From Alpha To Omega

[Quintin Smith is Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s roving reporter. He’s famously easy to talk into fun stuff. Once I talked him into hitting on girls at a hyper-elitist indie-rock festival in the style of Oblivion’s conversation sequences, heavily cribbing from Consolevania‘s review of Bethesda’s game. And he got worryingly far. He’s easy to talk into fun stuff because he believes in fun stuff. Hence he’s the ideal man to send to investigate the enormous house of gaming fun that is Birmingham’s Omega Sektor. Or so it says here, anyway. Take it away, Mr Smith…]

Some Games PCs, yesterday.

And now for a bit of investigative journalism. Come with me as I take you on a journey through the world of the truth. Be warned, for the path we’ll walk is paved with jagged, cutting interviews and broken hearts. If at any point you find yourself overwhelmed with emotion, I think it was Machiavelli who once said that ‘you can cry, ain’t no shame in it.’ But you should always remember that I never cried during the making of this piece. Not once. Because I am a grizzled journalist.

Let’s begin.

Here in the UK there’s been some chatter about the recently opened Omega Sektor in Birmingham, or to use it’s full, nauseating name, Omega Sektor: The Play Place. The Omega Sektor in Birmingham is planned to be the first of many and is advertised as a kind of gamer’s Mecca. The website offers hundreds of super-advanced PCs as well as games consoles, sponsorship from major game publishers, special events and tournaments, ‘guest appearances’, a chillout lounge, a VIP room, and above all- acceptance.

Everything I read about Omega Sektor made it seem an electronic milk and honey wonderland, where young and old gamers of all walks of life can come together and hold hands before blowing each other’s virtual kneecaps off. To quote from the site, “When gran challenges the twins to a game, you know you’re having a good day out.” But it all sounded bogus to me. I’m pretty sure when gran challenges anybody to anything all you know is that it’s time to help look for her medication.

All this chatter made me curious and the whole project clearly had massive financial backing, so I decided to travel up to Birmingham in the name of providing a thorough report on Omega Sektor for Rock Paper Shotgun. I also decided to pack a lunch and make a day of it, but then I remembered how horrible it is when companies try and make gaming cool and I got hit by a wave of apathy that led to my packed lunch being a bagel and a bottle of Famous Grouse.

And so it was I traveled from London-

London, yesterday.

To Birmingham.

Birmingham, yesterday

It turns out Omega Sektor is to be found, I shit you not, on Corporation Street, just off Needless Alley and a short walk from New Street Station. And then just when I thought it couldn’t get any blander I saw the SEKTOR itself.

Kieron really did buy bondage trousers here.

A blast of chilling air swept past as I stood in front of that building. I pulled my t-shirt tighter around myself and decided to that this was a place of terrible power. As it turns out I was right, because Kieron later told me that in the days before Omega Sektor he’d bought his first ever pair of Bondage trousers here. That’s some Indian burial ground type shit.

But there was no turning back now. Scared as I was, I felt the domineering tug of curiosity in my loins. Could this really be the first true refuge for gamers? The public had a right to know. And so, with more than a shade of Frank West (of Dead Rising fame) about me, I stormed into the building with camera in hand.

Some PCs

In my head I was expecting a scene from a Western. I imagined walking in, tucking my thumbs into my belt and watching all the regulars stop what they’re doing to weigh me up. What actually happened was I found myself alone with a single fat dude playing Kingdom of Loathing. It was a pretty bad sign. I mean, who comes to a place which has a business model of high-end computers and community spirit to play a browser game? I figured maybe he’d gotten lost on the way to Baguette World. Still, not one to be discouraged I headed upstairs to the ‘adult’ sector. This was where Omega Sektor’s three major games publisher sponsors had some pull- I guessed there might be demo pods, information on their games, maybe even access to the beta builds of stuff that was in development. I was pretty excited as I went up those stairs, let me tell you.

Some PCs

This is the Activision area. You can tell this is the Activision area because it says ‘Activision’. You can also tell because there are some bricks, and Activision are a big fan of bricks in games. Beyond this, the area was identical to downstairs. Moving on, I found the THQ area.

Some PCs

This is the THQ area. You can tell this is the THQ area because it says ‘THQ’. You can also tell because there are some toxic barrels, and toxic barrels are often radioactive, and THQ made a game once where radioactivity was pretty important.

