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 28, are:
The TrackBall Cabinet
SegaSonic the Hedgehog (Sega, 1993) is the only version of Sonic designed for an arcade cabinet, and it is maybe the only good 3D version of Sonic. Unfortunately, it goes largely unplayed because of the difficulty in porting the trackball controls to other platforms. Rather than being developed at Sonic Team (like the other Sonic games) it was developed by Sega’s AM3 division, who made Virtua Tennis and Crazy Taxi, and it shows in the much purer design of this game: you simply run away from hazards at top speed and occasionally jump with the single button. It is unusually narrative-heavy for an arcade game, emphasizing the kinds of dramatic narrow escapes and extreme peril that characterized the console games in the series (especially post Sonic 2). Moving the trackball diagonally is a challenge but not impossible; I suspect that in the original cabinets they mounted the trackballs at a 45° angle. The game supports two players playing at once – give it a try with a friend.
The Joystick Cabinet
Congo Bongo (Sega, 1983) might be the original source of the current trend where indie games have main characters with red noses. It’s a (rare for 1983) nonaggressive platforming game, where you simply try to climb up a mountain while avoiding hazards, as a gorilla tries to throw coconuts at you and monkeys jump on your back. The gameplay changes on every screen, something that was a popular trope in arcade games of the era, and the game consists of four screens, after which it loops on a harder difficulty level. Congo Bongo was a commercial disaster, which is a shame since it was ahead of its time in certain respects — especially visually —and the design holds up well even in 2016.
The Feminine Mystique Cabinet
Student curator Alexander King writes:
This week we have an amazing adventure game, 1992’s Conquests of the Longbow by Christy Marx. One of late period Sierra’s best adventure games, you play as the legendary Robin Hood attempting to restore Richard Lionheart to the throne. In contrast to the fantastical faery-tale style of Roberta Williams’ Kings Quest series, Conquests of the Longbowstrove for historical accuracy in its writing, depiction of the period, and even its music. The manual includes a bibliography of over twenty books, and an essay from Marx on the Robin Hood legend. When she made this game, Christy Marx was already an accomplished writer, having been a screenwriter on many 1980s cartoons including G.I.Joe and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as Jem and the Holograms, a series she created. She has continued to work on narrative design across many media, from games and MMOs to animation and graphic novels. She continues to work as the principal game designer of narrative design at Zynga today. Conquests of the Longbow retailed for $69.95 when it was released, over $120 in today’s dollars, so steal from the rich and give to yourself by checking out this classic!