Defending Charity

defenderSome people might think that it would be impossible to beat a score of 79,976,975, but Billy Joe Cain of Austin, Texas, thought otherwise.  He calculated that it would take at least 80 hours to get 80 million or more points to beat the current marathon record.  He estimated it would take a little more than 1 million points per hour to make it happen.  Having won not only the First Annual Texas Video Game Championships in and setting records recently for VGS for fastest time to a million and most points scored in an hour, he should know.

The game in question?  Defender.

But Biily wasn’t just wanting to break a world record on Defender, he was wanting to do some good as well and with, Josh Jones, his event coordinator and RecordSetter officiator, they settled on raising funds for the Mission Soup Kitchen in Killeen Texas. The kitchen provides meals for homeless and limited income clients.

They called the event “Defender Marathon – Charity Drive” and are seeking to raise $1,000 for the soup kitchen.  The fundraising end date is targeted for Wednesday, Nov. 20.

Billy received numerous useful tips and advice from record setting marathoners, including but not limited to Tim McVey of Nibbler fame, Lonnie McDonald, who is known for rolling Joust scores throughout the U.S., Ed Heemskerk, who is known for his Qbert attempts that were thwarted by power issues, and many others.

The week leading up to the event was plagued with technical difficulties.  A bad ribbon cable caused a number of issues – but once it was replaced, things seemed to go smoothly.    Several sponsors endorsed the event, including local companys —  Chuy’s on Barton Springs and Mr. Natural — and Kings Isle which provided perks for people who donate specific amounts.  VGS also sponsored the event, providing T-Shirts to be given away.

Billy-and-Josh-jones
Billy Joe Cain, left, with Josh jones. Photo courtesy of Josh Jones.

The event was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Nov. 16, but as Josh told me, Billy was wide awake and ready to go, so they started early, around 8:30 a.m.

Josh posted regular score updates to both the event page for the Defender charity run as well as his own profile.  A little after noon, Billy passed the 4 million point mark.  A little more than an hour and a half later, he hit 5.66 million.  By 10:22 p.m. he passed 15 million points and was still going strong.  At 2:17 a.m. Nov. 17, he had achieved 19 million points and by 10:10 a.m. he was at 26.5 million points.  Billy continued playing, averaging over a million an hour.  At 4:09 p.m., Billy was at 32 million, but then something happened – fatigue set in.

Billy started losing ships at a fast pace and after 32 hours and 35 minutes of game play, the marathon ended with a score of 33,644,725.

Billy posted this on Facebook regarding the difficulty of a marathon:

“In order to get your mind around this marathon run, combine rolling the million points, rolling the 256 ships, rolling the 256 smart bombs, and rolling the 256 waves into one giant mess, and while you’re doing that… keep track of:
– your food intake
– your water intake
– your ship count
– your smart bomb count
– your needed restroom breaks

And general human interaction while having news crews, online webcasts, online and in person interviews…

All the while being streamed on the interweb, managed by a referee, and not sleeping or leaving the machine for any reason without the game continuing to run, at a rate of losing ONE SHIP EVERY 7 SECONDS!”

Billy-and-his-son-during-attempt

One of the important tips Billy received was the he needed to stay mentally engaged, have conversations with others, etc.  Josh, while verifying the score and making sure Billy was okay, helped out with that, bringing in special guests, getting people to call in, reading questions to Billy for him to answer while he played.

After Billy and Josh get some rest, we intend to do an interview with them regarding the event.

Even though Billy didn’t achieve his goals of 80 million in 80 hours, he should still be recognized for setting an impressive record as verified by both RecordSetter and Video Game Scoreboard.  It was an amazing run even if it was cut short.  Congratulations Billy.

While the marathon attempt has concluded, the fundraising is still open for the Killeen Mission Soup Kitchen.  So far $803 of the $1,000 goal has been raised.  Donations can be made here.

[Defending Charity]

[Video Game Scoreboard]

When Video Games Become Board Games: Part 1

The 1980s saw a sudden increase in board games that were based upon classic video game cartridges or the quarter-devouring arcade machines.  Leading the charge was the powerhouse board game company Milton Bradley with an astounding array of video-to-board game titles, but were soon joined by competing gaming companies such as Ideal, Entex, and Parker Brothers.  It was a glorious time for board game enthusiasts!

This is the first of (hopefully) a series of articles listing and describing the various video game to board game properties that provided hours of family fun for a generation of gamers.  Just a quick note of definition: to be included on this list a game must fulfill a number of requirements: have its origin in a video game property, be for at least two players, and be an actual board or card game (not a handheld or tabletop electronic game).

video game board game

 

Frogger (Milton Bradley, 1981) While the fun of hopping across the road, avoiding certain death from a wide variety of sources was a hit as a video game, the translation – authentic as it was – did not have the same charm as a two-player board game, which, really, should not have been a surprise.   More interesting is that this may have been the very first board game to be based on a video game property!

video game board game

Pac-Man Game. (Milton Bradley, 1981) One of the best conversions of the arcade experience to table top board game play by using a game board in the design of the Pac-Man screen, with marbles taking the place of all the dots (the marbles are held in place by holes in the game board).  Four competing Pac-Man player tokens with the ability to capture and store marbles travel the board, avoiding ghosts and eating their way to success.  A brilliant translation!

video game board game

Defender (Entex, 1982) Entex had introduced electronic handheld versions of several popular video games, including Defender in 1981.  Board games were still a hot market, and so they also experimented with a board game version. Up to four players could attempt to turn back the invasion of various aliens, their directions shifting using a spinner to simulate the mobility of the arcade version. An ambitious, difficult to find game.

