RB Retro Collecting Interview 008
Brandon, aka SuperSparkster on Instagram, is one of the retro collectors I most relate to personally. Everyone has their own collecting style and priorities, but Brandon and I both seem to align on curating a collection that is tailored to what makes them most excited. A curated collection not only requires a great amount of restraint to avoid purchasing too much that you aren’t really going to enjoy, but also pruning certain pieces from your collection to keep it to the size you desire.
A few years back, Brandon and I discussed his buying and selling techniques to build a strong collection while keeping his expenses down. He purchased large lots of games, kept the ones he wanted most for his collection and then sold or traded the others to reduce his overall investment. This recent interview was a great follow-up opportunity to see how his collection has been refined and also check in on how his setup has evolved as well.
As you’ll see below, Brandon also takes his video displays, connections, and organization very seriously as well. I wanted to dig into his strategies and tips that can make a similar setup rather accessible for many in our audience. A side benefit of spending less on accumulating loads of games is that you can instead invest more on the equipment and environments that you will use to play those games.
I hope you find this interview useful in evolving your collection and I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below. Also, if you haven’t read our first interview with Brandon, I recommend you check it out now.
Expanding The Retro Gaming Setup
Since we last talked in detail, you have made some upgrades to your main gaming setup… You added the second display — can you tell us about that and the thoughts that lead up to the decision.
That’s correct…since we last talked I went down the challenging and financially painful RGB rabbit hole. I came across a Sony PVM-2950Q locally for a good price, not really knowing what an impact it would have on my setup.
Now a couple of years later I have two identical PVM-2950Q’s, all systems RGB capable, SCART cables, switchers…I honestly don’t want to think about the money this ended up taking. All worth it though! So, the second display is turned 90 degrees for all TATE games in my setup. These mostly come from the Sega Saturn, Pi2SCART (for arcade emulation), and Xbox 360.
So you said “not really knowing what an impact it would have on my setup”. Now you must have had some expectations aside from general online hype. What were you expecting going in and how did realty differ?
I think the results of RGB was all I was focused on…not really thinking about the economic ripple effect of the transition. It’s getting a PVM, then RGB modding systems, buying the SCART cables, realizing they aren’t shielded enough and buying better SCART cables, figuring out video switching solutions, etc. It’s an absolute money pit, but I do not regret it.
Can you tell us about the speakers on the setup as well?
Sure, the speakers are Sony SS-X7A, made for the PVM-295Q’s. Normally these would be powered by the PVM, however, I have an external 2.1 amp that runs to these speakers, along with a Sony subwoofer I found for a cheap at a Goodwill. I have the right speaker attached with a zip tie to the bottom of the TATE monitor.
To make room for that extra display, you also now have a wider storage unit. The unit looks the same as your older one but just has one addition section to make it wider? Is this an IKEA mod and did you just build a newer unit? Did you have to do anything to reinforce for the display weight?
Yes, for the two displays I had to make a new cabinet. I wanted to retain the certain aspects of my earlier design, such as the LED lights and spaces for controllers…but make some needed improvements.
The main cabinet is an 8-cube Threshold set from Target, nearly identical to the sets from IKEA. I purchased two of these units, knowing I would use the wood from the second one for all the modifications.
I made extra shelves to hold the systems over their respective controllers, and a top tier for the Wii, Xbox 360, and gscartsw lite SCART switch (a 8-port dual-output SCART switch) (see other SCART switches on eBay).
The back of the unit is where I made the biggest improvement. I had a piece of white hardboard cut at Lowe’s to the exact dimensions of the back of the cabinet, along with a piece of pegboard. I installed the pegboard to sit about an inch off the hardboard, allowing me to thread twist ties for cable management. My goal was really just to have every single cord possible off of the ground. These two boards do help with the overall stability of the cabinet and weight distribution.
In regards to weight, the most important thing was making sure each display was over a vertical piece (or pieces) running from top to bottom in the cabinet. This is the real key in making sure the frankly cheap particle board/cardboard filled material could hold the 200+ pounds of collective weight on the top.
