It was a quiet, sunny, Tuesday afternoon, and I was walking through Washington’s National Press Building. Suddenly, something way off in one corner caught my eye. It was a tabletop version of the arcade classic Gyruss.
"What is this doing here," I asked myself.
This was definitely a sight for me to behold, considering that I have not seen this game (aside from emulation or console translation) for over ten years. It was then I realized I had stumbled upon a traveling classic video game exhibit entitled Videotopia, presented by the Capital Children’s Museum and the Electronics Conservancy.
Videotopia is designed to provide a thorough history of video games. How they are conceived, what hardware makes up the typical game, and the finished product. The exhibit consists of three main stages. The first, "Dreams and Designs," provides a background of the pioneers of video games and the process from a game’s concept, to the development process, and finally, the results of all the hard work.
Stage 2, "The Game Factory" gives visitors an inside look of the hardware that makes their favorite video games. Displays demonstrate the operation process of various input devices (joysticks, trackballs, flightsticks, control knobs, etc.) and visual displays show the degree and intensity of the control’s movements. Information kiosks provide detailed knowledge about the processors, diodes, and integrated circuits, as well as providing the difference between vector and raster-based graphics. The heart of this stage consists of a transparent cabinet of the 1982 Atari classic "Pole Position," which is designed in a transparent cabinet to display every component in action.
Now for those who just want to get to the actual games themselves, that where Stage 3 takes over. "The Ultimate Arcade" is a collection of all the great games that have changed the standards over the past twenty-five years. Stage 3 groups each of the games based on their time period and branch of evolution.
The original Computer Space (1971, Nutting Associates), the first commercial video game and Pong (1972, Atari) lead off the exhibit displaying the first generation of video games. Other branches of evolution that are displayed in the exhibit are the era of the laser disk, as displayed by Dragon’s Lair (1983, Cinematronics) and Space Ace (1984, Cinematronics); the "slide and shoot era," which was inspired by the classic Xevious (1984, Atari); the advent of polygon gaming, which was not originated by the Sega AM division as everyone believes, but by Atari with their rather obscure game, I, Robot (1985); right up to the current reign of virtual reality simulators which started with Sega’s Virtua Racing (1993). Each game also has a description of how the game changed the course of history, as well as providing some basic information about the year the game was released.
It was amazing to see all the classics the way I remember them. Every game in the exhibit is refurbished to the quality that I remember playing years ago. I was also pleased when I found that 80s music was playing in the background. It just gave me the true feeling of nostalgia that I thought I’d never see again.
Videotopia also helped teach me about some of the tricks that games of the past used. For instance, a little-known racing game called Star Rider (1994, Williams) amazed me with its impressive graphics. When I asked the exhibit’s curator, Dave Hallock about it, he presented me with a visual demonstration of what makes the game work. The truly amazing backgrounds that were broadcast were coming from a laser disk that displays the main screen and the rear view screen. There is some text on the sides of the rear view screen, but in the finished product they are replaced by the scoreboard and the ranking board. There are also signs of "visual noise" that are displayed on the bottom of the screen, but it could never be seen in the finished product. It is information like this that makes Videotopia such an impressive experience; one that I am proud to say that I would enjoy again and again.
Videotopia is currently on display at The Shops at the National Press Building on F Street in Washington, D.C. It will be there until April 30, and then it will be heading off to Tampa Bay, Florida. For more information, check out their web site at www.videotopia.com.