Living and working in and around emerging technology offers a constant diet of new things to look at and get to grips with. The IT world is often one of upgrades and replacing software, operating systems and applications coupled with ever evolving hardware to go with it. This tech is better than that tech so, dump the old, bring in the new, is a typical mentality for the industry. A rip and replace is usually a nice and easy thing to do. There are some tech powered things though that despite their age still have great value. One such arm is with video games where retro gaming is a significant pastime for many gamers. Genres get blurred very quickly in gaming as there are the original arcade games from the 1970s, there are modern remakes of some of the classics and then there are completely new games sometimes done in the style of the old classics. The internet is full of ROMs and emulation software to hack around with and get some of the older games to work but the originators of some of these experiences are, quite rightly, keen to get in on the act.
Capcom makes the Switch
Nintendo’s handheld Switch games console is already notable for having an extensive back catalogue of original home console games from the days of the cartridge on NES and SNES. It is quite easy to go back through the history of Mario over his past 30 years, amongst many other experiences. The Switch has recently seen the arrival of Capcom’s Arcade Stadium too which is a well packaged original arcade machine emulator. This collection of games offers the option to play the games as if stood in front of an arcade cabinet, at the sort of angle you see the games in the wild, rather than just filling the screen with a perfect flat image. It’s a nice touch and seeing all the cabinets next door to one another is very nostalgic too. Initially it comes for free with the top-down scrolling shooter 1943 – The Battle of Midway. All the other games sat in the arcade are paid for downloads. I just bought the combiner bundle of year groups to get at them all as most of them I remembered fondly and the others I thought I should catch up on, this rolled in Ghosts and Goblins as a perk. I have lost track of how many times I have versions of Street Fighter, including the retro package previous released to celebrate that game, but there are many more that have not seen the light of day. One of my all-time favourites was Commando and it still has something about it. There are many more like Final Fight, Bionic Commando, Vulgus and Strider. Another interesting twist is being able to tweak the games, alter speeds, save games, apply scores to a global score chart. You choose how authentic you want it to be, these games are after all usually very very difficult!
Atari a name we have not heard in a very long time
Another great name of the video game industry is that of Atari. For me they represent some of my earliest gaming memories. Seeing Pong (Atari’s first game) played as the final challenge on Friday nights kids show Crackerjack in the mid 70’s was probably the beginning of my video game journey, though growing up in a seaside town there were lots of gaming experiences, often electro-mechanical initially. A 12-year-old me playing the original 1979 Atari Asteroids, a vector graphics based rendering, in the corner of a Pub at the windswept end of Great Yarmouth beach having spent the morning sea fishing with my dad and his work mates in a competition, with results you could take home and eat, is a solid moment in time. I also remember not having to wait for anyone to get off the machine, just me and my 10p pieces generating that booming Jaws like background sound with an increasing pace. To be able to get arcade games at home was very much on the list of things to do. Eventually a few years later the Atari VCS, or 2600 arrived. It was a home game cartridge system, with a wood panel look to it, very much of the time, which had some great games on it. The games on here were often attempts to recreate the arcade games, but a sprite-based approach and limited processing power meant they were not as good. However, original games like Combat and Outlaw made for awesome 2 player fun with family and friends.
The console also came with an iconic joystick that signifies gaming at that time. Here in 2021 I just took delivery of my new Atari VCS, a reboot for the brand with some interesting tweaks. I had backed this on one of the crowdfunding sites years ago. It is not going to be able to compete with the main consoles and it is an oddity in the market. It comes loaded with nearly every original Atari VCS home cartridge and also a suite of arcade accurate cabinet based games including the aforementioned Asteroids. Other games of note are Missile Command, Tempest and Lunar Lander. It looks similar to the original VCS, though modern of course. It is now a Wi-Fi internet connected device with an app store to sell new games written for the machine. Mine came with a modern controller, just like an Xbox one and a retro controller. This was the biggest surprise in that this looks very much like the original, minus the pleated rubber part, however it has a few more buttons and the stick shaft itself also is a dial and can be turned. This means when playing Pong you can use a more analogue turning motion as in the original (pre 8-way stick). It is also really good in Lunar Lander as a throttle, not quite on the epic nature of the giant handle the arcade cabinet had but it certainly works! What was great fun though was sparking up Combat and playing tanks and dogfight with my 14 year old son, who has been brought up as a gamer and this still stood the test of time. I am not sure what other games will appear or if something unique will come to this console, it is an expensive thing to bother with if you are not steeped in the tradition or as interested in retro games, but it is fun.
To be able to experience these retro games in a simple no fuss way is great, there are plenty of PC emulators like MAME for those who want to tinker setting and hunt through the archives. There are emulators for almost every platform, C64, Spectrum and so on. Major games consoles like Xbox and Playstation have embraced backwards compatibility too. The arcade games of the past are small, light and stand alone. What is a pity is that online games, especially MMO’s may not be able to be re-experienced in this nostalgic way as they thrive on having a large user base on a server. Once they have run their course, gone out of fashion, they tend to disappear. Game streaming and web video may help preserve some of it but there will be a big gap in gaming history in the next 30 years. There are efforts to keep servers going and archive these important facets of society. I am lucky that my formative years and fond memories are easy to bring into the modern day and share again.