A Homebrew Draws Near!
A blog series by @Scrobins
Episode 23: Rarity: Retro Video Game Collecting in the Modern Era
For most of my life, I haven’t been someone who enjoyed documentaries. Even behind the scenes specials about subjects I liked had a hard time keeping my interest. But in the past few years, something unlocked in my brain that appreciated the stories behind my favorite interests, which sometimes offered a level of drama that rivaled the subject matter it was covering. This is especially the case for films about retro game collecting, where the breadth of stories highlights the fun of collecting and the people we meet in this pursuit. These movies, when done well, are fun because they share moments that resonate with us in the community, and help communicate to others why we are so passionate about this hobby. And Edward Payson is the kind of filmmaker who knows how to bring together a broad group of personalities who could talk for hours about the stories that animate them. Good thing there’s a follow up in the making.
For this entry, I’m covering Edward’s film Rarity: Retro Video Game Collecting in the Modern Era, a documentary about the retro game collecting community and the nostalgia which drives it, bringing together a host of prominent gaming personalities and collectors to discuss their nostalgia and what about this hobby so fascinates them. The film recently won a Telly Award, as the Gold Winner in the General – Non-Broadcast category. You can watch the film on Prime Video here, on Tubi here, or buy the Blu-Ray here from Mega Cat Studios here.
Some potential viewers may pause at another documentary on collecting and retro gaming, following Nintendo Quest (2015), The New 8-Bit Heroes (2016), The Bits of Yesterday (2018), and other related productions, but this is not just another collecting film. Rarity is about collecting as well yes, but it’s more about nostalgia. The difference lies in its stories. Where Nintendo Quest focuses on the drive of its (unsympathetic) protagonist trying to obtain the full licensed NES library in an arbitrary period, and The New 8-Bit Heroes follows the resurrection of one man’s dream of completing the game he conceived of as a kid, Rarity more closely parallels The Bits of Yesterday in sharing insights, stories, and memories that helps articulate why we love collecting what others might minimize as obsolete technology. Rarity provides a collection of thoughtful voices that create an almost academic discussion on collecting and nostalgia, asking where it comes from and why it has evolved as it has with regard to retro video games. The tales shared throughout the film highlight the wide range of experiences that gave rise to a love of retro games, with different games, consoles, and even collecting goals resonating with different people, including the director himself. Whether it’s reliving the rush of some magical Christmas morning years ago or a means of bonding with and remembering loved ones, Rarity dives into the deeply personal details that might go unnoticed if people like Ed didn’t make the effort to learn.
Interviewee’s insights touch on some major debates in the collecting community today, such as the rise of graded games. This is something of a one-sided conversation that features several people supporting graded games, and could have benefitted from the inclusion of more critical points that addressed its impact on pricing, even on the ungraded market. I think one can be critical of opportunistic investors without being blanket labeled as greedy.
Graded game collecting: to some the next stage of collecting,
and to others a speculator-induced nightmare
Some stories also reflect potentially unethical collecting practices, such as when one subject recalls getting a great deal on an item by holding up the item to ask for the price, but pretending he didn’t hear the seller asking what it was. He does at least acknowledge that what he did was problematic and expressed some regret. Though I don’t agree with everything said by Rarity’s subjects, it’s because of their inclusion that I think this film stands out as worth watching. Rarity demonstrates how its subjects, and collectors more broadly, are human. The personal narrative that might drive our collecting or the adrenaline rush from unexpectedly happening upon a grail can create a tunnel vision that leads us to justify ourselves into prioritizing our wants over others and ignore the common courtesies we might otherwise follow. That is not to say that Rarity has a particular agenda in its presentation, but rather allows its interviewees to be as expressive as they want so they can speak at length about their experiences. This film recognizes that this is a niche community that’s gotten the documentary treatment several times over, so it is fair to say that Rarity knows it is joining a conversation already in progress, and is using its time to share its opinions rather than set the table all over again to explain what the community is to an audience that already knows. Rarity wants you to think and engage.
For the story behind this story collecting endeavor, I interviewed Edward Payson, and got to learn about all the other interesting projects he has in the hopper…
-Before we get into Rarity: Retro Video Game Collecting in the Modern Era, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a filmmaker? What is the origin story of Edward Payson?
