The gaming industry at this point in time was pretty much perfect. Like one of those easy girls at secondary school, who at the time was too naive to recognise her power over the boys. It would be only a matter of time before she grew boobs, lost her brace (retainer) and wore less clothes. Gaming would then become a high maintenance, unreliable money pit with no intention of staying loyal whatsoever.
It was in the later stages of this generation that the second hand market became very strong, the gaming content was always improving and decent titles were coming from all directions. My generation had seen the previous second hand market blend seamlessly into this generation. You could still pick up old cartridge titles side by side with the new breed at your local games store, this was a good time to get your hands on any of the last generations hardware and software as prices we slashed and demand was relitively low. I toyed with the idea of a 32X for the Mega Drive or the Mega CD but to bother with that purely to play DOOM on the 32x and the often horrendous titles on the Mega CD, didn’t seem worth it.
There were reasons I kept both current consoles, on the PS2 I enjoyed Devil May Cry, Ace Combat and Armoured Core. While the Xbox had Far Cry, Hitman and the Need For Speed series. But I did at times miss the days of Streets Of Rage, Pit Fighter and Rock N Roll Racing. It hadn’t been that long since we stopped blowing the dust out of the black bricks of joy, I needed my fix.
My prayers were answered by one man, who I can’t name for legal reasons and for the fact that he probably sits on countless terabytes of pirated software and a mountain of hardware. He discovered a way in which he could use a save game file from the game Splinter Cell and flash my Xbox allowing him to install a front end to the console so I could store any retro game, any video and store game which I had bought, by ripping onto a hard drive. In short it was a software exploit that allowed you to run unsigned code, you would copy a program masquerading as a save file for either Mech Warrior or Splinter Sell to memory card, load it up and it would break the game load, the unsigned code which would replace the dash board and let you do what you want with it.
Being that little bit older had it benefits, when I was in school I remember some slightly older guys printing out sheets of A4 with lists of PS1 games on, if you had a flashed PlayStation, you could simply have them copy a game and then sell you the copy for a fraction of the price. I had missed the boat there but now it seemed I could finally become a pirate like them. Being a pirate meant you had to do pirate things and it was towards the end of the life of the original Xbox that I embarked on a quest to obtain free games.
At this time the GAME stores in my town had a policy of a fourteen day bring back guarantee, if you weren’t happy with the game or you simply completed it, you could bring it back and exchange it for cash or more games. Once my new, bigger hard drive had been installed, I strolled into town and started my collection. At first it was £20 of used games, then £50, then £60 and more, until I had pretty much caught up with every game I had missed so far on the box, I had completed what I could before the next gen would arrive.
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and I was decidedly stoned. I decided to go all out and collect several new and second hand games at the same time. To mix it up and to avoid arousing suspicion, I planned to go to one GAME store at one end of town and then take the games back later that day to the second store, ten minutes from the first.
I took my time and decided on a bunch of games including the new Hitman title, Predator: Concrete Jungle and the latest COD, to name but a few. My stack came to around £100 and with every confidence I’d be receiving that money back into my account, I went to the counter and handed them over. As the guy was scanning the items into the system, he dropped the 3rd or 4th game into the bag, picked up the next game and with a shit eating grin informed me that the 14 day no quibble bring back system had stopped. In my blazed haze of that mornings toke, I tried my best not to look phased “Oh yeah…that’s….that’s no problem at all!”. Shit, fuck.
I had a mixed bag, some were factory sealed, some simply had the GAME store sticker on the opening, that once broken identified it as a ‘used’ game. Though for whatever reason I decided in my focused state that I was not to be out done by this, and decided on two things. I would have all of these games on my hard drive within the hour and two, I would be returning these games the same day.
I had the flat to myself, I cleared the coffee table of the mess, laid out the games and took a good look at the manufacturers seals and the GAME sticker seals. Next I needed the right tools for the job. I decided on the following, a Pritt Stick, selotape, scissors, scalpel and of course a spliff.
