Aussie sports streaming kicks off and Stan goes offline: Vertical Hold – Episode 119

The AFL and NRL premiership seasons kick off this week, but not all viewers are on a winner. Meanwhile Stan adds offline playback to keep you entertained when you’re sans internet. Special guest Marc C-Scott, Lecturer in Screen Media, Victoria University. Continue reading “Aussie sports streaming kicks off and Stan goes offline: Vertical Hold – Episode 119”

Pre-order Fifty Two Today

Exciting news! My second novel (or to be strictly accurate, my first collection of short stories) is now available to pre-order! Continue reading “Pre-order Fifty Two Today”

Pre-order Fifty Two Today!

Exciting news! My second novel (or to be strictly accurate, my first collection of short stories) is now available to pre-order! Continue reading “Pre-order Fifty Two Today!”

Retro recollections: Final Fantasy VII: Hour 6-8: Big bad Sephiroth

Yes, it’s a special double episode, mostly because of the scarcity of save points. Continue reading “Retro recollections: Final Fantasy VII: Hour 6-8: Big bad Sephiroth”

The NBN Blame Game: Vertical Hold Episode 118

It’s time to play Australia’s least favourite ongoing broadband game, as the NBN twists and turns from speed woes to Optus’ forced HFC tactics. Meanwhile, headphones are exploding, but does that mean we should stop flying altogether? We’re joined by Australian IT Editor Supratim Adhikari for our NBN special! Continue reading “The NBN Blame Game: Vertical Hold Episode 118”

Retro Games shopping in London

It is possible to have an enjoyable retro games hunt in London, although you’ve got to plan carefully.

If you want a very particular retro gaming title (and avoiding the whole emulation business), then your general best bet is to look online. You’ve got the whole world to choose from. That means that titles that once would have been hard-to-borderline-impossible to find are only a few mouse clicks away, presuming you can afford the asking prices. That can be a sticking point, as they’re often steep, sometimes bordering on the ludicrous.

Still, there’s something to be said for browsing a selection and holding actual games hardware in your hands before making a purchase. Not that long ago I trawled through Tokyo’s numerous games stores while on holiday. I have no doubt I ended up making more purchases simply because games were available to me and I could go hands-on with them.

See also:
Retro games shopping in Tokyo

If I’d been looking at them from a simple screen, I wouldn’t have done so. A little troubling for my bank balance, to be  sure, but great for expanding my games literacy by playing new (old!) and exciting titles.


Honest story: I didn’t even know this existed before my last visit to Tokyo. You may now laugh and point.

So on my recent trip through the UK, and more particularly London, I was keen to get in a little retro gaming shopping, if feasible.

The UK is an even more online marketplace than many countries, Australia included, so my hopes weren’t all that high. Equally, this isn’t absolutely exhaustive, because I’m just one person and my time and funds were limited. Got any tips or thoughts? Drop them in the comments below.

Charity shops


Image: Basher Eyre

Yes, it’s feasible to find a few retro gems in charity shops in London. Depending on the parts of London you’re in, such outlets can be thick on the ground. Less so in more inner-city and touristy bits, so don’t expect an Oxfam outlet right next door to Selfridges or Harrods, but fine in more outer suburbs.
However, the problems here are twofold. Firstly, it’s a total coin flip as to whether there will be anything at all, because such places aren’t specifically games shops. Then there’s the question of what they’ll have. Being the UK, be ready for nearly endless copies of FIFA, and if my own searches are any indication, lots of copies of, well, this:

No, I didn’t buy any copies. So they’re still all there if you want them!

I did see a few more slightly less common titles, but it’s clear in this online age that you’re not likely to snaffle a bargain. That’s either because they’ve already been cleared out, or because the staff “know what it goes for on eBay”. Equally, it’s a toss-up as to whether anything will even work.

Your comfort level with such purchases may vary, and at least (as long as your ethics align with the charity in question) you’re doing good work just by shopping there.

CEX Appeal

Image: Jeff Djevdet

There was a time (and I’m seriously dating myself here) when there was an absolutely superb retro-themed branch of second hand goods dealers CEX, down near Warren St tube. Lovely it was.

Gone, it is.

Well and truly, even though CEX itself has expanded to being a truly global second hand electronics entertainment emporium. When I was last through London in 2016, you’d be hard put to find any retro gear in a CEX, but they seem to have taken fresh interest in the area of late.

