GamesBritannia REPLAYED @ Magna

When I heard the Magna center in Sheffield was holding ‘Games Britannia: Replayed’ I knew it was going to be something special.  Arriving a little before 3pm on the Saturday, I walked in to the main hall and was instantly at home.

In one corner was a collection of BBC’s micro’s mostly model B’s from what i could make out. I later discover they had been used for a Beeb class room, teaching school children to program. Mix amongst the Beebs a crowd was now gathered, it didn’t take long to discovered why. In the center of the crowd was Eben Upton and his wife Liz speaking about the Raspberry Pi. Both of whom I later found to be very approachable and pleasent.

Pitched as the modern day Beeb, the Raspberry Pi is well worth taking note of. Standing to put you back £25, this all in one computer is powerful enough to surf the net, watch movies, do school work, play games and even use as a tv multimedia center like an AppleTV. If you hadn’t guessed by now, the Pi is a pretty versatile computer. Especially when you take in to consideration its size, 85.60mm x 53.98mm x 17mm. Not much bigger then a mobile phone.

Time for pi

Raspberry Pi, taking the term Pocket computer literally

Being introduced to the Upton’s by a friend of mine, who also happens to be the guy behind the Raspberry Pi logo. I have to confess I did not know until later, who I was being introduced to. Both where warm and happy to chat. It was interesting to hear the various questions people had been asking them about the Pi. Such as “How do I hook it up?”

Questions like these to me, highlight a growing ignorance some people suffer when it comes to technology. Beginning with OSX, Apple computers have become one of the least complicated systems to operate.  The user has to carry out only the most minimal of maintanence. In order to keep the computer running properly. The majority of the work being carried out in the background by the computer.

Could it be that this aim to improve productivity and reduce how hands on the user is with their computers up keep. Has led to a generation of people, who think using a computer is as complicated as operating their DVD player. If we rewind to the beginning of the 80’s. People where buying the newly released Sinclair ZX Spectrum in kit form, as a means to keep costs down. With an instruction manual and soldering iron, they would spend weekends building their newly aquired computers. Today this sort of activity is unheard of, which in my opinion is a pity. Speaking from experience, there’s a lot to be said for building a computer system from scratch.

I can honestly say I have never been surrounded by so many consoles. The sheer number and variety was overwhelming. NES, Snes, Saturn, Dreamcast, VCS, A500, CD32, C64, C128, Spectrum, yes there was A LOT! My first console to try was an old Vectrex, this iconic console still has a strong following even today. Having seen how much these babies sell for online, I was amazed it was simply sitting there in a dark corner, silently inviting passers by to play with its bright vector graphics.
You can read about consoles all you like, but nothing beats sitting in front of that vivid screen and using the antiquated controllers to blast incoming missiles, as the hail down to flatten your cities. The Vectrex was everything I had read it to be and then some. For an old console, I was quite content to let the show pass me by, while I blasted away with my missile defense system.
I was truly in heaven, however don’t be fooled. It was not all seen through roses tinted glasses. Indeed several of the consoles I tried, sported very unique spins on the common joystick. Something we all take for granted, but which took money, time and research to evolve in to what it is today. It strikes me as no surprise that the VCS 2600 was so popular. The single button, 8 axis controller was simple to use and easy to operate. Unlike several controllers I attempted to game with while at the event. I found Donkey Kong on the CBS ColecoVision to be something of a challenge to play at first, compared to the copy I have on my VCS 2600, which is a doddle to play.

Back in the fledgling years of the gaming industry, everyone was scrambling to get their units in to families homes. Be that with addictive software titles, impressive graphics or down to earth cheapness! A strategy which was used by many at the time and still employed today. This battle for a piece of the action, led companies to try all manner of tactics to lure in buyers. One of which was the joystick, incorporating multiple function buttons in to the base, must have seemed like a one up, from the humble Atari joystick. However most of these offerings, sufferers from being chunky or awkward to operate. In the end, the dear old 2600 joystick would out lived them all.

Settling and old score

Back in the mid 80’s my parents picked me up a Texas TI-99 at a jumble sale. It was the first computer I’d ever owned. Sadly it hadn’t come with any software, which eventually led to it being shoved in a closet. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to play on a working example of the TI-99, just to see what I was missing out on. Many a night had I spent messing on my second hand computer with no games, it wasn’t because I was sad or desperate for a computer, only a year later I found myself with a shiny new C64. The TI-99 with its black keyboard and shiny metal case was a thing of wonder to my 8 year old eyes. Opening the door to a whole new exciting world. Playing on my best friends Spectrum +2, I had seen what computers where capable off and I wanted in.

Playing Parsec on the TI-99 was a dream come true and I truly had a blast playing on it. Having read about Parsec in a issue of Retrogamer, I was pleased to find it was everything I had read. The unit I played on was fitted with the add-on voice synthesizer, which comes in to its own when playing Parsec, giving you a female voice reporting the next wave of enemy ships. It was truly unusual to hear such a human sounding voice, emanating from an 8 bit computer. The TI-99 maybe have to be added to my wishlist of old computers.

Meeting an old friend

Wandering the main hall, what did I come across next, but an Amiga 1200, which someone had left trying to load ‘The NewZealand Story’. An A500 game on a A1200, oh dear, oh dear. By sheer coincidance, I know from first hand experience, that this game does not favour some A1200’s running 3.1 rom’s. Even with relokick, it freezes during the loading process. Whom ever had left the A1200 loading, must have been unaware of this.
As I sat there, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony of coming to Replayed, have dozens of machines to choose from and sit in front of yet another Amiga. As it happened, my choice of location could not have been better. When a young couple stopped to admire the Amiga and ask me if NewZealand story was working. Being in my element, I explained what was wrong. Which then led them to ask if I was working at the event, I said no and went on to explain my history with Amiga computers and the Lincolnshire Amiga group. As it turned out, the woman’s father had introduced her to Amiga’s at an early age and NewZealand story was her favourite game. Which made the taunting disfunctional copy on the A1200 a real pity. Informing her of Amiga Forever, an Amiga emulator you can run on a modern computer. I pointed out that getting to play her favourite childhood games wasn’t beyond possibility.

Shareware…erm Indie Games!

During my roam around the hall, I found a stall showing off indie games. The two games I tried where of a surprisingly good standard for homebrew games. While support extends for only Windows at present. The rep promised they where working on supporting both Mac and Linux platforms. Paying for software on Linux perhaps goes against the Linux open source ethos. So its to be seen how this takes off.

I’ll end now with photos from the event.