" although at that point, it's a bit like Quality Street, you never know what you're getting into. Our first experience two years back, playing Club Roulette was the delights of Madame Celone, 10euro Becks and seedy red lights - however it's not what you think, it was an "underground Karaoke bar" !!
Anyway, we get into this club, which was a bit like the one in Hostel if you've seen it. Very odd sights, sounds and people. Suffice to say, that Reynolds liked it a lot - he does like to mix with the locals and bask in the mood of the place, albeit in a very non-seedy way.
A couple of hours in and he was gone, marbelled beyond his tiny mind - and at this point he'd decided to sit firmly in the middle of the dance floor. And he wouldn't budge. The locals were enjoying it and this coincided with me just about having had enough of it all (given I'd been up til 5am the previous day, had the shoe-stress then worked all day) so I tried to coax him out without effect... so I set off back to the sanctuary of the Phenix and made sure I kept my bloody shoes on.
Three hours, incident laden as it appears, pass during my slumber...
Imagine my surprise, sipping my coffee (shoes safely on, taxi safely ordered) and chewing on Lyon's finest Croissants, I turn on my Blackberry (which I'd not managed to lose) to find about a dozen phone-mail messages from an increasingly disturbed sounding Reynolds. Turns out he'd been robbed of his wallet and all belongings, chasing the offender (who allegedly he'd just wanted to be friends with) down the street to cries of "oh no, come back you twat". After this, not knowing where he was or how he'd got there, he wandered into a bus station, mistaking it for the Airport (which is 30km out of town), forming "night pals" with a bunch of vagrants, learn't how to "bum cigarettes" ("bumming fags" would be bad) and then got his head down for some kip behind a vending machine. You really can't make it up. If there's only one constant in the universe, it's Bryan bloody Reynolds inability to function without calipers and surveillance.
He didn't surface until later that day, after being rescued by John Sanderson (thanks mate) and whilst he made a brief appearance on Wednesday evening, this was short-lived as he sensibly slept as he had an early flight. Besides, as per usual on his trips, there was nothing left for him to lose - his dignity went years back in Prague.
Rhone-drops falling on my head
The start to our Wednesday was less than great. As per bloody usual, there was an extreme shortage of cabs in Lyon and you can't book them (don't get me started...) and with time pressing, myself and John decided to walk. Only one problem with this; it was very cold and raining so hard that it seemed like someone was picking up the Rhone river and pouring it back onto Lyon. This wasn't going to be pretty.
45mins later we arrived at the conference centre and it simply wasn't possible to be any more wet. My denim jacket was soaked, as was my shirt, jeans, shoes (but hey.. I had shoes) - we had a few embarrassing moments explaining ourselves when people came into meetings to find us stood on chairs drying shirts and items on the spotlights, but everyone kind of laughed it off in a wartime blitz kind of all-in-it-together way. It took the whole day to dry out, clothes wise...
I think the only really amusing meeting we had was with a Russian distributor who didn't take too kindly to our suggestion of "Hey, nice work on that spy - I hope you haven't any Pollonium on you!" to be in poor taste. It was an awkward silence supplemented by the Russian's raised eyebrows and blank stare (which were becoming a theme)... he relented eventually and gave a little chuckle when he finally worked out we weren't being tremendously serious.
Posh nosh at the City Hall
On Wednesday evening we attended Game Connection's prestigious dinner event at "Hotel De Ville" the famous old City Hall which was full of the GC people dressed up in circa 18th Century get-ups, which was a bit weird.
The central hall with it's amazing chandeliers was very impressive, as was the ample selection of good, free wines and finger-nibbles but ultimately we were back in "developer party" mood again and at about 9pm we left to go see if Benfica were beating Man Utd in the Smoking Dog (us Brits are such a cultured lot).
To our dismay, Benfica could not repeat what they had done the year before (i.e. knocking Man Utd out) and in addition, there was something of a fight involving drunk French lads in the 'Dog and we left before things got to involving us - you could see something was really about to kick off.
So, onto the St.James and problems getting fed - most of the food places were closed "Non! Ferme!" so we ended up eating at an empty restaurant owned by the bartender of a bar/club we'd been in the day before. We all had steak and very expensive wine (by French standards) and I think it's fair to say that someone else had the prime cuts and we had crappy fatty bits - but since we were starving there was little room to complain.