Some PCs

Next up I found OS Lounge. This was my favourite room in Omega Sektor. It was because it was cavernous and completely empty and didn’t disappoint me in any way. I also liked the bean bags, because they sat there like a herd of lethargic, pudgy brown creatures.

I dropped down onto one of the creatures and did some thinking. This place wasn’t so bad. The computers were mighty beasts, with huge libraries of installed games and cost they less than £3 an hour to use. The toilets were clean and funky. There were vending machines everywhere from which you could buy a thing. Still, there was no pretending this was the community centre it claimed to be. It was trying hard enough – the staff were friendly and there was a Warcraft 3 tournament going on, but the building was far too big. The 25 or so customers present would have fitted far more comfortably into a smaller space and maybe even given it a nice atmosphere, but instead this cavernous interior let everyone retreat into their own private corner.

The weird thing was it was all very similar to when games themselves try and recreate social areas, like clubs and bars. It was a huge space, it had a strong stylistic theme, it had far too few people, the same objects were used over and over and there was too little to interact with. Problem is, Omega Sektor isn’t somewhere you just pass through on your journey to save the world or find some more angry guys to shoot. You’re just one of its NPCs.

Still, I hadn’t seen everything the Omega Sektor had up its sleeve just yet. I hoisted myself up and went in search of the super-exclusive VIP area.

Some PCs

…which turned out to be the same as everywhere else but with an obnoxious Call of Duty trailer on repeat.

Next stop: The Konsole Sektor!

Some PCs

Okay, I swear to God this room is a fucking philosophical enigma. There is no explaining how it came into existence. For it to be created someone would have to design it or lay it out, and there is just absolutely no way there exists a man or woman incapable enough. Please, let me guide you through this wondrous place.

The monitors on the left are all connected to a 360, which is in a steel cage. Each 360 has a game in, but there’s no way of telling what you’re going to get until you turn on the 360. Each 360 also has two controllers but one pair of headphones. But it’s the chairs that steal the show. You see the chairs on the left? They’re up against the wall. There is literally no way of you getting past someone sitting on one of those chairs unless you climb over them. And yet the monitors on the right, which have ample space, are all hooked up to regular PCs. You might have seen those before on your way to this room, because the building contains around FIVE HUNDRED OTHERS.

The only answer is that the Konsole Sektion of Omega Sektor in Birmingham was not created but has always existed. It’s my belief that Omega Sektor is actually a front, built around this room to try and make it seem perfectly ordinary.

Some PCs

This is the internet café. You know, in case you needed a PC.

Some PCs and Quinns

In summary, don’t believe the hype. The community spirit the management of Omega Sektor is trying to foster just isn’t there yet, and there’s little of interest to enjoy except many, many PCs. Do, however, believe that this manages to be a fine LAN café. Muster up some friends to go with and you’ll have fun. And hey, you’ll even be doing your bit to contribute to that dream of a gamer’s haven. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one of those in every city?

22 Comments

  1. faceometer says:

    Absolutely awesome. As a brummie (and patron of baguette world?) let me tell you that that building used to be the local Virgin Megastore – which has now moved down the road to a building with windows and other hip stuff like that. Kieron’s trousers presumably come from OASIS, which used to be next door to both Virgin and GAMES WORKSHOP, and the whole thing is over Computer Exchange, a nice little second-hand games shop which is still there! So it’s Nerdtopia really.

    I was sceptical about OS from the moment I saw the press, but I entertained hopes and fancies… I’m sad to hear it’s as I feared. Still, who knows, maybe it will “take off” sometime soon? Birmingham is forever young!

  2. Feet says:

    Might be worth a visit if there’s a big group of people with you. Bring your own community along with you, kinda thing. I figure its a good place for internet forum meet-ups and the like.

  3. Babs says:

    Nice to see them ripping the piss out of console gamers though. Lets see you play Halo now biatch!

  4. Carey says:

    Oooh he’s good isn’t he? Let’s kill him.

  5. Monkfish says:

    Reminds me of The Playing Fields *gets misty eyed*

    Now, that place was popular, but still sadly toppled into the void in 2002.

    With this in mind, I’m intrigued that Omega Sektor (Sektor – are they Swedish or something?) have gone for it in such a grandiose manner. Makes me wonder if the owners are gamers themselves (can’t find any backstory to the place on their website). Looks a little “corporate”, but perhaps the money side of things will work out better with that mindset.

