Monday, March 31, 2008
There's something strangely fulfilling about being able to run up a score on a classic arcade game. They were designed originally to give the players a chance to have fun for their quarter, but to keep plugging in quarters to extend their playing experience. Those who invested enough time and money, could run the score up on a machine and get more for their money, but also be heroes to the arcade goers who learned to recognize the initials of the best players scattered around the arcade on any number of machines.
Then there are those who master scoring, level pressing and point pressing with a perfect economy of motion, turning gaming into something more like performance art. And I got a chance to play against some of those guys.
Donald Hayes may be the most dominant classic arcade gamer around with over 50 world records and he can play just about any game competitively. Watching him run up a game of Centipede, his favorite of the classics, was unbelieveable. In fact, after I videoed him from about 640K to 780K, he asked for a copy of the footage as he made some moves even he wasn't sure how he accomplished. He left the game after running up the score counter to 999,999 and left the score on a machine where second place was just over 40K.
There was a lot of media at the event, including the local ABC affiliate and a few newspapers comming to cover the event. I made the news, as did Mark Alpiger and some of the others. The reporter asked me at one point before the interview started what world records I held and I had to sheepishly tell him none. I had to explain that this was my first contest and I'm a big gaming buff, playing consoles, arcades, and handhelds. He asked me if I had played Halo 3 yet. I told him I didn't own an XBox 360 or a Playstation 3. He paused and said, "There's nothing current gen about any of you guys, huh?" That made me laugh.
Mark also visited my hotel room the first night and we watched an interview he had taped with Frank Seay, the world record holder on Crystal Castles, celebrating the 20th anniversary of his accomplishment. It was really cool hearing Frank reminisce about setting the record, preparing and perfecting boards until he hit the mark. What I didn't know was that shortly after he set the WR, he sold his machine and totally stopped playing Crystal, until Mark coaxed him into a game during the interview, which sadly, wasn't on the DVD Mark had brought by.
I also got a chance to hang out with the guys at meal breaks and talk with them casually, but the interesting stuff was listening to them talk about classic games. During dinner the second night, I listened to Donald and Doug talk about how they were planning on accomplishing their perfect games in Pac-Man, that their 9th key pattern took 47 seconds and how Doug had reached the kill screen in Pengo on MAME, pausing to clean the house and do his normal chores every so often.
These guys are amazing. That I was even able to compete on their playing field was awesome and that I turned up in second place after all was said and done was unbelieveable, but fantastic.
A big thanks to Mark Alpiger for holding and setting up the tournament and a heartfelt thanks to Donald, Pat, Mark, Doug, Brent, Jason, Connor and Angela for making me feel like one of the crew among the myriad of blinking lights and attract music.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
At the end of the day yesterday, I had been bumped down to third place - which was really no surprise - by Pat. He had an unbelieveable game of Rally-X to set a high score of ~93,000, most of which I got on tape. I spent a good deal of the rest of the night working on CC, but I couldn't complete a game. In fact, I wouldn't get one during the tourney, but as it turns out, that wouldn't matter...
After looking over the overall high score list and what games I really needed better scores at, it became obvious that I needed to work my Discs of Tron score and stay away from Rally-X, Dig Dug, Galaga and Donkey Kong 3, which had amazing high scores and which would be really, really hard to topple. I decided to work on Discs of Tron, a game which I had a little expereince in, but nothing fantastic. I was in fourth or fifth place and I felt that I could do a bit better.
I set at it with vigor and I drove up my high from ~16,000 to ~21,000, then to ~31,000 and finally, I topped out at ~36,000, which was good enough for second place behind Donald Hayes. Pat Laffaye was working on a Galaga marathon score and didn't have a chance to come back and try and topple that score, so I ended up with second place on Discs overall.
My Crystal Castles score would remain the only one close to Donald's finished game score and also a personal record score for me at 644,360, so I would take second place home in that as well.
I also couldn't best my high score at the Glob, so I stayed second to Hayes' score again, although, I was really psyched to pass 90k, so it felt good anyway.
