Firstly just to say I was honoured when Stu Brett (@superfamicomguy) agreed to show his collection on RGC. He has been gaming with the Super Famicom since its launch and owns 3 different versions of the console along with around 300 games and the rare SFC ‘Hotel Box’. He is also a very talented fellow, designing video game t-shirts over at Redbubble and will shortly have illustrations of his published in an upcoming book about videogames called ‘PressPause’. Look out for his own book dedicated to Japanese SFC games to be launched soon and be sure to check out his website.
Q and A with Super Famicom Guy
When did you become interested in video games and what was the first video game you played?
SFG: I was around 6 years old and it was a little Commodore 16 game called Bandits at Zero, developed in the UK by Mastertronic. It was a horizontal-scrolling shmup with jet fighter planes fighting over an ocean. It was one of those little budget £1.99 games you could buy with your allowance that came out in Britain back in the 1980s. It was hypnotic, simplistic and the very first shmup I ever played. Looking back now, it’s actually really ahead of it’s time – I’m still playing shmups that more or less follow the same structure as this old game. Played Border Down on the Dreamcast? That’s Bandits at Zero on steroids.
What was the first games console or computer you owned and how old were you?
SFG: I was playing on computers from a really early age but I finally got my own computer when I was 6 years old as a Christmas present from my parents. A Spectrum 128K + 2. I think this around ’85 – ’86. That was such an amazing piece of kit back then. I bought games every week and my Dad built me a stack of shelves to keep them on, directly above the computer desk he built me. My Dad’s a musician, record collector and painter so he and my mum made sure I appreciated the visual side of life as a kid. He had his record collection so I had my little Sinclair Spectrum collection. I remember playing games like The Land that Time Forgot which took over HALF AN HOUR to load! I loved the boxes they came in and especially the airbrushed/painted posters and box covers, particularly Bob Wakelin, who Illustrated for Ocean games throughout the 80’s. Some of those games resembled 70’s prog rock record sleeves and couple of the earlier games came in these big foam-padded boxes and I loved that. Luxury boxes! I used to display all the covers of the games on my shelves and put posters up next to them, much like what I do now. I also learned ‘Basic’ back then and how to hack games, thanks to some computer magazines that taught you how to. It was great fun. All of that stuff fueled my imagination at that age. I was creatively-driven by the images on-screen and the artwork in my hands. It definitely had an influence on my choice of career path, working in the design industry. The Sinclair Spectrum was also such a cool British-made piece of hardware and those little £1.99 games made by bedroom coders were bursting with imagination – I think that’s what made the European computing-era of the 80s so cool. The graphics were limited but the scope and limit of the imagination within those games was endless.
What got you into collecting videogames, computers and consoles?
SFG: My Uncle was only 5 years older than me so we would both collect games and consoles. We also went to visit my Grandmother every month in a coastal town in Scotland (Saltcoats). It had a huge arcade and we would spend hours on stuff like Double Dragon, Star Wars, Vigilante and things like that. In those days it was the arcade games that fuelled your passion for buying consoles. I was always chasing that ‘arcade-perfect’ myth that every developer was after back then, eventually broken with Final Fight on the Mega CD.
… My grandmother is to blame!
Where do you source most of your retro purchases from (ebay, flea markets etc) ?
SFG: I’ve been retro collecting Japanese Super Nintendo games for a number of years now and I’ve built up some friendships with people from all over the world. So whenever I can, I’ll trade with guys I know personally or have via friends in Tokyo. I rarely trade with twitter users, unfortunately – I’m usually too busy with my job & freelance work to get to chat to people via twitter. So yup, I’ve picked a system that’s really difficult to source locally, but I like a challenge!
What is your most prized retrogaming possession and how much did it cost you?
