When I appreciate ‘the moment’, happiness follows. Happiness is often in the little things, and year 2018 has offered me a bunch of them. Sincerely thankful and grateful for all the little things I have been given this year… Now is the time to cherish the ‘moments of joy’ by sharing a few snapshots, in no particular order.
Unreal Fest Europe 2018
A three day event designed exclusively for game creators using Unreal Engine, with speakers drawn from Epic, platform owners and some of the leading development studios in Europe took place in Berlin, April 24-27. Such a great opportunity for meeting old friends, and making new ones. – Thank you Epic!
It is no secret that Nintendo is using Unreal Engine 4 for their current and upcoming line of Switch games. As an Unreal Engine developer, I had the privilege of visiting Nintendo European Research & Development (NERD) in Paris for a 1-on-1 meeting. Due to usual Nintendo regulations, I’m not allowed to share any kind of information about the top-notch engineering stuff that I had witnessed, but that can’t prevent me from telling you how much I was impressed. All I can say is “WOW!” 😉
I have great admiration and respect for Japanese business culture, which is genuinely represented in Paris. Thank you very much for your kind hospitality!
IndieCade Europe 2018
IndieCade continues to support the development of independent games by organizing a series of international events to promote the future of indie games. This year, we had the 3rd installment of European organization, and it is getting better and bigger each year. I love the indie spirit. No matter how experienced you are, we always have new things to learn from each other.
From my perspective, the most iconic moment of the event was meeting and chatting with Japanese game developer Hidetaka Suehiro (aka “Swery65”), the designer of The Last Blade (1997) and The Last Blade 2 (1998). Both games were released by SNK for Neo Geo MVS – my all time favourite 2D console.
So, guess what we talked about… Fighting games? No… Neo Geo? No… Game design? No… Believe it or not, our main topic was “best hookah (water pipe) cafés in Istanbul”. I’m simply amazed to discover that he knows Istanbul better than me. Swery65 is full of surprises!
mini-RAAT Meetings @ MakerEvi
Try to imagine an unscheduled last-minute “members only” meeting, hosting crème de la crème IT professionals ranging from ex-Microsoft engineers to gifted video game artists, acclaimed musicians, network specialists, and many other out of this world talents, in addition to a bunch of academicians with hell of titles and degrees! So, what on earth is the common denominator that brings these gentlemen together, at least once or twice a year? Retrocomputing, for sure… Bundled with fun, laughter and joy! 🙂
Special thanks to our host, MakerEvi – a professional ‘Maker Movement Lab’ dedicated to contemporary DIY culture, fueled by the artisan spirit and kind hospitality of The Gürevins. An exceptional blend of local perspective and global presence.
This year, my dear daughter has graduated from Collège Sainte Pulchérie YN2000 with DELF B1 level French diploma, a compulsory certificate to follow studies in the French higher education system. Being a hardworking student, she has passed national high school entrance exam, and is currently attending Lycée Français Saint-Michel. – “I am proud of you… Bonne chance, ma chérie!”
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.”
– Richard Bach
Family is a ‘sanctuary’ for the individual. If we are blessed enough to have a loving, happy, and peaceful family, we should be grateful every day for it. It is where we learn to feel the value of being part of something greater than ourselves. Love is a powerful thing; we just have to be open to it.
Life is a Celebration
For all the moments I have enjoyed and to all my dear friends & members of my family who made those meaningful moments possible, I would like to propose a toast. Would you like to join me for a glass of absinthe, so that we keep on chasing our ‘green fairies’ together and forever? 😉
On the 30th of October at 08:15, the courtyard of Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM) was softly lit by a heart-warming morning sun, occluded by grey Parisien clouds. Just like a cool Morrissey tune; no rain, no cold, no rush. Pure tranquility… At the womb of Art and Science, I somehow felt at home.
As I was wandering around the registration tent and looking at the statues of worldwide known scientists, I bumped into an elderly British gentleman, who was also wandering around alone. We looked at each other for a moment. With a gentle smile, I said “Good morning Mr. Livingstone. Such a great pleasure meeting you, again, Sir!”. As I reminded him who I was, we instantly started talking about the good-old days at Core Design (Derby), and the heydays of 8/16-bit video game development in UK for sure. – What a privilege! For a moment, I thought time stood still.