  6. Masked Dave says:

    “Might be worth a visit if there’s a big group of people with you. Bring your own community along with you, kinda thing. I figure its a good place for internet forum meet-ups and the like.”

    Yes! The next Tales meet is in Brum!

  7. Bob Arctor says:

    Is it? The next Prey’s World meet is in Brum too. But we’ll probably avoid that place. Looks like Second Life in real life.

  8. Janek says:

    Yeah I’m not sure why anyone would pay an hourly fee to play games with people you know from the internet and/or random morons, when you could stay at home and do the same for free.

    And Dave, it really isn’t. Can I have some of the drugs you’re eating? Thanks!

    (Also: Good to see Quinns getting in on the RPS action. Hi Quinns!)

  9. Monkfish says:

    Well, I’ve dug around for more background and found that the place is the brainchild of Sujoy Roy and Dominic Mulroy. So that answers the “are the owners gamers?” question – although with the amount of sponsorship involved, they’re not exactly owners as such.

    It is good to see that it is people with a genuine passion for multiplayer gaming driving this forward, but strange that they get no mention anywhere on their website. Perhaps Grant, 26, Phenomenon can tell us why this is…

  10. Will P says:

    Hang on a minute. Is this where they used to have The Oasis? (Or potentially something else beginning with ‘O’ – the onion?)

    Only that place used to kick arse, and this place clearly doesn’t.

    BAD THING.

  11. Jim Rossignol says:

    Since these gaming centres always seem to miss the mark, I wonder what a good gaming centre would look like. Probably like a Korean baang, which tend to lean on the ‘cafe’ part of LAN Cafe a bit more heavily. They’re just more relaxed about things too – Omega Sektor seems ludicrously pretentious, and I don’t think you need that. The Korean cafes have plenty of other stuff going on – fliers for bands, etc.

    Has anyone ever installed some PS2s with Pro Evo or GTA in a normal UK pub?

  12. Jim Rossignol says:

    Also, it’s funny that Quinns is actually the least grizzled journalist, ever.

  13. Quinns says:

    Tell you what, it’d be pretty awesome if it would stop hurting every time I read a negative comment about my work on the internet.

  14. Jim Rossignol says:

    Aww. *Pokes Quinns in the eye*.

  15. Feet says:

    A few years ago there was a pub in Sheffield with PS2 and big screen combo. Was excellent fun (funnily enough that was for a forum meet too, a PCGF one). It was called something which we all found hilarious in a juvenile way, possibly involving the gays. Yes.

  16. Carey says:

    Quinns? Quinns? He’s always been Big Q to me…

    In response to the ‘GTA in a pub’ thing there’s a pub in Liverpool called the Caledonian that I used to frequent as a hairy student. It had good cheap food, two-for-one on all cocktails (where I got my taste for white russians NOT FROM LEBOWSKI), one entire wall floor to ceiling with washing machines and tumble driers and four FREE TO USE PCs with Counterstrike on them. Ok no consoles but still clearly the best pub ever.

  17. Quinns says:

    Haha. Yes! Big Q. Mr. Carey you will always be my favourite.

  18. Flash (OS Staff) says:

    Hi my name is Flash and I work at Omega Sektor Birmingham.
    To let anyone who reads this know the center is now thriving especially at the weekends. We have run several of our own events as well as hosting events for CGS and Kode5.
    The Xbox room has now changed and patrons can choose from a wide variety of up to date games. Justin Timberlake and the C.O.D 3 adverts have been removed without mercy and films are now regularly playing. We also have all night sessions every Saturday night.
    We are currently running an offer for unlimited game play. The offer is 20 pounds for 30 days unlimited game play. this is a total bargain and way under a pound a day as much gaming as you can manage.

    Hope to see people in soon

  19. Kieron Gillen says:

    Hi Flash – Oddly, I was just thinking about Omega Sektor, as I was reading about the Defcon/Multiwinia event. Pleased to hear it’s going well.

    KG

  20. drunkymonkey says:

    @Flash: That does sound very good, and it’s good that you’ve sorted the inane problems out that you apparently had. And that 20 for 30 days is very good – in fact it’s brilliant. My local LAN gaming centre charges 10 quid for a day. That’s scandalous next to that.

    Unfortunately I don’t live near Birmingham so don’t expect a visit from drunky “the hammer” monkey any time soon.

  21. po says:

    I just realised, I read most of the article in a scottish accent.

  22. ben says:

    omega sektor is now officially closed this is a nightmare