Attention, video gamers: you need to get to Portland, Oregon, before September 18th.
Why? OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) is currently hosting the Game On 2.0 exhibit, a fantastic hands-on display of video game history, from Pong to tennis on the PS3 Move. OMSI granted me a day pass to wander through the museum, and it is definitely worth checking out.
I’ll share a few of the highlights here. I apologize for the low quality of the photos — I lost my camera on my recent move and had to use my cell phone, plus the exhibit was fairly dark (as befits a showcase of arcade games).
When you first enter the exhibit, you’re greeted by a display of some very early game machines, including Computer Space (the commercial version of Spacewar) in its weird sparkly futuristic cabinet. Sadly, you can’t play this one, but there’s a whole lot more in the exhibit that you do get to play.
There are a few pinball machines near the entrance, too. And, of course, there’s Pong, which gets a place of honor right up front. The display is projected onto the wall, with the controls mounted on a little stand.
Nearby is a display of various console machines: the Atari 2600 and the short-lived Atari Jaguar, various incarnations of Nintendo and Sega machines, some handhelds, and a cabinet running MAME that randomly jumps to an arcade game like Dig Dug or Anteater. Some of the machines are just on display with a few cartridges or CDs, but a good deal of them are set up so you can play the games. Combat, anyone?
There’s a section grouped by types of games: a wall of shooters, a wall of fighting games, and so on. The adventure games section starts with, appropriately enough, Adventure, before moving to The Legend of Zelda and then later versions of Zelda and others. You can play Prince of Persia on a Sega Genesis or try your hand at Animal Crossing.
There’s a small section of indie games and a larger one on international games. I rolled around in Katamari Damacy and tried out an on-rails shooter called Sin & Punishment 2, among others.
One of the really cool things about the exhibit is the inclusion of some video game artwork. There’s not a ton of it, but what they do have is pretty cool. They’ve got some early concept sketches of Jumpman, aka Mario, from 1979 by Shigeru Miyamoto, plus the story of why he was named Mario instead of Jumpman. (It has to do with a dispute with Nintendo’s landlord.) Also really cool were some animation cells and pencil sketches from Don Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair.
There’s a multiplayer games section, with an old Gauntlet cabinet, a Super Smash Bros. game, a four-screen Halo Reach setup, and even 10-player Bomberman on the Sega Saturn. Oh, and there’s one PC set up for World of Warcraft. But not a lot of people were lined up for that one while I was there — I suppose if you’re really wanting to play WoW you’re not going to stand up at a PC in a science museum all day.
There’s a kids’ games section, with low seats in front of a few screens, plus a big table with some classic handheld electronics toys: I saw a Speak ‘n’ Spell and a few others that I recognized, plus several I didn’t. One piece of the exhibit that the OMSI staff told me was a favorite was a big plastic dome showcasing a whole lot of old handheld devices. My wife pointed out Merlin, saying she’d spent countless hours playing with it. I recognized Demon Driver, and a little LED football device, plus Blip. Oh, and plenty of Tamagotchis. These were just for display, not to play with, but apparently it draws a big crowd, usually parents showing their kids what they played with when they were younger. I suppose in 20 years maybe they’ll include the ThinkGeek iCADE.
A few more sections round out the exhibit: a small section of movie-related games (Tron, of course) with games based on movies or games that inspired movies. Then a section of classic arcade games: Galaga, Pac-Man, and so on. Simulation games included Rock Band, a Tony Hawk skateboarding game, and Trauma Unit for the Wii. The last section was about the latest in technology: 3D games and motion-controlled games, like the PS3 Move and Xbox Kinect. Finally, there was the VirtuSphere, a huge plastic sphere paired with VR goggles and a gun controller.
They open up a hatch and help you climb into the sphere (no small feat, since you’ve got goggles over your eyes) and then hand you the gun and close it up. As you turn your head, the screen shows various parts of the landscape, and it matches up really well to the movement. Pull the trigger on the gun, and you shoot (though the gun is just a simple trigger button and doesn’t have its own motion tracking). When you walk, the sphere rotates like a giant three-dimensional treadmill, allowing you to walk through the landscape. However, it’s a bit disorienting to walk, because the landscape is flat on-screen and you’re essentially walking uphill in any direction. Also, you have to get a little bit up the hill before the sphere starts rolling, and you want to be careful not to go too fast or your feet will spin back and you can fall on your face. My biggest problem is that you can’t wear the goggles over glasses, so I was walking around almost blind. I could see blobby shapes and shot at them, but I really didn’t get the full experience. Later, I watched the monitor as somebody else played and I could see what I should have been seeing.
Oh, and one more thing: for the kids, they also work in some additional lessons on the side with activities. To talk about physics and video games, they had a small group of kids flinging plush birds at stacked-up cardboard bricks and foam pigs. Yep, that’s right: Aggravated Avians.
If you love video games and you’re anywhere near Portland, the Game On 2.0 exhibit is definitely worth your time. Even though it’s a relatively small exhibit, walking through it and examining the various machines and games displayed felt like a tiny version of Archaide from Ready Player One. I’ve only mentioned a fraction of the games they have on display. Think about how quickly you could burn through $12 at the arcade — you could pay your admission ($9 for kids) and then just play free video games all day. That’s not even mentioning all the other cool stuff at OMSI. Currently there’s a Narnia exhibit (mostly props and things from the movies) which is an additional $2, plus the IMAX theater and all the fun science museum things to play with. We spent about five hours there and could easily have been there longer if we didn’t need to get the kids to swim lessons.
Plus, as geeky parents, this is stuff you’ll want to share with your kids. Sure, they may not thrill to a single dimension of movement in Pong, but there’s a lot of stuff they’ll probably love, and even if you’ve got a huge collection of old video game machines I’m sure there’s stuff you don’t have at home. Short of building your own arcade cabinet like GeekDad Jim Kelly or visiting the eGameRevolution exhibit at the National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, Game On 2.0 is the best way to experience a piece of gaming history.
For more information about OMSI, visit their website.