Game On – part 1

Well… here goes!

Just One More Game (J-OMG) is a new blog, dedicated to 3 segments of the videogame world… Retro, Indie & Coinop. All three genres feature in my first story, split over 3 days.

Game On is a travelling, playable, history of videogames launched in 2002, at London’s Barbican gallery. Since then, it’s toured the world, most recently at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). The city of trams set a new world record for Game On attendance (129,372 people over 4 months). This was particularly impressive, as the previous record holder (Chicago) has three times the population, and ran their exhibition 40% longer.

Game On’s second Australian season opened on November 17 in Brisbane… at The State Library of Queensland. There it will stay, for the next four months. And already – I’m wondering… can Brisbane beat Melbourne’s record? I hope it does. Despite my loyalty to my old town – an even greater response to Game On’s second Aussie outing would be a big win for videogames.

Now, let’s take a guided tour, with Conrad Bodman. He co-curated the original exhibition six years ago, with Lucien King from Rockstar Games, and has been refining it ever since. 

Note: Photographs are from Melbourne, but Game On Brisbane has around 80% of the same content.

Oh, and if you don’t want any “spoilers”, CLOSE YOUR BROWSER NOW.
(Much more after the jump)

*Sets time machine to March 2008. Activates flux capacitor. Presses button.
Vision goes all blurry… “woooohhhheeeeoooowwwww…..”

Thankyou, Britain.

Thankyou – for Elite and Boulderdash. Thankyou for IK+, Lemmings and Goldeneye. But most of all, thankyou for Game On. It’s the most incredible celebration of videogames. Not just “big” in size & scope… but big in effort… in making things accessible to gamers & non-gamers of all ages. And now, Aussies have a chance to see what all the fuss is about.

Game On’s displays begin in the foyer of the ACMI building. And it’s here I meet Conrad Bodman, for what’s supposed to be a 30 minute interview. For someone overseeing such a mammoth exhibition – and it’s day one of a four month run – he seems surprisingly calm. He shakes my hand with the warmth of a kindred spirit, and as I turn on my tape recorder, he suggests he can “do better” than a half hour chat. “How about a personal tour of the exhibition?” A wha…? (composes self) Yes. Yes that would be fantastic, thankyou.


[That’s Conrad Bodman on the right. Unlike me, he only wears *his* Goodies T-shirt “after hours”.]

My tour begins immediately – in the ACMI foyer.  Conrad points out the first exhibit. A PDP-1 mainframe, running Spacewar.  Yes, that’s right – “running” Spacewar. The original UK exhibition featured a genuine, but non-working PDP-1. That machine couldn’t come downunder, so the Aussies have gone all out, building a full-size WORKING replica! Sure, it looks like something from Dr Evil’s undersea volcano – but this big blue beast necessitated the invention of the “joystick”, and we’ve been waggling them ever since. Please.  Make sure you have a turn – it’s a real piece of history.

Now, Bodman leads me down the giant staircase – and I feel like Charlie Bucket, entering the Chocolate factory.  The first thing I see is a giant MAME projection screen, with Ms Pacman now the size of a dinner plate. Thankyou god, thankyou.  As we continue down the stairs, the sound starts to hit me.  A glorious arcade orchestra. The “pee-ooooh” of Space Invaders, the “waka waka” of Pacman, the “zaps” of Bezerk.  But before I actually see the sources of these noises, I’m greeted by the old girl herself.  Pong.

Any game that’s been featured in The Goodies, Wall-E & The West Wing has earnt it’s place here. And this ancient, simple game is still worth a go. Unfortunately, the exhibition’s Pong cabinet is not working. But next to it, a fully operational Pong projector setup awaits. Yes, you can challenge a friend, with your glorious victory (or otherwise) shown on the big screen.

