We don’t do nearly as much collaboration with other retro gaming content creators as we should. That stops now! Anthony and Adrian caught up with YouTuber supreme Neil from RetroManCave to see what makes him tick. With almost 100,000 subscribers he’s easily one of the biggest retro gaming creators ever! So here’s a quick Q&A interspersed with some of our favourite videos of his. Enjoy!
Neil, thanks for stopping by! How did RetroManCave come about?
I registered the RMC username on YouTube as far back as 2012. The name came about because my wife had christened the basement where I tinkered with retro kit “The Man Cave”, and it was available to register on YouTube. I had intended to share some of my projects on YouTube but life took a few twists and turns and I found myself having to sell my retro collection, and so RMC was used as a channel to show unboxings of the items I was selling on ebay so that buyers could see exactly what was for sale. Subconsciously though I think I was also doing it to preserve the memory of some beautiful kit I really didn’t want to part with.
It wouldn’t be until 2017, several house moves and some time working away in France that I finally settled back in the UK and released my first video on the channel in its current form. It was an unplanned and unscripted retro flight sim review which was created with no goal other than to share my passion and reach out to others like me to see if I might make some new friends with similar interests. Watching back it’s a terrible video but I like to leave the old ones up as a reminder to myself of how far I’ve come since then and also to encourage others by showing them that success is rarely instant on YouTube. It takes time and experimentation to find your style and evolve organically into something you and your audience enjoys.
How do you start off making a new video and get the initial ideas? Can you run us the through the typical process you go through?
Funnily enough people often ask how I come up with ideas to keep making content and it’s honestly the easiest part of the job. I have over 40 years of home computer history to explore and I just follow what I’m feeling inquisitive about that day. I work on the basis that if it’s something I find interesting then hopefully my audience will too. To try and set the channel apart I like to use as much new and original footage of the subject as possible so once I’ve had an idea I try to acquire the equipment if it’s not already in my collection.
Planning a video varies according to the format. If it’s a “show and tell” video then it’s like preparing for an interview, I want to know enough about the subject to converse about it but not so much that the guest is no longer the expert, they have to lead the showing and telling.
For a repair there’s a clear end goal so I tend to just let the cameras roll and get on with it. That way you’re more likely to catch unexpected problems, errors or exploding capacitors and these all add to the story and make the video more interesting.
A documentary style video though is very different, a lot of research goes into these and the script is written before I pick up a camera. These are more like writing a book which I then need to illustrate in a way that compliments and enhances the story.
The most unpredictable format is the Retro Road Trip videos because I load up my car and drive to a location with little idea of what I’ll be faced with, these are a real exercise in thinking on my feet to get the footage I need and get some interesting conversation out of the host so that I might have a good video to edit together. I usually come away with a huge amount of footage to work through.
I really do see RMC as a channel with many different formats to keep it interesting for the viewer but also interesting for me to work on. Each of them can be equally rewarding and exhausting in their own way, so to finish one up and move on to a new format for the next video keeps things fresh for me and the viewers.
Why do you feel that RetroManCave has such a substantial following that continues to grow as you progress?
I can only guess that it’s because there are a lot more friends to be made with the same interest as me than I ever dreamed of when I made that first video.
I’ve always had a global view on the channel, despite often presenting a very British perspective of tech, this likely stems from a very nomadic work life in IT which allowed me to enjoy many countries and cultures. This is reflected in that around 50-55% of viewers are in countries where English is a first language. There is a whole world to engage, and so I try to speak clearly, to avoid colloquialisms or humour which may be misinterpreted and to be understood to as many people as possible. This is sometimes best achieved by simply not talking and letting the video speak for itself.
I think I also appeared at a time when faux anger was a very popular presentation style on YouTube and my more relaxed approach appealed to the demographic who are interested in my topics. At times I’ll admit I feel I got too relaxed in my style but I think I’ve found a balance now where people can be equally relaxed and enthused by what I share.
Out of all the videos you have created, do you have a personal favourite and can you explain why?
That’s a really hard question to answer. The Amiga 500 Trash to Treasure series is special because it’s the one that put me on the map and saw an influx of new subscribers while reconnecting with a machine that was incredibly important to me.
A documentary I made on the world of Soviet ZX Spectrum clones is also one I enjoyed making very much, it wasn’t a world I had first-hand experience of so it was very rewarding to learn so much in its creation.
