In 1996, if you wanted to watch Bruce Willis toss a bomb off a train in Die Hard With A Vengence or record an episode of Friends while you were out with your real friends, the VCR still reigned supreme.
So when Rick Fothergill readied a blank VHS tape with friend Neil Chapman during the evening of July 19, 1996 in Hamilton, Ontario, it wasn't an exceptional thing to do. But instead of recording a TV show, Rick loaded it into the camcorder to record his gameplay on the Bally/Midway arcade game Ms. Pac-Man. And when he sent a copy of that game to Twin Galaxies in April 1998 for adjudication, he made history twice over.
First, the game itself underlined Rick's emphatic arrival on the classic arcade scene. By reaching 910,350 points with a game of 5 hours, 29 minutes and 57 seconds in the early hours of July 20, Rick shattered the reigning Ms. Pac-Man record of 874,530 points achieved by Chris Ayra in June 1985. In the years that followed, Rick would go on to dominate a range of classic Pac titles and attain multiple world records - including an historic Perfect Pac-Man game in July 1999 - both in Hamilton and at the annual Funspot Classic Arcade Tournament in Laconia, NH, earning himself the nickname "Captain Canada."
Back in 1981 when the video game industry was scooping up billions of dollars in revenue as eager teenagers plied their quarters, Twin Galaxies created the International Scoreboard to track high scores. And what began as a process of filling out forms and gathering witnesses signatures attesting to a player's achievement evolved into the era of "no vid, no did" that we live in today. In the late 1990s, TG required players to substantiate their high score submissions with photos of their final score, but even this was eventually dropped in favor of complete video evidence given the possible ways photos could be fabricated.
Thanks to Rick's foresight and determination in providing a higher standard of proof to substantiate his achievement, he was able to submit a full VHS copy of his Ms. Pac-Man performance to Twin Galaxies in April 1998. In doing so, Rick achieved a series of firsts for himself and for TG.
Most directly, TG declared Rick the new Ms. Pac-Man champion in September 1998, capping his 12 year quest to attain the world record. The following February, Rick received a special TG award presented by Mayor Robert Morrow and enjoyed further newspaper coverage of his world record feat in March.
But in terms of TG's history, Rick's 1996 accomplishment also represents the oldest complete game (recorded beginning-to-end) ever adjudicated by TG, as well as the first full recording ever submitted to the organization for review. In doing so, Rick helped push TG towards a higher level of evidence that would carry through to the present day.
With Rick's blessing, the closing minutes of this pivotal performance is now available for viewing thanks to the efforts of Pac-Man world champion David Race, who has assembled an impressive archive of historic Pac-related records.
In the near future, the entire run of Rick's game will be made available, giving anyone the opportunity - without the need for a VCR - to travel back to 1996 to see arcade game history in the making.
UPDATE (04/04/2021): The near future has arrived! David Race has uploaded the entire performance to his YouTube channel on behalf of Rick. You can view the game here:
In addition, Rick is sharing his fastest Perfect Pac-Man game (3 hours, 35 minutes, 43 seconds) from October 14, 2009, which sits in second place on the TG leaderboard. David has uploaded the game to his YouTube cannel and you can watch it here:
If you have any testimonials or memorabilia you'd like to share from this fascinating period, please feel free to post them here.