It seems like only yesterday that video games were the domain of awkward teenage boys. They milled around arcades with pockets full of loose change and dreams of entering their own three initials on the High Score list.
Today, it’s a completely different world, where people of all demographics play against friends, strangers or themselves using their iPhones or iPads, no matter where they are.
Till October 28, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) at Melbourne’s Federation Square, is telling the story of how the videogame art form transitioned from bulky arcade cabinets in the ‘80s to the high-resolution industry we have today.
The Game Masters exhibition offers more than just a history lesson in video games; it tells the story of the developers who helped drive the industry forward.
“The idea behind the exhibition is to really highlight a series of international game developers,” says ACMI Head of Exhibitions Conrad Bodman. “A lot of video game exhibitions in the past have been about the history of video games, but often what gets lost is the identity of the video game designers themselves.”
With over 40 different local and international developers heading to the event, including the likes of Fable creator Peter Molyneux and Brutal Legend developer Tim Schafer, the exhibition offers both fans and developers the opportunity to find out more about the process of making the games they so love to play.
Visitors will get to experience the history of games in three distinct areas, starting with the old-school arcade, where games like Defender and Space Invaders offer access to the Golden Age of arcade gaming.
The second section focuses the spotlight on 12 of the most influential developers over the past three decades, highlighting the different sensibilities of the developers and how their games have helped shape the medium. Artists like Tim Schafer, and his focus on narrative and comedy, sit alongside the likes of Yu Suzuki, who developed a physical interaction through his driving arcade games.
Alongside the developers will be a closer look at some of the more ‘hardcore’ gaming experiences, such as Metal Gear Solid and World of Warcraft – not just showcasing the games but also illuminating the minds and methods behind the creation of these hugely successful game franchises.
The third and final section of the show is dedicated to the Indies – the independent developers who are currently changing the industry by creating beautifully simple games on tight budgets, largely for mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad.
“This is bringing the story of video games up to date, and showing some of the latest work in the field of video games, and in particular looking at some of the mobile and Australian work,” Bodman says.
With 125 different games available to be played throughout the exhibition, including 30 different mobile games in the Indies section, the entire show is designed around the idea of interactivity.
“The real intention of the show is to highlight key individual creatives in this world,” Bodman says, “and just show people examples of their work in playable format, so the emphasis of the exhibition is very much on playable games.”
Among the local developers to be showcased at the event are Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride creators HalfBrick, and Flight Control and Real Racing makers Firemint.
“Flight Control was an iconic title for the iPhone in the early days, and we’re a local developer that has succeeded on the international stage,” muses Firemint CEO Rob Murray.“It was a first of its kind in that genre on the device, so I suppose (ACMI) just felt it fitted in with this exhibition.”
Given the exhibition’s focus on the key game- changers in the industry, Murray may be understating Firemint’s influence in driving success in the smartphone gaming market.
“I think the App Store and the rise of mobile has been important in the sense that it has added a really viable digital distribution channel. And it has also added a viable new casual market that we can access directly,” Murray says.
“iPhone has been huge for us in Australia but I think digital distribution more broadly is the key thing. The acceptance and ability to sell more casual experiences online is a huge opportunity because we’ve built studios that don’t have to invest $50 million to produce something they can get onto Walmart shelves.”
In addition to the exhibition itself, ACMI has produced a dedicated mobile game for iPhone and Android devices that will help bolster interactivity at the show. Developed by Melbourne developers Chocolate Liberation Front, Game Masters: The Game lets players of all skill levels roll a ball past opponents to score.
While at the exhibition, users will be able to use their smartphones to scan special codes to unlock new levels for the game, as well as play an enlarged, two-player version of the game at the event.
“Game Masters: The Game takes visitors on a delightful visual journey through the exhibition itself, playing through levels which draw inspiration from many of the games you will see in the show like Asteroids or SimCity,” Bodman says.“The core mechanic of the game is based around the Pong tennis concept and will be familiar to most people.”
ACMI also has an eBook available exclusively through iBooks.