Toby Johnston writes:
When you think of Nottingham, most people think of Robin Hood, Torville, and Dean or Raleigh bicycles. A booming video game industry doesn’t really come to mind. However, since the inception of the GameCity festival in 2006, Nottingham’s gamers have been slowly growing in number until, 10 years later, the one-of-a-kind National Videogame Arcade (NVA) opened.
This got a lot of us Notts-based video game players excited — now we had somewhere to play games without people questioning what the hell we were doing. But, from the announcement, we were expecting some sort of usual arcade — a bunch of machines, some tables for air hockey and the like. What we got was on a whole other level.
As soon as you walk in, you are greeted with a huge statue of classic video game icon Sonic the Hedgehog smiling down at you, and a multitude of wall-mounted screens. These play one of a large variety of indie games, rotated round every month or so, including a game utilising multiple controllers that involves some intense snowball fighting, and a flying sim that takes the player through tight courses on some sort of dead planet. This floor also houses a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade machine, which offers an insight into retro gaming as well.
A recent addition to the arcade, on my recent visit the Virtual Reality gallery offered a Rogue One experience, where you are playing as Red 3 in an X-Wing assault on the Imperial Star Destroyer, which came from Star Wars Battlefront 2. Then, as you exit the VR room, I came across the admittance desk. That’s right, all of this is completely free! You can just walk in off the street, and there you are, a ground floor gaming area all for nothing!
But as soon as those stairs have been ascended, the real wonder appears. Four floors of absolute gaming mastery, complete with wall-to-wall screens, traditional arcade machines, and the occasional regular console. From Gang Beasts to Monument Valley, passing through Chibi Street Fighter and that one Donkey Kong game with bongos, this place has games for any enthusiast. As you stand at the top of the stairs, two things immediately catch your eye, both NVA exclusive games.
The one I went to first is a staple of the Arcade, no matter what alterations it might go through (which happens around once a month): Dash and Bash. This was a game created for the NVA to show visitors that games don’t have to be just about controllers and wires. Composed of four screens and four big buttons by those screens, Dash and Bash initially assigns each player a picture (Somehow, I always get the traffic cone!). The aim of this game is to find your picture on one of the screens and press the button assigned to that screen. The only problem is, the other players have the same objective. A rapid competition ensues, as each player attempts desperately to both hit their own button and stop others from hitting the other ones.
Through a doorway is a semi-open area, usually containing Mission Control, a video game about designing video games. Each player is given a screen and is instructed to draw some sort of character. They then essentially program this character to carry out tasks, which get them a certain amount of points. In essence, this game teaches people how to make simple games, with a competitive twist to encourage enthusiasm.
Jonathan Smith, co-director of the venue said, “We wanted to make a game that could be edited while being played in order to explain the component parts of a game, from code to audio to graphics.” This quote sums up the whole attitude of the first floor, as it’s all about giving the player free reign over games and how they play them.
At the top of the second flight of stairs, you come across what is essentially a tribute to all eras of gaming. Arcade machines, Garage Band instruments, Mario Kart steering wheels — this floor has it all! However, this floor always has a theme. The current theme is the Hall of Inputs, which showed off the many different ways games can be controlled, from a mouse to a trackball. This floor also usually has a game, related to the theme, in the centre. Over time, this has included a VR duelling game and a bucking bronco. Currently, though, the area is open, with a variety of gaming screens at the back.
The third floor is something completely different — a true collection of games from across the ages, and a testament to all things gaming through 100 objects, from a ZX Spectrum (not that I really know what one of those is!) all through to the PlayStation 4 (Definitely know what this is). Also on the third floor, a room dedicated to the success of Monument Valley, also known as the Monument Gallery, is decorated by drawings and photos of and by attendants at the NVA and contains a single iPad, on which the newest installment of the series (at the time of my visit, Monument Valley 2) plays.
In addition to all this, the third floor also boasts a group of seemingly random games, including the aforementioned Gang Beasts, none of which use the same controller. Many iconic controllers reside here, including the NES, the Guitar Hero guitar and even going so far as to include the keyboard from Nintendo’s bizarre Typing Pokémon Adventure and the like.
The fourth floor of the NVA is reserved for parties and team-building days, and, as such, many people don’t get to see it. However, I have had the experience of being up there, and the design of this floor is very different from the other ones. The fourth floor is simply a corridor, with many doors leading off of it to the left and right. These doors lead to rooms themed around games, for example, Minecraft, Mario, and Halo. These themed rooms contain decoration for their specific games and a line of consoles on which that game is played. Each person there gets one console and is tasked to complete a series of missions and games within special game modes, developed by NVA programmers.
But the true wonder of the NVA is that no matter who you might be, how old you happen to be, or what you do for a living, you can enjoy the wonders contained within (unless you don’t like video games. In which case, why are you there in the first place?). Between the games and the cold, hard code, there is an atmosphere of sheer fun and excitement between the walls of the NVA — and that is a true achievement, especially in somewhere like Nottingham!