Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnkpaIcumE8
Retro Gaming At The Retro Computer Museum - Family Days Out In Leicester!
At a loose end for a family day out in Leicester? The Retro Computer Museum (RCM) has a huge selection of vintage computers, games consoles, arcade machines and early 90s Virtuality VR machines to play with. You’re also welcome to get hands on with their collection of over 40,000 items of boxed and loose software and games - more than enough to get your retrocomputing or retro gaming fix!
They also have a MASSIVE retro computer warehouse that reminded me of the infamous “Computer Reset” in Texas! That’s more retro computing than you can shake a stick at 😅
I spent the day there recently and got to meet the founder Andy Spencer and some of his team of volunteers that help to run this registered charity, and learned all about their passion for documentation, preservation, and sharing their love for retro gaming history with everyone from school groups to families. Certainly well worth a visit and a fun day out.
Home to around 400,000 people and located pretty much smack bang in the middle of England, the city of Leicester is perhaps best known for Pukka Pies, Walkers Crisps, the National Space Centre, and bizarrely, King Richard III, who someone randomly found buried under a car park in 2012 after looking for him for 500 years.
As you do.
It’s also my hometown, and while Leicester is famous for all of the above and so much more, in this video I’m interested in the Retro Computer Museum, which I had a chance to visit over the weekend.
See - that’s me playing with their Oric Atmos, wandering around their huge software library, and having a crack at a very impressive VR machine from 1991. Oh, and there’s also this huge warehouse full of treasures to explore!
Located on a business park in Thurmaston, just 4 miles north of the city centre, the museum is a registered charity and was founded by vintage computer enthusiast Andy Spencer in 2008 when his own collection started to grow out of hand.
So the museum started because I’d got a little collection, and it was mainly in my garage - and so I just thought one day “I wonder if anybody else would be interested in this?” and it turns out yeah - quite a few people were!
So we did a little event in our little village hall near to where we live in Swannington and I expected probably 10-15 people to turn up - and almost 70 people turned up to our first event.
I’m thinking “oh this is pretty good”, and then people started donating stuff to us, and then the garage was getting filled up quite quickly.
So we got a little unit over in a place called Earl Shilton and it was a tiny room below a recording studio - and the recording studio belonged to…
It was a pretty old factory and it was an old shoe factory. It had been converted and then we sort of outgrew our first room which was probably 12’ square, and you can imagine that people are still giving us stuff, we’re doing small events, so you know getting bigger and bigger and bigger and then we moved to a place called Heather again in Leicestershire.
We took over almost an entire building there, and then it was quite bizarre really because we said “if we clear this room a bit we might be out open to the public” and all of a sudden it was like “oh this is getting a little bit bigger” and we actually managed to do that.
We had quite a few events there and then the landlord unfortunately decided he wanted to put the rent up a little bit - and it was more than I was willing to pay for that particular unit.
In some ways I’m so glad we did because - I don’t know if you can actually see the bowing on these - see, they got damp.
These are some of the original Billy bookcases we had and they started- I mean there is a lot of weight on there granted because these are four deep in places - but some of the Billy bookcases were actually getting damp.
So we moved away from there and moved here but to a different building on this estate, and we filled that in 18 months. Then since we’ve moved here we’ve had two different storage units now - we’re on our second storage unit.
So, of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out their huge warehouse full of old computers and associated bits and bobs, and museum volunteer Dean - who incidentally took on the role of director for this video and did a fantastic job of it too - very kindly agreed to show me around - and, wow, there’s so much cool stuff here!
So this is where you take your life into your own hands - please don’t judge us!
So all of this stuff that you can see at the front is fairly recent donations, and the idea is that we want to put it through our asset system.
…and interestingly, this is the nicest box I’ve ever seen for a Commodore 64.
It was quite a recent donation again - and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better condition box for a Commodore 64 than that one.
Initially when we started putting all the equipment in here we tried to do it alphabetically.
So I’ll show you how far we got.
So this is our Acorn section - or the start of our Acorn section - and what we’ve tried to do is put all the BBC Micros down here, and then we’ve got some RISC-based systems as well.
We’ve got quite a few of these, some of them have had their power supplies recapped but most of them haven’t so we’ve got a big job of changing the RIFA capacitors on the power supplies at some point.
We’ve got quite a few Electrons, quite a few Acorn Atoms as well, and they all work as far as we know so we’re quite proud of that section.
…and then we’ve also got a load of Amstrad equipment down there as well.
…and this is where we keep all our Macs. So there’s quite a lot of classic Macs down here and a real mixture of iMacs and classic Macintosh SEs and so on.