video game board game

Donkey Kong Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Players moved their Mario tokens on a game board reproduction of the classic game screen, dodging barrels and fireballs when necessary, climbing up the girders to defeat Donkey Kong and rescue the “fair maiden.” The game was actually a pretty decent conversion from the video game, and a lot of fun to play.

video game board game

Invader (Entex, 1982) As previously mentioned, Entex produced many electronic handheld games, and some based on video game properties such as Defender and Space Invaders. However, the licencing was a bit of an adventure for this California-based company, and in this case, their agreement did not extend to making a board game based on the Space Invaders video game. Their solution? Rename it “Invader” and remove all mention of the game it was based upon!

video game board game

Ms. Pac-Man Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Although this game is based on the original arcade game and uses its elements, Milton Bradley ensured that the game play is completely different to prevent Ms. Pac-Man from becoming a duplicate of their original 1981 Pac-Man Game. The game board is divided into four quadrants, and players take turns moving the Ms. Pac-Man token attempting collect as many plastic dots as possible from their quadrant. Each player also controls one Ghost token, which he or she can use to intercept and regain control of Ms. Pac-Man. It may not be completely true to the original, but Ms. Pac-Man is still an enjoyable game to play!

video game board game

Pac-Man Card Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Pac-Man enters the world of educational card games, albeit with very little of the addictive charm that made the franchise so enduring. The mechanic is a bit labored with players attempting to fill lines of three spaces with Pac-Man cards to complete equations and score points.  To enjoy this game you either have to be a complete math or Pac-Man geek. Not much here for anyone else!

video game board game

Turtles (Entex, 1982) This game for 2 to 4 players was based on the Konami arcade game Turtles by Stern, and was another of Entex’s handheld games to board games series.  Just like the arcade game, players needed to rescue little turtles, and whoever rescued the most, won. Important to note that this game has NOTHING to do with any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Possibly the most obscure video-to-board game entry on this list.

video game board game

Zaxxon (Milton Bradley, 1982) Translating the faux three-dimensional Zaxxon video game with its altitude-shifting airships into a two-dimensional board game was a challenge that was met in full by Milton Bradley by using a few standard 3-D tokens in conjunction with ingeniously designed fighter tokens that could be raised or lowered on their stands as needed. Game play was very similar to the original Zaxxon game, but with two to four players attempting to reach and shoot Zaxxon with BOTH their fighters and win the game.

A Footnote
It is important to remember that board games are not video games and neither should be expected to match the other’s total gaming experience.  Video games of this era were all about constant motion, quick reflexes and split-second decision-making.  Board games, however, are about measured decisions, random die rolls or card draws, and ever-changing strategies based on the play of your opponents.  In addition, board games often have suggested ages for players. I have read several reviews over the years from adults who were unable to understand that a game meant for children would have limited appeal to adults (and who scored them based on their own experience of playing them as an adult), or from reviewers who also expected a board game to be a video game.  These kinds of reviews do a tremendous disservice to the board game genre and to those who are searching for more information on one of these classic games.  To those game reviewers – and you know who you are – STOP IT! Let the game be judged on its actual merits, not on standards that it was never intended to fulfill.

Midway Arcade Origins

midway arcade origins

Nostalgia can be extremely arresting.  Can a gamer ever return to the feeling experienced when first taking out the Death Star in Star Wars, smashing multiple baddies with a single rock in Dig-Dug, or playing a flawless board of Ms. Pac Man?

midway arcade origins

Gamer nostalgia is also conjured by environments and contexts.  I’m sure most middle aged gamers have swapped stories from their youth about visiting the local arcade (remember those?) to plunk some quarters in their favorite machines. In those golden years, we played for nothing but score and bragging rights, and we were fascinated by graphics that were so remarkable that they couldn’t yet be reproduced on our home systems or personal computers.  I used to beg my father to take me to the PX on base (military brat, represent) so that I could play one of my retro favorites—the cartoonish cop chase game A.P.B.  It was my fond memory of this 1987 relic that led me toward Midway Arcade Origins. I do not regret the purchase.  At the same time, some of the classic titles within this trove of 30+ games simply don’t reignite the longing to play arcade games that I fondly remember from my childhood.

midway arcade origins

The first problem with the compilation is that some of the classic control schemes just don’t translate to modern joypads.  720 is a prime example. In my youth, I would eagerly line my quarters on top of the black-and white-checkered plastic control panel assembly, but without the circle-locked joystick on the arcade cabinet, the game is almost unplayable.  Too much die, not enough skate.  The same unfortunately applies to A.P.B., a game that is dysfunctional sans its steering wheel and pedals.  Granted, you can still get some enjoyment out of the titles, but they just aren’t the same without the respective racing wheels and other cabinet specific peripherals.

midway arcade origins

Unfortunately, there is also a lot of useless filler in the compilation.  The less you remember about Pit-Fighter, Xenophobe, and arguably the worst sequel of all time, Spy Hunter 2, the better.   In light of these weak choices, I found myself wondering why Paperboy, NARC, and Roadblasters were left out.  All three were extremely popular Midway titles from my youth, and all three could have easily made the compilation exponentially better, especially since Paperboy is no longer available on Xbox Live Arcade.

midway arcade origins

Thankfully I was able to get a lot of enjoyment out a few of the included offerings.  Joust and Joust 2 hold up extremely well, as do Satan’s Hollow, Robotron 2084, Spy Hunter, Rampage, and both Gauntlet games (just don’t shoot the food!). Two titles I’d never played before, Wizard of Wor and Bubbles, ended up being my favorites.  Smash TV and its sequel Total Carnage also play well with a modern controller, and they still serve as a reminder that most of these games were simply designed to get one more quarter out of the pocket of your Kangaroos.  This is certainly a staunch contrast from the “save anywhere, unlimited lives” mentality that permeates game design today.