As the chit-chat and laughter started to peak, I have noticed that we were surrounded by a bunch of young game developers, carefully listening to Mr. Ian Livingstone… Well, it’s quite normal. One does not simply bump into ‘a living legend’ everyday!
Sir Ian Livingstone –yes, he has been knighted once or twice!– is one of the founding fathers of the UK games industry. He is the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons RPG franchise, author of Fighting Fantasy RPG books, game designer and board member of Domark, co-founder and chairman of Eidos (the company that acquired Core Design and started the Lara Croft:Tomb Raider franchise), and winner of a BAFTA Special Award! In the Wired 100 list for 2012, he was ranked the 16th most influential person in the UK’s digital economy… Now, you know what I mean by ‘a living legend’.
When he asked what I had been doing nowadays, I replied with a witty smile: “Nothing new. Same video game development thing for the last 32 years, Sir!”. We all laughed. He pointed at me and said “Look, we have a newcomer here!”. We all laughed, again… As he kindly looked into my eyes, I knew he was going to switch to something serious: “You know what, after all those years it’s time to start your own company, Mert!”. I gently bowed, and replied “One day I certainly will. Thank you, Sir! For now, I would like to keep on freelancing as much as I can”. He kindly nodded and smiled, as no one in the video game business knows the meaning of ‘freedom’ better than him. I thanked him again for his kind advice and understanding.
When the conversion was over, I felt like I was blessed by the God of video game business. I was relieved to see everything I have done in 3 decades was approved with a gentle nod. That means a lot to me. Relieved, by all means. – (Now, what would you call that; coincidence or destiny?)
The funny thing is, right after the conversation, I realized how young developers were strangely looking at me while whispering to each other: “Well then, who the hell is this long-haired mortal punk chit-chatting with the almighty Sir Livingstone?!” 🙂
Keynotes and Performances
Featuring two days of talks around creative industries, community support, and tools & technologies, there was something for everyone, from experienced designers and veteran artists to folks just getting started.
For me, the highlights of the meetings were;
“Life is a Game” – Ian Livingstone “How Not To Kill Your Art Director” – Vincent Gault “How Not to Go Bankrupt” – Cliff Harris “The Late Game” – Brie Code
All meetings were held at the authentic Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM) amphitheatres, the largest of which can accomodate an audience of 750. These amphitheatres are still heavily used today, as CNAM offers a doctoral degree-granting higher education establishment and Grande école in engineering, operated by the French government, dedicated to providing education and conducting research for the promotion of science and industry. It is a continuing education school for adults seeking engineering (multidisciplinary scientific program) and business degrees, proposing evening classes in a variety of topics.
Show & Tell Demo Area
It was certainly worth visiting each and every indie game developer at the demo area. Bringing young talents and industry veterans together is a step forward for developing better games. We learn from each other. No matter how experienced you are in the global game development industry, there is (and will always be) more to learn. It is in the nature of video game development business.
On the Way Home…
After 2 days full of playing games, meeting game developers and attending various game related events, it was time to go home – yep, for game development! The thing is, I wasn’t aware of the surprise waiting for me at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Even more games!!! 🙂
In case you wonder, here is the full list of locations you can play Sony PlayStation 4 games -free of charge- at Paris CDG Airport.
Terminal 1: Satellites 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7
Terminal 2: Gates A39, C85, D40 and D66
Terminal 2E: Hall K Gates K36, K43 and K49
Terminal 2E: Hall L Gates L22, L25 and L45
Terminal 2E: Hall M Gates M25 and M45
Terminal 2F: Gates F22 and F46
Terminal 3: International boarding lounge
After 17 years of having a yearning desire to visit the Musée des Arts et Métiers (Paris) once again, I have finally managed to arrange an opportunity for a second encounter. This time, with my family!
