Games Masters - died and gone to gamer heaven

By Pat Pilcher

Image/Starcraft II © Blizzard Entertainment, Inc
Image/Starcraft II © Blizzard Entertainment, Inc

If you've been looking for an excuse to head to Wellywood (AKA the middle of middle earth) and are feeling more than a little hobbited out (it may sound disloyal, but I know I am) , don't fret.

Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, may have just what the doctor ordered. Launched last night, the Games Masters exhibition takes gamers of all ages on an interactive hands-on trip through the evolution of gaming.

The history of gaming isn't small beer either - Credited with causing a Japan-wide currency shortage back in the 80's, the gaming industry now generates more money than Hollywood and the amount typically ploughed into a high end game title is on a par with what movie moguls throw at big budget films.

Having long been a gaming addict, I was nothing short of stoked at being invited to the opening night, and the actual exhibition was nothing short of stunning.

I'd heard that Games Masters featured over 100 playable games from some of the biggest names in Game design, but nothing prepared me for the wave of nostalgia that washed over me as I walked into the exhibition and caught sight of half or so coin-op arcade machines identical to the ones I'd fed vast amounts of 20 cent coins into as a teen back in the day.

Classics such as Xevious, Pac Man, Space Invaders, missile command, Donkey Kong and several others were all present. Moving further into the exhibit was a large selection of playable console and PC games, including yet another blast from my past, Populous (so simple, so much fun!). I'd clearly died and gone to gamer geek heaven.

Groups of attendees were in the various sound proof-booths either jamming on rock band or belting out a tune with SingStar as others of all ages tried out the many other games on offer.

After several sessions on Pac Man and Xevious my fast twitch reflexes felt good to go and I bravely tackled Sega Rally X on a games console that was almost as old as I was. I was rubbish at this game back then and sadly with my ageing reflexes I hadn't improved any, even if the gameplay was still a lot of fun.

Funnily enough, while the modern games on display looked and felt incredibly slick to play, it seemed that many attendees were gravitating back to the older and simpler coin- op machines. Compared to the raw power on offer with the PlayStation or Xbox360, The graphics on these semi-ancient machines was basic at best, with titles such as Missile command or Xevious requiring a large amount of imagination.

That said, these games all had something that I've found lacking in many a modern big budget games title - playability. Rather than being as close to photo realistic graphics-wise as possible, these were simple games that were designed with playability first and foremost.

I'd almost completely forgotten just how much fun it was chasing a bunch of pixelated ghosts around a maze as increasingly frenetic sound effects became even more frenzied. Even though the opening night was supposed to wind up at 10:30pm, many a gamer (including yours truly) was still going strong button bashing at just after 11pm. Sadly it was time to head home.

Games Masters was originally developed by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne and opens to the public from December 15th at Te Papa. Could Game Masters be the best exhibition I've ever been to? If video gaming tickles your fancy, trust me on this, you owe it to yourself to check it out, you won't be disappointed.

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