Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gone off or what?

by Phil Day

Those were the days.
Recently (last weekend in fact) I was in New Jersey at Richie Knucklez video game arcade for the first, and what sounds like will be, the annual Kong Off. An incentive put together by Richie Knucklez and Billy ‘Video Game Player of the Century’ Mitchell. Together they invited the top Donkey Kong players in North America to compete against each other on Donkey Kong. For those who like classic arcade games I’m confident they would have enjoyed this event immensely. I know I did, but I was disappointed by one thing. I was really hoping someone would bury Donkey Kong. Probably a bit naïve of me, now that I have a better sense of the difficulty of this game, Donkey Kong simply refuses to lay down and die.

The weekend played out in an order of event that seemed equally as random as the barrel board. The first Kill Screen was reached by Eric Howard, not Hank Chien, Steve Wiebe, or Billy Mitchell. I say this not to put these three champs down, I’m simply pointing out how surprising this game can be. For example, Wiebe was on about 600,000 points and hadn’t lost a man. Then, he lost all four men on the same stage, he still managed the second highest score at the Kong Off – Hank Chien finished first. No one passed a million points, but I remember seeing many score over the 800,000 mark (or very close to it). Which got me thinking: not that long ago, wasn’t 800,000 a really high score on Donkey Kong? Of course it still is, but seemingly not anymore when it comes to the top ten players in North America (which in the case of Donkey Kong means the whole world). So I thought I’d visit The Twin Galaxies International Scoreboard to have a look-see at how high some players have climbed over the last five or so years – mistake right there. The Twin Galaxies web site has been changed. I clicked on ‘scoreboard’, then I was asked to ‘browse by letter’ so I clicked on ‘D’. I now could see 1 to 14 titles beginning with the letter ‘D’, but there were another 4516 titles. So I clicked ‘O’ thinking I might have to spell it out. … nothing … nothing … still, nothing. Finally, the site delivers ‘O’Riley’s Mine’ or some such game. What happened? Is this an improvement on the score-board? I'd have more luck navigating through the barrel board. I gave up. Thus ends this article. Game Over. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cooee teaser

‘Cooee’ is a shout used in Australia to attract attention. It is often used to find people lost in the bush, and the lost person in the bush to indicate their location often uses it. ‘Cooee’ is originally an Australian Aboriginal word meaning ‘come here’. 

So, if you are involved in gaming in anyway, we at BONUSLIFE: EXTENDED PLAY would love to hear what you have to say, and possibly organize an interview with you for our documentary that has already begun production.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Know anyone who has devoted a good chunk of their life to the betterment of Video Game culture?

By Phil Day

Walter Day
With the Oscars over members of the public are now invited to nominate video game related people to the International Video Game Hall of Fame (IVGHOF) selection committee for the Class of 2011. The Class of 2010 included the Xbox Design Team, Masaya Nakamura (founded Namco), Shigeru Miyamoto (the Creator of Donkey Kong), and a string of top gamers: Paul Dean, Ken House, Andrew Laidlaw, Steve Wiebe, Perry Rodgers, Johnathan ‘Fatal1ty’ Wendel, just to name a few. I didn’t submit any nominations last year, but I have submitted my nominations for the Class of 2011. There are five categories: Gamers, Games, Contributions to the Industry, The Industry Designers, and the Lifetime Achievement Award

The Life Time Achievement Award caught my attention the most. Last year it deservingly went to Walter Day. Can’t imagine anyone would argue that he couldn’t have been more fitting. So who’s going to get it this year? I spoke to the Liz Bolinger, IVGHOF Board member and Secretary of the Board (and Just Dance and Just Dance 2 World Champion) how the panel selects who deserves to be honored the most.

“The IVGHOF voting panel is made up of volunteers, about eight previous inductees, and about 15 journalists, basically people who don’t have a conflict of interest. There are already over 250 nominations the selection panel have to look through which is made up of a good mix of classic arcade gamers and a lot of early console gamers, but not so much newer consoles, and not so many PC gamers so far. The selection panel will be looking for gamers who are trying to do something good with video games so future generations of gamers will have role models with good tendencies. Billy Mitchell is good example. He has used his success as a gamer to give back. He has spent a lot of time and money to help with many gaming events, granted it promotes his sauce, but it also promotes video gaming.”

