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Swimming with Sharks: Lessons I Learned in My First Year of Collecting

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Let’s be honest, the video game collecting community is very competitive, and can be very cut-throat at times.  I have been collecting for about fourteen months, and over the course of my first year of collecting, I have had many triumphs and many downfalls. Whether you have been collecting for years, or you’re just getting into the hobby, I’d like to share a few lessons I learned in my collecting endeavors.

First, let me dive into how I got into collecting.  Like many of you, when I was growing up, every time I moved to a newer system, all of my older games and systems either got sold at garage sales or simply thrown away.   If you fast forward to January of 2013, the only video games I had were an Xbox 360 with the typical COD games and sports games, a PS2 with a couple of my favorite Final Fantasy games, and a Wii with a variety of Mario games and some games on the virtual console.  I was able to re-live some of my childhood by purchasing certain games on the virtual console like Final Fantasy, Mario 64, Super Metroid, Actraiser, and many more.

Eventually, I came to a point where I longed to play one of my favorite RPGs on the SNES, The 7th Saga.  Unfortunately, the game was not on the virtual console and there were no plans to release it.  At the time I still had some money left over for Christmas, so I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to look on EBay to check on the prices of a SNES and the game.   I quickly learned that the condition of the games and whether they had manuals and boxes vastly affected the prices. Growing up, whenever I got into collecting different things, I always wanted the best and I usually went all out.  So when I saw the differences in the prices, I decided I had to have a complete copy of the game.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that retro video games had held –and in many cases increased– in value.  That’s when it occurred to me that I should gather up some of my favorite games from my childhood.

Before I knew it I was following multiple auctions on Ebay, and checking Craigslist frequently.  One Craigslist ad pointed me to a flea market in OKC called The Golden Goose.  It was there that I ran across a vendor named Jimmy that introduced me to RGS.  After a few weeks of being a member of RGS, I had developed a hunger and a passion to collect games – as many as I could.

From the purchase of The 7th Saga, my collecting snowballed into a massive collecting campaign, which lead me from having a few newer consoles with handfuls of games, to building a game room in my garage to store and showcase my collection that I have accumulated in the past year.  While my collection does not even touch the awesomeness of many collectors who have been in the game for years, going from nothing to a collection valued loosely at around ten grand in one year was quite a roller coaster. Throughout that roller coaster I have learned some valuable lessons about collecting that I would like to share.

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There are many different types of collectors out there.  There are those that simply want to have everything.  It doesn’t matter to them if the game is terrible or not, or even if they will ever play the game.  These types of collectors will grab anything they can get their hands on.  If you are just getting into collecting, I would advise against this philosophy because it can send you bankrupt quickly.  There are also collectors who are system or brand specific.  These collectors will often focus on getting a complete set of a particular system library, or maybe they are more brand specific and only collect Sega, or Atari, or Nintendo.  Yet another type is the series collector.  These collectors will pick a favorite series like Mega Man, Castlevania, Sonic, or Zelda and they will devote their time to grabbing anything and everything related to that series.  Some collectors are more gamer oriented and only collect games they like to play.  A lot of collectors are nostalgia collectors and their focus is to get games and systems that they are fond of from their childhood. Of course, many collectors are combinations of the previously mentioned types, and by no means is this an exhaustive list of all the types of collectors.

For instance, within these various types, there are even sub-groups. There are those who just want the games, some want CIB copies of the games, and an even more select group prefer to get sealed copies of the games. So, whether you are a series collector who wants sealed copies, or you are a brand collector who only want the games, the idea of setting goals can be beneficial to all types of collectors.  Here is how this played out in my collecting last year…

I started out focusing on games I had as a kid, which quickly grew to grabbing anything that was a decent price.  This eventually led to where I had three main focuses, Zelda, Final Fantasy, and boxed systems. Outside of those three I still grabbed up tons and tons of stuff, especially SNES RPGs, which are not exactly cheap at the moment.  I finally got to the point where I had a lot of systems and games that I had no interest in playing, so I decided to sell those off in order to focus more on one or two things.  At that point I decided I wanted to get all the Zelda games released by Nintendo CIB (complete in box).  This meant that my efforts were focused on just those, which also meant I could go weeks before picking up something new.

