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12-10-2014 at 11:36 AM
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Robotron Marathoning in the New Age of Twin Galaxies - Part I

As I sit at home feeling under the weather (and thus not neck deep in my typical work day), I finally have the opportunity to watch Jace's appearance on the Settle It on the Screen Podcast (link for the archived video is on the TG Front Page if you missed it). To say that I am excited about the coming year is an understatement. Jace continues to impress me with his professional, meticulously thought-out & concise approach to the TG reboot. Most importantly, I am awaiting the relaunch of the Score Submission & Adjudication with great anticipation for one huge reason. I wish to submit new scores for the arcade version of Robotron 2084, specifically for the marathon track.

For a long time I have had great interest in the history behind the historical scores listed in this track. I grew up in the 80's and Robotron has ALWAYS been my favorite game of all time, regardless of generation or platform. As a kid, I could barely make it past the first Brain Wave and could not understand how anyone could possibly play Robotron for more than a few minutes. Time passed, I grew up, the arcade scene disintegrated and I pretty much forgot about the game for close to 30 years.

Then, in 2004 I moved to New England ( the Boston area to be exact) and for better or worse I saw The King of Kong for the first time. The fact that Funspot and the American Classic Arcade Museum was a mere 2 hour drive from my house was a siren's call that I could not refuse. In January of 2005 I made the first of MANY trips up to Weirs Beach, NH to check out what in essence was a time capsule from my youth. At the time, I knew nothing about Twin Galaxies save what I had heard or read in gaming magazines as a kid. The only thing I new about the "Classic Arcade Gaming Community" was what I saw on the screen when watching KOK. What I did know was ACAM had a working Robotron machine. I knew after placing my first quarter in that machine that I had lost something over past past 30 years, a piece of who I was. I also quickly discovered that I was still not very good at playing the game. I believe my high score that day was somewhere around 150,000 points. However, placing my hands on those twin wico joysticks awakened something in me. I wanted more. I wanted to own a Robotron of my own and I want to become a "good" player.

So I started researching various arcade collecting sites online. I first joined the New England group on Coin-op Space and made the virtual acquaintances of several folks that I now consider good friends. That group morphed into the New England Arcade Collectors Forum. I soon purchased my first arcade machine (a nice Nintendo Playchoice 10) & went to a few meet-ups and cap kit parties. I joined the guys at the annual classic arcade tournament at ACAM and met other enthusiasts, including some of the characters that I saw in King of Kong (quickly realizing that not everyone is as they were portrayed on screen).

I also began to meet other Robotron enthusiasts, most of whom easily bested my humble scores. I went home and dove into the Twin Galaxies archives and saw the score listed there for Robotron. I could not believe that anyone was capable of attaining such high scores. At the time I was unaware of the "controversy" surrounding these scores (and will give my thoughts on those and potential new tracks below). However, they were in the official Twin Galaxies list of records, recognized by Guinness, so I figured that they must be accurate. That was where the bar was set. To be a "World Class" Robotron player, I would have to develop the skills to reach those scores. So I planted my feet virtually and began my search for my own Robotron arcade cab. The obsession was fully inoculated within me now. There was no turning back.

It took a while, but after searching online resources such as KLOV and the local Craigslist ads, I was able to procure a working Robotron machine from a fellow NEACF member. The game needed some repairs. It had some electrical issues, cold solder joints, old RAM and original (i.e. unpatched) ROMs that resulted in the dreaded "corner bug" reset from time to time. At first that bug was of little concern to me as my games rarely lasted long enough for the rug pattern reset to take place. I reflowed solder on the circuit boards in my game, updated the RAM and eventually ordered a set of patched blue ROMs (say farewell to the corner bug) and began to dig into actually playing the game. I watch online videos posted by the current top players, searched the web for strategy suggestions and literally put in hundreds if not thousands of hours of gameplay. Slowly my gameplay began to improve, my reflexes quickened and developed the intuition necessary to predict how the various enemies in Robotron would react. I learned how to herd grunts, avoid tank missiles and guard Mikey (or the other relative humans) during the brain waves.