Fatal1ty fragging me with his IVGHOF trophy
But I had to ask Liz that surely a person's merit as a gamer or game developer was more important to the IVGHOF than whether or not they went to church or gave money to charities.

“Of course their affect on the gaming world will be looked at more than their behavior in the gaming community, but the IVGHOF’s is taking the similar approach to National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Take Pete Rose betting against his own team. His conduct is deserving of him never to be inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame. The IVGHOF want to induct those for having done something really good in gaming, not liars and cheats.”

I have to admit I like this. It doesn’t mean that a gamer who is brilliant won’t be recognized for their skill – they’ll still get their recognition through world records and the like, but if they are dubious in character they simply won’t make it into the IVGHOF.

I had to ask who Liz hoped would make it into the Class of 2011.

Liz Bolinger playing Just Dance
“I really want to see Tim McVey get inducted as a gamer. Obviously he’s known for his Nibbler score, but he’s played plenty of other games, and he’s kept up with gaming, he kept playing games. He’s one of the reasons why I started going for world records. And I’d like the Life Time Achievement Award to go to Ralph Bear for inventing the home console Magnavox Odyssey.  There’s so many people out there who are deserving that will be overlooked because the selection panel don’t’ know about them, or they weren’t nominated. So it’s important that people nominate.”

By the way, Liz is not on the selection committee. But if the IVGHOF selection panel is made up of people like Liz, I’m confident we’ll see a Class of 2011 just as deserving as the Class of 2010.

Nominations close March 15, 2011, the IVGHOF will stop accepting nominations:

Okay, having asked Liz, I better give my nomination for the Life Time Achievement Award for the IVGHOF Class of 2011. I’d give it to James Rolfe AKA The Angry Video Game Nerd. Born in 1980, Rolfe started doing game reviews as a child in the late 80’s, in 2006 his game reviews (often angry rants about poor quality games) were posted on YouTube. Many of his post have a million plus views, some as high as 2.5 million views with thousands of comments. Rolfe’s short shows are entreating, often filled with pretend violence (just like video games), but always filled with swearing (just like video games, not so much in the game, but by the frustration of the player. I haven’t known a gamer who hasn’t swore from frustration with a video game), not that I’m nominating Rolfe for punching and swearing. No, I’m nominating for his insightful dissection of video games. Rolfe consistently addresses at the science and aesthetics of video gaming. He discusses how clumsy programming can hinder what would other wise be an enjoyable game, and equally he addresses the music and graphics and how they play an all too important role that shouldn’t be neglected. I can’t imagine that any game developer would dismiss his criticisms as naïve or ill-informed. Rolfe is a gamer and journalist who has studied video games in depth, and he has done so his entire life. But more importantly than anything else, his positive reviews, like his review of Super Castlevania IV (episode Angry Video Game Nerd: Castlevania Part III):

James Rolfe AKA Angry Video Game Nerd
 The aforementioned episode was first published on 5th November 2009 since then this review has had over 1.1 million views and over 2000 comments, it is exactly the type of journalism that will continue to preserve and protect the posterity of video games for the future – exactly what the IVGHOF is also doing. Of those 1.1 million views, and 2000 comments, some one must have went and bought themselves a secondhand copy of Super Castlevania IV, and in doing so, they too, are keeping gaming of the past alive.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Father & Son Joust WR: Both-Up

By Phil Day

I first saw Joust when I was a little boy. I liked it then, and I like it now. It’s one of those rare video games that you really struggle with. It doesn’t have the easy response of Pac-Man where you press left on the joystick your Pac-Man will moved left, and if you need to suddenly change direction, you simply change direction, Pac-Man will respond. Pac-man is like running on dry grass, whereas the ostrich you steer in Joust is more like running on ice. You can’t simply stop and turn around. Your body weight wants to keep moving along the trajectory it’s going, for those who only play computer games, think Lunar Lander or Asteroids. But unlike like Lunar Lander, in Joust there are enemies, and unlike Asteroids, in Joust the enemy isn’t simply oscillating objects floating about aimlessly - the enemy targets you. Anyway, it’s a hard game. So it’s no surprise to say it’s a Williams game. Regardless, it has a new World Champion for Joust, and it’s not Donald Hayes, Perry Rodgers, John McAllister, or Pat Laffaye. These are the guys who have been topped by this new comer.