I also turned in ok scores on Star Wars (3rd), Galaga (3rd) and Roadblasters (5th, but close).
My Thunder Cross score maxed out at ~351,000 and even though Mark Boolman inched closer and closer as the day wore on, but couldn't best my score. He did have to leave early to take a couple of the guys to the airport, so with a bit more time, he may have been able to knock me off the top of that one, but it ended up sticking. It was kind of fitting that the only game I got a high score on was a shmup.
So, after the final scores were tallied, I ended the tournament in...second place! Frankly, I was stunned, but the grouping couldn't have been closer with less than one percentage point seperating places second, third and fourth. Beating Pat and Mark felt like quite an accomplishment and taking home some cash was pretty cool as well, especially for my first tournament.
As we said our good byes, Pat and Donald (both playing in the picture above) asked if I was thinking of heading out for the Funspot tournament in June and I just might go. There were a lot of great moments during this one, which I'll compile in a final post about the tournament, but right now, I am exhausted after over 24 hours of gaming during one weekend. I have attract music from a half a dozen games running through my head, patterns for CC repeating themselves over and over in my mind and a smile on my face after competing with the big boys and comming out way better than I ever thought I could.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
That photo above is of the tourney rankings - and yes, as of the dinner time break on Saturday, I am in second place. I won't lie - I'm proud and just as blow away as can be, but I know it won't last, as my high score on Star Wars will be toppled easily tomorrow by Mark Boolman (whose hour marathon attempt I will be videoing). The other scores on my list will begin to slide as this group of uber-talented arcade gamers really start going for it.
It would be great to be able to show well in the rankings, but I'm really just happy that I got a 99,630 The Glob score as my goal for the tournament was between 80- and 90K. I'm hoping to break 100K on the Glob tomorrow, which will still not eclipse Donald Hayes' score earlier today of ~108,000, but it would be a good end for my showing on The Glob.
I kinda had a feeling he wouldn't let me just have that one.
There were a lot of good scores put up today, including an amazing Rally-X run by Pat Laffaye which ended just shy of 100K. He was in the middle of a one-hour marathon of Frogger when I left to get some shut eye.
Donald Hayes is leading the tournement and has the high score on seven (!) of the tourney games. This guy really is amazing. I have some video of him playing Centepede, where he is the world record holder and it is unbelieveable. He's also a really nice guy, as are all of the contestants, so it's not hard to lose The Glob high score to him.
Mostly, I worked on and off all day on completeing a game of Crystal Castles but to no avail. I made it to the end screen, 10-1, appropriately titled 'The End,' about four times and just could not finish the game. It doesn't help that I have no patterns for 10-1 and it really needs it.
I did manage to up my Thunder Cross score to ~351,000 and that should (hopefully) stand and it would be nice to bring home the high score on a shmup.
Tomorrow should be very interesting as the gamers mnove into high gear and start really working on moving up the table. I'm going to focus on CC, but try and get some Glob in and see if 100K is in my wheelhouse.
A few weeks ago I got an email from a gaming friend, Mark Alpiger, who runs classicarcadegaming.com asking me if I wanted to participate in his vintage arcade tournament, which was being held in Bloomington, IL, a scant two-hour drive from Chicago where I live. The tournament would have some of the best vintage gamers in the nation, including Mark Boolman, Pat Laffaye and the man who could make Billy Mitchell his bitch, multiple world record holder, Donald Hayes.
I haven't talked about it on this blog, but I am really into the classics. I grew up in the 1980's, so arcades were the draw of my youth (and rollerskating rinks, but more of that in another post) and playing technological marvels like Tempest, Centepede and Star Wars were tantamount to being cast alongside Jeff Bridges in Tron.
Like most guys in their 30's, I looked back on my youth and decided to take up vintage arcade gaming, first buying a Tempest and Star Wars and later a Marble Madness, Galaga, Robotron: 2084 and Crystal Castles. It was this later game that really hooked me. I never played it in my youth, but after stumbling across Mark's webpage, I became really interested in checking one out and found one for cheap that was restored in resting in Green Bay. I bought it for $400 and never looked back.
