© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
Lori Ellis, manager of heritage and cultural properties for the city of Summerside, dug into her collected stash of vintage video game systems and curated The Art and History of Video Games 1958 to 2011, now at Gallery 33 in Summerside.
Ever yearn for the good old days of Pong, Pac Man, Mario, Space Invaders and other video game classics?
Now you can revisit these and more at an exhibit in Summerside that provides a unique blast from the video games of the past.
The Art and History of Video Games 1958 to 2011 at Gallery 33 in the former Summerside Armoury, which is now part of Wyatt Heritage Properties, showcases a 36-year timeline of gaming history, starting with game consoles that used simple pixel groupings and wrapping up with the extensive photorealistic imagery of today’s sophisticated systems.
“What I tried to do was pick games and pick consoles that represent the timeline with the classics,” says exhibit curator Lori Ellis, manager of heritage and cultural properties for the city of Summerside
“That’s where my biggest interest lies — in the kind of classic gaming systems. A lot of it is about this nostalgic feel from the ‘70s and ‘80s.”
The bulk of the vintage video games exhibit is from Ellis’s own collection that started with her first video game system — a Magnavox Odyssey 2 — given to her in 1978 by her father.
“This piece was probably the catalyst in putting the exhibit together as far as the consoles go . . . ,” she says.
“It was fun to dig it out and clean it up and play it again and then start to think about the history of gaming, what else I might like to put with it in a personal collection and then put on an exhibit.”
The timeline in the exhibition starts with the Odyssey 100, which was released in 1975.
“The first one (the 1972 Magnavox Odyssey) was highly collectible and sought after, so I wasn’t able to get my hands on one of those for the exhibition, but this is the second one that came out,” Ellis says.
“It’s a Pong console, so it’s a Pong-based (table tennis-style) game where you just have a ball that goes back and forth and these paddles that send it back (to the other player). So this particular piece you played the game on the console itself. You don’t have controllers that are separate from it. So each (person) has to have their hand on the console to play it. It does hook up to a TV.”
Another interesting factor about the Odyssey 100 is that on-screen scoring was not technologically available yet.
“When you scored you physically had to take (the console counter) and move it up a notch. So that’s interesting from my perspective of the history in advancements in game consoles and so that’s why I picked that one specifically,” Ellis says.
In addition to being practically elbow-to-elbow with your competitor, the controls themselves were tricky to manoeuvre.
“You had a control that moved your paddle from left to right, but in this particular game you also had a controller that moved it ahead and backwards and you had a controller that moved the ball. You were trying to do all that at once, so in a way it was kind of advanced for a Pong system,” Ellis says.
In 1976 a low-budget Pong system, Coleco Telstar, was released at a price of $50, about half the price of other consoles at the time.
“What’s interesting about this particular piece, other than the fact that the controllers have been reduced and it’s almost simplified, is that it’s one of the few gaming consoles where it was shipped to you only partially assembled,” Ellis says.
“So the buyer had to apply the label to the front of it and they had to attach the knobs to the console. That was done as a way to try to reduce costs for the end purchaser, but you can see sometimes the application of the sticker would only be marginally successful,” she adds, noting the lumpy, bumpy texture of the label on this particular piece.
This Telstar system came with a built-in game trio of tennis, hockey and handball.
“They were all kind of variations of Pong. They just put different names on them,” Ellis laughs.
Ellis also included a 1977 TV Scoreboard, a 1977 Atari 2600 and a 1979/80 Intellivision in the exhibit.
“The TV Scoreboard, which is a Tandy product, is an example of one of the first (with separate) controllers (from the console),” she says.
“And you could keep track on your score on the TV. Again it was like a Pong system, but they had a gun for clay pigeon shooting. (It just shows) advancements, things are changing.”
The Atari 2600 was credited with popularizing the use of microprocessor-based hardware and cartridges containing game code, instead of having non-microprocessor dedicated hardware with all games built in.
“The Atari 2600 is what’s set up to play now, so we’ve got Space Invaders, Pac Man and Donkey Kong — some classics that people can play (while visiting the exhibit),” Ellis says.