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Protip: Q&A With Tim McVey, Don Hayes, Andrew Barrow, Tom Asaki, Phil Day & Hector Fly

We speak to 6 of the worlds best arcade gamers – Tim McVey, Don Hayes, Andrew Barrow,  Phil Day, Hector Fly & Tom Asaki – about how they stay on top of their game, the changes at Twin Galaxies and what […]

We speak to 6 of the worlds best arcade gamers – Tim McVey, Don Hayes, Andrew Barrow,  Phil Day, Hector Fly & Tom Asaki – about how they stay on top of their game, the changes at Twin Galaxies and what has changed over the years in competitive arcade gaming.

At the end of March 2018, Meow Wolf, in collaboration with Twitch and XSplit, hosted Score Wars. Simply put, Score Wars was a brilliant event hosting the Galaga World Championship as well as gathering together a number of the worlds best CAG players and world record holders to challenge their own scores. Live streamed for the world to see, Score Wars 2018 blended art, classic arcade game action, bleeding edge streaming, a love for the medium and history making into an infinitely entertaining event. Andrew Barrow became the Galaga World Champion, Hector Rodriguez topped his own high score in Track & Field, Donald Hayes dismantled his own world record on Centipede, Tim McVey utterly destroyed his own world record on Nibbler and John McAllister beat out previous record holder Brian Nelson on Asteroid by doubling his score. To say the event was a success would be an understatement. Here are some highlights:

Thanks to Meow Wolf, Adam “doseone” Drucker and Swipe Right PR, we got the opportunity to ask some of the competitors some questions about what drew them to arcade gaming, how they stay competitive and the changes to the high score adjudication process at Twin Galaxies. Here’s what they had to say…

Andrew Barrow – Galaga World Champion

The Scorewars Galaga Finals at Meow Wolf, with the winner Andrew Barrow

[IMAGE SOURCE ] Photo courtesy of Meow Wolf

FNGRGNS: What does it take to be a competitive player at the highest level? Do you have a daily routine or training regiment?

Andrew Barrow: To be a competitive Classic Arcade Game (CAG) player you have to be very analytical and very dedicated. No well-known CAG from the 80s can be mastered in a single session. Most take years of hard work and grinding to become a world-class player. Even then, that may not be enough. You have to have a certain degree of masochism to truly excel at one of these games. Specifically talking about Galaga, anticipation and execution are absolutely critical. If you don’t already have a plan going into a wave, and don’t already know exactly what the bugs (enemies) are going to do, you will die. Imprinting Galaga into your brain takes years of playing. I generally don’t play Galaga much these days (apart from the tournament). I played it so much when I was a bit younger, it is engraved into my sub-conscious thinking and it only takes an hour or two to get back up to speed after a long layover.

FNGRGNS: What do you think has changed the most in competitive gaming over the years?

Andrew Barrow: The big thing is it’s now man vs man, or player-against-player. The old school games of the 80s (CAGs) are man-vs-machine. The machine was made to take your money and most ramped up in difficulty after a few minutes to achieve this. You were playing against the machine to master the game and out score whoever else played before you. These days its more about eliminating your opponent within the game itself. Most of it is done within your own home in front of your PC or console, whereas competitive gaming back in the 80s (not that I was around being born in 1989, but from other’s stories), was more about going to your local arcade and throwing down in front of a crowd. This is where the magic happens in a CAG tournament. If you can’t play live in front of an audience, you can’t play period.

FNGRGNS: Do you have any thoughts on the new score adjudication process at Twin Galaxies?

Andrew Barrow: TG has changed so much over the years it’s too arduous to cover any of it. The new TG is a much-needed breath of fresh air. Of course it has had its fair share of teething problems, but overall it is a MUCH MUCH better system than anything used previously. Most problems with the new TG and TGSAP are generally linked to some legacy issue. TGSAP promotes transparency, something that TG has been devoid of in the past.

