“The Last Arcade Buttons in Melbourne”

This week, starting July 18th, Clarendon Street Arcade (formerly called Super Street Arcade) will “soft launch” in five sites along Clarendon Street in South Melbourne. During the week, the designers and artists will test the games in situ before officially launching the project on July 26th at the Dessertopia store.

For the past two weeks, the team have been continuing to develop the five games, while finalising the project’s title and marketing, scouting the locations for each of the arcade cabinets, and decorating them as they arrive from the fabricators.

The first cabinet, which will house the MAGI-10-in-1 compilation of Melbourne-inspired games, arrived at the Future Play Lab two weeks ago. Joseph Yap is a product design engineer and Master of Design Innovation and Technology student at RMIT. Along with 3D artist and gamemaker Justin Jattke, he has been painting and weatherproofing the cabinets and assisting with their assembly and installation.

(L) The newly arrived MAGI-10-in-1 cabinet; (R) Yap and Jattke begin painting the cabinet

Although Yap joined the project halfway to work on these material elements, he sees intersections between his own work and this project. His practice explores sustainability and sustainable materials through public art installations and multimedia. He says, “one thing that I find fascinating about games is when people start exploring different ways of input and interaction between hardware and software. I feel like games as a medium are still highly under explored. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to fully exploring its potential.”

Yap says he expects the cabinets’ unique – even bizarre – designs to stand out in their chosen destinations along Clarendon Street. “We’ve chosen lively colours, at least for the MAGI-10-in-1. The structures themselves are all weird. They’re not something you’d expect to see on Clarendon Street.” The cabinets had originally been planned for a different, more trendy area in South Melbourne. But Yap says Clarendon Street works well because a tram route runs right past the cabinets’ locations, offering a “tram experience” where passers-by can observe people playing and perhaps become curious about them.

Although the cabinets will be playable by anyone passing by, spectators’ reaction to them will be just as interesting to observe as the people playing them.

Some of the cabinets will have LED lighting and other electronic components besides the screens, joysticks and buttons. Michelle Woulahan completed a PhD in visual arts and works in industrial design. She is responsible for wiring the cabinets’ buttons and lighting, connecting them to Arduinos, and ensuring they are waterproofed. She expects the material components to hold up well from everyday use and abuse. But she suspects issues might arise when interfacing with Unity, the engine used to create the games.

Woulahan wiring the arcade’s buttons and other electrical components

Even just sourcing the many materials required for the cabinets has proven challenging as the pandemic continues to disrupt global supply chains. Troy Innocent, Director of the Future Play Lab, says he had to scour the websites of every store in Melbourne that sold arcade buttons, purchasing the few remaining stocks from each one. “I think we ended up buying the last arcade buttons left in Melbourne,” he jokes.

Innocent visits the site where the YomeciArcade cabinet (AKA hole) will be situated

On July 13th, Innocent, Creative Producer Carlo Tolentino and Technical Director Nick Margerison visited the sites where each of the five cabinets will be situated. They will be placed in a kind of “trail” along Clarendon Street, between Bank and Coventry Streets. Each cabinet will also be supported by a nearby store, whose employees will be able to informally observe its use and report any damage. The team also hired a qualified electrician to hook the machines up to the electricity grid near these stores according to certification standards.

Meanwhile, the branding for the project has been finalised under the direction of City of Port Phillip, which funds it project through its COVIDsafe Outdoor Activation Fund. The council was proscriptive in its branding and marketing, determining the name Clarendon Street Arcade and even the colours and layout of the logo. But the team was given complete creative control over all other components of the games’ and cabinets’ design.

Digital Designer Monique Kemboi created many of these assets, including characters that will appear across the MAGI-10-in-1 games and the backgrounds, objects, and other elements that appear in them. Her characters are based on the Playable City Melbourne icons and reflect South Melbourne’s cultural diversity, while drawing on other tongue-in-cheek inspirations. Examples include an “empowered alien lady”, a woman in a puffer jacket (since Melbourne is in winter), a Southeast Asian man, a non-binary person, a person in a wheelchair, and more cartoonish creations inspired by Mickey Mouse and scary clowns.

Some of the characters created by Kemboi

Even with the incredibly tight deadline and shifting components – like the logo’s design and the cabinets arriving at various intervals – Kemboi is confident. She says, “I’m aware of the pipeline, and just trust that everyone is working towards the same goal […] Me, Eamonn [Harte] and Khatim [Javed Dar] are coworking together actively and being on calls” with the other artists working remotely.

Screen grab of Tram Chaser
Screen grab of Sticky City

Harte created MAGI-10-in-1 game Tram Chaser and Dar is co-creating another game for the compilation, Sticky City, with Kemboi. But both have recently come on board to help with design and programming for other games. Kemboi says, “that’s why I don’t have any worries about finishing this because I know we’re a solid trio.” Jattke is also working in the lab most weeks creating his MAGI-10-in-1 game GlugGlug Game, painting the cabinets and providing technical assistance.

Screen grab of GlugGlug Game

Australia is currently experiencing its biggest surge of Covid cases so far, putting Melbourne’s and other cities’ hospitals under immense strain. Although the game’s funding is explicitly tied to getting people safely back onto South Melbourne’s streets post-COVID, this surge is something the team will need to consider. It’s just one of the many logistical challenges the project faces when it launches next week, alongside weather, vandalism, graffiti, everyday wear-and-tear, and the inevitable technical bugs that will arise once the games are installed.

Margerison, at least, offered one potential, arcade-inspired, solution to help reduce the risk of people contracting COVID by touching the controls. He suggested installing automatic hand sanitizers in each cabinet inside a “prize door”, similar to those where the prizes come out of claw machine games.

Dale Leorke is an embedded ethnographer in the Future Play Lab.