Next to Pong is an even older arcade game – Computer Space. You may have seen the original flyer online, with a model in a long white dress, next to the strange looking yellow cabinet. But you really, REALLY need to see Computer Space in the flesh. It’s fibreglass shell includes the most amazing sparkles. Like the mutant offspring of a 50’s hotrod & an ancient TV. Game On is displaying a red cabinet. I mention the colour to Conrad… Computer Space came in a variety of colours… red, green, yellow, silver… they’re very collectable things.. [and] amongst the most valuable machines. I’d love to get one of those in my house… (laughs)”

Now, we move towards the source of all the noise… and if you’re a competitive retro gamer, you’ll love this. We stop at the controls of the aforementioned giant MAME projection setup. The screen is about 5 metres by 3 metres – so believe me, if you’re having a good run on Galaga – EVERYONE can see. There’s 20 classic games playable, from 1978-1982. Everything from Burgertime to Space Panic, with reasonable arcade-esque controls. Seeing all this emulation going on, I ask my guide his thoughts on the subject. “A lot of these games are now defunct, and difficult to get hold of. MAME has done a really good job for those people who are interested in this early history. Otherwise – these games would be completely unknown.” Not that Game On’s collection is dominated by emulated titles. Far from it.

The main Game On arcade is what heaven would look like, if Walter Day did a makeover. Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Asteroids and a dozen more. You forget how much cooler these games are, with all the original trimmings. I asked Bodman about his own arcade beginnings. “It all began at the Crystal Room arcade, in Reading…” he explains. “At that time, there was that transition; pinball games were going out, and videogames were coming in. The first game I ever put 10p into, was Asteroids. Soon followed by Space Invaders, then Galaxians, which is a real favourite…”

Now, I add, it’s 25 years later, and they’re in a museum. Like dinosaur bones. Hmm, I suppose that’s what these games are – to the school kids one quarter of their age. “What we’re trying to say in the exhibition” Bodman explains, “…is maybe big institutions need [consider starting] collections of this kind of material. So there’s some legacy, for generations in the future, because these machines had a very important influence, and spawned a whole interest in electronic home entertainment. The games are exciting & compelling, visually, but the cabinets are quite beautiful as well, with very lavish graphics on the side. So they’re great objects to look at, as well as to play.”

I ask Conrad if there were any particular arcade cabinets that were particularly satisfying to obtain for the collection. “Sure. The original Donkey Kong. They’re quite hard to source, and it’s playable in it’s original format. No MAME, no PC.. just playing off it’s original board. And as you can imagine, it’s quite an enterprise to keep all of this running.”

Ahh yes, keeping it all going. That’s not something you worry about when you’re showing Renoir’s paintings. And – despite this being the first day of the show, I spot one machine turned off. A very rare Taitan cab, with giant bug eyes glowing above the monitor. Bodman explains that a power surge 2 days prior had taken it out of action. Luckily, there are techs working on the problem. “We’ve met a small number of people around the world who are able to repair boards, and fix monitors and so on. We’ve got some of those people involved in the show, to try to keep everything up and running, as much as possible.

As I’ve pointed out, Game On covers the 70’s to mid 80’s arcade scene quite well. But post 1985 coin-op gaming is only lightly touched upon. I assume this is due to two reasons. One – society’s shift in emphasis from “arcade” to “home” gaming. And two – because many significant arcade games are playable later in Game On, as “home conversions”. For 90’s coin op purists, there are some upright cabs playable; Sonic Wings & Virtua Fighter, plus a UK-style Neo Geo cabinet.

The latter is a real treat for Aussie Neo fans, as they’re quite different to the “Pacific” cabinets built by LAI. There are four carts to play.. representing a few genres: Metal Slug X, Samurai Showdown 2, Viewpoint & Windjammers. It’s interesting to see Windjammers in the same exhibition as Pong, as it really is an enhanced clone, released 22 years after the original.

Well that’s part 1 of our exclusive 3-part Game On special.

Click through to Part 2 & you’ll see…

The Top Ten consoles, Games families, Kids Games,
Portable Games, Films vs Games, Sound in Games,
Games around the World… AND..  multiplayer games.

Game On walkthrough – part 2.

2 Responses to Game On – part 1

  1. Rose Livingston says:

    Good stuff!

  2. […] retro-indie-coinop blog Just One More Game is off to a great start. Check out his first month of great content, and add ‘em to your rss […]

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