ON Barbican Centre
Specialist Games Areas.
There were several rooms dedicated to some of the more important
games of the past few years. Namely Grand Theft Auto 3, Tomb Raider,
Final Fantasy, Pokemon and The Sims/Sim City. GTAIII had its very
own blood-red room which featured illustrations of the characters,
initial city design sketches, storyboards and game routes and various
merchandise. I’m sure their marketing department would be
pleased to read that some old lady had been beaten with an official
GTAIII baseball bat. There’s no such thing as bad press after
The other rooms were pretty much the
same, only covering the different games. Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy
shared a room, showing some beautiful concept artwork for Final
Fantasy, and some of the various marketing tat for Tomb Raider,
including a BAFTA award, movie poster and some bicycle clothing
Up the Wooden Hill.
And that was pretty much the end of the downstairs lot, so we skipped
off upstairs to check out the rest of the exhibit. I had no idea
what was upstairs, so maybe we should have looked through the guide
first, but where’s the fun in that? It was much better running
around finding out what was next. No real surprises as such, but
arriving at the top of the stairs and glancing to the left did provide
us with this frightening sight which terrified me to my very soul.
Sometimes I still have nightmares.
There was simply no need for this monstrosity.
I thought it was meant to be a family place. But like the sick monkey
I am I just had to stare fear in the face and approached the weird
white thing. I was honestly expecting it to jump out at me; I slowly
touched one of its flippers. I’m sure it moaned…I’ll
leave it at that.
The first two rooms encountered up
here dealt with gaming culture; firstly in the USA and Europe and
next Japan. To be honest nothing really stood out in the USA/Europe
one. They had Tony Hawk’s 3 on a Gamecube, and an original
Battle Zone cabinet (the one with the periscope style viewer) but
it wasn’t working.
The Japanese one was suitably bonkers,
giving you a chance to play some games that you know will never
or were never released over here. I was playing some old 8-bit game
were you had to fight a bunch of guys with sticks, and if you ran
towards them, fists clenched and raised, they’d leg it away
from you. They also had a couple of Pachinko machines, but like
so many of the other machines I really wanted a go of, they weren’t
working. Spot the pattern to this exhibit yet?
The Kids Games section was another highlight of the show for me,
especially after reading Electronic Plastic. It was great to see
a lot of the old handheld games up close, even though some of the
rarer ones were locked underneath a Perspex dome. Including the
Nintendo Snoopy game I had as a kid and decided to dismantle to
see how it worked, but failed to piece back together. I miss that
We also got to play Cookie Monster
Munch, leading to questions like ‘Why does he live in a maze?’
Anyway, this section contained a table in the middle with small
poufees to sit on an play some old handheld games, I made the mistake
of trying to sit on one of these damned things and it was so small
and soft I just sort of tipped forwards and ended up looking like
a retard. There was also a scary ponytailed man taking photo’s
of all the retro handhelds who started shouting at me “Have
you got this one!?” and “Oh! How about that one?! I’ve
never seen that one before!!”
I managed to move away but made the
mistake of making eye contact some moments later. He looked like
he wanted to kill me with handhelds. On top of all that, I’m
sure the white thing over the other side of the hall was moving
closer. See, I’d already touched his flipper. There was a
connection there now. It could see/feel where I was at all times.
It wouldn’t be long before it zeroed me.
Sound and Cinema.
The Sound section was all in all pretty interesting, but it doesn’t
matter where I am or in what sort of environment, I just can’t
help feeling like an idiot stood at a listening post. Its worse
in HMV because really you’ve got nothing to look at or do,
and there’s only so many times you can read the track listing
on the back of the CD. Same sort of thing here, except the track
listing was on the wall.
