Each week at the Game Center, Professor Bennett Foddy, Technical Coordinator Brendan Byrne, and a group of Game Design MFA’s curate games for our arcade cabinets. By playing these games on actual cabinets, using traditional arcade controls, we can better understand the design history of arcade games.
Every week, the curators display a new collection of commercial arcade games alongside new student work. The games might be similar in theme or genre, or differ in mechanics and controls, but taken together, they share a common thread that offers some insight into game design.
The arcade cabinets also promote those student-made games, both within the school community and to the public. Because anyone can play and enjoy these games during our many free, public events, these arcade cabinets become a social space where people can compete for high scores and talk game design.
As Professor Foddy states, ultimately the cabinets are used to, “teach students about the rich history of arcade games, and [to demonstrate] many dimensions of game design.”
This week’s games, available to play until November 20, are:
The TrackBall Cabinet
On the trackball cab this week we have Cube Quest (Simutrek, 1984). Mechanically, it’s a fairly simple early 3D shooter along the lines of Gyruss: use the trackball to move around the field, shoot and dodge enemies. The crazy psychedelic backgrounds were streamed off a laserdisc, a giant 12-inch optical disc format that came 17 years before DVDs, but had similar visual quality. This is the technology behind the famous Dragon’s Lair, but I think it is used to its best effect in this game, where it is only working on aesthetics and not trying to provide gameplay. In real arcade machines, the laserdiscs were highly prone to failure, and quickly broke down. That unreliability, combined with the rarity of this game in particular, makes Cube Quest an exceedingly deep cut. I think it looks absolutely amazing for a game made in 1984.
The Joystick Cabinet
On the joystick cabinet I’m showing Jeff Minter’s magnum opus, Space Giraffe (Llamasoft, 2007), perhaps the high point of this particular genre of games. Jeff Minter is a Welsh indie developer who has been reinterpreting arcade classics since the early 1980s. Time and time again, he has found inspiration in Tempest, Atari’s 1981 classic 3D vector shooter. He made Tempest 2000 for the ill-fated Atari Jaguar console, a psychedelic reimagining of Theurer’s original, and later made an even more psychedelic version called Tempest 3000 for the even more ill-fated Nuon console. By that stage he was already gaining criticism for making games that are too hard to see, but it all came to a head with 2007’s Space Giraffe for the Xbox 360, a game where being visually dazzled is the main mechanic. Apart from that, it’s actually an inversion of the Tempest formula: in the classic game you shoot enemies and try to stop them reaching the top of the ‘web’, but in Space Giraffe you need to let them reach the top, and ‘bull’ them off by deliberately running into them. It’s an unfriendly game, but one of Jonathan Blow’s all-time favorites, and maybe it’ll be your cup of tea. Note: you’ll need to press the black ‘start’ button to start the game, or when you finish entering a high score.
Furthermore, this week, psychedelic tube shooters are being showcased on the yellow cabinets. For both of these games, the sense of visual overload is a huge part of the design — you’re invited to go into a meditative zen state, eyes unfocused, and forget about the troubles of the outside world.
Moreover, Burgess Voshell’s Rainbow Ricochet is still running on the Winnitron cabinet.