By Steve Wright
Conrad Bodman, Head of Exhibitions at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), has held his position since 2007. Before that, he worked as curator at the prestigious Barbican Centre in London and served as the original curator of the Game On exhibition, which Australians were treated to at ACMI in March 2008. Bodman’s latest exhibition is the upcoming Game Masters event, opening next Thursday 28 June at ACMI. We were lucky enough to speak with Mr Bodman about the upcoming exhibition that will have the eyes of gaming industry pointing squarely at Australia.
Bodman has a history with video game-related exhibitions. “I curated Game On [at the Barbican in London] in 2002 and it’s been travelling the world ever since,” he reminisced. “I didn’t have anything to do with Game On coming to Melbourne,” he continued. “It was just a happy coincidence.”
“This is an entirely different show. Game On is about the history of video games, looking at a whole range of themes and genres. Game Masters is more of a focus on the individuals who make video games,” Bodman explained.
Bodman is adamant that the exhibition is a perfect fit for both himself and ACMI. “Video games are an interest of mine, and working at ACMI, we really focus on digital culture. Video games and TV are a part of that,” he explained. “Games have always been a part of ACMI, and now’s a great time to do Game Masters; it has a focus on the indie games space, and we really didn’t do much of that in Game On,” Bodman continued.
Bodman acknowledged the indie game industry is on the up in Australia, and Game Masters will reflect that. “The indie industry has been really blossoming in the last few years,” he began, pointing out local success stories such as Melbourne’s Firemint, a former indy studio recently acquired by EA after successes like Flight Control and Real Racing.
“IGDA [International Game Developers Association] Melbourne advised on the project. When putting the show together, we really went out to those in the industry to ask who the key figures were and who we should focus on,” he said.
“The whole reason for curating Game Masters [was because] I was thinking of legendary game developers who are big in the industry. Apart from E3, there’s not much name recognition in the general public, and we wanted to reveal these figures – these key international developers – so people know who they are,” Bodman said.
Game Masters is certainly doing its best to put those developers directly in the spotlight. While the exhibition itself will feature the works of stars and teams like Hideo Kojima, thatgamecompany and Harmonix, Warren Spector, Peter Molyneux and Tim Schafer will be on hand in Melbourne from this week to discuss their works.
Game Masters has been two years in the making. Bodman was happy to discuss what that period has entailed. “It doesn't seem like a tough job; we have to play a lot of games and we talk to a lot of people and travel around,” he laughed.
All that game playing isn’t just for fun. “We have to think through some practical issues of the show – it’d be hard for someone off the street to come and pick up Metal Gear Solid 4 on PS3 and understand what’s going on,” he said. “We need to find ways to make [the games] topical and accessible.”
“The Smithsonian has an exhibition called The Art of Video Games, and they’ve got 5 playable games in the show,” he explains. “We’ve got 125 playable across consoles, iPads, arcade machines…so there’s a lot of work, logistically, that goes into that to ensure it all works smoothly.” The exhibition will keep a full-time technician on hand to ensure that old-school arcade cabinets are functioning at peak performance, for instance.
I joke that gamers would kill for the responsibilities of his job, and Bodman smiles and agrees.“We’ve had people off to the States to meet Tim Schafer. I’ve been to Japan to talk to Konami and Hideo Kojima about the exhibition as well," Bodman says as he makes it a big point to stress just how lucky he is.
“We’ve been very lucky with Tim Schafer coming along; he’s showing a lot of original artwork,” said Bodman. “Double Fine [Tim’s company] has been great to help us showcase their beautiful works.”
Schafer recently took to Kickstarter to continue creating classic adventure games, and inadvertently started a trend that’s sweeping the games industry; he’s indirectly assisting other creators like Leisure Suit Larry’s Al Lowe to continue creating games that put them on the industry’s map. “I know Tim’s going to be talking about what’s been happening with Kickstarter to some extent,” promised Bodman. “Though I can’t possibly say if he’ll be showing anything from the new work.”
Bodman and Peter Molyneux have a bit of a history as well. "When I originally did Game On all those years ago, we were lucky to have Peter to come to the show," Bodman said. "He’s great for video games and it’ll be great to have him out for the video games industry. He’s a big promoter, out in centre stage – like Warren Spector to a certain degree – really advocating beyond the industry into the wider cultural sphere."
Bodman stops for a beat. "I guess that’s what we’re trying to do as well," he muses.
"There’s a big forum taking place around the opening, so we’ll have Peter, Warren and Tim speaking and appearing at events and panels. I expect Tim Schafer to tell us about narrative and comedy and storytelling. I love that he can create a game that’s fun and interesting and full of humour."
Every story leading up to the exhibition isn’t a happy one, sadly. “We’ve got a segment with Sonic Team, and they don’t have a lot of original artwork that they’ve kept, unfortunately” he says with a pained look on his face. Comparing the wealth of content from Double Fine to the lack from Sonic Team, you can almost literally see his heart sink. “You just have to work around it," he asserts. "That story is focusing on the games themselves, and their narratives."
As part of the exhibition, Game Masters will feature over 40 interviews from developers talking about their work, and those will be in the exhibition and on the website. "We’re also making what I think is the first eBook from a cultural institution in Australia," continues Bodman. "It’s the antithesis of a trade show; it’ll be an open, accessible space to play video games…a bit reminiscent of old arcades."
After the chaos of E3, Game Masters seems to be just what Australia -- and the industry in general -- need.
Game Masters runs from Thursday into October, at ACMI in Melbourne's Federation Square.