This section here is where we’ve got all our Ataris!
Come this way, come this way!
…and you can see we’ve got our Ataris - nicely boxed ones up here and rows and rows of - well - a mixture of 520s, 1040s, I think we’ve got some 4MB STs here and STEs as well.
Classic Atari 2600s and Jaguars down here.
Some Apricot and Camputers stuff in that section over there…
…and then this is where we start our Amiga section as well so quite a lot of 500s and 1200s that you can see and 600s and then some very nice boxes up here as well. So it’s quite nice to have them boxed, yeah, and these all go through to the 1200s up there.
We’ve got some quite rare SX-64s - they all work as well so it’s quite nice to have those in our collection.
Continuing with the Commodore theme we’ve got the 8-bit systems now, so Commodore 16s and the +4s, and then we’ve got the VIC-20s over here, and many, many Commodore 64s.
You can see them all lined up - the breadbin and then the 64Cs here - and again we’ve got quite a few of them boxed up here - we’ve even got some of the- when they did the nice games packs like the Night Moves pack for example up there.
It’s nice to have some of the classic boxes.
A couple of Commodore 128s!
We’ve got quite a nice selection of Commodore PETs - and I know that Commodore PETs are not everybody’s thing but I think they’re quite desirable these days and they go for quite a lot of money on ebay, and we’ve got pretty much every different model as far as we know.
They probably need a little bit of TLC but it’s just still nice to have them in our collection.
…and then we’re on to the D’s.
So here’s all the Dragons - we’ve got a mixture of Dragon32s and Dragon64s and we’ve also got a Dragon 2000 in our collection which is over at our main museum.
Yeah, so a real mixture in this aisle - we’ve got some Phillips Videopac G7000s over there, we’ve got some Tandy TRS-80s here, and some RM Nimbus - and our collection of Dreamcasts.
I think most of them have got laser issues but - you know - I think about half of them work.
Sega Mega Drives and Sega Master Systems on this side.
We’ve actually got some NextStations here as well which are reasonably rare.
We’ve got the cube version - which I think is very rare - and there is one system that’s got all the peripherals connected to it like the sound- the audio interface and all that sort of stuff.
MSXes as well, various different ones.
A whole bank of Xboxes - funnily enough we get quite a lot of donations of the early generation Xboxes. I’m not a massive fan of them myself just because it’s not really my generation but lots of people do have lots of love for them and it’s one of our most used systems at the museum.
Then we’ve got the Tatung Einstein - both the T01 I think it is - the first model - and the 256, we’ve got a number of those as well.
Oh! We’ve got some Sord M5s which is quite- yeah they’re quite nice little systems as well.
Some really nice boxed examples up here of the 16K and the 48K original rubber key Spectrum, which is where I started. That’s really where my love for all this stuff came from.
We think we’ve got over 100 Spectrums, and the fact that they’ve got some dedicated chips inside, we’re quite keen that we make sure we preserve as many of those as we can.
But yeah, the full range - so the Spectrum Plus and the 128, the +2s and +3s, we’ve got quite a lot of those as well.
A number of QLs down the bottom there - and again quite a collection of ZX81s.
Not so many ZX80s - we do have a couple but for some reason they’re much rarer.
We’ve got quite a lot of the original PlayStation, the PlayStation 2’s, all of them still work so they’re pretty good, and we’ve even got the dinky ones as well.
The Texas Instruments TI-99 - we’ve got quite a few of those as well which you can mod and have a VGA output on these, and it gives a really, really nice clear picture if you happen to do so.
What we’ve tried to do with this side is put all the peripherals in here - so this is all things like all the various different controllers for the various consoles and so on, with joysticks and all that sort of stuff.
Follow me this way…
Banks and banks of hundreds and hundreds of different joysticks - the Atari joysticks, QuickShot, everything.
We’ve got a lot of boxed ones as well and things like steering wheels and unusual controllers for different machines.
You name it we’ve got it in here!
Even messier is this area that we’re trying to get through - this is basically all the donations that we’ve had over the years and we’re just trying to get through sorting it all out.
We’re very short on space - so again a bit messy in here but we have managed to sort out things like cables and hard drives and various keyboards and other bits and pieces, and eventually we’ll get around to assetting them and then getting rid of the rubbish and putting things away properly.
But the idea is that we’ll try and get all this stuff working and then we’ll use it for something - it’s just time.