Eventually I did complete that goal, so I started focusing on something else, getting complete copies of the NES Mega Man games as well as Dragon Warrior games.  Thankfully, I was able to finish the Mega Man goal while I was at SUPER! BitCon.  I learned through this process that setting goals made me less of an impulsive buyer, and kept me from spending more money than I should.  Setting goals also helped me get to where I wanted to be in my collection more quickly than just buying when and whatever I come across.  Now, with that said, if you run across a good deal on a game or on a lot, do not pass it up just because it isn’t part of your goal.  You can always sell those off, or trade in order to get something that is one of your goals.  Even if you’re ultimately trying to get everything that is gaming related, if you use short-term goals, it will help you get to your overall goal more efficiently.

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One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was not pacing myself, which led to spending way too much money.    If you are new to the collecting scene, it is easy to get swept up with the excitement of finding good deals and building your collection.  While your enthusiasm is good, it will also lead to many impulse buys and spending beyond your means.  While video games have value at the moment, they are not a guaranteed liquid asset.  So, before you dump your child’s college money into a video game collection, think about why you are collecting.  If you seriously want to be a collector, I want you to think about people who have large collections.  They did not get those collections over night.  In most cases they have been collecting for years – decades even.  So if you plan on being a collector and holding onto your collection for the rest of your life, remember that you don’t have to have everything in a week.

If you pace yourself, you can add some here and some there, and eventually your collection will grow and grow.  I believe the famous saying is “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”  The world of video games is massive, so take your time and enjoy the ride.  Don’t go so fast that you burn yourself out and exhaust your finances.  Another plus of being patient is finding good deals.  If you jump at the first sighting of a game you want, you may end up spending more than you need to.  Take for instance eBay.  Many people are not fans of eBay, but I love it.  I have searched and watched auctions for an item for 6 months before I got a good deal on one.  There is a reason why auctions generally sell lower than buy it now sales, because some people cannot be patient and wait.  There have been numerous times where I could have spent more on a CIB copy of a game, but instead I decided to wait and got the game and the box and manual at different times and saved money.

Patience is not fun, but in the long run it will help you as a collector. Too many times I have seen collectors buy, buy, and buy but then something comes up and they have to sell a bunch of games because they didn’t budget wisely.  So the next time you see a pic of that Little Samson, or that Hagane, don’t get all crazy and spend the rent money to run out and get your own copy.

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The best advice I think I could ever give to a new collector is this: you are not in a competition.  Because of the rise in popularity in video games, the hunt for games has become very competitive.  Understand that you should be aggressive in your pursuit of the games you want, but competition should not be the reason you collect. Collecting games is a hobby, and therefore it should be something we enjoy, not stress over.  Too often, collecting becomes a competition of who has the most, or the rarest, or the nicest stuff.  Go ahead and get this through your head, there will always be someone who has something nicer, better, or rarer than you.  Once you accept this truth, the race to be better than the Joneses can be eliminated.  Let’s face it, once you post a pic of that awesome addition to your collection, within days most people have forgotten about it.  So instead of trying to impress other people with your collection, try to be content with it.  Collect in order to make yourself happy; not to impress people on Facebook.

If you are happy with your collection, who cares what other people think, or what other people have. I see people complain about sealed games, or complain about people trying to get a complete library.  It doesn’t matter what type of collector everyone else is, you need to go after what you want and what you enjoy.  If you want games that have been graded, go for it.  If you think boxes are a waste of money, then just focus on the games.  Bottom line is, don’t let someone else’s opinion affect your collecting.  So what if you paid market value for a copy of Chrono Trigger instead of finding it at a flea market for five dollars.  It’s your collection, be happy. Just because you didn’t find your games for dirt cheap, or your boxes aren’t as mint as someone else’s does not mean that your collection isn’t awesome.  Instead of comparing your collection to someone else’s, try enjoying it.