Leaderboards are also included so you can still appreciate how badly you perform compared to other hardcore retro gamers.  Further, multiplayer is offered on any title that traditionally supported it.   While the limitations of portable console gaming and the omission of certain titles does make the compilation feel a bit incomplete, the game isn’t a bad purchase if you are looking to scratch that retro itch. Just don’t expect most of the games to play like they did when you were waiting in line behind that skeevy dude in the Iron Maiden t-shirt to get one more crack at Sinistar.

Arcade Classics: What happened to them all?

It is easily the most common question I get when I chat with anyone about the classic arcade games of the early 1980s. What happened to them all?

Tron

They remember those days just as I do. Video arcades were commonplace and practically every type of business out there had arcade games in them. I remember seeing a Defender in the window of a flower shop, Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga machines at the local Denny’s and entire gamerooms in select 7-Eleven stores. These machines were literally everywhere.

Over time a number of these machines have ended up in homes, mostly as an addition to a rec room or something fun in the corner of the garage. A smaller number of home collectors are deeply dedicated, some with dozens or even hundreds of machines. In recent years, arcades and taverns with classic themes are popping up around the country, giving an extent of new life to a bygone era.

Atari Football

What most casual and even many die-hard classic arcade fans don’t realize is that the vast majority of machines from the early eighties arcade boom are long gone from the planet. While games such as AsteroidsSpace InvadersPac-Man and Donkey Kong set arcade sales records that still stand today, most did not survive.

Today I provide some insight into why. While none of this is going to cover things in depth, it is going to touch on the basic answers to that common question.

The Great Video Game Crash

Atari Pole Position

While it is becoming a hardly known legend to the younger generations of gamers, the entire North American video game industry crashed hard in 1983 and 1984. The arcade market and home console markets crashed for different reasons, with the coin-ops dropped off first. Things slowed in the summer of 1982 and went into a free-fall the next year, due in large part to oversaturation of the marketplace and aging equipment.

By 1984, a great number of arcade operators had gone out of business. Those that survived had significantly smaller operations and routes. The vast majority of arcade machines seen in non-arcade businesses were never owned by those businesses but rather by vendors who installed the machines in those locations for a cut of the revenue.

Operators were stuck with huge inventories of machines nobody wanted to play anymore, and with almost everyone forced to scale back operations, most older machines had no resale value or potential buyers. Everyone had enough Scramble and Galaxian machines gathering dust in a warehouse already.

Joust

So they trashed them.

Many machines were gutted for useful parts such as monitors and coin doors then had their cabinets smashed, burned or taken to a landfill. Others were left to rot in abandoned warehouses, sheds or fields.

This practice actually still continues today. Me and a friend came across an antique store a few years ago that had obtained a few trailers of early eighties machines. Thinking they had no value they left the open trailers outside and smashed up entire machines until they’d filled their dumpsters. By the time we got there, we found pieces of games such as Donkey Kong Junior andCentipede in the trash and the machines still in tact had been rained on so much they were falling apart.

While there are hobbyists who restore classic machines scattered across the country, it is commonplace for them to use several machines to complete one full restoration, trashing the rest.

Conversions, Multicades and MAME

Mame arcade cabinet

Most classic arcade machines that didn’t end up as scrap were converted into newer game titles, and still are today.

The first successful conversion kit game was Mr. Do! in 1983, starting a trend that helped operators survive at least a while longer. For a far lesser price than a full arcade machine, vendors could purchase kits with new electronics, graphics and sometimes wiring which was used to turn that old Qix or Berzerk machine into a brand new game title.

While most arcade manufacturers resisted this trend as long as they could, they were forced to change with the times and start offering kits to operators. Some, such as Nintendo and Atari, began to produce kits designed to specifically convert their older titles.

Pac-Man

 

This trend continued through the middle of the decade but slowed for a time in the late 1980s. A bit of a resurgence in the arcade market came along with the rebirth of the home console industry during this time, and dedicated machines of newer hit titles began to sell once again. Most converted machines were simply converted again to newer titles for street locations.

The next big period of conversion mania came with Street Fighter II in 1991 and 1992. This game earned so much money so quickly that many operators quickly bought kits for every arcade cabinet they had in storage. Years ago I met an operator that literally converted every remaining early 80s machine he had to SFII when it was hot, and remember locations with classic machines such as BurgerTime and Front Line that they converted at this time.

Donkey Kong 3

In recent years the conversion mania has continued in two forms. Over the past decade an influx of overseas knock off boards often dubbed as “Multicades” have made their way into North America. These bootleg boards contain dozens and sometimes hundreds of games. Many arcade machine resellers have gutted surviving classics in favor of converting them into these multi-game machines in the name of making a buck.

Other home collectors have built arcade machines based on the MAME emulation program. While some of these MAME fans have built their arcade rigs from classic cabinets that were already stripped or converted beyond reasonable restoration, others have posted blogs where they show their process of gutting a surviving arcade machine to build it into a computer-based conversion.

Several arcade conversions have appeared on these popular treasure-hunting television programs in recent years, often without the people on the show seemingly aware of it. An episode of Pawn Stars saw someone bring three “Japanese Arcade Games” into the Las Vegas shop, two of which were conversions from Defender machines. The Ms. Pac-Man machine that appeared on an episode of Auction Hunters was actually a conversion of an original Pac-Man machine, a cabinet that is similar but quite different in many ways as well.

Arcade Passports Required

Ms. Pac-Man

Classic-era arcade machines that weren’t trashed, left to rot or converted may not reside in the country at all anymore. Several people in southern states have confirmed to me in the past that they have shipped and sold entire box trucks of older arcade machines to Mexico.

