The Stuff Of Dreams

By Dave E

Originally published in EUG #69

You know collecting games for the 8-bit computers is taking over your life when you start to dream about them. Several years ago I had a particularly vivid dream about finding an Electron with Slogger's SP64 and Sir Computers' Mode 7 Simulator, plus a whole host of very rare tape games, on my local car boot sale. It was eagerly snapped up and my excitement cascaded into frustration on waking to discover that in fact the computer coup of the century was in fact only the product of my overactive imagination.

However, one weekend in late 2006 came very close to being the stuff of dreams ...

Fellow Acorn-webmaster Dave M swung by my place in central London on a dark Wednesday evening to pick up a couple of boxfuls of BBC educational software which I didnít have room to store but couldn't bear to throw away. He mentioned that he intended to call by a certain computer shop on the outskirts of London en route back, which claimed to stock a selection of software for obsolete 8-bit/16-bit platforms.

Now although I knew these claims to be legitimate (I had previously bought some bits and bobs from the same shop, via Mail Order!) I thought nothing of Dave M's visit because their catalogue didn't contain any software that wasn't already on my site.

However, the following afternoon I got "The Call". A bewildered Dave M, almost gasping for words, professed to be standing amidst mountains and mountains of 'New Old Stock' BBC Micro/Electron software. He could barely conceal his amazement. "I mean, this is basically a case of 'ask me to see if I can see it'," he blurted. Incredibly rare last-title released by Audiogenic Helter Skelter? "Yes, that's here. Fifteen copies of that one." Any Digital Fantasia releases? "Yep, there's a pile of about twenty of them, all in their huge boxes and in pristine condition," came the reply. "And there's loads of early stuff here that you've probably never heard of such as Sketch Pad by Goldstar and The Descant Recorder Tutor by Mupados. And thereís an abundance of CAVEMAN tapes by Alternative, which I didn't think existed!"

But how?! The answer lay with a quick appraisal of the shop itself. It remained a truly independent computer hardware and software supplier. It had not sold out or been taken over by Game or Gamestation and when I first walked through its doors the following Saturday, I found it to be laid out almost identically to the shops I remembered from my youth.

Of course, the small selections of games lining the walls were now for the PS2, PC and Nintendo Gameboy variants, not the Amstrad, Spectrum and Commodore - but essentially it was as if time had stood still. The proprietor had not binned old stock but had simply shifted it out back. And considering the back rooms of this shop resembled dusty ballrooms rather than warehouses, it had piled up and up and up.

As the smaller independent retailers had slowly shut up their shops, he had bought out their stock in bulk, further increasing a collection that filled six rooms. As Dave M had been astounded, so too was I. This was not just one shop that just happened to still have a few 8-bit games at the back. The rooms were literally stuffed with titles for every retro system from the Sinclair ZX81 to the Sony Playstation. You looked around it and simply goggled, even with titles like The Times Jubilee Puzzles and Blood Of The Mutineers stacked next to [still-sealed] Acornsoft titles!

There was some order to the chaos - much of which had been brought about by Dave M who had begun to methodically arrange the software in order of publisher (as it was all-too-clear that the stock had grown much too much for its distinguished keeper). Hence, it appeared when the said keeper provided a list to me some years earlier, he had investigated only what was in the first of these rooms. During the course of the day, Dave M and I performed an 8-bit treasure hunt throughout the rest. I left with about fifty Electron titles that I had previously only dreamed of ever acquiring. As Dave M also collects BBC Micro titles, he must have walked out with double that number of rarities.

There were rare games that collectors on other platforms would have been just as passionate about finding and over the coming months these gradually found their way into the hands of collectors via Dave M, who entered into a deal with the proprietor to sell most of it via eBay. Alas for Commodore owners, no Daffy Duck tape was discovered!

My own quest through this retro paradise also hit some quite peculiar highs. Because many of the games appear to have been shipped wholesale, they had never been taken out of their original distribution boxes. It felt somewhat peculiar to find huge unopened boxes, each filled to the brim with multiple copies of the same title e.g. 400 copies of The Peter Scott Trilogy, 100 tapes and 100 discs of Tetris, 200 discs of By Fair Means Or Foul, 50 copies of Boulderdash... I could go on. In fact, the boxes themselves invariably felt like collectors' items. What? No, I did not buy the boxes; even my own obsession has limits.

As Dave M and I continued to wander around the labyrinths, although we tried very gingerly to remove the games we wanted from towering piles, there was at least one time I misjudged and found myself knee-deep in NOBBY THE AARDVARKs for the C64!

Once I had come to terms that this actually was reality, I took stock of the new acquisitions back in London. At which point, I found myself startlingly depressed. The fifty or so titles I had bought almost seemed to have been acquired too easily! I had gotten used to finding one game on eBay every few months and paying a very high price for it. Take Bb Instruments for example. I think Iíd paid over £30 for my copy five years earlier, yet standing right in front of me were no fewer than ten brand new copies.

Anyway, it wasn't long before that short bout of depression subsided, all the tapes were transferred to disc and added to the website and that weekend became a distant memory.

Now, quite understandably, at the time of Dave M's discovery of such a grand quantity of wares, its proprietor did not want details posting on the internet so every Tom, Dick and James could come steaming into his storage section. Health and Safety requirements for one.

But now, with more than two years passed and a shop proprietor who is now able to see his walls and floor again, I thought I would commit it to paper [Web space surely? - Ed] with the old adage that sometimes even the most bizarre dreams do come true.