Sunday, June 8, 2008

Game old

What happens when a museum puts on an exhibition with this description?
Game On tracks the development of videogames from the first computer game to arcade-era hits and the very latest from today's billion dollar industry.

Original illustrations by Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and concept sketches behind classics like Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto provide unique insight into the creative process of game development. Rarely-seen consoles, controllers, arcade machines, packaging and collectables are brought together in a showcase of game history like no other.
Answer: crowds. I looked at this and thought, "am I to understand that we go there and can play from over 125 video games as much as we want and to class the activity as 'educational'" Apparently so and so went we did.

To say that the 'history' and 'science' was hard to bring out was an understatement. To be sure, there were 'exhibits' with consoles pulled apart and some older pieces of technology such as an Apple IIe which my son said reminded him of a laptop -- which, without the screen I guess it did. But they weren't even trying. There were no grand timelines. No display videos running with 'how do they make video games' and such. Instead, you could have been fooled into thinking that this was a travel through the arcades and living rooms of the past.

First stop, a display of Pong -- although Pong like you have never seen it before on a big projection screen. I insisted that we play. Big mistake. This was the button rather than the paddle variety and suffice it to say, getting a rally going was difficult. Moreover, we were on the big screen which was a magnet for embarrassment. We quickly moved on.

Next stop, into the late 70s with Space Invaders. "Did you really play game built into a coffee table like that?" "Why yes we did." "Why don't we do that these days?" "Good question." Perhaps Microsoft surface will be a winner. Anyhow, I pointed out that, because the computers were not that powerful, you could only fire one missile at a time which was a challenge. They pointed out that the game seemed slow and also there did not seem to be apparent reason why so many aliens were continuing to invade.

Next up, Asteriods. "You see you shoot at the asteriods and they break up." "Those are asteriods?" "Yes." "Then, how come when they leave the screen on this side they appear at the bottom as if it is one big sphere?" I muttered something about theories of the universe at that time and moved on ...

... to around 1980 and Centerpede. This was definitely a big favourite of mine. The track ball. The rapid fire bullets. Not only the centerpede but spiders, slugs and those damn mushrooms. But I got to the next level first time up. "Woo hoo, I finished the first level." "How come it hasn't changed?" "Yes, it has. See the centerpede is a different colour." "That's it? How do you know when you are done?"

Packman proved a bigger hit with my daughter for reasons I wasn't sure and we spent some time there while I attempted to hit the high score on Centerpede on the next machine. I didn't manage it even though the machine had been on for less than an hour. Also, a hit was an old Star Wars arcade game complete with a responsive X-wing controller. The kids like the novelty of feeling like they were in the ship even if the graphics were stick like. As they said, it worked because "that is how it was like in the movie." Authenticity counts.

Then I showed them Donkey Kong. "Wait a second, Mario and Donkey Kong were enemies?" "Yep, it was a harsh and divisive gaming world then." There was a warm glow that somehow we had moved to a more peaceful and understanding era (well, until we got to the violent video games down the track).

And so we left the early 1980s and entered the living room era. There was an original Atari (thankfully, no ET game; I am sure they were all pulped) and there as well as a whole heap of things I had not remember such as the Sinclair computer -- it was so small! But these weren't part of my childhood as the recession of that time left our family out of that generation of technology (and after that I grew too old). But there were old Nintendos and even computers running the text-based original adventure game and the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I could have stayed there some time but this didn't hold anyone else's interest.

Then we happened upon the hand-held 'exhibit.' It didn't include an original Simon (too many thrown against a wall in frustration to have survived) but a Simon 2 -- we lost out at about 15 in the sequence. It also had one of my cherished toys from the early 1980s, the Game and Watch Donkey Kong with a double screen; working and in its original orange. I showed it to the kids with delight. "This is what I used to play all of the time." "How does it work?" "Well like a normal video game. You move forward and jump of the barrels as they hurtle down at you." "Hurtle? They are just moving from one space to the next." What can I say, we took what we could get. "Look it also had a clock."

After that, we got beyond the past and to a regular video game era from Nintendo 64 right up to the Wii. There was lots of fun to be had. It turned out that my otherwise pacifist son (click here for a reminder) took a shine to the hand to hand combat games. We didn't have any of these in the house but he lapped them up from Street Fighter on. I had never played them before.
"Hang on stop hitting me. How do I kick?"

"Well, you need to work it out. I can't teach you everything."

"But my guy is bleeding."

"Too bad. Take that."

"OK I got it now. Take that back. And that you little terror."

"Dad, please."
Suffice it to say, he enjoyed giving me a pummeling but I eventually got the hand of it.

For those in Melbourne, Game On is a great day out. Just remember, it is 'educational.'