If I were to summarize what Musée des Arts et Métiers has always meant to me, it would simply be the fact that it is a Chapel for Arts and Crafts that houses marvels of the Enlightenment. Something more than an ordinary science museum; a temple of science, actually. During my first visit in 1999, I have noticed that the Chapel has sculpted my heart and mind in an irreversible way leading to a more open-minded vision. It has certainly been an initiation ceremony for a tech guy like me!
Founded in 1794 by Henri Grégoire, the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, “a store of new and useful inventions”, is a museum of technological innovation. An extraordinary place where science meets faith. Not a religious faith for sure; a faith in contributing to the betterment of society through Science. Founded by anti-clerical French revolutionaries to celebrate the glory of science, it is no small irony that the museum is partially housed in the former Abbey Church of Saint Martin des Champs.
“… an omnibus beneath the gothic vault of a church!”
The museum is HUGE! Scattered across 3 floors, I assure you that at the end of the day dizziness awaits you, thanks to the mind-blowing 2.400 inventions exhibited. An aeroplane suspended in mid-flight above a monumental staircase, automatons springing to life in a dimly lit theatre, an omnibus beneath the gothic vault of a church, and a Sinclair ZX Spectrum… These are just a few of the sights and surprises that make The Musée des Arts et Métiers one of Paris’ most unforgettable experiences.
A picture is worth a thousand words. So, let’s catch a glimpse of the museum through a bunch of photos that we took…
“You enter and are stunned by a conspiracy in which the sublime universe of heavenly ogives and the chthonian world of gas guzzlers are juxtaposed.” – (Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum, 1988)
Ader Avion III – Steampunk bat plane!
On October 9, 1890 a strange flying machine, christened ‘Avion no.3’, took off for a few dozen meters from a property at Armainvilliers. The success of this trial, witnessed by only a handful of people, won Clément Ader -the machine’s inventor- a grant from the French Ministry of War to pursue his research. Further tests were carried out on the Avion no.3 on October 14, 1897 in windy overcast weather. The aircraft took off intermittently over a distance of 300 meters, then suddenly swerved and crashed. The ministry withdrew its funding and Ader was forced to abandon his aeronautical experiments, despite being the first to understand aviation’s military importance. He eventually donated his machine to the Conservatoire in 1903.
Like his earlier ‘Ader Éole’, Avion no.3 was the result of the engineer’s study of the flight and morphology of chiropteras (bats), and his meticulous choice of materials to lighten its structure (unmanned it weighs only 250 kg) and improve its bearing capacity. Its boiler supplied two 20-horsepower steam engines driving four-bladed propellers that resembled gigantic quill feathers. The pilot was provided with foot pedals to control both the rudder and the rear wheels… – A steam-powered bat plane that really flew!
The Cray-2, designed by American engineer Seymour Cray, was the most powerful computer in the world when it mas first marketed in 1985. A year after the Russian ‘M-13’, it was the second computer to break the gigaflop (a billion operations per second) barrier.
It used the vector processing principle, via which a single instruction prompts a cascade of calculations carried out simultaneously by several processors. Its very compact C-shaped architecture minimized distances between components and increased calculation speed. To dissipate the heat produced by its hundreds of thousands of microchips, the ensemble was bathed in a heat conducting and insulating liquid cooled by water.
The Cray-2 was ideal for major scientific calculation centres, particularly in meteorology and fluid dynamics. It was also notable for being the first supercomputer to run “mainstream” software, thanks to UniCOS, a Unix System V derivative with some BSD features. The one exhibited at the museum was used by the École Polytechnique in Paris from 1985 to 1993.
In 1961, IBM 7101 Central Processing Unit Maintenance Console enabled detection of CPU malfunctions. It provided visual indications for monitoring control lines and following data flow. Switches and keys on the console allowed the operator to simulate automatic operation manually. These operations were simulated at machine speeds or, in most cases, at a single step rate. – In plain English: A hardware debugger!
A salute to the 8-bit warriors!
