Game On Revisited

A photo diary by Matthew Bacon


Back in May, MyAtari was invited to a press event at London's Barbican Centre in honour of a new exhibition entitled Game On. It was marketed as "the UK's first major public exhibition charting the history, culture and future of videogames". However, due to work commitments, I was unfortunately unable to attend the event with Shiuming.

With the exhibition coming to the end of its run at the Barbican Centre (15 September 2002), I decided it was time to find out what all the fuss was about!

Yawn. It's Friday and time to get up. Looking out of my window, I can see that it's going to be another dull and overcast day which - by all accounts - should be as dull as it sounds. However, not only is today my birthday, it's also the day I'm visiting Game On.

Following breakfast and a quick shower, I'm now running late. The problem is I cannot find my jacket and I've arranged to meet Shiuming at London Waterloo Station at 10:00.

Found it! Why it was in the boot of my car is anyone's guess.

No bus yet :-(

Hurrrahhh! A bus has finally arrived to whisk me off to the train station.

I've jumped on the first train that arrived at the station. According to the announcements, it is the fast train to Waterloo which should get me there in about 15 minutes. Damn, I'm already five minutes late meeting Shiuming, he'll be so cross! (only kidding). The carriage is rather busy which is making finding a seat a bit of a challenge.

Finally arrived at London Waterloo - 15 minutes later than planned.

I've found Shiuming and we've started our journey to the Barbican Centre. First stop, the London Underground.

[Photo: London's Barbican Exhibition Centre]
London's Barbican Exhibition Centre.

After a short tube ride and a ten minute walk or so, Shiuming and I have reached our destination, London's Barbican Exhibition Centre. After purchasing our tickets, we enter the exhibition each clutching a rather nice glossy brochure about Game On and we step back in time.

[Image: Game On brochure]

[Photo: Pong game projected on wall]

According to the brochure, the Game On exhibition has been divided into the following 15 rooms:

  1. Early Arcade Games
  2. Home Consoles
  3. Games Families
  4. Making & Marketing Games
  5. USA & European Games Culture
  6. Games Culture Japan
  7. Character
  8. Kids Games
  9. Sound
  10. Cinema
  11. Multiplayer Games
  12. Gaming Magazines
  13. New Release Games
  14. Future Technology
  15. Screening Room

As we enter the Early Arcade Games room, my attention is immediately drawn to the huge Pong game which is being projected on the wall in front of me. I find myself grinning from ear to ear for no apparent reason - like a small child in a sweet shop. I've got to have a go!

We have formed an orderly queue behind two visitors in front of us that are currently playing the game. While waiting our turn, I'm trying to decide which arcade machine to play on next as well as size up my forthcoming opponent.

It's our turn.

8 - 4 to me :-))

The other delights of this room include a selection of arcade machines which include many classics such as Defender, Tempest, Asteroids and Pac-Man. Shiuming jumps on Defender while I peer over the shoulder of a guy playing an original Tempest arcade machine (where did they get these machines?!). From the faces on the other visitors it is clear that everyone is enjoying themselves, especially the member of staff playing Missile Command - naughty!

[Photo: Early Arcade Games room]
Early Arcade Games room.

[Photo: Shiuming playing Defender]
Shiuming playing on a Defender.

Eager to explore the rest of the exhibition, we move on the Home Consoles room, shown below.

[Photo: Home Consoles room]
Home Consoles room.

This room features an impressive collection of home consoles past and present, including a ZX Spectrum, Sega Saturn, Nintendo Famicom and X-Box. I find myself attracted to the Atari Jaguar to my right which is running Tempest 2000 - a far cry from the original arcade version I have just seen being played in the Early Arcade Games room.

Working my way around the room clockwise I find myself playing Gran Turismo on a PlayStation 2. This is not only a fantastic looking game, the physics of the cars are great and have to be played to be believed! As a PS2 and Gran Turismo owner, I comfortably show off my skills on the rally circuit to the frustration - and embarrassment - of the previous player :-)) he he

My smugness does not last long as my pathetic attempt at playing Frogger on an Atari 2600 is demonstrating. Shiuming shows me how it's done. Ah well, never mind eh?

It has just struck me that the average of the person in this room must be about 23 or so! I wonder what the demographic for the exhibition was...

[Photo: Matthew playing Tempest 2000 on a Jaguar]
Matthew playing Tempest 2000.

