It was like stepping back in time.
Down the stairs we went, into the darkness. Electronic beeps and bloops could be heard from all directions. Flickering lights.
Most of the classics were there. Centipede. Galaga. Ms Pacman. Asteroids. Space Invaders. Donkey Kong. And more. A handful in cocktail tabletop cabinets, but most the way God intended, in proper stand-up cabinets.
It took me back to the arcade amusements section of Luna Park circa 1985.
Except Luna Park never had MAME hooked up to a big projector screen. Back then if people wanted to observe your prowess, they had to huddle around.
ACMI’s Game On exhibit had all this and lots more. Apart from the section devoted to arcade games, they had areas showing off home computers of the 80s and 90s, consoles from the 80s to present, handheld games (Donkey Kong Game+Watch!) — and almost all of it playable.
I’m not sure the kids fully appreciated the plodding reality of the original IBM PC (sadly it wasn’t wired-up). Also in static displays were a Sinclair ZX-81 and an Apple II.
The kids and I went berzerk playing everything we could lay our hands on. We’d planned our trip to arrive right on opening time, and it paid off, as later things got reasonably busy, but we had a go on most things. I got high score on Pacman clone Puckman, as well as Ms Pacman. Some people had put very high scores on Donkey Kong already, so no go there, but I did get third on Galaga, despite the not-quite-reliable fire button. The Donkey Kong G+W left me trying to remember which of my friends had it. (I remember owning Donkey Kong Jr, and Donkey Kong II in this medium.) The sit-in Star Wars game was terrific, and Asteroids with proper vector graphics was great.
Of the newer games, R-Type on the PS1 (?) was fun, and I couldn’t quite get the controls on Golden Eye, but had a merry old time blasting away. Isaac and I spent some time beating each other to a pulp in Way of the Exploding Fist on a Commodore 64 (yes, I was wearing my Zzap!64 t-shirt). I couldn’t quite figure out Jeff Minter’s Tempest, which was running on an Atari Jaguar. Didn’t get a chance to play Wii, though they had a few PS3 and XBox 360 games on display, some quite spectacular.
Highly recommended, particularly if you grew up pumping 20 cent coins into machines. Oh, and love the giant Mario out the front in Flinders Street — one side a Donkey Kong pixellated original, the other in high-res.
(I’d post a pic of the giant Mario, but alas my five-year-old Canon A70 camera appears to have just died.)