Back to the future for retro gaming fans
Whether it was a Nintendo 64, a Playstation or a Dreamcast, many of us had a console which kept us locked away for hours on end.
Computer games have changed and developed so much in the past 30 years as technology has improved.
But to take that step back in time to the world of retro gaming is very nostalgic and something more and more people want to do.
Go to a big international city such as Tokyo, often known as the heart of video gaming, and you’ll find a plethora of places to play old games, but it’s less common here. That is until a retro gaming cafe opened right on our doorstep.
Tucked away in a little basement in Old Portsmouth, you’d be forgiven for not realising it’s there.
But Game Over has become a popular attraction, with many people taking a trip down Memory Lane back to their childhood.
Owner Steve Lowe set it up after deciding he needed a home for all his games. He explains: ‘I have been a collector for 30 years, so my ambition one day would be to open an interactive museum.
‘But financially that was out of my reach.So I opened up an internet cafe and put some of my equipment in it.’
He adds: ‘I spent about three years trying to find somewhere suitable. I think it’s unique. It’s a basement so it’s quirky. It was just about trying to work out how we were going to design it and where we were going to put everything.’
So what’s in there?
‘It’s completely random. We’ve got different machines next to the computers. It’s about having a wide range of equipment to use and the software that goes with it.
‘You could have the best consoles in the world, but if you haven’t got any programmes for them, it’s a waste of time.
‘That’s why consoles have failed because they have brought them out without enough software.’
Steve says everything had to be tested. ‘Then it was about setting up a nice environment for people to relax in.’
Steve first began to develop his love and fascination for computer games at the age of nine when he had a Prinztronic pong machine.
After that he picked up lots of consoles and games and began to show an interest in programming.
At the age of 15 he won the IBM Programmer of the Year and went on to win it again the following year.
‘It’s always been a part of my life,’ he says.
‘I was quite good at it. I had computers from a young age. I was able to create things and make programmes and games.
‘It all started at home. I had two computers when I was a teenager.’
Steve collected games for years and stored them at home. But when he decided to open the cafe, he began to search around for more games to provide an even bigger variety.
‘I got them from friends and family who were getting rid of them. I went to car boot sales and second hand shops and I shopped on eBay.’
In October last year, Game Over was officially opened to the public.
There are 140 machines on display with a huge variety of games ranging from Pacman to Space Invaders to Mario Kart and FIFA.
People can play games on their own or in groups.
Steve says he has been thrilled with the response from the public.
‘It was great to see other people using equipment that had just been in storage.
‘The reaction from everybody has been really positive, especially when you overhear them saying “I remember this” and “we had that when we were kids”. It brings back a lot of memories for people.
‘It’s really nice because it’s something that I have done which has made other people happy.
‘I hope to open it up in other towns and cities in the UK.’
The re-emergence of Pokemon through smartphone game Pokemon Go has been a happy reminder for people about some of the older games which dominated during the ’80s and ’90s.
Whether it was Sonic the Hedgehog, Lara Croft or Super Mario, these characters formed a dominant part of the childhood of millions of people from all around the world.
But it’s not just youngsters who come into the cafe to get their gaming fix. Customers range from the age of four up to 65.
‘I didn’t expect that wide spectrum of age range,’ Steve adds.
‘I was expecting people between about 30 and 45 so it’s taken me by surprise.
‘The young ones are playing with equipment and games that they would never have come across.
‘We’ve got kids coming down and playing games that are three times their age.’
Steve has also loaned some of his games and equipment to the City Museum, which is running an exhibition on retro gaming.
The Future of the Past exhibition has 128 consoles on show, with eight of them playable.
They range from the 1972 Magnavox Odyssey to the late-1970s Prinztronic Tournament 10 and the better-known 1994 Sony PlayStation.
Game Over is open daily and costs £5 for a two-hour session. To find out more information and to book a slot please visit gameover.cafe.
Perry Delera, 22, from Southsea, is a volunteer at the cafe. He says: ‘I love video games. I have a real passion for them.
‘I believe it’s a fantastic opportunity for someone who loves video games to come back and play some of the retro games.
‘It appeals to kids who can play on some of the older consoles. It caters for anyone.
‘One of the perks for me is seeing someone’s reaction because it reminds me of that nostalgic feeling.
‘And it’s good to talk to them about the first game that they played.
‘These people are people who have just as much passion as myself. They get to share their stories and I can share mine.
‘I’ve been playing games since the age of three. My first game was Pacman. I was terrible at it, but it kept me quiet.
‘For my brother and I it was something to really look forward to. It was so addictive.
‘I have never stopped playing video games.
‘This place gives you the euphoric feeling of seeing the games you play as a kid. It’s so hard to find the consoles.
‘It’s great for them to be in one place with people of different ages coming together to play them.
‘It’s about the history of video games and it’s so interesting. It’s fun to hear and see how games have changed.’
STEVE LOWE’S top 10 games
1982 - Chopper Command, Atari 2600
1983 - Atic Atac, Sinclair ZX Spectrum
1983 - Chuckie Egg, BBC Micro
1986 - Out Run, Sega Sit Down Arcade
1989 - Denaris, Commodore Amiga
1989 - Millennium 2.2, Atari ST
1993 - Doom, PC
1994 - Theme Park, PC
1999 - Driver, Sony Playstation 1
1999 - Command & Conquer - Tiberium Sun, PC