The current world record holder on Taito rarity Zoo Keeper had his machine shipped to his Australia home from the United States.

Preservation is Key

Trojan

At the present time it seems that the number of people who’d rather turn a retro arcade machine into a Multicade or MAME machine far outnumbers those who would rather try to restore them into their former glory. It is a long and often expensive task to do so.

However, these machines are pieces of pop culture and video game industry history. Just as memorabilia from films, television and various sports have seen efforts to save and preserve their history over time, video games are finally starting to see signs of a preservation effort.

The efforts of groups such as Southern California’s Videogame History Museum and New Hampshire’s American Classic Arcade Museum should be noted for being among the first in the country to take serious steps in this direction as well as many individual collectors across the country such as New Jersey’s Richie Knucklez and Cat DeSpira in the Pacific Northwest.

In time, such efforts may turn the question from “What happened to them all?” to “Did you see all that are left?”

Site of Last Starfighter, birthplaces of Mario and Lode Runner added to registry

Three new additions have been made to the Registry of Historic Gaming Locations, a project aimed at preserving the stories of locations that have historical importance to video gaming.

The Last Starfighter

The project, which started last summer, now lists a total of 26 locations with plans to add more on a monthly basis.

The newest crop of inductions include:

– Rio Cafe & Grocery in Santa Clarita, CA – The food store where the hotshot gamer in 1984 film The Last Starfighter strutted his stuff.

– Early Nintendo Warehouse in Seattle, WA – The site where the struggling Nintendo of America built the Donkey Kong machines that saved them from bankruptcy in 1981.  This is also the warehouse owned by Mario Segale, the man rumored to be the inspiration behind the naming of Nintendo’s iconic mascot.

– Former Broderbund Software HQ in San Rafael, CA – The place that brought Lode Runner, Choplifter, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Prince of Persia to life.

Some of the other 23 locations previously inducted include competitive gaming birthplace Ottumwa, IA, the original testing locations of classics such as Donkey Kong and Defender, arcade locations featured in films such as Tron, The Karate Kid and WarGames, former headquarters locations of companies such as Atari and Bally Midway and the famous landfill that saw millions of unsold Atari game cartridges dumped in 1984.

In a short time the Registry of Historic Gaming Locations has received press coverage across the world, including recent stories in Japan and Brazil.

The full Registry list, including the newest three entries, can be found at PatrickScottPatterson.com.

 

Still Providing Raw Thrills: Eugene Jarvis has impacted over 30 years of gaming

Eugene Jarvis

Odds are high that any person who has put a coin into anything in an arcade over the past three decades has played something attached to the name Eugene Jarvis.

Whether someone is a classic gamer still hooked on Defender or Robotron: 2084, a more modern arcade patron who enjoys Big Buck Safari or Cruis’n World or even a pinball wizard who grew up on Firepower and Space Shuttle, the impact of the Raw Thrills founder and former Williams Electronics employee has been felt.

The arcade success story began with Jarvis’ very first attempt at a video game with 1980’s Defender, a game not well received by trade show critics nor the creator himself.  Despite the low expectations, Defender became one of the biggest hits in arcade history.

“I was shocked as anyone,” Jarvis said.  “It was the first video by me and the first real video by Williams.  We were completely new to the field and just tried to make it the best I could.”

robotron

Before launching, Defender was tested in the famed Mother’s Pinball in Mount Prospect, IL.  According to Jarvis, he tried to avoid this first night until learning of large crowds that stuffed the coin box and even placed couches around the machine.  The success of Defender lead to a Jarvis and his team continuing to develop games for Williams Electronics, including 1982s Robotron: 2084, a title that continues to have a strong cult folowing today.

Robotron seems to be the most popular now,” Jarvis said.  “The cool thing about Robotron was how we implemented the concept in three days.  Then it became ‘Let’s fight ten robots… That’s great!’  It then became ‘Let’s fight 20!  Even better!  Let’s fight 90!  Awesome!  This is intense!'”

While noted for their roles in gaming history, Defender andRobotron are considered by gaming experts and historians as some of the most challenging games in history.  According to Jarvis, this challenge was a part of their charm.

crusin world

“In that era there was this sort of macho hardcore thing,” he said.  “You were almost daring the player to beat you.  The average play time during Defender‘s test run was 33 seconds, yet players kept putting another quarter into the machine to try again.  Maybe it’s time for another game like that.”

While the video game industry has undergone several changes since Defender and Robotron ruled the arcade, Jarvis states that creating a compelling new video game today is not much different than it was 30 years ago.

“The basic challenge is always there,” he said.  “In video you are starting with nothing but a black screen.  There’s no game there.  With pinball you at least start with that basic concept, but not with video.  The challenge of going from no game to something today is only different because you have to create something so damn fun people will pay $1.00 every two minutes to play it.”

In an industry that grosses billions of dollars a year today, more opportunities exist in the industry now than ever before, according to Jarvis.

“It’s probably the best time in history to get into the industry,” he stated.  “There are so many more opportunities today as opposed to in the past.  Video games are ubiquitous now.  From arcade to console to PC to smartphones to Facebook… they are just everywhere.  You got all these shareware and iPhone games, and now anyone can make their own damn game and put it out there.  It’s a massive avalanche of opportunities.  Wide open.”

defender

With the development of the extra layers and platforms for video gaming entertainment, Eugene says the problem has shifted to the same problems that face small-budget films versus major studio movies.

“The problem changed with the industry,” he explained. “Now anyone can put out whatever but so can a million other people.  How do you get noticed?”