That’s awesome that you were thinking of the physical limitations and challenges!
Can you talk a but about the little compartments in your storage unit for your controllers, and other things you tuck away in there?I bought an additional cube set from Target and used the wood to make the controller compartments. They are each around 4″ from the base of the cube, so they are tall enough to store most controllers, lightguns, and joysticks.
Cable Management To Keep All Those Connections Organized
Could you tell us more about your Cable Management goals, the process, and what lessons you learned along the way?
When I did the initial install of systems and cables in this cabinet, I was a bit Jackson Pollock with my cable management. The pegboard and twist ties worked great, but man it was a mess. Just recently when incorporating some downscalers I decided to rework everything and tidy up…ended up being way more work than I planned.
I went in with a general sketch of where I thought the cables would run, but didn’t account for every device and every plug and device. I also ended up changing sizes of cable management tubes.
If I had to do it again, I would do way more sketching beforehand, keeping in mind the slack from the various cables that will need to be hidden.
I’m personally getting ready to move very soon, so this type of project will be in my future. I can imagine that it’s a bit easier to manage video cables alone (although that may get more complicated with upscalers, etc), but I imagine keeping all the power cables/bricks managed could be a bit more complicated. Do you have any insights/tips/tricks on that matter?
Using the pegboard [and the related pieces] on the back of your setup [really makes the biggest difference, in my opinion] Use twist ties to hold the cords, a power strip with wide enough outlet spacing to allow for brick power adapters, and cable management tubes to keep everything together.
Any other little things that could be overlooked when doing a cable organization project — either on a large or small scale?
One thing I overlooked on this [cable management] setup was the slack. I drew out kind of where I wanted the cords to go, and started attaching everything, but didn’t really have a solid plan as to where I would put the slack. If I had to do it again I would have purchased larger tubing for the cable management to hold the excess cord.
What parts of that setup are the geekier parts that are kind of “behind the scenes” elements?
Oh, there’s some seriously cool stuff with the downscalers and corresponding power management pieces. I have two tvONE Corio T1-C2-400 units for the Wii and Xbox 360.
Even though the Wii can output 480i, I always found the flicker distracting. Now the signal is being converted from 480p to 240p, not to mention being changed from YPbPr to RGB. Amazing that one unit can do that work!
The Xbox 360 is going from one of its 4:3 HD signals to 240p RGB. However, when setting all of this up, I ran into a problem – the Corio units are turned on all of the time…therefore sending a signal to my gscartsw lite automatic SCART switch at all times, preventing any other system from getting a signal through. I needed to figure out a way for these units to be powered on at the same time as the systems hooked to them.
After some searching I found a couple of different power strips by Trickle Star (see them on eBay / Amazon), originally designed to conserve energy. Essentially, a device (in this case, one of the aforementioned game systems) is plugged into a “control” plug, and whenever it is turned on and drawing power, it activates the other plugs. So when I power up the Xbox 360, it powers on the Corio, sending the signal to the gscartsw lite and then to the PVM. Very geeky, and very awesome.
What other interesting displays have you been collecting or enjoying?
I see that Samsung GX and some smaller PVMs. Can you tell us about the decisions to pick those up and other other units I may have missed?
Since getting my PVM’s I’ve become very interested in other CRT’s, PVM’s, and BVM’s. Given their size and weight, this is an interest that has been thankfully tolerated by my loving and supportive wife!
Being in Los Angeles, I discovered I can access these monitors a lot easier than if I were in other parts of the country. I’ve bought and sold many of these monitors, helping get them into the hands of people who live outside of this area, often for exactly what I paid for them.
My motivation in buying them is a general curiosity…how does the image on a Sony PVM-2950Q look compared to a PVM-20L5? Would I prefer a BVM-D24E1WU to a modern LED? I’ve had more monitors in my hands now than I can count. The ones I keep holding onto are my two Sony PVM-2950Qs and my two PVM-20L5s. I still have the Samsung GX, too. Such a cool CRT.
