Under Construction: Super Street Arcade

RMIT’s Future Play Lab are partnering with the City of Port Phillip in Melbourne for Super Street Arcade, a new Playable City Melbourne project aimed at reactivating Melbourne’s streets post-pandemic. Five arcade cabinets loaded with games and interactive installations co-created with local gamemakers, artists, academics, First Nations peoples and RMIT students will (literally) hit the pavement in South Melbourne in mid-July. These arcade machines will be fully playable outdoors and on the street.

The project is funded by the City of Port Phillip’s COVIDsafe Outdoor Activation Fund. It sought activators to create street arcades for South Melbourne that will “enliven public spaces” and “provide exhibition opportunities for game makers.” RMIT’s successful pitch involves creating bespoke arcade cabinets and arcade-inspired installations with games influenced by Melbourne’s geography, culture, city life, and Indigenous history. The games include:

  • YomeciArcade by the collective YomeciPlay (Uyen Nguyen, Max Piantoni and Matt Riley). Players peer into a virtual hole in the ground and interact with a subterranean world of Yomeci creatures.
  • MAGI 10-in-1, a compilation of up to ten mini-games. The games are created by RMIT MAGI (Masters of Animation, Games and Interactivity) students.
  • Yawa by N’arweet Carolyn Briggs and Jarra Karalinar Steel. Up to four players gather around a screen and explore an abstract map of Country, discovering stories as they go.
  • Musimoji by Troy Innocent, Allison Walker and Nick Margerison. Up to three players compete against each other to create music by firing emojis in a Space Invaders-inspired battle.
  • Jukebot by Innocent and three musicians and producers. A device resembling a jukebox creates light and sound as players press a multitude of buttons, matching the colours to tracks by familiar music artists.

YomeciArcade, Yawa, Musimoji, and Jukebot are based on new and existing collaborations between the Future Play Lab and Melbourne artists, gamemakers, academics and First Nations peoples. Magi 10-in-1, meanwhile, was developed through a two-day game jam where the Street Arcade team and MAGI students gathered to brainstorm ideas. Up to ten mini-games will be playable in one cabinet, each session lasting around 90 seconds. Some of the games include Sticky City, where objects on the street stick to players and boost or reduce their score; The Glug Glug Game, a frantic rush to keep wilting plants alive; and Tram Chaser, a side-scrolling platformer where players dodge obstacles to catch a departing tram. Street Arcade’s Creative Producer, Carlo Tolentino, says the games are designed to be played in short loops: “almost like retro gaming…it harkens back to the old classic Super Nintendo cartridges that had one hundred games in one.”

Over the past two weeks Dale Leorke has been an “embedded ethnographer” in the Future Play Lab, tracking the Street Arcade team’s progress, interviewing gamemakers and artists and documenting their works in progress. On the week starting June 20th, the project team had been working for several weeks translating their concepts into playable versions.

The Street Arcade project team meet to discuss progress.

Several, like Musimoji and MAGI 10-in-1 minigames Sticky City and The Glug Glug Game, were already approaching completion. The previous week, the joystick components ordered for the arcade machines were not interfacing with the Unity game software, creating a setback for Technical Director Nick Margerison and the team. But a newly arrived shipment of different hardware resolved the problem, allowing for initial playtesting to go ahead. As Margerison put it, this “hadn’t stopped the development of the games” but it “took up a lot of time trying to troubleshoot that process, thinking that it was something in Unity or that it was the way that we had the board set up, a driver issue or something.”

Recently graduated MAGI student Justin Jattke working on The Glug Glug Game.

Monique Kemboi is the project’s Digital Designer, creating assets and designs for various games, as well as co-designing Sticky City with Khatim Javed Dar. She is currently a MAGI student, having recently relocated to Melbourne from Kenya to pursue a career in game design and animation. She says the most challenging aspect of the project for her so far has been going “back to basics” for the games’ aesthetics, often using simple elements like 2D animation and pictograms. But she also acknowledges that “it’s a good restriction to have. Because it allows me as a creative to also simplify my brain and understand that not everything has to be this majestic thing. It could be majestic in its most simplest form as well.”

Clockwise from left: Khatim Javed Dar, Monique Kemboi, Carlo Tolentino, Eamonn Harte and Nick Margerison.

The arcade cabinets themselves will be fashioned from wood and other materials, but they’re yet to be fabricated. Currently, they exist only as digital sketches, cardboard prototypes and hardware like joysticks, buttons, wires, circuit boards and television screens that will eventually be integrated into the cabinets. Next week, the project team expect to begin embedding their games into the cabinets and testing them in situ.

As for how people will react to playable, musical arcade cabinets on South Melbourne’s streets – and whether people will actually stop to play them – Kemboi believes they will be a popular drawcard for the area and cause people to pause their daily activities to play. “When it’s just this wonderful, nostalgic thing there, you’re definitely bound to be curious to know what it does, and how to interact with it,” she says. “Sometimes people don’t really know that they need a little playfulness, a little pick-me-up, because we’re going through so much in our lives as adults. I think it being on the street is very bold and something that shouldn’t be seen as a small feat. It’s sending a message.”