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Like I stated earlier, the game collecting scene is very cut-throat.  It doesn’t have to be that way, though.  Instead of trying to take out other collectors, maybe we should work together as a community.  That is why I love the Retro Gamers Society.  A large portion of my collection has come from trading and buying from members of the group.  If you make friends in this hobby, it will help you out tremendously.  I have a large number of friends in RGS that I can count on to help me with my collection.  I don’t expect them to give me games for free, or take a loss on their investment, but they do meet me at a place price-wise that is beneficial for both of us.  The concept of working as a community is really not difficult.  If you run across a good deal, say you find a game that you already have that’s worth $100 and you only have to pay $40.  Instead of trying to maximize your profit and aim for that $100 or more, simply meet somewhere in the middle at like $60-$80.  That way you both win in the transaction.  I promise, if you help others out when you work out deals, when the time comes, they will help you out as well.

Also, if you have friends in the hobby, you can find stuff for each other.  There have been numerous times were someone has sent me a message and asked if I had a particular Zelda item, either because they saw it out and about, or because they know someone trying to sell something.  Some of my friends collect things that I don’t, so if I run across something they need, I let them know about it.  In other situations, I have run across something I already have, so I see if anyone needs it, in which case I would pick it up for them. Flying solo in this hobby is extremely lonely, so build relationships, and help each other out.

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The last year of collecting has been a whirlwind for me.  I have found some awesome deals and I have taken some losses at times as well.  I have learned a lot from my experiences and from the knowledge of all the collectors I have been in contact with, or have communicated with through RGS.   I firmly believe that there will always be something that I will want to add to my collection, so I look forward to the decades of collecting to come. What really makes me happy is that my children love these retro games as much as I do.  So I know my collection will have a home when I no longer have need of them. So, to all of you out there who are just getting started: don’t get discouraged, have fun, and most importantly, play more video games. ♦

Ronnie Titsworth

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SUPER! BitCon VIP Packs Unveiled

VIPAs a special way to commemorate our first RGS-hosted gaming convention, we have devote special care and attention to creating the most unique promotional item we could devise. Born out of a love for retro and an appreciation for the art of the classic black-box Nintendo games, these limited edition VIP packs hold true to the vested spirit of our event. The SUPER! BitCon 2014 VIP packs cannot be bought — they can only be won. They will be given out variously via contests and giveaways on the web and television. Information about these contests will be available via the S!BC Facebook page, so like it and stay tuned!

What’s in the VIP pack?

  • One custom black box with striking artwork
  • One custom manual which includes event information and maps
  • One custom cart (this item was sourced from corroded, water-damaged, or otherwise non-functioning games — with that in mind, please be aware that each cart carries a varying amount of character and patina unique to itself)
  • Two commemorative VIP tickets, design inspired by the Nintendo PCB inside every grey cartridge
  • Two standard adult-entry freebie tickets
  • Two event t-shirt vouchers redeemable at the S!BC merch table
  • Two limited edition black S!BC event t-shirts
  • 80′s-inspired posters
  • One NES game sleeve

We are very excited to bring this promotion to our guests in the weeks leading up to our event — and we wish you good luck in winning one! Thanks to Uncle Tusk and Wal R’ Us Games for their help in putting together these beautiful works of art. We couldn’t have done it without their expertise.  Stay tuned to our S!BC sponsor, the Game Bros, for some unboxing goodness coming soon…

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Independence Day Salute: The Army’s MACS System

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So most of us are familiar with the Zapper, Super Scope, Phaser, Justifier, Menacer, and many other popular light guns for our retro consoles.  However, today I won’t be talking about any of them – I want to introduce you to the Multi-purpose Arcade Combat Simulator (or M.A.C.S.) for the Super Nintendo.

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This training set consisted of: an M-16/M-4 replica with a light pen module, the Basic Rifle Markmanship Program, a small 13” Magnavox or (13” equivalent) television, a SNES system with controller, manual, and carrying case. Most sets were all serial numbered and had a set number under that serial (pictured below). The case design for these sets consisted of no more than a plywood box with slots and tray for storage of items during transport. The light rifles would be transported in a gun case.

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Developed for the U.S. Army in 1993, this system was designed to train soldiers for proper marksmanship proficiency. The game focused on five main points: steady positioning, aiming, breath control, trigger squeeze, and shot location. It was used at many Army basic training programs and several Army training centers. The simulator would have you zero the weapon on the screen then place you on a simulated target range to allow you to get the chance to score a weapons zero. Following that, you would move forward to the pop-up target range, where you would then qualify for your marksmanship skills.