Evolving a Collection & Finding Contentment
It’s cool to see more of your shelving/game storage. As I think we’ve discussed, we have very similar game collection sizes and adding/pruning habits (aside from you beating me out on Neo-Geo and the lovely more valuable pieces I haven’t plunged on). What planning/decision process did you have for building and pruning your collection?
For me personally, my collecting initially probably had more of an emphasis on a “what is rare” regardless of whether or not it’s a game I would like to play, or on a system I would even enjoy or have some nostalgia for. As I’ve gotten further along, the types of games I’m collecting, there is still a rarity appeal, but the games themselves are more the genres I enjoy. For instance, I have no desire to go out and collect all the rare RPG’s on Super Nintendo. I just don’t play them, and it’s kind of the opposite genre of what I like. Also, living somewhere like Los Angeles where real estate is so expensive, I don’t quite have the room to just go nuts with my collecting. My wife has graciously let me set up one of our bedrooms as essentially the game room, but I don’t have a basement I can fill with candy cabs (which, don’t get me wrong, would be amazing).
Also, as I’ve gone along I’ve sold games and/or systems I just don’t have an attachment to, or don’t quite fit in with my current setup. I never grew up with PlayStation, so I don’t have a connection to anything from the PS1 era. And with PS2 it outputs primarily 480i, which I really do not enjoy on my setup. Recently I sold nearly my entire, small, PS2 collection to pay for a single Neo Geo AES Game, US Aero Fighters 2. I do hope to get more into PS1 here at some point, as that would fit in with the setup quite nicely.
As for, what themes I would base my collection goals on? It’s shifted over time. I’ll put those themes into some questions I ask myself when looking at a game. Is this a genre I enjoy? Did I have this game as a kid? Do I have room to put this game on a shelf?
What parts of your collection have you been building up in the two and a half years since we last discussed your collection?
A lot of my game collecting has slowed in the past couple of years, but not due to declining interest. I feel I’ve gotten most of the titles I want on the more mainstream systems, Genesis, SNES, etc. The main systems I’m collecting on now are JP Sega Saturn and Neo Geo AES…the latter of course moving at the speed of a continental drift.
I’ve become more interest maximizing the quality of the picture, system modifications, CRT’s, signal processing, etc. Boxes of spare games in my closet have been replaced with boxes of Extron video units and SCART cables.
Any new buying/selling/trading techniques that differ from what we discussed in your first interview?
Yeah things have changed quite a bit in the past couple of years. I’m finding it harder and harder to buy collections, cherry pick, and resell to recoup costs.
Honestly I’ve only made a couple of large purchases since we last talked. Maybe there’s too much competition? Maybe there’s more price awareness? I’m not really sure. It also takes a lot of time and leg work that maybe I’m not as willing to put in any more since my focus has somewhat changed.
Diving into Handhelds and the Modding Hobby
What part of your collection have you been enjoying the most that the majority of people might not expect?
Honestly – Gameboy. I never had a Gameboy growing up. Not the original, Pocket, Color, Advance, anything. It’s a whole new world to me. I recently beat Super Mario Land, TMNT, Mega Man, and some other common Gameboy titles. It’s been so much fun!
Can you tell me if there’s much of a story behind all the Game Boy units that you’ve been distributing in your IG claim sales?
Great unintentional follow up question! I try to learn a new thing each year, and for 2020 it was how to solder. After destroying a handful of Game Gears (RIP), I’ve gotten to where I’m doing RGB mods, recaps, and Gameboy modding.
The Gameboys have been a lot of fun simply due to all the customizations that can be made. Different screens, buttons, cases, backlights, speakers, and more. Endless. I started to think…if I can’t fund my collection with buying and selling, maybe this is the new route.
I’m now selling modded Gameboys and doing commissioned mod work – essentially letting my labor fund my game collection. It may take me selling 20 Gameboys to afford a basic AES game, but that still feels better than it coming all out of my wallet.
