Exhibitions completely dedicated to video games isn’t something you’d hear much about in the cultural city of Melbourne, yet it’s exactly what’s currently on show at the ACMI Centre (located at Federation Square), right in the heart of the CBD. Part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpiece Series, Game Masters is a journey through, well… video gaming. The world premiere event showcases the cream of the crop from the history of video games, as well as providing a closer look at the developers who transformed their ideas into titles instantly recognisable by just about everyone.
Game Masters spans over 40 years of video gaming heritage with over 125 playable games on display; grouped into three very unique and distinctive categories: Arcade Heroes, Game Changers, and The Indies.
Arcade Heroes are as the name suggests, the stand-out hits from the Arcade era of the 1970s and 1980s that bought about what most would describe nowadays as the ‘retro’ video gaming generation. Fine examples include the eternal classics such as Pac Man (waka, waka, waka…), Asteroids and the ever-popular Space Invaders, all available in their original arcade form where visitors can relive the days when high scores made you the thing of legends at your local gaming parlour (do they still use the word parlour?)
Game Changers references much of the 2000 era that helped shape, and redefine the modern era of gaming. World renowned developers like Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear creator), Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Child of Eden), Paulina Bozek (SingStar), Yuji Naka (Sonic the Hedgehog), Fumito Ueda (Shadow of the Colossus), Peter Molyneux (Fable, Black & White), Tim Schafer (Psychonauts, Brütal Legend) and Warren Spector (Disney Epic Mickey) among many others get their well deserved kudos as their life’s work are on display for all attendees to revel in and enjoy.
Lastly is The Indies. Usually on the raw end of the joystick, these independent developers and studios in recent years have made their own fortunes, transforming themselves into cult heroes amongst the gaming fraternity with their highly original concepts, and at times underappreciated work receiving recognition beyond what their budget or manpower would suggest. Such glowing examples include Marcus Persson (Minecraft), Eric Chahi (From Dust, Another World), Matsaya Matsuura (Parappa the Rapper), thatgamecompany (Journey, fl0w, flower), Firemint (Real Racing, Flight Control), and the colourful fruit slicer Fruit Ninja by Halfbrick.
As you enter Game Masters, a large wall display features a retro flashback to the consoles and controllers that helped to define a generation. Safely secured behind perplex, you could spend a few good minutes recounting which consoles you’ve owned, played, or possibly couldn’t afford in your younger adolescent days.
The drawcard for gamers is obviously the chance to get hands-on with the more than 125 playable games on exhibit. On offer are titles ranging from your modern day console favourites like the range of Mario platforming adventures, but it’s the more obscure games that take centre stage at Game Masters. Interactive arcade machines such as Outrun, Hang On and Virtua Fighter have been lovingly restored to original, fully functioning condition. It’s a rarity nowadays to experience arcade classics like Outrun where the driver seat still actively responds to all your steering wheel inputs. Although each drive in the hot seat only lasts a minute or two, the most important component; ‘fun’ is still very much alive and kicking in these well loved cabinets.
Top selling Kinect-based dancing hit Dance Central 2 is presented on a massive projector display with a dance floor dedicated purely to the Kinect dancing simulator. Extremely popular during our visit, many guests needed to line-up for a chance to strut their impressive dance moves in front of the curious onlookers.
For visitors that want a more exhibition experience, concept art, sketches and sculptures are on display, generously loaned out by their respective studios and developers. Some are original pieces while others are reproduction of original pieces, but regardless are all fascinating to witness on a first-hand basis. The Brütal Legend sculpture of Eddie Riggs was quite the eye-catcher, situated behind display glass as I pressed my face up nice and close to get a better look.
Heading towards the back of the exhibition is an isolated area more akin to a waiting bay outside your local cinema. Once inside, guests are treated to a 3D viewing/gaming experience devoted to Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Child of Eden. The hybrid between music and interactive gaming in realistic 3D coupled with music blazing through well-placed speakers makes for a delightful visual and auditory sensation. Unfortunately this exhibit is in high demand so the amount of hands-on controller time you get will depend on the day. In our case, we were able to sample Child of Eden for approximately five-minutes before being ushered away.
As you approach the exit, we’re presented with the touch-screen generation featuring iPads loaded with the best offerings available since the tablet was first introduced. Games like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds got a frantic working out on as fingers swiped across the iPad surface with extreme vigour. In contrast to the latest revolution gadget of today, on the opposite wall were your classic titles such as Parappa the Rapper and Vib Ribbon. Although not receiving the same amount of attention, there’s no denying the impact these games had on a generation old enough to appreciate them.
Game Masters certainly felt like a walk through the revolutionary era of video games and whether you’re a youngster who doesn’t quite get the appeal of the Nintendo Entertainment System or an oldie who still fondly remembers waking up early to get their fill of Space Invaders each morning, there’s a deep resounding affection towards video games and just how far it’s come. You can’t help but wonder where video games will be thirty-years from now. Perhaps by then, it’ll be time for another Game Master Exhibition.
The Game Masters Exhibition is currently running through to October 28th, 2012. Tickets are priced at $22 for full admission, $17.50 for concession card holders, $16 for ACMI members and $11 if you’re under the age of 15.