Tag: retro

“Retro” gaming

I like video games, old and new. But I had more time to play video games when I was younger, and so I like the games that I spent the most time with the best, because they are most familiar to me. So I mostly like old games.

I also like new games that evoke the feeling of playing the old games that I liked.

There’s a lot of talk about “retro gaming” in the gamer communities I follow, and a recurring topic of conversation is to ask what the definition of “retro” is.

Usually people have some guideline, like “anything older than 10 (or 20, or some other arbitrary cutoff age) years old is retro”. Or sometimes they’ll refer to retro as anything that ran on an 8-bit or 16-bit processor. Then there’s a bit of discussion about console generations, about the transition from EEPROM cartridges to optical media, CD-ROM to DVD-ROM, and then the more recent transition away from optical media to solid state and digital download. People attempt to draw circles around the different features in order to define some set of characteristics that define retro.

I believe that these discussions are misguided.

Retro isn’t a thing that something becomes when it gets sufficiently old.

Rather, retro is when someone, in the present, does something in an outdated or obsolete way, creating something in the style of something that is now old.

Atari was state of the art. NES was state of the art. SNES was state of the art. N64 was state of the art. Sony Playstation was state of the art. The Wii was state of the art. Even if it wasn’t using cutting edge technology — Nintendo has a history of using less expensive, less impressive hardware than Sony/Microsoft, but is nonetheless state of the art in its current generation.

A game programmed to run natively on the Switch, but that looks and feels like a NES game, like Shovel Knight, is retro. The original Super Mario Bros. will never be retro — it is old, not retro. Super Mario 35, Nintendo’s 35th anniversary celebration that re-imagines the original SMB, is retro. An indie game written in for PCs that evokes the look and feel of a game that could have been implemented on the hardware of a generation or two ago, is retro.

Retro is something new made to resemble or evoke something old.

NES enters the HDTV era

Old school console gamers appear to be on the cusp of a renaissance as new options for bringing the NES to modern TV in glorious high definition resolutions keep coming out.

I haven’t seen any of these in person, and only one of them is available now, but here’s my impression based on what’s been published about them so far:

AVS by RetroUSB

$185. Pre-order now, shipping mid-Sept 2016.

On paper this looks to be the best of the bunch. This is a real-hardware console, incorporating a NES and a Famicom cartridge slot, built-in 4Score (4 controller ports), power supplied by USB cable, and does HDMI output in 720p. This is pretty much everything you’d want in a NES, all in one package.

It remains to be seen whether RetroUSB will deliver on time, and what the quality of the hardware will be, but this could be the way to go if quality is good. They are an established company and have been producing controllers, adapters, and homebrew carts for NES and other old school consoles for years, so they do have a track record of doing quality work.

Hi-Def NES by game-tech.us

$120+ depending on options. Shipping now.

This is a DIY kit (professional installations available through various 3rd parties for around $85) for original NES (both the front and top loader). You do surgery on your NES and add a daughterboard that gives you HDMI-out.

Designed and engineered by well-known console hacker Kevtris, the Hi-Def NES appears to be a very well done mod, yielding a high quality 1080p image without the lag associated with running a NES through upscalers, and provides many options in firmware to tweak the output to taste, including aspect ratio, scan line, and interlacing adjustments, to ensure you can get your picture just right.

The mod is fairly involved to install, so paying a professional to do it right is probably worthwhile, but going this route makes it a little more expensive than the AVS. As well, the mod doesn’t do anything about adapting Famicom games to play on it, although you can just get an adapter or run Famicom and PAL games through a flashcart, and if you’re a serious enough retro gamer to go for this mod, these are probably already in your arsenal.

Best of all, it’s available now. Game-tech does other mods and repairs of old consoles, although right now they’re focusing exclusively on selling Hi-Def NES, and from watching their youtube channel it’s apparent that they know what they’re doing, have a lot of experience, and really care about old school gaming.

NES Classic by Nintendo

$59.99. Available 11/11/16.

This is an official Nintendo product. It comes preloaded with 30 titles, all of which are worthwhile games, but does not have a cartridge slot, and does not have a way to connect to the internet to download any other games, which are serious downsides for many. It does have HDMI output, and allows you to save your games, which is a new feature unavailable from the original hardware.

It’s considerably cheaper than either the AVS and Hi-Def NES modkit, making it an attractive option to gamers who have never owned a NES and don’t already have a library of cartridges to play. Given the cost in the collector’s market of the top titles on NES in their original format , acquiring such a catalog today starting from nothing would be a very expensive prospect compared to just buying this.

While I don’t expect that this option will hold as much appeal for gamers who still have their collections, it should have some appeal to a broader market.