Whether it’s a convention or a tournament, the highlight of any worthy gaming event will always be what’s new. Showcasing the latest technology and video game iteration is sure to excite fans and critics.
But amidst the glitz and glamor of modernity, there sits a man at these conventions who, if you let him, could transport you back to when gaming was in its humble beginnings. When games were simple. When you were just a young “pamangkin” passing the controller to someone older.
In Tito Steef’s palace, you play as if it is yesterday.
Stephen Reverente, better known as “Tito Steef” online, is a content creator specializing in everything retro — from collecting video games and consoles to setting up booths to show what gaming was like back then.
At Rev Major 2023, the biggest fighting game tournament in the Philippines, Reverente has a new addition to his exhibit: A Lightgun.
“Last year, I added Rhythm Games [to the booth]; this year, level up ako into an arcade-like experience,” he said.
One of the most played games in his lightgun booth was “Time Crisis,” a popular arcade game in the 90s. Its main gimmick is the ability not only to shoot enemies at the screen but also take cover from their fire.
“[May nagsasabi na] ‘’Uy, wala na nito sa arcade ah!’ It’s one of those experiences that make me want to do these things.”
Becoming the Tito
Tito Steef initially created a Facebook page for modifying and customizing Arcade Sticks as a hobby, but he also loved fighting games and would often attend tournaments.
One day, he decided to showcase his collection at events. Attendees who would see him in his booth started to call him “Tito Steef,” the one who always brings his old fighting games.
“Inaccept ko na wholeheartedly kasi I bring the old games, tas kayo mga pamangkin na kayo,” he joked.
Thus, he claimed the title and began slowly gaining a small following with decent paid engagements. This, along with some help from his day job as a software tester, helped him expand his booths and hire fellow “Titos” to make online content and assist him in exhibits.
“‘Yung iba they bring their own setups, like mga iba kong kasama, mga ‘Rhythm Game’ Titos, kaya may ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ setup dito, among others.”
In the booth I visited his team in, his fellow titos were having a go at the machines they brought. During their most recent event, they offered a challenge to anyone willing to beat them at their game.
Surprisingly, one “pamangkin,” much younger than them, beat Tito Steef at “Project Justice: Rival Schools,” a game he considered his forte. Not only is it a niche title, but the series hasn’t had a new game since 2000.
Tito Steef’s beginnings in collecting retro video games were less about building up to something and more about his desire to play.
In fact, the items that would eventually become his retro collection weren’t even considered as such at the time; they were just things people wanted to get rid of.
“Dati, hindi pa uso ang Japan Surplus, tingin pa ng mga tao ‘dun, trash. Pero pupunta ako, makakahanap ako ng mga games,” he recalled.
The first true “retro” item he acquired to collect was a “Sega Saturn” after finding one for a decent price.
Released on Nov. 22, 1994, in Japan and May 11, 1995, in North America, the Saturn was considered a commercial failure, which is why he rarely shows them off in his exhibits.
“I mostly bring the setups that allow the people to experience the games ng kabataan nila, or new people that want to experience games that they heard of,” he said.
More recently, some fans and friends have donated their old collections with varying conditions, which he didn’t seem to mind.
He’s just happy that they donated old items that, instead of being thrown out, were given to someone they know will take care of them and give them an extra life.
Retro Games vs. Modern Games
Reverente says his reason for sticking with retro games is because, after looking past its “simplicity,” they offer an experience one wouldn’t get in more recent games.
“Sa retro games, it can teach some form of — it’s weird I’m saying this — some form of discipline. Kasi walang instant gratification, you really have to work for it,” he said.
“Ang inaasar ko talaga, when you start a modern game, mag-iinstall muna siya, and then may tutorial, may hand-holding,” he jokingly added.
He also explains that retro games differ from more modern games in the way their developers work around the limitations of the time.
“For instance, how do you make a soundtrack iconic with this limited amount of space, or sound channel that I have? How do I make a compelling gaming experience with the limitations of the system and storage at the time?” he said.
“It gives the developers more creativity to explore.”
But that’s not to say he completely ignores modern, high-budget games. Although he pokes fun at the “hand-holding” modern games do, it also makes for accessibility, which means more people get to play games.
With the introduction of the internet and social media, people of all types of backgrounds can now also express their love and passion for video games.
“Mas tanggap na siya sa society now versus back in the day, sinasabihan ka ng ‘You’ll never amount to anything. Kaka-computer mo yan, wala ka nang ginawa.’”
It’s a far cry from the playground and school friend with whom he’d share tips and rumors. Now, it’s the whole world.
Throughout the years, the games and consoles he grew up with slowly got rarer. Even the ones not yet considered “retro” became harder to acquire. Because of this, their price in the market increased tenfold — sometimes to the thousand dollar range.
It didn’t help that during the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, people started seeing retro gaming, especially Pokémon items, as “cool,” further increasing their value in the market. “I have a Pokémon Center New York Game Boy Advance, that I got on my trip as a kid talaga. I also Pokémon FireRed and Emerald, na dating P700 lang, ngayon tingnan niyo nalang magkano ang price,” he said.
Said Pokémon items currently go for upwards of roughly P6,000, to almost P30,000.
It was a tough time to be an enthusiast, and he didn’t see the financial sense of keeping up with his collection. Instead, he would only buy items he actually wanted or needed.
One such case is a game called “Chrono Trigger,” a role-playing adventure game on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) that he would repeatedly play as a kid, and never got tired of.
In high school, he lent his gaming system to a friend, and with it were two games: Mega Man 7 and Chrono Trigger. Unfortunately, as college went, his friend moved away to Baguio, bringing with him his SNES and games, never to be returned to him.
Mega Man 7 is now a rare item that goes for almost P3,000 online, which disheartened him. Even more so, however, was losing Chrono Trigger.
Apart from the time he spent playing it, and what its monetary value would have been, he had a personal attachment to the game.
“It was my late mom’s Christmas gift sa akin, one of the few ‘original’ games I got as a kid,” he said.
Later down the line, he scoured the internet searching for an original copy, knowing he had to get it back, until one day, one was available for sale in the Facebook Marketplace.
It was reasonably priced, all things considered. But there was a slight catch: the seller didn’t know whether the game was still working.
With high caution and with even higher hopes, he took the gamble and bought the game.
“The moment that I held that game again in my hands, I felt the stream of emotions flowing back and filling that void left in your heart,” he said.
With Chrono Trigger finally back in his hands, and with the ever-increasing prices of games today, Reverente has moved past the desire to collect every game.
What he’d rather do now is share the experiences, all the highs and lows of playing video games. Not just in his exhibits, but also with his three-year-old son.
“Ako nga when I started around four or five years old, Super Mario Bros. at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, ang hirap kaagad,” he said.
“I’ll start him with Tetris maybe,” he joked.