The Nostalgia Project – Part 1: Motivation
Towards the end of the summer I went to a theme park with my kids and their cousins. The best part of the day, by far, was the go-karts. Each little petrol-powered kart had one adult and one child in it, and we raced around a little track. It reminded me very much of the feeling of close-to-the-road exhilaration and speed I used to love when playing racing games on my PlayStation.
That planted a seed. The seed was originally going to grow into a PS4 Pro and a new 4K TV. Since the Pro wasn’t available yet and I always give myself at least a month of dithering before making any large purchases (this is a sound money-saving strategy I recommend to anyone), nothing happened for a while.
Then, my boss started building himself a retro arcade cabinet. That looked great, but I don’t have the skills, equipment or space to build something like that, and even if I did, I’d have nowhere in my house to put one. I did a quick bit of research into the retro gaming scene and was a little put off by the myriad help forums, shady ROM sites and the fact that it looked like you’d spend 70% of your time farting about with settings and config and 30% actually playing games.
However, it did get me thinking about what sort of games I actually wanted to play, and how and when I pictured myself playing at all. I have a wife and two young children, and really didn’t see myself putting in 40 hours to finish Uncharted 4 or likewise. What I really felt like doing was having all the rose-tinted fun I remembered having as a kid, obsessed with computer games. Here are the systems I remember playing on:
- BBC Micro. During the school holidays, my dad would bring one home from his job. During term time, I had to go over the road to my friend’s house. This had a 5.25″ floppy drive and a limited number of games.
- Spectrum +3. My sister and I got this for Christmas one year, it was wrapped and in the bottom of a wardrobe for about three weeks before the big day and we would try and peek down the sides of the wrapping paper. Though it had a disk drive, most games were on cassette tape, they were much cheaper to buy. I’d buy Your Sinclair magazine which came with a cassette taped to the cover with demos and free games on it.
- Amiga 500. This was second-hand, and came with a stack of pirated games. A bloke at my Mum’s work would get you any game you wanted, in exchange for twice the number of disks that the game came on. I also bought a few, and there were magazines with disks taped to the cover.
There followed a long-ish break after the Amiga broke for the fifth time, my Mum changed jobs and the computer itself was pretty much obsoleted. Then, at university, I spent quite a lot of my grant on a PlayStation, mostly so we could play Soul Edge at home instead of in the union bar – representing a significant cost saving (probably, eventually). The PlayStation got regular use for years, then it too started to break, failing to realise when there was a disc inside. I got a Wii, my first ever Nintendo system, and we had a lot of fun with that, then kids came along and we had no time for it any more.
A cousin had a NES, then a SNES, but we didn’t see them very often, and my stepbrother had a Sega Megadrive, which we played on a lot. So, to put it midly, pretty much all of my gaming memories are what the kids today probably don’t even call “old school” any more.
I still hadn’t decided what it was I wanted to get, but then I saw this set of plans for making a case for an arcade joystick out of parts from IKEA. That sounded much more like a project I could do, and a Rasperry Pi with a couple of home-made joysticks suddenly became the answer. The whole system would come in for less than the price of a couple of PS4 games. I would sort out how all the emulators and things worked, and I would relive all of my gaming memories, forcing my daughter to damn well enjoy them too. That’s the plan, anyway. Over the next few posts I’ll be covering what I had to buy, how I set it all up, what works, what doesn’t, and probably some painful coverage of how I’m much, much worse at computer games than I was when I was a child. Nostalgia – is it as good as it used to be?