It was the best year yet for the International Classic Videogame Tournament - the best line-up of games, the best competition, and the best operation. (And as one of only two to have competed EVERY year, I ought to know.) My usual collection of oddities for my post-tourney out-of-context theater has some winners as well. As always, these are possibly paraphrased, and questions regarding their speakers and/or situations will be ignored and/or obliterated. (Any other questions about the tourney are perfectly welcome.)
And I have one last one that's too epic to not share what happened, so I'm going to. I was candlepin bowling with friends when one of them managed a 2-4-6-7-10 split, with a deadwood pin lying perfectly horizontally at the front of the field covering the visual gap between the 2 and 6. Es second ball - I kid you not - upon hitting the deadwood pin JUMPED it like it were a ramp and the ball a BMX. When the utter amazement and hilarity subsided, I heard:
If you were there, feel free to add your own in the comments. - ZM
I have two main things (and a bunch of little things) to share regarding the "Lucky 13", by which I mean the thirteenth annual International Classic Video Game Tournament held at the American Classic Arcade Museum, part of the Funspot entertainment complex in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire. For those of you new to my journal, I and David Nelson are the only two contestants to have attended EVERY year (Cameron Feltner was the third on that list until two tournies ago; I should also mention Donald Hayes has attended every year but the first). I was once referred to as "Adam Wood of Funspot" on a forum for The King of Kong, which is curiously ambiguous as Funspot had an actual employee named 'Adam Wood' who isn't me [which is yet another reason I insist on my middle initial...], but suffice it to say I'm a fixture there.
First, that which probably brought you here if you're visiting from the Twin Galaxies forums. My favorite part of the tournament weekend is being able to converse with the wide variety of characters that are the classic arcade videogamers in attendance; when in 2004 I overheard this...
"Yes, he is."
...it gave me the idea to start chronicling the amazingly colorful commentary I heard up there. Eventually I started an annual list of quotes - stripped of attribution and context, and with the disclaimer that they are from memory and as such possibly paraphrased - to the Funspot forum at TG, which has become one of the most popular post-tourney writeups there. Given the nature of some of this year's quotes, I decided to move the list to my journal. So, without further ado, I present "Overheard at Funspot XIII...":
"Huh-uh, you can't thrust."
"What happened, you nick yourself?"
"Get a static shock from the cabinet?"
"No - the coin slot was wet!"
"...I don't know what to say about that one."
"I don't know what to say either... except 'ick'."
[laughs for ten seconds] "I'd never heard anyone say 'ick' before this weekend!"
"Of course - Valve's online game distribution system."
"Thank you! You'd be amazed how many here have given me funny looks!"
"Check the inside!"
"The maze is inside? That's amazing! ...No pun intended."
Requests regarding sources and/or contexts will be ignored and/or deleted - don't bother asking. Just enjoy this for what it is.
The other major thing I wanted to bring up was the Name That Tune competition. Tom Votava is an amazing talent. Es list of NES accomplishments is astounding, and es performance during the tournament is consistently very strong - in fact, this year e won the main tournament, in one of the most nailbitingly close finishes the tournament ever had. (I was content to place third in the World Championships of Galaga, just edging out Dwayne Richard in what will likely be the only videogame tournament I place ahead of em in.) But as it turns out, Tom also shares my passion for gameshows, and when es "Name That Tune" quiz e debuted in 2008 proved popular, e decided to turn the concept into a gameshow for future years, complete with qualifying round and live-audience-attended finals, and orchestrated with a computer program e wrote emself. It quickly became, for many, the best part of the weekend. Trying to describe just how entertaining it all is - the challenge, the variety, the players, and especially the atmosphere - is nearly impossible.
Thankfully, this year, I don't have to, since e filmed it. It is with great pleasure that I have this opportunity to give you all a view through what is quite possibly the truest window available into just how enjoyable the whole tourney-weekend experience is:
If anyone has any questions - general or specific - about any of this (barring "Overheard" quotes), or anything else regarding the tournies, feel free to ask in the comments. - ZM
Uh, you tell me!
But you are the clever one!
I'm honored. I'll have to come up with a surname for you later - I just dropped by to let you know I'm heading away for the weekend.
Yeah, I'm taking my annual pilgrimage to Funspot in New Hampshire for their classics tournament.
That is good. I'm a software engineer myself.
Really! I'm a computer scientist. We should compare notes sometime.
Okay. What do you want to do?
Sadly, it's more a matter of what I need to do - pack.
Good point. Let's just start this over.
Uh, perhaps next week. Later.
I apologize for not getting this post out sooner. Let's try this again, shall we?
Up in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire (near Laconia) is a place called simply Funspot. It's an entertainment complex of sorts - bowling alley, indoor golf center, bingo parlor, that sort of thing. However, its real draw is the American Classic Arcade Museum, an exploratory unlike any other. You see, the vast majority of its exhibits are interactive: they comprise the largest public collection of 1987-and-earlier arcade video games on the whole planet. And by largest, I mean in excess of 150 machines. And that doesn't count the roughly thirty pinball machines. For anyone with even a faint appreciation for the art of the video game, Funspot is a paradise.
But it gets better. And you can be a part of it.
You see, there's this tournament they run every year. It's the most prestigious classic-video-game tournament in the world. And it draws the most exalted of competitors. As it happens, they're a pretty decent bunch, and they're approachable. Many don't even participate that heavily in the competition itself; instead, they're on premises to hang out with all the other masters they don't get to see very often, and perhaps concentrating on a single title in the arcade's collection to attain - or improve - a world record. It is, for all intents and purposes, the official annual gathering of all those who love playing classic arcade games. Twin Galaxies referees - like myself - are always on hand, interested in logging scores for those hoping to get into the book of records. Much of the classics area is portioned off to tourney entrants only, making for a pleasant experience.
