HenchTech’s Insomnia56 Overview
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Some of the HenchTech team went on down to the NEC in Birmingham last Sunday (13/12), where EGX 2015 had been just a few months ago, this time to attend what is known as the ‘Biggest Gaming Festival’ in the UK for the first time – Insomnia56 by Multiplay, the producer also behind Minecon (among other events). They are one of the leading Gaming Service Providers in the world, who host over 25,000 online game servers. Starting out as a PC only event back in 1999, Insomnia quickly became THE event for LAN gaming. Fast-forward 55 Insomnia festivals (that’s right, 3 a year!) to Insomnia56 in 2016 and it is now a huge multi-platform event, adding console gamers into the mix among other things.

Holding true to its original format, there is a dedicated part of the festival for LAN gaming where you can bring your own computer/console (BYOC), plug in, and get playing awesome games with literally thousands of people, with access 24hours a day! No festival is complete without camping though of course and Insomnia doesn’t disappoint there! It’s even often referred to as the ‘Glastonbury of Gaming’ – only less mud, thankfully!

After a quick initial wonder around we attended the Opening Ceremony at the main stage which helped set up the rest of the day nicely, and a few lucky folk even got some free boxes… of course it was the people before those that were luckiest, grabbing the t-shirts, memorabilia and even the odd PC Mouse that were in those boxes beforehand. People really do love free stuff! The main stage was brimming with action long after the opening ceremony though as the Super Mario Maker competition finale took stage with DanTDM, followed by various Minecraft events with guest appearances from YouTube sensations GizzyGazza, AviatorGaming, EckoSoldier, BigBstatz and The Noxcrew! Later Jacksepticeye and Daithi De Nogla came to the stage to talk about how making videos on YouTube can be a lucrative profession, as long as you’ve got the drive, patience and commitment to make it work, as well as a genuine passion for gaming.

Over at the Expo stage Immersive Minds gave a talk about the importance of educational gaming. Specifically what video games can do when they are applied to a classroom! This particular talk was about how Minecrafts very own glowing red substance can be used to emulate electricity. From something as simple as a light and a lever being connected by a line of Redstone, you could see how kids can learn the basic fundaments of how circuitry works by playing their favorite cubic game! The possibilities and potential for learning programmes like this are incredible! Here at HenchTech we fully support the work of Immersive Minds in their use of technology and video games as tools for learning. And the media said video games were rotting kids brains, once upon a time – how far we’ve come!

We then found ourselves walking the indie wall and seeing some familiar faces, but much to the delight of Pete we came across a new face to us, at the booth for Grip, the spiritual successor to Playstation’s 1999 combat racer Rollcage! It keeps the look and feel of its predecessor but Grip improves upon nearly every aspect and feature, and has an outstanding soundtrack like the original. It even has some of the original team along for the ride! Look out for more info from HenchTech on this high octane thrill ride as it makes its way to Steam Early Access soon and PS4 in 2016.

FromSoftware were showcasing their gothic fantasy franchise with Dark Souls III at Insomnia56 and if you’re a fan of the previous games, Dark Souls III certainly doesn’t disappoint. Combat is as unforgiving and punishing as ever! One poorly timed back step or careless swing of your sword sees the nightmarish fiends around you swoop in for the kill. Just like the previous titles, be ready to die… a lot! The combat feels much more fluid than in Dark Souls II and there are also additional features like the ‘Ready Stance’, which allows you to ready your weapon for a sort of charged attack on an incoming enemy. There is also larger emphasis on role-playing with things like additional lore. All in all, Dark Souls III felt like a worthy, polished sequel that will certainly not disappoint the fans or the newcomers to the series.

You quite often see energy drinks stands at these types of events and Insomnia56 was no different, but there was an alternative to this in the form of Gaming Fuel’s (www.gamingfuel.com) ‘Fuel Cells’ – a snack subscription box service with a healthier and more balanced supply of high energy supplements. Don’t worry; we’re not talking celery sticks and a fig (although, whatever floats your boat), the ‘Fuel Cells’ have all sorts of tasty treats that will keep you alert and focused on your killstreak, instead of a rumbling belly and your pillow!