[Photo: Matthew playing Frogger on an Atari 2600]
Who said you can't have your cake and eat it?

[Photo: Magnavox Odessy Pong clone]
Correction: In our first report of Game On Shiuming incorrectly stated this was a Binatone Pong clone, from only looking at the orange Binatone-branded paddle controllers that were installed at the time. It is in fact a Magnavox Odyssey.

Having gorged ourselves on some fine home console games including Tempest 2000, Frogger, V-Rally, Halo and Gran Tourismo, we move on to the Games Families room.

This room is easily twice the size of the last with consoles and computers lining all four walls. The first game Shiuming and I find ourselves playing is Virtua Fighter II. I am now regretting beating Shiuming earlier at Pong as he is now whipping my ass! No matter what I do, I'm consistently losing by a knockout. Ah well, can't win them all. Revenge is sweet I guess.

We split up to explore the room. Synchronise watches. The room is fairly busy making it rather difficult to get on any of the games. I wish these kids would stop hogging all the machines - all they are doing is smacking the hell out of the controllers!

A quick tour of the room uncovers some true gems. Anyone for a game of Monkey Island? :-) According to the brochure in my hand, this part of the exhibition "looks at the wide variety of game and examines where the impetus for different kinds of gameplay has come from". They have certainly achieved this as I have counted no less than nine types of games (although I've no doubt missed a few) on over ten different platforms. The 35 games on offer in this room include Metal Gear Solid 2, The Sims, Virtua Fighter 2, Secret of Monkey Island, Sonic Adventure 2 and Bubble Bobble.

Just come across Breakout, is this cool or what? Now this is a proper game.

Still playing Breakout, although Shiuming has found me. I suppose I should let him have a go... but only if he is quick!

[Photo: Games Families room]
Games Families room.

[Photo: Matthew playing Indy 500]
It may not be the most up-to-date racing simulator, but it's just as addictive!

[Photo: Shiuming playing Breakout]
Breakout... so simple, yet frustratingly difficult.

[Photo: Grand Theft Auto III logo]12:26
The remainder of the first floor of the exhibition contains a series of rooms devoted to the Making & Marketing Games.

According to the brochure, these rooms show "the development of five of the most popular games of recent times" and "gives unique insight into the making of Grand Theft Auto III (Rockstar Games), the Pokémon phenomenon (GameFreak), The Sims (Maxis), Tomb Raider (Core Design) and Final Fantasy (SquareSoft)."

As I turn the corner, I find myself face-to-face with a large Grand Theft Auto III banner, shown above right.

I've just spent the last quarter of an hour strolling round the series of rooms (one dedicated to each particular game) which make up Making & Marketing Games. What a fantastic and clever move :-)

It is great to see that the exhibitors have taken the opportunity to include the next generation of "classic" games. It must have been quite tough to select which five games to feature, but I think they've got it spot on. For those of you who have not yet played Grand Theft Auto III (GTA3), you don't know what you are missing! It is quite simply, the best game I have ever played.

I don't make this statement lightly. Although I purchased my PS2 based entirely on the strength of playing a friend's copy of Gran Turismo, it was disregarded the second I played GTA3. The graphics are superb, the concept is fantastic and the fun factor is huge. It took me three months to complete all the missions and according to the in-game stats, I've only completed 42% of the entire game. I kid you not!

Being such a fan of GTA3 has certainly enhanced my enjoyment of this part of the exhibition. I have found it fascinating seeing behind the scenes of the game which include a detailed plot development and early concept drawings. I must admit that the other games did not quite hold the same appeal (as I'm not really a big fan of either Pokémon, The Sims or Tomb Raider), however, they were interesting none the less.

[Photo: The GTA3 room]
The Grand Theft Auto III room

[Photo: The Lara Croft room]
The Lara Croft room.

[Photo: The Sims room]
The Sims room.

I appear to have lost Shiuming. I really should find him before I head upstairs. I bet he's back in the Games Families room :-)

We really must pick up the pace as I need to be back home by 15:00.
The second floor contains the following rooms:

  1. USA & European Games Culture
  2. Games Culture Japan
  3. Character
  4. Kids Games
  5. Sound
  6. Cinema
  7. Multiplayer Games
  8. Gaming Magazines
  9. New Release Games
  10. Future Technology
  11. Screening Room

Working clockwise around the floor takes us first to the USA & European Games Culture room. It appears all the young kids that were annoying me earlier have found their way here and are hogging all the cool machines.

