Today, it’s really easy to take for granted just how far the games industry has come, and in such a relatively short period of time too. While it’s cool that our shiny new always online modern consoles are busily purring away, automatically downloading the latest patches, system updates and all manner of other digital shots in the arm that are part and parcel of today’s gaming landscape, it’s a really nice change to once in a while step back in time and blow the dust out of the thick plastic cartridges of yesteryear.
This is exactly what a lot of West Yorkshire retro gaming fans did this past weekend. Retro Collect’s Video Game Market 2 took over Leeds town hall on Saturday 7th February, transforming the stately civic venue into a vintage gamer’s dream.
I popped down to the event to grab a few cheeky snaps and peruse all the lovely old school gaming delights on offer…and, of course, to snag some sweet loot along the way.
Retro gaming fans flooded en masse to the event to buy, browse and button-mash their way through over 40+ shop stalls spread out across the main room and off into the twisting passages and corridors of the town hall. There was an exciting and at times almost mysterious buzzing atmosphere in the air, like you’d stumbled into the gaming equivalent of Aladdin’s Cave; was that a NES Zapper over there or is it just my eyes? Is that a copy of Zool for the Mega Drive I spy with my little eye? What’s that – An Altered Beast t-shirt? Wow, look, a pimped out Game Boy Colour! Oh hell yes.
In other words, to use a modern gaming analogy, it felt rather like walking straight into The Tower in Destiny, only way WAY busier, with far more interesting shops to browse and no miserly Cryptarch skulking about in the corner, doling out shoddy green engrams left, right and centre.
Video Game Market 2 had something for practically anyone who’s been even remotely interested in console and PC gaming of years gone by, and thankfully, unlike Destiny, the only currency to worry about was cold hard sterling, no fancy-schmancy marks or emblems and whatnot. The scope of gaming history packed into the town hall was really impressive, and between all the various shops and stalls displaying their wares, practically every era PC and console gaming was covered; with Atari 2600 games and Commodore 64 keyboard units snuggled up cosily against Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s of this past console cycle.
It was a really cool sight to see, and this juxtaposition of the old machines alongside the new got me thinking about the retro scene with regards to this current console generation. Standing in amongst the buzzing throng of the eager crowd, fawning over the various treasures and trinkets on sale, I found myself pondering whether today’s consoles will have anything like the lifespan or legacy of their predecessors. My gut feeling is that no, they won’t…but I’d love to be proven wrong.
Food for thought, right? Personally, I think it’s hard to imagine just what sort of retro revisiting will be possible in the future, what with the current console generation’s reliance on online infrastructure as an integral part of their basic operation and the industry’s gradual move to more multiplayer-centric always online experiences in general.
Whether today’s consoles will still be able to generate the same level of fan appeal and interest once their time is up in the spotlight, and we’re all playing on our PlayStation 5s and our Xbox Twos etc. remains to be seen. In fact, will our current PS4s and Xbox Ones even work once the servers and the all-powerful omniscient ‘cloud’ finally gets unplugged? As the holiday attacks on Xbox Live and PSN by Lizard Squad unfortunately demonstrated, the inevitability of an always online gaming ecosystem is slowly but surely becoming a reality, and even a temporary inability to connect to online infrastructures can grind pretty much all activity on these consoles to a complete halt.
For a very real example of this, consider a game like Titanfall. Whilst it’s an awesome game (one that I’ve sunk an unhealthy number of hours into), it’s a completely online multiplayer title with no traditional singleplayer campaign component. Almost a year after its launch in March 2014 however, the game hasn’t really been able to retain its player base as effectively as we once hoped, and now the player population is a tiny fraction of what it originally was.
With the exception of the subsequently patched in Frontier Defence mode (Titanfall’s robotically-themed equivalent of Gears of War‘s classic horde mode), which albeit can be just about played solo (the mode doesn’t scale the difficulty according to party size, meaning you’ll have to slug it out on your own against near-impossible odds on some maps), Titanfall fundamentally requires an always present internet connection and a full set of active players in order to even function.
Due to its ever-dwindling player base, future players of the game on the Xbox One are essentially going to be left with an unplayable shell of the original experience. Once the last players have moved on for good and the servers are finally shut down, that’s it. Finito. No more Titanfall. All that remains will be an obsolescent global graveyard of cracked green plastic cases of the physical copies, with their sun-bleached covers caked thick with dust, and a community’s collective memories of smart-pistoling Spectres, gunning down Grunts and rodeoing Titans to their heart’s content; all a long time ago in a virtual galaxy far, far away…
But hey, they will probably have Titanfall 2 or 3 in their greasy mitts by this point, so you know…swings and roundabouts.
Of course, I’d love to be mistaken, but I just doubt whether current consoles and their game libraries will be able to sustain themselves for anywhere near as long as their offline predecessors have been able to.
By its very nature as a technological industry, gaming is a constantly moving and forward-looking form of entertainment. There’s almost always something new to get excited about, that next big thing that’s just around the corner; some elusive, flashy new carrot that’s provocatively dangled in front of you at an E3 show to keep you salivating and desperate to get your hands on, even though it’s still many months and sometimes years away.
With each new major release in the gaming calendar inexorably sweeping up the player populations of older titles, we’re no doubt going to see more and more examples of these types of gaming experiences; ones which require a buzzing hive of online players to keep the blood pumping through their virtual online veins.
Anyway, with thoughts of all these extraneous online issues floating around, there’s something really delightful in being able to go back and revisit gaming’s past at an event like this. Even if it’s something as fleeting and momentary an experience as looking at the crumbling papery boxes and artwork of early cartridge games, or feeling the chunky controllers and garish peripherals of the past in your hands once again.
Amongst all the delights on offer, a personal triumph for me was that I managed to find a Gamecube copy of Resident Evil 2 – the only game in the series that I (shamefully) haven’t been able to play…until now. I’d been searching for a reasonably priced copy of the game for absolutely ages, so I pretty much lunged for it like a crazed Black Friday shopper when I saw it on one of the stands, clutching it to my chest like my life depended on it. It did though, seriously, it really did.
I’ll absolutely be streaming Leon and Claire’s adventures through the wonderful tourist hotspot that is (or, perhaps more accurately after the events of Resident Evil 3, was) Raccoon City at somepoint in the near future on my Twitch channel – so stay tuned if you’re a fan of zombies, side-swept long blonde fringes and delightfully wonky dialogue from time to time.
So, as much as I love my modern consoles and this era of interconnected online experiences, there’s something particularly comforting in knowing that say in ten years time, I could dig out my treasured purple gamecube – itself already fourteen years old at this point – hook it up to an old CRT TV, pop in Resident Evil 2 and desperately try and escape Raccoon City one more time. Alone, anxious and desperately short of ink ribbons.