Denver Street Arcade Attracts Gamers Of All Ages

fromKUNC

It's part of an interactive street festival that's transforming 2 city blocks into custom video games. They're played on giant LED screens and accompanied by Colorado Symphony Orchestra musicians.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This summer, the streets of downtown Denver are being turned into an outdoor video arcade. It's part of a new interactive street festival, where video games are played on giant screens and accompanied by musicians from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Nathan Heffel from member station KUNC reports.

NATHAN HEFFEL, BYLINE: Arcade games have always had a way of bringing people together. That's what David Marion, manager of 1up, a downtown Denver video arcade and bar, sees every day.

DAVID MARION: A lot of our most popular games are the multiplayer games where friends can come and play together. Whether it's the four player Pac-Man that we have or if it's a six player X-Men - groups just park on there and have a good time - try to beat the whole thing.

HEFFEL: Well, it's pretty easy to get a small group of friends together to play Pac-Man - what about an entire city? That's exactly what the interactive street arcade Oh Heck Yeah is doing in downtown Denver. It's the brainchild of Brian Corrigan, who's spent more than a year and $750,000 bringing the video game project to life.

BRIAN CORRIGAN: Play really used to be a part of the street, and for whatever reason, it was completely sucked out - how suburbia - we would put fences around our houses and we completely blocked each other out of really kind of this kind of public life.

HEFFEL: One game is called "Big Blue's Hood Slam" and features Denver's most iconic piece of public art, the Big Blue Bear. Virtually maneuvering the animated bear along the streets of Denver, players watch the action on a 60-by-25-foot screen as they try to avoid moving cars and buildings. And instead of digital sound effects, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra recorded a special soundtrack.

JUSTIN GITLIN: It's a really simple game. Anybody can play - 4-year-olds, 40-year-olds, 80-year-olds.

HEFFEL: That's game designer Justin Gitlin. He says he had to make sure all the games were not just fun but quick and easy to learn.

GITLIN: We wanted to create magic for everybody and not exclude anybody. So the games, obviously, had to be pretty easy to just stand right in front of and understand and jump right in.

HEFFEL: Up to four players can interact with the games, using their bodies. And a Microsoft Kinect device follows every foot shuffle and arm wave, moving the characters on screen.

AIDEN LAURIE: Yeah, it was awesome.

HEFFEL: Nine-year-old Aiden Laurie stands on a busy street corner with his mom Rebecca. They just finished playing "Big Blues Hood Slam."

A. LAURIE: It was pretty cool. Like, I beat her and all - but, yeah, it was awesome.

REBECCA LAURIE: I am not a videogame player. I am more of a videogame appreciator. But this was a lot of fun. I'm actually out of breath, trying to beat my 9-year-old, and he killed me.

HEFFEL: Just up the street, friends Kyle Terry and Steven Groves try their hand at the videogame called, "Catchy." Both are self-proclaimed techies, each wearing Google Glass to record themselves contorting their bodies as they make robotic buckets on-screen pick up assorted diamonds and gold coins.

KYLE TERRY: So, I mean, I literally just walked up here, saw it - did not even know how to play, and then asked right before I stepped in and figured it out. So it's really cool.

STEVEN GROVES: And he kicked my butt.

TERRY: And I won, too, by - what was it? - 16 to 5.

GROVES: Yeah, 16 to 7 - 7.

HEFFEL: Wow.

TERRY: So.

GROVES: Don't get cocky, mister.

TERRY: So.

GROVES: I demand a rematch.

HEFFEL: While Terry and Groves set up for another game, Oh Heck Yeah creator, Brian Corrigan, says there's an even loftier plan for these giant games.

CORRIGAN: Really, the more connected we are, then we start to make the city more resilient. We connect people into possible new economic opportunity, and all of those things start to contribute to making the streets safer.

HEFFEL: Corrigan says one day, there could be city to city competitions as Oh Heck Yeah expands across the country. The bigger-than-life gaming continues through July 26. For NPR News, I'm Nathan Heffel in Denver.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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