Jarvis stated that indie game developers face many of the same challenges that he’s faced in game design throughout the past three decades.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lr363UM9D60[/youtube]

“You start out with all these dreams and hopes,” he said.  “Then reality sets in.  You can’t do this because the technology isn’t there or you can’t do that because the budget or time isn’t there.  Then something doesn’t work how you wanted it to.  It feels like being on one of those old wagon trains going across the desert and one of your horses dies.  Then you sometimes have your best moments, too, when you stumble across something cool and unexpected to add to the game.”

As Jarvis’ Raw Thrills continues as one of the strongest American coin-op arcade companies of the modern day, he says his favorite moments have always been the same they have always been.

“The great times are when you put a game on location and see others play it for the first time,” he said.  “After all, we are really kind of an entertainer.  You perform for the joy of the audience.”

Totally Tiny Arcade

totally tiny arcade

Totally Tiny Arcade is based on the rather brilliant idea of combining WarioWare styled mini-games with a classic arcade aesthetic. Or is that the idea of revisiting Lazy Jones while liberally remaking some of the best known arcade cabinets ever? Well, we’ll never really know I suppose, but what actually matters is the simple fact that Totally Tiny Arcade is, despite its flaws, a truly great offering for us ageing retro gamers.

Set in a visually pleasing and distinctly 80s arcade, the game has players rush through more than a dozen imaginatively remade classics chasing after a nefarious virus and trying to beat a pretty strict time-limit. Beating the game, leads you to a brilliant boss stage -played in front of a most obtrusive audience- that will in turn unlock a short and lovely finale and -happily- a new arcade venue to tackle. Do this another couple of times and the game is pretty much over and a few extra modes become available.

totally tiny arcade defender

The main attractions of Totally Tiny Arcade are of course the arcade remakes themselves. Impressively, there are more than 20 of them available, each sporting excellent, chunky, retrotastic graphics and some equally impressive sounds, with each game spanning four levels. The games are inspired from an impressive variety of titles including Space Invaders, Spy Hunter, Pac-Man, Joust, Frogger and even the Atari 2600 version of E.T., though -unfortunately- not all of them are equally good. For every two or three excellent remakes there’s a dull or even a completely unsuccessful one, but admittedly the brilliant and imaginative games far outnumber them mediocre offerings. After all, not all arcade games were that good, even back in the day.

You can grab Totally Tiny Arcade (or of course try the hefty demo) via its very own, very retro official site. Oh, and here is the trailer, that will hopefully clear things up.

Verdict: Retro and indie gamers will love it. The rest should first give it a try. Gnomes should indeed instantly buy the thing.

King of Kong Movie Review

King of Kong Movie Review by Honorabili

“A modern day video game version of the story David and Goliath.”

Steve Wiebe at the arcade
Steve Wiebe at the arcade

This movie is about people who strive to be the world champions at the games they love the most. In this case we are talking about classic arcade games such as Donkey Kong, Pacman, Ms. Pacman, Galaga, and Defender.

Throughout most of the movie, we see this build up of rivalry between Steve Wiebe, the underdog, and Billy Mitchell, the top champion for many arcade games. Billy Mitchell comes off as an arrogant person but after having seen this movie many times I do see the point behind some of his speeches. For example, he says that you will know in World War I aviation who the Red Baron is because he was the top ace fighter pilot but you probably won’t know the name of the other aviators because they weren’t number one.

The movie has many famous arcade top players and influential people such as:

Steve Sanders, Billy’s friend and the author of Master’s Guide to Donkey Kong
Walter Day, top referee for video game world records and founder of Twin Galaxies
Brian Kuh, a Donkey Kong expert, was the number 2 DK player for years
Robert Mruczek, head referee at Twin Galaxies
Greg Bond, the MAPPY world champion
Roy “Mr. Awesome” Shildt, the Missile Command champion and a controversial player
Mark Alpiger, Crystal Castles (foot category) champion

Billy Mitchell
Billy Mitchell

The movie touches on what it takes to be a champion. Not only that but it explains that these old arcade games require a level of dedication and reaction that is no longer found typically in modern video games. Getting higher and higher scores in these classics is a real achievement that requires true skill building and mastery.

King of Kong shows world class competitive gaming since its roots in the 80s. It shows that people lie about their achievements and that when that lie won’t protect you when it’s time to compete against a real champion that does get a real high score at an official competition. In this case I’m referring to the competition between Billy Mitchell and Steve Sanders, where Billy Mitchell humbled Steve.

The competition shown reminds me a lot of the kind of drama and competition behind world class chess games. Bobby Fischer and some others always come to mind.

Pacman Kill Screen
Pacman Kill Screen

We see Billy Mitchell succeed in his gaming, personal, and business life. He owns a chain of restaurants and sells Rickey’s, a very successful hot sauce as well. In 1999, he played a perfect game of Pacman reaching the kill screen, the point where the game crashes because it runs out of memory. He even says that he feels as though all this good fortune happens to him there’s probably some poor bastard out there with the reverse fortune.

The movie presents us with Steve Wiebe who at the time got inspired to go for the Donkey Kong world record, was unemployed, and looking for something to do with his life. His family and friends talk about him saying that he was never the best at anything but he always tried and failed. He played sports and music and drew but they say he never did anything successful with those talents. Steve Wiebe is a good guy that’s a teacher and a family man. He’s the average Joe.

The experts talk about Donkey Kong and picture it as pretty much the most brutal arcade game ever. Billy Mitchell himself says that the typical Donkey Kong game lasts less than a minute.

Walter Day at Funspot
Walter Day at Funspot

We are presented with Twin Galaxies, the international score keeper organization for video games for the world. They were created by Walter Day and started out as him going around to different video arcades and eventually opening up his own arcade. Twin Galaxies has grown into the official record keeper for video games according to the Guiness World Book of Records. In the movie, we see the meticulous review process that these gaming world record referees go through. They must analyze every second of every footage submitted either through VHS or DVD usually, unless it’s a record that is taking place live at a tournament.