My first love: a Sinclair ZX81 home computer (second row, far right) with a hefty 1024 bytes of memory and membrane buttons, beside the originalSinclair ZX Spectrum with rubber keyboard, diminutive size and distinctive rainbow motif… I feel like I belong to that showcase! Reserve some space for me boys, will you? 😉
The most interesting items in the retro computer section are the Thomson TO7/70 (third row, far left) and Thomson MO5 (third row, in the middle) microcomputers. Both models were chosen to equip schools as part of the ‘computers for all’ plan implemented by the French government in 1985 to encourage the use of computers in education and support the French computer industry, just like what the British government had done with BBC microcomputers. The Thomson TO7/70 was the flagship model. It had the ‘TO’ (télé-ordinateur) prefix because it could be connected to a television set via SCART plug, so that a dedicated computer monitor was not necessary. It also had a light pen that allowed interaction with software directly on the screen, as well as a built-in cassette player for reading/recording programmes written in BASIC.
From an optical standpoint, the camera obscura is a simple device which requires only a converging lens and a viewing screen at opposite ends of a darkened chamber or box. It is essentially a photographic camera without the light-sensitive film or plate.
The first record of the camera obscura principle goes back to Ancient Greece, when Aristotle noticed how light passing through a small hole into a darkened room produces an image on the wall opposite, during a partial eclipse of the sun. In the 10th Century, the Arabian scholar Ibn al-Haytham used the camera obscura to demonstrate how light travels in straight lines. In the 13th Century, the camera obscura was used by astronomers to view the sun. After the 16th Century, camera obscuras became an invaluable aid to artists who used them to create drawings with perfect perspective and accurate detail. Portable camera obscuras were made for this purpose. Various painters have employed the device, the best-known being Canaletto, whose own camera obscura survives in the Correr Museum in Venice. The English portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds also owned one. And -arguably-, Vermeer was also on the list of owners.
“… an invaluable tool for video game development”
Besides the scientific achievements, camera obscura has a very special meaning to me… In the early 80s, I used to draw illustrations on semi-transparent graph papers, and transfer these images pixel-by-pixel to my Sinclair ZX Spectrum home computer. It was my job. I used to design title/loader screens and various sprites for commercial video games. Drawing illustrations on semi-transparent graph papers was easy. However, as I started copying real photos, I have noticed that scaling from the original image to the output resolution of the graph paper was a tedious process. Before I get completely lost, my dad advised me to use an ancient photography technique, and helped me to build my first camera obscura. It simply worked! In return, my video game development career somehow accelerated thanks to a ‘wooden box’.
(For more details, you can read my article on 8/16-bit video game development era.)
The year was 1600: Giordano Bruno -the link between Copernicus and Galileo– was burned at the stake for heresy when he insisted that the Earth revolved around the Sun. But his theory was soon to become a certainty, and next two-and-a-half centuries were full of excitement for the inquiring mind. On February 3, 1851, Léon Foucault finally proved that our planet is a spinning top!
His demonstration was so beautifully simple and his instrument so modest that it was a fitting tribute to the pioneers of the Renaissance. Even more rudimentary demonstrations had already been attempted, in vain, by throwing heavy objects from a great height, in the hope that the Earth’s rotation would make them land a little to one side. Foucault, having observed that a pendulum’s plane of oscillation is invariable, looked for a way to verify the movement of the Earth in relation to this plane, and to prove it. He attached a bob to the sphere of the pendulum, so that it brushed against a bed of damp sand. He made his first demonstration to his peers, in the Observatory’s Meridian room at the beginning of February, and did it again in March for Prince Bonaparte, under the Pantheon‘s dome. The pendulum he used was 77 meters high, and swung in 16 second periods, thereby demonstrating the movement of the Earth in a single swing.
This experimental system, with the childlike simplicity of its modus operandi, may have been one of the last truly ‘public’ discoveries, before scientific research retreated into closed laboratories, abstruse protocols and jargon. Léon Foucault is said to have given up his medical studies because he couldn’t stand the sight of blood. If he hadn’t done so, no doubt someone else would have proved the rotation of the Earth – but with a far less intriguing device!
In essence, the Foucault Pendulum is a pendulum with a long enough damping rate such that the precession of its plane of oscillations can be observed after typically an hour or more. A whole revolution of the plane of oscillation takes anywhere between a day if it is at the pole, or longer at lower latitudes. At the equator, the plane of oscillation does not rotate at all.