For the last two years, I have played it on and off, talking with Mark online and working on patterns for the more difficult later stages. It really cemented my love for classic games and their simplicity and I looked into the myriad of other titles and what it would take to be even remotely competitive.
Mark recommended The Glob, a title I had never heard of before and no wonder. It was a Pac-Man conversion kit, so not too many were ever sold and Mark is the only one I have ever met who played it back in the day. It really is a tremendous game with difficulty that ramps up unbelieveably quick.
So, after putting in some hours on that and working on CC, as well as finishing Marble Madness, I got interested in some of the classic tournaments around the US. It didn't hurt that about a year after I got into this, King of Kong came out and even my girlfriend and my sister enjoyed it, making me feel like a king for a night when they equating my mediocre gameplay with that of the classic arcade gaming greats.
Which is why, when Mark asked if I wanted to be in the tourney, I jumped at the idea.
I knew I could post decent scores at CC and The Glob, but the tournament would also have Galaga, Gorf, Rally-X, Kangaroo, Roadblasters, Discs of Tron, Frogger, Star Wars, Rampart and the late announced Thunder Cross. The tourney works like this: post high scores on six machines of your choice and your final score is calculated as a percentage of the overall high score on that game and all of your six percentages will be calculated as a final total with some logrithmic function doing all the work. The one with the highest percentage total wins.
Day one was really fun and it took me a while to get comfortable and use to playing on each of the machines I planned on competing on. Early on, Donald Hayes set the high score at The Glob at ~93,000 and as my high score before the tourney was ~81,000, I figured I would have to take second place (or worse!). I played and played, eschewing dinner and having a few cans of Coke, some bubble gun and a Clif Bar instead. After a lot of point pressing and a couple sly tricks, I topped him at 99,630 to capture the high score.
Mark, ever the instigator, let Donald know shortly after that his score had been topped and he set at the machine with renewed vigor, but didn't top the score I had set.
After day one, I lead on The Glob and Thunder Cross, which I turned a ~325,000 score on after a dozen or so rounds. I posted scores for Star Wars, Galaga and CC, but none really deserve mention.
Today, I will be trying to complete a game on CC, which would be a first for me, but I would really like to get one completed during this tourney as Donald Hayes already finished a game on the first day with a high score of ~829,000, which is also his all-time high.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Played on and off for most of the day and set a new high score on Original at 7,737,602, dying shortly after the stage 5 midboss. I made it past the whole of stage 5 up to that point on my last life, without any bombs (!).
I had an early death on stage one and another on stage two, but pulled it together after that and stormed through to the fifth stage. The patterns I have for stages three and four are weak, but they are working for now.
I'm enjoying this game so much at the moment that I'm thinking of getting Mushihimesama Futari 1.5 soon- but only after I 1cc this on Original. I'm very, very close...
Friday, March 21, 2008
After about two weeks of straight RPG play (Persona 3), I finally got back to putting some time in on Mushihimesama and set a new high score for Original at 6,233,015 that ended pretty early on in stage 5.
I got lucky a number of times, relying on tapping through patterns when I lost Reco in my peripheral vision. I had one bomb and two lives left into stage 5 and got taken out twice (!) by the ferns who shoot those crossing streams of bullets and then by a stray guy when I was on the left, making for the right side by sweeping across the middle of the screen.
I'm pretty committed to 1cc'ing this game on Original, so look for a few more high score updates. I haven't really done much in terms of point pressing, namely the nanabushes on stage 2, but I'll probably work on that when and if I 1cc the game and I'm still excited about playing Original.
(NOTE: no camera in house to capture high score screen, may post later)
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Japanese RPG's are a strange breed. Some require great skill and infinite patience to navigate the myriads of menus and sub-screens to keep your party balanced and ready for the next round of battle (Disgaea, I'm looking at you) while others require little in the way of stat building, character skill management and interaction where your character is essentially 'on-rails' (Final Fantasy X), but very few strike a great balance between the two.
