|MY CRAZY JOURNEY IN RETRO-GAMING|
Retro Gaming today is about as ubiqutous as buying a AAA title FPS for your PC. But I started way, way, way back in the dark ages of the early 1990's when the idea of ANYTHING "digital" being "retro" or "Vintage" was a brand new concept, and lo and behold, it just started to come about right at the same time as the dawn of the internet.
To get where I come from as a so-called "Gamer", you have to relaize I'm a weirdo. I have preferences, experiences, and taste more in-line with a Gen Xer, but I'm a few years into the "Millennial" bracket. I have two older sisters who were around during the days of Atari, and I was born the year of the crash, so being a kid in an (initially) low-income household meant that I got VERY Acquainted with the Atari 2600. You could buy these things for pennies on the dollar at Flea Markets post-crash. Nobody wanted them. Then the NES came out and took off and that pretty much killed off Atari. However, I did not really start getting into video games until I was 7 years old - 1989.
Your typical American kid in 1989 was into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, Ghostbusters, and Nintendo. Here you had the weirdo who was into Monster Trucks and actually understood what a Ford Alan Root Hemi was, could understand the concept of a "5-ton Military Axle", anmd could recite the 4-strokes of a standard combustion engine off the top of my head. I was into those other things, except far lesst han most kids, and Nintendo was too expensive. In 1989, $259 was the average price of a Nintendo setup. Also, being a (shudders) "nerdy" kid, I used to dig around in the instruction manuals in my mom's closet a lot, and one day, while snooping around, I found our old Atari 2600 manuals from when we lived in Illinois. From that point on, I wanted an Atari. So somehow, "Santa" got me one with a shoebox full of games to add to the 35 or so we already had hanging out ina SMith Corona Typewriter box.
My actual "childhood" gaming was very short lived. In the span of 1989-1995 - I went from ATari 2600, to NES, to Game Boy, to SNES - and then back to the Atari 2600 just as the Internet was picking up speed. The Atari and NES were x-mas gifts, the Game Boy and SNES were half-purchased with allowance money on my 9th and 10th birthday's respectively. I kind of noticed by age 12, in 1995, that these things were like "Trends". Basically, kids would harass their parents for one every christmas, then another one would come out, rendering all the old games useless and unpopular, while running up mommy and daddy's widdle credit card! The Atari died, so I did not have it, the Game Boy got stupidly repainted in the typical 10-15 year old boy personalization with ameteur crap, the SNES got pissed to death by our cats by age 14, and the NES died and was replaced...with the following stuff in my journey.
See, for me, it was not nostalgia, it was COST. Back in 1995, you could buy Atari 2600's all day long for $20 a box where you got one or two consoles, at least 2-4 controllers of some variety, and at least 5-10 games. THIS is what I did. But what whet my appetite - the internet?
See, I really got into the internet with my second older system who got a new Pentium 100 running Windows 95 in 1995 for college. Her fiancee showed me the current day internet via Yahoo! search engine, and what's the first thing I put in? I decided to see just how "bad" this internet thing was - I put in "Atari 2600" - and much to my amazement, TONS of content came up, more than I ever expected. First came "2600 Connection" which had some weird, almost auto-enthusiast magazine thing of the time of posting cute girls on their front page (I'm guessing they were all college dudes back then) playing ATari games or whatever - IIRC it was a chick on a treadmill. Being a "young rocker in training" this made the gaming thing a lot cooler. More like Hot August Nights than Hot(Temperature)-Fat-Kid-With-No-life. Next page - some place called "Sidartha's ATari Page" - Could download a port of Adventure for DOS, and even buy games. Then I bumped into a site for Joseph Pelitri - who is the guy I made my first Internet purchase from - a small rainbow 2600 Jr with E.T and Combat - starting all over again.
From there I discovered I did not necessarily need the hardware to play games - if only I had a computer - something 486 powered at least. But alas, I could not afford a computer, a used 486 in 1996 was about $250 at the cheapest, and probably what you got was a bare bones SX-33 with no sound card. So I stuck to the fleas and thrifts, digging around for games, asking for Atari games. But Emulation fueled my want to purchase the actual cartridges. I was a young teenager, all my income was technical "disposable" - as my future, at least at that time, was riding around in a sweaty beat to crap van with some other dudes playing rock gigs and trying to find places to go with groupies after the show - that was the plan. I would walk downtown Opelika, coax mom into going to Phoenix City Flea Market, and would dig and dig the shops and fleas until I found the games I wanted, usually sucking up whateverI could along with it. It was fun, it was dirt cheap,a nd later, good exercise.
Of course, my primary targets at first were Pitfall!, Adventure, and Keystone Capers. But Emulation taught me there was a SECOND Pitfall (The Lost Caverns) - one of my bucket-list titles, and one of the longest ones I waited for. I also got to see the sheer horror of the X rated titles, as well as find out some of those "Bad" titles like Skateboardin' or MotoRodeo were actually quite fun and interesting. This is also where I learned that Activision had the best games, and much of Atari's titles were great too with some exceptions, and that a lot of the really old titles - I called them the "Eyes" titles due to the two "0" at the top of the scoreboard looking like "eyes" to me with the playfield being the "mouth" - were quite fun as well in 2-player mode, except it was usually my hands against my feet. How's that for shitty teen years.
Soon thereafter the Atari stuff, NES Curiosity took over, and I now could sample all those $45 carts I had to rent from Blockbuster or buy before seeing them, for free, on my sister's computer. At that point, game companies, despite being high tech, were not that aware of the internet or emulation. Emulation was in it's infancy. IF you played Atari 2600 - you got Stella, and if you played NES, the best place to go was NESticle. And none of these companies knew or cared if you downloaded their content, at least not yet, because there was no "retro" market yet. These were just "old games" to the masses - junk from their kids, to throw to the garage sale and sell for $0.50 apiece to the poor grungy 8-year old or grubby college student who wants some cheap entertainment. It was nuts, you could edit the shape tables in NESticle, or change your keyboard mappings, or play Breakout with a mouse! MAGIC I TELL YA! MAGIC!
For NES, of course the three major Mario titles in the USA would be my first targets, while picking up some curiosities on the way. This was easy peasy. Soon I found myself buying out collections of games from my friends in Auburn - where my sister's lived during college - to fill the gaps, explore more stuff, and find the good, the bad, and the meh. One friend - William - held out for awhile on selling old console games, but during that time, I started to get my love for RPG's when I borrowed a copy of Dragon Warrior IV from him. For some reason beyond my full understanding, I really wanted to give Dragon WArrior a fair chance. I borrowed the game for the summer of 97', played it every evening after MArching practice, and was enamored that a weedy little NES cart could hold such an epic story, it gave me a new understanding of the machine somehow. So of course, when I went to buy his collection out, I was thinking I'd get Dragon Warrior IV - I never did, it somehow vanished.
By this point, I Was delving into buying multiple consoles, and fixing up prime examples. By then I had four or five 2600 consoles: the Jr., 2 4-switch woodies, a Vader, and a Heavy Sixer. I may even still have the SHELL to that Heavy Sixer in my closet to this day, and it was bloody mint, and my favorite of all the systems they made for that platform.