In September 14 2018 the Zurich Game Show took place. Using this as an opportunity to take photos and visit friends in Switzerland, I grabbed my two cameras and off I went to Zurich by train.
I hopped on a DB train on Friday evening. Deutsche Bahn trains are usually very comfortable, though the trip cannot really compare to the efficiency of air travel. Being an avid fan of travelling by plane, the train seems to me slower and not significantly cheaper to warrant the extra time.
However, going by train offers an important advantage: landscapes. I saw so many vistas that made me wish I could stop, take my camera and tripod out and snap some of the photos I always wished I could get (mostly on the German side of the borders), some of which you can see on the side.
After an on-board passport check (or ID check if you are an EU citizen) I got off at Zürich Hauptbahnhof. The station was quite large considering the city’s size, but I was mostly impressed at how clean and well-maintained everything was.
First thing I saw? Festivities for Wiesn, which translates to Meadow in German and in Bavaria is the more common term for Oktoberfest (which was actually going on when I was in Zurich).
I was surprised, because having spoken with few Swiss people, they really do not like any associations with French and German nationals and want to be seen as unique. Additionally, non-Bavarian Germans seem to dislike how the Lederhosen and the Dirndl (the traditional Oktoberfest garments) came to represent Germany in popular culture, which would make me expect to have the whole tradition isolated in Bavaria.
I met with George, the friend of mine who would be hosting me along with his wife for the next couple of days and then we got to walking around the lake a bit. I was quick to make an observation of how different the city looked and felt compared to Munich, something that I would better confirm the next few days. If I could put my finger on it, I would say it felt more alive, less conservative and I would dare say closer to my own mentality, at least from the little glimpse I managed to grasp the three days I was there.
There are two things that made an impression on me. Walking those uphill cobbled streets and seeing the streets around the lake full of people at night actually reminded me of my very own city, Thessaloniki. It did feel like I was back in the Ladadika area in downtown Thessaloniki; a very different feeling compared to what I’ve seen in Munich. But there is one more thing. There were bars and coffee shops! I did not really understand the value a proper bar would have in a city’s night life until I moved to Munich where cafés are usually more like bistros; they tend to focus a bit too heavily on the food rather than the drinks and the coffee. It’s just not my thing, for I want a bar to feel like a bar and to not have to suffer under the fried potatoes aroma when trying to enjoy an espresso or a single malt.
We then made a stop near the Zurich Opera House. Now, that was a place that felt a bit unusual. Usually, in most other cities this would have been a park; lots of green, some benches so that you can sit and perhaps some open space so that visibility is not hampered. Instead, all we got were some random chairs and umbrellas in a plaza that kinda looked out of place, but sure, we did take advantage of them and rested there for a bit.
We called it a night, taking the train to Niederhasli, a small village outside of Zurich. Being a smaller city than Munich, Zurich has an advantage when commuting, especially when one considers its excellent transportation services. The whole trip took about 20 minutes, for a distance of about 18km, where in comparison, my (current) daily commute in Munich requires 2 trains and a bus, takes 70 minutes and the whole distance is about the same. You don’t get to appreciate commuting until you have to deal with it in a daily manner.
To the Game Show!
We arrived in Messe Zurich exhibition centre, a rather huge seven story building which that day was fully dedicated to the game show.
Starting from lower to higher levels, most floors were dedicated to gaming, then there were VR & other modern technologies (such as 3D printing), followed by floors dedicated to cosplay (a dress-up of sorts to those unfamiliar with the term) and finally topped with a floor dedicated to board & card gaming as well as role playing games. Oh boy, let’s go in already!
It was here when I realised my mistake. I decided to pack light while in the game show, so I only got my E-M1 II and my 12-100 & 45mm (f/1.8) lenses along with my FL-900R flash, thinking that the 12-100’s range would help me avoid having to swap lenses (despite being rather slow as a lens). I also got the 45mm with in case I needed to take some portraits with a bit of extra background separation.
Unfortunately, my flash unit got damaged and I had to deal with rather dark environments as you can see in the photo. Had I got my 25mm f/1.8 or (ideally) the 12mm f/2 with me, I could probably have managed to get some more keepers. Lesson learnt! The silver lining is that the flash’s problem was its batteries; I replaced them when I got home and the issue went away.