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The light gun works just like the zapper – you see your target, pull the trigger, the screen flashes, and the gun detects whether it’s a hit or not. Now, the trigger is a little different on the version I used due to the fact that the gun chosen was a rubber dummy rifle.  There had been some necessary modifications. They had to hollow out and remove the whole right side of the M16 to retrofit the electronic trigger. Then the cord would be run up through the inside of the body to the light pen located on the top of the barrel.  From there, a cord would be run to connect it to your SNES console – simple and practical for the time period and technology.

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Now for the collecting aspect…

There are two different systems: the one shown, which is the Super Nintendo version, which has three different type of carts and several different M16/M4 gun variants.  There was the Jager AP74, both M16A1 and CAR-15 models, an M16A2 dummy rifle converted like the one shown, and the M4A1 dummy rifle conversion. I have personally seen and handled the dummy conversions and I have only seen the Jager AP74 models in photographs.

According to Video Game Price Charts, the average price for one would be a whopping $600-800 price tag.  Many were simply destroyed by the Army.

There is a second “rumored” Commodore 64 version. Not much is to be known… besides the rumors. So if you know anyone with one or have any info, please drop us a line.

After long, technology improved and the Army moved on to the Engagement Skills Trainer (EST) Simulator. This system is about as close to video game combat as it gets. Almost all of the U.S. military’s portable or small arms weapons are usable: .50cal Ma Duce, M240B ,M249, AT4, Javelin anti-tank rocket, HMMWVs in a live fire situation – and the list goes on.

I want to close this tale of the Army and video games coming together by focusing on what Independence Day is all about.  It is the day we gained our independence from England thanks to some of the greatest men and women in our nation’s storied history.

Today we salute those men and women: those amazing dudes who fought to liberate us, so that we unified and became one of the best countries in the world! Patrick Henry said it best: “Give me liberty or give me death!”

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GOD BLESS THESE STATES, GOD BLESS AMERICA! ♦

Kingsley Blancher

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Don’t Forget The PC

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In the excitement of video game collecting, one particular genre often gets overlooked — retro computer games.  Perhaps because of the ease of which old PC games could be copied, stored, backed up, etc.  Often times, there were no cartridges or glossy instruction manuals.  Once installed and played for the first time, these games were no longer just on the disks, but on your hard drive as well.  Often times the controls were less responsive (unless we’re talking FPS), and using a keyboard and mouse didn’t always stack up against the classic console controllers.  Still, some PC games definitely made their marks, and PC gaming continues to be a multi-billion dollar a year industry.  The following four games are some of the most notable from a decade or two ago.

1.  Oregon Trail

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Who doesn’t remember this one?  If you didn’t play this in school, you were deprived and under-educated.  While Oregon Trail was actually written in the early 70‘s, it wasn’t until the 80‘s and 90‘s that it really took off with Apple and DOS systems.  The game put you in the place of an 1800‘s pioneer, taking the trail from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  You start with money and four party members in a covered wagon.  After buying supplies, you head west, traversing deserts, rivers, diseases and any number of other obstacles.

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One of the most memorable (and fun) aspects of the game was hunting.  This was your primary food source and (if you were good at it) a good way to make a little extra money for supplies.  It was also an absolute necessity  to stave off starvation.  Another difficult, and often fatal problem was disease.  Cholera, small pox, dysentery were all common and sometimes deadly illnesses that could easily kill your entire party.  Still, it was fun to leave behind headstones in some versions.

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Oregon Trail set the standard for the “edu-tainment” genre.  Very few games would ever gain so much recognition among educators, and very few games have so perfectly blended fun, casual gameplay with historical events.

2.  Darklands

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This games is sorely underrated and sadly, unknown.  By far, this exceeds many RPGS of its own era and afterwards.  Set in medieval Germany, Darklands was a rare “realistic” RPG.  Sure, it had many fantastical elements — dragons, kobolds, witches, demons, etc., but with one difference: this game only used creatures and monsters from mythology.  If it was included in Darklands, it’s because people living in the Holy Roman Empire in the 1400‘s actually believed it existed.

