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

Dunk Shot (Sega, 1986) is one of a handful of table-style trackball sports games made by various manufacturers. Starting with Atari’s Football (1979), the genre also includes Tehkan World Cup (1985) which inspired the overhead soccer games which dominated the European home computer market for a decade.  Dunk Shot is the basketball equivalent. It’s worth noting that the original cabinets for these games were cocktail-style tables, so you would have been looking down on to the playfield, which perhaps makes a top-down perspective more natural than it is when the screen is upright. You would also be facing your opponent across the table, so in this installation the controls for player two have been inverted. The gameplay itself is simple, but the analog nature of the trackball turns traversal and positioning (the main elements of basketball) into a physically-demanding activity, like the best trackball games. Just keeping possession as you drive to the hoop can be incredibly frantic.


The Joystick Cabinet

As a partner for Dunk Shot it is hard to go past Midway’s NBA Jam series, which reinvented the arcade sports genre starting with the first game in the series in 1993. It took the simplified 2v2 format from Midway’s earlier Arch Rivals, and added in huge photographic sprites with licensed photos of real players, using the audiovisual techniques that Midway pioneered with Mortal Kombat in 1992. In many ways it is the Mortal Kombat of sports games, with a quintessentially ‘90s cartoonish maximalism in its visuals and mechanics—for example, representing a player who is ‘on fire’ by literally putting flames on the ball, burning up the net on the hoop. This week we are showing NBA Hangtime (1996), the sequel by the original Jam dev team, which has more animation and much more refined mechanics compared with the original. If you’ve never played it before: it’s all about managing your turbo resource. Every action — running, shooting, blocking and stealing — works best if you’re holding down the turbo button (third button), so you need to have it when it counts.


The Winnitron

This week Tom Sarachan’s curation of student games brings us Lightning by MFAs Denver Coulson, Ben Sironko and Danny Nanni. Denver writes:

Lightning is a jittery 4-player shooter featuring expressive button mashing and jagged, metallic audiovisual chaos. The game is fairly simple. Just try to hit each other with lightning, carefully tapping and holding buttons to overcome the random chance that the lightning will go in the correct direction. The arcade cabinet version supports up to 2 humans and fills the rest in with bots.