Press start to play: Is Nottingham now the modern home of retro video games?

Video: CEO of the NVA Iain Simons talks retro video games in Nottingham

Christmas shopping trends meant this season’s must-have present came from the high-tech world of virtual reality, but as Liam Hunt discovers, gamers in Nottingham are ditching next-gen and dusting off their old joysticks.

Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Tetris; not just video games to those that played them, but flashbulbs in the mind which revive memories of childhood and a time when gaming was simpler, and, some would say, more fun.

With developing technology paving the way for new consoles these iconic titles faded out of the rapidly-growing video game catalogue. Old favourites condemned to a life of collecting dust at the bottom of the most dog-eared box in the attic.

But one Nottingham gamer is blowing away the cobwebs and breathing new life into our old consoles.

Taking nostalgia to the next level is Nottingham video game programmer Matt Phillips. He is creating a brand new game for the SEGA Mega Drive, 28 years after the console’s original release.

Matt’s creation, Tanglewood, has been produced on an original Sega development kit from the 90s and after five years in the making the game is set for release on physical cartridges in November 2017.

Tanglewood will come as an original 16-bit cartridge.

The 30-year-old says it has been something he has wanted to do since the age of nine.

“I got a Mega Drive when I was very young and fell in love with it at first sight,” says Matt.

“I also had a Commodore 64 at the time so I’d already started some basic programming on that and the two kind of collided.

“Ever since then I’ve wanted to make a game on my favourite console, it just hasn’t been a realistic feasibility until now.”

Matt with the Sega Development Kit used to make Tanglewood.

Matt joined Nottingham video game developer Crytek UK, now Dambuster Studios, in 2013, working on games such as Homefront: The Revolution, and converting the classic first-person shooter TimeSplitters 2 onto our modern consoles.

Despite working on the next-generation of video game consoles Matt believes retro still has its advantages.

He said: “There is beauty in their simplicity, they’re pick up and play instant gratification games. You turn it on and your game will just start running.

“In a world of 20 minute cut scenes it’s a bit of fresh air to go back to something like that, and people still enjoy those kind of things today.

“It’s gameplay and nothing but gameplay, we didn’t have such flashy graphics back then, so it was all about good gameplay.”

Nymn must face the terrors of the night and survive.

His 2D platforming game is set in the realm of Tanglewood and follows the adventure of a young creature called Nymn. Seperated from the pack after sunset and unable to get to the safety of his family’s underground home, Nymn must survive the terrors of the night and get to morning.

Nearly 900 supporters pledged £54,830 to turn Matt’s Kickstarter campaign into reality. Far surpassing his original goal of £48,000 Matt has promised that the support from his fellow retro gamers will be rewarded with a Sega Dreamcast port of the game.

He added: “There is certainly a lot of interest in retro in Nottingham, the National Video Game Arcade [in Hockley] is always full and the ALT Gaming Lounge has popped up nearby where I go once a week.

“Nottingham is definitely a gaming city, especially considering we have a festival called GameCity – that hits the nail on the head. I think we can put Nottingham very firmly on the map as being the London for retro video gaming.”

Video: A demo is available for fans wanting a taste of Tanglewood before its full release.

But it’s not just Matt who believes the city is fast becoming the UK’s retro video game capital.

Chief Executive of the National Videogame Arcade and GameCity Festival founder, Iain Simons, said: “There is an unclaimed cultural capital of gaming that we are doing our bit to claim and we have been doing our bit to claim that for 12 years now.

“It’s joining that up with education, joining that up with economic development and joining it up with a broader ambition for the city.

“Nottingham absolutely has the opportunity to be for video games what Liverpool was for pop music, Manchester was for house music, that’s what Nottingham can be.”

Launched in 2006 the annual GameCity festival is an event that takes place across the whole city, with the aim of inviting people into the world of video games.

Working alongside GameCity the National Videogame Arcade launched in March 2015, the UK’s first permanent cultural centre for video games.

The National Videogame Arcade in Hockley.

Iain added: “Video games are old enough now to have a number of chapters in their life story.

“We are 30 or 40 years into what video games are which is enough time for people to get nostalgic about things and for people who are now adults to be able to pass on games which they thought were interesting to their kids, and those generational moments are quite important.

“So it’s great to be able to look back now and trace how Mario went from being a really primitive 2D character to being this extraordinary 3D world.

“That sense of history, and the saying ‘you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been’, is really important.”

With stories of rare consoles selling for thousands online, people are taking to their lofts and garages to dig out their old video games in search of a hidden gem.

The pre-owned video game market in the UK was valued at £123m in 2015, an increase of 9.3 per cent on 2014. Not only are pre-owned games attractive to gamers on the lookout for a bargain, they also offer the opportunity to rediscover something long forgotten, retro video games.

And one of Nottingham’s video game shops is allowing local gamers to get this sometimes-elusive retro fix.

Playtime is an independent video games store in the Broadmarsh Centre and manager Ben Schofield says stocking retro video games is something they have done since they opened 12 years ago.

Manager Ben inside his Playtime store.

He said: “We’ve been open for many many years and have always stocked retro video games, people like it and there is a big trend towards it.

“Gaming may look better now but they don’t always play any better, a great game is a great game, so people will look back and want to play that game.

“We will literally buy anything retro we can, we will go as far back as we can go.”

Game chasers are even met with an 80’s soundtrack at Playtime with New Order and The Smiths making up the stores retro music playlist.

Playtime’s retro collection timeline:

  • Nintendo Entertainment System – 1983
  • Sega Mega Drive – 1988
  • Sega Game Gear – 1990retro-video-games-playtime
  • Super Nintendo – 1990
  • Game Boy – 1990
  • Playstation – 1994
  • Nintendo 64 – 1996
  • Dreamcast – 1998
  • Game Boy Colour – 1998
  • PlayStation 2 – 2000
  • Nintendo GameCube – 2001
  • Xbox – 2001
  • Game Boy Advance – 2001

Store assistant and avid retro gamer Stephen Brealey added: “A good game is like a good film, it’s just good for life, and people will always want to pick up and play the good games.

“If people can find retro video games in a shop like this they’re much more happy to look at it and pick it up rather than get them online.”

Nottingham even has something for those retro gamers who like a burger and a beer with their old school gaming. ALT Gaming Lounge recently joined Hockley’s creative quarter and is run by married gamers Kon-ick MacFarlane-Hunt and wife Marie.

Their retro lounge allows friends to socialise while they game, reliving gaming memories on classics such as Super Mario Kart, Donkey Kong and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Kon-ick says it’s the nostalgia of older games that keeps them alive: “It’s all down to nostalgia, when I was a kid I was playing on Sonic and Spyro, these days they can be difficult to find, they’re hidden gems.

“Playtime is one of the only places you can get them, it’s got that appeal of hidden gems, because retro can be difficult to get hold of, it has become popular.”

ALT Gaming Lounge’s mantra is “eat, drink, play”.

To get the nostalgia flowing, ALT hosts “Retrowave”, a night dedicated to all things retro, a celebration of classic gaming, music and even 80s-inspired clothing.

Kon-ick said: “We thought we’ve got retro games all day so why don’t we celebrate that, so we came up with the retro night.

“We play retro wave music, celebrate retro games so people can go back and play some of the hidden gem games they haven’t seen for a while.”

Kon-ick says Nottingham is a unique place for game developers with many choosing the city as their home, including Dambuster Studios, Legendary Games and Sumo Digital.

He added: “The city is becoming a central hub for gaming and it’s making us stand out.

“We are pioneering something that no other city is doing, we are making Nottingham a city for gamers.”