November 1982, Ottumwa, Iowa:
Most classic arcade gaming players have heard of, and perhaps seen, the famous LIFE magazine spread that featured a lot of well-known early 1980's gamers, gathered in front of the famous Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa. The January 1983 issue was the special "Year in Pictures" issue for 1982, and featured the classic 'gamers in the street' photo, taken early in the morning on Sunday, November 7, 1982 (Walter Day's 1998 record book erroneously indicates the date as the 9th). Apparently, the photo was taken so early (8 AM according to the book), that some of the invited players, most of who traveled hundreds of miles, didn't show up in time to take part. Apparently, two had overslept after all of the players had partied late the might before, so, the picture was slightly incomplete. Nonetheless, it's arcade gaming's most historical, and instantly recognized, photograph.
The number of originally invited players is not known, but, a total of 18 showed up for the event (Walter's book erroneously indicates that it was 17, along with also stating that 15 players appeared in the picture, which is obviously not correct !). In alphabetical order, here's the 'Who's Who' that came, along with brief information on each (including hometown / state, games they're skilled on, and any other interesting facts; keep in mind that this info is as of the start of the get-together, on Friday, November 5, 1982): Sam Blackburn, NC; Jeff Brandt, Bloomington, IL, world-class on Donkey Kong Junior (DKJ); Matt Brass, MT, also world-class on DKJ; Leo Daniels, NC, wr holder on Asteroids and Tempest, world-class on Asteroids Deluxe, and Reactor; Kent Farries, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, another world-class DKJ player; Eric Ginner, Mountain View, CA, wr holder on Moon Patrol, world-class on Dig Dug, Robotron, Tempest, and Centipede; Ben Gold, Dallas, TX, wr holder on Stargate; Mike Lepkosky, Houston, TX, wr holder on Ms. Pac-Man; Billy Mitchell, Hollywood, Florida, wr holder on Centipede, world-class on Donkey Kong; Doug Nelson, CA; Darren Olson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, world-class on Centipede; Mark Robichek, Mountain View, CA, wr holder on Frogger and Tutankham, world-class on Moon Patrol; Steve Sanders, Clinton, MO, wr on Donkey Kong (tho he admitted a few months later that he had lied about his score); Ned Troide, Palm Harbor, FL, wr holder on Defender; Todd Walker, San Jose, CA, wr holder on Joust; and Joel West, NC. This is a listing of only 16 players, but the names of the other two are apparently lost to history...
Now, what makes this gathering of players a contest ? Well, it's true that the basic purpose of all of these skilled gamers coming to Ottumwa was to pose for LIFE magazine. But, of course, when you have the best of the best all gathered together, you're going to get competition, both with each other, and against the games themselves (as far as score goes). So, in the purest sense, this group being summoned together was the most basic ingredient to a contest.
Now, what were some of these contest-type results ? Well, very possibly, Billy Mitchell had the best outcome, making his famous, and long-lasting, 874,300 wr score on Donkey Kong. He reached 849,000 points on his first man, and was seemingly on cruise control, when a short time later, the unthinkable happened - the dreaded 'kill screen' was reached on level 22. This may possibly be the first instance that anyone reached a screen where it was impossible to advance (similar things, it was found out later, happen in the games Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and DKJ).
As if to replicate Billy's situation, Jeff Brandt made a wr on DKJ, scoring 787,400, and making it to level 'F', where the game would advance no further due to a kill screen. Utilizing this information, Kent Farries reached level 'E' on his first man, but purposefully killed each subsequent one off, in order to remain on this screen, and maximize the points available. This quickly garnered him the wr, albeit for a relatively short time, as others implemented his idea to their advantage.
Well, suffice it to say that many other great scores were made over this weekend, and that a good time was had by all. And, to top it off, the majority got themselves immortalized by that great photo, one which many arcades, and gamers, hung on their walls. Reprinted below is the text from those two great pages in LIFE, along with all of the photos. Enjoy this beginning point of contest history, captured back in the formative days of Twin Galaxies.
Video Game V.I.P. S
|Welcomed by Ottumwa High cheerleaders, 16 all-stars - ages 14 to 30 - gather on Main Street behind six of the top video games in the U.S. Ten of the hotshots and the games they conquered are below.|
|Enrico Ferorelli, for the photos on
this page. Used under license agreement.
Mark Robichek, for the above two picture scans, and for article information / fact-checking.
Walter Day / Twin Galaxies for some article facts, courtesy of the 1998 record book.
LIFE magazine for the pictorial, and written, content used above.
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