That being said, they’re well aware of the “going” rate for retro games, and will seemingly apply those rates almost irrespective of condition of games. Again, I can’t say that they’re likely to have been tested to speak of either. Although CEX is just the place if you’re a fan of UK comedy and don’t mind shows that are a few years old. There’s little finer than a 50p live comedy DVD, although I am getting rather off topic here.

Also… and there’s no polite way to put this, CEX…

Although I doubt you could hate me much more after I pointed out how you were illegally selling R18+ games in Australia a few years back, so whatever, some of your stores are, shall we say, a little on the… pungent side? A run through with a fire hose might be advised.

Retro Game Base: Distant but great

So what’s to do if you want some hands-on retro shopping? Retro Game Base in Streatham, just opposite Streatham Common bills itself as “London’s Only Dedicated Retro Game Store”.

Streatham, in London’s South, is a little bit out of the way. With an afternoon free I made the relatively lengthy trek to check it out. I was heading from East London; your travel times may vary.

It’s only now that I notice that the initials spell “RGB”. Deliberate? That colouring suggests so, and if so, bravo. Bonus punning points.

Yep, that’s quite easy to spot. I rather like the handmade signage, rather than pre-printed posters.

Despite the sign having accidentally flipped around, they weren’t shut, which I was quite grateful for. However, it is worth checking their social media feeds to see if they’re likely to be. It would suck to make the trek only to discover they weren’t open.

Also a big thanks to the staff member who was both happy to chat and for me to take pictures. Not everyone is quite so gracious.

MUST NOT BUY EVERYTHING.

 

Oh god, the Questprobe Marvel games. It’s literally been decades since I’ve seen any of these. I’m sure there are fans, but it can stay where it is.
I do not actually own a Vectrex, although it is on my shortlist of "would like to own" systems at some point.
I do not actually own a Vectrex, although it is on my shortlist of “would like to own” systems at some point.
Some lonely looking Famicom Disk Games. Actually, these look cleaner than many of the 2nd hand disc games you find in Tokyo retro stores.
Some lonely looking Famicom Disk Games. Actually, these look cleaner than many of the 2nd hand disc games you find in Tokyo retro stores.

From chatting to the staff, they do test everything where feasible, which is a nice encouraging step for older systems where disc, cartridges and tapes are all starting to show their age.

Wow. A NES in-store demo system.
Wow. A NES in-store demo system. Or at least the casing for same.

Decades ago, when I lived in London, I’d spend some time on the weekends around Oxford Street. I would always duck into Selfridges. Not because I needed a new tweed suit, or I was all out of caviar, but simply because they had a largely unattended NES demo system set up. Sure, you could only play for a minute or two until it reset, but those minutes were precious. It was only years later that I learned that there were more than two levels on Super Mario Bros, for a start.

I will not buy an Amstrad CPC 464. I will not buy an Amstrad CPC 464.
I will not buy an Amstrad CPC 464. I will not buy an Amstrad CPC 464.

(largely because it came with the green screen monitor, and that’s a bit much for inflight carry-on luggage)

It's like they're teasing me with a 1084S monitor in the corner.
It’s like they’re teasing me with a 1084S monitor in the corner.

I miss my Amiga. Every day. War has never been so much fun.

It took a lot of willpower not to pick up Mario Bros Game & Watch. Rival Turf, however, they could keep.
It took a lot of willpower not to pick up Mario Bros Game & Watch. Rival Turf, however, they could keep.

I did pick up a small grab bag of retro goodies while I was there. It would be rude not to. This included the delightfully charming, hadn’t-played-it-for-years Castle Of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse for the Master System, and Spider-Man for the Atari 2600, because… I like falling off things, I guess.

There’s an elephant in the room here.


No, not you, Rolo.

That’s the question of pricing. Are you going to score an absolute red-hot-bargain shopping at a dedicated retro game store like this?

No, you’re not. But having browsed the aisles, and their online pricing as well, I’ve got to say that Retro Game Base’s prices are, by and large, relatively fair for the age and condition of the goods.