My score rose slowly at first and my initial goal (which seams so quaint now) was to break 1 million points. I still remember the first time that I met that goal. How my hands were shaking, how nervous I was even though I was completely alone with my game in my basement. That personal triumph was one celebrated with a loud yell ringing off the stone walls of my burgeoning "arcade" (which would eventually grow to 10 games a the height of my collection). Soon after that I became bold enough to submit a score to the Twin Galaxies referees for adjudication. I remember thinking how complicated the process was. Like some weird Masonic initiation ceremony I set up my video camera, recorded a full view of my Robotron, turned the game around, opened the back, showed the circuit boards, closed the back, turned the game back around, powered it up, showed the rug pattern at boot, showed my hand hitting the player one button and FINALLY playing the game. I though to myself "This is supposed to be FUN", but what a pain in the a** it was to follow all these video taping guidelines. What if my gameplay sucked that day? The idea of repeating this whole process EVERY TIME I wanted to record a game was a bit daunting. That first (and so far only) submission to the TG Scoreboard was pretty modest - just under 1.6 million points. However, the submission was accepted and I was officially in the rankings at #18. The bug was firmly embedded under my skin.

I attended more tournaments at ACAM and quickly became friends with the staff at Funspot. I began bringing up the idea of a Robotron tournament to them and was told that nobody really played marathon Robotron games these days, in part due to the high scores listed and the question of their validity due to submission guidelines that were in place in the early 80's [NOTE: My views on these scores are complicated and not really the focus of this blog post. My hope is that they will be archived and new tracks developed for current play. But more on that in a little bit). I was told TGTS settings (5 man start, no extra men, difficulty 5) was what most top Robotron players concentrated on. So I began to practice playing on those settings, never truly letting go of the idea of getting real marathon competition going again. I attend the Williams Manufacturer Challenge at BarCade in Brooklyn, NY (where we played top one man score, difficulty 5). This event showed me that there were other Robotron enthusiasts out there. This made me think that there MUST be at least a few fools who still lusted after the seemingly unsurpassable marathon scores.

After bugging the folks at ACAM for what seemed like forever about putting together a Robotron event at their annual tournament, I was put in touch with the folks who run MAGFest in DC each winter. The feeling was that MAGFest, with its 24/7 schedule and greater focus on long gameplay sessions, would be a better fit for a true marathon attempt. About this time I also stumbled on the Williams Players Unite Community (http://williamsplayersunite.com/main/) and FINALLY found other enthusiasts who were plugging away at true marathon games on the default settings (3 man start, new man every 25K, difficulty 5). One of these maniacs had even set up the Robotron Gauntlet, which challenged players to break the 100,000,000 point threshold on a single credit (something that had NOT ever been documented on video, EVER). I dove into the competition, practiced like a madman and made my attempt at MAGFest 2013 as part of a partnership with MAGFest, ACAM & Jace Hall (LeetLounge on Twitch, pre- TG Takeover). I played consecutively via Twitch feed with Ken House and traded turns with Jacob Golson (son of Ms Pac-Man creator Steve Golson). My game stopped at just over 8 hours and 36 million points. Ken House went on to be the first person in history to have video documented proof of a 100 million point game that weekend. This FACT was further supported by the realization that Robotron actually rolls the score over at 100 million (not at 10 million as previously believed). You can read up on what happens when a player scores 100 million points here: http://www.robotron2084guidebook.com...ralifebonanza/

COMING SOON: Part 2 - More amazing Robotron Marathoning and where this is all leading.
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  1. 1500points's Avatar
    Nicely done. And the inquisitive reader may wonder just how your high score has all 9's instead of 9,999,975. :)
    LikesFly liked this post
  2. Fly's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by 1500points
    Nicely done. And the inquisitive reader may wonder just how your high score has all 9's instead of 9,999,975. :)
    I'm surprised no one else has jumped in and asked the same thing.

  3. 1500points's Avatar
    he he, looks like someone let the cat out of the bag- http://arcadeheroes.com/2014/12/10/r...ie-die-romset/
    ThanksJJT_Defender thanked this post
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  4. tomstewdevine's Avatar
    Fun article, I have never played robotron, I have never ran across a machine, I tried to play in MAME but if I'm going to play I want two joysticks. Can't wait to make my way to Funspot at some point and play everything.
  5. Cliff Clavin's Avatar
    Great post. Thanks for the excellent read.
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