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By: Gary Warner; Guest Blogger.

“Why do you play those rubbish old games Old Man?”

So speaks youth! The question came from my 20 year old son and as I went to answer him with a snappy, witty and devastatingly logical reply, I found that I couldn’t actually tell him why!

I sat there, opening and closing my mouth. “Can’t say, can you Old Man?”, he smirked. As he walked off, all I could come up with was a rather lame, “Because, I like ‘em. Without ‘em you wouldn’t be playing Red Dead Redemption 2 at the moment!”. Even to my own ears that sounded a pathetic and desperate argument.

See, I’m not one for rose coloured specs. I know that the old games are, by todays standards, a bit lame. Yes, in their day they were amazing, especially the earlier games, and I spent large chunks of my youth playing them to death. But, they haven’t aged very well, in my opinion. They cannot compete with massive open worlds such as Grand Theft Auto 4 & 5 or Far Cry 4 & 5. They can’t compete with the deep role playing mechanics of titles such as Skyrim or Mass Effect. They can’t compete with the edgy thrill of competing against real human beings in titles such a PUBG or World Of Warcraft.

So why, I thought to myself, do I actually love them and still play them despite all of the amazing newer titles that I also play regularly?

I found that to answer that question, I needed to go back into my past…

England. The 70’s. Even I pull a face when I use England and the 70’s in the same sentence!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fiercely proud Englishman. But England in the 70’s was a pretty depressing place. Strikes : Postmen, Miners, Dustmen. The three day week in ’72. The “Winter of Discontent” in ’79. The drought of ’76. The Queen’s Silver Jubilee with all of the street parties and false cheer!! Don’t even get me started on the fashion!!

In amongst all of that in Essex, Basildon, to be more precise, was I, living in a run-down council house with my brother and our Mum. The house was subsiding into the swamp-land upon which it was, apparently, built. Mum struggling in the days before the seemingly endless benefits single parents get these days, to keep herself and her two sons alive!

We didn’t have much. Me and my brother lived in hand-me-downs and any toys we had were usually hand-me-downs too. Our two favourites were a battered old Scalextric set, with knackered old cars and rusty, brittle track, and an ancient Hornby electric train set.

I’m sure we weren’t the only ones living in such a way and there were no doubt people worse off, but that was our situation and it meant that 70’s England holds no real special place in my heart. Until, that is, some time around ’79 or maybe ’80, not too sure, we were taken on holiday with our Nan and Grandad. Not sure where, may well have been Camber Sands, but wherever it was there was an arcade.

OMG! Space Invaders, Galaxians, Lunar Lander & Super Breakout spring to mind but there where more. All amazing and all totally different from any other leisure activity that I had seen before. As I said, we had no money so only managed 3 or 4 goes in the week that we were there – even the 10p required to play was expensive as far as we were concerned. But, hanging around the arcade with the sounds, the atmosphere and the potential for fun was amazing and certainly, for a few, all too brief hours, in that week away, made all of the single-parent, lack of money existence disappear for a while. It didn’t matter that I had no money to play, simply watching people play was more than enough.

Then I became aware of the Atari VCS (not the 2600, that name came later – one of my pet peeves!!). Video games: at home!!! Wow!! I had no chance of getting one and none of my friends in the poor council estate were ever going to own one. But, the very thought was amazing!

Fast forward a bit to sometime around 1982(ish) and things were looking up. A move from Essex to Milton Keynes saw Mum re-marrying and, with me and my brother getting a little older, she was able to work part-time so we had a little more money. Eventually we managed to persuade her to get us an Atari VCS for Xmas and birthdays combined. Not sure how she managed it but I think she must have done some kind of HP, bless her. We had our very own games at home. My god did we hammer the hell out of that console!! It was played to death – mum certainly got her money’s worth out of it. It was the best “toy” we’d ever had. Over time favourites were Space Invaders, Spider-Man, Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, Star War: Return of The Jedi and River Raid to name but a few.

