The Seventh Annual Funspot Classic Video Game and Pinball Tournament (you know, the one I invited you to) has come and gone, and saying that it was illuminating would be an extremely fitting pun. Not only was it an educational learning experience, but it was also literally illuminated, with camera crews and lighting swarming about. I was interviewed no fewer than three times; Walter Day, Twin Galaxies founder, was reportedly interviewed at least double that. It was certainly easy to feel a sense of celebrity there; indeed, it was practically shoved down people's throats.
I have a story to tell and a point to make about that, but first I have to tell you last year's story. The following is an excerpt about my exploits with Quartet at the tourney from an article I had written for a website but ultimately went unpublished due to editorial issues (unrelated to my use of four-letter words).
I was about 40 pounds overweight at the tourney last year, and this year those pounds were gone. This meant I didn't have to worry too much about diet no-nos during the vacation, which is important - because, for me at least, the best part of these Funspot tournies is going to lunch and dinner with the other players that I typically only meet once a year.
Day 2: McDonald's breakfast. Fuck yes.
Lunch came up on us quite quickly, and I was quite determined to get a group to go to lunch with. Robert Mruczek, head TG ref, was quick to accept my invite, and I had just made the acquaintances of Mark Alpiger [that's 'g' as in 'girl' as opposed to 'George'], game record historian and color commentator, and Mark Boolman, Star Wars champ. Sean, of course, tagged along. We went to the Tamarack Drive-In right down the street, ate at a picnic table, and shared stories. Last year it was Don Hayes and Rob Barrett, Tutankham champ, that I was invited to come along with, and much to my surprise, they asked me all about Quartet. This year, much discussion focused, understandably, on Star Wars, what with the top two players in the world at that table.
Alpiger asked me about Quartet near the end of the meal. Robert had expressed interest in watching me play. Fine with me, I figured.
I managed to impress Walter Day, TG founder, at the first Funspot tourney, simply by the way I was playing every game they had. I was always fond of Quartet, but I never got the chance to play it much at all, and I made it a point to get a healthy dose of it when I was up there. Some years ago, noting the lack of TG settings or recognition of the game, I got Walter to define them, and I set an inaugural record. It was neat-and-all to say I had a world record in a game, but I didn't think much of it. I bumped it up to 421,000 two years ago, which I thought bordered on respectable but still wasn't world class. I hadn't touched the game in months, but if Robert wanted to watch, I was willing to play.
Why the sudden interest?, I wondered. Don and Rob seemed geniunely interested in what I had to say last year, but came off as merely curious. It's just some game I play, that's all - it's not like I've been training to hold a world record in it. Ah well, doesn't matter.
We get back to Funspot and Robert grabs a chair; Sean sits in the Choplifter next to Quartet. Quartet - the poor machine - is hiding in the corner, just as neglected by the technicians as by the gaming community. Mary is unplayable - her joystick is loose in its socket and her fire button is near useless. That's okay - I'd rather play Joe, anyway. Turns out his stick is starting to stick. Didn't affect my game much, though; I would have played absolutely horribly anyway. Everything that could go wrong did. I didn't even reach 200k.
Not sure why, in retrospect, but I dropped in another token and started to play again. Things went much better that time around - to the tune of 375k - and much to my surprise, I noticed half-way through that Robert - who had gotten up after my previous game - had returned and kept watching. He was impressed; I was impressed that he was impressed. Now Star Wars, his game, that is impressive to watch. After my game, he tried to play. Unfortunately, he put his token in Mary's coin slot...
Next thing I knew, Rob Barrett wanted to watch me play a game. I obliged, and felt that I did absolutely pathethic... but when I looked at the score at the end of the game, it was 423,500. I had beaten my record, but something overcame me that I can't explain: I was not satisfied at all. I knew all along that this so-called record I had was bunk, but I learned a few new tricks and felt that gaming spirit inside me. I knew I could do better; I knew I could get a REAL score. Two years ago I figured that half a million would actually be something. I was now determined to hit that score.
As if that wasn't enough, Rob and Sean then offered to play with me! Quartet, in case you haven't guessed, is a four-player game. Mary was out of commission, but the other three characters blasted many enemies and the three players had a blast. It was during this game that Joe decided to stop moving left entirely. I reported the control problems to the techies - as I did every year - in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they might actually get around to fixing it. I was certainly hoping they would, because at that point I was pumped.
Day 3: McDonald's breakfast. FUCK yes.
