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Freeware Garden: The Videogame 50

Rob Fearon Interview

Rob Fearon, the wonderful person responsible for Retro Remakes and all sorts of digital death Mantas, has decided to be vengeful and remind the world of the horrors of the infamous Cassette 50. Hence, The Videogame 50 compilation of fifty, mostly dreadful yet always fun/ny games you can download for free complete with the mandatory digital watch.

Looking for more free games? Check out our round up of the best free PC games that you can download and play right now.

Just trying everything out and discovering all the bonkers ideas (and the odd actually playable offering) a few dozen indie developers have crammed into this one download is reason enough to grab it, but here's Rob not trying to convince or enlighten you:

First of all, let me thank you for my new downloadable, digital watch. Just how advanced is it?

Fearon: Oh man, digital watches are the future, right? Imagine if in 1984 someone had sat you down and said "mate, one day, people will be able to download a digital watch". You'd be all like "nah, come on, don't be an idiot. That's really really stupid and what's a download anyway?" and here we are, in 2014, able to make a digital watch you can download from the internet AND you know what a download is. That's incredible, yeah? That's the kind of digital watch we're able to deliver. AND to really put the icing on an already incredible digital cake, you don't need to own a stupidly expensive phone to run it.

What I'm trying to say is, this is like the best and most powerful digital watch we could imagine. I've heard some people say that we've got no imagination but to those people I say "did you imagine a downloadable digital watch?" and I laugh at them. I *always* know the time with my digital watch.

Is it necessary for each and every 50-games compilation to come with a watch?

Fearon: Absolutely but only compilations with 50 games or more on. Anything less and you're not actually permitted by international law to ship a digital watch, downloadable or nay, with it. International law is really funny about these things, y'know? Like if you ship 10 games and they happen to be, I dunno, "great" then you have to put them in this stupidly oversized yellow box that takes up most of an entire cupboard. I dunno, I don't make the rules. I hear Humble get around this by employing lizards to gouge out the eyes of the people who police this which when I first heard it, I thought "that's a bit extreme" but it turns out it's nothing compared to where people used to get their cloth maps from. Man, I have such sights I could show you but insider secrets and all that. Just be careful with puzzle games in future. Just in case.

Now, please do confess. What was your role in this Videogames 50 initiative? Who decided that bringing back the horrors of Cassette 50 was a good idea?

Fearon: I am the guy who just collected them all together and punted them out into the wider internet. Imagine a faceless corporation working against the future of videogames except it has a face and I am that face and you're probably nowhere near my role in all of this. What I'm trying to say here is that it wasn't my idea, I never touched it and if anyone asks, it was him over there. *points*

But more seriously, a lovely chap called Zerohour (I'm fairly sure that is actually his real name too) started a topic on our forums and I sort of nodded and said "well, if you want to, you've got my blessing" and off it went. A day or so later and the excellent and very lovely Gordon King of UsVsThem (the Fife hardcore band not the Trinity Mirror website idle-your-time-instead-of-working website thing or the clothing store folks) took it all in hand and off it kicked. I threw it around Twitter a bit because that's one of the few advantages of being me and having a bit of a gob and a few followers under the rug, I can shout into the void and someone actually listens. I dunno, I wouldn't listen to me but hey!

It's not the first time we've done this. A long time ago I thought it'd be funny to register the domain "Hall Of Twats" and we'd all make deliberately shit games for it and yeah, let's not talk about that, eh? It did however produce the glorious Snaily Thompson's Decathlon which STILL makes me laugh all these years later. I should really root these off my hard drive and upload them somewhere again, it'd be a shame if the world never got to experience such brilliance again.

Serious serious head time for a minute though, if I may. Part of the reason I'm happy to host these things and front them for the good folks of RR is that one of the things I feel we forget about in recent times is that it's absolutely just OK to make things just because and they don't have to be good things. There's this really weird thing with indie right now where it's "someone farted, let's have a game jam" and it's like, "how about no?" It's like things are kinda weirdly competitive because the most prominent game jams tend to have "winners" and "ratings" and "feedback" and other things I might contemplate putting in scare quotes. "NAMES" and "GAMES" and "HATS". That's fine, it's OK to have these things but it makes me uncomfortable that these are most of the things. When I first started making videogames in my pants, being able to just make stuff just because was kinda the norm because no-one saw "indie" as a thing, just people making games and things that weren't necessarily games and remakes just because they wanted to. Sure, we all liked it when people played them but it wasn't unusual for people to be celebrating 50 downloads. Now? That's like OMG, FAILURE stuff and that makes me sad. Let people fuck around, right? It makes for a happier kind of ecosystem when everything doesn't have to be polished, it doesn't have to be stressy and all that. it doesn't have to be for the market because fuck the market, it's well served.

So we set the deadline for a month and even then it was a bit "fuck it, we can extend it if anyone really needs us to, no biggy", we set the barriers really low - everyone is making shit games so make a shit game, no-one will judge you for it. No time pressures, no competing, no ratings, nowt like that. We set a sort of vague rule of "make it one screen" but no-one listened because why would you listen to us? We're not your mum. We get to the end and we throw them all out onto the internet and people can play them/not play them, it doesn't matter. It just matters that someone, somewhere had a bit of fun making something pressure free. It probably helps that a lot of us are old and have families and stuff like that so the idea of giving up a weekend for a game jam is like "but I could be out with the kids making sandcastles" or something. Glorious Trainwrecks is a massive inspiration to me so I sort of wanted to bring a little piece of that to RR so I was happy to use my gob to bring more people into that sort of thing. I'm really chuffed with the outcome too.

