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We discover the history of the UK gaming industry from the innovators who shaped it.

In October we held a gaming-themed Lates to coincide with hands-on interactive gaming event Power UP.  Now in its third year, Power UP gives visitors the opportunity to play over 180 consoles and hundreds of video games spanning four decades.

A very special part of Gaming Lates explored the history of this innovative industry The Evolution of Gaming. The event brought together a gaggle of gaming industry luminaries to discuss the evolution of video games, and their cultural importance.

The panel © Alan Chang

Throughout the evening the panel introduced excerpts from forthcoming documentary The PlayStation Years. The film was produced by filmmakers and panellists Anthony and Nicola Caulfield as part of their Kickstarter funded and acclaimed From Bedrooms to Billions documentary series, which charts the development of the UK games industry, the significance of the Amiga years and the PlayStation revolution.

A key figure of the aforementioned PlayStation revolution was panel member Phil Harrison. More recently Phil held an Executive role at Microsoft, but as former President of Sony Computer Worldwide Studios in the noughties he was instrumental in bringing the PlayStation to market. The PlayStation broke the deadlock of the console battles between SEGA and Nintendo, and became the first video game console to ship 100 million units.

Also on the panel were Chris and Jason Kingsley, founders of independent UK studio Rebellion Games which produced hits like Alien vs Predator and the Sniper Elite series, and celebrates its 25 birthday this December. In 2012 Jason Kingsley was awarded an OBE for his work in the industry, and Rebellion’s latest offering is a VR reboot of the classic 1980s tank battle game Battlezone.

Alongside these industry leaders from the 2000’s was Jon Hare, games development heavyweight from the 80s and 90s. Jon co-founded the games studio Sensible Software and is responsible for creating the hugely successful Sensible World of Soccer and Cannon Fodder, amongst others. Jon was kind enough to give the museum an exclusive pre-release version of his latest game Sociable Soccer for Power UP, which delighted hundreds of visitors during the run.

Over the course of two hours, this all-star panel explored the rich and colourful history of the gaming industry from the pioneering arcades of the 70s and the home computing boom of the 80s to virtual reality (VR), mobile gaming and the future of the industry.

We were honoured to have in the audience the Oliver Twins, Ron Nicholson and David Pleasance. The Oliver Twins currently run Radiant Worlds developers, but were responsible for 7% of all UK games sales at one point in the 80s. Ron helped engineer the Commodore Amiga 1000, which considered by many to be the first multimedia PC, whilst under David Pleasance Commodore released the world’s first 32-bit CD based games console, the Amiga CD32 – which just happens to have been launched here at the Science Museum in 1993.

David Pleasance with the Amiga CD32, which was announced to the world at the Science Museum on 16 July 1993.
David Pleasance with the Amiga CD32, which was announced to the world at the Science Museum on 16 July 1993. © Alan Chang

Rarely have so many key personalities of the video games industry been in one room and it was fascinating to hear their stories of how this once fledgling industry found its feet.

Evolution of Video Games panel
L to R: Mark Cutmore, Science Museum Group; Phil Harrison, formerly of Sony and Microsoft; Anthony and Nicola Caulfield, creators of Bedrooms to Billions; journalist Paul Drury; Chris Kingsley and Jason Kingsley, Rebellion; Jon Hare, Sensible Software. © Alan Chang

If this has whet your appetite for more gaming fun, our sister museum the National Science and Media Museum will be hosting the annual Yorkshire Games Festival from 8-12 November 2017. This five-day extravaganza explores gaming culture, design and production through a series of workshops and masterclasses, and you can book your ticket here.