In rotating systems, the two fictitious forces that arise are the Centrifugal and Coriolis forces. The centrifugal cannot be used locally to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth because the ‘vertical’ in every location is defined as the combined gravity and centrifugal forces. Thus, if we wish to demonstrate dynamically that Earth is rotating, we should consider the Coriolis effect. The Coriolis Force responsible for the pendulum’s precession is not a force per se. Instead, it is a fictitious force which arises when we solve physics problems in non-inertial frames of reference, i.e., in coordinate systems which accelerate such that the Law of Inertia (Newton’s first law: F=dp/dt) is not valid anymore.
Understanding the Coriolis effect: The key to the Coriolis effect lies in the Earth’s rotation. The Earth rotates faster at the Equator than it does at the poles. This is because the Earth is wider at the Equator. A point on the Equator has farther to travel in a day. Let’s assume that you’re standing at the Equator and you want to throw a ball to your friend in the middle of North America. If you throw the ball in a straight line, it will appear to land to the right of your friend because he’s moving slower and has not caught up. Now, let’s assume that you’re standing at the North Pole. When you throw the ball to your friend, it will again appear to land to the right of him. But this time, it’s because he’s moving faster than you are and has moved ahead of the ball. This apparent deflection is the Coriolis effect. It is named after Gustave Coriolis, the 19th-century French mathematician who first explained it.
Fringe science: The Allais anomaly!
The rate of rotation of Foucault’s pendulum is pretty constant at any particular location, but during an experiment in 1954, Maurice Allais -an economist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1988- got a surprise. His experiment lasted for 30 days, and one of those days happened to be the day of a total solar eclipse. Instead of rotating at the usual rate, as it did for the other 29 days, his pendulum turned through an angle of 13.5 degrees within the space of just 14 minutes. This was particularly surprising as the experiment was conducted indoors, away from the sunlight, so there should have been no way the eclipse could affect it! But in 1959, when there was another eclipse, Allais saw exactly the same effect. It came to be known as the ‘Allais effect’, or ‘Allais anomaly’.
The debate over the Allais effect still lingers. Some argue that it isn’t a real effect, some argue that it’s a real effect, but is due to external factors such atmospheric changes of temperature, pressure and humidity which can occur during a total eclipse. Others argue that it’s a real effect, and is due to “new physics”. This latter view has become popular among supporters of alternative gravity models. Allais himself claimed that the effect was the result of new physics, though never proposed a clear mechanism.
“… there is no conventional explanation for this.”
Now, here comes the most interesting part… The Pioneer 10 and 11 space-probes, launched by NASA in the early 1970s, are receding from the sun slightly more slowly than they should be. According to a painstakingly detailed study by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the part of NASA responsible for the craft, there is no conventional explanation for this. There may, of course, be no relationship with the Allais effect, but Dr. Chris Duif, a researcher at the Delft University of Technology (Netherlands), points out that the anomalous force felt by both Pioneer probes (which are travelling in opposite directions from the sun) is about the same size as that measured by some gravimeters during solar eclipses. – Creepy!
TGV 001 prototype
One of the most interesting items exhibited at the museum, at least for me, is the TGV high-speed train prototype that was actually used during the wind tunnel aerodynamic tests in the late 60s. Remarkably rare item!
When Japan introduced the Shinkansen bullet train in 1962, France could not stay behind. High-speed trains had to compete with cars and airplanes, and also reduce the distance between Paris and the rest of the country. In 1966 the research department of the French railways SNCF started the C03 project: a plan for trains -à très grande vitesse- on specially constructed new tracks.
TGV 001 was a high-speed railway train built in France. It was the first TGV prototype which was commissioned in 1969, and developed in the 1970s by GEC-Alsthom and SNCF. Originally, the TGV trains were to be powered by gas turbines. The first prototypes were equipped with helicopter engines of high power and relatively low weight, but after the oil crisis electricity was preferred. Even so, parts of the experimental TGV 001 were used in the final train, which was inaugurated in 1981. Many design elements and the distinct orange livery also remained.
