If you were a child (or large adult son) who spent your free time clutching a controller, sitting so close to the tube that your hair picked up static, you might also have a collection of VHS tapes released by gaming companies. They were made for enthusiasts who wanted to see exclusive tips and footage for upcoming games. It was analog YouTube, long before YouTube existed.
UK-based gaming journalist and blogger Chris Scullion is on a mission to preserve his collection—and maybe your collection, too—of these old video game VHS tapes.
In the 80s and 90s, video game companies and trade magazines made these tapes to accompany popular titles or new issues with bonus material or promotional footage, giving a glimpse into how marketing for games was done in the industry's early days. Scullion has 18 tapes to upload so far, and plans to provide accompanying commentary as well as the raw video as they go up on his YouTube channel.
Scullion's first upload is a promotional tape for Super Mario All-Stars, given away by Nintendo UK in 1993. It's hosted by Craig Charles, who played Lister in the British sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf.
Digitizing his collection keeps that sweet nostalgia content safe from degradation of the magnetic tape, which starts to go downhill within 10 to 25 years.
He's capturing them in HD using a 1080p upscaler, at a full 50fps frame rate by converting to HDMI before grabbing—a higher frame rate than many standard commercial digitizing devices that capture at 30fps—so that no frames are missed. Some of the tapes he's planning to digitize have already been converted and uploaded to YouTube by other people, he says, but most are either poor quality or captured with less-advanced grabbing devices.
"These tapes are part of my childhood and that of many others, but they may also be of interest to international gamers," Scullion told me in a Twitter DM. Being from the UK, the majority of the tapes were made there, so they'll be never-before-seen for most US gamers: For example, the Super Mario All-Stars video presented by Craig Charles from Red Dwarf, or the Amiga "Power Tips" video, which gave advice on a bunch of Commodore Amiga games.
If you have any dusty tapes hiding in your parent's attic, Scullion told me he's considering calling for viewers to send in their VHS collection for digitizing. "There are some forgotten tapes that I'm really keen to get hold of, and I'd also like to find copies of certain old TV shows like Cybernet which were also fantastic but have been left behind over time," he said. "I'm just really keen to make sure that aspect of gaming history is preserved."