When Referees Attack!
This month the brief was "Go get us a TRUE legend" After a bit of thought, for me there was only one man to get hold of and interview. And Iíll tell you this for nothing: Walter Day is a man on a mission. Itís a reflection of the character of the man that heís been on it for the best part of 30 years, and is fully geared up for the next 30. I spoke to Walter last month, about life, videogames and the universe, and came back feeling all mellow and warm inside. Read on Dear Rodents, and discover the founding father of the High Score tables...
Walter Day. The Man. The enigma
Tell us how this journey started Walter?
I remember it distinctly. The name just popped into my head while driving my car in Ottumwa, Iowa. ďTwin GalaxiesĒ started as an arcade in a small town and eventually gained recognition as the "Official" scorekeeper for the gaming world. We hosted LIFE Magazine in 1982 who photographed the champion players of the era. Then, we staged the first Videogame World Championship" in 1983, which was broadcast by ABC-TV's "That's Incredible." By 1983, the Governor of Iowa proclaimed Ottumwa the "Video Game Capital of the World"
Out of small acorns huh? So what exactly has Twin Galaxies become?
Twin Galaxies is the official scorekeeper for the whole world, creating and enforcing the rules of competitive videogaming - verifying and identifying the world record performances, creating the contests, and then crowning the champions of on thousands of different games on PC, console and arcade platforms. Our main activities include publishing our forthcoming book: Twin Galaxies Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records, as well as maintaining a website at www.twingalaxies.com.
Given the massive storm in the early 80ís when Videogames hit the US, you must have been able to do some pretty mad things?
Oh certainly. The Twin Galaxies US National Video Game Team travelled around the USA in the summer of 1983, putting on shows and exhibitions, facing any player who dared try to beat our team members. We never lost and we now are beginning to be recognized as the historical founders of organized videogame playing. The main games being played in the arcades back then were Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Tempest, Frogger, and about 50 more legendary titles.
This infamous street photo of the US Nation Videogame Team was shot on the morning of Sunday, November 7, 1982.
But there must have been a stage in the early nineties when you were perhaps concerned about these classic arcade games disappearing into obscurity given the death of the arcades?
Actually, the game cabinets will begin to age soon, so new cabinets will have to be created for them. Lets tell it like it is. These old classics are part of the permanent culture of today. In fact, they will be revisited by more and more people as the century progresses, becoming even more recognized for their brilliance and simplicity.
Itís amazing that the classics have had a resurgence in popularity in recent years....
I truly believe that the classics will become part of the culture of the 21st century as more and more people go into training to try and win a classic arcade high-score title. Someday, in about 100 years, someone will be on the news because he has just broken the 80-year-old Donkey Kong record. The history will follow these games forward in time and they will be even more immortalised than they are now in our present day.
There are a handful of fantastic players in the US (and the UK) who still push the envelope with the older arcade games. Why do you think this is?
Think about it. The challenge is very compelling. The games are one-on-one and involve strategy instead of churning graphics. So, today's players, as they develop their skill-set on each game, have a strong sense of accomplishment as they become the top scorer in the world on many titles. In fact, the high-score-based games of the 80s are so universal that a player's score in Brazil achieved in 1982 can be compared to someone in Texas or London in the year 2025. Their performances are valid over time and space, instead of requiring the players to be in the same room at the same time like todayís FPS games.
Thatís a trippy thought Walt....Of course Bill Mitchell, World Pac man Champion, who we spoke to a few months back, was crowned player of the century by Namco a few years ago. Just how close are you and Bill, and how does he keep his hair so immaculate like that?
Billy and myself have travelled the world together for over 20 years, so, we have seen the history of the videogame age go by, so we have much in common and relate to many common experiences. As for Billyís hair, well lets just say it requires lots of practice so he knows the maze of his head like the back of his hand. Actually, he uses a pattern.
The immaculately manicured Billy Mitchell
Hahahah! I like it! Of course, one of the issues with points based games are those phenomenal endurance sessions with some players becoming so good, they would play for literally days on end. And of course this led to the introduction of the Twin Galaxies Tournament Settings. Could you expand on this?