FNGRGNS: What was it about Galaga that drew you in and inspired you to compete at a high level?

Andrew Barrow: I remember playing Galaga with my Father back when I was a lot younger. He wasn’t competitive but enjoyed the games enough that it stuck with me. When I started playing CAGs around 2002, Galaga was the first one that came to mind and I have played it ever since. Nowadays I wouldn’t call it the most fun or challenging game in the world, but it certainly was back then!! I have always been a competitive person and wanted to better myself. I first started playing and pretty much immediately joined some sort of high score league or competition on one of the forums, then quickly after that discovered TG. I saw others had a passion for Galaga and high-score chasing, so I decided to join them. What I enjoy the most is taking these games to the next level as a community. Not necessarily beating one person or another, but collectively destroying these games and taking the score some where it’s never been before.

Tim McVey – Nibbler World Record Setter (and smasher)

The Scorewars Galaga Finals at Meow Wolf

[IMAGE SOURCE] Photo courtesy of Meow Wolf

FNGRGNS: What does it take to be a competitive player at the highest level? Do you have a daily routine or training regiment?

Tim McVey: I’m not really competing at anything specific. I just play games. Whatever, whenever. I play what I am in the mood for, whenever the mood strikes me. I don’t get paid to play, so there is no regiment or training. I have bills to pay so my daily regiment is Quality Coordinator at a local gas valve manufacturing facility. I sneak in games when and where I can during the day. I play a lot of Clash of Clans on my phone on the go… and take my Nintendo Switch to work every day.

FNGRGNS: What do you think has changed the most in competitive gaming over the years?

Tim McVey: When you look at eSports, it’s team based and there are sponsors. When I was a kid we all dreamed about being paid to play. And it was nothing but a dream in the 80’s…So sponsorship and money is the biggest thing. But fans as well. People that want to watch. In an arena setting. Stuff we never envisioned as kids. Pretty to cool to see where it’s went…and knowing that I was part of the foundation of what got it all started.

FNGRGNS: Do you have any thoughts on the new score adjudication process at Twin Galaxies?

Tim McVey: I was skeptical at first. It seems like it could possibly be manipulated easily. It’s still too early to tell. But so far, it appears to be doing it’s job.

FNGRGNS: What was it about that one particular game that drew you in and inspired you to compete at a high level?

Tim McVey: I was spoiled. Twin Galaxies was my local arcade. So any given day I could walk in and see Steve Harris (EGM fame), Ben Gold (That’s Incredible), or Tom Asaki (Bozemon ThinkTank and Man vs Snake) or any other number of famous gamers from the era. It was the dodge city of gaming. And I just wanted to fit in. Nibbler was a natural attraction. I was attracted to the marathon gamers. I wanted to be one. Once I mastered Nibbler, I thought I was… but then it was the dreaded… “It’s just a pattern game”… so I set out to master something that had no Patterns. Robotron: 2084 to this day that is still my favourite game. It’s just complete chaos and intensity.

Don Hayes – Centipede World Record Setter (and smasher)

Don Hayes, the previous and new world record holder of Centipede at Scorewars hosted by Meow Wolf

[IMAGE SOURCE] Photo courtesy of Meow Wolf

FNGRGNS: What does it take to be a competitive player at the highest level? Do you have a daily routine or training regiment?

Don Hayes: When I’m preparing for a tournament or world record run, I try to play at least a little bit almost every day just to keep sharp. The practice can be targeted for specific techniques that I might want to work on or just general overall game play. I will also record most practice games especially on MAME so that I can review when things went wrong. There is also some research involved to see how other people play. It can take a lot of time and dedication to truly reach the top level of play for many games.

FNGRGNS: What do you think has changed the most in competitive gaming over the years?