I knew I wanted to do something creative from a really young age actually. I had so much fun at family holidays using the family camcorder to make short skits with action figures (while I should have been recording the event) I joined some screenwriting classes in high school and that solidified that I wanted to make movies but, growing up in New Hampshire I was met with either confusion or ridicule from most people. It wasn't until I became serious about it and packed up and moved to Los Angeles for film school that I really learned what was possible.
-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?
I'm actually more heavily influenced by the filmmakers who made something worthwhile without having bloated budgets. People like Robert Rodriquez or George A. Romero come to mind. It's a rebel way of filmmaking where you don't take “No” for an answer and make your film by any means necessary. My influences today are people like Jeremy Gardner and other indie horror producers most people have never heard of.
Poster for The Battery, directed by and starring Jeremy Gardner
-Your resume boasts shorts, documentaries, and films across genres. Do you have a preference among the types of films you make? Do you have a particular aesthetic across them?
While horror has always been my bread and butter, I love the whole process of documentary filmmaking, especially when they are about subjects or people I enjoy.
-What to you are the essentials of a compelling film or an informative documentary?
I think they are one in the same. I think the only sin when it comes to a film is that it can' be boring.
-How did you make James Deighan’s acquaintance? Does he know everybody?
So when preparing for my film BITS we had to think outside the box a little bit. It’s a film about a haunted Sega Genesis game that no doubt would be a HARD -R rating. That meant Nintendo and Sega wouldn't let us license actual games in a film that takes place 70% in a Retro Game Store. To get around this, we reached out to many indie companies making 8- and 16-bit games. Mega Cat was the most responsive (essentially giving use access to their library) for the film. We got to talking and the idea was to release the haunted game in the film, through Mega Cat when the film releases.
-You’re also finishing work on a horror film about a haunted video game called Bits. What are the unique challenges of making a documentary compared to a film such as Bits?
Documentaries are a lot more laid back. Typically they cost a lot less to make and don't require 8–12-hour days with giant crews. Also when you are making a narrative feature with more money, that means more cooks in the kitchen and in case you are very lucky, you don't get the final cut of your film without approval from multiple heads.
Teaser image from Bits
-Any thoughts on hiring James to adapt Bits into a playable video game?
-What was the catalyst that inspired you to make Rarity?
I myself am heavily into the Retro Community. I'm going for a full Sega Genesis set myself and have over 100 Nes and SNES games as well. This day and age I just want to work on cool projects with cool people and the Retro Community has been my favorite community to work with thus far.
-Rarity enters a sort of conversation among retro gaming, following other documentaries such as Nintendo Quest (2015), The New 8-bit Heroes (2016), and The Bits of Yesterday (2018). What do you want your audience to take away from Rarity and the story it tells?
Really Rarity was made to quench the thirst of a side of the Retro Community that doesn't get much coverage when it comes to documentaries and that is the collector side. With the introduction and divisiveness of graded games etc. It just felt like the right time to make a documentary that celebrates collecting, rare items and the stories behind them.
Also for your watch list
-Rarity is about retro game collecting, noting some people collect cart-only, some pursue CIBs, others liked sealed games, and still others want graded games. You yourself are a collector. What kind of collector are you?
I collect everything, it really depends. I always try for CIB with my Genesis set. NES, I go mostly loose carts, but I also collect sealed and graded games. I'm all over the place.
-You show off some of the grails of your collection, like the Blockbuster Game Factory carts. What grails are you hoping to add to your collection someday?
I would love to someday add Outback Joey, the QVC Maximum Carnage box set, the New Leaf carts I'm missing. I've also been trying to acquire a lot of Genesis prototypes.
-I noticed a copy of Pier Solar behind you when you speak in Rarity, and some light Instagram stalking revealed you have Haunted Halloween ’85 and ’86. Do you have any other homebrews in your collection?
I have a ton of homebrews, whole shelfs full actually. The newest being John Riggs Yeah Yeah Beebiss. I also just ordered a weird porno game for Genesis called Mega Casanova 2 just for the rarity of it (about 40 carts made) I also try and contribute whenever a new Retro game is made on Kickstarter. Other than that I have Beggar Prince from Super Fighter team, a bunch of Mega Cat stuff, some Piko stuff, lots of hacks.