A couple more holidays followed and more arcades. Still not too much money to spend but games such as Missile Command, Defender, Scramble and the mighty Gorf still held an amount of wonder. Gorf especially intrigued with its speech synthesis – “Got you space cadet!!”

Then a mate got a Vic 20. Wasn’t that impressed with the games really but he did have a “silly sentence” generating program that made us laugh and somehow (might have been his older brother telling us – can’t really remember), we found out that we could break into the game and hack the Basic “Data” statements that the sentences were built from, and add our own “naughty” phrases that made the program generate some rather ruder and fruitier sentences that perhaps it was meant to. Made us laugh a lot but, perhaps more importantly, it ignited a slow burning fuse that programming a computer could be fun!

Then mates started to get home computers – most notable the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. C90s full of games were starting to be passed around in the playground. Multiple games on one cassette for free (yes, very wrong, and I don’t condone it, but those were the times!!). I decided I had to have a home computer.

So, a paper round, loads of 5am starts and lots of birthday and Xmas money collected together later, I was the owner of shiny new 48K Spectrum. I loved that machine to bits. I spent all available hours on it. Gaming and typing in the game listings from magazines (Crash etc).

Games such as Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, Pyjamarama, Jetpac, TLL, Turbo Esprit and many more consumed my every waking hour. It began to dawn on me that I could write my own games. How hard could it be?

It was now that the programming bug bit hard. I taught myself programming using Spectrum Basic and Z80 Assembler. I did manage to write a few, frankly not very good, games but mainly I became obsessed with understanding coding and how computers worked. I spent far too many hours of my life learning to code. But it led to a Computer Science A-Level and a programming job with a bank.

I’ve done that ever since, now with my own family and considerably more comfortably off than the early years. I still game daily and, as I alluded to earlier, I don’t really consider retro games to be better than todays games. Todays games are far better, more realistic and more absorbing than the older game could ever be.

What retro games are , though, is the very soul of gaming. They are the seeds, the genes if you will, from which modern gaming has grown. Each and every retro game contains, in some small way, part of the very essence of what makes gaming fun and enjoyable. They contain the very rawest of whatever magic ingredient it is that makes gaming so absorbing and rewarding.

So, why do I still play retro games? I play them because they remind me of where I came from. They remind of darker times but also more innocent times. They remind of a time when I thought anything was possible. When a new world of computing and programming was beginning to open up to council estate “oiks” like myself. They remind me that when absorbed in a game, any game, you can be what you want to be and can leave, for some small amount of time, the worries and cares of the world behind. They remind me that they are the very spirit of gaming and they should be replayed, loved and remembered just as we do long lost relatives.

So, I explain all of this to my son. I finish. He looks at me in silence. I await his response. I expect something like, “Wow Dad, I never knew they meant so much to you. I never realised how important they were to you spiritually and mentally and how they basically shaped your and, ultimately my life!”.

He opens his mouth to speak, spins on his heal and starts to walk upstairs towards his room where Red Dead Redemption 2 is paused, awaiting his return.

“You are such a nerd” he says, chuckling gently to himself…

S always, please leave your comments below!!

Also, if you want to write q blog, please get in touch as sales@piretrogaming.com

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By: Paul Blachford; Guest Blogger.

This is a question I have had asked me many times, usually followed up by “the graphics are crap”.

So why do I love retro games. Partly it is because I grew up playing them. I can remember the awe when we got our first actual computer, thank your Sir Clive, the ZX81. The hours playing around on it before the arrival of the Spectrum 48K gave us colour (badly done but it was colour for gods sake!”. After school and during the holidays me and my cousin spent far too many hours to be healthy playing Manic Minor, Jet Set Willy, Saberwulf, Chuckie Egg and no need to travel to the arcades to be told “sorry mate you look to young to play in here”. Even now, just those names take me back to a good time in my life.