SFG: Right now I’d say it’s the Super Famicom Hotel System or ‘SFC box’. It cost me about £100 and they range from £300 – £500 online these days. The price of a game isn’t what I’d rate as collectible though, that’s relative to your tastes. For me It’s just abut about owning something unique and there are two hotel systems in existence. Both have different games loaded inside them. It was never commercially released and was only intended for Japanese hotels so that’s really cool. It’s a bespoke console that has completely different internals from the home console. It’s weird, rare and wont be easy to find in another 20 years time and that’s what I love about it. I’m preserving something I regard as unique and great fun to play.
What is your favourite hardware manufacturer (Sega, Nintendo, Atari Commodore etc.) ?
SFG: I don’t really have favourites. I have an equal amount of love for all of the manufacturers, mostly because I’ve bought so many different consoles over the past 30 years. Let me put it this way, I admire Atari’s ambition, SEGA’s creativeness, Nintendo’s originality, SONY’s sheer coolness, Panasonic’s commercial individuality, NEOGEO’s appreciation for the rich (haha!) and Clive Sinclair’s sheer British eccentricity and charm.
To ignore ‘the competition’, as the industry call it, is only to limit your experience as a video gamer.
What is your favourite console or computer?
SFG: Hands-down it’s always going to be the Super Nintendo or the Super Famicom, to be precise. The Japanese console has within it’s roster some of the most incredibly packaged and coded games I’ve ever seen on one system – From the box art and character design, to the music and the twist of genre. It’s sparked franchises that are still being released. It has an incredible sound chip, fantastic graphics, my fave format (cartridge), the most comfortable and intuitive control pad and would last from 1990 (it’s Japanese launch) to 2007 when the last few official games were released via the Satella View Unit. That’s 17 years. There’s not that many consoles around that have that type of life span. Nintendo managed to bottle the magic from the original NES and re-create and enhance that experience with the snes. If you’re a PAL/US snes fan I recommend finding out about the Japanese-exclusive games. I started buying Japanese snes titles as early as 1993 and I’ve always looked to Japan for games, both old and new.
Where do you want to go now with the collection?
SFG: Well, I only collect complete, boxed Super Famicom games. I prefer to focus on one system and devote my time and money into that. It’s been a few years now and I’ve only got a few major titles left to buy. I’m not a number chaser, despite having more than I can fit in my games room but I’m working on that! I spend more time playing them than buying them these days to be honest. But I have around 10 titles I’d like to buy this year but they’re not cheap, unfortunately. What makes it worse is that I owned 4 of them when I was younger!
Have you any tips for budding retro games collectors?
SFG: I’d recommend going for one system that you absolutely loved and just focus on that. You’ll build a collection in no time. Avoid Ebay if you can, search the web for alternatives that will save you money. And don’t imitate, innovate! It’s your collection, no one else’s. Forget about other peoples collections, everyone has to start out somewhere and it doesn’t take long to get a little collection on the go. Don’t feel pressured to own as much as the next guy. You’re collecting for yourself after all. Every collection should be unique and I believe should reflect a collector’s personality. Just like record collections, classic car collectors or people who collect vintage fashion. Video games collections are no different. The best collections are the ones that reflect a collector’s personality and taste. I went for the obscure Japanese stuff to begin with because that’s what I’ve I bought when I was a kid. So my collection reflects my taste for Japanese popular culture and also my appreciation of box art. Forget about collecting cartridges, go for the real deal – the box, manual and inlay cards. Having them boxed retains their individuality on a shelf. A huge part of collecting, for me is about owning the box art and remembering how you felt when you first picked it up, before you even played it. Don’t keep your games sealed, open them up, play them, show them to your girlfriend, pass them down to your kids, get your friends round, get drunk and play them all night! Share all the cool shit you’ve chosen to save from slipping into obscurity because it’s never going to be around forever. Look after your games too, and if you’re able to, put them on display – Make sure they’ll last another twenty years by cleaning them and keeping them out of direct sunlight and depending on which console you collect, try and mimic the original set-up that it was designed for. Vintage games were graphically designed with real CRTV scan lines in mind and in a non-widescreen ratio so go for old school cheap TV’s and they’ll look a hundred times cooler. But most of all, just have fun and create a collection that defines what you like and what you’d like to share with your mates and family.