Don Hayes: Concerning the competition for world record scores, I think the biggest change is just the sheer amount of knowledge about the various games. There are multiple specialists for most any given game and some games have been examined in detail down to the actual machine code which sometimes gives extra insight on how to score higher. For tournaments involving classic games, many have a similar format where you have to play multiple games and play them well to be able to compete for the top spots. Some tournaments focus on well-known titles where others like to highlight more obscure games. The recent Galaga tournament was different as it was focused on one game and we’ll have to wait and see if there will be more tournaments like this one.

FNGRGNS: Do you have any thoughts on the new score adjudication process at Twin Galaxies?

Don Hayes: Like any system, it has its own strengths and weaknesses. It works fine for some types of games/tracks but not as well for others. Also, the submission guidelines have some vagueness built into them which I believe was an attempt to satisfy the concerns of some players who wanted to preserve the ability to have submissions marked as private, which was available in the previous referee system. This has basically been rejected by the adjudication community so the submission guidelines should be updated to reflect this.

FNGRGNS: What was it about Centipede that drew you in and inspired you to compete at a high level?

Don Hayes: My favorite game has always been Centipede. The game play has a great combination of fast thinking, quick reflexes, a balance of predictability and randomness, and the challenge of the side feed that make it one of the top arcade games of all time. In high school, there were two groups of kids playing it and there was a bit of a rivalry to see who would be the first to break 300K. I ended up being the one to do that and then I set my sights on the highest score in my hometown, about 530K, which was done by a local rock band singer. Once I passed his score I just continued to play and improve and even bought my own Centipede machine for home. I didn’t consider going for the world record until the mid to late 90’s but the true push for that came after Walter Day saw me playing Millipede and Centipede at the second Funspot event and he told me that I should go after the record.

Tom Asaki – Twin Galaxies legend and Multiple Time Nibbler/Ms. Pac-Man Record Setter

The Scorewars Galaga Finals at Meow Wolf

[IMAGE SOURCE] Photo courtesy of Meow Wolf

FNGRGNS: What does it take to be a competitive player at the highest level? Do you have a daily routine or training regiment?

Tom Asaki: My competitive experience ended, for the most part, in the mid 1980’s. My last competition was the Ironman in Victoria, BC. (This was incidentally my last Nibbler marathon.) During those years I was a regular gamer who focused on two or three games to stay at a high level. My approach was a combination of coordinated play and analytical dissection. I believe that the best way to excel is to understand the programming from an experimental standpoint. Recently, I focused on one classic game – Nibbler – in order to attempt a billion point marathon. I practiced surprisingly little, about 40 hours over several months, for a 36-40 hour game. I relied on 35 year old muscle memory and a mental preparedness that my 20 year old self did not have 35 years ago.

FNGRGNS: What do you think has changed the most in competitive gaming over the years?

Tom Asaki: When I was an active gamer, there was very little competitive gaming at specific venues. Our gaming was remote and communication was not instantaneous as it is today. Those events that gathered gamers were special times. Meow Wolf did a fantastic job of recreating those days. However amazing those competitions were, they could not attract the best of all players. Today, thanks to the internet, competitions can span the world. While today more people can be competitors, I mourn the loss of the arcade scene and the personal camaraderie that formed lasting connections.

FNGRGNS: Do you have any thoughts on the new score adjudication process at Twin Galaxies?

Tom Asaki: Honestly, I have no idea.

FNGRGNS: What was it about that Ms. Pac-Man that drew you in and inspired you to compete at a high level?

Tom Asaki: When this game came out, there was a real challenge that demanded some eye-hand coordination, accurate timing, and most of all the need to analytically investigate the game to succeed.

Phil Day – 3 time Galaga High Score Holder

FNGRGNS: What does it take to be a competitive player at the highest level? Do you have a daily routine or training regiment?

Phil Day: To be a competitive gamer requires exercising analytical assessment, fine motor skills, and, I would argue, most importantly an urge to have the highest attainable score. My approach to Galaga was largely based on Chess theory by breaking the game play into three components and maintaining control of the centre of the screen. And to mentally prepare my self for Score Wars, for the past month, I only played one game a day, regardless how good or bad the game started or ended, that was the game I assessed and tried to equal or better the next day.

