Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reminiscing When I Scored the Winning Touchdown

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Ok, that didn't happen. In my peak athletic years, my weight topped about 160 and that was coupled with the fact that I have never been particularly fast and I would sprain my ankle mowing the lawn. However, I did enjoy my last minute scoring opportunity in 1990, at the Nintendo World Championship.

For those who may not remember, the Nintendo World Championship was held in 1990 over thirty cities throughout the US. It was in congruence with the release of Super Mario Bros. 3 and was brought into the limelight by the unbelievably bad movie, The Wizard (personally, I don't know if Fred Savage's career had a chance after this gem). At the time I was working at Electronic Gaming Monthly answering video game questions over the phone (in case you are wondering, not too many dates for me back in those days) so I leaped at the opportunity to go and school the competition.

I remember having to ditch school and go into the scary city from my safe, melancholy home in the suburbs. Our arrival was greeted with loads of thick glasses, 80's metal T-shirts, and mullets - lots and lots of mullets. The population was 99% male, go figure. I do believe there was one woman there but she was selling concessions. We wandered around the hall waiting for our number to be called to take our crack at possibly becoming the Nintendo World Champion.

Any hopes of this event emulating that of the Fred Savage movie was lost quickly. It wasn't quite the same crowd as the movie, i.e. normal high schoolers. It was just a large expo hall filled with stations to play NES games. Having gone to quite a few trade shows over the past decade, I have to say, pretty half-assed in comparison.

The anticipation was strong (the actual anticipation, not to be confused with the NES game Anticipation which was available to play as part of Nintendo's money fest). I felt like a batter, on-deck hoping to bring in the runner on third. It was a geek's equivalent to 3rd and goal, down by six, with :20 left on the clock in the fourth quarter. Tense.

The competition consisted of three games, all coincidentally released by Nintendo. I suppose it was there competition and they were going to be damned if any third-party developer was going to piggy back their tournament. The three games were the original Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris. SMB and Tetris made sense, they were icons of the NES, but he developers of Square must have had some pretty incriminating photos of Shigeru Miyamoto because that game sucked then and still sucks today. If they were going to make us play Rad Racer, they should have at least allowed us to have the ability to play it as the developer's intended, in 3-D, because those glasses would have made the masses of geeks look even cooler.

Alas my number was called. I stepped up to the plate, so to speak, among roughly fifty other people. I faced my 12-inch TV and grabbed my controller. We were lined up in a row with our backs to the crowd. If someone had taken a picture it would have been a sea of mullet's and Warrant T-shirts. The clocked ticked down for us to start. The games were timed with a total amount of time allotted at 6 minutes 21 seconds - a rather strange amount of time to give, but I digress.

They then had a rather complex formula to produce your final score:

The Super Mario Bros. score was your Super Mario Bros. score. You had to get 50 coins as quickly as possible to move on. What really sucked was there aren't 50 coins in level 1-1 so you have to go to 1-2. But, after you finish level 1-1, you have to watch Mario gingerly walk to the pipe to enter 1-2 and have no control of his speed. He was mocking us, run you little bastard, I'm on the clock here.

They had a specially designed course for Rad Racer that was needed to be completed. You take your Rad Racer score and multiply it by 10.

Then you play out the rest of the time on Tetris. You take your Tetris score and multiply it by 25. Of course, the key was to get to play Tetris since the other two games took a rather long time.

The clocked ticked down and I was off. I remember working my way through Mario trying to get through as quickly as possible. But I was going too quickly and a damn Goomba hit me and I had to start over. I finished 1-1 and watched Mario walk to the pipe. I loathed Mario at that moment. I finished up.

Then, Rad Racer started. I was doing ok seeing as I hated that game, sucked at that game, and was embarrassed to be playing that game. I crashed. Too much time ticking by. Started going again and crashed again. A prevalent, "damn it" was heard echoing through the hall and I agreed. Crashed again. I was about ready to give up. Put down the controller and walk away in shame but didn't, I persevered.

I was almost out of time when I finished Rad Racer. Tetris began and I started working as feverishly as I could. I kept an eye on m score and I was nowhere near the 175,000 required to move on. I continued on, got a Tetris and my score shot up. I was getting closer. I had the position for two more Tetris'. The clock was down to 20 seconds and there it was, Tetris 1. Down to ten seconds and got my final piece and pushed it down to get my final Tetris as time expired. I had done it, I was above 175,000. I could move on. In my head there was victory music. The geeks should have put me on their shoulders (but that would have upset their mullets) and carried me out of the auditorium.

I walked over and got my sticker to return the next day for the next round of the tournament. I wore my sticker like a badge of honor. It was my finest gaming moment (of 1990 anyway). I did return the next day and while I do not wish to say how I did, let's just say, I was never crowned the Nintendo World Champion. But, my legacy will live on for my brilliant come-from-behind victory that would have made ESPN, if ESPN covered video games and had a crew there watching all 1000+ people competing, and will be talked about in the land of geekdom forever.

And, while I do not condone illegal ROMs, if you wanted to find a copy to play on your emulator

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