How high can you try?
I love video games me. I really do. I mean... I wouldn't have been playing them for the best part of three decades if I didn't and all throughout this time, there has been one thing that has driven me to compete. I’m talking about the under-appreciated art-form that is the arcade High Score Table.
Sure, early attempts were a bit pathetic - showing only the high score, which would almost certainly be lost overnight when the lights went out. Then came the ability to enter your initials, then to save the top scores more-or-less indefinitely. It soon became a matter of personal honour to get your initials on the newest, or your favourite, game in the arcade.
A lot of games just used the basic "three place-holders for the initials and alphabetical scroll-through" to mark your gaming superiority. Other games however, decided to go the extra mile and provided the player with a somewhat more creative and entertaining procedure for immortalising themselves.
Thinking back, my first and probably most enduring memory of this was Commando. After your last brave GI-Joe had bitten the dust to a slow, but extremely well placed enemy bullet or grenade, you were (assuming you’d managed to score enough) presented with a grid of letters and your seemingly re-animated character towards the lower half of the screen.
By using the joystick to move a cross-hair from letter to letter, your character dutifully followed left and right and once the sights were over the letter of choice and the fire button pressed to select it, your little commando guy fired up the screen to the letter hitting it, thus causing it to spin around whilst entering it into the hi-score table
At the time, I thought this was utter genius (hey, I was young and impressionable...)
Another one that sticks in the mind is Quantum. This rather splendid vector offering I discovered many years after the event (thanks to the virtues of MAME). In the actual game, you’re asked to surround objects using the trackball in order to destroy them. For the high score table, you adopt the same tactic for immortalising yourself by surrounding individual letters from the character grid.
Interestingly, this game also allows you the ability to doodle your signature if you were brave or sober enough to attempt that using the trackball. Of course, most people (and by "most people", I mean me) ended up just drawing a crude cock and balls.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I've not seen this feature implemented in any game since.
Drawing crude phalluses... It's what technology was invented for!
Universal provided a nice, novel routine for their game Do Run Run! whereby one had to guide the roving Mr Do! Around some pathways causing him to run over the appropriate letters for the character entry:
Run! Run! Mr Do! Quickly now!
What I like about this is that it shows that the companies that made these games actually thought about the WHOLE game and didn't just tack on a cheap hi-score name entry system as an afterthought because they had to. I think it's all too easy for some companies to overlook this as part of the entire game experience. Nerdy of me? Possibly. Pedantic perhaps? Well, yeah, you probably have a point... Although I prefer the term "attention to detail".
Now, don't get me wrong, I know you wouldn't want an accoutrement to a game to overshadow the main course in terms of entertainment value, but still dear friends.. let us not forget the innovation that these early examples have taught us all and try and inject a bit of fun into an otherwise seemingly mundane task shall we?