The Retro guide to game col­lect­ing

We chat with game col­lec­tor and preser­va­tion­ist Justin Hick­man to get his ad­vice on how to take you gam­ing li­brary to the next level

Games TM - - CONTENTS -

Game col­lec­tor and preser­va­tion­ist Justin Hick­man talks us through his collection and of­fers tips on how you too can be­come a pro­tec­tor of gam­ing’s great and il­lus­tri­ous his­tory with­out break­ing the bank

Ev­ery is­sue WE pack our retro sec­tion full of clas­sic games, many of WHICH you may Have played over THE years, but many more WE’RE sure you’ve never Heard of, let alone Had in your pos­ses­sion. but what if you ac­tu­ally wanted to be­come a retro game col­lec­tor? How would you even be­gin to com­pile a li­brary of clas­sic games? We thought we would take a mo­ment to con­sider these ques­tions and more with a sea­soned col­lec­tor to get their thoughts on how it can be done.

Justin Hick­man isn’t just a game col­lec­tor; he also con­sid­ers him­self to be a game preser­va­tion­ist, com­pil­ing a li­brary of ti­tles that isn’t just about pos­ses­sion or ac­cu­mu­la­tion, but mak­ing sure work­ing copies are avail­able to be en­joyed and passed down in the fu­ture. lead by, but not exclusive to, nin­tendo games, Hick­man’s im­pres­sive collection was born of a pas­sion for gam­ing from a young age. “i be­came a col­lec­tor by proxy,” he tells us. “i have al­ways had a huge pas­sion for the medium of video games and have had a keen in­ter­est since i was a child. be­ing born in the early Eight­ies and ’grow­ing up’ through the nineties, i was lucky enough to live through what some would con­sider ’the golden age’ of gam­ing that was 16-bit through 32-bit.”

this has given Hick­man a great head start as a col­lec­tor as he was al­ready a fan and owned ti­tles like Su­per Mario World, A

Link To The Past, Res­i­dent Evil, Tomb Raider and Metal Gear Solid. “i was keen to hold on to as much of this as pos­si­ble and, though ad­mit­tedly some con­soles and games were in­evitably lost along the way, i was lucky enough to hold on to a large chunk of what would be­come my video game collection,” Hick­man tells us. “this car­ried on as the gen­er­a­tions changed and the medium as a whole gained mo­men­tum to be­come what it is to­day. the col­lect­ing started years later when i had a lit­tle more dis­pos­able in­come and had nos­tal­gia for my ’golden age’ of gam­ing. i de­cided to fill in the blanks, and slowly started buy­ing games i ei­ther lost along the way or missed out on years passed. this nos­tal­gia­fu­elled hobby quickly turned from not just the games i missed out on, but the con­soles too, and this is where my story of be­com­ing a col­lec­tor be­gins!”

Hick­man’s collection now in­cludes thou­sands of games and in ex­cess of 70 con­soles, but his first tar­gets were a small collection of su­pe­rior ntsc ver­sions of clas­sic rpgs. “back in the nineties there was a large gap be­tween Europe/aus­tralia and amer­ica/ Ja­pan, which were pal and ntsc re­spec­tively,” Hick­man ex­plains. “the gap was twofold: games came out much later (if at all) in pal regions, and due to pal tvs out­putting in 576i, and video games pri­mar­ily be­ing de­signed for ntsc tvs in 480i, there was a prob­lem when port­ing to pal. video games were usu­ally 240p na­tive, and scan lines were in­tro­duced to fill in ev­ery other line to al­low the im­age to fill a 480i dis­play. this is what cre­ated the scan-line look many purists still like to en­joy. While this was all well and good on ntsc 480i dis­plays it be­came tricky to port over to pal. many more un­used lines meant large bor­ders to the top and bot­tom screen, plus a speed de­crease of around 17.5 per cent, mak­ing many pal games in­fe­rior to their ntsc brethren. it was in part be­cause of these rea­sons i de­cided to go hunt­ing for full-screen and full-speed (ntsc) games that you couldn’t find eas­ily (if at all) in uk stores. this be­came quite the rab­bit hole, as it turned out what are con­sid­ered to be some of the best games of all time (Earth­bound, Fi­nal Fan­tasy III, Chrono Trig­ger) were at the time not avail­able in pal ter­ri­to­ries. and so it be­gan; the hunt for three of the best Jrpgs of all time. it was much harder in the nineties with no ebay and no (eas­ily) avail­able in­ter­net, and as such the world was a smaller place. i was re­liant on mail-or­der ads found in the back of gam­ing mag­a­zines of the time (like CVG and Su­per Play), in­de­pen­dent video game re­tail­ers and com­puter Ex­change, who had a de­cent (though crazy­ex­pen­sive) im­port sec­tion.”