Roy “Mr. Awesome” Shildt
Roy “Mr. Awesome” Shildt

The conflict in the movie starts when Steve Wiebe beats Billy’s high score for Donkey Kong and the Twin Galaxy people discredit the achievement by going to Steve’s house when he wasn’t there and inspecting the insides of Steve’s DK arcade console. Since Roy “Mr. Awesome” Shildt had sent Steve the motherboard for his DK machine, they said it was not authentic and disqualified the high scores. There’s bad blood between Mr. Awesome and Twin Galaxies with Mr. Awesome saying that they approved a bunch of scores which weren’t valid and TG saying that Mr. Awesome is a liar.

Since Steve’s high score was discredited, he decided to travel to Funspot, one of the top classic arcade tournament locations in the world, where Twin Galaxies would see him perform live. Steve calls Billy to challenge him to go to Funspot to compete live against him.

Billy Mitchell and Doris Self
Billy Mitchell and Doris Self

Now although the movie paints Billy to be an arrogant villain, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Sure, he might be arrogant but that doesn’t mean he’s evil. We see him donate a Q*bert machine to Doris Self, an old lady that wants to enter the tournament. I don’t agree with all of Billy’s actions through the film but if you follow up on what happened with Steve and Billy after the film, the story gets much more interesting.

When Steve goes to compete and Funspot, he’s met with people that treat him well like Walter Day but also he’s met with people that are spies and asskissers to Billy like Brian Kuh, the former 2nd place record holder for Donkey Kong. Kuh even hangs out behind Steve, watching him play, which adds stress to Steve as he tries to attempt a live world record on the machine. Billy doesn’t go to the tournament but he has Doris Self deliver a video tape with a new high score that Billy shot for “fun” to further try to discredit Steve’s attempt. Doris even says that Billy is a pretty devious person as towards his strategies of attacking his competitors. Steve actually beats Billy’s score live at the event and even triggers the kill screen for the game, which crashes the game. It was the first time ever that the kill screen was triggered at Funspot. As the machine was going to reach the kill screen everybody at Funspot was standing in awe around Steve Wiebe as he earned the high score and the achievement. However, Billy submitted a video taped game with a higher score, around a million points, undermining Steve’s attempt. “Not even Helen of Troy had that much attention,” Billy says regarding people watching the video of his achievement. I thought it was an underhanded thing for him to do, sending in a video rather than show up in person to compete against Steve like a real warrior. When Steve wants to see the tape, they refused to show it to him which was a dickish move from Brian Kuh.

Robert Mruczek
Robert Mruczek

What’s kind of fucked up for me, according to what the movie shows, is that although they discredited Steve’s original video tape after they spent much time dissecting it, they pretty much immediately accept Billy’s tape as a legitimate submissions although he sent in a copy of a tape and it wasn’t really a good copy. The copy had VHS lines and the tape skips during some moments, something that according to what Robert Mruczek says earlier, is not allowed for a video submission. You see Steve’s face full of pride for getting the high score and the next day his face is filled with disappointment as Billy even from Florida steals his moment remotely from the comfort of his home. This part of the movie ends with a heartbroken Steve Wieve crying as his attempt and achievement is undermined yet again.

The movie shows Walter Day playing his guitar and that was kind of neat to see him at his home doing an everyday normal thing. He’s been running Twin Galaxies for a long time and although he should be retired from it he continues to do it for the benefit of his friends and colleagues.

Sad Steve Wiebe
Sad Steve Wiebe

9 months later, Steve starts to train to compete live again because Twin Galaxies let him know that the Guiness Book of World Records will hold a new tournament. It’s funny to hear one of Steve’s kids quote Billy Mitchell, “Work is for people who can’t play video games.” The way the movie is made obviously favors Steve and it’s kind of one sided in that way, with Steve calling and leaving Billy messages (since Billy doesn’t pick up from what the movie showed) but I thought Billy could have done a better job trying to defend his honor. I felt like Steve had everybody against him, even his family from the things they said to him like his girl saying that some people ruin their lives to break records.

Billy Mitchell with Steve Sanders
Billy Mitchell with Steve Sanders

So Steve Wiebe goes down to Hollywood, FL for the tournament, which is Billy’s hometown and expects to compete against him but Billy never does. Steve Sanders, which is one of Billy’s close friends even goes to the competition and he’s enough of a good sport and decent that he introduces himself to Steve Wiebe and his family. I thought that was a noble thing for him to do. He was even talking to him and praising him and his efforts and this is a guy that wrote a world famous strategy guide on the game. What’s kind of disappointing is that Steve Wiebe isn’t as well off as Billy yet Billy won’t compete against him even in his hometown. That seemed like a really cowardly thing for him to do. Wiebe even goes to Billy’s restaurant but Billy refused to talk or see him.

Mitchell ignoring Wiebe
Mitchell ignoring Wiebe

Billy does eventually show up to the tournament but he walks in and ignores Wiebe. Steve Wiebe says hello to him and Billy passes by and says “There’s certain people I don’t want to spend too much time with” which is kind of like a slap to the face. I wished he would have been a better sport and although yeah you can say the movie favors Wiebe’s view, even this should have been obvious to Billy that he was making a mistake reacting like that, especially when he knew he was being filmed. Billy says that if you don’t compete when the pressure is on that you’re not good enough but he refused to do that during this movie. He painted himself as a hypocrite by saying that and then not following his own words.

Steve Sanders thinking 'are you serious?'
Steve Sanders thinking ‘are you serious?’