The first TGV service was the beginning of an extensive high-speed network built over the next 25 years. In 1989 the LGV Atlantique opened, running from Paris in the direction of Brittany. The new model raised the speed record to 515 km/h. Later on, the TGV Duplex was introduced, a double-decker train with 45% more capacity. In the 1990s the LGV Rhône-Alpes and LGV Nord were constructed, and in the early 21st century the LGV Est and LGV Méditerranée followed. On the latter, Marseille can be reached from Paris in only 3 hours. The TGV-based Thalys links Paris to Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne. The Eurostar to London was also derived from the TGV.
Today, there are a number of TGV derivatives serving across Europe with different names, different colours, and different technology. However, some things never change, such as comfort, luxury, and high speed!
Set in the heart of Paris, the Musée des Arts et Métiers represents a new generation of museums aiming to enrich general knowledge by demonstrating how original objects work in a moving way by reconciling Art and Science. The odd juxtaposition of centuries of monastic simplicity with centuries of technological progress tickles the visitors. Thus, the museum symbolically bridges the illusory divide between technology and spirituality.
What does he see? Is he mistaken? The church has become a warehouse! There where tombs once stood A water basin lies instead; Here, the blades of a turbine rotate, There, a hydraulic press is running; Here, in a high-pressure machine, Steam sings a new song. An homage to electromagnetics Spread widely by the telephone. And electrical lighting Chases away the sacred demi-jour; We then understand that the church Is now a Musée des Métiers; Arts et Métiers, here, are worshipped, Utilitarian minds at least will be satisfied!
August Strindberg, Sleepwalking Nights on Wide-Awake Days – (1883)
During our recent summer holiday in Paris, my beloved wife and daughter decided to take a day off and go out for shopping without me. – What a gift! I felt very privileged to have been given back the opportunity of being a ‘freeman’, despite the fact that it was only for a few hours 😉
Against ticking clock, I decided to feed the never ever growing up child within me, and dedicate the whole day to visiting all official LEGO shops in Paris. – Sounds crazy? Well, if you are a LEGO addict like me, then you know what I mean…
When I googled for LEGO shops, I’ve realized that most of the information available online is either misleading or outdated. After a couple of trial and errors, plus many hours wasted on road, I have managed to visit all 3 official LEGO stores in Paris.
The LEGO Store – Les Halles
The LEGO Store – So Ouest
The LEGO Store – Disneyland
During the metro trip back to hotel, I promised myself to write a clear blog post about all the information that I had gathered, so that it could be useful to other LEGO fans visiting Paris.
So, here we go!
The LEGO Store – Les Halles
This is a brand new 400 m² LEGO store established in April 2016. It is located at the center of Forum des Halles shopping mall.
Directions: Take Metro Line 4 (light purple), and stop at ‘Les Halles’ station. There are more than one exits at this station. No worries! Use whichever you like. Using the stairs and escalators, you will either find yourself in a huge underground shopping mall, or in the middle of a crowded street. In both cases, you are at the heart of the Forum des Halles shopping mall. The LEGO store is at street level (Level 0), on the left-hand side of the main entrance. It is the largest shop on this level. – (Link:Google Maps)
Les Halles LEGO store has a breathtaking showcase. On the left, the store welcomes you with a huge French kitchen set built in LEGO bricks. While looking at the cook, oven, pots, colourful cupcakes, and many other well-thought-out details, it is quite easy to be bewildered while dreaming in front of the showcase. When you walk to the right hand side, you’ll notice two more mega LEGO constructions; The Notre-Dame Cathedral and The Arc de Triomphe. Though both sets demonstrate top-notch brick architecture wizardry, the cathedral construction is a truly remarkable piece of art. The amount of detail –and even humour– that goes into making this set is unreal; tiny goblins and knights walking at the roof speak for themselves 😉
When you go into the store, the first thing you’ll notice is the wall-to-wall layout of shelves. They are clearly categorized with hundreds of boxed LEGO products on them. When you are at the entrance (facing the point of sales), the Duplo products (for babies) are on the left, and the Technic series (for teenagers and adults) are on the right, which is a panoramic categorization from left to right based on age. Simple and effective.