The first few floors dealt with games along with a central amphitheatre area where certain somewhat famous guests would make an appearance and have a Q&A session. I don’t think I recognised any of them, but you can see in the last image in the gallery above that there was a list of appearances along with the cost of obtaining an autograph and/or a selfie. Right…
Exhibits were for the most part quite impressive and expansive, with big stands that covered most popular gaming genres: from racing to combat to online and even stranger niches, but we also saw stands where game enthusiast oriented creators would showcase their work, things like custom computer cases. Unfortunately, being on the lower floors, my 12-100 f/4 lens (sans flash) struggled with the low light conditions and the constant movement; stabilisation can’t deal with moving subjects!
This was the main focus of the exhibition, with three out of seven (if I recall correctly) floors dedicated to modern gaming. Impressive stuff, but more appealing if you are a tad younger. A couple of floors were dedicated to retro gaming and modern technologies, such as 3D printing, VR cinemas and so on, again with me being the victim of improper equipment.
The VR cinema had a rather long queue and as such we didn’t bother with it. Having tried something similar though (SteamVR), I would guess that it makes for a cool gimmick but be impractical for longer-term watching, due to resolution and aliasing limitations.
We did have a look at a multitude of 3D printing technologies. From run-of-the-mill FDM types (those that work with a filament), to Stereolithography printers (which need more care but produce superior results) and even a Laser Sintering machine which tends to be very expensive and as such it is better suited to manufacturing. Spoiler alert: SLA/DLP printers offer excellent results with great detail; don’t bother with FDM.
I had a burger there (there quite a few options for lunch) and it was surprisingly good! Time to move on… The next floors dealt heavily with cosplaying, anime and all those things from Japan that I… am not a fan of. You could find Weird and borderline sexual stuff (of course with a strong anime hinting), From magazines to pillows and underwear. Again, not a fan, but I understand that these are par for the course in such conventions.
As for the cosplaying, I would have expected to see extra rowdy and cringy individuals, like those you find in american cons, but nope, I was actually pleasantly surprised. For starters, I saw little kids there, with their parents. However, not only I saw parents accompanying their kids, both in dress-up, I even managed to see whole families cosplaying! A very different cultural approach compared to what is used to in american cons.
I have gone to a couple of game and comic conventions in Greece and the difference in culture is apparent. Whilst it doesn’t reach the potential ugliness of american cons, it is still (wrongly) seen like a marginalised hobby, the stuff that makes parents worry and feel embarrassed, because “that stuff is for kids”.
Regardless, I must say that most costumes were very well made and I appreciated how all cosplayers would pose for a photo. I just wish I had better lighting to make their work justice. Now, me and that friend of mine were interested in the last floor, since it dealt with Card games, Modelling and (drum-roll) Role playing Games!
Well… we were disappointed. That last floor was sparsely filled with RPG and card game material, whilst modelling was by far the most prevalent element. Disappointing, but it appears that pen and paper RPGs are not as common as they are in English-speaking countries and even Greece.
Regardless, while the RPG and Card games section was a disappointment, the modelling one was more impressive. First, there was a RC racetrack where the RC cars would run insanely fast as well as a fenced action drone area where pilots would fly using FPV (first person view goggles). Impressive stuff, at least when they avoided collisions, but most impressive was the locomotive miniature in the middle of the room, some photos of which you can see above. I tried to fit the whole thing in frame but failed, so I just snapped a small detail of it; I would have needed Olympus’s 7-14 f/2.8 Pro there. We decided to call it a day, went for a coffee break and then walked parallel to the river (I cannot remember its name to save my life) and at around 21:00’ish we stopped for a beer. On a proper bar even.
I came to the realisation of how different the cost of living is, when I paid 10 Swiss francs for a slice of pizza, about €9.3! True, with a Swiss salary this point is a bit moot, but compared to the €3.5 the same slice would cost me in Munich, it felt like a shock, the same one I experienced in Munich when I was used to paying €1.5 for that slice of pizza in Greece! I had to leave at around noon on Sunday and as such we didn’t have too many options on how to spend the morning, so we decided to visit Regensberg, a small municipality close to where we were staying.
The area around the tower had a very medieval feeling. While it was not my cup of tea, climbing the tower was very rewarding with vistas of the plains and hills of the Zurich canton in all their glory. It manages to convey a sense of peace that I have only felt in idyllic seas in Greece – when they are not full of people!
I really liked what I saw and experienced! Though I know that I am approaching it as a tourist, Zurich seems to me as a place where I could live (even though some friends of mine would be quick to comment that there is more strictness in your daily life and social obligations) and that is something I am definitely considering for the future.
I do highly recommend a visit!