I was perfectly happy with the prices I paid, and everything worked and was nicely clean too. I didn’t pick up anything super-rare, and to be sure they know the value of specific goods. Equally I also didn’t feel as though they were pushing endless copies of ****R@RE**** copies of Bratz PS1 games, either. For which I’m quite thankful.

There’s also a charmingly loose ethos to the entire shop, and I for one quite like that. It’s not a stuffy place where everything is blocked off so that you can’t either easily browse it any way. At once point I stopped to ask about a rack of N64 games, and the guy behind the counter was quite happy to pass them my way, noting that there was a bunch of stuff he was sorting through, but that “everything else was fair game”.

It’s nice to be in a store where you feel both valued and trusted, and equally one where you can enter into a discussion about the merits of relative console generations. I rather like the idea as mooted by the staff that the Atari 2600 was black & white film, and that Nintendo experienced a Snow White moment with the NES. Very apt, and it even ties in nicely with my own thoughts on the matter.

So while it’s a bit of a journey, even from Central London, it’s well worth the browse, and if my experience is any guide, a chat with the friendly staff too. You could tell them that I sent you, but it’s not likely to make much difference beyond perhaps confusing them a tad.

The one small fly in the ointment, if I read their Facebook page correctly, is that the entire store is up for sale. I’ve got to hope that this is simply a sign of owners wanting to move on and not indicative of some kind of retail issue, because there is something special about retro game stores. It would be a real pity to lose one.

Added bonus: Streatham is one of the very few locations in London that still has a Wimpy Bar. Mmm. I can taste the spicy bean burger just typing that.

Retro Video: Revisiting the Amstrad PCW 8256

What happens when you find a classic computer in a family member’s loft? If you’re me, you haul it downstairs, dust it off and plug it in to see what happens. Continue reading “Retro Video: Revisiting the Amstrad PCW 8256”

Retro recollections: Final Fantasy VII challenge hour 6: That damned elf

The intrusion of other games was always going to be a challenge, but not one I expected to face quite so quickly.

For those just joining us, I’m taking on the challenge of Final Fantasy VII, simply because it’s 20 years since I last played it, and I want to see if it still holds its charm beyond nostalgia. Also because my current commitments make it tough to commit to a game for any length of time, because I’m not as young as I used to be. You should probably start at week one and work your way up from there.

See also:
Retro recollections: Can I replay Final Fantasy VII?

Time for a few quick admissions, after which you may judge me. But not harshly, because it’s been far too long a day for that kind of thing.

On the small side, the past couple of weeks of entries were legitimate, but owing to work-related travel, they were undertaken a couple of weeks prior. There wasn’t going to be practical time (or space) to play FF7 on the go, so I lined up content to keep myself and my enthusiasm going. This means that this week’s play hour is the first fresh play hour in about a month. That’s kind of odd, but encouraging in one way, because it would have been very easy to back away from the challenge.

However, this week, I also hit the problem of other games. Or to be strictly honest, one other particular game.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.


WANT

It actually came out while I was overseas, but that didn’t entirely matter, because right now, escaping that damned elf and the relentless coverage and hype is all but impossible.

It doesn’t help that in the Switch lineup, there’s Zelda, and then…. there’s everything else. And I say that as someone who owns just about every other Bomberman title and for whom the idea of not picking up a Bomberman game feels mildly sacrilegious!

What’s worse is that I’d like to dip heavily into the hype, because I generally adore Zelda games. I’ve no doubt it will live up to the hype, and I’ll enjoy it a very great deal.

Enjoying a Zelda game a very great deal is a risky prospect, however, because my own personal gaming time is seriously limited. It’s the whole point of this challenge, however, because I have to actively make time to play Final Fantasy VII.

If I pick up Zelda (and at this point I’ve been unusually strong, and I’ve not even laid eyes on a Switch in the flesh) then it’s game over, Cloud and co. Not just for the couple of weeks (at least) it would take me to make it through Zelda, but probably entirely.

If I had oodles of gaming time, this would be easy. Final Fantasy VII is a game that you can knock over in 20-30 hours or so, and if I had the kind of time I had 20 years ago, that would be a doddle. I’m certain some folks have speed run the game even faster than that, actually.


Holy crap. 2:26?

I could have finished this game at least twice ALREADY? Mind you, that’s with all sorts of warping malarkey, and I want to play FFVII properly. That will take time, which I will have to dole out in affordable chunks.

