Game On!

by Mat Allen

Until sometime in September, the Barbican Gallery in London is hosting an exhibition relating to all things gaming, as it is the 40th anniversary of "Space War" being invented this year. I went along to investigate what's on offer. I came away with a great sense of hands-on experience, if not so much information to digest. This is more a visual treat than a knowledge learning exercise, something which will probably appeal more to the average gamer in the street, if not us hard-core folks!

There are two floors to the exhibition, so naturally I picked the lower one to check out first. Immediately upon entering you are presented with the machine in question, the PDP-1 computer itself, along with what appears to be the PDP1 monitor and a typewriter which were used to display and code "Space War". On your left are not one, but two "Computer Space" machines (Blue pic 1, Blue pic 2, Yellow pic 1, Yellow pic 2) donated by Archer Maclean and Curt Vendel. Sadly neither were turned on, which is understandable because they are incredibly fragile and very prone to break down. Also not working was the Arcade Pong machine which is pity as I'd liked to have tried it out.

Also in the first main area were all the arcade machines available to be used (on free play!) by the public. These included "Space Invaders", "Asteroids", "Centipede", "Donkey Kong", "Crystal Castles", "Missile Command", "Galaxians", "Ms Pacman", "Defender", and the game I spent most time on... "Tempest"! Definitely relived some memories there... if only I had the space to install one for myself, as I could quite easily buy a few and collect. Also dotted around the rest of the exhibition were "Tron", "Star Wars" and "Battlezone", but sadly these weren't not for play purposes when I was there.

Through into the next section was a setup with the organisers' pick of their Top 10 Consoles, which included the Odyssey 2, Atari VCS, Commodore 64, Spectravideo, PC Engine and Famicom amongst others. As you can see, this section was getting some attention, especially "IK+" on the C64! Also in this area were some of the more recent consoles including X-box, Jaguar, Gamecube and PS2. Most notably, Jeff Minter's "Tempest 2000" on Jaguar was getting most attention in this part!

Into the main part of the first floor came a wealth of games on just about every machine released in the last 25 years. From VCS to SNES, from PC Engine to PC... you can have a look at some of the setup here, here, and here. See how many games you can identify! Also on display besides the game in question was some concept art from "Monkey Island", which is I guess the sort of thing people would come to the exhibition to see. Plenty of time spent here reacquainting with some games, and having a bash at ones I'd not seen before.

As part of the exhibition, concept designs and ideas from 5 key games in the last 5 years were on display. Three of these were on the lower floor: "Grand Theft Auto 3", "Pokemon" and "The Sims". "GTA3" setup was probably most revealing and intricate, with a Team Organisation chart, Level Design layout, and associated products amongst items for view. There were two sets of the Game Freak fanzine on display; what was produced by the guys who later founded the company of the same name who went onto make Pokemon for Nintendo. Finally there was a wealth of visual displays for "The Sims", including a concept art picture and many concept design pictures. With this rounding off the lower floor, I proceeded upstairs.

Upstairs seemed a bit more mish-mash of styles and ideas than downstairs. Not to say it was bad, but there were more themes and sections than the mainly games playing areas below. So in no particular order, here's what was on offer to try out. The other two key games from the 5 mentioned before were displayed: "Final Fantasy" and "Tomb Raider". Most of the "Final Fantasy" display consisted of key art and concept work for the various incarnations over the years, some of which is pictured here, here, and here. "Tomb Raider" on the other hand had a variety of items, a couple of concept art pictures, posters, packaging, ideas and the such like.

Many of the themes upstairs were etherial and subjective, such as war/violence games ("Battlezone", American sports, fighting games etc), lifestyle/exploration (real life and simulations, plus game peripherals such as the Power Glove), multiplayer ("Warlords" and a Red Baron flyer) and educational displays. There were also mini sections for Tabletops and handheld games, such as this great looking Amidar interpretation. Some of these, including a batch of Gameboy Advances, were available for playing on too. Other items were randomly inserted in spaces about the floor such as Jak and Dexter concept art, graffitti by a well-known artist and two sets of arcade flyers for classic machines.

Probably the section most likely to catch peoples' eyes up top was right next to the video room (which was displaying various promo videos and the such like). A couple of people had gone to the trouble of making some full sized replica costumes from various computer/console games. Even so far to create paper mache heads and so on to fill out said costumes. These included Mario, Crash Bandicoot, Chun Li and what I am presuming is a pig from Pooyan. Quite bizarre and definitely a work of art!

Second in visual impact would be the Japanese section, mainly due to it being so different to the rest of the floor! A couple of Pachinko machines lined the left of the area, outlining that this was where you could see things unique to Japan. With the Japanese being fascinated by simulations, it was only right that a couple of them were available for play; fishing, a train driving game and a dating program. Not to mention the copious amounts of Japanese characters and symbols used to decorate the section!

Round the back of the floor was situation a small section dedicated to two of the most well-known games characters in the world: Sonic and Mario. Whilst nothing special, you could at least play the first modern incarnation of each character, namely "Sonic 1" and "Super Mario Brothers". Also to add some pizazz to the proceedings, there was concept art for Sonic, and two hand-drawn pictures of Donkey Kong and Mario drawn by Shigeru Miyamoto himself!

Finally, one of my favourite sections, especially as it was a good place to sit and chill out: the audio pavillion. Here you could pick up some headphones and listen to a variety of music over the years. There were 3 main eras to deal with: classic, modern and commercial. The classic section was put together by my mate Chris Abbott over at C64 Audio (go order some CDs from him, they're good!), so I was naturally curious to see what tunes he'd picked. Mainly C64 ones, no surprise! Oh, and this photo proves, yes there WERE women at this shindig! And that is "Rez" in the background. Best line of the day came from a guy who upon putting the headphones on exclaimed "Fuck me, this is the Last Ninja, isn't it?!". The modern section had soundtracks from two recent games, one of which was a "Final Fantasy" title. Blast my lacking memory for not recalling more! The commercial section featured music that had been released by proper artists but had been later used in games (such as the "Wipeout" series). Full track listings and information was given for perusal.

So what are my thoughts overall? Well, it may not be full value for the price of the ticket, but it certainly gave a lot of hands-on remembrance for all gamers, if not necessarily a lot of new information for us hard-core peeps. You definitely get a lot of gameplay for your money. And certainly I can't complain about being able to spend hours on freeplay classic arcade machines!




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Last updated: Thursday, May 27, 2004 02:05 PM