Friday, 14 September 2012

Gaming Memories - Part 10

Most of my gaming memories, certainly the ones documented here at Red Parsley, involve the acquisition or early use of a certain system or game, but I was recently reminded of a gaming memory of a slightly different type. I'm sure over the years we've all had our favourite gaming haunts. For those of us lucky enough, that probably included an amusement arcade or two. I grew up on the coast of southern England so I was fortunate to have access to several such emporiums, as detailed in the very first post of this series of features no less. In addition to these (or perhaps in the absence of them), I expect we all had a favourite game shop as well.

In my case there were three, each of which quite neatly covered a separate period of my gaming life. This was long before the days of 'Game' or even 'Electronics Boutique' and most game stores were independently owned and operated. The first one I ever spent any time in was also the closest one to my house.

Vigilante - the first PCE game I ever saw running...
It was known as Microland and was a small shop whose size belied the wonders that dwelt witin! The left and right walls were both laden with examples of the latest computers including Speccys, Commodore 64s, and early PCs. Later on they started to be dominated by fancier PC's, Atari STs, and Amigas, most of which were usually seen running amazing demos or playing very loud music. The most memorable of these was the time I first saw Links 386 Pro on a PC, and the music produced by the Amigas was the most distinctive - it could usually be heard long before actually entering the shop! These banks of computing power were separated by a tall shelf laden with all the latest games, and the window display and glass cabinets near the counter were where all the console-related stuff could be found. It was here that I caught my first glimpse of NEC's immense PC Engine console which even wowed my dad to the point that he nearly bought one for himself! Sadly he didn't, but several of my systems were bought here including my Speccy, Master System, Game Gear, Game Boy, and Amiga.

The Microland years covered most of my last few years at school but when I'd started college in the city, I was lucky enough to find another shop - South Coast Consoles. This one was located in the infamous Tricorn Centre (voted the ugliest building in the UK!) and was about the same size as my previous favourite but, as you may have guessed from its name, specialised in the consoles which were by now the most popular way to play videogames.

The boss of SCC regretted selling this to me...
There were a lot of shops and mail-order companies who specialised in consoles in the early 90’s and most of them made the bulk of their money from selling imported games, sometimes from the US but more usually from their country of origin – Japan. South Coast Consoles sensibly did the same which meant that not only were their shelves full of splendid MegaDrive, SNES, Game Boy, and Game Gear games, but PC Engine and Neo Geo titles too! This made the store more akin to an exotic treasure-trove to me and my college buddies thanks to all the mysterious and tantalising ‘grey’ imports on offer. It was the first time I saw (and immediately fell in love with) the box-art on Japanese games too. I bought as many Japanese games here as my meagre finances would allow including some that would remain jewels in my MegaDrive collection to this very day - Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure, New Zealand Story, Rainbow Islands Extra, and Marvel Land were all bought during this time. I also managed to acquire a few Japanese games for my other systems too such as Axelay for my SNES and some great Game Gear games in their teeny little boxes with infinitely superior cover-art.

I only bought one actual console here - my lovely white PC Engine, for a remarkable £40 as I recall. It didn't come with a power lead though, so I thought it would be okay to use my MegaDrive’s AC adaptor which used the same connector, but I soon discovered was causing my poor little Engine to overheat. Oh well, it survived… just about! They sold a good few other consoles too, including the odd special treat - this was the only place I ever saw an official UK Neo Geo on sale, for example. It cost a wallet-busting £400 and the cheapest game for it was… £120, I think. This meant I was never going to own one, or at least not while I was at college, but the owner of the store, who my friends and I soon got to know, would let us behind the counter to play on it at lunch times. Many unofficially-extended lunch breaks were spent playing Art of Fighting, Nam ’75, Ghost Pilots, and all the other early releases, to the detriment of our studies of course, but they were great days. Only a café located even closer to our college which housed a Bubble Bobble machine could rival South Coast Consoles for lunch time splendour but that didn’t offer nearly as much variety or longevity as that fantastic store.

Look - that's it now! Good old Ross, still there...
College had to end though and it wasn't long until I had my first job. Much of my wages over the first few years went to another shop I had recently discovered called Ross Records. As you may have guessed from the name, this store had actually been around for a while already and sold records - my dad had been a regular visitor there for years, but then they started selling games as well. Crucially for me, this included pre-owned titles which was the first time I'd encountered them. They didn't sell imported titles and some of their wares were a little tatty (price tags on boxes which left horrible marks - grrr!), but my visits soon saw my MegaDrive and SNES collections burgeon significantly nonetheless. This was also where I bought my Saturn and PlayStation and pretty much all the games I've ever owned for either system (or UK games, at least, with regards to the former), as well as the bulk of my 3DO collection, although not Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo which I remember them selling for £75 - ooof! It's good, perhaps the best version of SFII to be found, but that was a steep price which probably explains the reports of Mr. Ross being spotted driving around town in a Ferrari!

Aside from the occasional gasp-inducing prices though, Ross Records was a haven for many of my years of gaming, especially when they opened a second store even closer to my house which was smaller but had a great ambiance thanks to its life-size Star Wars models and splendidly nerdy artwork all over the walls. Unlike the other two stores mentioned, both Ross Records are still there today too, selling 360, PS3, and Wii games at probably-bargain prices (although I haven't actually been inside for years since I'm not really 'into' any current systems). I do now own a PS3 though, so even if I'm not really interested in using it for games, it might be worth reacquainting myself with Mr. Ross' splendid emporium.

As fondly as I recall these stores and my times in them, however, the sad fact is there probably won't be any like it soon. It's inevitable that games will become a download-only entertainment medium at some point, perhaps as soon as the next generation of systems, so if you live near any gaming oases like the ones I was lucky enough to know, visit them, support them, and cherish them, while you still can...

2 comments:

  1. PC was probably the system I had the least access to over the years. My uncle kept me in consoles growing up - NES, Genesis, SNES, and I bought a few of my own, but I didn't get a PC until I was a senior in high school - and it was a Tandy 1000 which was pretty dated by then. My first actual 'modern' PC wouldn't happen until I was a junior in college. I remember the guy who built it telling me how that 500mb hard drive was all I'd ever need... lol. I played a lot more console games than most people, but my history with PC games is pretty lacking by comparison.

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  2. Hi Mr. Chalgyr :) I've never really been a PC gamer either, there's all sorts of classics I've never played, mostly first-person shooters and strategy games. Consoles and arcades have always been my main passion as far as gaming is concerned :)

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