Part II – Which Way Now?
Ah, welcome back dear reader! I see that for some unknown reason you have returned to my office seeking the sum total of my bountiful wisdom. I’m glad to see you again, sorry for forgetting our appointed time, have a seat and tell me your tale. Tell me of your many travels and adventures after taking on the Retro Game Collector job class. How much EXP have you earned? What spells or skills have you acquired? What treasures have you discovered and what allies have you gained in your quest? … Okay, I can see by that mildly annoyed expression on your face that you are probably not digging my shtick this time around or have no idea what I’m getting at.
Welcome! to! the! World of Retro Game Collecting! … Shit, I already said that last time didn’t I? Well, it’s more important now. To keep this seamless and easy to understand, I will be reusing the examples from last time. You who have chosen to collect Retro Games, and take on the Job Class of Retro Collector and have started at Level 1, you decided how far you wanted to go, you decided what kinds of games you want, and you set goals for your overall collection. I’m proud of you, I mean it. Sure, you have a SNES Jr., with 3rd-party replacement controllers and cables manufactured recently, but that’s OK. You not only have the 8 games you wanted from your childhood, but you have gotten 2 more games you didn’t know about as well, and you have a list of things you want to get. I am very proud of you indeed, dear reader. But now that you’ve accepted the title SNES collector (a subclass of the Retro Game Collector), I need to teach you how to level up your character and the class progression system. Come with me, my friend, and I assure you we are friends now… come with me into the tall grass.
For today’s lesson, I will teach you about random encounters, equipment upgrading, and party formation. Before you can go out there and explore the various dungeons and ruins of ancient gaming, you will need to know about purchasing equipment and gear. And if this RPG metaphor is already getting on your nerves, then buckle up motherfucker, ‘cause this train is riding straight into the ground and through until it hits Space China!
Purchase and Acquisition
Using our example from our tutorial (you and your SNES Jr. of childhood nostalgia), let’s continue our story. You purchased 2 new games for your collection, keeping in line with the goals you set using the framework and approach I showed you. But you bought them from Amazon because you have an Amazon credit account, and it was sold directly by Amazon for some reason. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this approach, but you will likely wind up spending a bit more than you would have otherwise liked going this way. SIDE-QUEST: What I recommend, is to check Google, and look for a Brick-and-Mortar game shop that is within an hour of you. You aren’t going every week, and an hour drive time is still pretty reasonable if you go maybe once or twice a month. You are likely to find one within this distance unless you live out in the deep country. My condolences to readers of the deep country, but I will help them as well later.
Ideally you will find a “Mom & Pop” store run by the owner and maybe some of their family or friends; not every owner is an angel, but so far I’ve never met a game store owner I didn’t hit it off with. Assuming the owner and staff are people you can form a respectful rapport with, these will be your new best friends in RGC. Making friends with them, or just having regular and memorable conversations with them, will go a long way, as well as being respectful and courteous to them and other customers in their store. By doing so, the owner will be more likely to offer you bargains, deals, or even work with you on the prices of some of their items. It’s the difference between paying $35 and $25, sometimes. And that’s just awesome.
I am friends with the owner of my local shop, and thanks to this friendship, when he gets new merchandise in that he knows is up my alley, he messages me and asks me if I want him to set some aside. He cuts me deals, and has even gone out of his way to accommodate me and my obscenely busy schedule. Naturally, it doesn’t hurt that I drop within the range of $200 at his shop every time I come in, but I digress.
Thanks to this friendship and mutual respect, I’ve gotten first dibs on some pretty rare items that would disappear really quickly as soon as they hit the shelf. Technically this isn’t just being a good friend, it’s also good business. I don’t have to drop $200 each time I go, it just happens because every time I go I always find “Treasure”. And the feeling is like finding treasure. Checking back at regular intervals will guarantee that you will probably find new stuff being put up for sale every time you come in, and sometimes you find things you never thought you would see in person. Or you find that rare game that no one notices at the bottom of a display stack. Simply going in with no plan, just to see what you find, and finding treasure… it does produce a kind of high, and I love it. Be careful of this high, as it can lead you to overspending.
You will also spend much of your purchasing time online on eBay and even Amazon (no I’m not being sarcastic). eBay and Amazon are good ways to find specific games that may not always come through the doors of the local game shop. Purchasing games from these sites comes with its own set of challenges of course; you must always check the product description/condition and always check the feedback rating of the seller. Common sense stuff regarding online purchases. I shouldn’t have to hold your hand on this one, I think you got it. You already got 2 games from Amazon earlier.
You will, however, really want to find that local game shop, not just for the deals and the ability to grind around the cases looking for random encounters, but because getting in good with the people there will likely open you up to a variety of goods and services you will need later on that you might not have had access to before.
This is why you want a smaller shop, and not a Chain Store.
