• RetroGaming_snes-Classic-box_RGB-slider.jpg?fit=1000%2C1000
    The new SNES Classic sells for $79.99. Photo provided by Nintendo of America.
  • nes-classic-edition-box_RGB-slider.jpg?fit=1000%2C1000
    Last year’s NES Classic sold for $59.99. Photo provided by Nintendo of America.

Retro-computing: bits and bytes of the past back to the desk

in video games by

   Nintendo re-released a miniature plug and play console with 21 built in games of their best hits from their library called the SNES Classic Edition, a remake of the older gaming console this year.

   When people think of computers, generally they think now a ’days of a big box and slim monitor. Some think of Steven Job’s sleek designs for Apple, and some think of a laptop. When we think of old computers, though, generally it’s the older TV-like monitors from the 1990s: a big CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor and a big beige box.

   The SNES (the Super Nintendo Entertainment System) Classic is a reproduction of Nintendo’s best-selling console very similar to the NES Classic released in 2016 that held 30 built-in games. Another similar product is the Atari Flashback which was a plug and play console of the Atari 2600, a gaming console from the late 1970s.

   All three of these are examples of what could be described as retro-gaming or retro-computing depending on what is being looked for.

   To define the terms, retro-gaming is specific generally to computers whose sole task is to play and display video games in some form of media.

   Retro-computing, however, is the use of a general purpose computer to play video games and use software from decades past.

   While this article will focus on retro-computing more than retro-gaming, they largely overlap. For the rest of the article, the term retro-computing will describe the activity of playing or use of older applications on genuine hardware or through software simulation (often called emulation) with modern hardware.

   Retro-computing, as defined by PC Magazine’s Encyclopedia, is the use of vintage hardware or software as a hobby or because the older computer and its hardware still function as needed. Many people may consider this a worthless hobby or somewhat of a silly idea. Why use an old computer; why keep a computer that is so old?

   To answer — retro-computing came about largely for nostalgia or “an excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition” as Merriam-Webster defines it. People who have used things that they grew up with will likely want to continue using them, much like how someone might not want to let go of a favorite toy or well-worn book.

   These old computers had a large user-base, some lasting well into the late 1980’s before being finally unsupported. A now vintage computer system, the very well-known Commodore 64, for example, sold in the millions.

    Many of these old computer users formed conventions, and now large conventions such as Portland Retro Gaming Expo (PREG) in Portland, Oregon, take place annually. Some individuals even gathered enough momentum and resources to spawn the creation of the National Video game Museum based in Frisco, Texas, all for the preservation, celebration and education of these older computers, consoles and related software.

   Some of these older machines are even brought to the convention to show to the public, giving people with memories of the past a smile at old delights and frustrations while giving a younger generation a look at what came from the past and how far we’ve come, much like human history itself is taught in schools.

   People coming from these conventions will hopefully have a better sense of the computers from the past and how influential they are.

   While many people may come out of these conventions with an appreciation of the past, others decide to choose it as a hobby, though many don’t know where to start or what to expect when starting in on the hobby.

   Retro-computing as a hobby doesn’t need to be prohibitively expensive through the process of emulation which translates older hardware architecture into software that the modern PC can understand. This allows old software to be read by the modern PC and displayed.

   Many applications, websites, blogs, forums and YouTube channels are dedicated to the subject. Some of these would be well worth a look into.

   One source that would give readers a wide breath of information is computerhistory.org, an American museum with online exhibits and an excellent timeline of computing history from the 1930s to the present inventions. It also gives a history of personal computers as we know them today and much of what the retro-computing scene revolves around.

   One of the channels known on YouTube as “The 8-Bit Guy” has tackled the subject of how to get into retro-gaming in a video. In the video, the 8-Bit Guy answers, “What is the easiest retro-gaming system to get into?” Stating in the video, “I would have to say, MS-DOS computers. These are the ancestors of the modern computers and so share far more in common with computers today than any of these older systems.”

   Personally, I would recommend players get into emulating whatever they have fondness for. I got into emulating consoles I grew up with like the SNES, NES, and PlayStation 1. Emulation has been done plenty of times with many forums and postings available as resources. So go play.