Isaiah Sanders was born in the early nineties; he’s about 18. Joust was released in 1982; ten years before Isaiah Sanders was born. The aforementioned champs have had a ten year start on Isaiah, and he plans to go further, and I believe he will. He has an excellent coach, his dad – Steve Sanders. It was together they set a new World record on Joust Doubles (the game allows you to play together as a team to obtain the highest score), but before you let the Diogenes of your mind get the better of you, let me explain. Steve’s score was over 400,000 points, Isaiah scored over 300,000 points. The total score 745,000. I’d like to add that Isaiah was still active in the game when the previous world record was beaten; a contentious point with many Joust enthusiasts, many believing the Joust Doubles score should end when one player has lost all their lives. Mark Sellers, classic arcade game enthusiast and owner of Stella’s Lounge and Arcade and ranked 6th best player in the world on Joust Marathon with a score of over 83 million, made the following remark on the Classic Arcade Gaming forum:

“Joust is more difficult with two players than it is with one. That's why it would be advantageous for a great player to have his partner die quickly. It then becomes a one-player game.”

I probably agree with Sellers. So may of these old games have been exploited and need the rules adjusted to keep competitive play alive (however, I’m fast learning that the politics of adjusting old rules to new game play is riddled with sour points), also, I’m not familiar enough with Joust to really comment.  What interests me more is Sellers remark “Joust is more difficult with two players."

Steve's score (SGS: 439,750) & Isaiah's score (ISS 305,250)
I spoke to both Isaiah and Steve about this. Isaiah doesn’t play much singles Joust, and Steve thought they were much the same, he is currently ranked 3rd on Joust Tournament with a score of 800,500 points, and he shares the previous world record on Joust Doubles with Donald Hayes with a combined score of 600,750 points (Hayes currently has the world record for Joust Tournament with a score of 1.4 million).  Sellers may be right about doubles Joust being more difficult than singles Joust. But he may also be wrong that it becomes easier if you let one player die and allow the other to continue. If this were the case, why is it that the doubles score is less than either of Steve Sanders or Hayes’s Joust Single tournament scores? Let me try and explain using chess theory.

In chess there is a tactic known as a ‘fork’, it’s when one piece threatens two opposing pieces at the same time, but the threatening piece is not under threat itself. Therefore the opponent can only save one of the two pieces. In chess we say the player is ‘forked’ (one of those rare moments where life imitates art). A similar tactic, from my understanding, takes place in Joust. In singles Joust the enemy tracks you, where you go they chase. But in doubles Joust this is somewhat scrambled. The enemy goes where you go, but because there are two of you on the screen the enemies can appear to be tracking one and suddenly be tracking another. Each enemy is like a train travelling on two potential tracks. Think of it this way. Imagine trying to group ghosts in Pac-Man if there were two Pac-Mans (or is that Pac-Man men?) on the screen. Each Pac-Man would be a force on the ghosts causing them to be pulled one way then another. Anyone who has ever tried to muster cattle, or round up sheep, or even catch a chook in a hen house, will know that the last thing you want in the paddock or hen house is someone who has no idea what they are doing. The livestock becomes completely confused, and worse still, the person who knows what they are doing becomes increasingly more frustrated. But this doesn’t explain whether the game returns to an easier behavior when one player is game over-ed. This is why Joust Doubles excites me. It’s an exciting thing for classic gaming. Exciting because so many of these old games seem to offer little new tactics, or have been exploited to the extreme. Here is a great title, a truly great classic game that the verdict isn’t out on yet. And what’s more, it is begging for an answer, but also, you need two skilled Joust players, and the Sanders Father & Son team is just that. Steve and Isaiah are hoping to reach the million well before the end of this year. I hope they do it, and I hope when they do it generates a bit more press, and in doing so stir up some Joust players hungry to prove a point.