Plus, taking a Gameboy DMG that’s not working, with a shell that’s yellowed and broken, and making into something new and amazing that someone can enjoy feels great.
Do you feel like you’re hitting your stride on the modification process? Have you thought about paint treatments (I’m assuming currently you’re just dealing with custom pre-made cases?)
I feel like I’m hitting my stride on certain systems and modifications. Gameboy DMG, Pocket, and Color I have down. Still need to get into Gameboy Advance mods. I get asked about GBA a lot! As for other mods, I’m working on all the various RGB mods that can be done on systems. I think having gone through a process of getting these types of mods done when I picked up my first PVM, I love knowing that I can actually do them myself now.
It seems like you’ve been spending most of your modification time on handhelds, but I’ve seen you mentioning upgrading joysticks and consoles as well. Can you briefly share what projects you’ve had success with, any interesting learning experiences and if this is included in the modding services you’re offering now?
I’ve been having a ton of fun modding consoles – and you’re correct, the work has been primarily focused on handhelds. I’ve done screen, amp, speaker, case, etc., mods on most Nintendo handhelds. My favorite of these is the Gameboy Advance IPS V2 screen mod, with the RetroSix CleanAmp, de-hiss mod with rechargeable USB-C battery. This system accomplishes nearly everything I would want in a retro handheld. But I have worked quite a bit with consoles as well.
Some of the mods I have done are RGB mods on N64, SNES, and Triple Bypass RGB mods on Sega Genesis Model 2 and Model 3. I especially like the Triple Bypass RGB on the Model 3 V1, which restores Game Genie, Virtual Racing, and Mega SD use with Sega CD and Master System support. It literally gives the best picture and audio out of any Sega I’ve messed with, which is kind of crazy considering the Genesis 3 is widely regarded as the least desirable of all Genesis systems. I also worked in a blue power LED under fogged acrylic. Additionally, I’ve done a number of Optical Drive Emulator (ODE) installations for Saturn, PlayStation 1, and GameCube.
Any other projects you haven’t done that you’re looking forward to?
Tons! I have parts in stock for WiiDual, which is dual digital HDMI and analogue RGB output for the Wii, NES RGB, Advanced N64 RGB, and McWill screens for GameGear.
Or are there any other learning experiences you see for yourself in the next year or two?
In the next couple of years I’d like to further refine what work can be done for retro game systems to keep them new and exciting. Exploring new mods, custom shells, scalers, etc., to keep the hobby alive and looking the best it possibly can.
How Emulation & Flash Carts Factor into a Well-Rounded Collection
During my work on our RetroArch guide, we chatted a bit about your emulation setup that you have used to play retro stuff online with your buddies. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Totally! The emulation stuff is something I came across while on lockdown. I have several local friends I would play games with every couple of weeks, and it was really a bummer to suddenly not have those gaming sessions.
I discovered that if I made us each the exact same RetroPie image (same game titles, cores/emulators, and file paths) then Netplay could work. Basically I FaceTime with a friend while running Netplay and we can go through any number of retro co-op games, or even a round of Neo Turf Masters. It’s been so much fun.
Any other emulation pieces that you work into your routine or do you mostly play on more original hardware?
The Pi2SCART is the main emulation piece in my setup, but that’s primarily for arcade stuff. Other than that, I play on original hardware. However, in that realm I’ve picked up the SD2SNES Pro, Mega SD, NeoSD Pro, and Turbo Everdrive [flash carts to play game ROMs on original systems].
I don’t really see Everdrives as a deterrent in collecting, more of a way to preserve the games I already have. Since I picked up the Mega SD, it’s been really nice to not touch my Sega CD collection. I was finding I was getting those games out of their cases and putting them in my Sega CD like it was some sort of bomb diffusion. Just not fun. All that being said, when I go to try to beat a game for the first time, I usually will put in the actual real game…maybe that’s the purist in me.
Thanks again to Brandon for taking the time for this interview and sharing his photos. If you’d like to get to know him better, follow him on Instagram and check out his Etsy shop of handheld and console mods.