Object of the Month

April 2020

Dreamcast Visual Memory Unit

Being able to save game progress or character stats had a significant impact on game design. It meant games no longer needed to be completed in a single sitting, instead they could involve complex stories that unfolded after days, weeks or even months of play.

As the Dreamcast used read-only optical discs as its primary distribution media, some form of writable memory was required; SEGA's solution was the Visual Memory Unit (VMU). But the VMU's ability to save game progress or character stats was not its most interesting feature. The VMU included a monochrome liquid crystal display (LCD), sound capabilities, a D-Pad, and A and B buttons; making it capable of so much more.

For one it could act as a second screen. In games such as Dino Crisis the VMU showed data about the player's health. While in multiplayer games, another capability of the VMU was physical linking, such as the NFL 2K series the VMU allowed players to select plays without their opponent seeing.

But more impressively it could independently run mini-games. Sonic Adventure's Chao Adventure allowed players to transfer eggs to the VMU where they could be hatched and trained, to be stronger and faster, before being introduced back into the Dreamcast game.

March 2020

Commodore 64

1982 saw the release of the Commodore 64. It became the bestselling home computer of all time and changed the world of videogaming forever.

The C64 was an 8-bit home computer with 64 kilobytes of RAM, a processor running at roughly 1MHz and a graphics processor capable of displaying 16 colours. These capabilities might seem unimpressive today but in 1982 this was high-end stuff.

Surprisingly the C64 wasn't designed as a videogame computer. Released by Commodore Business Machines, its graphics capabilities were developed to deal with the complex charts and graphs of word processing and spreadsheet programs. But once programmers got hold of the machine they quickly realized that Commodore had accidentally created a gaming super-platform. And it wasn't just about the graphics. The C64 also included a sound chip that exceeded the capability of every other computer at the time.

Before long, spreadsheets and pie charts were forgotten and, all over the world, C64s were being used to play games like Impossible Mission, Monty on the Run and Thing on a Spring.  

Today, the C64 remains a popular computer for enthusiasts, retro gamers and musicians, with numerous emulators in production and games available including the C64 mini, Nintendo virtual console releases, Steam remixes and Android apps.

February 2020

Ocarina

In 1998 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time translated Link and the mystical world of Hyrule from 2D to 3D. For players who had grown up with the Hero of Time this was a bold, brave and ultimately triumphant move.

But this wasn't just about Link entering the third dimension, it was also about travelling through the fourth. Introducing the ability to time travel was key to the game's magic. Link could manifest as both child and adult versions of himself, Child Link could plant seeds that would be fully grown trees when Adult Link visited them.

In order to travel through time and solve puzzles Link had to learn different tunes and play them on the titular ocarina. This mechanic wasn’t just a curiosity, it was integral to the game.

The popularity of Ocarina of Time was such that music stores saw a pronounced spike in interest and sales of the instrument in the wake of the game’s release!

This blue plastic ocarina was produced by Nintendo as a promotional item to celebrate the release of the 3DS remake of Ocarina of Time. It was part of a set given to visitors at the 2011 Zelday event held at the UK's GameCity festival.

January 2020

Larazade

Whilst the star of Lara Croft might not burn quite as bright as it once did, there are few that have ever had as big an impact. As time passes, it's easy to forget just how big Lara was in the 1990s.

Let's briefly set the scene... A new government had swept into Britain, 'Cool Britannia' was in full flow exporting arts and culture globally, and the Spice Girls were promoting 'girl-power' and now the PlayStation had been launched. 

Whilst other videogames cast plumbers, spaceships and soldiers as their protagonists, Lara was something conspicuously different. Seat cars and Landrover all invested in sponsorship deals with 'her', but it was energy-drink 'Lucozade' that provided the most memorable presence.

Tomb Raider started its relationship with Lucozade in the late 90s with a series of TV commercials placing Lucozade and Lara in a series of adventures. With the release of the first Tomb Raider movie in 2001, for the first time in 70 years, the name of Lucozade was changed to underline their relationship. Thus, for three months Larazade flooded the shelves of supermarkets, taking the celebrity recognition of Tomb Raider even further into our domestic lives.

This particular bottle of Larazade has been donated unopened, by Ian Livingstone, and is presented here alongside its modern counterpart - a 2018 edition of Larazade, which returned to supermarkets to celebrate the launch of Shadow of the Tomb Raider.