Issue 19: May 2002






New Software from Poland


Tip of the day


Mouse of a Time


Stochastic Screening - Color Correction


8-bit Games Fair in Germany


Casting a light on DRAM


Atari in the USA 2002


6.5.02 Day


Game On

[Image: Game On logo]

A photo diary by Shiuming Lai


"I'm not going if it pours down like this!" were my words just days before media view at Game On, the UK's first major public exhibition charting the "history, culture and future of videogames," to quote the official slogan. As a UK resident I should know very well how fickle the British weather can be, so my pessimism was pleasantly contradicted on the day. Brilliant sunshine, though not too hot (it passed my trousers-not-sticking-to-legs test with distinction) thanks to a gentle summer breeze.

In customary fashion I left my invitation at home and confidently didn't check for it until I reached my local train station. Cue wasted time at the last minute after everything else was carefully planned, again. I keep telling the management we need a secretary at MyAtari.

I fetched the invitation, missed my train, just caught a bus to the next nearest station and was off into the financial heart of the city. My destination would be Moorgate on London Underground's Northern Line, situated somewhere between London's Stock Exchange and Bank of England, and the Barbican Arts Centre.


[Photo: CityPoint, One Ropemaker Street]

Walking down Ropemaker Street, London EC2. This is the spectacular CityPoint building, housing offices and shops.

[Photo: Ropemaker Street]

Further along now. Behind the black taxi is the old Merrill Lynch building, where I was doing contract work a couple of months ago.

[Photo: Moor Lane]

Left-turn at Moor Lane. The green building is clad in glass, hence the colour.

[Photo: Silk Street]

A few strides and a right-turn bring us to Silk Street, and there it is straight ahead, London's Barbican Centre.

[Photo: Barbican entrance]

Need some better lighting in that entrance.


As soon as I got to the right floor I skipped the drinks and headed straight for the action. Many journalists were present with their crews, a few of them sported lighting and sound engineers and even what looked very much like the £100,000 digital video camera used by George Lucas on the new Star Wars movies.

The foyer of this exhibition has a small book and souvenir store, while the entrance makes itself clear with a huge sloping graphic display. Walk through and you're greeted by a huge Pong exhibit, accompanied by the sounds of nostalgia from the selected classic arcade machines all set to free play. The subdued night-club lighting design adds to the atmosphere, enhancing the welcoming glow of monitors. Atari Games has a good presence in this section, there is Asteroids, Tempest, Crystal Castles (which I'd never played before and hooked me immediately) and Centipede among Williams classics like Robotron 2084 and Defender and Taito's Space Invaders.


[Photo: Game On exhibition entrance]

The starting point for your colourful journey through gaming history. Wheelchair access is provided by the lift on the right.

[Photo: Pong on a wall]

Pong as it should be played.

[Photo: Pong machine]

Underneath the display is this Pong machine lent to the exhibition by Archer "Dropzone" Maclean. Archer's International Karate + makes an appearance on the Commodore 64 in the next hall.

[Photo: Pong Player 2 control]

The pre-Fuji Atari logo.

[Photo: Pong Player 1 control]

Atari's prototype name was Syzygy, fortunately another company had registered it.

[Photo: PDP-1]

Before the commercialization of computer entertainment, scientists in labs were developing and playing games on expensive mainframes at work.


Lots of exhibition staff patrol the show to ensure all the machines run smoothly and there are signs asking visitors to take care with the exhibits. This is very important because of their hands-on nature. Some items are not only rare but also flimsy. I hate to think of them getting damaged.

Atari's pioneering implementation of vector (as opposed to raster) display technology is highlighted by Asteroids and Tempest. Atari's vector-based Battlezone also makes an appearance upstairs as a subject of military influence in games.

There is no ear-splitting noise from the hardware or hyperactivity at this exhibition, it's relaxed and nobody is trying to sell anything so there is no need to make a huge noise. I do wish the machines were just a little louder, though. The sonics are a complement to the visuals, part of the whole experience.


[Photo: Space Invaders exhibit]

You're out-numbered!

[Photo: Space Invaders cocktail table]

Bilp! Blip! Blip!

[Photo: Atari's Tempest]

Atari's original Tempest with rotary controller. Respect to that man with the bag!

[Photo: Missile Command]

Retro gaming heaven. 


Moving along, the next section deals with home systems. Examples of the most popular hardware are shown, most of them playable. It's here the first sign of machine emulation becomes apparent. A Sinclair ZX Spectrum with a PC keyboard and VGA monitor? This was a slight disappointment.

It's interesting that home computers are included in the Top Ten Consoles, I think it would be more appropriate to call it Home Systems. Apart from the Spectrum, Commodore's C64 and Amiga are on display for play (using television sets as displays but the machines themselves still looking distinctly off and unconnected), but not ill-fated dedicated gaming systems based on those computers, the C64 GS and Amiga CD32. Tucked in a corner here is a display-only Amiga 1000 computer, at the entrance of a walk-in video projection installation.

Among the free-standing cabinets here is the Atari display. A 7800, and a working Jaguar, running Tempest 2000. The historical information panels mention the Atari ST, but I didn't see any ST, nor any mention or display at all of Atari's 8-bit home computers and derivatives like the XE Game System. A real pity, because there are worthy landmark games on all of those systems.