Looking for an awesome sci-fi fantasy co-op shooter to fill your boots? Look no further than Battleborn! From Gearbox Software and 2K Games, the developer and publisher behind the Borderlands series, this first-person shooter takes a unique approach to several typical FPS game features and is designed structurally similar to an online multiplayer battle arena. There will be 25 playable characters in the game on launch, including melee and magical characters as well as ranged. Each character available at Insomnia56 had a very different look and feel so there appears to be plenty of options in finding the character that’s right for you! Another interesting feature is the leveling up system. It actually resets after each mission so that everyone starts the game at the same level and depending on how much experience you get from killing enemies and performing feats, you’ll level up throughout the level, upgrading on the fly. The skill tree is in the form of a helix and when leveling you have the option to take either side of it, which often break down into either offensive or defensive upgrades and/or abilities. There was no shortage of action on screen with onslaught after onslaught of enemies coming after us. Battleborn kept us engaged and wanting more – in a good way. We look forward to spending a decent bit of time with Battleborn in the future.

Another innovative company at Insomnia was 3DU, a company dedicated to providing you with 3D technology, without even owning a 3D device! Introducing the Whoosh3D Screen Protector and companion app, which allows you to turn your regular smartphone into a 3D device giving you full immersion into your chosen pictures, movies and in early 2016; games too! More to follow on this intriguing gadget, so keep an eye out for that.

Google Cardboard is a great, intuitive and affordable way of experiencing VR on our smartphones, but what happens when you accidentally sit on it or something? Well, at Insomnia56 we may have come across the best possible way to experience mobile VR – the Merge VR Goggles! Made from a ‘soft, rugged foam’ and apparently capable of use with most smartphones, the Merge VR Goggles offer a serious, quality and longer lasting alternative to everyday mobile VR use. We have a feeling that Insomnia56 wont be the last time the team will be plugging into these great goggles!

There were several eSports tournaments going on, with the likes of DotA2, Halo 5: Guardians and Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 with huge prize funds up for grabs. We didn’t get the chance to check these tournaments out full flow, but congratulations to the winners none-the-less! No mean feat when there are thousands of potential competitors attending! And of course, no gaming event would ever be complete without its faithful cosplayers treading the boards of the stage to show us all how much their costumes rock! There were so many great cosplayers there but a couple that stood out for us was a really great Pikachu and absolutely uncanny Lester from GTA V – make sure to check out the pics.

Something of a headline for the team was the opportunity to try out the HTC Vive ‘room scale’ experience, which incorporates a headset, a wand-type controller in each hand and a base system connected to the headset. This first of its kind technology allows you to actually walk around virtual worlds and using the wands, interact with the environment like no other VR experience before it. It started out with a fun technical test to make sure your connected correctly. Pressing the colored pad in your left hand would blow up a balloon out of the end, which you could bat off with the other controller, which acted completely realistically by immediately flying off a short distance before slowing down and falling to the ground. It then moved onto a neon-painting mode that allowed you to show off your air drawing skills. Hugo was even able to successfully sign his signature in full neon glory.

An incredible underwater experience with fish and a massive whale swimming by showed the astonishing depth that can be perceived with these HTC headsets. The whales size and movement was completely believable! The pace changed up a bit with the next scene, which was a zombie apocalypse shooter, where you had to survive the hordes coming at you. The controls proved perfectly tuned to the experience once again here as the aim was perfect and meant zombie headshots were aplenty! Last, but certainly not least of this impeccable experience was a trip to Aperture Science labs for a chance to see GLaDOS up close and personal, to undertake some doomed tasks, before being told you’re going to die a grizzly death as the walls and floor is ripped up around you! Luckily the experience ends there – no Matrix-like death thankfully! This truly immersive and visually outstanding experience is very difficult to sum up in words, as it’s really unlike anything ever experienced before. Our suggestion? Find out where and when HTC Vive is being showcased next and make sure you attend that event! The whole thing just needs to be seen, but more importantly; felt!

We really enjoyed ourselves at Insomnia56 and met some awesome people from all kinds of different backgrounds, showcasing all sorts of unique and amazing things. There was too much to mention everything that was there, but we hope to follow up on some of these, so keep an out for that. Tickets are already on sale for Insomnia57 in March so get on over to the website here and make sure you get your tickets nice and early! Trust us, you wont be disappointed!

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