Game On
Arcade Flyers Archive

GAME ON Barbican Centre
em Feature

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 all.

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 game.

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.

"I’m surprised they didn’t just stick a bunch of PCs in a room running MAME."

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.

Multiplayer 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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david twomey

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