A series of special reports by the Scribe for Zophar's Domain
Did you know that classic gamers and archaeologists share something in
common? We both have to dig for a long time to find what we want.
If you will recall in my last report about the Game Room in Hot Springs, Arkansas (United States), one of the reasons that I wanted to return was to track down a copy of the Saturn version of Double Switch for KGen author Steve Snake. Mike Barker, owner of the Game Room, said that he didn't have it there, but he had "a lot more stuff in storage." We made arrangements that I would return in two weeks time and spend some time digging through his warehouse. "I've got a lot more stuff at home," he told me before I left, "but I haven't had time to go through it all. I'll let you look through it when you come back."
Well, I've been there and back, and you know what?
Snake's going to be a very happy fellow.
I arrived back in Hot Springs this past Saturday a full two hours ahead of schedule. I prefer to be way early rather than a little late, and besides - I figured I could kill the time doing some more shopping and conducting that promised interview. Mike was negotiating some Gameboy cartridge trading when I arrived, so I busied myself with some G3O research and a personal item or two. I picked up some info on the Saturn port of Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV: Wall of Fire for G3O's 32X section, as well as snarfing up every Genesis and Sega CD tips and tricks book in the place. I also came across a genuine prize for Lunar fans - a used copy of the official Working Designs Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete PSX Strategy Guide at a, shall we say, reasonable price? Yes, he had one lone used copy of PSX Lunar: SSC for US$45 as well, but I left it for you guys - I already own a copy, thank you very much. I then spent some time browsing around the shelves, making notes of various items that could be found right there in the Game Room, while Mike assisted several young Pokemon collectors in filling out their albums. I got complete lists of all TG16 and NeoGeo titles he had in stock, since some of you had asked me about them, and I'll make them available to you on request. Anyway we both finished about the same time, so we spent the rest of the time before closing conducting the interview.
SCRIBE: How long have you been in business?By then it was almost closing time for the mall, so we ended the interview there. Mike finished up his business while I spent the next five minutes getting robbed by the Coke machine outside, and then we were off and away to his home. Beside his home were three metal storage buildings, and I spent about an hour each inside the first two "digging in the dirt." I didn't bother with the third one. It was a chilly night, and Mike assured me it contained nothing but extra consoles, no lights, and no heat.
MBARKER: Oh, I'd say about three years.
SCRIBE: What kinds of videogames and videogame systems do you carry?
MBARKER: I carry just about anything and everything. I've seen it all, and I eventually wind up carrying it all.
SCRIBE: Any rare stuff?
MBARKER: Sometimes. The rare stuff is hard to come by, and it tends to go fast.
SCRIBE: Any top sellers? What would you say sells the most?
MBARKER: Ummm ... I'd have to say that PlayStation is selling the most right now.
MBARKER: It has the widest variety of games. Something for everyone.
SCRIBE: What about classic cartridge consoles?
MBARKER: Super Nintendo, without a doubt. It had some really good games.
SCRIBE: What kind of game sells the most? You know, action, platform, arcade, sports, RPGs, and so on?
MBARKER: RPGs. Definitely RPGs. Everybody wants the role-playing games. They're the number one choice among my customers, so it's kinda hard to keep 'em in stock. (smiles) You know, they're hard to get, and they tend to sell fast. Whenever customers do trade-ins or I go shopping myself, the first thing I look for are the RPGs.
SCRIBE: Why RPGs?
MBARKER: People want games that draw them into the experience. RPGs do that. You can't do that with an arcade or sports game as much. They're getting more popular every day. I hope the videogame companies will realize this and bring over more.
SCRIBE: Yes, there are dreadfully few, aren't there?
MBARKER: It's not so bad for PlayStation or Super Nintendo, but what about Sega? They don't have enough RPGs, and never did. You bought me out of just about everything I had for Sega CD, which wasn't much, and I don't have a lot for Genesis. Not that there ever was much, nor for Saturn for that matter.
SCRIBE: So I take it that old RPGs sell well?
MBARKER: You've seen the price on my only copy of Final Fantasy II for SNES, haven't you? (US$45, lone cart) That's the only Final Fantasy I've got in stock right now. (laughs) I haven't seen Final Fantasy III in over six months.
SCRIBE: Speaking of Nintendo, how's the handheld business? Gameboy, Game Gear, Lynx?
MBARKER: Oh, about average. Gameboy does alright. I hardly sell any Game Gear stuff. Lynx? Only classic gamers buy the old stuff. Older customers who remember it.
SCRIBE: So what's your favorite console?
MBARKER: Atari VCS. I can play those games. I can't handle these new ones. Space Invaders, Pac-Man, you know. I grew up on those, and I can play 'em pretty well. This new stuff, I can't handle. The kids beat me every time.