Steve and Isaiah world champions on Doubles Joust
But before I congratulate Steve and Isaiah on their score, I’d like to point out that not many young players like Isaiah are setting world records on classic games in the age of Internet gaming. Those of us who are interested in such scores need to realize that it is the fresh younger players that the posterity of gaming has a future. To Isaiah, the classic video gaming world welcomes you with great thanks for your enthusiasm and terrific score, and to Steve, thanks again. Congratulations to you both.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"I love you"

By Phil Day

Akeson and Pac-Man
Back in Australia a friend of mine became interested in the video arcade game The Pit. He didn’t have the actual arcade machine; instead he was playing it on MAME. Michael Ison, the friend of mine, was regularly passing the world record on this little talked about our played game. The arcade version has had no one put a new score on the Twin Galaxies scoreboard since 1985. I like The Pit. I like those odd rare games that few people seem to be bothered to play, The Pit even more so because it is so ridiculously difficult, but it never gets a mention on any ‘top-ten-most-difficult-videogames-ever’ lists (nor does Nethack). I guess The Pit doesn’t get a mention because so few people know about it, so few people played them, and therefore were unable to exploited their subtle nuances of pushing the score up. Eric Akeson, the first ever inductee to the International Video Game Hall of Fame, Ottumwa, Iowa for being the first person to ever reach the split-screen in Turbo Pac-Man, favours rare games like The Pit. But as I got chatting with Akeson, I realised he liked almost everything about video games, with the exception of one thing, but I’ll get to that later, first things first – rare videogames.

I asked Akeson what it was about these rare games he liked so much. 

“Well, look at the perfect scores on Pac-Man, and what’s happening to Donkey Kong. All the patterns on how to play are available on the internet."

Akeson at the end of Pac-Man
Akeson has a valid point. There’s not much left to explore in Pac-Man or Donkey Kong, or many of the other big classic titles; they’re mostly exhausted in what there is to know to get a big score, it’s all bout perfecting what you know. But this isn’t true of a game Akeson particularly likes, and I’d never heard of, Woodpecker. I immediately assumed the game had something to do with the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker, but I was wrong. Not having ever played the game, I’ll let Akeson explain: “You play a mouse, and you are being attacked by birds – woodpeckers. It’s a lot like Pac-Man. The game must be built on Pac-Man programming. Even many of the sounds are the same. But what’s cool about Woodpecker is the dive-bomber. He’s a woodpecker that dives down and tries to hit you. There is also a ‘blow button’, and when you press that button the mouse blows and all the woodpeckers blow off the screen. There’s power pellets, like Pac-man has, but there are only two power pellets. It’s new and fresh to me. It has elements that Pac-man doesn’t, but it does have a split-screen, and I plan to get to the split-screen.”

I went in search of Woodpecker on the Internet, I found next to nothing; nothing on Wiki, but I found a teeny-weeny bit of footage on YouTube. Bits of the game sounded just like Pac-Man, but other than that I couldn’t follow what was really going on. It either looked near impossible to lose a man, or it looked very deadly. I did find a bit about it at AKA: The IAM (International Arcade Museum). They stated that of their 7,180 members ‘… there are 2 known instances of this machine owned by Woodpecker collectors who are members. Of these, 1 is a conversion in which game circuit boards (and possibly cabinet graphics) have been placed in (and on) another game cabinet, and one is a set of circuit boards which a collector could put into a generic case if desired. … No members have added this machine to their wish list. … This game ranks a 1 on a scale out of 100 (100 = most often seen, 1=least common) in popularity based on census ownership records.’

Woodpecker couldn’t be less prestigious, less coveted, or less competitive. (By the way The Pit scored a 7, and two members of IAM were looking to buy The Pit) its lack of appeal could well be indicator of something telling about the game-play. Nevertheless I admire Akeson for wanting to reach the split-screen, for him it all comes back to two things: fun, and beating the computer. He is a true gamer. He simply likes to play games to play them. Especially when they’re fresh to him. I imagined that Woodpecker took pride of place in his game-room alongside other classic titles including Make Trax, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong 3, Popeye, Mario Brothers, Over Drive, Pac-Man, and Lock and Chase - which he only recently finished restoring to its former self.