I climbed the stairs to the top floor to find that, at long last, Quartet got the TLC it deserved. Forget the record, forget the score, THAT is what it was all about: that machine had went from this neglected little bastard in the corner to the center of attention. Mary got the new joystick and fire button she'd been begging for for at least five years. Joe's stick was repaired and raring to go. If it weren't for the red lights overhead, I bet I'd have been able to see that machine GLOW. I'm telling you, if any video game cabinet ever had a soul, that one did, and it was shining. Suddenly I didn't care if I got the score I wanted or not - my work was done. Quartet was in the spotlight. This was its moment, not mine.
Apparently, however, it was more than willing to share.
"Robert, I'm going to go play Quartet. Wanna watch?"
That great music queued up, drowning out the eighties drivel overhead.
It only took one try. Joe made it to a level I had never seen before, with enemies I had never seen before, with a slew of bonus items - the quantity of which dazzled me. My play up to then, through all I was familiar with, was bloody near perfect. Hands shaking and running on instinct, I pressed on as far as I could through unexplored territory, ultimately defeated at the same time I discovered one of the new enemies could shoot. I looked up to see 512,200 sitting at the top of the screen.
Then I looked around to see that I had gathered a crowd.
Robert got the head ref to take my picture; Funspot has a separate "Wall of Fame" where they put pictures of those who break world records there, along with the machine it was done on. My picture wasn't already there. Neither was Quartet's. I threw my arm around the top of the cabinet and put my head right up against it for the picture. It's my buddy. It's our picture.
Every other word Sean was able to muster for the next five minutes was "wow". Hand-shaking of a very different kind than the one I felt while playing ensued. But the greatest honor occurred shortly after, when Sean, Catherine Karpins, and Rob Barrett treated me to something I had never had the opportunity to experience before, something that wouldn't have been possible the day before: a full-fledged, four-player game of Quartet. It was a riot.
Thanks, buddy. Glad I could help you. Next year, I'll try my best to double that score. I won't let you down.
I suddenly found myself having finished my plans for the day, and it had just begun! I simply relaxed the rest of the day, playing what struck my fancy. That evening, it was Barrett and Tutankham that got the spotlight, as he blew the 20-year-old marathon record on the game out of the water. I'm talking from 1.7M to 2.7M. He made it to Stage 115. I had offered to take him out to dinner after the game, but it was so late that no good options remained open. However, the tourney organizer had a great solution: he had the pizza place downstairs bring up a few pies to the tourney floor. We all got dinner on the house. What a great end to a great day that was.
So anyways, back to celebrity. This year I spent far less time concentrating on the main tournament (which, I must say, was very well run this year, perhaps the smoothest it's ever been). I spent a lot more time experimenting, having fun, and socializing. Perhaps most importantly, however, I spent much more time playing with my buddy. I improved my record by nearly fifty percent (to 762,400), pushing the game a couple levels further than I ever had before.
I mentioned in my very first journal entry that I wouldn't be providing typical what-I-did-this-weekend entries; rather, I'd bring up things that happened whenever and say what makes them significant to me. This entry is no exception. My point is this: all the cameras swarming around me and lights shining on me and interviews I was tapped for weren't even remotely as exciting as that four-player game from last year. Drawing a crowd as I had during last year's record game comes very close, perhaps, but the follow-up game itself was the best. Being on camera, with my buddy right behind me, didn't feel nearly as valuable as either of those. There was a real sense of attention and accomplishment last year, and despite what Robert referred to as a "quantum leap" in my score this year, I didn't feel that same magic. I certainly didn't feel any further distanced from the machine itself - I may even feel a little closer to it now - but there seemed to be a real magnetism last year, and videos and interviewers didn't begin to provide it. They were no replacement for a simple unarmed group gathering around to watch, or - even better - to play.
Of course, if Taryn Southern had been there to interview me...
To be fair, I did have one excellent interview that weekend. One person asked me the real questions - questions about game design. I, of course, told it exactly as I saw it, and he was impressed (saying right on camera that he never heard it phrased the way I said it). I even had the chance to prove that video games don't rot one's brain (I showed my MENSA card to the camera). He was willing to hear what I had to say and captured it all. No bubblegum banter there - that was truly educational stuff. For us both - I learned that there really is genuine interest in this hobby out there. There are others apart from myself that are also willing to actually study and admire the proper causes of this phenomenon, not just its symptoms, as I am.
I suppose I could go into details about what I said on game design, but to do that justice would take a whole journal entry unto itself, if not a whole series of entries. For now, I'll just open up the comment box as usual. My next planned posting will be an actual puzzle contest. Or, more accurately, a puzzlesmithing contest. - ZM