Do you ever get tired of playing games like Out Run and Street Fighter 2? Fancy playing some games that may help you with day-to-day tasks/being successful in joining the royal navy? Then the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines in St Petersburg is for you!
It’s an experience like no other and although I have been to St Petersburg it was actually before the museum was founded (2007). Yes, I am old! I contacted Daria Zvereva who has been the museum’s artistic director for over two years to find out more. When is the best time to visit Daria and the team? “Saint Petersburg is lovely in any season, but one of the most famous natural attraction of the city — white nights — happen in early summer.” Got that folks?
To get an idea of what to expect have a watch of this video by Sergey Baklykov:
It really is one of the most fascinating places we’ve ever featured on the site but what are the real draws of coming here?
“The collection consists of about 300 arcade games and 60 different species of machines” says Daria, “all of the arcade machines in the Museum are restored by using original Soviet spare parts, and the majority of them are still playable.”
The machines require Soviet 15-kopeck coins in order to work so it’s a good job that you get a handful of them with the admission ticket. They also do museum tours in English every hour so you can learn about everything whilst getting your submarine/learning Soviet road signs game on. Yes, you heard me right.
In typical Soviet fashion most of the machines in the museum have a purpose other than just leisure. It’s something that we saw rarely in the West but is utterly fascinating now. If you go to the museum’s official website the first machine that’s displayed is Morskoi Boi (Sea Battle, in other words) where you look through the periscope of a submarine in order to fire torpedos to sink enemy ships. There’s some footage of it in Sergey’s video above.
The road sign “game” is suitably titled Victorina and is probably impossible to play if you cannot read Cyrillic/speak Russian but why not mash a few buttons and see if you get some right! But what’s Daria’s favourite machine at the museum? “It is called Gorodki”, she starts, “and this arcade game is based on a Russian folk sport involving wooden logs, which are arranged in 15 configurations of 5 logs each.”
“The aim is the same: to knock the Gorodki out using the least possible number of throws. The set of these configurations and their order of appearance corresponds to the real game. The view on the screen is presented from above, so all the objects, both bats and configurations, are converted into a two-dimensional pixel image. To make the game more interesting and complicated, the configurations constantly move and the bat is automatically thrown after 5 seconds.” You can learn more about the machine here on the Arcade Museum site.
If someone asks you what you know about Russian game developers what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Of course, Tetris. Alexey Pajitnov’s puzzle monster was responsible for many things. The biggest is probably making the original Game Boy a household necessity, closely followed by the potential to use it in tournaments like the Nintendo World Championships. Hundreds (maybe – Ed) of spin-offs have been created to date and even in the virtual reality world (Tetris Effect).
But there is sadly no Tetris machine in the museum but Daria is quick to add, “Unfortunately, Tetris was never imported into any Soviet arcade machines, so we do not have it in our collection as a proper exhibit. But the temporary exhibition dedicated to it and its 35th Anniversary is currently being prepared in the Museum. There are going to be about 30 game consoles and vintage computers with Tetris games. So hopefully, we can meet the audience’s demands regarding Tetris very soon.”
So, great news for those planning to visit the museum soon. But what other treats does the museum have in store?
Many of the games here are based on classics. There are shoot em ups, driving games (even two player), mechanical football (soccer), Ice Hockey and Basketball games. What was more intriguing to me than the games was how they actually worked. There’s an excellent part of the video where a staff member opens up one of the mechanical games and it’s truly a sight to behold. Imagine being able to see that in person.
Ever want to smell Soviet Russia? Erm, yeah, me too. Sergey seems pretty impressed with the smells on offer including Soviet Chalk, soda water, ice cream and tar. Call me mad but I think museums need more things like this! It’s best to check with the museum ahead of your visit to see if they’re still running this exhibit as it sounds as though they’re quite dynamic in changing things:
“The first intention which drew me to work at the Museum was an aspiration to do something creative and various.” Daria had visited the museum a few times before she took the plunge and applied for a job there. Once she started, she was hooked of course. “I fell in love with the machines and everything around them — including the inspired Museum Team, hard work in restoring and maintaining the games, the creation of temporary exhibitions, events and so on. Because frankly, it’s impossible not to fall in love with it.”
The museum has a sister museum in Moscow and they’re open all year so if you’re in the vicinity (we know Russia is a massive place!) then you’ve no reason not to drop by. And we’ll hopefully see you there.
Konyushennaya sq., 2b
Open Daily, 11AM — 9PM
Prospekt Mira, 119, VDNKH, Pavilion 57
Opens Tuesday to Sunday, 10AM – 9PM