How to fight retro gaming A.D.D.
One of the best parts of building a retropie system, or having an emulation setup in general is that you have literally thousands of choices spanning decades of amazing games. Just like how Netflix or Hulu provides you with seemingly endless options of things to watch. This is obviously a double edged sword. When you have thousands of choices, you usually end playing a game for a couple minutes, or till you get a game over and then hop out of the game to try something else. It sounds like a great problem to have, too many games? Hell yeah right? Well if you have limited time to spend gaming, you can end your night feeling like you wasted an opportunity to really get into a game, or even a sense of stress or guilt for not getting any meaningful gaming in. There are ways to mitigate the effects of "too many games".
Take a break from gaming
Sometimes the best way to end up playing more games is to stop playing them all together. Going into summer and coming out of a pandemic that kept us inside for most of the last year, chances are you had more time to game than ever before. This may be the perfect time to unplug the Pi and go outside and enjoy something that you may have not had a chance to do for a while. I took a break from gaming a few months ago to finally get caught up on all the Marvel movies and TV shows. I found that after a couple weeks of watching movies at night, throwing darts and working on my arcade pedestal setup, I really wanted to play a game and actually sink my teeth into something, not just pig out at the retropie buffet. If you are struggling to get into a game for more than a couple minutes, it may be your brain telling you it needs a video game vacation.
Designate a "Retro Gaming Night"
One of the issues that I have a lot is not only picking a game, but picking a platform. I don't think I'm unique in having a mix of modern and retro platforms to choose from. By setting aside a night for old games, it will take all the modern distractions out of play. Think of it like having a "bowling night" but for retro games. Now that the world is getting back to normal, invite some buddies over and pick a theme for the night. Some ideas for retro gaming nights would be
Beat em up night (Turtles in Time, X-Men, Streets of Rage, Maximum Carnage)
Sports night (NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, NHL 95, Neo Geo Turfmaster)
Video Pinball (Devils Crush, Alien Crush, Time Cruise)
Involving friends and a couple beers is a great way to not only stick with a game or a genre, but to make you look forward to playing games again. We are simulating this over on the Emulate This Discord with a weekly Turfmasters and pinball league. It's a ton a of fun and has me playing more games for longer than usual. You could also do this if you manage to get netplay working with Retropie, but its a bit of a pain in the ass to get right. An easier option may be to check out the digital stores on whatever modern system you have to see what retro games have been brought into the 21st century with online support.
Read old gaming magazines online for ideas
One of the reasons that I find myself struggling to get into the meat of most retro games is the lack of hype going into them. There are online archives of magazines like Nintendo Power and Game Informer that can get you excited to play something retro. There are also great YouTube videos that can give you an idea if you will like a game or not. Marketing and hype play a role in our excitement to play a game, and we lose that with screen shots on the Pi. Including video snaps on your retropie build is also a good way to build excitement for games you may not have played before.
Change up how you play games
I recently went over my arcade pedestal and it is amazing for arcade games. That was expected. What I did not expect was how much I enjoyed playing games I traditionally would use a controller for with arcade controls instead. Playing games like Super Smash Brothers and Mario Kart with an arcade setup changed things up just enough to make it more interesting. You can build a single arcade stick controller for the Pi for about $50 with parts off Amazon. This is also a great way to get little kids into gaming. The joystick and big buttons are way easier than a normal controller to use for the kiddos.
Treat your fake quarters like real money
One of the factors that keeps me from really diving into arcade games is the infinite quarter button. In a way it breaks the main game mechanic of most arcade titles. What I have started to do is put as many fake quarters into a game as I would put real quarters into it at my local arcade. This may sound silly, but putting $4 worth of fake quarters into the game at the start screen, then not touching the button afterwards really helps make it feel it was intended to.
Play games from a platform you missed out on
Some people's definition of "retro" may be different from yours. If you played SNES in high school, you probably missed out on a system that came out after that. There are great games on systems like PS1, N64, Dreamcast and GameCube. You should also be looking at the later arcade platforms like Naomi and Atomiswave. These all present some issues when it comes to emulation if you are on a Pi, with anything newer than Dreamcast being off the table, but most decent PC's can handle anything under PS2 no problem. This is a two way street. I played a lot of Xbox and Dreamcast as a kid, but I completely missed everything on the Turbo Graphics and Neo Geo (because who the hell had a Neo Geo). Getting into games that you do not have a nostalgia filter for can be a great way to have a new experience with a retro game.
All Killer No Filler Pi Builds
One of the best ways to get into a game is to only have good games to chose from. There are lists all over the internet, usually on old school gaming forums, that have a ton of top 10 or top 50 games per system. You could build your Pi image to just include the top 50 or 100 games per platform, but I always liked to have my build have every game per system, then break out separate playlists for the best games. By just sticking with the best of the best for each system, you eliminate all of the shovelware bs that bloats most of our retropie's.
Play the games the guys cover on the show
One of the things that I really like about the guys on Emulate This is how they describe the games they are playing. The way the go into details of their play through makes the game come alive to a certain extent. They can also give you a pretty good idea of what games to avoid and what games to dive into.
Challenge yourself to play at least 2 hours of a game
I am guilty of writing a game off in the first 20 minutes if it is either too hard, or if it's too slow to set the hooks into you. The mentality here is to put yourself in the mindset of a kid who just bought or rented the game, and that's all you have to play. I find that this really helps with the impulse to bail on a game before it gets to the good part. Modern games seem to have gotten better about this and will engage the player quicker to make it easier to really get into the game. Retro games have always been a challenge for me to enjoy the first bit of gameplay, but sticking with a game usually pays off towards the middle.
Make the games more fun
If you are struggling to get into a game, it may just not be fun to you. One of the great things about emulation is it is easy to turn cheats on, removing some of the annoying retro gaming difficulties. You can also turn on "Retro Achievements" which add a Xbox live style Achievement system to retro games. This can add another dimension to classic games. Enabling these achievements in Retropie is fairly simple, and well worth it.
I imagine a lot of people rolled their eyes at the title of this article, thinking it's a made up problem, and in a way it is. However I would challenge you to keep track of how many different games you play in a gaming session or week. At the end of the day, you should play what you want, how you want, but making a conscious effort to get the most out of your gaming time may show more benefits than you think. As always feel free to swing by the emulate this discord server to chat it up with community!