I had high hopes for Game On as we caught the train down to London village early on Saturday morning. The travelling exhibition was coming to the end of its run at the Science Museum and I had finally managed to clear a weekend in order to nip down to the capital to see the show that claimed to delve behind the scenes of gaming culture and show it off to the masses.
The exhibition had toured around Britain for the last couple of years and boasted over a 120 games from the last thirty-plus years of gaming, as well as early versions of all three next-gen consoles throughout its time. Everything was playable and it was a veritable playground for boys and girls (although primarily the former) or all ages.
Unsurprisingly they started at the beginning. As you walked through the entrance you were met with a batch of arcade cabinets and a DEC PDP-1, a hulking piece of metal and circuitry that was the “platform” of choice the very first game, Space War!, way back in 1962.
As you snaked through the displays time slowly caught up as you first passed pong machines and tape driven machines, edged your way into the early 80’s via the grey slab NES and fell into the present with preproduction boards on Tomb Raider and a running demo of the PS3’s Motor Storm.
I wandered around aimlessly at first, trying to catch a handle on what was there and what I needed to play before being kicked out. Pretty much everything had a people circling around it but the queues were never too long and for the majority of the time I hung around the arcade machines waiting for a go on some true, old school classics: Centipede, Asteroids, Galaxian, et al. A lot of these games everyone has played but usually via some port onto a new system or using a horrendous ROM that was freely available; I took this as my chance to actually play these game they were intended and in their original form.
Pretty much every original, old game I played whilst there felt so much better than any update or rip-off version I have played of it and I put it solely down to the controls that each of those cabinets had. I never had the experience of an arcade when I was younger and so frantically moving the now over-sized joystick or spinning the ridiculously large tracker-ball cannot be compared to a keyboard or a joystick you get in modern conversions – each one gave the game in front of me a whole new dimension to the fun and the feel.
For me best in show came down to the vector graphics of the classic Asteroids and the tracker-ball spinning joy of Missile Command. Whilst I sucked at both I really enjoyed the sense of panic that Missile Command could produce in you as you saw projectiles rain down upon your poor cities and knowing that you could just not move that ball fast enough to save them. With Asteroids it was the vector graphics that got me, a style I love, especially the way they almost burn into the screen to produce such vivid colours. Asteroids shaded it, though.
I have to admit I hardly touched any games that were created from the mid-80s onwards as I either have dabbled in many or still have access to them now. I preferred the really historic ones, those you couldn’t hook up to the television.
What did disappoint me about the whole things was the lack of history and information on offer to those who did not have a grasp on video gaming history. One wall was adorned with a colourful timeline that documented the main points in my hobby’s history but there was no information on a per-game basis; young kids were playing Ms Pacman and Galaxian but I’m pretty sure that the majority of people had no idea how those titles fitted into the evolution of computer games, what inspired them and what came after them. To most it was just a room full of blinking, interactive pictures, which I felt was a great chance missed by the organisers.