This past weekend I, and the lovely Des, took a trip down to Frisco Texas and spent some time at the National Video Game Museum, the first museum dedicated to the history of the video game revolution. Beyond the line of consoles that let you put hands on some of the systems that defined the early generation of gaming, and the arcade that feels like the dark cave, illuminated solely by the flicker of the CRT screens, there are artifacts and prototypes, widgets and whatnots of all shapes and sizes. Beyond that is an Easter Egg scavenger hunt that will take you around the entire area, making sure you explore every nook and cranny of this celebration of gaming.
While on first look, without starting to read and look at every case in the place, it would seem that you could breeze through all the exhibits in a few minutes, taking only a cursory look over the sheer volume of items on display, you would be doing yourself a disservice. There are so many just small things, like the Puppy Pong cabinet or the Intellevision modem, to the Grey Nintendo World Championship cart (that until this trip I have only seen in photos or in videos) and the N64 HDD and all its accessories, that can capture your imagination and your curiosity. It truly feels like you are taking a step backward to a time before Call of Duty was released twice a year and every Sonic game became a horrible mess, when you can play the full size (well more like Super-Sized) Pong machine against whoever is tagging along with you, a feature that is pretty popular, or at least was when we went since we didn’t get a chance to play it for ourselves.
The section on portable gaming shows off all of those horrible hand held single game units, with working machines that you can play yourself. While none of the Tiger Electronic games were available, there were working tiny, portable, arcade cabinets. Playing Ms. Pac-Man was a blast from the past for me and for Des it was from a completely different time but she played her best game of Pac-Man ever thanks to that little guy. Seeing all of the different evolutions of the Game Boy and the DS line made me want to start collecting those systems again, the limited editions and the specific game skins brought a tear to my eye as I was going over the cases with a fine tooth comb. So many ways to take games with you back in the day, with all kinds of gimmicks like the portable Famicom that was made by hand, meaning that only 2000 were available, and had a built in FM Radio and TV (and also looks suspiciously like the Sega Game Gear) more than likely a hog on batteries but something else that reminds us that the 3DS and Vita were not the first systems to let you try and take your media with you wherever you go.
Then you come to the display of all the different and sometimes wacky controllers, from the Atari prototype controller that would use the POWER OF YOUR MIND to control the game, to the traditional Power Glove you get to see all the ideas that companies threw against the wall to see what would stick. The best part about this display was getting to use the Dreamcast fishing controller, like most of the exhibits there is a hands on display, and while that peripheral was clunky and really only useable for the fishing game they had loaded up the fact that they rotate these controllers out give me more reason to take another trip down to see what they set up next. One of the smaller exhibits but still worth pouring over.
The next stop was a recreation of an 80’s video game store during The Crash, showing the lows of the dark times of gaming. The details abound and really this is a lead in to the exhibit on the rise of PC gaming, showing off the Atari 800, Commodore 64, etc, where you get a chance to play with those systems. While the controls may be a little stiff, or overly loose, and the jumps sometimes pixel perfect, the fact that gaming survived the crash has a lot to do with the rise of the PC, so go give them some love.
A few other stops, including the Dragons Lair section (sadly the game was not working when we were there), playing around in the Art and Music sections, and the origins of Online Gaming display, we get to the display of prototype games and dev kits. Some of them, like the Katana unit for the Dreamcast, look like pieces that I would love to have on my shelves because they look so good. Others, like the Game Boy dev unit that looked like the precursor to the Super Game Boy, insert your board into the unit, plug the unit into the Game Boy and test away. This cuts down on dev costs because you just need to use one reusable board and enclosure to work on a game.
There is not much left to say without spoiling the whole museum for you so decide when you are going to go and take a walk through Gaming History.
(Also, they have a great partner ship with a local hotel that will give a great rate so that you can take your time in the lovely city of Frisco.)