I was particularly proud of Walter Day and Steve Sanders for the way they treated Steve Wiebe and recognized his struggle and true merit. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Sanders is sitting next to Billy and Sanders says he believes Wiebe is trying to do the right thing and then Billy says that he’s not familiar enough with the situation and they’re just sitting there with Sanders looking like “are you seriously going to be like that?” Walter Day apologized to Steve Wiebe for the way that Twin Galaxies had treated him and they made peace finally.

Although the film is now outdated because the rivalry continued, you can always check up on the Steve Wiebe vs Billy Mitchell rivalry at Twin Galaxies.

To view the latest scoreboard for Donkey Kong, click here. When I wrote this article Steve Wiebe was the current world record holder for Donkey Kong. You can view the high scores for Donkey Kong Jr. here.

***

Steve Wiebe cheers
Steve Wiebe cheers

Overall, the movie I thought was shot with good taste and it was put together in an exciting way that keeps you glued to the screen. Even people I know that don’t care too much for video games thought it was an amazing movie and were glad to have seen it.

I recommend anyone who has an interest in video games to watch the movie.

You can visit Steve Wiebe’s website here.

You can read up more on Billy Mitchell at his wikipedia page here.

In conclusion, Steve Wiebe’s struggle is an inspirational story to all of us.

What is the best classic space shooter and why?

Space Shooter arcade
Space Shooter arcade

There are a ton of great space shooters from console to PC and it started with a simple premise, invaders from space. Something as simple as shooting down attacking aliens became one of the most played shooters in history. I guess technically since the ship is on earth it is not a space shooter, but you get the point. In years since we have fired off shots at everything from Asteroids to Intergalactic warlords and had a ton of fun doing it.

We are beginning a new season with the Insider Discussion and will be focusing more on ranking, commenting and comparing classic games and what better place to start than with the space shooter. I personally loved the space shooter from Galaga to Tie Fighter to Descent, but honestly there was one game I really got into overall.

Freelancer

I loved this game because it was the first that felt really open ended to me. You started off as a jack-of-all trade’s character and from there you could decide what you wanted to do. There was an overall storyline, but you could go off on your own and fight against various factions. You could be a good guy or a bad guy, a pirate or an agent of the law, a miner, a broker or a thief, there were tons of choices.

There were also tons of areas with wide open space areas full of other ships and hazards. What I really enjoyed was that events happened in each area regardless of storyline or even your presence. You could warp into an area of space and right into a war between two factions and choose to either get involved or run for your life and if you did get involved it would affect your faction.

As you gained money you could upgrade your shipping and become a real badass. Honestly, once you got a few key upgrades you could own pretty much anyone, but it did take time to do that. The controls were pretty easy to use and standard for open space shooters like a Decent Free Space. In addition the battles could get really intense and there was a strategy to winning as well as avoiding battles.

One of my favorite things were the warp gates, especially when you were being chased and had to wait to be able to go through, made for some exciting times. Overall this was a fun game and you could even play with others online with one group on one side of the galaxy and another on the other side. Perhaps it was not the best space shooter of all time, but it was true enjoyment for me and a game I will remember for a long time to come.

Panel Choices

Defender

Chris Skaggs from Soma Games wrote: Does Defender count? (and Stargate) I think that game was a fantastic and unique vision of the space shooter that did something really unique.

Life Force

Justin Melendez from Lan Slide PC’s wrote: Life Force for the Super Nintendo was one of the coolest space shooters ever made. Not only did it have awesome power ups and a two player mode, but the entire game takes place inside the guts of a giant alien. If that isn’t awesome I don’t know what is.

Xevious

Juan Gril from JoJu Games wrote: If you include Shoot’Em Ups, I think that would be Xevious for me.

Asteroids

Aaron Hunter from Playtechtonics Inc wrote: All I can think of as an answer is ASTEROIDS! But that’s probably because everyone says the control system in Starport is very similar. So if you like asteroids, check out Starport.

David Warhol from Realtime Associates wrote: I like Asteroids.  The mechanics of the rocks getting smaller and more dangerous is great, and the physics of the ship really good too.  Space ballet.

StarWars: X-Wing

Mike Jorgensen from Zombie Studios wrote: Back at the dawn of time (which I like to call the early 90’s), there was a surge of crappy Flight Sims (including Space Flight Sims). From the chaos, there would arise 2 predators to sit atop the food chain, namely the Wing Commander Series, and the X-Wing Series. These two would embody the very ideals of Survival of the Fittest, with each iteration getting stronger and better than the last (not to mention stealing ideas). Watching the two grow and evolve was like watching Lions and Tigers (and we all secretly hoped for a Li-Ger, which would finally occur in Wing Commander 3 with the talents of Mark Hamill and Ginger Lynn).

In the end, the crown of King Of the Jungle would go to the Xwing Series (and specifically the first Xwing title).

Ok, so let’s strip away the sheer awesomeness of StarWars. You are still left with an engine that;

  1. Runs in 640×480 in 16bit color on 486 hardware (and is VERY versatile for scaling up or down on a relatively wide variety of hardware)
  2. Includes a full suite of gameplay related functionality (such as in-game movie recording and playback, character progression and awards, and those mission prep and planning screens)
  3. Includes an editor for making your own missions, scenarios, decals, textures, and modifying ships.

I can’t help but to re-iterate how significant the first accomplishment was. This was in the days before DirectX, before any abstraction layers, back when Men were Men & Women were Women & game programmers had to write universal binaries for what hardware MIGHT be running their code. That feat is the equivalent of walking into the UN Building and trying each language until you’re talking to everyone.