SCRIBE: I know what you mean. My nephew and I game together a lot. I can beat him on Mortal Kombat on my Sega CD, but he cleans my clock on Soul Calibur every time.
MBARKER: Uh, huh. Different ages, different games.
SCRIBE: One question folks have started asking me is how much old videogames are worth. How can you tell? How fast do they depreciate?
MBARKER: Oh, they don't depreciate all that much. Some never do. Some, like the RPGs, actually go up in value. I get a sheet from Funcoland every week telling me what my stuff is worth right now, and I've got a guy in Texas that does the same. Even so, I won't sell a game for less than I paid for it. That's not good business.
SCRIBE: No argument there. I paid royally for my Sega CD RPG collection, and I've just about got them all.
MBARKER: Oh? Which ones don't you have?
SCRIBE: Only two - Vay and Popful Mail.
MBARKER: Hmmm ... (shakes his head) I don't think I have either one. They might be in storage when we go there, though.
SCRIBE: I'll be sure to look. RPGs are hard to come by, and you wind up paying an arm and a leg for them when you do find them.
MBARKER: Uh, huh. The good ones tend to sell as fast as I get them.
At this point, we were interrupted by a customer who wanted to try out a videogame he planned to buy. Mike is very open about letting his customers preview his games, and his return policy on non-working games is the same. "Try it. If you like it, buy it. If you don't, put it back on the shelf. If you take it home and it doesn't work, bring it back."
CUSTOMER: You used to be up front, didn't you?
MBARKER: Yeah, until somebody broke in the front window of the mall and cleaned me out of a couple thousand dollars worth of games. Caught 'em, too.
CUSTOMER: How did you do that?
MBARKER: I offered a US$500 reward. Turns out that a bunch of kids did it from the local school. The youngest one was only thirteen.
SCRIBE: Did you get your money back?
MBARKER: Oh, yeah. I got my money back.
After the customer was through shopping, we returned to the interview.
SCRIBE: How do you like your present location here in Central Mall (near the center of the building - ed.)?
MBARKER: I love it. I'm back here away from the windows, but not too far back so that folks can't find me.
SCRIBE: Do you get lots of customers?
MBARKER: That's the best thing about being in this mall. I get customers from all over the country. They come here looking for other things, and a lot of 'em find their way in here.
SCRIBE: Oh, really? Any specific kinds?
MBARKER: No, just everybody. Old folks, young folks ...
SCRIBE: ... parents and their kids ...
MBARKER: Yep. Lots of those.
SCRIBE: Do you use a ratings system for your games?
MBARKER: Most games nowdays come with the ESRB rating label. That's a big help for the parents. They can look right at and say, "No, you're not buying anything with an M on it."
SCRIBE: But what about your older games? The pre-1993 ones? The ones that aren't rated? Surely you've heard some complaints about those?
MBARKER: I don't follow you.
SCRIBE: You know, complaints about any violent content. This whole "violence in videogames" business that's been on the news lately. The Columbine shooting.
MBARKER: That? That's a bunch of CRAP. C-R-A-P. Crap. Videogames don't make people violent, and they don't make kids violent, either. Violence is everywhere in our society - on the playground, on the street, on the radio, on the tube. They'll pick it up there long before they pick it up from a videogame. Whoever's behind that is pushing a load of bull. Videogames are no more violent now than they were in the past. Only the graphics have changed.
SCRIBE: It's kinda like Montel Williams said. "Those kids didn't learn violence from a videogame. That violence was already in them."
SCRIBE: Ever do any business in imports?
MBARKER: No, not really. Too much money and not enough demand. You know, I sold a guy a Japanese Dreamcast just before they came out here. I tried to warn him, but he didn't listen. Now he's got one and can't find any games for it. I tried to help him out, but there's nothing here he can play.
SCRIBE: Unless he mod-chips it.
MBARKER: Uh-huh. He just couldn't wait.
As you can see from the picture, the first building contained nothing but
boxed (and some loose) gaming gear. Wall-to-wall videogames, consoles,
and accessories, tightly packed from floor to ceiling, with packed boxes
scattered in the floor, leaving just barely enough room to move around.
Need Saturn or 3DO multigame demo discs? They've got 'em. Need
93 Championship Edition for Genesis, or any other Madden NFL
game for any platform? They've got 'em. Need Atari 2600 and
7800 games? They've got 'em. Need boxed Sega consoles, ranging
from the Master System on through the Saturn, including more obscure ones
like the Nomad? Looking for those hard-to-find Panzer Dragoon
games for the Saturn, or some shrinkwrapped copies of Legend of Oasis?
They've got 'em. What about SNES RPGs? Super Mario RPG?
