Today, Ladies and Gentlemen, rather than a standard article, I have something a little different for you.
First, let me introduce you to two people: Máximo Balestrini and Hernán Sáez (for the sake of my typing fingers hereafter referred to as Max and Hern – I hope they don’t mind). Max and Hern are two Argentinian gentlemen with quite a story to tell, if you will indulge me.
The two met while playing extras in a Zombie movie. Come on, if that doesn’t endear you to them already then you’re not human surely?
But that is just an incidental in our little story. The tale really begins in 2010 when the pair formed Videogamo, a computer games company. Not exactly your big budget corporation, Videogamo proceeded to be the vehicle they used to release two pseudo-computer games for a pair of music bands local to them in Buenos Aires. They describe these titles as basically interactive music videos, hardly full games at all.
So far so underwhelming right?
Well, what really matters is what they were doing with their spare time. No kicking back on the Buenos Aires beaches enjoying the sunshine for these two fellas, no sir. In their spare time, like all good computer geeks, they had a project. A project that over time, along with their improving coding skills, developed into something just a little bit special.
That project is NAVE Arcade, something wholly fresh but at the same time reassuringly retro.
For anyone my age or older, the arcades of old are something of a gaming Valhalla, the hallowed coined halls in which the gods of gaming tread and to which all true gamers will someday be uplifted when their gaming days are done. To gamers of that particular vintage NAVE will be very, very familiar.
At its very core, NAVE Arcade is just that, a classic style arcade machine, complete with head-height monitor, big chunky plastic buttons and a bobble-headed joystick. But ‘So what’ I hear you say ‘there’s plenty of arcade machines out there’ and indeed there are; but not quite like this one.
While today’s arcade machines, often found in places like bowling alleys, cinemas and the like, feel very plasticy and generic, containing what are pretty much home-console ports, NAVE is different. All one needs to do is briefly glimpse the monochrome display, the hyper-kinetic action to realise this is a whole different proposition.
NAVE is based on the old style games of yesteryear; games like Pac Man, Space Invaders and, most presciently Asteroid. Like those games, it has a very simple concept; stay alive as long as possible. It’s as simple as that. Your ship grows in size as you progress and, thus becomes harder to defend. The score, in a way, is irrelevant; the ranking table is based on how long you survive.
Ah yes, the high score table. That mythical proving ground of gaming legends; that’s where it really harks back to the retro arcade days. You want to get on that high score table, so badly it hurts. The thing is, we all fall into that trap. We look at the list, right at the top and think ‘yeah, I could do that, easy!’. So, in our foolhardy and overconfident way we put in our coins and promptly fail. Then we put in some more. Then some more. Then we swear. Then we put in some more, our mannerisms and actions becoming more and more exaggerated as we get more and more determined to beat it. Just one more time! I’ll get it this time!
Then, slowly, the realisation dawns; this game is much, much harder than it looks. You don’t know who MBS is, but you curse their name, swearing that, one day, you will topple them from their mighty throne. Then you go find more coins.
Based rather heavily on the Asteroid-style space survival games, NAVE is an arcade game in the truest sense of the word. Its basic concept hides a truly teeth-clenchingly difficult and addictive mechanic.
It just feels different. In a world where most arcade games are light-gun rail shooters or racers, a game like NAVE stands out and that’s the way it should be.
It used to be that all arcade games were like this, but nowadays they’re a thing of the past, or at least they were until Max and Hern and their little project.
Run and funded by themselves and themselves alone, Max and Hern are not mass producing the NAVE, but are instead doing a grand tour with the machine, site hopping from one place to another. They have no pretentions of grandeur; they just want to share their unit with the world, happy to rock up at more or less any event, from game expo to school summer fair.
The NAVE Arcade is something more than just a game; it’s a kind of time capsule, a microcosm of what once was. Not just in the cabinet itself, but how it came to be. Once was that all games came to be in the same way as NAVE, with an individual or small group of enthusiasts creating a labour of love. These days it’s usually about big business and while I’m not saying this is a bad thing, there’s something heart-warming about seeing it happen again.
Those of you who have read my Ultima series articles will know I’m a big fan of the early days of the gaming industry and I would urge any of you who have the chance to check out the NAVE Arcade to do so. Older gamers will get a nostalgic hark back to the old days and younger gamers will get the chance to experience gaming as it once was.
It’s been a big task for Max and Hern and I don’t doubt it will continue to be so going forward but, for this gaming enthusiast at least, their efforts are more than appreciated.
In the words of NAVE itself ‘Never Give Up’ guys, because what you’re doing is something very special indeed.
Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org