Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Planes, trains and automobiles

So, the annual jaunt to Game Connection in Leipzig then... probably the penultimate "big international trip" of the year, with just the regular few days in Lyon remaining - or at least that's the plan unless something untoward happens, we decide to grab a week away in October or such-like.

For this one, I traveled with Paul Kilburn from Team17, along with Bry Reynolds (Gamesauce) and the Albeck Monkey, of Game Republic. As is also usual, we took the route from Leeds to Prague, collecting a car and driving the 3.5hrs to Leipzig. There was nothing really notable about the flight other than the "aromatic Czech's" who to be fair smelt rather unwashed - I can't say I've noticed this before, maybe it was just the group on the plane, I dunno.

I'm not sure what was going on during the drive since we got habitually stared at all the way, mainly by drunk Czechs as we drove on through Louny, Chomutov, across the border to Chemnitz, through Marienberg and then on to the Leipzig area.

Everything went pretty smoothly until Mr T (on the Tom Tom) tried to get us near to our fairly remote hotel on the Western edge of Leipzig... the road we needed to take was closed and the only option after some head-scratching was to take a dodgy track a mile or so over a field. It's fair to say that this track wasn't hugely suitable for anything other than people, dogs or tanks. It wasn't level and was packed with large holes - it's fair to say I was pretty concerned that the car would make it at all. It was a long mile, but it made it, after some delicate driving with some screetching and drops. A woman walking her dog gave us a thoroughly understandable stare.

We then got to our hotel, which wasn't a bad place (although basic) but it was a bugger to find due to the entrance being somewhat off the beaten path, Mr T got a bit of abuse - warranted.

At around 9pm we went into the centre of town, to the usual Irish bar (The Kildare) and proceeded to enjoy a spot of perudo with Phil, Ivan and some other Sony lads. We also managed to enjoy a 2Ltr "boot of ale" a new fixture at the Kildare. I had one, only one, for moderation's sake.

The night didn't get too excessive really, it was fairly steady and we got back around 2am, which really is steady compared to previous trips - the guy behind the reception of the hotel even made us sandwiches at 2.30am. We had ended up in an Absinthe bar, but I didn't want any and after seeing the look on Phil Gaskell's face when he downed the "paint stripper" I was pretty pleased. We did however, find what appeared to be an "Enigma Machine" in there and a plan was hatched to get it out in the next day or so.

The next morning we quickly got to the event at Leipziger Messe, a fantastic, huge event hall at the northern edge of Leipzig - our western location just off the motorway meant we didn't need to deal with any of the busy city traffic, despite it being a 16-20km drive.

A day of talks, meetings and catching up with people/publishers and developers proceeded as usual on the first day (which is trade only) and all this went as expected, with the only downer being that my miraculously self-repaired Blackberry (now renamed "Lazarus") decided to totally give up the ghost.

This led to desperately trying to get a replacement phone, which I managed, even though it was a very basic, shocking little thing that many enjoyed ribbing me about. Which reminds me, I've still got to sort all that out with the bloody Carphone Warehouse (and also O2).

In the evening we once more sat and enjoyed a game of dice with Pete OD and the Troutman, as well as Tim/Mark from Spong, Steve Boxer and the Falcus lads. This was before we watched England v Germany - and after 10mins of excitement we had to endure a pitiful England performance as we went down to Germany - and it wasn't great to watch it in a German pub, although thankfully nothing 'kicked off' apart from one cheeky german flicking the V's at the end.

Nothing much else went on after that, just a quiet beer, more dice and an earlyish return to the hotel, although Bryan did manage to bag himself a daft hat along the way. We'd skipped a party that was being thrown - which went on until 5am, so we got back and were treated to eggs, bacon and so-on by the hotel bloke again, who went out of his way to be very nice to us.

So another day at the event beckoned and more talks, chats and the like. We were treated to some behind the scenes glimpses of some games, probably the best title we saw was "Prototype" on the Vivendi booth, which was really nice although some way off it seems. We also had some very interesting talks as we get near to an announcement being made about our "big" title :) We also got news about a "green-light" for another XBLA title, which will arrive in 2008.

Thursday evening saw yet more dice fun in the Kildare prior to attempting to liberate the "Enigma Machine", although a lot of fun was had watching Dean Trotman eat for England. We didn't manage to get the machine, which actually turned out to be some turn-of-the-century franking machine which weighed more than a Panzer and we stayed in the Absynthe bar (which was a crazy gothic place) until the very small hours, with no major incidents to recall other than good chat and high spirits.

Friday morning and it was time to Czech out and get to Prague. I think we were all anticipating hangovers and a weary trip. This year we'd opted for the train rather than struggle with a difficult, hungover drive and after dropping the car off at a deserted Hertz station, we cabbed it down to the train station (with the cabbie giving us "Das Joke" - a German telling a Joke for the first time in 4 days) and got our train to Dresden, which was the first leg of the train trip. This went relatively speedily and without any incident, with all four of us quite weary and 'grey' so to speak.

The next train was a 2.5hr amble down the edge of the Elber river through to Prague. I think it's difficult to suggest just how much of a nice surprise this journey was; the scenery was breathtaking (lush cliffs, castles, model villages) and we enjoyed a few bottles of beer and music on my Mac laptop as we commandeered one of those 6-seater enclosed cabins. The journey went by in no time at all and we -very nearly- stayed on until Budapest! Even the border control police woman was in fine spirits, it was difficult not to be, it was such a nice trip.

So to Prague then... our nice Hotel (the Hilton) didn't have both rooms ready so we had a quick change in one and I also managed to totally fuse the room due to plugging a US adaptor into the socket. Fortunately they were quick to sort it out and we managed to get the smell/smoke out of the room.

We headed back into the old town and had a few beers at the Irish bar we frequented the year before, enjoying a nice steak which really reminded us how generally awful the food was in Germany.

We met Sten from the Nordic group later and had a mooch around the nice areas of the Charles Bridge, old town and such. Sten wanted to go on a boat but it's fair to say we weren't so keen so we eventually went back to the hotel, got changed and had a quick drink in the bar. We enjoyed the bar pianist who pronounced "W" as "V" so we made a few requests that made use of this feature - and we had to leave because it got kind of cruel - and funny, obviously. Cue "Ve are Sailing" "Vooden Heart" etc which he did with almost embarrassing 70's style midi.

We returned back to "our bar" and just had a very chilled chat/laugh all evening, getting back just after midnight as it had been a long day.

The next day we returned to the bar for a couple before flying back, which was quite excitable given our intoxicated state. One notable amusing sequence saw me get involved with a stag group, one of the lads was having a very nice looking head massage from a nice Czech girl, but when she'd finished up, I sneaked up and continued, much to the grins on the faces of the other lads... when he finally looked up there were howls of laughter.

On the flight, my Mac also slipped out of the baggage rack and smacked a young Czech girl in the teeth. I did buy her a toy and a bag of sweets to apologise (even though it really wasn't my fault) only for Bryan to dryly comment "See, he's trying to rot the buggers out now".

I got home on Saturday, still fairly merry only to proceed down to our friends in the village where I "topped up" even more. Suffice to say that I spent the most of Sunday on the couch feeling like crap due to "hangover squared" and getting a pain in the neck because of it.

I made amends by driving us to Whitby on Monday, but wished I hadn't due to the battle with the A64 on a Bank Holiday :(

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