Persona 3 accomplishes this so effortlessly that other RPG's end up feeling clumsy, over-thought and tedious by comparison. The menu system is easy to navigate and all of the character functions are simpole to understand and fun to modify. For example, your main character has three stats you build during the day, called Academics, Courage and Charm. Doing certain activities increase their rank as well as allow you to talk to and possibly date other characters in the game. There is a certain risk/reward element at work here as you swing back and forth between increasing stats to meet new characters and do well on exams come midterms and finals.
But maybe I'm getting too far ahead of myself. First off, the game is set in the modern day, which is a welcome change for me from the fantasy-themed role players I usually engage in. It essentially consists of two seperate parts: The during the day, high school activities and the late night dungeon crawler epic. Pretty much any review you will read about this game goes into detail about these two parts, so check out 1up.com or other similar sites for more detail.
What blew me away about Persona 3 is how much I enjoyed the daily high school activities, friendship building and after school activities. Most of the time, I like to be fully emersed in the dungeon, level building to my hearts content. If RPG level grinding was like running, I'd be an ultramarathoner (Dean Karnazes anyone). In this case I started off that way, quickly building levels in the dungeon, called Tartarus, which is actually a tower. Surprisingly, I found that when I was in Tararus, I wanted to finish off my level building and get back to the day time, school stuff.
The daily activities keep the story rolling along and the plotlines, character interaction and tasks are all exceptional and fun. For instance, you have the choice fairly early on in the game to join one of a number of after school clubs and I chose the Kendo team out of four or five options. While on the Kendo team, I met and became freinds with Kazushi, one of the top members of the team and at one point, our relationship soured due to me not working the conversation trees sucessfully. I said, forget it, who cares and left it at that.
For about a minute.
Then, I realized, I actually felt for the character. I had developed some sort of bond with Kaz and I actually wanted to be friends with him. This kind of creeped me out, but to tell the truth, as laughable as I found it, I also was extremely impressed by it. I worked to repair the relationship it is now as strong as that of two brothers, however electronically controlled they are.
There are plenty of winding road and paths your character travels down during the game and plenty of sub-plots, new characters and new places to keep the game feeling fresh and fun. The soundtrack is fantastic and engaging, borrowing hevily from acid jazz and hip-hop in equal measure. The animation for the FMV's is truely anime quality and is actually a real treat when you get one. It doesn't push the boundries of computer animation like Final Fantasy's over-wrought and lengthy scenes with every strand of hair flowing in a constant light breeze. But it is a great feature of the game, adding a component of familiarity and comfort for fans of anime.
The game takes its title from the creatures you summon often in battle, your Personas. They are like the traditional Final Fantasy summons, characters who deal out damage, spells and skills more powerfully than your character (for the most part) and allow you to exploit weaknesses in each enemy you fight. They do not, however, only get called on in special circumstances. You end up using them about 85-90% of the time and you have plenty of skills and attacks to keep you busy in battle. Unlike Final Fantasy, your summons do not have FMV's of epic length before they deal their special kind of damage. Rather, their strikes only take between 1-3 seconds to finish so you never feel like you should go make a sandwich (or, in the case of the Kinghts of the Round summons from FF VII, make a slow-cooked pot roast, eat it and then wash the dishes before having to pick up the controller again).
I've just crested the 30 hour mark and that puts me somewhere between 1/4th and 1/3rd of the way through the game. I'm as driven to play it as ever and I even moved a small TV into my bedroom to play more often, so I don't feel like I'm hogging the TV away from my roommate George.
In game, I've become friends with a number of students like Kaz, as well as started to date the Kendo team manager and also one of the student council members, joined the Art Club, made friends with the Bookworm bookstore owners and met and befriended the Gourmet King. I'm definately looking froward to meeting more new characters and seeing how some of the more intimate relationships play out. Which sounds really nerdy and kind of creepy, but to enjoy this game, you need to get past the stigma of actually caring about your characters being bad. There is not one bald, space marine in the game (not that I have seen anyway) and very few macho s**thead moments. Most of the time, your characters act like regular teenagers. They each have certain failings and aren't always the coolest guys or girls in school, they don't get along with every clique and they most certainly don't act uber-tough all of the time. They get nervous, stressed-out or overly excited and have trouble crossing adolescent boundries familiar to most of us who attended high school.