While there’s a huge amount to play with including the vintage computers, consoles, arcade machines and even a very cool mini pinball table - which is a personal favourite of mine - one of the most impressive things the museum has to offer is its hands-on software and games library, boasting over 40,000 items that you can not only peruse, but also maybe load up on its associated system for that authentic nostalgic experience.
Since we moved here we’ve gone from having probably 10- maybe 12- 13,000 games to over 40,000 - not games but pieces of software, and since we became a charity it’s just…
I think people trust us with their possessions.
I think a lot of people give us their stuff because:
a) they don’t have the room and
b) they wouldn’t use it anyway
They bring it here and - as you can see - it’s accessible. I don’t mind if somebody said “oh, can I load that from tape”, or “can I load Finders Keepers in from tape?”
Well yeah, of course we can, no problem at all.
It’s one thing to have all of this software, but the volunteers at the Retro Computer Museum are also very keen to document and preserve any rare finds that come into their possession, including the one-of-a-kind software for their Virtuality VR machines.
A lot of this has been backed up digitally.
We’ve been given loads of Microdrive cartridges - lots and lots and lots and lots and lots - and obviously they’re all failing a little bit so we’ve got to replace the felt on them.
So what we’re going to try and do is back those up, because there might be some stuff on there that’s not backed up anywhere.
We’ve also got some - our VR machines - we’ve got some software for those that we’re backing up as well using KryoFlux, or we’re using the various ways we can do that now, so that’s all going to be backed up as well.
We do buy stuff occasionally but we don’t have the money to buy stuff - literally we get no funding from anywhere - so we rely on people visiting, we rely on people donating.
So about those amazing early VR machines. There’s even a local connection here - the technology behind Virtuality was developed at Leicester Polytechnic - later renamed to De Montfort University which, incidentally, is where I went to university.
One of these would have set you back around £50,000 in 1991, which is getting on for £100k in today’s money, and it’s widely acknowledged that the modern VR devices of today have their roots in these machines, and that groundbreaking research at Leicester Poly.
Based on an Amiga 3000 beefed up with some custom graphics hardware, Virtuality claimed a latency of less than 50ms using a Magnetic transmitter in the ring part, and a receiver in the headset, and to be honest this is one of the best VR experiences I’ve ever had - it really is silky smooth and very responsive.
The museum has 2 of these stand up 1000CS machines and 2 of the sit down 1000DS machines on display, although the sit down machines are currently undergoing maintenance.
On that note, Simon, one of the volunteers at the museum, has grown to become the world’s leading expert on these, and has amassed a big collection of spares and original documentation to hopefully keep them running for years to come, and he’s also working on some improvements and future-proofing like new screens for the headsets and a menu system to make switching games easier.
Incidentally this isn’t the first time I’ve played one of these - last time was around 30 years ago in the local shopping centre, and I didn’t do very well at all and I may have even cried, so it was great to finally redeem myself and actually win a game of Dactyl Nightmare after all these years.
But as you’ve seen that’s only a small part of what the Retro Computer Museum has to offer - and one thing that really surprised me were the families with young children who were in today, enjoying those 8 and 16-bit systems.
We’re quite a fun museum rather than being quite stuffy.
When we first started this it was mainly - sorry if I offend anybody - but it was geeks and nerds!
You know I class myself in that category - probably half of both really.
I think we’re more family orientated than we’ve probably ever been and I love that fact because then you get like- we’ve literally had a three-year-old playing sonic.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
But then when that same child would literally move a little bit and go and play on a Spectrum playing Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy or something daft - or Chuckie Egg - and they get the controls and they get the joystick straight away that’s wonderful.
I mean part of our core outside of normal opening is school visits and and Scout visits and corporate visits and things like that - and you know - some of the the the children we’ve had have been so intrigued by it you can see that they come back a bit later and they’ve bought an old system, and they’re messing with it.
But there’s one of our really nice visitors - he came from the age of probably 9 up until about 18, and he’s got a lovely collection of kit himself now - and, you know, if we’ve inspired anybody to do that that’s got to be a great thing really.
Yeah, we do take pride in that.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me on this trip to my local computer museum, it wasn’t my first visit and it certainly won’t be my last, and I also got talking to them about volunteering some of my time and helping them out with some repairs and maintenance on some of this interesting old hardware, so I’m sure this won’t be the last you’ll be seeing of them on this channel.
I also asked the founder, Andy some questions from my supporters - whose names you can see on screen as I speak - and I’ve put that video over on my second channel if you’re interested in some more in-depth behind the scenes questions about running costs, maintenance and that kind of thing, and that video is linked up above and down in the description as always.
So thanks for watching, and I’ll hopefully see you again next time.
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