 

Separate from the capabilities of the engine, the game itself was a near masterpiece. Several missions included a pre-rendered intro. The audio and music was fantastic (but really, what else would you expect from LucasArts audio division). Nearly every actionable piece was animated, and I really do mean nearly everything. The user feedback on committing and completing an action, still stands out today. The beeps on the target lock, the HUD color change when within range, the end dots indicating which guns could probably hit the target. The actual gameplay was easy enough to get your feet wet in the first five minutes, but could take a couple days to master. You could spend days perfecting the little things like when to “set your deflector shields to double front”, or selecting in which pattern your lasers fired, or selecting what type of craft you were flying and what armaments it had.

In the end, the Xwing Series concluded with the Xwing Alliance, which included full 16 player support (OVER DIALUP NO LESS), frigate combat (with Turret and AI support), and more realistic physics (which are perfected in titles such as Freespace 2).

If you haven’t played anything from the Xwing Series before, grab the oldest PC you have in the house, throw the demo on, and enjoy the finer points of the 90’s.

Galaga

Grace Snoke from EOGamer wrote: Galaga.  Because it was fun and frustrating to me as a kid.  Okay, I’ll be honest, it’s still frustrating to me now.  It was one of the games that required a lot of thought, planning and quick reactions.  I reacted, just sometimes not quick enough, or not agilely enough and would end up dead so quick.  I admire the folks who have set world records in that game.  It would drive me insane to attempt that.  I just don’t have the patience required for it.

What is your vote for best classic space shooter?

Gamer Profile: Alex Aguila

Alex Aguila

There are those who play video games, those who immerse themselves in the video game culture and then those for who gaming is really a part of them. There are millions of fans, but when you truly have a love for all things gaming it sets us apart from the rest. I was honored to spend a few hours with one such person for whom gaming had touched at an early age and stayed with him throughout his life.

Alex Aguila’s love of all things electronic gaming led him to co-founding Alienware, but his love of gaming began long before.  From a very early age he became fascinated with video games, so much so, that after seeing the Atari 2600 in action he saved up money  From there he began collecting games from Colecovision to the Commodore 64. Even before the success of Alienware, Alex had an impressive gaming collection that has continued to grow over the years.

I was able to personally view his collection and it was awe inspiring. It was much more than the sheer volume, but the care he took in preserving them and the joy he had in talking about them. Many older games were still wrapped in their original plastic. Others though opened were in pristine condition and we talked about how classic games had a collectors feel long before expensive over bloated collectors’ editions of games became the norm.

What made me smile like a child in Electronics Boutique was that I could hear in his voice that he truly cared about the gaming industry. There was excitement in his voice when we talked about the past and how in the 90’s a golden age of gaming began when there was so much choice in gaming in arcades, home console systems and the emerging PC gaming market.

Simply put when you convert a shower into a display case for your collection of console systems you know you have a true gamer before you. Besides the normal Sega Genesis and Nintendo Entertainment System, Alex also had systems I was not aware of like the Vectrex which is an all in one video game system that used vector graphics. Alex then showed me an Atari that was unopened and joked about how he posted on Atari Age that he was considering opening it so he could play. He told me many people offered to send him opened Atari systems just so he would keep his sealed.

In addition to console systems Alex also had an impressive collection of handheld videos games. Long before the Gameboy, these simple but addictive games ruled the market. Then I took a look at his clone’s collection. Clones are systems made by third parties that can play games from systems such as the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Some, like the FC twin allow you to play both Super and classic Nintendo games on the game console. Another cool device was the Retro Mini portable, a device that used the original NES cartridges, but allows you to take it on the go.

Alex is a complete fan of all things electronic gaming meaning that he can enjoy playing the original Atari 2600 using the original cartridge as well as utilizing modern equipment and technology such as emulators. He stressed the importance of those in the community who work to not only preserve classic gaming, but allow new fans to enjoy games of the past. Using programs such as DOSBox allows many gamers to play classic PC games that just won’t run correctly on today’s operating systems.

When I walked into Alex’s arcade room I almost fainted. It was like something out of my childhood dreams except for the large Dallas Cowboys star on the wall. Right away what caught my eye was the M.A.M.E. arcade cabinet next to the air hockey machine. However, something else that caught my eye was the collection of pinball machines. Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect between pinball fans and video game fans and it was good to see that Alex enjoyed both.

On the back wall were several classic arcade cabinets including Defender, Joust and Robotron. The systems were all from Retrocade and Alex explained that originally he wanted to keep the classic original cabinets, but it is truly a lot of work dangerous even to care and maintain due to the circuit boards and electronics used in those older systems.

Alienware-Logo-Wallpaper

After my tour I sat down with Alex and we talked about his own gaming history from his first console to meeting game designers and developers with Michael Dell. I was even able to instigate a challenge between Alex and Arthur Lewis, Alienware’s general manager.

This began during my coverage at E3 where I was able to talk to Arthur over at the Alienware booth. In addition to telling me about his own love of gaming he mentioned getting together with Alex to play Tecmo Bowl and that they were scheduled to have a game soon.

Arthur Lewis @ E3

Alex tells a story about a classic gaming of Tecmo Bowl against Arthur where the loser would have to walk around the hotel halls in their underwear. Alex lost and believed the underwear thing was just a joke, unfortunately it was not. Alex said that it has been a while since they had played and that if a rematch did come about Arthur would find himself on the losing end. Of course, I plan to press this to see if a rematch will happen though I doubt the loser will have to do anything too embarrassing.

Alex Aguila Interview

PlayPlay

Saying goodbye I felt slightly sad to be honest. Being there and seeing someone love video gaming as much as I do reminded me of my summer days of spending hours doing nothing but gaming. On the other hand it is truly nice to find people who continue doing something they love even as they mature and their lives change. My day with a true gamer, Alex Aguila is not one I will soon forget.