Interestingly, there are quite a few playable games in the compilation. How come?

Fearon: One of the beauties of the way we sort of went about this is that we essentially put it out there that as long as it wasn't going to be egregiously horrible to someone or about something to ridicule it in a nasty way or whatever, it'd be cool. I'm not interested in cruelty or spite or what have you, the internet has enough of that and it doesn't need to be on my doorstep but silly, daft, playable? All welcome. Made in an hour? Welcome! Took a few days? Welcome. Based on a pun? Welcome. Completely and utterly hilariously broken in ways you can barely conceive? Welcome!

it was fascinating to see what people were happy to put forward there, right? What would people "just throw out", for want of a better term. It turns out, everyone has their different idea of what throwaway is and we ended up with some class acts contributing stuff too. We've got Michael Brough who I absolutely adore in so many ways throwing in a deconstruction of Netrunner. I mean, what the fuck is that all about and why would you do that? Nobody knows except Michael but there it is. You should probably ask him why he did that, y'know? That this then led to someone else being inspired to make a game based on Michael's deconstruction because why not? I loved that. It was brilliant and THAT is exactly the sort of thing I want games to be able to be about. We've got Locomolitio, neo-arcade master extraordinaire who contributed a game based on a classic Sci Fi film. Some smart ass entered a ZX-Spectrum styled take on Super Hexagon as well because I don't know why but hey, it exists now. It doesn't run on a ZX Spectrum because that'd be way too sensible. We did get an Atari2600 Flappy Bird that runs on an actual Atari2600 from one of my fave PSM developers though because why not.

Oh, and how did all those devs manage to come together for something this retro-silly?

Fearon: We didn't put that much effort into it, really. They just sort of turned up and I politely nodded at them. There used to be a time, years ago, we used to mastermind these massive prize competitions and we'd get loads of people entering and it was all big and serious and we'd get hundreds of games and lots of press but I've grown to hate that. It's my big videogame regret is that we made making games competitive and whilst I'm proud of what people made (and they made some wonderful things), I'm not proud of the sort of effect that kind of thing ends up having on people, on humans. It kinda seems fun to be crunching on finishing your game for a deadline at first because hey, this game is exciting and I love making it but eventually, you sort of grow up and realise it's not good, it's not healthy. So this time, we tried to distance ourselves from that as much as we could. Turns out that it's likely people want competitions more than I want to run them and we only got a kinda low turnout for this but I'd sooner 6 happy people than all the stressing that comes with compos, both from our side of the fence where we're giving away six months of our lives organising these things and from the side of the fence of the entrants who would put their all into a thing for three months and maybe at the end it'd be rubbished because it's a competition and there has to be losers. Maybe one day I'll find a comfy middle ground but for now, I'll take the low turn out and laughs, right?

Are there any particular games from the compilation you are particularly fond of?

Fearon: Yes! I'm happy with them all but the one that made me laugh the hardest was Ootsby's Kramer vs Kramer done in the style of a 1980's ZX Spectrum film tie in. I'm giggling just typing that out now. We had some preposterous things entered into the videogame pantheon in the name of the tie in and weirdly, this is nowhere near either the silliest or the worst. At least it isn't racist like the awful Tynesoft Auf Wiedersehen, Pet game. Man alive, that's a thing we should look at and go "never again, not on my watch" and all that jazz.

What more should we be expecting from RetroRemakes in the foreseeable future?

Fearon: I... I don't know. After getting a bit of wind in my sails earlier in the year and managing to really enjoy doing monthly reports, I've had the misfortune of having a run of illness that's knocked me down on a fairly regular basis. At the moment, I'm just trying to get through that and keep my head down making my own new game (a proper good version of Death Ray Manta for PC/Playstation devices). It's kinda awkward to even consider committing to stuff when you don't know when you're going to be knocked out of action again. It's also, like, when I first got involved with Retro Remakes it was a different time. We were under the radar, hobbyist to hobbyist and the internet was way more disjointed than it is now. I'm talking a point where people used to argue that if your game was 10meg you were taking the piss and all that. Digital distribution wasn't a thing, companies rarely plundered their back catalogues except to take the name of a videogame and make a new one Hasbro style or something. It felt like we had a bit of a place in providing a middle ground for those who didn't want to emulate but wanted to sit down and play these old games and we had a sort of nice middle ground where it didn't matter whether a remake was shit or not because no-one was paying attention that hard and at least someone tried. But we're not there anymore and in some ways, RR feels like a bit of a thing that cannot be as it used to be anymore.

We've wrestled with this a lot and y'know, we've seen a lot of remakers go on to make videogames that are their own because that's just where we are now. I don't know where RR really fits into anything anymore or if it ever really did. We had a few years where we were big news and the stuff we did mattered but whilst I think it still matters, there's so much more out there to see and do which is only a click away. Emulation is easier than before, the internet makes access to legit old games easier than ever, and GOG exists. So what I'd just like to do is settle back and just put out these monthly round ups of cool retro remakes and retro related videogames I've found on the net and let the universe sort the rest out as I give no fucks about the wider world beyond that. And hey, if someone likes what I find, if someone plays what I find, awesome. I guess I just want RR to be. That's enough. But for it to be, I kinda need to be in better health than I am now so I'm going to tend to that first.

So what to expect from RetroRemakes in the future? Just some website, you know.

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