It’s a fair question, and one that comes up from time to time. Why, at Quantum Web Cafe, the UK’s longest running internet cafe and games zone, do we mainly provide retro gaming on the PCs?
Well, first, we’d better clarify our own generalization. There are actually modern games installed on the PCs as well, but these are mostly on-line role playing or strategy games such as World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Hearthstone, Diablo III, Star Wars The Old Republic and so on. And many games, such as Dota 2, Counterstrike GO, Team Fortress 2 and so on are regardless as current classics, still played by millions and also installed ready to go on the PCs in the gameszone. Day of Defeat Source, the Half Life variations, Left for Dead 1 and 2 aren’t arguably old enough yet to be called truly retro, but it won’t be long!
There’s also the Xbox One (the 360 has been retired), which only has a few games available, but which are also current. What we’re saying is, that most games, especially those in large, noisy LAN events (our favourite!) tend to be classic, retro games and as time has gone on, we’ve found ourselves specialising in these more and more.
There are three main reasons for this:
The first one is technology. We’ve been around since 1996 and for the first ten years especially, every new game would require a PC upgrade. Each game took the hardware curve a little further and it was actually not cost effective to do it. We did it anyway, of course, as we always wanted to have the best facilities, but gradually the hardware curve got ahead and upgrades weren’t so steady. As it leveled out, so did our gaming attendance and for a while it was in perfect harmony.
Then, in 2009, our local HMV store which was right next to us at the time, opened a huge games zone with a big sponsorship budgets and top of the line equipment. Overnight, and understandably, the gamers moved a few doors down to the technically better, but undeniably sterile corporate environment and Quantum was, temporarily, forgotten. HMV’s gamezone was a failure of course (better equipment doesn’t always make a better games zone) and when it closed down suddenly a year later, there was nowhere for the gamers to go and Quantum now seemed quaint and old fashioned as we had decided it was not worth investing or updating the equipment to compete.
But something else was happening at the same time which also affected our decision not to upgrade the gamezone, which brings us to reason two: the rise of the console.
Back in the day, when going into any Game shop, you’d be confronted by rows and rows of PC games on DVD and CD, with a tiny little section at the back for all the consoles put together as an afterthought. These days, it’s the exact opposite. Consoles are now the main gaming machines of choice and many publishers don’t even bother releasing games for PCs anymore. And there was an extra twist: the few games that publishers DID release on PC were almost always 18 rated and it’s illegal to allow these to be played, or even viewed, by a minor. Controlling this is a public environment such as Quantum’s gameszone was therefore impossible and the only safe decision was not to install any of them. It seemed gaming might be dead forever.
But then there was reason three, the nostalgic yearn for enjoying pleasures of the past. Think vinyl sales unexpectedly outstripping online sales, think cinemas reinvented after years of decline and think of those old games that you used to play with your mates after painstakingly building networks round your house. Wouldn’t it be nice to play them again, in a live environment with them sitting next to you, rather than over a phone or via internet, even if only for a few hours?
But there’s more. Even if you wanted to play some of the classics, you might be surprised to learn that you can’t. Many old games won’t run on Windows 7 or 8 and with Windows 10 it’s all but impossible. Yes, there are emulators and java versions in some cases, but it’s not the same. What you want is a full screen, full frame rate, native version. And that’s where we come in. All those old games have had to be tweaked to run and, in some cases, have to run some lines of hidden code on launch first to make them work. It’s all done, it’s all ready, just double click and go.
Age of Empire II Conquerors Expansion with the high res patch. Red Alert 2 in 1600×1200. The original Unreal Tournament or Quake III on a widescreen monitor. Aliens Vs Predator (and expansion!!) ready to go on ‘graphics high’ settings without a stutter. COD4, Battelefield 2, Halo, even Flatout 2 (with the permanently addictive demolition derby!) or Colin Macrae’s 2005 rally. Hell, there’s even the orginal Monster Truck, Midtown and Motorcross Madness. Ok, so these last ones are a little tricky to LAN up as the protocols they used nearly 20 years ago no longer exist, but we can do it. In fact, you can’t even use graphics cards with these as the software was written in a time before PCIe cards existed and won’t recognise them! It’s amazing to think that the software rendering of today is better than the very best, biggest budget hardware rendering of then.
Yes, the graphics aren’t always as good as today’s games (although you might be surprised just how good these actually were when you see them again!), but their playability simply hasn’t dwindled. Whether it’s stag parties, birthday parties, just a bunch of guys or girls getting together for a few beers on a casual gaming session, they never fail to please. Our collection has been chosen for pure playability and our hardware is the highest spec possible of the era, any further than this and once again, these games won’t play properly. Sure, maintenance is harder work and more expensive arguably, but we think you’ll love the result. See you there!