Ah, yes. Before we can move on to the next part, I must inform you about Chain Stores. There are chain stores out there that deal in Retro video games, among other things. They are typically beholden to a larger company’s rules, and as such will probably not wheel and deal with you. The people there are probably not passionate about retro games, it’s probably just a job to them. Nothing wrong with that, but that doesn’t help you collect all those SNES games you are looking for. Chain Stores also tend to price their games high, using eBay to determine retail price based on the most recent High Ball. I can’t confirm that every chain runs this way, but it damn sure feels like it when they are selling Super Mario World for $45. I mean, come the fuck on.
Now that you know where to get gear and items, let me tell you about the crafting and upgrade system.
Repair, Refurbish, Replacement, and more
Many of the most popular Retro consoles are over 20 – 30 years old, and the games at least as old. This creates its own problems with a variety of ways to solve them, which can typically be taken care of with, say it with me now… Friends within the Hobby!
Yes! Your SNES has stopped playing your favorite game and you don’t know why? You were almost at the end, and you only had to clear the last dungeon. Should you buy a new SNES? Do you need a new cart? That’s going to take a day unto itself unless you order online. Many people in the Game Collecting Hobby are quite knowledgeable of the inner workings of their consoles, parts, frequent issues, etc. By talking to them, they can help you troubleshoot to find what the problem is, tell you if it’s fixable or if you need to straight up replace the unit, and perhaps even… how to fix it. Some may even be able to fix it for you, if you throw a few bucks their way for parts and service.
Everyone likes to use the phrase, “I got a guy…” when referring to something they need done requiring skills they do not have. Now they can be a girl, or a guy, or someone in a magical Technicolor Dreamcoat or anywhere in between, but the point is you are gonna wanna find someone who you can go to when things get funky. Yes, sometimes you need to get your games repaired. Of course, don’t let this stop you from learning to do it on your own, but you will surely wind up as someone’s “… Guy” if you do so. Now, most mom & pop shops have someone they call when they need merch tested, refurbished, or repaired. It’s also likely they offer a service where you give them money as a go between and they hire out to fix your stuff if possible. This is why you make friends with the owners, as they will cut you deals, work with you to get you back to playing, and you may even find that their “Guy” is an employee, and you can exchange numbers to work with them more directly.
The local shop I mentioned had such a person, and he was a cool dude. I paid him to not only repair my broken consoles and controllers, but to also service ones that were getting on in age and due for a breakdown. I usually pay him $5 – 10 for a deep-cleaning and check-up of ancient consoles to keep them running. Hell, he even fixed my laptop as a favor once. Everytime I came in and he was there, he and I would chill for almost an hour and talk about movies, games, just about everything. And naturally if some games came in he thought I might be interested in, he was willing to deal with me before it went out on the shelf. Both he and the owner were pretty cool. He also understood the importance of proper disc resurfacing. Disc resurfacing will be something I will write about more in the future… I have way too much to say about that.
The ability to get your consoles repaired is imperative, but sometimes your console can’t be fixed by simply adjusting the pins, or cleaning it out thoroughly. Sometimes you need to replace parts, and your repair person will usually know where to get them, and how much they cost. Sometimes they will even order them on your behalf as a part of the service job. I know my “Guy” did, he is great. I prefer to only use official parts in any of my systems, which can be hard when they are no longer manufactured. That means I often pay extra to get official parts that may be on their last legs themselves, but that’s me.
Let’s run a hypothetical scenario here going back to your interrupted game run… it was your SNES broken, and we should totally get it fixed right away. Let me introduce you to my made up repair guy… Evan. Evan took a look and said your pins have gone bad (I’m not sure if this is a problem that occurs on the SNES as much, but it sure as shit does on the NES). He tried cleaning them and resetting them but it just didn’t work. He offers you a choice: he can look for official parts, but that could be hit or miss on cost and condition; or he can go online to a vendor who manufactures new replacement parts that are usually compatible and probably at an easier-to-swallow price. What you choose to do is entirely up to you, imaginary-person-who-is-talking-to-me-in-my-head-for-some-reason. No one will talk shit about you for using new 3rd-party parts instead of official parts cannibalized from hardware that could not be saved. Unless you try to sell it later, but in order to avoid any sort of drama, just list what you swapped out and where it came from and you will likely be fine. Not everyone is as OCD as me about stuff, and even I wouldn’t care if you swapped stuff out before you sold it to me as long as you told me. I only sweat it when I’m the one picking parts.
Now that I’ve shown you around the equipment shop and how to maintain and repair your gear, let us move on to your skill tree and magic system. Hope you didn’t have plans for the rest of the day, because it’s about to get encyclopedia-length up in here.
Research is important to most hobbies, learning things you need to get by (Oh, hai Mark!), and learning all the things you need to be damn good at it (probably not from me). There are many resources out there that allow you to research the hardware you are collecting for (the historical and technical), and many of the games for it as well. The stories for which are incredibly fascinating. I recommend books like Console Wars by Blake J. Harris, Masters of Doom (story of Doom and Id) by David Kushner, and Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan. These stories are often as interesting as the games themselves, and can often point you in the direction of games you wouldn’t have otherwise thought about. For example, “This dev team did incredible things that everyone recognizes them for, but they also made this game nobody ever talks about.” Or, “I’ve never heard of that one, let’s give it a go!” types of information.
