Retrogaming, also known as classic gaming and old school gaming, is the playing or collecting of older personal computer, console, and arcade video games in contemporary times. Usually retrogaming is based upon systems that are obsolete or discontinued.
Retrogaming has three main activities; vintage retrogaming, retrogaming emulation, and ported retrogaming. Vintage retrogaming includes games that are played on the original hardware. Emulation involves newer systems simulating old gaming systems, while ported retrogaming allows games to be played on modern hardware via ports or compilations. Additionally, the term could apply to a newer game, but with features similar to those of older games, such as an “retro RPG” which features turn-based combat and an isometric camera perspective.
Participants in the hobby are sometimes known as retrogamers in the United Kingdom, while the terms “classic gamers” or “old school gamers” are more prevalent in the United States. Similarly, the games are known as retrogames, classic games, or old school games.
Retrogaming has existed since the early years of the video game industry, but was popularized with the popularity of the Internet and emulation technology. It is argued that the main reasons players are drawn to retrogames are nostalgia for different eras, the idea that older games can be more challenging, and the simplicity of the games that requires less hours of gameplay.
Retro games are generally those produced from the 1970s to 1990s, and include video games for systems and consoles such as the Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, Master System, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Game Boy line, PC Engine, Mega Drive, Super NES, Atari Jaguar, Game Gear, 3DO, Sega Saturn, Atari Lynx, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Dreamcast as well as personal computer games for the Commodore 64, MSX, ZX81, ZX Spectrum, Apple II, Amstrad CPC, Commodore Amiga, NEC PC-88, PC-98, Sharp X1, Sharp X68000, ZX80, FM-7 and DOS platforms. Arcade games are also popular, especially early games by Konami, Sega, Atari, Taito, Williams Electronics, Namco, Nintendo, Technos, Capcom, and SNK. Games in this era were frequently attributed to individual programmers, and many retro gamers seek out games by particular developers, such as Tomohiro Nishikado, Shigeru Miyamoto, Shigesato Itoi, Bill Williams, Eugene Jarvis, Dave Theurer, Nasir Gebelli, Yuji Naka, Jeff Minter, Yuji Horii, Yu Suzuki, Tony Crowther, Andrew Braybrook, Hideo Kojima, and Hironobu Sakaguchi. Some games are played on the original hardware; others are played through emulation. Some retro games can still be played online using just the internet browser via DOS emulation. In some cases, entirely new versions of the games are designed, or remade. As well as playing games, a subculture of retrogaming has grown up around the music in retro games.
In the wake of increasing nostalgia and the success of retro-compilations in the sixth and seventh generations of consoles, retrogaming has become a motif in modern games, as well. Modern retrogames will impose limitations on color palette, resolution, and memory well below the actual limits of the hardware in order to mimic the look of older hardware. These may be based on a general concept of retro, as with Cave Story, or an attempt to imitate a specific piece of hardware, as with La Mulana and its MSX color palette.
Modern retrogaming began to gain traction thanks in part to the independent gaming scene, where the short development time was attractive and commercial viability was not a concern. More recently major publishers have started to embrace modern retrogaming with releases such as these: Mega Man 9, an attempt to mimic NES hardware; Retro Game Challenge, a compilation of new games on faux-NES hardware; and Sega’s Fantasy Zone II remake, which uses emulated System 16 hardware running on PlayStation 2 to create a 16-bit reimagining of the 8-bit original.
Vintage retrogaming involves players collecting the original hardware, cartridges, and discs the video games were originally released on. The hardware collected includes arcade systems, old home consoles, and their cartridges and discs. Some of these collectables can be fairly expensive and hard to find, limiting the access to these old games.
Retrogaming emulation involves older gaming systems being emulated on new hardware. It bypasses the need to collect old consoles and original games. ROMS, read only memory files, are taken directly from the original cartridge or disc from third parties. They are then typically put online through file sharing sites and played via emulators on modern hardware. Since emulation is a more accessible way to take part in retrogaming, it helped to popularize and expand on the hobby.
Ported retrogaming involves old games being played on new systems, just as emulation. It differs from emulation because the games are being rewritten for the new system and don’t use the original ROM files. Ported games are available through official collections, console-based downloads, and plug and play systems.