FNGRGNS: What do you think has changed the most in competitive gaming over the years?

Phil Day: Over the years competitive gaming has become more widespread for both players and spectators. Arguably due to the internet, but I also think it has a lot to do with video games being identified less as a ‘toy’ and more as a tester of coordination and strategy.

FNGRGNS: Do you have any thoughts on the new score adjudication process at Twin Galaxies?

Phil Day: Unfortunately, the Twin Galaxies Record data base has many older scores that relied on the honesty of players. As more competitive gamers and spectators are attracted to these older scores, the scores have come under much closer scrutiny. The current Twin Galaxies adjudication of scores allows players and spectators to question the validity of these scores. Should reasonable doubt be provided, it makes sense for the removal of a score. And if this should happen, I believe the reasonable doubt should be clearly explained in manner that satisfies gaming competitors and spectators.

FNGRGNS: What was it about Galaga that drew you in and inspired you to compete at a high level?

Phil Day: I think, perhaps, what I like about Galaga is how little prior knowledge is required to play. Each stage has predictable and repetitive behaviour, similar to a sport like ten pin bowling, the arrangement of pins is always the same, Galaga’s gameplay echoes this. And like ten pin bowling, Galaga requires the player to maintain the consistency of a ‘strike’ for each stage. And like bowling, it’s not strictly a game against another player. One could play ten pin bowling without the presence of another player. Therefore, the game is very much about you playing against the pins. And the pins are non-thinking. So, it doesn’t take long to realise it’s very much a game against oneself. Galaga is no different. It’s a game against oneself through the vehicle of coloured sprites on a screen. I think, even as a little boy, I found some peculiar satisfaction in watching Galaga the screen fill up with an assemblage of coloured sprites and clearing them away, only to watch the screen fill up again, and again clear it away, and fill and clear, again, and again. Somewhat perfecting this, became therapeutic, and ultimately led to a world record score.

Hector Fly – Track and Field World Record Setter (and smasher)

Twitch and Explit’s live feed of the Scorewars Competition at Meow Wolf.

[IMAGE CREDIT] Photo courtesy of Meow Wolf

FNGRGNS: What does it take to be a competitive player at the highest level? Do you have a daily routine or training regiment?

Hector Fly: It takes a lot of time a dedication. I don’t play a lot, but even if I am not playing I am thinking about the games constantly. I’m also constantly fidgeting/twiddling my fingers to work on dexterity.

FNGRGNS: What do you think has changed the most in competitive gaming over the years?

Hector Fly: There aren’t very many secrets out there anymore. Most people know what their competition is doing due to streaming and social media. In the past everyone kept their style and game play secret.

FNGRGNS: Do you have any thoughts on the new score adjudication process at Twin Galaxies?

Hector Fly: I actually like that the video is attached to the submission. The process can drag on a bit, but the end result has a video which is a positive. It may speed things up if it were open to the public and not just forum members. You may get real opinions that way.

FNGRGNS: What was it about Track and Field that drew you in and inspired you to compete at a high level?

Hector Fly: Track and Field has individual records on all six events as well as overall high scores. I have always been a score chaser, so that appealed to me. I was inspired to play at a higher level every time a saw a score higher than mine on that board. The same can be said for Return of The Jedi and Excitebike. I just wanted to have the highest score.


Thank you once again to Tim McVey, Don Hayes, Andrew Barrow,  Phil Day, Hector Fly & Tom Asaki for taking the time to answer our questions, to Adam “doseone” Drucker, to Meow Wolf and to Kris and Swipe Right PR. I am eternally grateful for your help in putting this together.

Sean Davies

Ungrateful little yuppie larvae. 30-something father to 5. Once ate 32 slices of pizza at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

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