It was released by Microprose in 1992 for DOS.  The gameplay was similar to many RPGs.  You had a party of four characters that you could customize and control to an extent.  There was a whole range of skills which they could master, ranging from weapons (edge weapons, impact weapons, flails, etc,) to intellectual skills (speaking Latin, reading and writing, alchemy,  religious training) to practical life skills (riding ability, speak common, wood-wise, street-wise, etc.)  This game was also open-ended, giving you the option to play any way you saw fit.

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The basic gameplay was a sort of “choose your own adventure” style.  You were given a long list of options wherever you were, usually superimposed over a beautifully illustrated background image.  Combat was unique, however.  Rather than the turn-based style of combat that was prevalent in older RPGs, Darklands was in real-time, with the option to pause the fighting and give orders.  Over time, your skills improved, and you could upgrade your weapons and armor.

Perhaps the most unique and unorthodox element to Darklands was its version of “magic.”  Yes, there were witches and warlocks in the game, but remember, in the 15th century, under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, they would have been demonized and unapologetically portrayed as villains.  Instead of magic, your heroes prayed to saints to aid them in their adventures.  Instead of a mana meter, you have “divine favor” which could be used to invoke the saints for help and guidance.  Alchemy could also be employed, requiring reagents and an adequate skill level.

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This epic RPG/adventure game easily deserved more love than it received.  At the very least, a sequel or remake would have been nice, but sadly, it seems to have been swept under the rug and forgotten.  One of the few games I know of to include a bibliography in the instruction manual, Darklands still stands the test of time in terms of replay value and overall greatness.

3.  Wolfenstein 3D

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One of the early successes in what would later become known as the FPS (first-person shooter) genre, Wolfenstein 3D paved the way for many modern game series such as Halo and Call of Duty.  Set during World War II, you take on the role of William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, an Allied soldier, held captive in a Nazi dungeon beneath the Castle Wolfenstein.  This game was a success in many ways, in part because of its method of release.  A promotional shareware version included the first episode, and a full version included the second and third episodes.

Wolfenstein 3D included several different weapons and a handful of enemy types.  Basic gameplay  was relatively simple by modern standards.  There was no up or down aiming.   Enemies were usually easy to spot and take down from a distance.  There were treasure items scattered throughout the prison that could be collected.  Occasionally, through luck, patience, or sheer determination, secret doors could be opened leading to better weapons, power-ups, or extra lives.  Kills, accuracy, treasure and secrets were all tallied at the end of each level and the player was given a percentage on each one.

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This game had been ported to several other systems, although not without some editing and controversy.  The SNES version replaced blood with sweat, and the killable German Shepherd guard dogs with giant mutant rats.  A lot of the Nazi imagery (swastikas, pictures of Hitler, etc) were also removed from the SNES version.  In 1994, the PC and Atari Jaguar versions were actually pulled from circulation in Germany due to a law prohibiting the use of those symbols.

Despite some controversy, Wolfenstein was a paradigm shifter for PC games in general.  It led computer gaming out of an era of side-scrollers into the new era of FPS- something that is still going strong today.

4.  Civilization 2

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Like SimCity?  Think bigger.  Much bigger.  Instead of a city or a handful of cities, think about a nation.  Think about dozens of cities, ancient and modern world wonders, advances in technology, international politics and global dominance.  Yeah, it’s something like that.

Civ2 opens with a several option screens.  You create a tribe (or pick from the presets) and set out to start and grow your civilization.  At first, you have a band of settlers.  From there, you grow a city, then more settlers, then more cities, then armies, then more cities.  The game is open-ended, but there are essentially two scenarios that will result in a sort of end-game animation and also end-scorekeeping; conquer the entire world, wiping out all of your rivals, or be the first civilization to successfully build an interstellar spaceship.

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On top of endless hours of gameplay, Civ2 has a unique feature of allowing users to create custom content and scenarios.  Tired of terrestrial nation-building?  Try downloading the Alien Invasion scenario.  Or try colonizing Mars.  Or reenact the Civil War.  With the option to create your own scenarios and download new ones from the Internet, there are endless options with Civilization 2.  This articles won’t detail the scenarios, but here are some titles to give an idea –  Midgard, Atlantis, Santa is Coming, Alexander the Great, and The Crusades.

If you like strategy, customizability, history and geo-politics, keep an eye out for this one.  Just don’t expect to get any work done for the first six months or so.  ♦

Micah Heath