Gameplay has to be standardized in order to compare scores of similar kind and, therefore, rank the players in a statistical table of merit. There are some games for which we accommodate dozens of different combination of difficulty settings. If you have several player who can play a game for days, it becomes a contest of who stays awake for the longest - hardly a reflection of their abilities.
With the advent of the internet, TG is now a worldwide phenomenon: you accept recordings of world record attempts. How do you maintain the integrity of the organisation - is it open to abuse?
Our referees monitor all score submission, requiring them to submit their achievements on videotape, so we can see their gameplay and verify that they have not used illegal tactics or cheated. Lots of work and we are the only organization in the world that requires proof on this level.
There are some players of the classics who take these scores extremely seriously (in some cases to the point of litigation). Does this surprise you?
Some players have lost the true vision of what life is all about and erroneously believe that their high scores on video games may well be their only accomplishment in life. Therefore, they become worried that history may forget them so they try to cast a light of greatness on their scores far beyond the actual scope of the accomplishment, hoping that the attention they generate will immortalize them. They need to take more walks in the park.
You must have come across some real characters over the years?
We have seen people who can play video games better with their feet than most people can play with their hands. Mike Klug, who now works for Konami, could reach over 66,000 point on the classic Pole Position back in 1984, using his feet to steer and while working the gas pedal with a handheld stick. I have even been stalked by numerous players who tried to force me to put them in the book of records. Scary experience.
I like videogames, me.
Can you give us a few examples of the greatest videogame performances that youíve witnessed in your capacity of Chief Referee?
On videotape, we have seen the amazing skill of the UKís Gary Whelan who can play Galaxian better than anyone in the universe. He has lifted gaming to an artform, uniting his mind with the machine. (Go on Walter! TT)
Our very own Gaz Whelan. We will fight them on the beaches etc.
Of course, TG is not all about Walter Day. you have had some great servants over the years like Robert Mruczek who ploughs through hours and hours of tapes verifying scores, and Bill Mitchell?
Servants? Not a chance, they are my bosses. Robert Mruczek is much smarter than most of us and is a true leader of Twin Galaxies, having the vision to take us in the correct direction to serve the public. And of course, Billy Mitchell is the world's most famous video game player so I often find myself cast in the role of his valet.
In a world now full of PlayStations, X Boxes and Gamecubes, how do you keep interest in the arcade classics alive Walter?
The classics field is alive and well as the USA has many, many venues for competing, buying and selling classic games. And there are many warehouses and showrooms throughout the USA that constantly supply the public with an unending stream of classic arcade games. And, of course, there is the world-famous Funspot Arcade in New Hampshire which holds an annual high-score competition that attracts the greatest players in North America. So Iíd say the scene is very much alive.
To your credit, youíve managed to avoid turning Twin Galaxies into a commercial outfit over the years. Has this been by design or not for want of trying?
We need to commercialize to some degree soon because we need a staff of highly talented people to cover all the platforms. So, someone is going to have to pay their wages to get the job done because a volunteer workforce is far from adequate. However, it is true we have given our services as a complete gift to the public for our entire 25 years of existence.
Any tips for anyone going for a record or thinking about throwing their hat into the ring?
You need to practice and then rest; practice and then rest. Burning out can wear out your faculties in way that is counter-productive to achieving higher scores. Practice and then take a walk in the park. it works wonders. But for some games, it takes a deep level of thinking that comes out of the DNA. Some players have the ability to solve very complicated games and some donít have the same skill level and score lower.
Thatís sound advice; so what do you play these days?
No time for playing games, just working on the forthcoming edition of the Twin Galaxies' Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records.
Any immediate plans to hang up the refereeís shirt?
I start my music career as a rock star soon and will be doing less refereeing as this year progresses. Actually, I do compose music and will be spending a lot of time in the recording studio.
Thanks very much for your time Walter!
You're very welcome.
Thanks again to Walter Day. You can find out more about Twin Galaxies, and search their complete database by visiting www.twingalaxies.com