The GAME stickers were simply folded over the opening of the box, so they would know if you had played it, which meant you could not return them. The stickers were thick and very sticky, this meant you could not simply peel off and stick them back on. Before I went ahead and split the perforation, I tried something, it came to me like a flash of genius. I cracked each end of the game case open, leaving the sticker intact, then using a butter knife, I slid the knife through the opening at the top and with one hand I pushed the disc up, creating a gap. The knife sat behind the disc and with a slight twist of the blade the game came off the spindle and dropped out of the case. The sticker was left intact, EINSTIEN!!. I proceeded to rip the first game to the drive. Obviously feeling quite smug now that I had foiled the sticker, I felt the confidence brew, I was ready for level 2.
The manufacturers seal was obviously going to be more difficult, tightly sealed in a cellophane ‘bag’ which had been perfectly machine wrapped, you then have the factory box seal, which spans across the finger holes. This was not only wafer thin but also carried an official Microsoft hologram. In this case it was only the secondary seal that remained. Carefully with the scalpel I slid the blunt edge of the blade along the top of the cellophane, separating the glue…the wrap is very similar to a pack of cigarettes only much smaller in its folds. Carefully holding the bottom of the wrap, I turned the game box upside down and slid the case out.
Using only the one corner of the box I prised the game open, much like the GAME style sealed cases. The perforation split instantly, bugger, there was no turning back now but at least the cellophane wrapper was intact. The operation took some time but eventually I had all games ripped onto the system and they worked perfectly. The easy bit was complete, now it was time for the reseal.
During one of the butter knife methods one of the GAME seals had split, I decided this would be a good place to start my work. Taking the roll of selotape I peeled a strip off about the length required. I cut the strip lengthways using the scissors making it half the width and then removed one side of the broken sticker. I carefully laid the sticker down, sticky side up, I then lined up the perforation as well as I could to the opposite side. Using the scalpel and scissors I was able to lay the thin strip of selotape along the seal line. I simply pulled the sticker back over the case and voila!
It looked good enough, so it was onto the boss level. I turned the cellophane onto its sealed base and proceeded to drop the case inside, not much bother, the air escaped and it sat in there well. To seal the top I would have to reverse the process of opening but glue the top folds again. I put my confidence in the legendary Pritt Stick, using just my finger I ran it along the top of the stick and then I applied that glue onto the seal. Used sparingly the glue is almost transparent, I pressed down on the top of the wrap and then laid it down against the wall, to set.
The entire operation took around an hour but I had done it, I looked over the boxes again and again before dropping them in the bag along with the receipt. Considerably blazed from that afternoons shenanigans, I admit I had butterflies in my stomach on route to the shop. When I got there two people were serving, I tried my best to time it right so I was served by the young emo kid in the generic store uniform but just as I got to the desk to hand over the bag, INTERCEPTION! The assistant manager in his clean white shirt and skinny black tie welcomed me with a smile. Shite.
I had to go through with it anyway, I was confident enough in my work, or was I? The creeping doubt loomed over head. Was my handy work like that of a german watch maker, or more akin to something from an autistic chimp? Maybe they knew i was coming…shut up Mikey.
My reasoning was sound enough, I had bought various Xbox titles for my cousin but he in fact had a PS2. The manager took the bag willingly and took out the games, it was probably the longest twenty or so seconds of my life. He put the last game down and started scanning them back into the system. The wave of relief washed over me, I had done it.
Desperate to leave there pronto I tried to avoid conversation but being one the of the older customers in there, this guy wanted to chat. I did relax once we engaged in a conversation, but as the flow turned to gaming I suddenly realised that my adequate knowledge of games and releases could have blown my cover of naive family member and he would have wanted over £100 back.
The transaction was complete and my only guilty feeling was now one for the unfortunate gamer who opens those boxes to a mess of sellotape and glue, which if I’m honest wasn’t a mess at all, it was great work. To most people it wouldn’t be at all out of place but the satisfying noise of factory wrap being worked into, had been lost.
The victory walk home was a satisfying one and I had a few weeks worth of games to plough through. It also wasn’t all that long until the next gen was to be announced by the industry.
Coming next in my gaming history, the next gen is announced. I make my decision and then after a short spell of gaming with the new console, I take a 6 month break from gaming. The only time in my life I’d been without a games console.
NONE OF THE EVENTS IN THIS STORY ARE TRUE OBVIOUSLY