Modern retrogaming may sometimes be more broadly applied to games, made by companies and volunteers alike, that feature retro-style designs and reimaginings with more modern graphics. These enhanced remakes include Pac-Man: Championship Edition, Space Invaders Extreme, Super Mega Worm, 3D Dot Game Heroes. Some are based directly upon the enhanced emulation of original games, as with Nintendo’s NES Remix.
When remakes are created by an individual or a group of enthusiasts without commercial motivation, such games sometimes are also called Fangames. These are often motivated by the phenomenon of abandonware, which is the discontinuation of sales and support by the original producers, who may no longer exist. Examples for fan-made remakes are many adventure games such as King’s Quest I: Quest for the Crown or King’s Quest II: Romancing the Stones, and other remakes of classical games such as Civilization‘s free counterpart titled Freeciv.
The nostalgia-based revival of older game styles has also been accompanied by the development of the modern chiptune genre of game music. Chiptunes are characterized by severe limitations of sound imposed by the author’s self-restriction to using only the original sound chips from 8-bit or 16-bit games. These compositions are featured in many retro-style modern games and are popular in the demoscene.
With the new possibility of the digital distribution in mid-2000 the commercial distribution of old classical game titles became feasible again as deployment and storage costs dropped significantly:
[…] we can put something up on Steam [a digital distributor], deliver it to people all around the world, make changes. We can take more interesting risks.[…] Retail doesn’t know how to deal with those games. On Steam there’s no shelf-space restriction. It’s great because they’re a bunch of old, orphaned games
A digital distributor specialized in bringing old games out of abandonware is GOG.com (formerly called Good Old Games) who started 2008 to search for copyright holders of classic games to release them legally and DRM-free again.
Recently, mobile application developers have been purchasing the rights and licensing to re-release vintage arcade games on iOS and Android operating systems. Bandai Namco Entertainment Inc., a Japan-based arcade, mobile and home video game publisher, created a spin-off to the classic Pac-Man called Pac-Man Bounce. Bandai kept the core principles of the old Pac-Man game but added new features, levels, and styles of play. Pac-Man Bounce is currently only available in the Canadian and Australian app markets but is expected to be expanding worldwide soon. Square-Enix has even followed suit, releasing titles like Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy, and Tomb Raider.
Plug-and-play systems have been released or licensed by companies such as Atari, EA, and Sega. These systems include stand-alone game libraries and plug directly into the user’s television.
The video game industry has an active audience, including the retrogaming sector. The retrogaming community has both online and physical spaces where retrogames are discussed, collected, and played.
Online retrogaming community
There are several websites and online forums devoted to both retrogaming and video games in general. The content on these online platforms typically includes reviews of older games, interviews with developers, fan-made content, game walkthroughs, and message boards for discussions.
Fighting game community
The competitive Fighting game community traces its legacy from old-school arcades.[ Some fighting games have continued to receive arcade releases after the end of the arcade era. Face-to-face competition of Super Street Fighter II Turbo has been featured in the Evolution Championship Series.
There are several events that retrogamers can take part in. Exhibits typically include vendors, retrogames available to play, tournaments, costumes, and live music. such as the Vancouver Retro Gaming Expo, run by Phase 3 events. This event has been occurring annually since March 17, 2012.
Retrogaming in museums
Retrogaming is recognized by museums worldwide. For example, the RetroGames arcade museum of Karlsruhe, Germany was founded in 2002 and the Computerspielemuseum Berlin was founded in 1997. Some classical art museums bear a video gaming retrospective, as with 2012’s Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibition titled The Art of Video Games or as part of the Museum of Modern Art “Applied Design” exhibition in 2013.
Legal issues surrounding retrogaming
Though many abandonware titles are available for free download on third-party websites, the duration of copyright on creative works in most countries is far longer than the era of home computing. Emulators are typically created by third parties, and the software they run is often taken directly from the original games and put online for free download. Some companies have made public statements regarding the issues, such as Nintendo, stating that “the introduction of emulators created to play illegally copied Nintendo software represents the greatest threat to date in the intellectual property rights of video game developers”. However, video game developers and publishers typically turn a blind eye to emulation.