Insert coin to tour the new National Videogame Museum (pictures)

A newly opened Texas shrine to digital gaming re-creates a 1980s arcade and gamer's bedroom, displays classic systems like the Atari 800, and lets you duke it out on a high-score board.

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
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World's biggest home Pong console

One of the first things visitors see at the new National Videogame Museum that opened earlier this month in Frisco, Texas, will be familiar to early gamers. It's a home console version of the classic video game Pong, based on the system that first went on sale in 1975. The difference is this one is the world's largest, according to the museum. Visitors can play a game of Pong with two giant rotating paddles as the ball whizzes from side to side on a 15-foot TV screen.

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Ralph Baer's Brown Box

The 10,000-square-foot museum's massive collection comes from three longtime video game collectors, also the museum's co-founders: Joe Santulli, John Hardie and Sean Kelly. Every piece of tech in the museum stems from this home console prototype nicknamed the "Brown Box." It's considered to be the first attempt at building a home video game console. Video game pioneer Ralph Baer built a wood-grain-encased console in 1967 that could be programmed to play games like Pong and checkers, among others. He licensed it to Magnavox for a commercial release in 1972 as the Magnavox Odyssey.

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The Atari Mindlink System

This accessory from Atari is one of the museum's rarest pieces and perhaps one of the industry's biggest failures. The Mindlink was Atari's attempt to make video games a more thoughtful activity on consoles like the Atari 2600 and 7800, and the Atari Home Computer that was scheduled for release in the mid-'80s. The designers tried to make a controller that could measure the voltage in the player's brain through a unit worn across the forehead and translate those measurements as commands. Unfortunately, it never came close to achieving such a feat and Atari never released it. This unit is one of two known prototypes still in existence.

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The Head-to-Head Hall

The majority of items on display at the National Videogame Museum, which opened in early April, aren't sitting behind a glass case. Most of them can be played the way they were meant to be when they first showed up on store shelves. The Head-to-Head Hall features a row of 10 video game consoles such as a Nintendo 64, a TurboGrafix-16 and a top-loading Nintendo Entertainment System. The museum also has a library of 12,000 games.

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A peek at portable gaming

An exhibit of portable gaming systems includes games from Mattel Electronics, which attempted to corner the market in the late 1970s with its line of LED games like Sub Chase, Space Alert and the popular Football game.

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Computer gaming

If you're a computer-gaming purist, the museum has you covered. This exhibit chronicles the history of video games played on the home PC (or office PC, if your boss wasn't looking). The exhibit features playable models of classic computer systems like the Apple IIe, Atari 800, TRS-80 Color Computer, IBM PC XT and the Coleco Adam, all of which are in pristine condition and work just as well as the day they were taken out of the box. This Apple IIe is running an original version of Broderbund Software's classic platformer Lode Runner.

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The video game crash

Not every exhibit or artifact in the museum portrays a happy memory from gaming's history. A video game store set up to look like one going through the dismal video game market crash of 1983 comes complete with an unsold Atari 5200 still in the box, a clearance bin full of Atari 2600 cartridges still wrapped in plastic and plenty of unsold copies of Atari's dismal video game remake of Steven Spielberg's "E.T."

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The timeline of consoles

If you're the kind of gamer who likes to read instruction manuals or just want to know more about the history of home video game consoles, an interactive timeline features consoles that dominated the market, as well as those that didn't do so well and others that never saw the light of a video game store. Visitors can learn about the history of more than 50 video game consoles through one of several screens controlled by a giant SNES controller. Some of the systems featured on the timeline include (from top left to bottom right) the CO32, the Sega Pico, the Sega Saturn, the Atari Jaguar, the Apple Bandai Pippin and the Nintendo Virtual Boy.

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Easter eggs

The museum has taken a novel approach to teaching the uninformed gamer about Easter eggs, those secret items programmers hide in their games. One of them includes this sign featuring the game boss from Williams' 1982 talking arcade shooter Sinistar.

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A tribute to Ralph Baer

The museum hired artists to create game-themed wall murals and exhibit pieces. One of the more impressive artistic achievements is this portrait of video game pioneer and "Brown Box" inventor Ralph Baer made entirely from Rubik's Cube squares.

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Who wants to go back in time?

If you're a child of the '80s, your bedroom probably looked something this, only a lot messier. The museum features a full-scale re-creation of the bedroom of the video game industry's target demographic from the 1980s. The exhibit serves as a photo op for visitors who want to stretch out on a child-size bed complete with Pac-Man sheets or remember what it feels like to play Super Mario Bros. on a tiny television while lounging in a bean bag chair.

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Gaming with three pioneers

Three video game legends, including Pitfall creator David Crane, Gearbox Software founder Randy Pitchford and Commodore 64 and Atari 2600 game programmer Garry Kitchen, squeeze together on an ugly couch straight out of the 1970s to play a round of BurgerTime on a ColecoVision. All three are on the National Videogame Museum's board of directors. The museum's founders say Pitchford was instrumental in bringing the museum to Frisco, Texas, which is also the home of Gearbox Software's headquarters.

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Back to the arcade

Video game arcades may not be on every corner like they used to be before video game consoles started driving them out of business, but the museum's arcade will ensure there's at least one fully stocked arcade left in the world. Pixel Dreams serves as both a historical exhibit and a fully functioning arcade complete with classic arcade games like Asteroids, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Dig-Dug and Galaga. It also has a PlayChoice-10 machine that holds up to 10 NES titles and a working version of Punch-Out!!!, Nintendo's 1983 boxing game that first found its way to the arcade before getting an expanded release on the NES as Mike Tyson's Punch Out in 1987.

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We don't need no stinking' quarters!

No 1980s video game arcade is truly complete without a token machine. That's why every game in the Pixel Dreams arcade requires a special token to play. This one, however, is in much better working order than those machines in the 1980s that wouldn't accept your dollar if it had a single, micromillimeter-long crease on the bill.

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They're the best around

Pixel Dreams even has an old-fashioned high-score board that greets visitors before they enter the arcade. Museum-co founders Joe Santulli and John Hardie, as well as someone named "Nick Dangerous," have dominated most of the top spots on the popular games. Do you have the thumbs to knock them out of the rankings?

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