-Did you have pre-existing relationships with the various people you interviewed? For any that you didn’t, how did you connect with them?
I’ve learned with working on various projects in the past, its best to start with interviewing people you know. If you are kind and cool to work with, they will be excited to tell their friends about your project and it just gets easier from there. This started a project with just 4 interviews planned.
-If there was one more person you could have interviewed for Rarity, who would you want to include?
Well anyone we weren't able to interview we are trying to interview for Part 2 so I will keep you posted.
-Would you say you have a technique to your interviewing? How do you get the best out of your subjects?
Usually when you are interviewing people who are well versed in a subject it is easy to get them to talk about it. Sometimes general stage directions are all that’s needed like “hey it looks like you’re frowning” or don't slouch. Also the more well researched your questions usually leads to better interviews.
-Rarity touches on some controversial subjects in the retro game collecting world, such as the ethics of getting a good deal from a seller who may not appreciate what they have, and the rise of grading games & the corresponding rise in prices. Do you have thoughts on these topics, both as the director and as someone who speaks in front of the camera?
I honestly think something in all communities not just Retro Games, but in all humanity, we suffer from toxic tribalism. Everyone thinks they are right, or the way they collect is right. When people feel a certain way about something, they seek people with the same mindset which furthers the thought they must be right. I don't think there is a right or wrong way to collect. When it comes to graded games, every collectable has a graded market. When it comes to the ethics of getting things for a steal, it really depends on the situation. I think most people like to get things for a deal and put the responsibility on the seller to tell you what they want for something.
-As the director, do you try to be objective in your presentation of your interview subjects, or do you try to present them in a particular light?
I try and present them at face value. What they are willing to say on camera is fair game as to what ends up in the documentary.
-There are some great collecting stories borne out of people tapping into their nostalgia, did any especially resonate with you?
Tyler Esposito and his stories about collecting with his father and having his father tape most of those experiences is very special to me. I lost my father around the same time Tyler lost his. Not only are Tyler's videos on My Retro Life YouTube channel compelling, I also relate in a lot of ways.
Check out Tyler’s YouTube channel
-Do you feel there is any particular phenomena driving the nostalgia for retro games? Is there something inherent in what Nintendo, Sega, or others did during these old consoles’ lifespans that is having this effect? Or is it simply that our generation, having grown up with these games, is excited over something that was a big part of that moment in our lives, and we could just as easily be nostalgic for something else?
I honestly think being an adult is hard. For a long time there was kind of this thought built into us that we are born to live, work and die. I feel like the Millennial generation and late Gen X are on to something with bringing back moments of their childhood to enrich their present.
-Did anything you heard from your interviews meaningfully change your thinking about any aspect of retro game collecting?
I didn't know much about graded game collecting at first but feel like I have a good grasp now from both sides of the argument.
-What was the most surprising thing you discovered while making Rarity? Did your direction or focus change at all between initial planning and putting the final product together?
Honestly it surprised me just how much easier it is to work with people in the Retro game community than with actors. There was a little ego from anyone and people all just wanted to make the best product possible.
-According to IMDb, there’s a Rarity Part 2 in post-production. What can you tell us about what to expect next?
Rarity is actually in production right now. Chapters will continue just as if it was part of part 1, starting with Chapter 6. We will have a wide range of subjects and a lot more interviews.
-Have you given any thought to a follow-up devoted to the homebrew scene?
There is a full chapter devoted to homebrews and hacks in the new doc.
-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?
Thanks for reading. Please check out the Rarity page on Facebook for any updates. Also got to megacatstudios.com to pick up an amazing NES style Blu-ray full of extras. Thanks so much for your time.
Thanks for tuning in to this latest episode of a series that covers the latest homebrew games that should be on your wishlist. I’m taking the time to engage with other great resources in the retro gaming community and promote their hard work. Also in the mix will be a post about retro gaming magazines that cover homebrews among other topics. What are your thoughts on Rarity and what do you hope to see in Edward’s follow up? What homebrews are you eagerly looking forward to? Perhaps you’ll see it here soon when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?