“My Lock and chase is a first generation cabinet. I’ve done a tone of work to it, and it look’s really nice. I re-painted it, new button, new switches in the joystick, coin mechanics all done with the little green plastic so the light shines through. The coin door looks absolutely wonderful - totally cleaned up, it’s beautiful. Now it’s worthy to go in my game room. Only mint games go in there. I won’t put a piece of shit in there. These things are like a piece of furniture.  I wouldn’t want a nasty old piece of furniture in my house, you know? In my game room I’ve got my certificates and posters, and my Hall of Fame Trophy. It’s a cool little room, and putting a piece of shit game in there it would stick like a sore thumb.”

I must say I was a little disappointed to hear that his Woodpecker isn’t in his game-room, it’s just a circuit board he fits into a cabinet from time to time when he’s keen to play. Its rarity has made it hard to be anything more. However it hasn’t been all bad luck and sweat for Akeson getting the games he likes the most.

“My favourite machine is Make Trax. It came out of a warehouse in its original box brand new. I was the first to ever play it. …. Nintendo machines look great all in a row. I have four in a row. And my D2K (Donkey Kong 2) is like a brand new BMW on the show room floor. Everything is brand new, and there’s no paint runs, beautiful screen, everything works beautifully. An arcade machine like that, from 81 or 82 in mint condition, I couldn’t have anything but a high level of appreciation for these machines. I enjoy refurbishing these things more than playing them … almost.”

But what about consoles, Atari, Super NES,  Xbox and the like?

“I have an Xbox360 and I have Call of Duty, but I got rid of it. I don’t like that violence at all. All that killing didn’t appeal to me, it’s too realistic, so I got rid of it. I went back playing Forza Motor Sport 2 – a racing game. I like House of Dead, it’s really gory, but that’s fun. You’re shooting zombies, which is different to shooting people. Shooting zombies is cartoony.”

We chatted some more about ‘violent games’. Put simply, Akeson doesn’t like violent games. He likes games to be silly-fun: eating ghosts, jumping barrels. He has issues with playing a protagonist that steals a car, mounts the pavement, and runs over innocent citizens. It’s not his interest to stop others playing, he simply chooses not to play it himself.

Akeson in his gameroom with mates John McAllister,
Perry Rogers, and  Dave Shoup.
“I try not to get involved in the politics of video gaming. I don’t give people who want to take things to a negative level the time. … this group of gamers versus this group of gamers. For me it’s about games. I think gamers need to come together and be inclusive. It shouldn’t be the classic guys against the console guys. I’m into the classic, but I also like to play the new school stuff, like the Wii. I think there’s room for everybody to be involved. And the International Video Game Hall of Fame is trying to do the right thing by uplifting the forefathers of games from as early as the 60’s, including the players, and game developers, and all the generations between.  I don’t know if I’m worthy of being an inductee, I know there’s guys who have done bigger and better things than I’ve done. But I appreciate it. Because of it I’ve met many people, many good people, and that’s what it’s about for me – the people. The Big Bang in Ottumwa is an opportunity for that to happen.”

Akeson with his good friend Walter Day
Akeson’s not pretending when he says that gaming is about the people. I’ve met him a few times, and spoken quite a bit over the phone. Which is why I think he’s wrong about not being as worthy as others for being inducted to the International Video Game Hall of Fame. Eric Akeson has to be one of the friendliest, pleasant, and loving guys I’ve ever met. He’s like Yogi Bear – a big friendly fellow I want to hug. He’s a good man with an infectious enthusiasm, and a positive easy going user friendly inclusiveness that gaming has, but could always have more of. I think this is most evident in his description of finishing a stage in another of his favourite games - Fantasy. Akeson told me that when you finish a stage you save a girl, and having saved her she says: “I love you” – I got the feeling that he liked that.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

'For I am nothing, if not critical' - Iago

By Phil Day

Just this week Patrick Scott Patterson (video gamer, former pro-wrestler, and Twin Galaxies referee) announced the ‘relaunching’ of A web site dedicated to video gaming. Among many positives statements about creating greater awareness of video games he wrote the following paragraph:

‘I'm sure there will be critics.  I'm sure some folks reading this right now will think that this is all about me or political gain.  Always seems to be, and anyone who would think that is part of the reason gaming isn't what it could be.’

Three things caught my attention: ‘critics’, ‘political gain’, and  ‘anyone who would think [the site is all about ‘me’ or ‘political gain’] is part of the reason gaming isn't what it could be.’