Yes, the graphics were awful when compared to Battlefield 5 etc and the sound was rudimentary at best. But what those programmers could squeeze out of an 8 bit computer running at 3.5MHz with only 48K memory was truly amazing. If only some of the more modern programmers could follow those lessons. Just putting a shiny surface on a game doesn’t make it good. If it doesn’t have the playability its still going to be a bad game. These were the days before DLC or updates. No launch day update at 60GB just to actually play the damn thing. If it had a bug that was it, you dealt with it.

Time moved on and then there was the Atari ST, it had arcade quality graphics man!!!!! Well to us at the time it was the same. The rise of more advanced graphics and sound that didn’t make your ears bleed. Golden axe, Gauntlet and Dungeon Master ruled my life.

Then came the Japanese with my purchase of the Sega Mega drive. Mortal combat, Monaco GP, Sonic the Hedgehog and Mutant league football. Easy to pick up and, for me impossible to master games that just kept you playing until your fingers and/or eyes bleed from exhaustion.

Multiplayer was social as you had to be in the same room as the other people. Many a Friday night and Saturday involved as a game/pizza/bad video from Blockbusters night. No idiots from across the world calling you a “noob” or shouting profanities about your mum. It was Dave your best mate, so you clocked him one and stole his slice of Pizza as a forfeit!

With university came the era of the PC. The trials and tribulations of the auto.exe and config.bat just to get games to run but there were classics the Ultima series, C&C, Panzer General and Doom. The games got bigger and bigger and unfortunately more expensive. Gone were the days of the £1.99 game we were entering the £24.99 then £29.99 and the bane of modern games micro payments!

Yes its easy to look back with rose tinted spectacles at the days gone past but for me they were the best of days and promised so much and often delivered it. When I play them again, I can remember the days when they were totally new and fresh, they bring back good memories (and some bad) but they were my youth and god damn it I’m still young, mentally not physically.

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By: Elmo; Guest Blogger

I was born in 1979, in the armpit of North Wales, a million miles from nowhere. Star Wars had come out two years before I was born and there didn’t seem that much to do, but ultimately gaming would come to almost define my life, so come with me dear reader as I take you on my gaming journey,

My first gaming-related memory was when my dad brought a strange machine that he’d borrowed from some bloke off the pub into the house, however I wasn’t allowed to touch it, as it had wood panelling on it, and was therefore, like the Welsh dresser that held my Mum’s collection of Chokin plates, strictly a Grown Up thing. I don’t even remember my dad hooking it up to the TV, and so I wasn’t allowed to sample the wonders of gaming until I went to my cousin’s house and was given a go on a more plasticy Atari console, the game was The Empire Strikes back, and I was a bit confused as I hadn’t seen the film at that point… I was told that one coloured square, was my ship and I had to take down some other coloured squares which were walking robot things. I was rubbish, and so my cousin didn’t let me play very much. I also found out that most Atari games seemed to be about one coloured square taking down other coloured squares on different coloured backgrounds, gaming, didn’t seem to be that appealing to a 4 year old me…. And that’s the blog. Hope you enjoyed it and….

No, that’s not it, because you see, my love of gaming would start in an unexpected place. I fell in love with gaming at school. Let me explain, back in the 80’s the BBC invented a computer that found it’s way into every British school – It was called the BBC Micro. It had a grown up looking black and red keyboard, software came on big floppy disks, which were actually floppy…and big. Loading these games up was like some ancient ritual where you’d have to hold down the break button, and then the shift button, then you’d let go of the shift button and then let go of the break button. I don’t know why it was THESE two buttons, and why you didn’t have a start button or something, but once you knew the Secret, you felt like you’d be let into some ancient archaic art, passed down through the centuries… and so my first true taste of gaming were Edutainment titles, maths games, and also games based on BBC educational programmes. One of my most fondly remembered ones was the game based on the “Look and Read” TV series – Geordie Racer. “Geordie Racer” was like a prequel and pilot for Byker Grove, and introduced kids to the exotic city of Newcastle via the adventures of Spuggy, his sister who liked marathon running, some ancient serpent called Sal, with sub plots about pigeon racing, diamond thieves and eating “stotties”. Geordie Racer was obviously a cinematic masterpiece, but the game based on the experience was enthralling to seven year old me. The ending was a maths based quest against this weird eldritch abomination, and I never finished it, yet I very much had caught the bug. They should remake Geordie racer. Cheryl Cole can eat stotties.