One thing that I really loved is the location of the point of sale. An ellipse shaped desk (with many cash registers on it) is right in the middle of the store! No matter how crowded the shop is, you can always find a shortcut to reach the cashiers.
* This was a real lifesaver during my second visit to this store. I brought my wife and daughter with me on a Saturday afternoon, and the store was so crowded that we couldn’t walk without bumping each other. That day, I really appreciated the wise decision of locating the point of sales in the hotspot of the store.
Last but not least, here comes the jewel in the crown: The staff members. They are simply amazing! Unlike typical salespeople, they are 100% enthusiastic about what they are selling, and specialized in various product categories. These young ladies/gentlemen are always smiling, willing to assist, and very polite.
* And, did I mention that all the French staff members are fluent in English? – Oh, yes!
I have to mention one staff member in particular; Mademoiselle Samantha. For almost half an hour, she patiently answered all my technical questions, visited the storage room (behind the store) a few times, checked the availability of hard-to-find items on my shopping list, made a phone call to one of the other official LEGO stores (So Ouest), reserved the missing items for me, and finally wrote down the directions to make sure that I’ll find my way to that shop safe and secure… Thank you very much, indeed!
The LEGO Store – So Ouest
This is a 300 m² LEGO store established in October 2012. It is located at So Ouest shopping mall in Levallois-Perret, a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris. Unlike the previous LEGO store, this one is not at the center of Paris. However, if you follow my directions below, it will take approximately half an hour to get there. It’s not really far away…
So, is this store really worth visiting? Absolutely! This is a fantastic LEGO store in every way. Make sure that it is on your list.
Directions: Take Metro Line 14 (dark purple), and stop at ‘Saint Lazare’ station. Following ‘Île-de-France’ (Parisian region) directions and ‘SNCF Transilien’ (suburban train) icons on the signs, walk to the ‘Gare Saint Lazare’ railway station. Don’t worry, it will take 3-4 minutes to get there. Once you are at the main railway station, go up to the 2nd floor and find the ‘Île-de-France’ ticket office. Buy a ticket for line L. (Since this is a suburban line, there will be no seat numbers on your ticket). Go to the main hall, and check for the next train from the split-flap departure display. Your destination is ‘Clichy-Levallois’ – (line L, remember?). After leaving ‘Gare Saint Lazare’, it is the 2nd station on this line. It will take approximately 10 minutes to get there. When you stop at the ‘Gare de Clichy-Levallois’ station, follow the ‘Centrum’ signs. You will find yourself at the entrance of the train station. Now, your destination is So Ouest shopping mall! In order to get there, follow the ‘Rue Jean-Jaurès’ way for a minute, turn left to ‘Rue Victor Hugo’, walk for 3 minutes, and finally turn right to ‘Rue d’Alsace’. You’ll notice a huge shopping mall at the right-hand side of the street. That is So Ouest. Go in there, take the escalator down to B1, and Voilà! – (Link:Google Maps)
Compared to previous one, So Ouest LEGO store has a less-than-moderate showcase. No mega constructions to speak of, actually. However, the warm demonstration of recently introduced LEGO sets at the showcase instantly grabs your attention, and humbly welcomes you inside… A classy way of making you feel “Let’s see what they have here!” 😉
Contrary to the humble first impression of the store, the product range is simply premium. Don’t let the size and modest atmosphere of the shop fool you; they have everything here for you. All products are sorted by themes. Even on your first visit to this store, it is very easy to find what you are looking for. Everything is self-explanatory.
The staff members are superb! They are very polite, always ready to assist you, and willing to speak about the products that you are interested in. Somehow, you feel that you are being taken care of, and it makes you feel comfortable. From a customer point of view, this is something truly beyond the dated customer relationship lessons taught in business schools. It’s really nice to know that someone is keeping an eye on you.
