Last Updated on February 1, 2023
A successful YouTube retro gaming channel needs a recognisable presenter with a personality to rival the subject. Possibly.
The car is the star. That’s what they used to say on Top Gear until Jeremy Clarkson, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum became stars themselves, and then put other stars inside the car. So what was the car now? A mascot? And where does this leave us if we graft the above onto retro video gaming? Are games the stars of retro game channels or are they mascots? Furthermore, who if anyone is the retro-Clarkson? Lots of questions already, but I have been on YouTube to find out.
Retro show rules
First things first, let me establish some ground rules. I am going to disregard the channels that are game footage only as the games are clearly the star there. Many of them come with only a bare minimum of text and no voice-over. Good stuff but not really why we are here, barring an honourable mention to Sega Lord X (self-appointed), whose videos are generously voiced with technical, game-specific details and laced with personal experience abound. Well done Mr X.
Also off the menu of my interest are the gotta-catch-em-all collector-hunt videos because I mostly find the presentation of these too much and too fast. Plenty of these creators would happily take the role of Clarkson if you offered it to them but I think they might need to master a more melodic pace of walking around a warehouse and talking at you first. I suggest they try not shouting or exclaiming for a few minutes, off camera first and then begin applying that little by little into the lens. Then Bob’s-your-uncle, you’ve got something watchable.
No, I am far more interested to find those picture shows of real vintage, the ones that are truly “Retro Shows;” something to sit down and watch. I have found a couple of exact examples. Caution, the following contains references to games rooms. You have been warned.
Game Sack is where will shall start, and this channel has that sort of basement production charm that comes from men who, having moved out of their parents’ basement, immediately move into the basement of their own home and continue their ways. It is properly hosted by Joe Redifer and gets off to a flying start by having a stop-motion intro accompanied by exuberant guitar riffs. Then you see Joe himself and that part of you that knew games back in the day, it recognises an elder.
And Joe is a fine presenter whose irony doesn’t get the better of his enthusiasm. You’re going to be hearing a lot of his voice-over once the games begin, but it is pleasant to watch mauling his way through the monologue introductions. He used to have another guy with him at the start called Dave White, but he is not around anymore. I don’t know what happened to him. I wonder if he is now under the basement. He was good though and I would guess his legal name is David White. Joe is fine on his own though, and Dave was really more of a Nintendo guy anyway, so if he did end up belly-up beneath Joe’s basement… well I won’t say anything, Joe.
Game Sack covers a pretty decent amount of the retro landscape and as the format is usually based around a theme (“Left in Japan” for example) one episode can leapfrog about the computer/console generations with abandon. Joe’s engaging voice-over ties a thread through it all and when we reconvene with his visage at the mid-point of each episode, it is only to mix things up a little and keep it bobbling along. His games room (ding!) is beige. That’s all I have to say about it, but that is a good thing.
What is going on with the luminously up-lit, lava lamp monstrosities that are so often broadcast from for retro purposes? Again, calm it down a little and remember that some consoles used to come with plastic wood fascias. Like an Austin Rover. We’ll come back to this, but for now, Joe is done with his light mid-session banter and we are off with the games again, before a final basement summation, an actual credit reel and then a skit from the games room (ding!) to finish us off.
Game Sack is a finely crafted thing and watching a stop-motion clip of a console undergoing deconstruction with each removed piece trotting off, is an absolute joy. His skits are in good spirit and the whole thing comes with a lovely aroma like fully matured cheddar. So go with Joe, reader. He’s the cheddar, and probably the only real skeleton down in his basement is a quiet copy of Rise of the Robots that lurks inside his tumble dryer, tucked down the side of the filter.
Now if Game Sack is like some tasty piece of cheese, then this one comes on like Horlicks. Part educational 80’s VHS and part art installation, RMC-The Cave is a high-brow, hands-on showcase of mechanical restoration and something approaching an actual production budget. It isn’t set in a games room (ding!), or a basement. No, not a bit of it; RMC-The Cave comes pre-recorded from some loft space atop a mill. A good start indeed and that’s before we get to all the decorating, or exhibiting that has gone on there. For The Cave is an exhibition concept, and while Game Sack has been crafted, The Cave has been collated.
That is the thing with this channel, it has a sense of propriety, of a way that things ought to be done. A recent episode I watched focused on the Neo Geo and was an absolute diorama of good taste. Chief cave dweller, Neil (no second name given) and Keith of The Digital Orphanage (again, no surname) chat wholesomely around the broad outer circles of owning that prohibitively expensive machine with examples of the consoles and circuit boards littering the table they are sat behind.
I say littering, but of course I mean placed carefully and tampered over with an anti-static cloth. The focus here is much more on the chaps themselves than finely captured and edited game footage. You do get a little, but what you are here for is to learn and the pair of them looked very learned indeed, so better you concentrate on them than footage of games that you probably already remember. Indeed the whole presentation comes with that homebrewed yeast of the enthusiast educator.
Old consoles sat inside wooden boxes, in fact a general disposition for wood and woodstain everywhere. Glass cabinets at jaunty angle’s, even a few ferns drape over the occasional Amiga. I presume a broken Amiga, as I should think Neil would be fussy about things like that.
So he should, and so I find myself wondering if he is our Clarkson, but no, he isn’t. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, and if I am extending the comparison, Neil Unknown might not be video games’ own Jeremy Clarkson but he may very well be its Quentin Wilson. It’s a 1980’s thing.
Fantasy retro gaming YouTube channel
And staying with the 1980’s I present to you my thoughts on how a retro YouTube channel should present itself, at least in the very broadest of its strokes.
Throw me a budget and I would go for the yellow stained ambience of a smoking room, replete with soft lighting and that sort of hushed understanding that the BBC used to give us with the snooker coverage back in the day. Less Horlicks before bedtime, more rum and lower shelf cigar. Throw a bit of Chet Baker over the intro and hope not to get a copyright strike.
Settle on in. Steve Davis might even pop round.
John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90’s Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.