A Retro Idea of Retro

I’ve previously discussed insights we can get from Arcane magazine’s Top 50 RPGs feature, but there’s one other feature from the magazine which I think has aged particularly interestingly. Rather than being presented in a single article, though, it unfolded over the span of the magazine’s existence.

This was the monthly Retro feature, each instalment of which offered a one-page retrospective of an old game, by and large (with a very few exceptions) one which was well out of print by the time. This is interesting to look back on now because when Arcane was being published the hobby was some 21-23 years old; this year it’s 46. In other words, more time has now passed since Arcane magazine ended than passed between the emergence of D&D and the appearance of Arcane. It’s interesting, then, to look back and see what games were considered to be old-timey classics from that perspective, and how things have developed since.

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The Arcane Top 50 – Where Are They Now?

Arcane, a short-lived British tabletop gaming magazine from Future Publishing which ran from December 1995 to June 1997, is a name to conjure by for many gamers of around my age. I came to the hobby after White Dwarf had become a Games Workshop in-house advertising platform, and just as Dragon was on the verge of dropping its coverage of non-TSR RPGs altogether; that meant I got a brief taster of TSR having a broader scope of coverage, and missed out on the golden age of White Dwarf altogether.

With other RPG-focused gaming magazines available in the UK only available on a decidedly variable basis (whatever did happen to ol’ Valkyrie?), the arrival of Arcane was immensely welcome. Sure, even by this early stage the Internet was already becoming an incomparable source of both homebrewed material and cutting-edge RPG news, but much of that was in the form of Usenet and forum discussions of variable quality or ASCII text files. To get something which was informative, read well, and looked nice, print media was still just about where it was at.

Truth be told, taking a look back at Arcane in more recent years I’m less impressed than I was at the time. It took largely the same approach to its own subject matter (primarily RPGs, with some secondary consideration to CCGs – because they were so hot at the time they really couldn’t be ignored – and perhaps a light sniff of board game content) that Future’s videogame magazines took to theirs, particularly the lighter-hearted PC Gamer/Amiga Power side of things rather than the likes of, say, Edge. That meant it focused more on brief news snippets, reviews, and fairly entry-level articles on subjects than it did on offering much in the way of in-depth treatment of matters.

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Who Ya Gonna Clone?

Ewen Cluney through his Yaruki Zero Games small press has quietly pulled off a little coup. Realising that the odds of the classic Ghostbusters RPG being republished any time soon is mininal, and further realising that precisely because that system was so delightfully light the number of integers you’d need to change to avoid copyright infringement would be limited (indeed, by avoiding direct references to Ghostbusters itself the job is mostly done), it would be entirely viable to make a retro-clone of the old game and unleash it on the world – which he has done in the form of Spooktacular.

Interestingly, though one of the various hands that West End Games’ corporate carcass passed through post-bankruptcy put out the D6 System on an OGL basis, Cluney does not seem to have seen any need to do the OGL thing here – possibly because the full-fat D6 System would be overkill for the purposes of reproducing Ghostbusters.

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I Ain’t Afraid Of No Ghosts (Five Out of Six Times)

The Ghostbusters RPG from 1986 was a major step forwards for West End Games – as well as being their second RPG after Paranoia, it was also their first major foray into producing RPGs based on a licensed franchise and the first game to use their D6 System, which would go on to power their Star Wars RPG and a whole host of other games besides. It also came out at a golden time for the Ghostbusters franchise – the original movie had been out for a couple of years, the Real Ghostbusters cartoon series was just kicking off, and Ghostbusters II hadn’t yet emerged to take the shine off of things. It was a magical time when it felt like everything Ghostbusters was gold, and fortunately the RPG was no exception.

Unusually for the RPG market it was produced as a collaboration between two different publishers, with Chaosium along for the ride. Based on the fact that Chaosium’s Sandy Petersen, Lynn Willis and Greg Stafford are credited with design whilst various West End regulars of the era were credited with development, it feels like the basic principles of the game system were cooked up by Chaosium, whilst West End Games handled the presentation of those ideas, writing them up and offering a swathe of introductory adventures and adventure ideas and referee advice. In particular, the text of the game is written in that highly readable and very funny style that West End had perfected in its better Paranoia releases.

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