Retro Gaming Redone (Going Solid State)

I grew up without access to any good video games. My parents believed the Atari 2600 was good enough to last us 8 years (and my sister didn’t play so “us” means “me” here). During those 8 years, I acquired about 25 4-color games which required a lot of imagination. Meanwhile, 1985 came and went: no Nintendo Entertainment System, even though I rented games to take to a friend’s house and begged them to adopt me. 1986, Sega Master System was released. I personally rubbed off the button labels on the Sears demo model (like I had with their IntelliVision).

1987, oh hey, I got a Radio Shack Tandy PC! (that exclamation point is sarcasm). Still no NES or Sega Master System. I did get a 22 rifle, though, for Christmas! The frown I gave my dad angered him. Is he BLIND? Can’t he see that I hate some things in life, and love other things? And you’re supposed to–you know–encourage your kids with the things they enjoy? You know, their interests that might develop into talent and skill in time? Nope. I needed a rifle like I needed a fireplace in my bedroom.

1989 saw the release of Sega Genesis. And for typical boomer parents who took us to the mall every Friday night, and Saturday, and usually Sunday (because that’s what life is about, envy), even though I run to any video game demo unit in sight, it doesn’t register a mechanical or electrical switch in either brain that their kid loves video games? That he loves to read? And play board games? And write stories?

In 1991, I was 19 going on 16 due to my incompetent upbringing, and still relied on parents for too much in life. I had worked steadily mowing lawns since 8th grade, but it was chump change. I bought myself a Super Nintendo in 1992 after giving up on receiving one as a gift. 1991 holiday season came and went, as did my January birthday, where I received a crossbow. Yes, a crossbow, a big serious thing with a manual string (loading the string is like lifting a 30-lb bucket of water out of a well).

A crossbow! Is that backup in case the 22 rifle jams? (It did jam; it was a Remington stalk-loading automatic that could perforate a squirrel tommy-gun style, if I were to ever actually shoot at an animal….).

(Pause: the memory caused a brief but violent state of mania with profanity, but I’m ok now).

But I had finally done it! Escaped the boomers enough to buy myself a video game system! Sometime in mid-1992 I had about 4 games for my SNES and that was about all I could afford.

Can you imagine the world of 1992 today? No, you can’t, I’m being rhetorical! (that is not a sarcastic ex-po, it’s real). No, you can’t, you spoiled 21st century first-world human, because in 1992 there was no Amazon or GameStop or eBay or anything remotely like these wonders of the future. The extent of offerings in my small hometown involved K-Mart, KB Toys (in the mall), and a mom-&-pop video store that sold video and PC games at full retail price. (It wasn’t until years later that we received a Toys-R-Us and a Target, by which time I was an adult and had left).

Not only could I not afford $49.99 per game for the SNES, but these stores only had about 12 games for each system, so I literally did not know about interesting third-party games such as ports from successful computer games like D&D, Ultima, Might & Magic, etc.

Today, there are no small towns when Amazon, FedEx, DHL, and UPS are patrolling the streets.

Suffice it to say–and yes, I’m finally done pitying myself and ready to continue–I was deprived of my favorite pasttime as a child, and like my grandparents who survived the Great Depression, I have frugality issues and angst and tend to overcompensate now that I’m getting older. (Yes, I did just compare going without video games to the Great Depression, and feel that it’s appropriate!)

My kids are all nearly grown, which gives me a little more time and money than I had when I was waist-deep in kids. The result is obvious and I don’t need to spell it out, except it might feel good to do so, if I were doing the obvious. Which I’m not. I’m not buying video games by the truck load from eBay & etc. Nope!

Oh, well, I have the consoles and games, but I’m done buying. Yep, done spending money on video games. I’m not pirating. Er, sort of. Because, I own them all. Or, have may be a more appropriate word.

I’m reminded of Nicholas Negroponte’s book, Being Digital, which I read in college. He presented a now-outdated but then-prescient case for why the world should shift more into the digital realm. For example, he wrote that it is unconscionable that we mail paper documents to each other when digital scans (or even the archaic fax) is at hand.

This is the approach I have adopted for my emotional need for video games. The Negroponte approach means that I do not spend my free hours whittling away my income on retro cartridges, special edition gold consoles, and likely scratched optical discs of games. (That is so boomer).

Oh, ho ho! No, you think you know where I’m going with this, but YOU DO NOT! (non-sarc-ex-po). I’m not talking about emulators. There, I said it, you can stop holding your breath now.

Alright, enough suspense. Yes, I have every game ever made for my choice video game consoles, and no, I did not buy them. I didn’t spend countless hours pathetically searching for rare cartridges and discs of games I’ve always wanted to play but never could afford (or find). And I’m not using emulation (yuck! that’s like kissing a mannequin).

I discovered the Negroponte solution to retro gaming: DIGITAL games on PHYSICAL hardware. The person who made this possible is a Ukrainian engineer called Krikzz (krikzz.com) and his product is called EverDrive (everdrivestore.com). These are the models I’m using:

Nintendo 64 (EverDrive 64 X7)

Nintendo SNES (Super EverDrive X5)

Sega Genesis (Mega EverDrive X7)
(incl Master System games)

Game Boy Advance (EverDrive GBA X5)

What about optical consoles? I wrote a book years ago on modding the original Xbox using a modchip, and I still have that modded Xbox with some of my all-time favorite games (such as Gauntlet Dark Legacy and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 1 & 2) loaded onto a greatly expanded hard drive. As for other consoles, the solution today is to replace the optical drive with an optical drive simulator running an SD card. Awesome tech, no?

Having never been a PlayStation fan, I do not know anything about that platform line, but I do know what’s possible with my two favorite brands: Nintendo and Sega. The GameCube can be modded with an optical drive simulator called GCLoader. The Dreamcast can be modded with a simulator called GDEMU (Gigabyte Drive Emulator–bad naming, it’s not an emulator, it’s a simulator). Pull out the old optical unit, and plug in a new device that tricks the console into loading games from an SD card instead (custom software takes your chosen ROM from a menu and loads it into the buffer for playback).

Sega Dreamcast

The reason why I am not going to install a GCLoader into my GameCube is not due to fondness for the console’s original hardware, it’s simply because I’m using this GameCube to host the GBA EverDrive X5 via the Game Boy Player. I have the adapter (which plugs into the bottom of the GameCube) as well as the torturously rare GBP disc needed to use it.

So, there you go, all digital. Mr. Negroponte, I’m doing my best! No more burning CDs or any such nonsense to enjoy out-of-production games that are expensive if one can even find them for sale!

And the final result is that I’m done! I can play every game released for these consoles, especially the games from my game-deprived years. In the long run, no more screwing with bad cartridges or scratched discs. Whew! I don’t know about you, but I’m done with that.

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