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The Evener
01-28-2021 at 05:33 AM
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TG at 40 - Tim McVey Day, January 28 1984

Thirty seven years ago today, the residents of Ottumwa, Iowa gathered to celebrate a video game high score. Led by Mayor Jerry Parker and Twin Galaxies owner Walter Day, guests and the media gathered at the same downtown arcade where 17 year old homegrown champion Tim McVey became the first person to score a billion points on an arcade game called Nibbler.

Nearly two weeks earlier, Tim sat down in front of the game at 2:00pm on Sunday, January 15 and wouldn’t leave the arcade until almost 45 hours later on Tuesday morning with a score of 1,000,042,270. But Tim’s journey to a billion points actually stretched back to last June when he walked into Twin Galaxies arcade to find Tom Asaki, a Montana State University student in front of Nibbler.

Already known as a Ms. Pac-Man champion, Tom had gotten the idea of being the first person to achieve a billion points on a video game. In surveying possible candidates, he briefly considered Robotron: 2084 but calculated he would need to be playing for a week to hit the magic number. Nibbler, however, offered more promising point metrics with the possibility of securing a billion after two days of continuous play. So Tom went to work with his chosen game.

In June 1983, Tom changed up his summer vacation plans and headed to Ottumwa for another attempt. Only 4 weeks earlier, he had set a new Nibbler high score of 838,322,160. On this occasion Tom was in great shape, crossing the 600 million point threshold with dozens of lives in reserve as a local newspaper photographer snapped a photo the gamer flashing a thumbs up sign. However, by 10pm that night, Tom’s game blinked out as he accidently surpassed 127 reserve lives, a glitch threshold that causes the machine to reset, bringing his promising match to a disappointing end.

Inspired by Tom’s quest, Tim decided to undertake the billion point mission as well. Over the ensuing months, the gamers built up a rapport as they both spent time together at the arcade and exchanged notes on game strategy. As both gamers traded places attempting to reach the magic number, Tim’s moment finally arrived 6 months later in the dead of winter.

Tim was optimistic when he walked into Twin Galaxies on Sunday afternoon - he had been practicing for months, with six serious runs under his belt. And to help ward off the boredom and fatigue that invariably confronts marathon gamers, Bill Mitchell and Chris "Tempest" Ayra kept Tim "psyched up” to keep his focus over the duration of his run.

By Monday evening, Tim knew that he was in good shape as he surpassed his previous high score of 716 million after 31 hours of play. But when he closed within 200 million points of his goal, he nearly threw in the towel: a friend ran into the arcade with a “certified letter” that declared someone had reached 2 billion points on Nibbler. As Tim debated whether he should continue all the while losing lives, it was hurriedly clarified that the alleged game was achieved by two gamers playing the game in shifts. With his goal reaffirmed, Tim pressed on.

Tuesday morning arrived, and word got out to the local newsroom that Tim was at 900 million. A news crew scrambled down to the arcade to catch the moment, but the distraction of equipment set-up and the glare of the lights to illuminate the big moment nearly did Tim in. With a crowd and cameras rolling, Tim re-established his focus.

And then, it happened. As Tim completed a level with 999,950,950 points, he stepped back as the game tabulated and added his bonus points, displaying the highest score ever witnessed on an arcade game at that time - 1,000,042,270. Although he had 10 lives in reserve, Tim was done. With the billion points registered on screen after 44.5 hours of game play, Tim walked away and made his way back home where he slept for 38 hours.

For other examples of Twin Galaxies history, check out the newly uploaded archive materials at the following link:

The source material for this story was from “The 1,000,000,000 Point Game,” by Paul Stokstad (Computer Games, July/August 1984)

  1. Jace Hall's Avatar

    You may want to republish this as a news article. Good stuff.

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