Game On
Arcade Flyers Archive

GAME ON Barbican Centre
em Feature

Well I was going up to London and it was a grey and overcast day yet again. Why do all my ‘going up to London’ articles have to start on such a down note? It’s always ‘Oh, we were tired and didn’t feel like going anywhere’ or ‘It was grey and shit and we all just wanted to die’. Moan, moan, moan.

Anyway, this time I wasn’t depressed, or bored or tired. If anything I was glad that I was getting out of Brighton for the day. As beautiful and relaxing as it is, the joy of going to the beach with an overly expensive coffee only lasts for so many days on end. But, I’m telling it like it is here, and it was cloudy, grey and overcast when it’s supposed to be summer!

It probably wasn’t the best thing to have to go stand in front of the Job Centre waiting for Trevor either. There are a few Job Centres in Brighton, and this one is by far the most soul sucking of the bunch. It’s grey and dowdy, constantly in shadow and I’m pretty sure the walls are made from an asbestos/asbestos mix. I can just about cope with having to go anywhere near one of these places every two weeks, but having to go stand outside one the day after I had to go myself was pushing it a little.

But you build up a certain stereotype of the sorts of people who have to go to the Job Centre, and standing outside waiting I got to watch who went in and out, rather than just focusing on me getting in and out as quick as possible. Some people just seem to go with the place, such as the man with bandaged hands and a blue plastic carrier bag full of who knows what, possibly a copy of The Sun and his wife’s head.

Then the anorexic looking blonde lady with no ass and a tight-faced partner with bleached-blonde hair, again with bandaged hands. A nice girl rides past on a bicycle. She looks at me, I smile, knowing full well she’s only got one word on her mind – ‘Dolescum’. Ah, life is sweet.

Sunny London.
We’re sat on the train, Trevor’s reading comics. I’m joining in with everyone else in the game of ‘Who’s The Killer?’ This mostly just involves furtively glancing at everyone else in the same carriage out of the corner of your eye. I don’t quite know why everyone does this or what they’re waiting for. It’s either a kind of ‘You lookin’ at me?’ thing, or someone’s waiting for trouble and can’t wait to jump in and try and stop it. Everyone loves a hero.

Coming nearer towards London, we’re further from Brighton and the sky starts to turn a more favourable blue. There’s got to be some kind of meaning there; leaving the grey, overcast bleakness of Brighton and heading for the hopeful sunshine of London? See how wrong that is? So it has to mean something. Maybe something is telling me that leaving the flat today was a good idea and a wise move. Although the cost of doing so is making me think otherwise. Freedom has its price. And today that price was £17.40.

I’m a little concerned about how good this exhibition is going to be, I haven’t bothered reading any reviews myself, and I’d rather just be surprised. Well not surprised as such, just find out for myself with a clear head that isn’t full of preconceptions, doubts or negativity. I’ve only been to the Barbican Gallery once and that was for the Art of Star Wars exhibit.

"Maybe I’ve left going to see this thing for too long and a lot of these modern antiques aren’t going to be working anymore."

That was a good day out. But this is arcade machines. Old arcade machines; and my fears rise above the new 10p’s not working in them, or that the cabinets will have had diet coke spilled over them, been pock-marked with cigarette burns and lightly dusted with ash. I’m just thinking maybe I’ve left going to see this thing for too long and a lot of these modern antiques aren’t going to be working anymore.

So on the one hand I’m looking forward to playing a lot of the games that were out before my time and also reliving some fond memories; but on the other I’m hoping not to be left with a the sort of disappointment you feel when the only ATM you’ve found is ‘Not in use’.

Getting into Farringdon was a strange experience for me. I don’t think I’ve had to come to this station for well over a year, even though, as with all good experiences, it only seemed like yesterday that I was here last. Still, good to see the resident beggar is still sat outside ‘Food & Wine’ opposite the station entrance, this time trying his hand at insulting people into giving him money, even going so far as to suggest that ‘a cheque will do, mate’. Yes, and I’d love to see you try and cash that one in.

So I bought my stinking ‘Chicken Salad with Mayo’ sub, featuring brown lettuce, sodding tomato and hard bread and we carried onto the Barbican, meeting new pal, Beth at Barbican Station along the way.

Game On!

The Centre always baffles me a little when I go there. Ok, so this was only the third time I’ve been but it’s still a little confusing nonetheless. I manage to find my way around fine but it’s such a large and strangely confusing building that it’s disconcerting just how easily you find your way around; and the way the lifts talk to you gives the feeling that you’re not entirely in control of where you want to go.

They’re a fair bunch in the Centre though, and who said being unemployed was hard? We got a whole £2 knocked off our admission fee for being out of work; apart from Beth who lied and pretended she was a student. Don’t worry, the police have been informed*.

The exhibition seemed to be set out in a strange way. I could see what they tried to do by firstly showing the progression of video games throughout the years, with the retro machines coming first – headed, of course, by Spacewar! – and then taking you though to the top consoles of the ages. But then you have to wonder if they started thinking ‘Shit, what do we do now?’ So the rest of the exhibit was really sort of set out into different themes, like ‘Mind Games’, ‘Sports’ and ‘Simulation’, with the upstairs Gallery featuring ‘Culture’, ‘Sound’ and ‘Technology’.

