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Technology & Entrepreneurship

Companies Take Advantage Of Resurgent Interest In Old Gaming Systems

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Paul Flahive
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In November, Nintendo immediately sold out of its NES mini, a throwback to its original 30-year-old gaming system. A San Antonio company is taking advantage of the resurgence in retro gaming systems.

For the past three years, Eli Galindo has been creating new games for old systems like the Sega Genesis the Original Nintendo, and this game called 'Dork And Ymp' on Super Nintendo. 

His company Piko Interactive takes old games, ones that were previously unreleased or sometimes unfinished games and releases them.

To date they have released more than 20 games. That means his full-time job is playing games for hours to make sure they don't have glitches, soldering coded cards into the new cartridges. He tries to keep packaging as authentic as possible. For instance using a cardboard insert for Super Nintendo boxes while Sega gets the old plastic "Blockbuster video like" cases.

"And then the NES one, this is NES, they do even the styrofoam one," he says pulling out a length of styrofoam whose only function is to fill out the bottom of the box.

"You know collectors love this stuff."

Eli doesn't code these console games though. In his research he found very few developers who know how to code these games. And 'Dork and Ymp' - the game we are playing - needed about half the game to be written after he got the rights from a Swedish company. He says he only knows a handful of people who can write this old code.

"Like my main guy, he's from Russia. Not everyone can write games for these consoles. You don't have tools. You don't have support. You don't find a lot of people who know how to write in that language."

While we had been playing 'Dork And Ymp' at the shared tech workspace Geekdom, a small crowd had gathered outside to watch. An aside, the room we were in was literally called the "Duck Hunt" room after the iconic NES game. Finally, curious Geekdom employee Grayson Hamilton comes in.

"I gotta ask, I grew up with these and I don't recognize this game,"

"It's a new game! We got the rights and finished it and released it."

"Really? That's (expletive) awesome."

Hamilton scoffs when asked if he still has his Super Nintendo. Eli invites him to play the game.

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Credit Paul Flahive
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One of the game cards from an Atari Jaguar system, sans cartridge.

Hamilton is instantly engaged. He is the demographic, early 30s, avid player...and that demographic is expanding. A recent study by Mintel, a marketing research company, pegged 36 percent of 18-24 year olds as having an older gaming system. But, why buy an old game other than nostalgia?

"The difficulty factor. One of the things we've lost is that aspect that you have three lives and sorry if you can't do it. Get better," Hamilton explains.

Retro gaming has enjoyed some cultural cache as well, with the release of movies like Wreck it Ralph and Pixels both about retro games. 

Video game collector Patrick Scott Patterson says he doesn't see the interest going away any time soon and describes how he thought it had peaked three years ago only to see it continue to flourish.

"Several years ago I noticed a bit of a rise, and I thought we had hit the ceiling.  I had a "Panic Restaurant" laying around and I sold it for $120. About two weeks ago I saw it go for $617 online."

Patterson writes and speaks about retro gaming culture often, he says the market for new games or previously unreleased ones is still small, but he gets why Eli and Piko would want to bring new games to life. It's something he has considered himself.

"It's the same story with almost everyone of them too. It's not like someone jumped in saying 'you know here’s a great way to make a buck.' They want to  take what they have now and make the dream game they always wanted to share with fans out there."

On San Antonio's near north side at the shop Propaganda Palace, owner and avid collector A.J. Martinez stands in front of a wall crammed full with thousands of games from Atari to more current game systems. His shop specializes in vintage video games. He sees companies like Eli's proliferating as time goes on.

"Then how can one say that the Super Nintendo is a dead format. The reason it's dead is the same reason vinyl was dead, no one was buying records...but it came back."

For Eli Galindo that means continued sales and likely more competition.