Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Setting the scene...

So about a month ago now, when it wasn't dark when I woke for work and and it seemed every girl in the street was wearing daisy dukes, I took a long slow train from the South Coast of England up to the cultural Mecca of Leicester.
My mate Dave had invited me to Retro Active, an event at the Phoenix Cinema that aimed to pair a whole load of old and obscure video games and systems with a whole load of old and not so obscure films showing on the big screen.

How could I say no?

 I came home from that weekend with two things very certain in my mind:
1) Taiko Drum Master is the greatest video game ever made! (Ever!)
2) I was going to build a M.A.M.E. cabinet.

To not bore those that are in the know and not confuse those that aren't - Put very simply M.A.M.E. is a computer program that let's you play old arcade games, things like Outrun, Final Fight, Afterburner... You know, good games... on your PC or laptop. The name is an acronym for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator.

I'd known about M.A.M.E. and the practice of building a pc running the software into the cabinets of old arcade machines for many (too many) years - but at Retroactive I saw bar-top style cabinets for the first time and I think it was this smaller form factor in particular that inspired me the most.

That, and 1000 Miglia.

Here's the thing, there was a great article on Eurogamer a little while back about how the best games experiences are a pairing of software and hardware - Be that an XBox and Halo, a PC and Crysis, or a Gameboy and Tetris. There is an alchemy that happens when the two are perfectly paired that is almost indefinable - a chemistry that links the machine, the programme and the player in a way that is very hard to describe.
This happened to me with that bar-top M.A.M.E. cabinet and 1000 Miglia, a game also known as The Great 1000 Miles Rally.
It's fast, it's fun, it's far from easy, it's absolutely beautiful, and I'd never heard of it before.

Everything I love in a videogame.

By this point in the Reteoactive proceedings I was drunk and Dave had discovered that by restarting the cabinets (There were 4 on a table just next to the cafe... and the bar...) it would bring up a list of available games - hundreds, maybe thousands of titles all built in and ready to play.
This wasn't new to me, I'd had similar set ups on various PC's at home, emulators of every kind with vast swathes of games at my fingertips - but something about that little cabinet and that little game changed my perspective.

All of a sudden, I needed this in my life.