So I must be strong. No Switch for me.

Yet.

Now on with the show…

Final Fantasy VII: You like climbing, right?

When I last played, the plate had fallen, things were bad and it was time to climb up to Shinra and exact some revenge. Knowing Barret, guns will be involved. Knowing Cloud, idiocy will be involved. Thankfully, Tifa is along for the run as well.

This looks totally safe.

But first… we’ve got to head back down the big climbing area, because somebody forgot some batteries. This is pure time filling, as the weapon shop keeper will sell me some batteries for 100 gil each.

I’ll take some batteries, the big sword, and any phased plasma rifles in the 40 watt range you might have.

That’s an easy price to pay, so I do, and then head back up to the twisted metal.


Man, that was a great game… but NO! I must be strong.

This bit of climbing forms some simple puzzles, thankfully without random battles to get in the way. It’s quite beautiful twisted metal actually. This doesn’t feel at all safe, but it’s fun in a rather Another World type way. Once I’ve made my way through the broken plate supports, it’s time to take on Shinra headquarters.

Yeah, this is kind of frightening. But in a good way.

I’m then faced with the choice of a direct attack, or sneaking into Shinra HQ. I’m a sucker for all things Ninja, so the choice is obvious.

Barret is all about the subtle approach.

No, Barret, the choice is obvious.


Much better.

Except that sneaking into Shinra HQ doesn’t so much involve smoke bombs and clinging to ceiling pipes. Instead, it involves stairs.

Oh joy! Stairs!

Lots and lots of stairs.

Yes. Stairs.

And some more stairs.

Hmm. Stairs.

Also stairs.


Thanks Robin. Not helping.

My god. It’s made of stairs.

After many minutes of the same stairs, over and over again, it is done. Or possibly we are.

Barret’s cardio needs some work.

A quick battle scores us the keycard needed to get to level 60. This should be a doddle, right?

Wait, we could have TAKEN A LIFT???
(Nobody tell Barret.)

Not quite. There’s a slightly annoying “stealth” game that involves shuffling past guards while they’re moving. Naturally I fail a couple of times, and then it just becomes a rote matter of movement, which isn’t particularly engaging. There’s also a hidden trick here, because you can go up stairs (more stairs! Hurrah!) to level 69.

No wonder there were so many stairs.

Which naturally only means one thing:

No, not that.

It means I don’t yet have the keycards I need to access the floors I want to get to, so I’ve got to go back down and find them. There’s a mayor who isn’t a mayor…

It was at this point that Cloud finally cottoned on to the idea that Shinra might be a touch on the evil side.

And a rather pretty map of Midgar to build…

It’s like LEGO, but people die when you collapse it.

And some random battles. Although I’m impressed. So far, FFVII has mixed up the enemies I fight, where many RPGs would choose a few stock enemies and send them to you endlessly. It keeps it interesting, and also weird.

Earthworm Jim! He’s such a groovy guy!
No, wait… this is clearly Evil Jim.

For some reason, the Shinra building is full of these huge paper worm-like things. Once again, I’m reminded that this would be easier with the team healer, but at least I stocked up on Cure Materia to keep things rolling along.

We also get to snoop in on a business meeting, which means NINJA SKILLS AT LAST! Fourteen year old me is delighted.

Also, Barret knows FIVE letter bad words. He’s just that much badder, you see.

We find the lab, and a creature (that will soon become important), as well as the mysterious Jenova. Cloud collapses, and Barret displays his finely tuned sensitivity, as well as his sense of comedy.

Also, Barret pulls out the SIX-letter F-bomb. The one used only for special occasions.

And with that, the hour of play finishes up. Yeah, I do still want to play Zelda, but this kept me going with an interesting mix of play styles, a lot of light satire about Japanese office culture and Barret’s foul mouth. Onwards and upwards. Although hopefully not up too many more stairs.

Next time: A climactic boss battle awaits!

Disney scraps digital downloads, The National Museum of Computing tour: Vertical Hold – Episode 117

Adam talks Disney’s decision to scrap Digital Copy Plus downloads with new Blu-Rays in Australia while Alex talks computing history at the UK National Museum of Computing in this week’s episode! Continue reading “Disney scraps digital downloads, The National Museum of Computing tour: Vertical Hold – Episode 117”