I'll get my coat
After that it was back to the St.James until closing, with the same crowd still in. After that, it was time to play Club Roulette again and I mixed it up a bit this time by pretending I'd left a coat in the cloak room and lost my ticket, picking the most outrageous one, with a huge ruff faux fur collar. To my astonishment, they handed it over and I proceeded to put it on... I could hardly walk with it on, with the furry cuffs only come to my elbows (obviously meant for a 5ft woman or something..) and I dropped it off at the club next door we went in.
We were in there until 5am with two lads from Sony, whom I kindly looked after for Ivan... after that it was time to crawl back to my pit, once more ensuring I was with shoes. It was only when I found the reciept for cloakroom that I recollected the whole coat thing and I know it sounds a bit crap that some presumably very upset, nay distraught French woman would roaming the city for her coat - but still, it's better than losing your bloody shoes - not that it was her fault (cough). I know I'll rot in hell for doing that stuff, but it was amusing at the time, especially doing a funny straight back walk - and I think my place in Hell was booked some time back.
Le Nuit Grand
So, one more day at the show - and one which we were looking forward to completing, given the 35+ meetings to date, it was all a bit exhausting. With the promise of a "big night" we soldiered on before we hit a mental and physical barrier at about 3pm and simply flagged, deciding to skip 3/4 services meetings and conduct them electronically. It put our meeting count at about 45 or so, which is a lot over 3 days and perhaps about 15 too many, truth be told. The event itself was pretty quiet on the last day with a lot of people leaving to fly back in the afternoon. We were very pleased to wrap up just after 3pm and the event had been very good for us, we were just a little bit knackered after a few days/nights activities.
We left around 4pm to get a few hours rest before the big night started and start it did with myself, John, Pete OD, Dean, Noah and Mick meeting up in the St.James. We went for a great meal with all the Frog's legs and Snail trimmings (although I admit I wussed out of the Snails since I was feeling a bit groggy and they looked disgusting). It was just as well the owner was married to a Brit or I fear we'd have been cast out on the street since we were just a little bit loud and boisterous :-) Particularly giving the Bulgarian/East European waiter some stick... I think we laughed more than we ate, but it was a great meal.
After that, it was back once more for the finale at St.James and onto perhaps the longest game of 6 player Perudo we've ever had. On the way back to the pub, I dusted off my french to ask a street trader how much she wanted for her hat (a straw boater) "Combien de la chapeau?" - I said it jokingly but 2mins later and Trotman walked into the pub clutching said item, given we have a hat rule in our Perudo games. I immediately bet Trotters 5 euro's that he'd be first to wear it.. a bet I won (of course).
Having only 5 cups was a bind, so we had to get another for Mick, the irish lad, it was an irish bar so what better than a cup with a Leprechaun on it! He was a newbie at the game too, but after 2-3 hours, an enormous range of drinks and crazy mint shots, Mick managed to win the final showdown with Pete, with a bit of coaching from myself.
We said our goodbyes to Wendle and the crew until next year and went off to the pub around the corner again, where we ran into some hostile locals but were welcomed by the restaurant owner earlier, who really liked Brits and came to sit with us all. Trotters then tried to convince her that he ran a website that showed flash-shots of nipples and get her to play along. She didn't, although I think it was a close run thing.
After that we played Club Roulette again but nobody won, it was "Ferme!" in every one, but I really think that the sight of six drunken brits outside the door was enough to put them all off, so it was back to the hotel, listened to music and scoffed some mini bar goodies until 8am or so.
Friday - and time to go home. It was very bleak and tiring, with a horrible hangover. I got up early (10ish) to see if I could buy a Wii around Lyon, to no avail and we eventually left for the airport around mid-day and had a fairly uneventful, but smooth trip home, arriving back at 6pm. I was totally shot, having less than 6-8hrs sleep all week and spent most of the weekend in a dark room where possible, but it had been a great trip - roll on GDC when the team are together again for a series of new adventures in San Francisco... and it's all a reminder of just how bloody lucky we are to work in a great industry full of characters and insanity around every corner.
Roll on Lyon 2007.