In regard to the use of the word ‘critics’ I’m hoping Patterson is using it in regard to negative-prejudices that the video game community has so often received. If so I agree. These stereotypes are wrong in every sense of the word.  But I do think we need critics. I say this because I think critics are valuable. We need critics. The world needs critics. We need people to critique most human behaviors: Japanese waling, home schooling, smoking marijuana, the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld think-tank. We, as thinking and informed humans who share a planet that is more interconnected with other cultures than ever before need to make an effort to evaluate the worth of our practices and the affect they might have on others and the planet we share. If we simply accept on prejudice – “I like it, it must be good” – would be irresponsible. We need critics of all sorts, particularly political critics – political journalism couldn’t be unhealthier than it is right now. It’s as if the ideas of Walter Lippmann regarding objective reasoning in journalism is too honest for today. I say this because big video games titles are now more popular than big Hollywood films. We know films cannot go unchecked. They need to be classified, and so are games as Patterson points out. But if video games with all their popularity, and arguably pervasive culture, are important enough to have serious discussion and the desire to build a historical museum in Ottumwa, then it is important enough to try, I say try, to get it right. This requires criticism. Unfortunately it will also require money.

Powerful individuals who hold the proverbial carrot for the social-persuasion also hold the same carrot for video gaming: Microsoft, Facebook, and the iPhone – to name a few. True, there are many independent video games being made that have proven to popular and a financial successful, but the individuals who created these games would hardly compare to the wealth of the video game platforms they operate on. It is important for any museum not to be entangled with corporate involvement. Fine if they are willing to offer money with a disinterested position, but too often this is not the case with museums and corporate sponsorship. They too soon can become more involved than simply offering financial support; all of a sudden they are calling the shots. (With the Superbowl just over, sometimes it was hard to tell if the event was more about the game with commercials between the breaks, or more of a lead up to the much talked about Doritos and Volkswagen advertisements). Of course these companies would have their own political gain, it would be naïve to think otherwise; it’s hard to think of anything that’s not political today. The air we breathe is political with arguments being fought over the burning of fossil fuels. Open a yogurt and it’s full of politics: the treatment of cattle in the dairy industry; fruit exposed to pesticides; the minimum wages for the packers of the yogurt. Of course Patterson’s website is no different (nor is the one you’re reading this article from), and this is a healthy, provided we – Patterson and I and others – offer varying arguments with critical thinking free of subjective truths and pre-conceived ideas.  But this can’t happen if: ‘anyone who would think [the site is all about ‘me’ or ‘political gain’] is part of the reason gaming isn't what it could be.’

Aspects of the video game world are divided on many things: PC vs. Consoles; Wiebe fans vs. Mitchell fans; Haters-of-Twin Galaxies vs. those-who-believe Twin Galaxies can’t-do-wrong.  Personally, I don’t have any games on my PC and I don’t own a consol. I’m hoping Dean Saglio takes the Donkey Kong World Record, and I know nothing about him other than he is reportedly very skilled at Donkey Kong. I’ve learnt this fro talking to Steve Sanders, Steve Wibe, Hank Chien, and Jon McAllister. Each knows something of Saglio’s game. As for Twin Galaxies, they do an excellent job. Nevertheless, I think some of the tracks they are recording scores on are a glut in the system and only confuse people as to what is truly the Donkey Kong World Record. It is with the hammer or without? I don’t believe things like this can be ignored if the posterity of video gaming is of any value. We need critics, video games are political, and if you don’t agree with me … that’s healthy, it’s important you exercise your freedom of thought, but it’s also important to give your own thoughts some thought too.

Monday, February 7, 2011

ROM OK? RAM OK?: New World Records set by Hank Chien & Andrew Laidlaw

By Phil Day

Last month saw a new Donkey Kong World Record set by Hank Chien, and a new Galaga world record set by Andrew Laidlaw. This interests me. So I interviewed them both. However, having done an article on Donkey Kong and Galaga last year I didn’t feel I needed to ask too much about why they played and how they played and so on, especially so considering both players have previous held these world record before, and I’m sure they’ve have already commented so much on those questions. So we talked about the future of their World records and the games in which they cored them on – both Donkey Kong and Galaga being as good as three decades old now. You’re probably thinking these games are doing well to still have an interested playing public. If so, you’d be right. Both titles are available on iPhone. Donkey Kong has had many incarnations into other games. And Galaga was revamped as Galaga Legions for the Xbox in 2008, and asked its readers to give their opinion on their favourite arcade games. Pac-man came in at number 1, followed by Galaga, then Donkey Kong. KLOV’s poll interested me, even more so having spoken to Chien and Laidlaw. Let me try and explain why.

