Insomnia Gaming Festival is a huge gaming event held at the NEC in Birmingham in the UK. While Covid caused several events to be canceled, we had fun at Insomnia 65 and were happy to be invited back again to attend Insomnia 68 as press.
Sadly, while the world is getting back to normal to an extent, the pandemic is by no means over. Insomnia 68 was not the same as Insomnia 65 and that would be in part due to these challenges. It may interest you to read about both events, especially if you’re reading this after 2022 when we’ll hopefully be in a better situation.
Are We Still In a Pandemic?
Whenever I go to these events, the first question is always about COVID safety. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of safeguards. There were more cosplay masks than face masks and a handful of stalls had hand sanitizer dotted around. Controllers, mice, and even VR headsets usually weren’t cleaned between players, which happened at EGX 2021. There was certainly no social distancing either. It’s up to each person to determine what they are comfortable with, but that’s what to expect.
The second question tends to be about if it’s the same as before – as mentioned, it isn’t. While things do seem to be returning to normal to an extent, bigger publishers had a much more limited presence – there was no big Nintendo stage, no demos for upcoming AAA games, and no elaborate displays. Instead, there was a handful of PlayStation 5, XBox Series X, and Nintendo Switch consoles set up, with a variety of relatively new games like Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga or popular games like Mario Party Superstars. The indie zone was notably smaller than before too, which was a pity as I always enjoy checking it out.
What Did You Play?
Moving past the negative, there were certainly interesting things to explore at Insomnia 68.
While the indie zone was quite small, there were certainly some interesting-looking games there. From FPS to Point and Click, a good range of genres were represented. A couple of games that stood out to me were CrossPlanet and Techblox.
Crossplanet is a 3rd person arena-shooter, which is rare enough as it is. It has both the standard PvP, but also includes a co-op PvE mode too. You can join their Discord for playtests here.
TechBlox is a free community-focused game where you can build vehicles and play online in various modes. The developer at the stand mentioned the community being able to create new game modes themselves in the future.
One stand had their game playing on a Steam Deck, so I had a brief try. I was quite impressed at how well the game ran on it, how vivid the touchscreen was, and the variety of controls possible. That said, it’s so large that I think it’d be difficult to hold for extremely long sessions.
Outside of the indie zone, there were some other unique experiences. Special Effect brought along a Hori Flex, a wrist controller, and some large buttons from the Logitech Adaptive Kit to demonstrate adaptive equipment for disabled gamers. There were also a variety of arcade games, pinball machines, retro consoles, and more set up.
Virtual Reality was well represented and augmented reality made an appearance too.
The Army and the Navy both had a presence at Insomnia 68, with a World of Tanks and World of Warships collaboration respectively. The Army even had one of the more striking displays – a tank that people could climb on.
While it was slightly hidden away, the Army had some Oculus Quests set up in a backroom with games like Creed, Superhot, and Pavlov VR.
The Navy setup was more interesting. They had a boat simulator rig that you could sit in running VBS3. I tried their flight simulator, which was just an Oculus Rift S running VTOL VR, but the person running the area added in a ton of interesting facts about the vehicle and pilots while playing.
I didn’t get to have a try myself due to an extremely long line, but there was another VR area where several people could play the same game together in a large space. While not quite hitting ‘warehouse-scale’, it seemed like a good taste of the experience of playing together and seeing each other’s real positions in VR.
For augmented reality, Hado made an appearance. In short, it’s a 3v3 AR sport where players throw energy balls at each other, dodge, and shield. I had played it at a previous event and had a good time. As well as letting people try it out, Insomnia 68 was hosting the first time that Hado had been included in the ESL Premiership.
While I mentioned there wasn’t much in the way of upcoming games or things that players hadn’t seen before, the heart of Insomnia is in community gaming. Beyond the show floor, it’s a giant LAN where people can bring their own computer and play. And on the show floor, there are plenty of zones where players can join in on multiplayer games as a group too. There were also a handful of tournaments, both community ones where anyone could join and official events held at Insomnia 68. Other events were hosted too, like a Pub Quiz.
Insomnia has a great community on their Discord if you’d like to get involved.
While Insomnia Gaming Festival is mostly about video games, it’s great for tabletop gamers too. There’s a section where you can play existing and upcoming tabletop games. One that looked particularly interesting and never seemed to have an empty seat was the upcoming Amulet Thrayax, which is coming to KickStarter soon. It’s exactly the sort of thing that my friends and I would play, so I’ll be keeping an eye on it.
Insomnia 68 had a good amount of cosplay. There was a cosplay area with displays, places to take photos, and even a workshop area where someone was giving people sowing advice and doing arts and crafts.
A cosplay masquerade was held, with cosplayers coming out and doing short performances. Most were acting out a scene to a voiceover of the character. Adding to the excitement was another cosplayer coming out while waiting for results and entertaining the audience by playing the violin.
Quite a few cosplayers were dressed as characters from popular games, with League of Legends and Overwatch well represented. There were quite a few casual Jedi, some amazing Stormtroopers, and other Star Wars cosplays. There weren’t many anime cosplays, though I did encounter a couple of Hatsune Miku, a Kanna from Dragon Maid, and one of the same Doki Doki Literature Club cosplayers as I saw at MCM Birmingham Comic-Con.
Spend That Money
One of the biggest areas around was the merchandise zone. With everything from anime artwork to hang on the wall, to comic books, to replica Star Trek communicators, there was quite a wide selection. There was even a body pillow of Ainz from Overlord, which is certainly an interesting choice of characters to make a body pillow of. The several Hatsune Miku ones were more standard.
Beyond that, there was plenty of computer hardware and peripherals on display. From motherboards and keyboards to full rigs, some of the manufacturers had display areas set up. They did say that not everything shown was for sale though.
While certainly not up to the standards of Insomnia 63 or Insomnia 65, Insomnia 68 still had quite a lot to do and see. The giant LAN aspect of it is the biggest reason to spend the full long weekend, but it’s certainly worth a day out to check out the show floor too. Hopefully, it’ll bring back the biggest publishers and demos for upcoming games next year though.
Many thanks go to Insomnia Gaming Festival for providing a press pass for this event.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.