It was a couple of years later when I got to play my first honest to god game though with zero educational value. My school had upgraded its computer to a machine straight from the future – the Acorn Archimedes. While the BBC B was big and clunky the Acorn was white and had this new fangled thing called a mouse attached to it…and if you were good in class you’d get to have a go on it. Some people liked to draw pictures on it, but not me…I still remember clicking on this weird icon of a triangle and the word “Lander” underneath, and what I saw next. Blew. My. Mind. In a world of wireframe arcade games and crudely drawn pixel art, Lander was a 3D game. You “controlled” a ship, the left mouse button would control your engines, and moving the mouse would tilt your craft. If you so much as breathed on anything, your ship would explode into a million confetti sized pieces, but that was sort of ok, because the right mouse button would spit out a pixel of white hot death destroying anything in front of you in the process (mostly trees). Lander looked like it had been beamed in from the Starship Enterprise hundreds of years in the future. Lander also seemingly had no purpose. Shooting your gun lost you points, the only thing that would gain points was shooting trees and eventually your fuel would run out, and when it did, you fell helplessly to earth. It was brutal, and felt SO cool. I used to imagine I was like that kid from Flight of the Navigator, only instead of flying over America’s Midwest, dancing to the Beach Boys, I was rocking out to Kylie, flying over the murky brown Irish sea, shooting random trees, I never got frustrated, but then what I learned quickly was that retro games were like a P.E Teacher berating you for being too scared to climb a rope as it was character building and fun, and then then you leapt on the rope you found it was covered in tar, feathers, olive oil and excrement, with a pit containing crocodiles and sharks underneath, and then the P.E Teacher would set the rope on fire….and…the ship crashes and explodes into a million confetti pieces. Again.

I had a secret theory that if I could complete Lander, then perhaps I’d be invited to drive a ship and blow up trees in real life, like an Amazon rainforest version of The Last Starfighter, with Sarah Jessica-Parker with a pink streak in her hair by my side. I was a very confused child. However…I never found the end of Lander or its purpose, until…this morning.

You see thanks to the internet I found that Lander had no purpose. It was a demo for a game that people came to call Zarch or Virus and it was later released on the Amiga. Thanks to my friends here at PRG, I fired up my Superior console, loaded Virus up, 35 years after I had last launched the ship I tapped on the mouse button, shot into the air, and was blasted out of the sky by a UFO seconds later into a million confetti pieces without killing a single tree. Every time I tried. For about an hour. Isn’t retro gaming great?

In the next part….

Gaming comes home, because to make an omelette, you might have to break a few eggs.

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By: Gary Warner; Guest Blogger.

“Why do you play those rubbish old games Old Man?”

So speaks youth! The question came from my 20 year old son and as I went to answer him with a snappy, witty and devastatingly logical reply, I found that I couldn’t actually tell him why!

I sat there, opening and closing my mouth. “Can’t say, can you Old Man?”, he smirked. As he walked off, all I could come up with was a rather lame, “Because, I like ‘em. Without ‘em you wouldn’t be playing Red Dead Redemption 2 at the moment!”. Even to my own ears that sounded a pathetic and desperate argument.