I've never missed the tournament. What I've done there from year to year has varied, but I've always participated. This year I'll likely do less playing and more score-recording, at least while the arcade is open. During the tourney, the gaming doesn't stop when Funspot closes its doors; in the cabins and motel rooms, the competitions continue, with players bringing along home consoles and challenges for the others. Whether or not you feel you're even remotely capable of being competitive in the tourney,
I do, however, intend to finally do what I've been inching towards for years: breaking a million on Quartet. And that is where things will get a little interesting.
I am once again soliciting requests to share accommodations with those willing to join me in my venture, sparing me from my usual fate of needing to crash in my stepfather's trailer half an hour away - trust me, it isn't pretty. The reservation I'd place - and how much the cost per person would be - would depend on how many respond to this, what days they'd be able to attend, and quite frankly how quickly this is responded to, as I don't know how much longer rooms will remain available in the area. The nature of the room will likely be a cottage, actually, given their prevalence in the area; the Sun Valley cottages in particular are very popular, given that they're in walking distance of the arcade and that they're the unofficial gathering place for after-hours gaming. Let's hope they still have some available! I'm guessing we're looking at about $30-45 per person per night at the worst, but as I said there are a lot of variables. It may well be even less.
There are dozens of reasons to come along and enjoy yourself, but I'll add one more in anyway because I feel like it and it could be fun: if at least three others go in with me for at least two nights, and I officially (on the TG record) break a million on Quartet at the arcade during the tourney, I'll refund their room fees for those nights. Don't worry about whether I can afford it or not - my income tax refunds are in excess of one thousand dollars this year.
Here is everything I can think of at the moment to let you know about regarding the excursion. If you have ANY questions or concerns whatsoever, post a comment here, and be quick about it:
For those who'd like to know a little more about the tourney itself: there's no shortage of free-form gaming about, as many are simply trying to master a single machine under the watchful eye of a TG ref. The main events themselves are in five parts: Monochrome, Color, Pinball, Ladies, and Secret - the one entry fee covers all five. Monochrome consists of a few older machines with one-color displays; Color of more modern titles, though still none newer than 1987. Pinball is usually two or three older tables. Ladies is for females only, and consists of a mixture of the above. The titles for each of those four competitions are not announced until the start of the tourney. During the tourney, players can play the titles as often as they like (as long as they take turns) throughout all four days; only your best score on each title counts. (So missing a day or even two of the tourney isn't much of a handicap, really!) At tourney end, percentage points are awarded based on the top scores for each title during the tourney; highest total percentage wins. The prize in previous years for the winners was $100 for each category, I believe. Secret operates differently: each day of the tourney, a Secret Game is declared; the top score on the game for that day only gets a cash prize ($25 in previous years) - I've actually won two of those over the years. There's also a Player of the Year category - no cash prize, but you'll get top billing if you compete in Monochrome, Color, and Pinball and have a higher total percentage for all titles in all three categories than all others who also played in all three.
But you don't really need to know any of that. The experience is more valuable than the prizes. Besides, you may be too busy playing everything in sight to care!
I really can't stress enough how terrific the place is, especially during the tourney; it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, if it weren't for the fact that it could be done every year. Now would be a good time to start.
If you're interested, comment on this entry with what days you'd be interested in attending; add whatever other info you think is relevant. I'd like to keep all discussions public and open, so others can work together as needed. If there's ANYTHING regarding this that I haven't covered that you'd like to know, just ask. - ZM
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
This year's Funspot Classic Video Game and Pinball Tournament will take place June 2-5, and I am again in the process of attempting to get a group to attend. This time, however, it appears that I may just succeed. To that end, I will actually be seeking proper accommodations this time around. There is a place called Sun Valley Cottages within walking distance of the arcade that comes highly recommended, and that is typically packed with gamers during the tourney weekend. Last time I checked, they still had 5-person cottages available, and I intend to reserve one. The cost, assuming it will be split five ways, is $25 per day, for a total of $100. Add in the tourney fee, extra tokens, food, and perhaps some bowling and/or mini-golf, and we're still talking less than $200 for the whole weekend.
If you don't know what Funspot is, well... you obviously don't know me very well, given how frequently I rant about it. Funspot is the second-largest video arcade in the country and the world's largest collection of classic (1987 and earlier) arcade video games. They have held a tournament - a gathering of the best players in the country - every year for the last six. I've yet to miss it. Walking the aisles of Funspot is like walking through a museum... where you can touch the exhibits. This year is shaping up to be one of the largest gatherings they've yet had, with numerous masters of the field announcing they'll be there for the first time. Half the fun of the tourney is just being able to meet these wonderful people, talk about games with them, and watch them practice their art. Of course, the other half is playing all the games the Funspot has to offer. During the tournament, a large chunk of the classics floor is portioned off for tourney entrants only, giving players a lot of elbow room. It doesn't matter whether you're there to seriously compete or not - it's a grand time.
Logistical concerns: I will likely need to work some hours on Wednesday, June 1, but that is definitely the day I intend to head up. I'd like to gather together everyone who is going at my place on that day at around 3 PM; we should be at Sun Valley by 7 at the latest, which should be enough time to check in, get settled, determine sleeping arrangements (I call dibs on the bed) and still head to Funspot for an hour or two for tourney signups and acclimation.
I have myself, one other "definite", one "probably", and one "maybe" at this time. I'm hoping that the "probably" becomes a "definite" by the end of this weekend; if it does, or if another presents itself, then I'll go ahead and make the reservation, something that I can't risk putting off much longer.
Any general questions about the Funspot or the tourney can be asked here in a comment; any question regarding my travel group, such as "How do I join it?", should be directly emailed to me. My email address is on my info page. - ZM