[Photo: Top Ten Consoles exhibit]

Is it me or is that the TOS icon label font on that sign? The "C" isn't right, though.

[Photo: Binatone Pong clone]

Doesn't this Binatone Pong clone look like a TT030? Those paddle controllers look and feel like they came from a Christmas cracker!

[Photo: Atari VCS 2600]

Atari's icon of the '70s, complete with broken strip light in the display cabinet. Just a one-off, fortunately. The CX40 joysticks dotted around the whole exhibition all have as-new tactile feedback, lovely.

[Photo: Sinclair ZX Spectrum]

Uncle Clive's contribution to the UK's golden era of computing culture. Note the absence of cabling to the machine itself, and the PC keyboard in front of the display cabinet.

[Photo: Nintendo Famicom]

Nintendo's Japanese-market Famicom (Fami-ly com-puter).

[Photo: NEC PC Engine]

NEC's PC Engine caused a massive stir when it was released. A supremely powerful graphics processor belied the machine's 8-bit CPU.

[Photo: Atari 7800]

Atari VCS 7800.

[Photo: Atari Jaguar]

Answers on a postcard...


The next section shows off different game genres. As before, each exhibit has a sign showing the system, date of release, game title, background and instructions for play. Die-hard gamers and suits alike were pounding the fire buttons and ignoring the notices to not spend more than five minutes on each game. I had a go on VCS 2600 Pitfall and Breakout, and I couldn't resist a blast on Sega Saturn Gradius. My limbs and hands were still aching from washing my car the day before (if that sounds implausible, let me just say you can look under the wheel arches and see the original colour of the suspension components) so I didn't last long, and also because of the low sound volume problem. Instead of concentrating on the game, I strained to hear the catchy music, exactly how I remember the last time I played it, in arcade form at King's Cross Snooker & Pool Club in London 11 years ago. Boom! I ploughed into the ground again and again while trying to hit the gun turrets, unable to muster the dexterity to change weapons in time to make effective use of their individual characteristics and strengths.

[Photo: Game genres]

[Photo: Film crew]

Walking past the film crew at other end brought me to a gallery of game conception exhibits and art.

Mezzanine floor
On the level above, the exhibits lean towards the cultural and artistic aspect of games, as well as emerging technologies with live interactive demonstrations. Complete sub-cultures that we don't see in Europe are shown, like dating games from Japan. I got a chance to play Ms. Pac-Man, which made up for Pac-Man downstairs not working.

One big feature is a room full of benches and a projection screen hosting a video presentation. Nobody was ever there when I checked, probably because the sound was too low to be heard. Some magazine cover art caught my attention, I could imagine the covers of MyAtari gracing the wall, too.

A small display of small battery-powered gaming units is very interesting. There are the comparatively large desktop machines, fashioned like a miniature arcade cabinet with fluorescent displays, early hand-helds with monochrome LCDs up to the first Game Boy (still with monochrome LCD screen...) and Lynx (with colour screen, hurrah!). Alternative control systems are shown in one area. VR glasses, gloves and a new motion tracking sensor from SCEA. I saw one guy having lots of fun waving his hand in front of the large screen while the sensor picked up its position to place a ball on the screen.


[Photo: Hand-helds]

Hand-held games starting from the early '80s. That's a mint, boxed Nintendo Game & Watch (the batteries are still in their blister pack!) below the green Frogger machine.

[Photo: Atari's Touch Me]

We all know what the Lynx looks like but the younger ones, myself included, may not remember Atari's Touch Me.

[Photo: Atari's Battlezone]

Atari's Battlezone.

[Photo: Historical Sound sign]

Now this is a TOS icon label font "C", but here the "N" is wrong.


Computer game music fans can check out the listening posts for some chip music greatest hits. The sound quality via headphones is nice and clear though I suspect some re-mixing has been going on. The ST rendition of a tune from LED Storm comes out with stereo effects, while the Amiga recording has a clear contrast of grungy 8-bit instrument samples and crystal clear tones that sound post-mixed. In at number 4 we have Rob Hubbard's theme for Warhawk, and it's the Atari version as used in countless 8-bit demos! Finally, I got an earful of the classic Sanxion loader music also by Rob Hubbard.

Time was the enemy and soon I was rushing back downstairs to check the wares at the shop. £4.99 key-rings made of bits of printed circuit board. Nice idea, though no doubt techies will prefer to buy a £60 motherboard and chop it up themselves into 30 £2.00 key-rings. Plenty of books, including one called Game On, launched with the exhibition. I gave that a miss and bought John Sellers' Arcade Fever, which I'm finding to be an informative and amusing read.

My overall impression is one of an intelligent and properly researched exhibition that packs a good balance and depth of material in the available space. The standard of presentation is very high, with quality set design and clearly a lot of thought has gone into it. I won't spoil it all for you, so grab some friends and go to this for a fun day out.

Game On is now open to the public in London until 15 September 2002, check the web site for details on booking, educational activities, dates and future venues.

Thanks to Harry Reminder, Peter Noble (Peter Noble PR) and Lisa Collins (Barbican Media Relations) for their assistance.

Useful links


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MyAtari magazine - Feature #10, May 2002


Copyright 2002 MyAtari magazine