Pac-Man, as a competitive game for international high scores, is dead. Billy Mitchell killed it in 1999 with a perfect score of 3,333,360 points. Since then another five people have equalled his score. But it can’t be beaten. Some have reached Mitchell’s score in less time than Mitchell, but i don’t think Mitchell ever tried to do it as fast as he could. And what does it really matter if someone does it quicker. They don’t’ get extra points. But those who have equalled his score are clearly as good as Mitchell at Pac-man. Nevertheless, we will ever see the score grow.

On the 19th March 2011 we may witness the death of Donkey Kong at Richie Knuclez arcadein New Jersey. Billy Mitchell, Steve Wiebe, Dean Saglio, and Hank Chien are, reportedly, all going to be there. Chien recently told me that he’d be there for sure, but he doesn’t think he’ll be trying to top his score. His score of 1,068,000 is 3,500 points higher than Wiebe’s, and 5,200 points higher than Mitchell’s. Saglio dosen’t have a score on the board for Donkey Kong ‘Hammer allowed’ (What are these other bogus tracks like no ‘hammer allowed’?), but Saglio does have a score of 1,136,400 points on Donkey Kong MAME (MAME is the acronym for ‘multiple arcade machine emulator’; software that allows home computers to run arcade games.) Saglio’s MAME score is 68,400 points above the Hank Chien’s. More interestingly both Chien and Weibe believe the MAME version of Donkey Kong is identical to the arcade game. If this is true, how does Saglio manage to get so many more points the top contenders? Who better to ask than Chien.

Chien talked to me about ‘point pressing’ in Donkey Kong. Spots in the game where a player can rack up points somewhat comfortably. He also explained that the most amount of point pressing is available on the most dangerous stages. Chien said:

“It’s all about the Barrel Board”

Barrel Boards? There are 22 stages in Donkey Kong – number 22 being the infamous ‘kill screen’ where the game simply shuts down. Within these 22 stages there are four different maps, or ‘boards’ as they are known. These boards have no official names, but they have become known as: The Barrel Board, Elevators, The Pie Factory, and Rivets. The names indicate a bit about their game play and each board plays quite differently. So much so that the donkey Kong World Record, according to Chien, seems to be coming down to who can squeeze the most points out of the barrel board – the most famous board - the board where we see Donkey Kong hurling barrels down at Jumpman (now known as Mario). Having spoken to Steve Sander and Steve Wiebe on this too, I’m sure they’d agree. I have seen a little of Mitchell’s game on the Barrel Board. I’ve watched his Jumpman jump three barrels then run down a ladder to jump them again. Because every time Kong releases a barrel the clock is counting down. There are a finite number of barrels being released. If you don’t jump the barrels, or smash them with the hammer, then you’re throwing points away. Unfortunately the barrels are random, very random. They don’t’ fall comfortably, and even with the predictability of the descending aliens in Space Invaders. Instead they behave like a pineapple being bowled down the stairs. So, for world champions like Chien, depending how the barrels behave will determine what chance he has of maximizing his best skills into a top score – luck plays a big part at World Record high scores for those few extra hundred points. The Twin Galaxies score board reflects this. Wiebe and Mitchell both have 99+% of Chien’s world record score. But Chien’s score is 93.9% of Saglio’s score. Still good, but in the Donkey Kong World Champion elite club it is arguably (easily arguably) along way away. Another way of looking at it is by comparing Chris Enright’s score to Chien’s. There is only 205,200 points between Enright (ranked at number 10) and Chien’s World Record score, remembering Saglio’s score is 68,400 points above Chien’s. But saglio’s is all on MAME, and Mitchell hasn’t been playing a full game for his Donkey Kong World Records. He get’s his scores with Jumpmen to spare, and walks away – legend. Maybe he won’t in March. Either way, every time a new World Record is set, it’s another nail in the coffin for Donkey Kong. But Galaga is different – kind of.

