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

Things Begin to Heat Up

Shortly after the MAGFest event, another great marathon player, David Gomez out of Texas, topped Ken's Robotron score while streaming on TwitchTV. David's 125 million point game was watched by hundreds of stoked enthusiasts, once again thanks to Jace Hall and his LeetLounge feed. The fact that there were numerous Robotron players stepping up to play true marathon games quickly got the attention of Larry DeMar, original VidKidz programmer and one of the two people (along with Eugene Jarvis) that created the game. Larry was so inspired by the enthusiasm of current Robotron marathon players and the discovery of the 100 million point "Goldilocks Affect" that he dug out his old developer kit and created an updated set of ROMs that included the extra scoring digit AND tracked the actual number of men a player has saved up (the original code of the game stored up to 255 extra men, but due to space limitations on the screen, only showed up to 7). This new ROMset, labeled the Tie-Die ROMs, is currently in beta testing (I am very proud to have been asked to test out these ROMs on some long games) and should be publicly released in the coming year. Some folks were asking in my last post why my top score in the All Time Robotron Heroes list was 9,999,999 (instead of9,999,975 - traditionally highest score possible on the leader board readout). When using the new Tie-Die ROM set, if a player scored over 10,000,000 points, the score will read as 9,999,999 on the leader board. This is because the leader board can only track up to 7 digits, even though the in-game score readout can now read 8 digits. So when you see 9,999,999 points on the leader board for a machine that is using these new ROMs, the player scored at least 10,000,000 points (but quite possible much more).

Now, with the new ROMs soon to be publicly released and renewed enthusiasm in marathoning Robotron building, the BIG QUESTION remains what to do with the historical scores currently listed in the Twin Galaxies database and, more importantly, how do we move forward and recognize the current Robotron community while maintaining respect for those who paved the way?

I think it is important at this point to do a quick refresher on the history behind the legacy scores and the state of marathoning Robotron in the early 80's when the majority of those score were "verified". I place "verified" in quotation marks because there is very little, if any, documented evidence supporting the top ten scores (all above 100 million points). It is a well documented fact that in many cases, players who played marathon sessions back in the heyday of arcades would "stitch" games together, either due to resets which occurred as a result of the well documented corner bug issue, power failures or other extenuating circumstances. The fact that NOBODY, not even the developers of the game themselves, knew about or discussed the Goldilocks event that takes place when a player surpasses 100 million points further supports the theory. (YES, it is just a theory. Bottom line is that we can neither prove NOR disprove these scores. That is with ONE EXCEPTION, the TOP score which ends in 80 and is literally not possible in Robotron, a game that tracks scores in increments of 25 points).

So if we can neither prove nor disprove that these scores were achieved while playing uninterrupted SINGLE CREDIT games, what are we, current day Robotron Marathon Enthusiast to do? How do we play the game that we love, in the manner which motivates us the most and get recognition for the accomplishments that we achieve in this new era of Twin Galaxies? Personally, I believe that a new track (Verified Single Credit Score, default settings at 3 man start, extra mann every 25K, difficulty 5) should be added to the Robotron scoreboard and that the historical data surrounding Robotron marathon scores should be archived as such. This would allow the current generation of players to continue to push the boundaries of how far one person can go on a single quarter AND receive the recognition that they deserve while maintaining the historical scores and history of the game.

Thus, as an avid Robotron enthusiast and current player I believe that the following scoring tracks should be maintained in the Twin Galaxies database moving forward:

Historical Marathon Track: 3 man start, extra man every 25K, difficulty 5 (LOCKED - NO NEW SUBMISSIONS w/ background footnotes)
Verified Single Credit Marathon Score: 3 man start, extra man every 25K, difficulty 5 (Video proof score was acquired using 1 credit)
TGTS: 5 man start, no extra men, difficulty 5
VKE: 3 man start, extra man every 50K, difficulty 10 (endorsed by the VidKidz themselves)

Of course there are other popular tracks (Difficulty 10 Single Credit Marathon, One Man Score, 40 Wave Score, 1 Hour Score, etc) that current players track. However, I strongly feel that if too many tracks are created for the Twin Galaxies scoreboard, then the resulting achievements would quickly become diluted and much less meaningful.

Another question that has come up, and one that I will simply put out there for now, is that of the validity of hardware (specifically controller) modifications. Robotron's twin wico joystick control system is iconic, but frequently problematic as equipment continues to age and reliable original or reproduction parts can be difficult to acquire. One of the core aspects of Robtron play is its sheer physicality, the wear on a player's wrists and forearms, not to mention legs if standing for 24+ hours, is tremendous. The original controllers incorporated stiff bushings that added resistance to movement of the sticks and helped to maintain their central orientation when not being manipulated. With the highly physical nature of Robotron marathoning, these bushing wear down over time, migrating from downright painful to play with, to that sweet spot of perfect resistance vs centering and downhill into completely unusable. I have personally replaced the bushings in the wicos on my Robotron cab 3x now. Each time I do I feel like my forearms will literally fall off until the bushings loosen up and hit that "sweet spot". As a result of this issue, many players have turned to other joystick options, including the use of shorter wicos (not fun really), generic arcade sticks (mixed results) and modified Hap microswitch joysticks (much less resistance to movement, much less forearm and wrist fatigue). To paraphrase Jace Hall from his recent Q&A sit down on Settle It On the Screen - at what point does the ability to make these modifications (a person owns their own arcade cab, has the time, knowledge and resources to incorporate control mods) give an unfair advantage to those who can afford or are lucky enough to have these increasingly rarer and harder to procure arcade machines in their home? How do we level the playing field so that all participants are on an equal footing? Is doing so even possible or logistically feasible?

As I eluded to above, I have my own opinions on this last question (hint: look at how well the Kong-Off's have worked), but let me know what you think. Not just about various control options, but about the historical legacy and scores of Robotron and which scoring tracks should be kept moving forward.
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  1. jimmer's Avatar
    You can't verify the hardware+software configuration of a machine via video submission.

    So for 100% verfiability you are left with organised events on known machines.
  2. Waterborn2O2P's Avatar
    Well, that reality goes for any arcade game, not just Robotron. As someone who has played in dozens of arcades across the country in the past few years, I can attest to the fact that many have modified/pieced together hardware. Between conversions, repairs and the growing scarcity of authentic replacement parts, that is inevitable.
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