The Contemporary Retro Gamer: A Short Talk With Gonçalo Tordo
In an era of AAA gaming that is becoming increasingly complex, immersive, and graphically demanding, it is easy to forget that as recent as twenty years ago games were once just command lines. Nevertheless, a growing number of gamers have become enamored with (or, rather, nostalgic for) these early titles. Gonçalo Tordo, known to the internet as St1ka, is one member of this growing minority looking to bring attention to the games that have so heavily informed contemporary gaming.
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GAMEUMENTARY: How’d you get started making retro gaming videos?
GONÇALO: Well, I’ve been following retro YouTubers for years. I started following them in 2006, maybe, back when the Angry Video Game Nerd was a new thing. Then I started following other YouTubers like the Nostalgia Critic. I used to follow a lot of those channels back when I was in college, and I did try to make a few videos back then, but I didn’t have the expertise or the budget; using Windows Movie Maker was the worst experience I’ve ever had.
I started using real movie editing tools for a previous job I had working in the video games industry. I did a few trailers back then. I thought it was about time I tried to make a YouTube channel again, inspired by the channels I used to watch back in college.
GAMEUMENTARY: How would you describe the content you make?
GONÇALO: While I love modern YouTubers, I’ve had always had a problem: that the games they talk about are very American-centric (which, of course, they’re American, it makes sense). I would often see videos that left me thinking, “Yeah, that game is good, but there was also this other game for that other system that was also pretty good, but you guys probably don’t even know it exists.” That’s why I wanted to create a channel that focuses on those kinds of games—games that not a lot of YouTubers talk about.
GAMEUMENTARY: What would be your dream video (or video series) to create?
GONÇALO: A few years ago the Spoony Experiment did a video series on the Ultima series. Ultima being a very old RPG series which defined RPGs as we know it. I wanted to do a series like that. In particular, I wanted to do a series on Final Fantasy. It is a series that has marked me since I was in seventh grade, and that I still love today. The other series would be on the Wizardry series. It’s an RPG series that nobody really remembers anymore, but it served as a basis for basically any RPG we play today: Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, Dragon Age—basically any RPG today can have its lineage traced back to Wizardry.
GAMEUMENTARY: What games would you consider retro? When does that period start for you?
GONÇALO: I actually created a rule for that. To me, if a game is an old enough to vote, it should be retro. Occasionally, I do bend the rules a bit; I do some PlayStation 2 games. I did a PS4 game recently. It’s the advantage of being your own boss. You can do whatever you want.
GAMEUMENTARY: What would you consider the best retro platforms?
GONÇALO: That’s a good question. The problem is, there are a lot of good retro games and computers—and I think old computer games are particularly not discussed enough—but the games can run very expensive. Even a cartridge-only copy of a decent game will run for 30 dollars, and a Super Nintendo game will usually go above that. For example, I bought my first NES a few weeks ago, but I’m having a hard time finding games for it at prices that I find justified. On the other hand, I like systems like the Master System because I find it has a very underrated library, and its games are very cheap. The one problem is about a third of the Master System’s library never launched in the U.S.
As for affordable systems, the Master System, mainly, is still the cheapest. The PlayStation One is also very affordable, so get it while you can. PlayStation 2. Playstation 3. Wii. Get those games while you still can. In fact, the PlayStation 2 is starting to climb a little bit in price. It all happens very fast.
GAMEUMENTARY: Really, though, if you had to pick—what would you say is the best retro platform?
GONÇALO: Hmm… that’s a hard question. Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, maybe, if you include Japanese imports. Wait, wait, wait, no, definitely the original PlayStation. I’m a SEGA guy, but the PS1 was really just amazing.
GAMEUMENTARY: If someone wants to get into retro gaming or retro game collecting, do you think they should start with those platforms? How should they get into it?
GONÇALO: I think we’re in a very good time to play those games, because there are a lot of good compilations out these days. There’s the NES mini, the Wii virtual console. Here’s the thing—I usually recommend those venues for most people, because retro game collecting is kind of a thankless task if you ask me. I mean, I love doing it! But it’s expensive, it’ll take up a lot of shelf space, and it’s hard to find games in a condition you’re actually okay with.
But really, we’re in a really good time to play retro games. I’d say emulation, legal emulation, mind you, is really the best venue right now.
GAMEUMENTARY: Finally, with all these new, incredible, eye-catching contemporary titles out, why even play retro games? What’s the point?
GONÇALO: Well, look, for example, if you play a first person shooter today, you really don’t have to focus on it. I can lean back, relax, and enjoy myself. Which, hey, isn’t a bad thing. I don’t always want to focus too much. But I feel retro games, because they were so short, I feel that they had a lot of challenge to them. You had to master the games. You had to, *ahem,* get good, as they say it. I just like that. I like that idea, that you have this specific set of challenges that were made to be difficult, but you can surpass them. You can learn the games’ intricacies by yourself and, eventually, really enjoy yourself.
Really, I just love how intense some of the games are. I mean, my favorite 16bit game is probably Contra Hardcore, often referred to as the hardest Contra ever made. I don’t think it’s that hard. I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it is a very intense game. There’s always something coming at you, capturing your attention.
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From our conversation with Tordo, I learned that their are many unconventional obstacles to preserving game history— foremost, perhaps, is that games, in all their many iterations and operating systems, are simply hard to carry over from era to era. And that as games age, the prices for collecting and preserving them increase. For most, traditional (and legal) emulation can be the best route for relieving nostalgia and exploring the magic of older titles. Yet, for amateur historians and hobbyists like Tordo, the price and patience is very much worth the reward.