This room is intended to be "
thought provoking" and "explores issues like violence in games and the relationship between games and the military". It is just an excuse to feature some cool shoot'em up games if you ask me. Shiuming has pointed out a Wolfenstein 3D by id Software on a Jaguar. Unfortunately, there is a small child playing on it - what I mean is he is smacking the hell out of the controls in an erratic manner - clearly demonstrating that "violence in games" works. Ha! He has just died again :-)

The games on display here (in the USA & European Games Culture and Games Culture Japan rooms) clearly demonstrate the differences and similarities of games developed in each culture. Whereas the majority of games from the US & Europe are mainly action or sport related - I generalise here you understand - Japan is coming out with dating and life simulation games.

Of course, Japan does not just make dating and life simulation games as the Character room shows with the profiles of Shigeru Miyamoto and Yuji Naka. For those of you who do not recognise these names, they are the gentlemen behind the famous Mario Bros and Sonic the Hendgehog characters, respectively. It is amazing to think the influence these characters have had over the years. Branding in games has increasingly become important in today's market, so much so that even games designed for kids as educational aids have corporate sponsorship all over them!

The Kids Games room not only features educational games, it also includes a range of hand-held systems including Nintendo's GameBoy, Atari's Touch Me and a new Compaq Pocket PC, shown below.

[Image: Defender on a Pocket PC]

A Pocket PC is a business tool - yeah right!

Next stop the Sound room.

As a musician, I have always highly valued music and SFX in games. Composers of music for games have long been the poor relation to more traditional genres. However, with modern consoles and computers able to reproduce CD quality sound, this is now longer the case.

Listening to some of the music from games such as Jet Set Radio and Headhunter, I find myself thoroughly impressed by what the composer managed to achieve with so little. Rock on!

My only criticisms are that these recordings have obviously been post-produced (as the recordings are far too clean) and these headphones are so uncomfortable!

To give my poor head a rest, we head off to the Cinema room.

According to the brochure, this room "looks at the relationship between the two media (games and films), from the days of the early arcade games based on movies through to today's home consoles".

Making a game based on a movie is more often than not a bad idea! (as is making a movie based of a game, Super Mario Bros and Final Fantasy for example). However, there are always exceptions to the rule as the Star Wars clearly demonstrates, shown below.

[Image: Star Wars arcade machine]
Star Wars arcade machine - pure vector magic :-)


[Photo: Shiuming trying to get Warlords to work]
Shiuming trying to get Warlords to work.

Next up is the Multiplayer games room. Shiuming has spotted a copy Warlords. I'll leave him to it and take a quick look at the Gaming Magazines room.

Not a lot to see here, just a few copies of EDGE magazine behind some protective glass - nice covers though. Certainly not as impressive as my Atari magazine collection ;-)

Shiuming has joined me and announced that he could not get Warlords to work which is a shame really, because I wouldn't have minded a go on it - although he would no doubt have beaten me again!

We are glossing over the New Release Games room as the queue to play the games is far too long and head for the last room of the exhibition, the Future Technology room.

Guessing which technology is going to be the next big thing is always going to be tough. For example, no-one saw the
Pokémon or Tamagotchi phenomenon coming did they?

As I walk across the room, a plasma screen on my right is tracking my movement and creating life-like water ripples. Although not quite virtual reality, this is clever stuff! Time for a quick dance (to see what cool images I can create). Shiuming is obviously embarrassed as he has disappeared.

Ah there he is, checking out some early VR headset prototypes.

With much reluctance, Shiuming and I decide the time has come to leave the exhibition in search of lunch. Personally, I need a cool drink.

After our lunch, we have agreed to walk it off by walking back to Waterloo Station via the Hungerford Bridge which is situated by Embankment tube station. The bridge provides a superb view of the River Thames, Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament and the London Eye (shown below).

[Photo: The London Eye]
The London Eye, one of London's newest tourist attractions.

[Photo: Shiuming on the Hungerford Bridge over the River Thames]
Shiuming on the Hungerford
Bridge over the River Thames.

Shiuming and I go our separate ways.

Have caught the train back home. What a day so far... and I've still yet to open my presents ;-)

[Image: Game On flyer]
Game On flyer - featuring Lara Croft.

It has just come to our attention that Game On will be moving up to the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. Learn the full story next month!

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #8, September 2002

Copyright 2002 MyAtari magazine