Other than the interesting tidbits of lore you will pick up from reading such ancient tomes, you should also seek the wisdom of the Great Library of the Internet. Look up information on games you want, as you may find out things that can help you when trying to purchase them. For example: did you know Star Tropics is more valuable if you have the book with it? It apparently has a letter inside that when you pour water on it, reveals a hidden message you need to complete the game. You can find out what console a particular game is for, or had been ported to, what the current prices are (and if you are being high-balled or low-balled), or learn about problems that may be associated with a particular product. A certain game or piece of hardware may have a defect that causes something to happen, or not happen… there is no fixing it, it’s just something you have to deal with. Research could tell you that in advance, so you can make the decision on whether it’s worth it or not, instead of bothering Evan again to ask if he can fix the thing that the Console Gods can’t fix.
Researching will also help you spot bootlegs, and reproductions being passed off as legit, among other things. I will talk more about reproductions and bootlegs in Part III.
Now you may be asking yourself, where exactly can I do this research? Are there places I should go? Who do I talk to? Do you know the Muffin Man? Who shot J.R.? Now, brave Adventurer, it’s time for you to go out there and start Looking For a Group. Join a Guild. Form a ragtag group of adventurers to share your adventures in… adventuring and stuff. ON TO ADVENTURE!!!
Community and Making Friends
I asked my friend who runs my local shop what he felt was important to know when getting into this hobby. He said Networking and Friendships. I couldn’t agree more. Having like-minded individuals who know just as much about your hobby as you do or more is great; there are so many great conversations you can have that go on forever. More importantly, this will help you with your collection, and not in a selfish and douchey way, but in a cool and awesome way. Shut up, my similes can’t all be winners.
You have recently made friends who are also in the hobby locally thanks to hanging out at your local game shop, even though you can only go to the shop once a month. But after months of talking to you, your new friend knows for a fact you would love a copy of EarthBound for your SNES. While at the shop on his own, he finds a copy in one of the bins or in the case. He may call you to let you know it’s there. Maybe the two of you will strike a bargain where he buys it for you and you reimburse him upon delivery. Or you may just make a point to come up and get it now that you know it’s there, and see what else came in since you were there last. Or he may buy it for you as a gift, since you two are really good friends now, and you helped him move a couch last week.
This very scenario happened to me recently. A friend offered to buy me a SNES Classic if I reimbursed him because he saw them at Walmart. I had given up on owning one because of the frenzy, but I told him yes, and now I own it. This isn’t just our friendship at work, this is Karma. Back in May, when the Switch was nowhere to be found, I found one in a Walmart out in the middle-of-nowhere Kentucky. Called him up, offered to buy it if he reimbursed cost plus tax, and he got himself a Switch.
The hobby itself has an active and very much thriving community full of like-minded people who may or may not collect the same consoles, the same types of games, or to the same degree of collection. However, more often than not, they are very friendly, easy to talk to, and more than willing to help anyone who has any questions, or help them try to find that one thing they are definitely looking for. While I have mentioned finding these people among your local game stores, some people unfortunately do not have that same opportunity
Folks out in the sticks, and the hollars, not trying to hate on you guys. That’s a bit of a raw deal you have out there. Thankfully, there are plenty of Facebook groups and numerous online forums dedicated to the hobby. There is most assuredly a subreddit, although I don’t recall if I’ve been there or how active it is; I get around, so I’ve probably stopped by a few times. But the best place I have found is the Atari Age forums.
Atari Age is a part of a network of forums that are all dedicated to the hobby, with each dedicated to a particular console manufacturer: Nintendo Age, Sega Age, et. al. Discussions of major events in the hobby (believe me there are quite a few, it’s kind of exciting), trades, sales to other forum members, and more abound there. They even offer online tools to help you with your collection. I am a member there under a different name, but I don’t typically go there. I’m just not a forum type of person anymore, and I would rather chat directly with people or via a chat service. So if you go looking for me 1) you won’t find me, and 2) why are you looking for me!? WHO SENT YOU!? WHO DO YOU WORK FOR!? *pistol whips*
They will pretty much offer you everything you need that I can’t, especially if you are a rural collector. Be sure to check them out if you are really interested; I’m sure you will do very well in their Guild.
In closing, as you begin your Adventure, it is important to make friends and build a party, as they have knowledge you lack, and you will need that. They will help you so long as you also help them in return. They will typically treat you well and with respect as long as you do so in kind.
So until next time, dear reader, when we will hopefully wrap this beast up so I can send you on your way to the boss battles with confidence… see you in Part III!
(Editing assistance provided by Indigo Altaria!)
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