In Part 1 of our two-part blog special dedicated to the Barbican’s Digital Revolution exhibition, our resident 'techspert' Neil Evely wrote about his favorite section, 'Digital Archaeology', exploring the history of home computing and video game cult classics. In Part 2, Neil delves into the other sections of the exhibition, including 'The State of Play', 'We Create', 'Indie Games' and more.
In Part 1, I wrote about the 'Digital Archaeology' section of the exhibition, which given that there are nearly five other sections, shows my slight bias to the historical side of things. So you might ask, what else is there?
The State of Play
'The State of Play' section poses the question: Are computer games art? More to the point, can the technology behind our most popular home entertainment systems be cultivated to create engaging experiences outside of our living room?
With the arrival of the Wii and Kinect, we started to see a blurred line between the coder (developer) and the artist, as innovative types took it upon themselves to explore what was possible by deconstructing the software / hardware.
One of the largest and most impressive pieces of work is 'The Treachery of Sanctuary’ by Chris Milk, a triptych of three Kinect sensors that monitor your bodies movements, which via Unity3D, translates your actions into three different bird orientated animations exploring life, death and regeneration. The most impressive one being able to show how you might look and move if you had a giant set of wings. Flapping your arms aimlessly has never felt so satisfying.
In the basement of the building, there is a fantastic interactive light show that allows you to manipulate light and create shapes. Named ‘Assemblance’ by design studio Umbrellium, this dark and slightly foreboding place very quickly becomes both challenging and fun, especially when some team work is required to move your light beam around. Being contained in a prison of light is a must for any 80/90’s sci-fi fan.
The ‘We Create’ section takes a look at the impact that crowd sourcing and public collaboration has had on creative digital output. The introduction of online forums and easier access to low cost but high performance technology such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino units have allowed a previously untapped community to get their hands dirty. You can get to grips with projects such as 'The Johnny Cash' project, which crowd sourced individual frames for the music video, and get under the hood of Minecraft, the definitive collaborative sandbox world.
Another section in the exhibition is 'Creative Spaces', which allows you to learn about the crazy amount of R&D that goes into some of the biggest VFX blockbusters, including a VFX breakdown of some shots featured in Inception, which on re-watching is still jaw droppingly gorgeous.
The penultimate section before you enter the basement light show is a small caged area that showcases the success that the little guy can have when independently producing a video game. What I loved the most about this eclectic collection was how each game slightly resembled the next in look and feel, though in gameplay itself they varied massively. It was great to experience classics such as Matthew Smith's 1983 hit, Manic Miner, which I remember loading via tape on my Spectrum, whilst next door, your pal carefully moves a Wii remote up and down whilst he plays BIT.TRIP BEAT by Gaijin Games, which is seriously addictive and a true homage to the buttonless Atari 9999.
The world of the indie game grows from strength to strength. People love the retro gaming feel combined with a new world of game mechanics, such as Fez (2012), which single handedly convinced me to re-activate my Steam account and download it onto my Mac that evening. In fact, the development of Fez is a great story and I highly recommend that you watch Indie Game, which is great documentary about this world and the people that live in it, including Fez creator Phil Fish.
These games often thrive due to the fact that they do not rely heavily on financial backing or marketing. A title can be a hit in a matter of hours thanks to online forums and social media. Plus, the nature of being able to port your game across multiple platforms relatively easily means that it can have a very decent lifespan.
The Digital Revolution exhibit genuinely has something for everyone, if you've ever owned more than one console and lost hours to Tetris or simply need to know more about how some of this stuff actually works, then I can’t recommend it highly enough.