Retro gaming

Great game shop: R Games

After complaining about the state of most video game shops on the high street, I thought I’d show some examples of places that manage to get video game shopping done right.

I think the most important thing about games shopping is the experience of it, a lot of shops have lost this now, but one particular shop still feels magical every single time.

So I thought I’d start with my favourite games shop ever: R-Games in Westgate Street, Gloucester.

The Nintendo Cabinet

Stacks upon stacks of boxed N64 games in a glass cabinet.A rare collection of boxed NES and N64 games.

One of the first things that greets you as you enter is the shop is a fantastic display of Nintendo games in a glass cabinet. After seeing so many tatty, rubbish games in hundreds of different shops it’s wonderful to see a tidy, and a very special collection of games on display. Now these aren’t for sale sadly, but it helps to set the mood. Often you’ll see people stood in front of this cabinet in awe, chatting about their gaming past or pointing out their favourite games.

I particularly like all the NES games on the bottom shelf, they’re quite tricky to track down in such nice condition apart from ebay. It really feels like you’re looking in on someone’s personal collection, and I approve of games being on display in this way. Let’s face it most games collections are hidden away, rather than appreciated by many.

Current Gen Titles

 DVDs and collectibles on shop shelves with console boxes on top.Current gen games stacked neatly on shelves.

Most of my second hand game shopping is done here. R Games stocks all the current gen games for very reasonable prices (some of the best in Gloucester I think). Games brought from here are always in fantastic condition, as well as being clean and tidy. The chaps in the store are always happy for you to test any of the games out in the store, and the entire shop is very relaxed so you don’t feel hurried along like in larger stores.

There are games and DVDs in here that you usually won’t find anywhere else, the employees here are knowledgeable and helpful, and this seems to help them buy in genuinely decent stuff, rather than anything and everything Joe public brings in. It’s worth mentioning that the shop itself it quite small, but every spare space is filled with gaming trinkets, action figures, posters, cuddly toys, even all the inserts from games long gone, it’s all fabulous nostalgia.

The museum pieces

 Games merchandise behind the counter of R Games.Various retro consoles under the glass counter.

There is always some gaming merchandise in here that will surprise you, behind the counter especially, as this is where they tend to keep the really rare games on display (Panzer Dragoon Saga anyone?) Nearly every item behind the counter is a gamer’s dream. It’s nice to see such rare games in the flesh, on display rather than hidden away in a cupboard. R Games is a fantastic shop, but I think it’s also the nearest thing we have locally to a gaming museum.

Nearly every items in this shop brings back memories. All the adverts from the 1990s, all the boxes, and shop POS, perhaps they play on this constant sense of nostalgia by keeping most of the retro consoles in stock, as well as definitive collections of all their games available for sale. I like knowing that if I needed a particular retro console or game I could come here and find it, it’s extremely reassuring.

Retro consoles and games

 Retro consoles with N64 in forefront.Lots of Mega Drive games.

Quite honestly the amount of retro games and consoles in this shop puts the vast majority of high street shops to shame. But part of the reason it works here is because no one else is really doing this anymore. This shop feels like the shops I was in as a child, before all the corporate franchises came in and demolished the high street. In this shop at least it’s different, you get knowledgeable, helpful gamers behind the counter and a smile when you come in.

The pride and personality behind the shop really shows, and while I have no doubt that they’re partly supported by an ebay shop as well, it’s wonderful to have retro and current games in a brick and mortar shop rather than one a computer, it’s the sort of thing that every shop should be doing.

Handhelds and DVDs

 An anime collection on the shop shelf.Lots of different handheld consoles and cartridges.

There is also quite a collection of specialist DVD titles, particularly anime and music DVDs for the so inclined. It’s nice to have lots of interests which are normally deemed too niche in another shops properly represented and appreciated here.

The handheld game collection is also fairly complete. I can’t think of many other places that support the Gameboy Advance and Colour so exhaustively. This is a great place to pick up cart based games, but it’s also nice to see games in their original boxes, as immaculate as the day they were brought. I certainly approve of the choice and variety the shop provides.

Attention to detail

Cables and controllers hung neatly by the till.Master System games on the shelf!

You can really see how all the old game inserts are used in the shop here. Best of all, all the way around the top of the shop are old console boxes, and all their various different iterations also, so a Japanese Saturn box, next to an Atari Jaguar and Famicom.

I also believe you can judge a good games shop on how they store their controllers, in here they are all beautifully tied and displayed rather than stuck into little bags in bargain bins.

Slightly faded console boxes in the shop window.Slightly faded console boxes in the shop window.

Simply put R Games is my favourite games shop and has been for an extremely long time, hopefully you can see why from the pictures I’ve taken. It goes against the tide stocking things that most places wouldn’t bother to, and in doing so creates a unique games shop that matches the personality of it’s customers. It has become the tidemark upon which I judge every other games shop I walk into.