Secret of Mana? Zelda? What about Genesis RPGs? Phantasy
Star 2, 3, and 4? Exile? Traysia? Warsong? Shining
Force 2? Shining in the Darkness? They've got 'em.
What about TG16 HuCards? Got some of those, too. Lynx games?
Yep. Maganvox Odyssey? Uh-huh. Intellevision? By
the bucket. Okay, wise guy, what about TG16 CD and NeoGeo CD games?
Well ... you got me there. Sorry, they don't have those. Like
Mike said, the rare stuff is hard to come by, and it tends to move fast.
Now it's time to take a look at the second storage building. It's not as packed as the first, because this is where Mike has set up a small workshop to repair videogame gear. The entertainment center you see to the right has all manner of videogame consoles stacked on top of it, and the shelves and boxes are full of various miscellany familiar to anyone who dabbles in retrovideogame repair and maintenance. Remember me telling you how the Game Room has so many of those stupid NES footpads that they use them for insulation? Well, I guess you could say the same for the NES light gun, because they seem to have plenty of those as well. Not to mention all kinds of joysticks and gamepads by various and sundry manufacturers for all different kinds of consoles, and - hey! Is that an Intellevision speech synthesis module up there? And isn't that an old SMS over there? Whoa, a Colecovision Expansion Module One still in the box! Yeah, that's the one that Atari sued 'em over, and he's even got the Colecovision to go with it! No box, but big deal. Life is good for us dirt-digging types. Especially those three cases full of old videogame magazines ... including that one that has the Ecco 32X Cinepak writeup from the 1994 Summer CES. Bingo! Another mystery solved for G3O. And with that, it's time to look over at the other side of the room.
Surprise! You didn't think that one building was it, did you? We've got even more videogames here! The front shelf is mostly accessories for consoles - you know, light guns, RF adapters, and so on. It's those back shelves with the boxes below (that you can't see) that interest ups. Actually, the boxes below are for the most part packed full of empty cases awaitng carts or discs to fill them, and that's a crying shame. I could have sold this copy of the SMS Phantasy Star for him if the cart were still in the box. Oh well, move the boxes around a bit, and then I can get to these back shelves. You N64 gamers would think that you had died and gone to heaven. Same for you Sega CD and Saturn gam -- hold the horse, Nellie, what's that! Omigod - here it is! Here it is! Two hours later, and here it is, by Jove! Snake, thank your lucky stars! I've just found that copy of of Double Switch for Saturn that you've been trying to track down. YES! That puppy's going into the "buy" pile ... (stretch over to the table) ... there! One down, two to go. Now to make my way back to those shelves, because there's some more Sega CD games over here.
Ouch! Stupid box ... no, wait, there are loose Genesis carts in here. Hmmm ... MegaKey? Oh, yeah! Play import carts on your Genesis. It's mine, now ... (stretch over to the table) ... let's see now ... Action 52? Bwah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah! So much for that box. Now it's time for the Sega CDs. Well, there's two more copies of Lunar: Silver Star. Heh, those cases are in worse shape than mine. In fact, that one's exactly like mine, Mega-CD style disc and all. This other one doesn't even have the manual ... but I haven't seen that Lunar disc before. Must be one of the seven that didn't get a lot of circulation, because I don't remember playing a scene like that in the game. Pure promo art, most likely. Better get a pic. [expletive]! Friggin flash! Oh well, my fellow emufans can probably get me a scan sometime. Okay, let's look some more .... (sigh) No Vay or Popful Mail for Sega CD, and I've looked everwhere. Crud.
Oh well, one out of three for classic videogaming ain't bad, it ain't bad at all. Not to mention all those Genesis and Sega CD books I bought, along with that official Working Designs PSX Lunar SSC guide on top of that. All in all, I ended up spending US$65 on that Lunar book and assorted Sega stuff, including Snake's Double Switch, and it was worth every penny of it. Afterwards, I got to visit with the Barkers and their teenage son, who promptly took me on a guided tour of his Dragon Ball Z collection, showed me his nearly complete set of domestic and import SNES RPGs (which are NOT for sale), and then another hour or so chatting with me about manga and anime. On top of that, Becky Barker showed me about three dozen or so rare import 3DO games from her private collection. You want to know what was among them? One of the all-time dating game greats. Graduation.
There was one more surprise for me before I left Hot Springs that evening.
I found this at a roadside quick stop located at the junction of Highway
5 and Highway 7, not far from Hot Springs Village. I've heard about
this kind of thing before, but I've never though that anybody would be
crazy enough to actually go through with it. As for the subject matter
itself, well, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words.
I'll let the picture speak for itself.
Who said retrogame archaeology couldn't be fun?
Next time, the Scribe takes you to visit an old friend who's been quietly helping him with the Genesis Game Guide Online Edition (G3O) these many months.