Galaga deosn’t have the problem of a kill screen, or point pressing. And the stages are as good as identical, with the exception of challenging stages, but you can’t lose a life on a challenging stage, so they are no threat; the strategy to Galaga is quiet simple, Laidlaw puts it best:

“Stay alive”

I suppose you could say this about all video games. But Galaga has no real tricks to beating it. There are things that are good to know, they’re pretty obvious, you’d learn them within in minutes of play. Galaga is a more like Ten Pin Bowling that way. After a couple of throws you know not what to do. Don’t put it into the gutter o the left or the gutter on the right. Stay in the middle and hit the pins. Of course from there it can be fine tuned, which is what Laidlaw has done, but unlike Ten Pin Bowling (or Pac-Man) there is no perfect score.

Galaga is counting to some zero point crunch time (and if it is we have no idea where that end score is). But the problem with Galaga is Laildaw’s new score: 4,525,150 points. To equal his score you have to average about 900,000. But this is not quite true, you really need to average about 1.1 million over four men due to the advantage of ‘doubling up’ your ship (Galaga allows players to have tow ships joined. This doubles their fire-power, but it also doubles their size as a target for the enemy aliens). Laidlaw has laid down the law: A million points per double-up or don’t bother. I’m quite sure that someone can pass Laidlaw’s score. Laidlaw believes this too. The problem for that person will be dedication. Reaching 100,000 points on Galaga isn’t so easy for a new player. It doesn’t even seem to be so easy for older players of these games who know them so well. I don’t think the game is harder than other games, for example, I don’t think it is harder than Donkey Kong. Laidlaw is a good friend of Wiebe’s. Wiebe has suggested they teach each other on their expertise. Laidlaw thinks he could teach Wiebe how to play and win at Galaga, but doesn’t think Wiebe could teach him how to play and win at Donkey Kong – and Wiebe’s a teacher. Laidlaw believes they’re simply too different from each other, that the type of animal that is attracted to Donkey Kong is nothing like the type of animal that is attracted to Galaga. I have to admit, Donkey Kong torments me to no end. And then there is all that fiddly point pressing – I just couldn’t be bothered (and I’m hopeless at it). Laidlaw thinks that someone who has the skill-set to manage point pressing on ‘the barrel board’ should be comfortable with managing a Galaga stage with comfort. I agree, but something is keeping people at bay from putting up their scores on this popular game. For example, Donald Hayes and John McAllister. In my opinion, Hayes and McAllister are the top two classic arcade video game players in the world. And between them they rank on the top ten games listed on as follows:

1st: Pac-Man (Hayes)
29th Donkey Kong (Hayes)
5th Star Wars (Hayes)
10th Ms. Pac-Man (Hayes)
2nd Dig Dug (Hayes)
1st Asteroids (McAllister)
3rd Defender (McAllister)
2nd Tron (Hayes)
1st Centipede (Hayes)

Neither have a score on Tempest (it is ranked at the bottom with Centipede), nor do they have a score on Galaga Tournament. I don’t understand. Hayes has the world record on Centipede and can complete a perfect game of Pac-Man. McAllister has the world record on both Asteroids tournament setting and marathon, he also has the world record o Robotron: 2080. These guys could nail Galaga to the wall – I’m sure of it. What’s weirder is the popularity of Galaga – number two on KLOV’s list, and it is still being manufactured with Ms.Pac-Man by NAMCO. Yet it only has 12 submitted scores on Galaga Tournament. Yet all but one of the top ten Donkey Kong scores (from a total of 81) on the Twin Galaxies scoreboard was submitted within the past four years. What’s Galaga dying from? I hope not.

Pac-man is dead and buried, and I believe Donkey Kong is being bled to death by its top players, which is fair enough. People are out and out to destroy that game. But I’d hate to see such a popular and simple game like Galaga slowly die without the dignity it deserves.

Regardless, congratulations to Second Time Donkey Kong World Champion Hank Chien, and congratulations to Second Time Galaga World Champion Andrew Laidlaw.