And this is what makes the game a real, exceptional standout from the myriad of other RPG's. Their cares quickly become your cares and you work to keep them out of danger or help them succeed in each quest as best you can. It is as opposite of Final Fantasy I's stripped down, empty characters as can be. These are characters full of life and even if they exist in an electronic world you can be damn sure that once you get involved with their lives, you'll want to see the story out to the end.
Atlus has announced an expansion pack for the game, labeled Persona 3 FES, which will be available for sale in a few months. The game will contain a new adventure with a story that picks up shortly after the original plotline. It will also house the original game for those who missed purchasing it the first time out and don't want to pay the $80-100 it is selling for on the net.
I'm eager to see what lies next in the game and you can be sure that I will be picking up FES as soon as it hits store shelves. This one has fully captured my attention, even to the point where I have stopped playing most other games entirely, which is strange for me. I usually have at least two or three games going at once, but they all seem to pale in comparison to this awesome and unique offering from Atlus.
Friday, March 7, 2008
I travel for business in the summer months and the DS usually provides me with more than enough gaming enjoyment to sate me until I return home and can fire up a console or my Astro City.
For this trip, I decided to bring along my DS as usual, but also my PS2, which I had never done. I'm pretty embroiled in Persona 3 at the moment and a post about it is WAY past due (look for one soon). I just couldn't leave my house without my console.
I had noted that most TV's in the hotels I have been staying at had the three-plug connection for my PS2, so I felt pretty good about being able to play on the hotel TV without any problem.
I had also brought along my iPod and it's aux. adaptor kit which I use in my car as I had noticed that most rental cars have the capability to use an aux. port.
And, of course, Murphy's Law hits. No aux. port in the car and only an RF plug in the back of the TV. Damn.
Radio Shack, by the way, is a wonderful place. I found one in downtown Boston on my second day here that had an RF convertor, which you can plug your PS2 into and connect it to the co-axial port in the back of the TV so that you can play your PS2 problem free on any TV in any hotel. Fantastic!
After my last appointment, I got back to the room, plugged it in and viola! A working PS2 right in my hotel room. It instantly made my bland hotel room feel like home.
I had brought along three games: Persona 3, of course, but also Yakuza as it got pretty good reviews for a modern RPG which was unfortunately sold as a GTA 3 clone as it came out during one of the many iterations of the famed franchise. Rounding out the trio was LEGO Star Wars II - The Original Saga as I have heard nothing but good things about it and the series in general. I had also heard through the grapevine (Player One Podcast) that there will be an LEGO Indiana Jones series as well. If it is anything like the LEGO Star Wars series, is a must-buy.
I decided to fire up Lego Star Wars and give it a go first and man, it has to be one of the best games I have ever played. The controls are simple and the interface is easy to navigate in and out of stages. Home is actually the Mos Eisley Cantina. The game is really, really funny and very enjoyable with so many Star Wars in-jokes for fans. There is even a hidden area in the first game where you can get an Indiana Jones-style fedora for Han Solo. Brilliant.
The PS2 version has all three games in the first series, Episodes IV, V and VI (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) and they are all playable seperately, but I decided to play them in order.
There are also a ton of secrets in the game. For instance, once you beat a stage, you can return with characters you have unlocked by buying them, killing them or playing them in the main story and get to other areas previously unaccessible, adding a certain degree of replayability for those of us who are a bit OCD. This would be me.
I finished Episode IV and I am on the third stage of Episode V and loving it. The story mode has FMV cut scenes which are so well planned and put together, it belies belief. Think Star Wars geeks meet video game geeks with the writing quality of a very, very good parody and you're about there. There is no spoken dialogue, but the mutterings of the characters do a very good job of mimicking the actual dialogue, which I think I know by heart by now.
