In recent years, the retro scene has experienced a noticeable growth in Germany. The number of conventions celebrating old computers and consoles have increased in the past few years. Even Gamescom, Europe’s biggest gaming expo, has noticed that trend and decided to expand its section for retro enthusiasts. This country is also home to talented homebrew developers like the NG:DEV.TEAM, creators of critically acclaimed Neo Geo and Dreamcast titles like Gunlord and Last Hope.
Keeping that in mind, it seems odd that when it comes to collecting or acquiring original cartridges and legit copies of commercial homebrew releases, collectors and enthusiasts alike usually have to import their games from out of country as stores dedicated to the retro scene are very rare. Those game stores that do exist usually focus their main business on modern releases, hiding their old carts and discs behind shelves showcasing the XXth rendition of Call of Duty or FIFA 41. Even harder to find are stores that stock new releases for old consoles. At a handful of locations, you may be able to order the occasional title, but good luck finding a store that actually holds a live copy.
Christoph Noll is out to rectify this. Under the tagline “new games for old consoles” he has founded retrospiel (Retro Games in German), the first retro gaming store in Cologne. Its main focus: to offer not only classic games and consoles, but also providing a go-to address for acquiring brand new releases for those classic machines.
It all started with Last Hope. Originally released in 2006 for the SNK Neo Geo and developed by brothers Tim and René Hellwig, aka NG:DEV.TEAM, it is a side-scrolling shoot-’em-up in the vein of R-Type and Pulstar. With its high difficulty and sophisticated visuals, it pushed SNK’s 16-bit hardware to its limits, garnering a big deal of attention in the retro gaming and homebrew development scene. When the German brothers decided to port the game to the Dreamcast, it set Christoph’s heart ablaze. “Last Hope’s release on Dreamcast blew my mind,” Christoph told us. “Both the game itself and the fact that a small indie developer would go all the way to not only develop the game but also to release it on physical media for the Neo and the Dreamcast. I’d have done the same if I could. I really wanted to support them.”
The Dreamcast has always held a special place in Christoph’s heart. Over the past decade he was involved in various Dreamcast sites like DCEmulation.org and released compilations featuring homebrew games, demos and chiptunes via DCEvolution.net. However, in 2011 Christoph decided to sell his collection of video games and consoles. “Video games always were a huge part of my life, and I collected since I was 13, but I had no room to store my stuff so I felt I had to get rid of most of it and keep only my Dreamcast and Mega Drive. I cataloged my collection, cleaned everything and took photos. It was then when I got the idea to open an online shop and sell games for a living. And Last Hope would be the very first game I would order for resale.”
It first started out with a small eBay store but then an opportunity arose that led to the foundation of a traditional brick and mortar store in central Cologne, his home town. “The store wasn’t part of my initial concept.” says Christoph. “I just happened to live in the same building as a store, and suddenly the store downstairs became vacant. I wanted to do this as well as I could, so I felt it’d be nice to have this store for people to stop by. I had no time to think about it twice, so I took my chance.” So, the idea of retrospiel developed from a simple online shop to including a local showroom, an opportunity for enthusiasts to get in touch, to meet and discuss their favorite hobby.
But retrospiel isn’t supposed to be your standard run-of-the-mill video game shop on the corner. Rather, it aims to become a go-to address for any retro gaming need imaginable. There won’t be any battered, maltreated items in his shop; defective cases get replaced, CDs are resurfaced and consoles repaired, cleaned and checked thoroughly before going on the shelf. “I really want my store to be as inviting as possible,”Christoph affirmed, “and I certainly don’t want to sell broken or dirty goods.”
Furthermore, this won’t just be an address to get old games, consoles, cables and equipment, even though there’s definitely the supply for that. Currently, there are about 1,200 items in the store’s inventory, mostly the remains of Christoph’s own collection. He plans for this to change soon. Besides merchandise, guide books, magazines and DVDs, there will be new high quality accessories for old systems, such as RGB cables, controllers or parts for repair and mods.
As for software, the store is aiming for something different than just your standard used games store: There will be a focus on indie games, imports and general holy grail-type games, as well as a space for homebrew games for old consoles. New games are regularly being released for the Dreamcast, NES and Mega Drive, Christoph aims to make his store a place where all can be found and purchased. Games by NG: DEV.TEAM, RedSpotGames, WaterMelon and other small publishers are already in stock, and more will follow soon.
Maybe there’ll also be a retrospiel label on its own! “It’d be a dream to publish a game myself, properly licensed, complete with decent packaging, original cartridge and manual, “Christoph admitted. “In fact, we are currently working on something for the Mega Drive already, but I can’t tell more about that right now. Would be fantastic to have this game out by Christmas though.”
The main sales channel will remain online, of course. Aside from the aforementioned eBay store, items will also be available via a web shop complementing the store. Currently it only holds a small handful of items, but the selection will hopefully increase over the next few months.Via the Retro Gaming at GamesCom exhibition, retrospiel managed to secure a booth at the prestigious gaming expo. From August 14th-17th 2014, retrospiel and well-known Mega Drive home brew label Watermelon Games will be represented at the convention. Christoph aims to establish a presence as quickly as possible. “In cooperation with Watermelon, Hucast, and other small developers, retrospiel will be showing new games for Dreamcast, Mega Drive, and NES.”
The store in downtown Cologne itself is set to open in September 2014. Until then, there is still much to do. Orders need to be placed, shelves and displays need to be filled, and an increase in storage space is a must. “I’ll appreciate any form of support.” Christoph says. “I’ve been working on this forever and poured my heart’s blood into this. I’m risking everything, so that I can realize this dream and offer visitors an experience that previously didn’t exist in this area.”
Our thanks to Arne Ebner from Superlevel.de for the photos.