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December 17, 2013 at 11:37 AM

Smithsonian scores “Halo 2600” and “Flower” games

Further evidence that video games have become an art form came today from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which announced that addition of “Halo 2600” and “Flower”  to its permanent collection.

They are the first games added to the national collection and both have Seattle ties.

Sony image of "Flower"

Sony image of “Flower”

“Flower” is a gorgeous, serene game in which you navigate flower petals through landscape that becomes more colorful as you progress. It was released for the PlayStation 3 in 2007 by That Game Company, a Santa Monica, Calif., studio started by several film students and backed by Sony.

The lead programmer on the project was John Edwards, who taught himself to write software in the Shorewood High School library. Since he was in elementary school, he had a group of friends who built games including card and board games.

Sony liked the game so much it bundled it with the new PlayStation 4.

“Halo 2600” is a retro tribute to the Xbox sci-fi franchise and the Atari 2600. It was created and released online by Ed Fries, the former head of Microsoft’s game studios who now invests in various game companies.

When he was still at Sammamish High School in Bellevue, Fries was given an Atari 2600 that inspired him to learn programming and set his career course.

Fries released “Halo 2600” in 2010 and made it available freely online. It’s played through the browser, starting with a lone soldier finding his way through an evergreen forest.


“Halo 2600” image

Fries said he thought it will appeal mostly to the small community of Atari programming enthusiasts.

“I thought these guys will care but probably no one else will,” he said at the time.

But the game caught on with game enthusiasts, eventually including Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“The best video games are a great expression of art and culture in our democracy,” she said in a release. “I am excited that this new medium is now a permanent part of our collections alongside other forms of video, electronic and code-based art.”

Michael Mansfield, the museum’s curator of film and media arts, said that games “represent a vast, diverse and rapidly evolving new genre that is crucial to our understanding of the American story.”

” ‘Flower’ and ‘Halo 2600’ are important additions to our collection, but they are just the beginning of our work in this area,” Mansfield said in a release. “By bringing these games into a public collection, the museum has the opportunity to investigate both the material science of video game components and develop best practices for the digital preservation of the source code for the games themselves.”

The acquisitions follow a 2012 exhibition on the art of video games that toured the country, including a stop at the EMP in Seattle earlier this year. Both “Flower” and “Halo 2600” were part of the exhibition.

Instead of buying retail copies of “Flower” or downloading “Halo 2600” the museum worked with the creators “to organize an acquisition package, including limited rights and physical material,” according to spokeswoman Laura Baptiste.

The games will eventually be installed and playable in the museum’s galleries.

UPDATE: On a related note, the Smithsonian Institution is also working with Seattle’s Big Fish Games on a new game that will be released Friday.

Called “Hidden Expedition: Smithsonian Hope Diamond,” it’s a hidden object game in which players go on an adventure starting at the Smithsonian’s castle in Washington, D.C. Along the way they look for Smithsonian symbols, among other things, and collect “history fact cards” about the institution.

Big Fish is releasing the $20 game first on the PC and Mac platforms and on iOS in January.

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Comments | Topics: Digital media, Flower, halo 2600


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