It also doesn't hurt that as a child, my two favorite things in the world were Star Wars and LEGOs.
For DS fare, I brought Dragon Quest: Rocket Slime and it was throughly enjoyable, but relatively easy overall. I didn't expect it to be a tour de force (note: this is not a Star Wars pun) and it was fun for what it was, which was a simple RPG. I heard someone once refer to Super Mario RPG as "My First RPG" and this definately feels a bit like that.
I played through it in about a day and a half, but I had a lot of down time (six hours alone at the airport). It is about a ten hour game and can be played in short bursts. It plays a bit like Pokemon, a bit like Dragon Quest and a bit like Legend of Zelda - The Phantom Hourglass. You do lot of collecting of other slimes (100 total in the game) and of course, I had to get them all.
The battle system is split into two parts. First, there is normal stage battling, which is all action based like Phanton Hourglass and then there are tank battles. The tank battles are very enjoyable as you have to load your tank up with ammo wich you can find, have gifted to you for saving a slime or create once you save the alchemist Krak Pot early in the game. Once the battle starts, you collect ammo from a few areas in your tank and load it into the two cannons on the top floor and fire away.
Later in the game, you get other tank mates who help you out via two tactics available to you for each character (although, some only have one action they can perform). The tank battles are the best part of the game and I got pretty into collecting items to build ammo, which you do by throwing items onto carts located in each level that return the item directly home with out supervision.
The end boss was fun, the story was cute and it definately gave me ten hours of enjoyment.
Strangely, I never got around to playing Persona 3...
Now I have to get back to LEGO Star Wars Episode V before I have to pack up my now mobile PS2 and fly back to cold, cold Chicago.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
It took me most of the morning in between bouts of packing, laundry and dishes to get to the end of the first loop, but I did!
The last stage, Kobold's Tower, was a bit of a stumbling block as I made it there about seven or eight times and got owned by the boss. The big blue lazer always got me. I think I just kept being too aggressive and staying too long in its path when it opens up.
This is easily the fastest I have ever 1cc'd a game - in fact, it's my first shmup 1cc! - but I highly recommend it to any shmup fan, especially those looking for something different to play.
I'm going to try and hunt down the rest of the Mahou Daisakusen series (Mahou Daisakusen, Great Mahou Daisakusen [Dimahoo]) and I'm certainly going to keep my eyes open for other Raizing/8ing titles as well.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
After playing for most of the morning, I got to the end of the first loop, playing the last stage as Kingdom Grandprix, and died at the end boss with a bomb in reserve, setting my first high score at 523,571.
I destroyed the green ball throwing wizards pretty deftly and was on the first form of the end boss when I died. I has slapped the bomb button just a split second too late, although it was my first time getting to the end boss, so I really don't know how close I was to 1ccing the first loop.
I'm pretty stoked about this pcb and the game is a welcome departure from Cave's Ketsui and Mushihimesama. I've got to look into getting some more Raizing/8ing titles...
Just got this in the mail yesterday. Having never before played a Raizing/8ing title on a dedicated arcade machine, I was interested to see what the dfifferences were in playability vs. Cave titles, which is the majority of my arcade shmup experience.
The game is a strange hybrid of a shmup (STG) and a racing game, but it is actually a lot of fun. Like Ketsui, you are forced to be aggressive to get the high score - you can only get stage bonuses if you are in the top ranking positions, kind of like Formula 1. You can choose your path through the game as you go and there are 12 total stages to pick from, aloowing for a certain replayability.
You can play as one of the familiar Daisakusen characters - Gain, Miyamoto, etc. and each has different speeds and firepower benefits but the real task is choosing a ship that can make good use of the 'H' attack (homing) to kill enemies on the side of you and also have a good overall speed to win each stage race. Miyamoto seems to be the ship of choice and he's who I plan on using at first to learn the game.
I've only put in a few credits as we had another Rock Band party last night and I certainly didn't want to leave this pcb in the Astro City to confuse those not ready for this bizarre but fun hybrid.