de­spite the ob­sta­cles of those ear­lier years of col­lect­ing, Hick­man’s tough­est find was some­thing else en­tirely. “that would be Soul Blazer pal,” he re­veals. “rarely does it come up for sale, and when it does the prices are al­ways ridicu­lous. af­ter years of ca­sual search­ing, i man­aged to ob­tain one off a good friend

“THAT GAME YOU’RE FIND­ING HARD TO RE­SIST WILL COME UP FOR SALE AGAIN SOON ENOUGH, TRUST ME”

and fel­low col­lec­tor for a very rea­son­able price.”

Ev­ery­one has their own rea­sons, mo­ti­va­tions and style of game-buy­ing when they be­come a col­lec­tor, and it seems clear that for Hick­man it’s been born out of a pas­sion for gam­ing and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ev­ery­thing his favourite con­soles and gen­res have to of­fer. We thought we would try and get some in­sight and lessons from him that could help you out if you wanted to be­come a ded­i­cated game col­lec­tor, too. the first was not to rush in: “peo­ple come into the hobby, get ex­cited and spend way too much money,” he warns us. “they look at their bank ac­count and all their new ac­qui­si­tions tak­ing up space and panic sell it off, nor­mally in bulk. usu­ally at a loss, too, with a heavy les­son learned and a lighter wal­let to hold.” so man­ag­ing money and pa­tience is im­por­tant. “Work out an af­ford­able bud­get, and stick to it!” says Hick­man. “that game you’re find­ing hard to re­sist will come up for sale again soon enough, trust me.”

an­other key is get­ting to know about the specifics of the mar­ket you’re buy­ing games in, and check­ing to see what is­sues might ex­ist there. as gam­ing be­comes more and more pop­u­lar, its his­tory be­comes more valu­able, and un­for­tu­nately that means it’s more at­trac­tive for ex­ploita­tion. “Ed­u­cate your­self on what you are buy­ing,” Hick­man in­sists. “as the scene be­comes more and more vi­brant it gets lit­tered with re­pro­duc­tion games listed as orig­i­nals. if you are un­sure, walk away and do your home­work: go to fo­rums, ask google, check images of orig­i­nal games – al­ways be in­formed be­fore mak­ing that pur­chase.”

it’s also a good idea to set your­self some clear bound­aries so you’re not just try­ing to col­lect ev­ery­thing un­der the sun on a lim­ited bud­get. “set rules,” Hick­man says. “for ex­am­ple, col­lect for one plat­form or genre, [will you buy] loose carts or box­com­plete ti­tles, mint con­di­tion or av­er­age? oth­er­wise you will quickly be­come over­whelmed.”

col­lect­ing by sys­tem seems to be a pop­u­lar move, but we won­dered what sys­tem might be the best for a new col­lec­tor to start with. Hick­man ob­vi­ously got things started with the snes, but it’s our un­der­stand­ing that’s a tough nut to crack on lim­ited funds. “i have al­ways said avoid su­per nin­tendo (way too ex­pen­sive and com­pet­i­tive), and go for plays­ta­tion. While the former is cer­tainly still true, the lat­ter isn’t any­more,” Hick­man tells us. “plays­ta­tion prices are ris­ing year on year, with even more com­mon games sneak­ing up in price. so if you’re on a bud­get or sim­ply want to dan­gle your toes in the wa­ter you could do a lot worse than plays­ta­tion 2. there are some mag­nif­i­cent genre­defin­ing games on the sys­tem and right now, for the most part, they’re mostly all su­per cheap and rel­a­tively easy to get hold of.”

but is the snes the most dif­fi­cult en­try point for a col­lec­tor? “i can only speak from my own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, and while there are more ex­pen­sive and frus­trat­ing sys­tems to col­lect for (neo geo aes any­one!?), for my money it is the su­per nin­tendo,” says Hick­man. “peo­ple now in their 30s and 40s with dis­pos­able in­come and who are yearn­ing for that nos­tal­gic hit are all over the sys­tem. this makes col­lect­ing for the snes frus­trat­ing, com­pet­i­tive and very ex­pen­sive. cou­pled with the fact that the boxes are card­board this also makes con­di­tion a mixed bag at best. there is no deny­ing this is one of the best sys­tems ever made, but my ad­vice? Ei­ther col­lect loose carts and stick to com­mons or take the easy route and get a su­per nin­tendo clas­sic mini (easy to hook up to mod­ern tvs too).”

