This Week on the NYU Game Center Cabinets – October 31st, 2016

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 7, are:

The Winnitron

For one day only, MFA student Blake Andrews is showing his halloween-themed game The Great Pumpkin. Mash buttons, get score, celebrate Halloween! Following that, it’s another week of Seth Scott’s Run Naked. See if you can challenge the current high-score holders.

The Joystick Cabinet

Warrior (Vectorbeam, 1979) was the first one-on-one fighting game, with a very original control scheme and a set of rules that has recently been revived by games like Starwhal. Your goal is to hit the other player with your sword while avoiding being hit – move the joystick to gain position and then hold the button down to control the sword instead – but be aware your sword will not go inside your opponent’s spawn zone! Like all of Vectorbeam’s games, this was produced for a vector-based system, where the cathode ray would trace lines instead of lighting up pixels. There’s no AI mode, given the rudimentary nature of the hardware, but I think it still holds up as an interesting competitive game. The original cabinet featured crazy printed 3D walls on the inside of the bezel, and actual 3D holes in the playing field (pictured below) with the game projected over the top, but unfortunately that is all lost to history because the hardware was notoriously unreliable. Now we have to make do with simulated vectorbeams and simple image overlays for the backdrops… but try your best to imagine it.


The Trackball Cabinet

The core conceit of Reactor (Gottlieb, 1982) is that you are the bullet. At least nominally set inside a nuclear reactor, the idea is that you try to bounce your enemies into the wall before they do the same to you. The reactor gradually overheats and must be cooled down by bouncing enemies into the rows of cooling rods on the side. Your first button powers up the collisions and the second one leaves a ‘decoy’ that attracts the enemies. It’s kind of a hot mess, with nonsensical theming and incoherent rules, and honestly it’s not very compelling if you play it with a joystick. But playing it as intended on a trackball, it becomes a very interesting meditation on the physicality of the input device. An interesting piece of trivia – this was the first time an arcade company let a designer put his name in the game… back in the 70s both American and Japanese companies established a norm of not signing your work in videogames, and it’s a practice that has continued even into the contemporary era.