An Idiot’s Adventures In Gameland – Steve McNeil

#14: Pacman, Betamax and Runner Beans

Hello, dear reader. Forgive the brevity this week – I’m currently running round like a runner bean running round a roundabout. Hence that dreadful sentence that would never normally make the edit.

Firstly, a huge thanks to the brilliant guys at GamerDisco and Replay Events for having me along to Play Margate last weekend. I had a lot of fun meeting everyone there, and it was a genuine honour to be with Jon Stoodley when he completed the perfect game on Pac-Man, live – the first time that’s ever been achieved in Europe! I’ve never seen a man so proud of spending a sunny day by the seaside in a dark room. Incredible scenes.

Steve McNeil with Jon Stoodley at GamerDisco/Play Margate.

Steve McNeil with Jon Stoodley at GamerDisco/Play Margate.

This week, I’ve spent a lot of time with Rare Replay. If you’ve got an Xbox One and not grabbed a copy yet, I’d thoroughly recommend it – 30 games for the price of half a new one. Not all the games are worth your while (some of the oldest ones’ difficulty levels are unappealing to any modern gamer used to having their hand held throughout a game) but there’s more than enough there to get plenty of bang for your buck.

Obviously it’s a shame there’s some key omissions from their archive, specifically those titles that hark from their Nintendo glory period – the Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the SNES and Goldeneye 007 on the N64 being the 2 most glaring examples. Clearly licensing issues are at play here but, with the James Bond title at least, you’d have hoped in the intervening years that someone, anyone, could have worked out a mutually beneficial deal to give this title the re-release (and remastering?) it truly deserves.

This situation got me thinking about the strange position we find ourselves in with videogaming, and how it might be one of the reasons there’s still a barrier between ‘gaming’ and the ‘mainstream’ (whatever those two things might be). Whereas music, or home video progressed to industry standards with relative haste, videogames remain trapped in a cycle of VHS versus Betamax, with the different consoles in each generation vying for market share.

Historically, consoles have often been loss leaders in the industry, with game sales and peripherals the source of company profits, so why do we continue to refuse to move to a standardised delivery platform? Certainly, with the advent of services like the now-defunct ‘On Live’ or Playstation 4’s ‘Share Play’, we have the ability to stream games to a whole range of devices via the internet, so the hope is that eventually the idea of needing a specific console to play a game will seem as ridiculous as the concept of only being able to play the latest Tom Cruise blockbuster on a Philips DVD player, or the new One Direction album on a specific mp3 player.

And yet, as I say that, there’s a small part of me that quite likes the fragmented nature of gaming – the fact that, if you want to play Mario, you need a Nintendo console. To this day, if you show me a Super NES I can’t help but smile. I’ll never feel that way about a Blu Ray player.

So, look, I mean these are just the ramblings of a fool, aren’t they? I’ve not drawn any conclusions, and I’ve achieved nothing more than wasting five minutes of your life. If it’s any consolation, I’m really sorry. Silver lining – I’m off on holiday next week so you won’t have to put up with me banging on for two weeks. Not that you ever have to, of course. No-one’s making you read this, right? And if they are, post something in the comments, and we’ll try to send help.

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