Tag Archives: gaming

Museum of Soviet Archade Machines

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IMG_20171210_144419There’s something special about a game arcade, isn’t there? So many people have fond memories of shoveling coins onto bulky machines to play their favourite game, to beat their high-score or to compete with others, whether it be a friend or a name on the scoreboard.

In American movies the arcade serves as a symbol of childhood, nostalgia and growth. They often stand in as a representation of an innocent or iconic society before the film’s hero embarks on their journey into a more treacherous and cut-throat world.

It’s no surprise that arcades carry such meaning, as at the height of their popularity they balanced comfortably between technical innovation and wholesome entertainment. In many ways they helped define a generation while at the same time propelling the world of gaming into the future.

When I imagine an arcade the prevailing image that comes to me is informed by retro American pictures or those banking on the retro image. The Last Starfighter, Tron and Stranger Things. Perhaps for some it invokes a more modern image of high-tech Tokyo arcades with all their lights, elite customers and pop-culture heroes.IMG_20171210_133003

Whatever the word arcade makes you think of I would be willing to bet that it doesn’t include lines of excited children during the era of the USSR queuing up to play the latest and greatest games.

But this is exactly the image that a visit to the Museum of Soviet Arcade machines, located on Konyushennaya square in St Petersburg, invokes. Here you can find all manner of retro arcade machines from those with super basic design and graphics to the mind boggling complex.

IMG_20171210_141931Wandering through the arcade was like taking a crash course in the history of game design. Among the oldest designs we found machines that run pong and variations of it using 1 bit graphics, and also a phenomenally fun racing game called чемпион-м (Champion-M).

From there we made our way through the roughly assembled catalogue, testing various racing games, a side-scrolling adventure game called Снежная Королева (Snow Queen) which was a bit like a Soviet Zelda, and a whole host of ‘table top games’ like table basketball, hockey and, of course, football.

My favourite machine was the impressive торпида атака (Torpedo attack) which used the technical limitations of the time in such an impressive and inventive way that I couldn’t help be impressed even by today’s standards. Using a blend of lights, cardboard cut outs and sound it manages to be incredibly innovative while beautifully retro. The game is this: You look down into a periscope which in turn aims out at the playing field. In the distance small ships sail out, silhouetted against a backlit sky. Your job is to track them and, when they’re in your sights, pull the trigger. This sends an underwater torpedo, represented by a line of red light, shooting from the front of the machine’s playing field to the back where the ship will explode by dropping out of view as the sky behind it flashes a harsh red. It’s a wonderfully straight forward game made with simple technology but it blends the game concept with hardware in a way that very few games do nowadays. By making you look down through the periscope instead of directly at the field it immerses you in the game’s world and by using three physical dimensions (as opposed to the three digital dimensions of modern games) it gives the game weight and makes the distance between yourself and the targets feel more real.

The best thing about the museum is the way in which the vintage machines are displayed. Like ‘arcade’ the word museum conjures certain images and preconceptions too. On the way I had assumed the museum would be a ‘look but don’t touch’ type affair, but there are no such IMG_20171210_135709rules here; no display cases, cabinets or fences. The machines here aren’t only collected and preserved but they’re kept alive and working. Here, the word museum is used in the loosest of ways. What’s fantastic is that it’s not only geeks and pop-culture historians that visit the museum. While I was there the place was jam packed with kids and young people all playing the games without any care that they came from a different era. This is a place that young people actively come to hang out. There’s even a large screen which, at the time, was showing a bizarre Soviet Tom & Jerry knock off but was looking forward to a Studio Ghibli season.

Something I love about video games is that they seem to capture the essence of the time in which they were made. If you look at a game made 30 years ago in comparison to a recent one, more often than not they’re incomparable. They’re like time in a bottle. The museum of Soviet Arcade Machines doesn’t just take the bottle and stick it on a shelf to be admired, it uncorks it and offers you a drink.

If you ever find yourself in a Russian city with one of these museums and have either an interest in retro games or a group of young people to entertain be sure to check it out.

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LEVEL UP! +10 INTEGRITY TO PLAYER 1

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Last week I wrote a blog on the blatant commercialism running rampant at E3 this year. Mostly, I wrote about ‘exclusive’ titles and Microsoft’s DRM policy which would give publishers the choice of whether or not to charge people for using pre-owned games, and also, a policy which would necessitate 24 hour online ‘checks’ to play games either on or off line.

Well, about half a week ago, Microsoft announced a complete 180 degree reversal on this policy. In an announcement called ‘Your Feedback Matters’ president Don Mattrick wrote that due to our feedback they have made some big changes to the Xbox One. He announced that after an initial set up players wouldn’t need to connect to the internet at all to play off line, and also that used games will be available for re-sale, rent and lending after all. The announcement closes by saying:

‘We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.’

Despite their insistence that their policies were valid and would in fact ensure a better experience for the consumer, I think that after the initial announcements Microsoft came up against such a wall of negativity that there was very little else they could do but abandon their policies. However, I wonder how this would have all panned out if Sony had not been standing right behind them making rabbit ears behind their backs.

E3 is always a battle of sorts between the companies and it was very clear this year that Sony had won. Not only did their showcase appeal much more directly to gamers than Microsoft’s, but they were also launching the new Playstation for about $100 less than Xbox One. Then there was their cheeky and oh-so-topical dig at Microsoft about how easy it is to share games on the Playstation 4.

I wonder if Microsoft would have backed down on their policies so easily had Sony had not recognised and subsequently capitalised on their mistake. Well, the answer is absolutely no. No matter how much they pretend that this is a result of our ‘valued feedback’, it’s very clear that they panicked that everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead, and so quickly did an about turn. And damn well they should because yes, everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead! No matter what, I think Microsoft have lost a lot of support and through this newest development they have also lost a lot of integrity. I think their about turn is too little too late, and that they’ve damaged their brand quite a bit this month.

Whether or not they were spooked or genuinely value user feedback, this is a good example of people standing up for themselves, not wanting to be ripped off and beating back a company. This is something that gamers seem to be very good at doing and there are quite a lot of examples to prove it.

I remember a story which captivated me a few years back regarding the MMO EVE Online. The developers (CCP) had wanted to introduce a new expansion for the game which would introduce microtransactions. When it came to light that these microtransactions would cost between $10 – $60 and essentially turn the game into a ‘pay-to-win’ affair, players suddenly started feeling distinctly like they were being ripped off. So, as any self respecting Space Rouges would, hundreds and hundreds of gamers demonstrated their disapproval by attacking an indestructible and iconic monument in the game. This overloaded the servers and basically gridlocked the in-game economy for a day or so. There was also a threat that a heck of a lot of players (who hadn’t already) would cancel their subscriptions to the game, which could have cost CCP over $1 Million in lost revenue. In order to sort all this out CCP payed to fly the player elected council in the EVE world to their HQ in Reykjavík to sort out a compromise.

I love that story! It’s like a digital world revolution in which the gamers won out against a commercial minded company. I feel like Microsoft’s policy reversal marks something similar.

So, well done gamers! 10 points to you. It just shows that with a little perseverance big consumerist companies can be reminded that without the consumer they’re nothing and that, in the end, we’re in charge.