Something I’m really enjoying lately are the Monday interview or “Retro Tea Break” videos. These don’t get particularly high views compared to other videos but those who do like the format are very engaged with it. In these videos I have a chat with people from the industry ranging from The Oliver Twins to Al Lowe, Rob Hubbard to Mike Dailly. These are the heroes of the video game and computer industry who I would never have been able to engage with before, but the success of the channel presents them with a good outlet to tell their stories and so we all win. Preserving these conversations with pioneers of the industry while we still can is far more important to me than viewing figures, these are little nuggets of history.
How easy it for you guess the success of each video before it is released, and have you had any videos that have done a lot better or worse than you expected?
Largely impossible! When I’m working on a series if the first episode does well then generally the audience will follow through the series so that’s a little easier to predict. But you never really know what will capture the imagination. I try to avoid using clickbait titles and thumbnails because I think it’s better to slowly grow a high-quality audience who are interested in a range of topics rather than subscribe based on a single video and then engage no further.
I also largely avoid cutting edge releases or announcements such as new “mini” system releases because like I said earlier, I have forty years of retro to cover, there’s no rush.
You have spoken to some real retro gaming legends. Who are you most proud of that you have managed to get in your cave?
I’ve enjoyed chatting with many as a result of the channel and I especially enjoy chatting with them in my podcast “Retro Island Diskettes” (which we totally ripped off – Ed). This is a long format show in which we hear their life story and also seven music tracks of computer origins of their choice. Guests have included Jim Bagley, Francois Lionet(STOS/AMOS), Stoo Cambridge (Sensible Software), Steve Hammond (DMA Design), as well as people who are less well known but have made huge contributions to the industry. Sometimes it’s the unsung heroes who have the most interesting stories.
Which dream guest would you most love to feature in the RetroManCave?
Sadly Jay Miner AKA The Father of the Amiga is no longer with us but he would be a dream guest. As would Steve Wozniak, he gives a very interesting account of his life in the book iWoz but I’d love to dig a little deeper. Richard Garriot would be my dream game developer interview as he wrote the games that shaped a huge part of my gaming life in the Ultima series, oh and he has been into space!
How big is your personal collection of retro goodies and which are your most prized possessions?
Surprisingly it’s not huge despite my appetite for it. I try not to collect duplicates as I don’t want to deprive others from the opportunity to enjoy retro kit, and I had to sell my original collection back in 2012, I only started collecting again in 2017.
I have some interesting tech though such as a Sharp x68000 which was an eye opener, I didn’t know this existed back in the day and it’s a real powerhouse with some incredible arcade ports on it. The Pioneer Laser Active is also an interesting machine, not just because of the effort of changing hundreds of leaking capacitors to get it working, but because of the ceremony of loading a game from a huge laserdisc into it. It’s quite an event.
Like most people though I think the machines you grew up with always hold the most special place to you, so the Amstrad CPC464 and Amiga 500 will always be setup and ready to play. They instantly transport me back to my childhood bedroom.
What are your top 3 games of all time and can you explain why?
My choices tend to change on a daily basis but these will always be near the top:
Ultima 7 – The Black Gate – IBM PC
A big box game packed with maps, lore and feelies which completely immersed you in a sandbox world which was alive, dangerous and mystical. It was the last of the truly great Ultima’s before the series took a downward turn with the exception being the early years of Ultima Online.
Robotron 2084 – Arcade
Leaning into the CRT screen with two joysticks in hand on an original Williams cabinet is the epitome of total arcade immersion. Your brain is left with no space to think about the outside world. The sound, the graphics, the twitch reactions… Robotron is everything I want from an arcade experience.
Dino Dini’s Goal – Amiga
Better than Sensible Soccer. I won’t hear otherwise. (er, think we may have a word with you about that… – Ed)
What advice would you give to anyone looking to create their own retro gaming YouTube channel?
Get the basics right and then let everything fall into place organically. By basics I mean ensure you can be heard clearly, avoid “shakey hand cam” by using a tripod and turn the lights on. It’s amazing how many people just start filming without considering if they would watch the content themselves and I think we’re all turned off by a shakey cam that doesn’t show the item being discussed and an echoey mic.
That should take no more than 5 minutes of consideration. Then go for it!
If you could share a few drinks with any video game character, who would you choose and why?
Miner Willy. I hear he throws the best parties in his mansion.
Adrian & Anthony
Now go check out Anthony’s Official Neo-Geo thread on Atariage!