See, I’m not one for rose coloured specs. I know that the old games are, by todays standards, a bit lame. Yes, in their day they were amazing, especially the earlier games, and I spent large chunks of my youth playing them to death. But, they haven’t aged very well, in my opinion. They cannot compete with massive open worlds such as Grand Theft Auto 4 & 5 or Far Cry 4 & 5. They can’t compete with the deep role playing mechanics of titles such as Skyrim or Mass Effect. They can’t compete with the edgy thrill of competing against real human beings in titles such a PUBG or World Of Warcraft.

So why, I thought to myself, do I actually love them and still play them despite all of the amazing newer titles that I also play regularly?

I found that to answer that question, I needed to go back into my past…

England. The 70’s. Even I pull a face when I use England and the 70’s in the same sentence!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fiercely proud Englishman. But England in the 70’s was a pretty depressing place. Strikes : Postmen, Miners, Dustmen. The three day week in ’72. The “Winter of Discontent” in ’79. The drought of ’76. The Queen’s Silver Jubilee with all of the street parties and false cheer!! Don’t even get me started on the fashion!!

In amongst all of that in Essex, Basildon, to be more precise, was I, living in a run-down council house with my brother and our Mum. The house was subsiding into the swamp-land upon which it was, apparently, built. Mum struggling in the days before the seemingly endless benefits single parents get these days, to keep herself and her two sons alive!

We didn’t have much. Me and my brother lived in hand-me-downs and any toys we had were usually hand-me-downs too. Our two favourites were a battered old Scalextric set, with knackered old cars and rusty, brittle track, and an ancient Hornby electric train set.

I’m sure we weren’t the only ones living in such a way and there were no doubt people worse off, but that was our situation and it meant that 70’s England holds no real special place in my heart. Until, that is, some time around ’79 or maybe ’80, not too sure, we were taken on holiday with our Nan and Grandad. Not sure where, may well have been Camber Sands, but wherever it was there was an arcade.

OMG! Space Invaders, Galaxians, Lunar Lander & Super Breakout spring to mind but there where more. All amazing and all totally different from any other leisure activity that I had seen before. As I said, we had no money so only managed 3 or 4 goes in the week that we were there – even the 10p required to play was expensive as far as we were concerned. But, hanging around the arcade with the sounds, the atmosphere and the potential for fun was amazing and certainly, for a few, all too brief hours, in that week away, made all of the single-parent, lack of money existence disappear for a while. It didn’t matter that I had no money to play, simply watching people play was more than enough.

Then I became aware of the Atari VCS (not the 2600, that name came later – one of my pet peeves!!). Video games: at home!!! Wow!! I had no chance of getting one and none of my friends in the poor council estate were ever going to own one. But, the very thought was amazing!

Fast forward a bit to sometime around 1982(ish) and things were looking up. A move from Essex to Milton Keynes saw Mum re-marrying and, with me and my brother getting a little older, she was able to work part-time so we had a little more money. Eventually we managed to persuade her to get us an Atari VCS for Xmas and birthdays combined. Not sure how she managed it but I think she must have done some kind of HP, bless her. We had our very own games at home. My god did we hammer the hell out of that console!! It was played to death – mum certainly got her money’s worth out of it. It was the best “toy” we’d ever had. Over time favourites were Space Invaders, Spider-Man, Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, Star War: Return of The Jedi and River Raid to name but a few.

A couple more holidays followed and more arcades. Still not too much money to spend but games such as Missile Command, Defender, Scramble and the mighty Gorf still held an amount of wonder. Gorf especially intrigued with its speech synthesis – “Got you space cadet!!”

Then a mate got a Vic 20. Wasn’t that impressed with the games really but he did have a “silly sentence” generating program that made us laugh and somehow (might have been his older brother telling us – can’t really remember), we found out that we could break into the game and hack the Basic “Data” statements that the sentences were built from, and add our own “naughty” phrases that made the program generate some rather ruder and fruitier sentences that perhaps it was meant to. Made us laugh a lot but, perhaps more importantly, it ignited a slow burning fuse that programming a computer could be fun!

