January 17, 2011

Embracing the old games while showcasing the new

I asked the Otronicon volunteer coordinator please not to put me in the Rock Band theater because it’s just too darned loud. So she put me downstairs in the Classic Arcade Lounge. That’s more my speed. Or, as one fellow remarked when he walked in and saw the vintage Donkey Kong cabinet, “that’s what I’m talkin’ about.”

Another guest said he felt like Marty McFly when he went to the future and found his favorite arcade game at “The 80s Cafe.”

All the old favorites are there: Ms. Pac Man, Galaga, Asteroids. Alas, I am not the asteroid blaster I used to be.

Orlando Science Center photo
It’s not just my age cohort that enjoys these games. Even those who postdate these games by decades enjoy the challenge of figuring them out.

For example, one of my contemporaries called SiniStar “one of the best games ever.” He played it for a few minutes. Later, my son played long enough to enter the four top scores of the day.

Louis, a member of OSC’s education team, entertained us with tales from the history of video games. There’s enough information in his head to teach a graduate course on the subject. But he was the first to admit he got it from the Play Value video podcast.

One of those stories was about how Dance Dance Revolution revived the arcade business. Once home game consoles became common, there was little incentive for people to go out and plug quarters in machines. But DDR is a social activity, and fun to watch, so many arcades put it near the entrance to draw people in.

The c.1999 DDR looked a bit out of place in the back corner of the Classic Arcade. Back at Otronicon v.1, DDR was a featured element, alongside Guitar Hero. Now they've yielded that position, as Rock Band takes center stage in the Darden Theatre.

Orlando Science Center photo
Rock Band is more popular not only because it’s a multiplayer game and has music from great bands like The Beatles. At OSC, Rock Band is a centerpiece due to Buzz Dawson’s* drums. He replaced the drum controller pads that come with the game by wiring a real drum kit into the software. It rocks.

If DDR was a fun-to-watch social activity a decade ago, Rock Band is even more so now. Some people go to the Darden Theatre just to watch the players and listen to the music. If, unlike me, you enjoy loud music, that's gotta be way more fun than watching people play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

* Mom brag: If you go to Buzz’s page, near the bottom, as of this writing, he shows a snapshot of an Orlando Sentinel article about the robotics class he taught at OSC a few years ago. My son, one of the students, is in the lower right-hand corner of that image.

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