Speaking of the staff members, please allow me to share my amazing experience with you… As I was gazing at the recently released Porsche 911 GT3 RS Technic set, I humbly came closer to one of the staff members, picked up a list from my pocket, and asked him if any of the hard-to-find items on my list was available, by any chance. The gentleman cheerfully looked at me, and said: “Oh, you must be the guy from Turkey! We were expecting you… Mademoiselle Samantha (from Les Halles store) phoned an hour ago, and told me about the items you are looking for. Your orders are ready, Sir!”
After the initial shock, I stuttered: “Well… Thank you!”
Thanks to Monsieur Damien, every item on my list was already collected from the inventory room, and packed. Besides being a very professional staff member, he was also a nice gentleman to talk with. His English was better than mine. For almost half an hour, we geeked out over the discontinued products, second hand LEGO market in France, and latest additions to my daughter’s LEGO train set collection. – A truly exceptional experience. Merci!
The LEGO Store – Disneyland
This is a huge LEGO store established in 2014. The name speaks for itself, the store is in the heart of Disneyland, Paris. Believe it or not, this is the most crowded LEGO shop I’ve ever visited in my life. Thanks to Disneyland’s reputation, this must be one of the most popular LEGO shops in Europe.
Directions: Take RER Line A (red), and stop at the last station, ‘Marne-la-Vallée’. This station is also known as ‘Parcs Disneyland’. (Both names are used on signs, in addition to a cute Mickey Mouse symbol.) When you leave the train, use the escalators, and go upstairs. If you have your train ticket with you, pass through the turnstiles. (If you don’t have any tickets, you are stuck! No ticket offices available around. You must find the ticket collector, and ask for help.) Leave the station, go out, and make a U-turn to left. Your destination is ‘The Village’ -aka ‘Disney Village’- a small virtual town where you can shop & dine. You don’t need a Disneyland ticket to get there. It’s free, and the LEGO Store is ahead of you. – (Link:Google Maps)
When you look from the outside, this store looks like an ordinary LEGO shop. The showcase is quite good, with a huge LEGO logo and a few 2.5D canvas paintings built in bricks. At first sight, it looks like there is nothing special in here…
However, when go in there, you realize how big the store is and immediately forget about the lacking showcase. The mega LEGO structures simply knock your socks off. They are everywhere! Pete’s Dragon hanging from the ceiling, an authentic life-size reproduction of R2-D2, a magnificent The Sorcerer’s Apprentice visual composition from “Fantasia” with Mickey wearing the blue wizard hat… These are spectacular items. Frankly, even better than the ones at ‘Les Halles’ store!
The product range is superb, just like the other stores I have mentioned. However, stock availability is a serious problem here. I was unable to find quite a number of products which were available in the other LEGO stores, such as pencil box, eraser, pen set, a bunch of recently released Technic sets, and almost all Power Functions products! When I asked the reason for missing items, staff members complained about ‘customer circulation vs lack of space’. I am not quite sure if this is an acceptable excuse.
Speaking of the staff members at LEGO Disneyland store, I have to say that they are simply the weakest link here. They are not smiling, not enjoying what they do, and keep themselves away from the customers. Somehow, they chat with each other by the exit. Nobody cares about you. Yep, I know that it is very difficult to manage such a huge store with such a large number of customers in it, but what I’m complaining about is more than that. When you ask a few questions, all you get is nothing more than “Yes”, “No”, or “I don’t know”. Being aware of the fact that Disneyland is a place most people visit once (and never come back again at least for a few years), I don’t think that you are welcomed as ‘loyal customers’ here. If these staff members think that people come and go, and more will come tomorrow no matter how they treat customers, I’m afraid that is a serious threat to LEGO’s reputation. As a lifetime loyal LEGO fan, I’m truly disappointed.
I love Paris! This was my second visit to the romantic city, and I’m planning to do it again and again, more frequently. For my next visit, I have 2 official LEGO stores on my list that I would love to revisit; ‘Les Halles’ and ‘So Ouest’. Great shopping experience in both cases. Strongly recommended.
May the force LEGO bricks be with you! 😉
The Blog of Mert Börü: Selected Works, Ongoing Projects, and Memories