Then mates started to get home computers – most notable the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. C90s full of games were starting to be passed around in the playground. Multiple games on one cassette for free (yes, very wrong, and I don’t condone it, but those were the times!!). I decided I had to have a home computer.

So, a paper round, loads of 5am starts and lots of birthday and Xmas money collected together later, I was the owner of shiny new 48K Spectrum. I loved that machine to bits. I spent all available hours on it. Gaming and typing in the game listings from magazines (Crash etc).

Games such as Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, Pyjamarama, Jetpac, TLL, Turbo Esprit and many more consumed my every waking hour. It began to dawn on me that I could write my own games. How hard could it be?

It was now that the programming bug bit hard. I taught myself programming using Spectrum Basic and Z80 Assembler. I did manage to write a few, frankly not very good, games but mainly I became obsessed with understanding coding and how computers worked. I spent far too many hours of my life learning to code. But it led to a Computer Science A-Level and a programming job with a bank.

I’ve done that ever since, now with my own family and considerably more comfortably off than the early years. I still game daily and, as I alluded to earlier, I don’t really consider retro games to be better than todays games. Todays games are far better, more realistic and more absorbing than the older game could ever be.

What retro games are , though, is the very soul of gaming. They are the seeds, the genes if you will, from which modern gaming has grown. Each and every retro game contains, in some small way, part of the very essence of what makes gaming fun and enjoyable. They contain the very rawest of whatever magic ingredient it is that makes gaming so absorbing and rewarding.

So, why do I still play retro games? I play them because they remind me of where I came from. They remind of darker times but also more innocent times. They remind of a time when I thought anything was possible. When a new world of computing and programming was beginning to open up to council estate “oiks” like myself. They remind me that when absorbed in a game, any game, you can be what you want to be and can leave, for some small amount of time, the worries and cares of the world behind. They remind me that they are the very spirit of gaming and they should be replayed, loved and remembered just as we do long lost relatives.

So, I explain all of this to my son. I finish. He looks at me in silence. I await his response. I expect something like, “Wow Dad, I never knew they meant so much to you. I never realised how important they were to you spiritually and mentally and how they basically shaped your and, ultimately my life!”.

He opens his mouth to speak, spins on his heal and starts to walk upstairs towards his room where Red Dead Redemption 2 is paused, awaiting his return.

“You are such a nerd” he says, chuckling gently to himself…

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Being born in the greatest year for English football means that I was also fortunate enough to be born at the age when gaming went from its infancy to adolescence & ultimately its adulthood.

Here’s my first foray into into gaming from a different viewpoint. At the ripe old age of 16 I was chosen to be a YOP (youth opportunities program) apprentice. This later changed the name to YTS (Youth training service, which also incurred the name Young Thick & Stupid) my particular role was to help set up & learn as much as possible about the old 8 bit computing scene as possible. I later found out that the reason I was chosen was due to the fact that I was what’s classed as a “late developer”, I was 4 foot 11″ and weighed 7 stone. This made me an ideal candidate for what the organisation had in mind. My first role as a single trainee in a building with 8 tutors. If I wasn’t being taught how to write programs in the old commodore vic 20 or the zx spectrum (and even the zx81) my main role was crawling under the floorboards (hence my small build being chosen over other people) to set up a network for BBC model A, B & Acorn electron computers for the trainees of the future.

So now, why the title “Sir Clive is my hero”? Sir Clive Sinclair brought us the z80, zx81, then the ultimate zx spectrum in 1982, he made it possible for people to learn computing, coding & gaming in a mass market on a limited budget.

Despite his previous business failures (he was the innovator of apple watches 30 years before Steve Jobs even dreamt of them) he threw his money into electric vehicles (again 30 years before Elon Musk dreamt of Tesla cars) he continued to innovate, invest & inject his intelligence into making gaming what it is today.

Without people like Sir Clive I truly believe we’d still be playing pong on grandstand style machines & paying £300+ for the privilege.

By: Stuart Wright

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