The National Videogame Arcade – Nottingham

The National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham is supposedly the world’s first permanent cultural centre for videogames, but I worry quite how permanent it’s going to be if it doesn’t get better than it was when we visited. Based on three floors of a building in the Hockley area that I’m not one hundred percent sure wasn’t a sex superstore in another lifetime it has a number of playable exhibitions and a licensed bar.

Let me start by saying that I don’t think this was worth the admission fee. Siggy was even less impressed than I was, but that’s to be expected as she’s not a big gamer. And here’s why:

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Ol’ little Miner Willy set up on a Mac emulator with no instructions on how to play.

Playable exhibitions is right if you can remember the keys because a lot of the exhibits [running on Mac emulators or old skool consoles with their silly controllers] don’t properly explain the controls or are in fact rather dull almost ‘art installations’ rather than properly playable games. So for instance my joy at finding Manic Miner was quickly dampened when I couldn’t find all the keys I needed to tackle even the simplest of hazards and a similar thing happened to me on Sensible Soccer where I just kept going back to the start menu instead of kicking the ball. I used to be able to score from the edge on the centre circle by lobbing the keeper and was hoping to demonstrate this to Siggy, but after looping around the menu about eight times I gave up.

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I used to spend hours playing Sensible Soccer (and Lemmings) on an Amiga when I should have been doing my third year at university.

There was an interesting top down projected game rather like Micro Machines where CG cars would bump into real objects arranged on the floor. But this seemed more ‘art’ than game. If you can place an invisible object into the program and then place a real object on top of it, then surely you could build a ramp, a tunnel or even some kind of race game mechanic into the exhibit. It was more like a shit radio controlled car experience than anything properly gamified.

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I think this might have been the most popular arcade machine on show.

It was nice to see and play some old classic arcade machines like Donkey Kong and Pacman and I really wanted more of these – like Defender, Gauntlet, Rampage, Outrun etc. Instead we got a lot more half-assed exhibits such as the Jump! series which were less exciting than falling down a kerb. Where were Bombjack or Super Bomberman when you needed them? Minecraft and Sega Bass Fishing really doesn’t cut the mustard for me.

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Midway’s Ms. Pacman just like the one I used to play downstairs in the Bistro in Rhyl.

The Jump-o-tron machine was nicely cyber-punked but then the robot you customised by twiddling knobs jumped from a standing position – why didn’t he do a good run up and then jump? That was possible decades ago – remember the button-mashing finger-punishing Daley Thompson’s Decathalon? Or even that stupid catapult game on the BBC Micro?

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Nicely styled, badly programmed, Jump-o-tron.

Talking of which there were quite a few old games systems on show which was cool, but there didn’t appear to be a noticeably coherent timeline on show (or maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough?).

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A proper old console. Nice to see the styling hasn’t changed much over the years.

Moan moan moan… Anyway here’s a few more photos:

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The first computer I ever touched – this one is complete with the ‘side hole’ in which school children could store their used gum.

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Another quirky projector motion detection type ‘game’ involving killing space invaders with a table tennis ball. Interesting for, oh, three minutes say?

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I know it was classic best seller in Japan and perhaps worldwide with its silly fishing rod controller, but really?

I’ll just say that they have a lot of space in which to create a really good exhibition and it’s just wasted. For example I was expecting a lot more arcade machines, a row of gradually evolving Xboxes and PlayStations and some dance-mat action. They did have guitar hero and a lot of Jump mat action but it was a bit plop and sticking the awful TMNT arcade game near the entrance isn’t going to pull people in.

I felt like volunteering my services with a list of key games they were missing and walking around with a tin of pig’s blood and a brush painting crosses on those exhibits that I thought should be culled from the show.

I really can’t fault the staff who all seemed very enthusiastic and suitably wacky and it’s a shame that it isn’t as impressive as they were.

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