Ok, it’s about here that I’m
really regretting not making any notes as I walked around. But it’s
been that long since I’d been out to review something like
this. Now there were three sound sections, each showing progression
in sound through the years. The first station had a whole bunch
of 8/16-bit video game themes playing which was pretty cool. It
was all strangely listenable – so much so that Beth and I
really wanted a CD of the tunes. And maybe I’ve been listening
to too much nu metal, but I kept expecting growling guitars to kick
in after the first few beeps and clicks.
surprised they didn’t just stick a bunch of PCs in a room
I wish I could remember what was playing
at the second station, but I didn’t check it out so I can’t
tell you, it must have been dull though. The third had a load of
music by recording artists for video games though, such as the Chemical
Brothers and Prodigy for Wipeout. So not that much progression in
the way of music I suppose.
The middle of this room was taken up
with three sound-based video cabinets. Now quite what was going
on here in anyone’s guess, I certainly didn’t know,
but I do know a broken cabinet when I see one. Unfortunately this
woman didn’t. The screen was knackered and flickering all
over the place. Not only that, but she was waggling the player 1
joystick, but bashing the player 2 buttons. Maybe she thought it
was some kind of art?
The Cinema section was also a bit of
a disappointment, just for the same reason that I was disappointed
with any other parts. Namely they had a Tron machine there that
was out of use, I mean it was just so cruel! Why bother with any
of the machines at all? I’m surprised they didn’t just
stick a bunch of PCs in a room running MAME, with a note left by
each machine ‘Want to know more about the history of video
games? Search on Google’. There was also this Star Wars cockpit
cabinet, but this guy was in there for a while, and for some reason
I couldn’t wait.
and The Future.
The multiplayer gaming room should also have been a really important
part of the exhibit, but it just didn’t seem like they tried
very hard. There was so much they should have crammed in there but
didn’t bother. All I remember is some old 4 player 8-bit Atari
game, with only two of the controllers seeming to work. 3 networked
PCs running a flight game – one of which didn’t work,
and Super Smash Bros. Melee on the Gamecube. What about the Mario
Factory Game & Watch, Super Sprint and even Quake? I think someone
had just given up by this point.
Around the corner to the next section
was a small display of old video and pc game magazine covers, like
Edge issues 1 and 100. PC Zone issue 1, an old copy of Crash and
Your Sinclair. Also some original arcade machine flyers were on
display in a glass top cabinet. This was pretty interesting to see,
but I’m sure they could have had a whole room full of these
things instead of the 10 or so on show here.
And the whole thing finished off with
the Future Technology display, which featured a widescreen TV upon
which you could create watery effects by waving your hand around
in front of a positioned digital camera. There was a ball displayed
on the screen, and the idea was to grab that – virtually –
and move it around to create the watery ripple effect. This was
all good fun until the ball ended up over my crotch and some kid
started trying to grab for it.
Also on display were a variety of Tamagotchi’s,
including one of the original Digimon devices that I think I still
have somewhere. Although really that’s another thing they
should have had in the multiplayer display. There were also a number
of other ‘technological breakthroughs’ from the past
in a display, this held such treasures as a VR headset and the Nintendo
Power Glove. They may have seemed like technological breakthroughs
at the time, but really they’re the video game history equivalent
of the monorail and revolving restaurant.
So to conclude the Game On exhibit
is well worth going to, especially if you’ve never really
delved into the history of video games before. I’m sure it’s
a real eye opener for kids today to see the beginnings of their
favourite pastime. For me it was a bit of a trip down memory lane,
even though I can remember it all clearly anyway. I’m sure
most others around the mid-20s will go there just to play on the
old arcade machines and consoles and relive a few memories.
I should have really read more of the
information that was scattered around the place, instead of just
playing one game after the next. Most of it I knew about anyway,
but it would have been interesting to hear what they had to say,
and perhaps understand what message they were trying to get across.
So much more could have been done with
this event. After reading books like Electronic Plastic and Supercade
you realise how much history there is out there. I suppose in a
way Game On is a good introduction to video game history and culture,
and hopefully people will leave wanting to learn more. At least
some of the better books were available in the gift shop afterwards.
I just wished someone was around to wipe the controllers clean after
the grubby handed, sweaty children had been using them. The rest
of the day was spent eating nachos and drinking beer.
*The police haven’t really been
informed, Beth. Your secret is safe with us.
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