The Retro Computer Museum is one of several charitable organisations dedicated to saving, repairing, restoring and playing 1980s vintage gaming devices. The Museum holds at least one gathering a year for supporters, fundraising and publicity. The May event expanded to two days for the first time in 2011, due to popular demand from retro gaming fans on the Continent. Consequently several Dutch and German ‘sceners’, as the fans are known, attended the event as well as several hundred others from various corners of England.
The Annual Retro Computer Museum Gathering, May 2011
Assorted Ataris, numerous Nintendos, a Jupiter, a few Amigas plus many old arcade gaming machines were all on show in rural Leicestershire one wet weekend in May 2011.
An Ordinary Village Hall Bursting at the Seams with Old Computers
Swannington, near Coalville, was once again the venue for the event, as it has been in recent years. The same three rooms were in use, with a small seating area in the quieter front room for visitors to relax and eat in, and a varied display of beeping, chirping, whirring and flashing machinery in all other corners of the building. Entry was £7.50 each, in order to cover the cost of hall hire whilst giving the profits to the charity. In late November, the Museum will hold its first Gathering at Snibston Discovery Museum, a larger venue. News was beginning to break that there was the chance for the RCM collection to move to a permanent home, so there was a general feeling of optimism for the future of this small and dedicated band of enthusiasts and their prized machinery.
On display was an eclectic mix of older gaming equipment. Everything from a version of Pac-Man for the Nintendo running on a large flat screen to the Jupiter 400 showing an early black-and-white version of Donkey Kong.
I was lucky enough to speak to a coder who was developing a modern version of the machine and was able to compare and contrast his coding with the original machine. For the completists, there were several different takes on Pac-Man and Munchman running on a variety of machinery, a number of Donkey Kongs, Space Invaders-type games for most platforms and a copy of Joust on the Atari 900 complete with braking sound effects when the bird landed and skidded to a halt to pick up the golden egg. Other fully playable games varied from Hangman on a Texas Instruments device to Manic Miner, Hang On, Penguin Adventure, Arachnoids and Lemmings plus various Super Mario franchises and an early flight simulator on the Nintendo.
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Fresh Food Served Throughout the Day
This gamer marches on her stomach, so every event always has the requisite review of the food outlets. RCM never disappoints in this area, and as ever, a selection of hot and cold food and drink was on offer. This ranged from burgers and jacket potatoes to fizzy drinks, tea, coffee, crisps and chocolate.
Plus home made, wheat-free chocolate muffins and chocolate crispies to die for, as always. I swear some of the sceners come for the food alone... Prices were reasonable at between £2.50 and £3.00 for a main course and 60p for a can of pop or generously sized cup of hot drink.
Constant Movement around the Devices
The general idea of such events is that visitors play as many of the games as they can, moving around the room according to their whim and which stations are vacant at the time. This tactic allows for easy mixing and socialising as well as introductions to new faces. Variety is the keystone to maximum enjoyment and the way the machines are laid out with their games library alongside makes it easy to move to a new area and decide to sample several games for the same platform.
Multi-Player Competitions and Gamer T-shirts
On Saturday, in one corner of the room, an ongoing multi-player contest group could be found, playing Bomberman. Many of the regular sceners in that group were wearing what can only be termed ‘appropriate’ T-shirts, bearing legends such as I was a Teenage Manic Miner, the Space Invaders logo and a black shirt with the bright yellow Pac-Man design and the phrase Vicious Yellow B*****d in the same luminous shade. The retro scene these days is dominated by age 35+ males, some of whom have started to bring their families along to the events. Therefore a number of younger children were around for part of the day. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, alternately taking part in some of the gaming and playing tag around the room until the early evening when they were taken home to bed. There were also a number of University students in attendance, as the nearby De Montfort University supports a vibrant retro scene.
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A Chance to Test Long-Buried Gaming Skills
The gatherings provide a chance for all attendees to play games they never thought they would again, those they always wanted to – and those they didn't even know existed. The breadth of development between a Jupiter 400 with a black and white two dimensional screen and a Nintendo running R-type is stunning, but here they sit side by side quite happily. It is a wonderfully entertaining way to spend a few hours and in addition is great value for money.
RCM website - Accessed monthly from May-November 2011 during work on this article and regularly updated with news on the Snibston gathering.
Snibston Discovery Museum (Leicester County Council) - Accessed November 2011.
This article originally appeared on Suite101.com on 6 November 2011. It was removed at the writer's request in February 2013, and appears here with slight revision and additional photographs.