A couple of weeks ago Rick and I took the time to finally check out the Game On exhibit at the Montreal Science Center. Neither of us knew much about the exhibit going in, except that it was focused on video games and was therefor a must see for the two of us.
Opting to make a day of it we started with at little brunch at Communion. It was our first time there and I was concerned that it was going to be crowded, but we soon realized that most people eating in a touristy area like Old Montreal are, in fact, tourists who get up at the crack of dawn to see as much of the city as they can before sundown, leaving plenty of room for us more laid back locals. The food was good and coffee was included, but I was a little disappointed in the Hollandaise sauce on my eggs Benny. And trust me, I know my eggs Benny.
As soon as we entered the Montreal Science Center we were greeted by two of the biggest stars of the Montreal video game scene, namely Batman and a couple assassins from the Assassin’s Creed series, which makes sense because WB & Ubisoft are co-sponsors of the exhibit. In fact, Rick is pretty sure that the Batman statue on display is the one that used to be on display in the WB lobby.
The exhibit itself is actually way in the back of the Science Center and the floor leading to the exhibit was marked with little white dots that Rick jokingly compared to the dots from PacMan, until we noticed that Inky, Blinky, and Clyde were also present.
Because the Game On exhibit is actually a special ticket ($22 instead of the usual $15 admission), there was actually a turnstile at the entrance to the exhibit to prevent the regular pleebs from just wandering in. However, visible from the turnstile queue was AN ORIGINAL COMPUTER SPACE ARCADE MACHINE, and I immediately started fangirling, much to Rick’s total embarrassment. For those not familiar, Computer Space is generally considered the first graphical computer game, and was in fact the first one turned into an arcade machine. Sadly the machine on display was not playable, but I was immediately impressed that the exhibit delved so deep into the origins of video games and started to feel a little better about spending the extra $6 for the exhibit. Then I turned the corner…
Look at all those arcade machines! Dozens of them, almost all in working order, representing decades of video game history. Now I knew exactly where that extra $6 went. Seriously, there were over 100 games all available to play for free! Six dollars to play hundreds of video games, many of them not even available on emulators, many of them running on the original consoles! Rick and I were in heaven.
I got to show off my Space Invaders skills (first console game I ever played, and the only one I had access to for many a year) and Rick got to impress me by finishing a single screen of the original Donkey Kong (Steve Webbe he is not).
Being an amateur enthusiast in video game history, it was absolutely AMAZING to get to try out so many games I’d only read about online. They even had one of those crazy Space Invaders arcade machines with the giant fiberglass alien head on top. Sadly it didn’t photograph so well, but there were lots of other crazy things to take pictures of.
Also, while I was gaping at all the video game history on offer, Rick managed to get the high score on the Missile Command machine! Even more impressive considering how crazy the control scheme on that thing is.
On the other side of the room was a large area full of consoles and console games, with the outer rim representing early console history and then the rest organized by genre.
This is definitely where we spent most of our time, with Rick giddily dragging me from one childhood memory to another. For me it was an absolute thrill to get to play so many original Atari games the way they were meant to be played, since this was a console I definitely never had.
I especially loved playing this game called Dropzone. It’s basically just another twist on the SHMUP with you controlling a little astronaut guy with a jetpack. I found the physics incredible smooth for a game that was so old, and even those I was garbage at it, there was something oddly soothing about bobbing up and down in space.
I also really like how helpful the game over screen was.
We were so bummed that the original Star Wars Arcade game was out of order, because anyone who has had the chance to use one of these knows that is it one of THE BEST arcade games of all time. I don’t care that it only had vector graphics, you seriously felt like you were in an X-Wing fighting the Empire playing that game.
It was so neat to be able to see 40 years of video game history all in one place to really compare how things have evolved, both on the hardware and software side. You can definitely tell that ergonomics were not something taken into account until pretty recently. Seriously, how was anyone supposed to use this thing?
After the history of video games portion of the exhibit there was a very small section on game development, followed by a collection of “international” games, most of which were Japanese games, and then a great big section with lots of projectors dedicated to multiplayer games. I managed to cajole Rick into playing Just Dance with me, much to his utter embarrassment.
Finally, tucked into a corner right near the exit of the exhibit was a tiny console and a long line to try the much hyped Oculus Rift. Despite going to many gaming events and having multiple opportunities to it, I had yet to experience modern virtual reality, so I joined Rick in the line. There were three short demos to choose from, but the attendant recommended the weird 360 swing demo to get the best overall experience.
Even though Rick didn’t have any problems beyond being a little disoriented, I was already starting to get motion sick in the line anticipating how ill I would be and had to whip off the headset before the demo finished. I felt better almost immediately, but I could tell that things were going to go south very quickly if I hadn’t begged off when I did.
All in all we spent close to 3 hours playing video games, so I definitely feel like we got our money’s worth. Definitely something worth checking out if you find yourselves in Montreal and love vintage video games.