Often recognised as one of the biggest hubs in the world for digital entertainment, Australia is home to numerous game development studios, while gaming itself has also become one of the most popular mainstream pastimes. But this love of video games is also well established, dating back several decades to the eras of amusement arcades and the first home computers.
Gaming has become more accessible to the masses than ever before, and across all age groups in Australia, including the constantly growing demographic of older players. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the average gamer is aged 35 years, while 74% of people over 65 now play games regularly.
Considering the majority of Aussie gamers have been playing for two decades or more, that’s a vast amount of experience, and many enjoy rediscovering their gaming past. However, getting those old games to run on modern PC rigs can sometimes be quite tricky. Nevertheless, we have some great ways to explore the retro gaming scene, whether playing decades-old titles or looking to recapture some of that classic flavor.
Try Retro Themed Games Instead
Before we start exploring the technical side of getting old games to run on modern machines, there’s a great alternative to what can sometimes require considerable effort. Why not look for new games that are based on older styles instead? In August 2023, Amazon Australia began selling digital games through its own online storefront, Amazon Games, including a wide variety of classic and retro PC games with many available as free downloads.
Other digital download storefronts are also enjoying the buzz around retro games. One of the biggest is the Steam platform, which Valve launched in 2005, selling everything from the latest AAA titles by major developers to undiscovered gems from indie developers. When using the search box at the top of the site, the “Retro & Pixel” tag will reveal a page listing almost 20,000 games.
We could also dig into an entirely different kind of gaming niche, delving into the best online pokies in Australia with retro themes. Pokies are one of the most popular kinds of casino game Down Under, often known as slots elsewhere. The spinning reels also come in a huge variety of themes and styles, including retro. Some are based on classic games of the 1980s and 1990s, while others use retro aesthetics, like 8-bit graphics and other thematic visuals.
Another way to recapture the past can be found via “Enhanced Edition” updates, whereby developers have secured the rights to older titles, then reworked them to work on modern systems. These include original releases like Fallout and Baldur’s Gate, which first hit the PC gaming scene more than two decades ago. They have now been given a new lick of digital paint, allowing modern generations to enjoy what made them so popular.
Rebuilding Machines of the Past
One way to experience authentic retro gaming is to get hold of old home computers. Some of the biggest collections can be found via the Australian Computer Museum Society, who lovingly restore and rebuild machines from decades ago. They showcase vintage microcomputing and how technology has evolved, from the 1970s and through to the present day, organising events and exhibitions around the country.
Incredible to thing that so many of these computers have still survived, there are various groups of retro PC enthusiasts Down Under, sharing their memories and buying or selling old machines and games. Amstrad and Sinclair were cherished brands through the 1980s, although the most popular by far was Commodore, which generally featured better graphics and sound as their products evolved.
People can still find the occasional Commodore 64 or Amiga knocking around at car boot sales, while the desire to refurbish these machines has also created a niche market for components. For some of the keenest Aussie enthusiasts, encountering an old microcomputer is akin to discovering a lost treasure, and one that will bring them hours of pleasure as they bring it back to life.
Clearly, tinkering with the internal gubbins from old home computers does require some skill, not to mention a considerable amount of knowledge and patience. This is quite a specialist level of enthusiasm, after all, but plenty of information resources and guides are available online. There’s even articles explaining how to combine old and new tech, using USB ports instead of disc drives and tape decks, plus designs to make components with a 3D printer.
Emulators – Commodore, Spectrum, Amstrad, and more
Unless you still happen to have an old gaming rig stored in a cupboard or attic space, along with boxes of games on tape or floppy disc, the best way to savour the retro gaming experience is using emulators. Compared to modern game releases, old games from the 1980s and even 1990s used tiny amounts of data, which means you could literally download and conveniently store thousands of games. But how do you get them to work on a modern system?
Well, there are websites that offer games that were originally released for the Commodore, Spectrum, Amstrad, and older PC operating systems. Getting them to work on the latest versions of Windows requires using emulator software, creating a virtual machine that looks exactly like the operating system of those older platforms.
One great example is World of Spectrum, which is a fascinating resource for emulator software and utilities, plus catalogues of games that are stored in their archives for download. Other websites take a slightly different approach, such as C64 Online, which as the name suggests, hosts a repository of games that can be played via your browser, loading in Java or HTML.
Given how easy these emulators and online platforms are to use, there’s really no excuse not to explore some remarkable classics from the past. Sure, the graphics might look dated to our modern eyes, but with such limited technology available all those years ago, developers back in the day still created remarkably detailed and captivating games. Any true fan of gaming would be remiss not to explore the retro gaming scene.