Not just because of it’s contents, but the sublime service, friendly staff and wonderful prices. I’ll have a hard time trying to find other shops to write about after this one.

Currently playing

Drumming with Rock Band

I’d like to ask a simple question. Can music games improve your ability to play a real instrument?

After drumming in Rock Band for almost a year I’ve decided to learn the drums properly again. While there is no definitive answer for you just yet, this is a subject I’d like to return to as as my real drumming improves.

But before we get to the lessons themselves; a little information on my musical history.

My musical history

The Drums

Now I have to be honest I have played the drums before, but I would describe myself as extremely amateur. Largely self taught. My practical drum experience was from about 11 years ago, and I’ve largely forgotten. I’ve picked up a lot of bad habits from RB2, so I’d like to start over.

Other Musical experiences

I played the violin when I was very young, and I also played in a percussion section (Xylophone, Glockenspiel mainly) so I used to have a fair understanding of musical theory. However I am sad to say this knowledge has completely drained from my head.

Rock Band 1 & 2

On July 15th 2008 I unboxed my Rock band instrument set for the first time. But who was I kidding, I bought Rock Band and it’s sequel so I could play the drums first, and second for the music and for the sheer joy of experiencing one of the best multiplayer games ever made.

After muddling through Easy and Medium difficulties, by November 2008 for the release of Rock Band 2 I was playing on Hard exclusively. And now less then a year after I bought the original game I play on Expert difficulty for the vast majority of songs.

My drumming aims

  • To learn the drums properly, with an emphasis on musical theory.
  • To ditch any bad habits I’ve picked up from teaching myself in the past.
  • To figure out whether playing RB for the last year has helped me to improve over what I could do before.

Week One – Re-learning the basics

It’s been years since I’ve sat in front of a drum kit this big, and I’m suddenly extremely nervous. First things first apparently the way I am holding the sticks is good, thankfully I have learnt some of the benefits of stick bounce from RB2, I’ve noticed I tire less when I let the recoil of the stick do most of the work.

We go over the basic drum names, and I hit problem one straight away – the high-hat sat on the far left of me, which forms the basis of the main beat in my starting drum grooves, we play it closed today but even so, I now have a second pedal to worry about when I am now more used to one. So not a problem for now, but perhaps a problem for later.

I have a total of nine drums to manage rather than five Rock Band ones, that’s the biggest hurdle.

Two Rock Band Kits show the difference in drum positions.

Problem two is that I have to return to playing cross-handed, that is right hand over left so I can play high-hat and snare. To deviate a little:

When playing RB2, your main drum beats are on the red and yellow drums. Snare is usually the red drum on the left in-game, and yellow the high-hat.

Except on a normal drum kit setup, it’s the opposite; your high-hat is on the left, and you play cross-handed (as a right handed person) to prepare your stronger hand for faster beats. I’m no expert on the subject, but I am guessing Harmonix changed this around to make the hardware more accessible to non-musicians.

We start building up a basic groove, my tutor seems pleased that I play all drums on all hands and feet very evenly, apparently this normally takes a while to get right in your head. (Thanks RB!)

I drum along to my first song (Californication, Red Hot Chilli Peppers) I am trying to relax but I’ve noticed how much I stare ahead at one fixed point like I am looking at a screen for guidance. Must try harder not to do this next week.

Week Two – Testing my memory

As I suspected the hardest thing to unlearn is the fact that I am no longer taking direction from a screen. I need to learn to relax and loosen up a bit. I manage to play the grooves from last week without too many problems, but taking on new stuff is hard. I am used to playing by ear and suddenly I have to remember to count and think again. So the majority of this lesson is just spent practicing what I can do over and over and over. This hits hard, although still fun – it’s a step back from the immediacy and accessibility of the game and a reminder that in the real world things need to be slowly perfected over time.

My hands do in fact need some tweaking to help prepare for faster beats, I need to move away from my RB method of parallels sticks so that they form more of triangle shape on the snare. This helps, but my left hand is weaker and frequently messes up it’s beats on my fills. I would like to improve this.

Co-incidentially I am practicing (outside of my lessons) on the Rock Band kit atm, less than ideal. Not enough drums for one, but at least I have some real sticks and something to hit! For this reason alone the drum training mode of RB2 is a genuine blessing, until I am ready to commit to something a little more permanent at least.

The drum trainer mode in RB.

One thing RB does not prepare you for is the space between the different drums, at least not sufficiently, extra time has to be factored in between the beats. Biggest problem for me is moving to the cymbals in proper time. I also forgot how incredibly noisy the crash cymbals could be. Teacher recommends some ear plugs, I might just.

Perhaps RB has not been as much of a help as I originally thought. I mean it’s helping me to juggle all the various new grooves that much more quickly, but I am still finding it hard to relax and bash the hell out of the real drums, but anyone that’s seen me drum on RB will know this will not last long.

Overall feeling? The real work has started now and I need more practice, so off I go. Stay tuned.