As events start to get back to normal, we were invited to attend Insomnia 69 as press. For those who haven’t seen our previous coverage of the event, it’s a gaming event held at the NEC in Birmingham in the UK, with a focus on a large LAN. What we’re checking out however is the connected expo.
Sadly, while the world is getting back to normal to an extent, the pandemic is by no means over. On top of that, Insomnia 69 was poorly timed in a way — it was held alongside Gamescom, so many companies would have prioritized that. You may be interested to read about Insomnia 65 to see how it was pre-pandemic and what it may return to in the future.
Getting Back To Normal?
Whenever I go to these events, the first question is always about COVID safety. While Insomnia 69 does have an official COVID policy, it’s essentially just a suggestion. There were very few masks and I only found a couple of hand sanitizers around. Only one stall cleaned the equipment between uses. These things do seem to be getting less and less. There was certainly no social distancing either and large compact crowds in certain areas. It’s up to each person to choose what they’re comfortable with, but this is provided for your information.
The other concern tends to be about if it’s changed. To be direct, it’s smaller and with less publisher support. Some of this may be due to Gamescom being held at the same time as mentioned, so I’m hoping Insomnia 70 adds more.
Ceremony and Shows
Insomnia puts on a range of talks by people in the industry and other parties. These change each day, so I suggest checking out their schedule when deciding on which day to attend.
After wandering about for a while, I attended a few of these. The opening ceremony was very memorable. It started with someone explaining the upcoming events over the weekend but soon switched to a live performance by Twitch Partner and drummer MrGregles. It even included Twitch integration, with people able to control the effects on the TV above him.
Another memorable event was King Regis -The Musical. It had Jon Campling on stage talking about how he learned guitar and more. It was quite uncanny seeing him in real life after seeing him as a character model in Final Fantasy XV as the father of the main character.
All The Games
While Insomnia 69 lacks big publisher support, there is a lot to play still. There are PlayStation, Nintendo Switch and XBox consoles set up in different areas, with a range of games to jump on and play casually. It all seemed to be hosted locally, but there were tournaments to sign up to as well. A lot of these were popular games, though mostly not recent ones.
The Indie zone made a return too, though it was again unfortunately quite small. They seemed to be having some technical issues with many of the computers in that area too when I first went, but luckily were up and running an hour later. Games here ranged from retro-inspired games such as Wormhole Adventurer which originated as a gamejam game to community games such as the Twitch-integrated Duck Race. I got to sit down with Wormhole Adventurer and had fun exploring the galaxy and starting to build my space station.
Virtual reality had a strong showing too, with several stalls with VR games and a dedicated VR area by HTC Vive. I particularly enjoyed the indie Ziggy‘s Cosmic Adventures, where I needed to switch between managing the inside of a spaceship and flying it through asteroids and enemy ships.
In The Army
The Army and RAF often have a presence at Insomnia. Both bring a variety of activities to do, with the RAF having some VR simulators. The Army outdid themselves this year though.
They had a VR headset setup with Pavlov, which is fun but the same as before. This time they added a laser shooting range (goggles required) with a very realistic feeling rifle and a climbing wall. They also had a remote control ground drone with a camera to see the way through an obstacle course and an arm to grab things.
I generally found them very friendly and willing to answer questions about the technology and what they do too. There was no recruitment pitch or anything along those lines.
While a lot of the merchandise area was dedicated to selling hardware, components, and accessories, I did appreciate that it worked as a showroom for some interesting technology too. I got to try out an amazing 3D TV, there was a pod where people could sit with a giant curved monitor for simulator setups and it shows off some upcoming technology.
The upcoming Intel ARC was on show and certainly sounded interesting. The Intel representative told me that it was approximately equivalent to a GTX 3080. They had a lot of laptops on show too and I was impressed by how far the displays have come in recent laptops.
A company called Technology Outlet was showing off 3D printing with a number on display and one printing items during the event. As someone who has always wanted a 3D printer, I was happy to check it out. They had a rather tempting discount on the Ender-3 V2 3D Printer too.
Insomnia 69 had a few cosplayers wandering around. I believe there are usually more on the weekend, but I attended on Friday. Still, the cosplay area was open with displays, a workshop, and more.
There are multiple cosplay events held over the event, at different levels. There was even an Assassin’s Creed specific event listed.
Drinks marketed to gamers were out in full force. Gfuel, Sneak Energy, and the relatively new ZGame Energy. CEX were handing out sachets of Beyond too.
I tried Sneak Energy’s Neon Punch and it was much nicer than the last time when I tried Gfuel. There were starter kits with a very stylish shaker and eight sachets of different flavors to try at their stall. As a disclaimer, they handed me one for free without saying anything – I’m assuming because they saw my press badge rather than them just feeling generous, but no coverage was asked for in return.
ZGame’s Iron Brew tasted great too. They had sour apple, which I didn’t try at the time. I ended up speaking with the gentleman at their stall, and he was extremely passionate about making a better product than competitors in terms of health and quality. He said it had a variety of vitamins, that its effects last longer than the competition and there are no complications like heart palpitations that other drinks may have connections to. On top of that, their mission includes planting trees and doing even better than just reducing their carbon footprint. ZGame really seems like they focus on ethics. It seems a little cheaper than the others too.
It felt like half the hall was taken up with ways to try and separate people from their money. There were tons of stalls with anime, gaming, and general ‘geek’ merchandise to buy. Lots of artwork, hugging pillows, and models were on display. One day I’ll give in and buy that Rem pillow.
Many of the hardware retailers were out in full force too. I did have to remind myself a few times that I don’t need a GTX 3090, a high-end PC, or a gaming laptop, as much as I’d like one. Still, it’s great to see all that RGB on display.
Insomnia 69 is a good day or two out, with plenty to do. I do miss the old Insomnia with a lot more in the way of upcoming games, but it’s certainly worth checking out other things like the indie zone and technology on display.
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.