So all in all it was set out pretty well, but let’s face it, everyone was really going there to play some vintage original video games. Maybe they should have saved those for last so everyone would take in all the other stuff before arriving at the big finale.

My initial fears about not being able to play some of the original machines were confirmed with the first game encountered, Spacewar! They had a mock up of the original machine, made out of some metal boxes and what appeared to be a changing room locker, mainly to show size, but you only got to play the game in emulation form on a MB Vectrex.

Which would have been ok had you been able to use the actual Vectrex controllers, but this, as with a few of these games, was hooked up with big square plastic buttons to bash away at instead. Understandable really, I know I’d be heartbroken to see my Vectrex controller being pawed and hammered at by some grubby handed kids. But anyway, here’s a rundown of the different areas of the show:

Retro Arcade Games.

Like I mentioned, this section just had a bunch of old arcade machines from the early 80s. I was a little disappointed that the games I really wanted to play, the ones that were out before I got into games, and never really made it to these shores anyway, such as Pong and Computer Space, were turned off and unplayable. They did however have this pretty awful version of pong projected on the wall to play. I’m sure they could have got a cheap pong clone console from somewhere and just hooked that up, would have been a lot better than this thing that someone probably knocked up in Flash the night before.

There was also a small Space Invaders section which was great as they had two cocktail cabinets there, but without the beer mat and glass of coke on the side it didn’t feel quite the same. There was also an upright cabinet, featuring the mirror projected version of the game on the moon/space background. It was great to see these machines in the good condition they were. But for some reason, in the same section, they had ‘Mr.Do!’ projected on one of the walls to play. Quite what this guy had to do with Space Invaders is beyond me.

Other games in this area included Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man, Galaxian, Defender (which I still suck at!), Missile Command (which is still shit), Crystal Castles and Centipede. This section, for me, was the main reason for going to the show. It brought back a lot of memories. I just needed a pocket full of 10ps to make it authentic; and maybe Zammo in a pool of his own sick in the corner.

Top Ten Consoles.

Well I’d like to know who’s ‘Top Ten’ these consoles actually were. They seemed to have all the major ones covered but – as Trevor kept complaining about – there wasn’t an Intellivision in sight. Again it was a shame that you weren’t able to touch or use the actual consoles. They were all behind some sort of futuristic bullet-proof plastic, giving the impression that if you so much as looked at them for too long, you’d get your eyes burned out with lasers. It was also fairly odd to see a Spectrum being controlled with a PC keyboard. You just know everything here was running on emulators and MAME.

All the important advancements seemed to be covered, ranging from the Odyssey (which I didn’t get to play), through to the Spectrum, C64, Amiga, SNES, Saturn, Jaguar, PlayStation, XBOX and Gamecube; although the Gamecube wasn’t actually plugged into anything. It was just sat in a box on its own. And as I stood and watched the lonely Gamecube for a while, a small tear ran out of the disc tray, and slowly trickled down its plastic cheek.

All the consoles (with the exception of the Gamecube) were playable, but for some of the older machines and computers different controllers were on offer - such as a Saturn controller for the C46. I also think that the Amiga should have been set up with QuickShot II’s instead of the Atari VCS sticks on offer.

There was something seedy about this room. The kids playing on the games all had varying troll-like qualities that were un-nerving to say the least. Quickly turn round and there’d be one grinning behind your back. Get away from me, troll-boy!

More Consoles and Mind Games.

So this is kind of where things seemed to get a little desperate for the organisers. I can really see what they were trying to do here, by showing the importance of video games throughout the ages; their development, the varying genres et cetera, but I honestly believe around 95% of the people there were only there to play games. Which is a good thing, thats what they’re there for, right?

But someone having a 5 minute blast on Bust-A-Move 4 isn’t going to suddenly make them realise just how in depth and mentally challenging these games are, nor how important they are, if anything it’ll just piss them off that they can’t stay on there all day and will, at some point, have to put the controller down and let someone else have a go.

"She probably took the day off from work as a secretary to go and find herself typing away playing a text adventure."

So this section consisted of a bunch of TV screens mounted into the walls displaying a selection of some of the landmark games from the ‘Puzzle’ genre. This included games like Super Monkey-Ball, Flashback, Codebreaker – playing which offered an experience very similar to trying to guess the product codes on those keypads in Argos stores – Mr. Driller and oddly enough, The Secret Of Monkey Island and Zork!

The inclusion of Zork was interesting, but odd. It’s great for kids of this 128-bit era to see just how simplistic games were back then, but come on, they were never going to even approach that screen, let alone start playing it. There was one woman having a go though; thing is she probably took the day off from work as a secretary to go and find herself typing away playing a text adventure. See, life does suck after all.

Also showing Monkey Island was pretty odd. This is one of my favourite games of all time, but with graphic adventures you really need to sit down and play through the game and get drawn into the story. Seeing as there was a 5 minute time limit on all the games I doubt that was going to happen for anyone. Still, it was great to see a couple of the character design sketches on display, even if the photo is a little blurry.

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david twomey

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