It’s not often that I see a decent retro gaming event here in my home town, but on the rare occasions that it does happen, you can be certain that I’ll try to attend come hell or high water. The 29th and 30th of June saw the Games Britannia host an event at the Sheffield Millennium Galleries.
I have to confess, it isn’t the first place I would think of holding a retro computer show, as the venue is better known for its art display. To the credit of the organizers, it worked well, albeit with one small drawback. I thought the layout was a little too widely spread, the two key areas of the event being located at either end of building. If you have problems walking, this might have caused a problem getting around to see everything.
The main function room held a selection of tables, offering everything from electronic kits, books and novelty items. Venturing further in to the room, I found several tables displaying computers and consoles from the 80s and 90s: Spectrum +3, Amiga CD32, Sega Dreamcast to name but a few. It was disappointing not to see such gaming classics such as Pong on show, but given the age of hardware, it is understandable why collectors would be reluctant to let 100 strangers play around with a 30 year old console from their collection. It was surprising to see the original Xbox amongst the consoles on display. Released in 2001, I still find it hard to consider this console retro, even though so many other gamers seem to do so.
The encounter was slightly painful, given the recent death of my own beloved Xbox and my failure to rescue it from the jaws of oblivion. However, this didn’t stop me from enjoying a game of Outrun. Having only ever played this game on Commodore 64 and at the arcade in the 80’s & 90’s, I had never played the XBox version of this classic. After 10 minutes, I was sold. This is a game that needs, nay, demands to be in my games collection. Not only did it still feel like the original, but also retained some of the arcade feel. As I carried on around the room, I noticed another line of tables set up with familiar consoles such as the SNES, Sega Master system and Atari Jaguar. I discovered this was part of the 2014 Classic Gaming Championships, hosted by Replay Events.
Entry was free, contestants pit their skills against other gamers, playing games such as Super Smash TV, Tetris, Paperboy, California games and Tempest 2000. Not one to turn down a challenge or the opportunity to play computer games, I entered myself in to the tournament. I knew my Achilles heel would prove to be Tetris and Paperboy, two games I have never been able to master. Each player was assigned an observer, who made sure no cheating or bug exploitation took place. My observer was probably around the same age as the SNES I was playing on, so it came to no surprise when he revealed little to no previous knowledge of the consoles I was playing on. In fact my score might very well have been better, were it not for the fact we discussed gaming throughout my turn. Mostly he asked me questions, while I tried to give answers as I played. What was the most popular game on the Mega Drive?
Questions like that have been known to start brawls, everyone has a favourite, some might say Sonic, Streets of Rage or Street Fighter II. He seemed surprised to discover Street Fighter had been released first on the Mega Drive and SNES, having believed it was a recent game, released for the PSone and then the PS3 Network. It’s things like this that makes me grateful for Replay putting on events. Educating the average gamer about the history of games and consoles.
By the time I had finished, my score for Paperboy, Tetris and California games really had me wondering if I’d even be on the scoreboard. So you can imagine my surprise to see my name up in third place overall. My score on Tempest 2000 (103616) certainly attributed to this placement. Having only ever played the arcade version, I found the remake for the Atari Jaguar to be a real solid offering. Even the infamous Jaguar controllers did not seem to hamper by game play. By the end of the day, my position had slipped to 12th place overall, but am I sad? No not really, I had great time, playing games and hopefully enlightening another mind to the fun that can still be had with retro games.
On a Walkabout
While on my way to check out the Pimoroni table, I stopped by Appytimes, who were showing off their latest title “Zombie Piranha”. The demo on show was specially made for the Games Britannia event in Sheffield. Speaking to their representative, I discovered the games had been heavily influenced by 16bit games from the 90s. Anyone who plays “Zombie Piranha” will see this almost from the beginning, as there are hints from several different games peeking out. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with James Pond and Ecco the Dolphin. The controls are simple, the difficulty is not too steep. All around well worth installing on your phone or tablet if your wanting a quick gaming session while waiting for the bus. At the time of writing, “Zombie Piranha” is still available for free download via Google Playstore.
By far the most interesting table at the event was that of Pimoroni, the Sheffield based company had come to the event with a bang. Showing off not just one but five working Picade units. Anyone who has been following my blog will know I have reviewed boards in the past in preparation for the up coming release of this awesome DIY arcade kit. Running PiMaMe, the model B RPi performs surprisingly well. In the time since I looked in to running Mame on the RPi, things have most certainly progressed. The Pi has gone from performance underdog to solid contender. So much that I plan to load PiMaMe on the BMV RPi to see what games will run and wont run.
Comprising of laser cut, powder coated MDF, customizable decals, original arcade hardware joystick & buttons, LCD screen and custom Arduino Leonardo. The Picade is the must have kit for anyone who has ever felt the urge to build their own arcade cabinet or put their Raspberry Pi to good use. However the Picade is not designed solely for the Raspberry Pi. Indeed, one only needs to look at the rear of the unit to find mounting holes for Odroid and mini ITX motherboards. Having only recently finished shipping units to their kickstarter backers, Pimoroni are now aiming their sights on selling the Picade commercially. Prices are still to be announced, but estimates place it around the £200 price range. Given everything that comes in the kit, BMV feels really buzzed about the future of the Picade.
Completed, the cabinets looks like baby versions of their full size cousins, right down to the clicky sound of the joystick and buttons. Forget using a USB joypad to play Pac-Man, the Picade offers a tactile arcade experience straight from the comfort of your living room. Designed with swappable graphics and mounting points for different boards. Pimoroni clearly foresee the needs of some customers to customise their units and apply their own unique mark. While I was using one, I also kept thinking what graphics I would use and if I could illuminate the banner above the screen. Seriously you can’t help yourself once you realise the dream of having your own arcade cabinet is less a dream and now more a reality.
Keep on geeking