there may be an­other way around pric­ing and scarcity for pal

“JUST BE­CAUSE A GAME IS RARE OR EX­PEN­SIVE DOESN’T NEC­ES­SAR­ILY MEAN IT’S GOOD”

carts though. “con­sider Ja­panese ver­sions of the game,” Hick­man sug­gests as an­other po­ten­tial money-sav­ing tip. “they are usu­ally much cheaper (some­times less than 10 per cent of the pal equiv­a­lent!) and many have full English menus. Just be mind­ful of the ad­di­tional re­quired means in or­der to play them.” there are a cou­ple more all-im­por­tant lessons to be learned, too. “Just be­cause a game is rare and/or ex­pen­sive doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean it’s good,” says Hick­man. “don’t col­lect as a get-rich-quick scheme. this is a myth and many (read most) games de­pre­ci­ate with time. there are also much more vi­able ways of gain­ing a solid roi [re­turn on in­vest­ment].”

Which re­ally only leaves the ques­tion of where to go to find good deals and bar­gains. as stated be­fore, the mar­ket has evolved a fair amount over the years. Where once you would have been con­fined to spe­cial­ist re­tail­ers and car boot sales, now you have a sea of on­line store­fronts you can browse, but are there any spots that are bet­ter than oth­ers, we won­dered? “sadly there are no se­crets here,” Hick­man tells us. “it’s the usual car boots, on­line auc­tion sites, in­de­pen­dent game stores, char­ity shops and word of mouth. you would be sur­prised how many peo­ple of­fer you video games when they know you have an in­ter­est. one per­son’s rub­bish is an­other one’s trea­sure! but hey, that’s the fun of the hobby – the hunt. be tena­cious and you will be suc­cess­ful, just not overnight!”

so there you have it, some tips on how to be­come a col­lec­tor from some­one who has amassed a fan­tas­tic collection and is pre­serv­ing a large piece of gam­ing his­tory. it’s not been with­out its pit­falls and chal­lenges – “my games room was flooded a few years back wip­ing out around

10 per cent of my collection,” Hick­man re­vealed to us – but it can be deeply re­ward­ing and fun to build a collection, es­pe­cially if you can find your pas­sion for it. “col­lect­ing retro video games is fun, ex­cit­ing and re­ward­ing,” sum­marises Hick­man. “be pa­tient, be dis­ci­plined, be fru­gal and, most im­por­tantly, be happy!”

Par­a­site Eve was one of the first us ex­clu­sives that Justin Hick­man man­aged to get a hold of for his collection. “it was a thing of beauty,” he tells us.

BLAZER PAL SOUL CASTLEVANIA: SYM­PHONY OF THE NIGHT TERRANIGMA CASTLEVANIA: VAM­PIRE’S KISS

be the rarest pal

“con­sid­ered to the only ex­is­tence, it is snes game in ver­sion and English-speak­ing pal scan­di­navia in was only re­leased quan­ti­ties, mak­ing and in lim­ited among snes it a holy grail own the car­tridge col­lec­tors. i only but bah,

(no box and man­ual) the game! it who cares, i own it is a fan­tas­tic also helps that tril­ogy first in an ex­cel­lent game and the tril­ogy (Soul as the Quin­tet of games known Terranigma).” and of Time/gaia

Blazer, Il­lu­sion but, “not es­pe­cially rare the best put sim­ply, one of games ever made.” “i men­tioned pre­vi­ously how we missed out on many of the best rpgs on the snes; well here is one that never even made the us and it to boy, is it su­perb! it’s not su­per rare, but hands down it’s an over­looked gem.” “i was al­ways at­tracted to this one for the wrong rea­sons. the game is okay, but i love the art­work. it’s be­com­ing very sought af­ter.” and the rest… Demons Crest, Wild Guns, Ha­gane, The Fire­men, Daze Be­fore Christ­mas, Sun­set Rid­ers, Mario RPG, Chrono Trig­ger, Earth­bound, Fi­nal Fan­tasy III, Lu­fia, Lu­nar, Lu­nar 2, Suiko­den, Suiko­den II, Xenogears

as you can see, Hick­man has a few bits of mer­chan­dise in amongst the rest of his games collection, which can be its own di­rec­tion to head in. “i have some fig­urines, sound­tracks and mag­a­zines,” he tells us,

“but my pri­mary fo­cus has al­ways been soft­ware.”

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