A five quid ticket will buy you an hour’s session, with numbers kept to a level where everyone should be able to get a go on something, and be able to get round everything by the end.
Plus if you attend one of the adult-only evening sessions (that’s adult as in ‘no kids’ not ‘lewd behaviour’) you’ll also get the likes of GTA and other more violent offerings to play around on.
And play around you can, because unlike conventional museum stuff where everything is kept in glass cabinets and guards frown on you when you try and rub yourself up against exhibits, here you can rub away – it’s grubby mitts on.
The first thing I noticed, other than the fact you could buy booze at a small bar in the corner (and what sort of a person would pass up the opportunity to get legally drunk in a museum? Answer: not me), is that the array of kit is genuinely impressive.
We’re not talking emulators here – these are all 100% genuine, fully working and in some cases slightly crud-encrusted originals stretching from the Atari VCS and Vectrex era to the present day. Computers are represented by everything from the aforementioned BBC and Acorn to Mr Biffo’s nemesis, the Amiga.
On the night, only one machine conked out: televisual business buffoon and all-round cheap tat peddler Sir Alan ‘You are fired now!’ Sugar’s Amstrad CPC464. Which is hardly surprising because, as we all know, compared to the beloved Speccy and C64 it was the home computer equivalent of particularly contagious leprosy. If you had it no one wanted to come round and play, and all your knobs had a tendency to fall off.
Nostalgia at seeing some electronic chums ‘in the plastic’ for the first time in decades aside, one of the things I found most interesting is being able to see how things have physically evolved over time.
Sure, unless you’re a real big dullard we all know stuff has changed, but - with the devices of each era sat side by side - quite how much it has changed is really brought home.
Devices themselves have got smaller and more svelte of course, but the march of progress is most obvious from the controllers.
Quickshot joysticks that react like you’ve had a few pints of energy drink then accidentally tasered yourself, or console joypads with all the ergonomic design and strength of a damp shoe box, were just what everyone was used to back in the day. But with the benefit of hindsight, it’s painfully apparent that ‘the day’ was a pretty crappy one. Literally painful in some cases – why anyone ever thought holding an angular plastic brick for any length of time would be comfortable is beyond me.
Couple that (lack of) control to how horrendously tough 8-bit and 16-bit era games could be, and quite frankly it’s amazing any of us over 20 stuck with gaming as a hobby and/or that we haven’t all succumbed to crippling arthritis of the hands.
As for the games themselves, it’s fair to say the 8-bit era titles had aged the worst on the whole.
We all get the feels for the genuine classics like the original Mario, but things like Cybernoid and Bomb Jack – both well regarded at the time – really show their age and the limitations of the hardware.
For example, I remember playing Golden Axe on the Master System at a friend’s house as a kid, but until the other night I didn’t recall it being such a blurry, clunky and relentlessly brown mess.
That said, others not much newer held up remarkably well – I got to fulfil a minor lifetime ambition to play on an NEC PC Engine, and the shoot-em-up that was running (Star Soldier) looked like it could be a modern albeit retro-themed title.
I also got to play the original Sonic on a Megadrive for the first time, having been a SNES owner in that hardware generation myself so not able to.
And I have to say, with apologies to SEGA fans, I thought it was largely awful – it was fast and graphically still not too shoddy, but even with allowances for age it was irritating, fiddly and at times uncontrollable to play. How Sonic ever got compared to Mario in anything other than the sense of being a mascot is beyond me, a point hammered home by having Super Mario World set up a few seats away.
People sat and played the latter, but with the former tended to wander off after minute or two of reminiscing to the Green Hill Zone music.
Moving forwards in time a bit further, some stuff such as Ridge Racer on the PS1 or Outrun 2 on the Xbox still look frankly unexpectedly decent.
The latter in particular holding up very well, even when running within eyeshot of modern racers such as Forza. Sega Rally on the Saturn was also still fun, despite looking through modern eyes like it had been created in Minecraft.
For the more competitive types, as you’d imagine multiplayer is very well catered for.
Classics such as Goldeneye, Micro Machines, HALO, Street Fighter and Mario Kart all being set up to allow the maximum number of players to jump in. In an age where multiplayer now almost always means online, and on top of that online and anonymous with strangers, it was interesting and even a bit heartwarming to see that these were by far the most popular areas and people still love playing with their mates on the sofa on the same screen when they can.
If you love games, or want to introduce someone new to gaming to the history of how we got from Pong to Pokémon GO, I’d absolutely recommend a visit.
My only complaint really would be that an hour is barely enough, and I could have quite happily dabbled away for twice that time. But last word, of course, has to go to the thing with the biggest appeal of all.
Being able, for the first time in probably 25 years, to go up to a computer and type:
10 PRINT “IF YOU READ THIS YOU ARE BENT”
20 GOTO 10
And then leg it before the manager catches you. It’s like 1980s Dixons heaven.