On a recent evening at Boise's Spacebar Arcade, a group huddled around a Galaga machine waiting for a chance to show their skills. The goal? To achieve the highest score and claim Galaga glory--and beer and assorted swag from tournament host Sockeye Brewing.
Each player had a single quarter to drop into the machine, with an timekeeper limiting play to 10 minutes.
Brightly colored enemies arrived in waves, flying close to my spaceship before falling into formation above. On my first run, I pulled up a barstool and went to work killing aliens, carefully pressing the fire button and jostling my spaceship to the left and right with the joystick, picking off space baddies slowly and deliberately--the only hope against never-ending waves of enemies.
Even though the concept is simple, Galaga is primarily a strategy game, requiring the taming of patterns to surmount the alien hordes. In 1989, a world record score of 15,999,990 points was reached, and it hasn't been upset yet.
I came nowhere close. As I got a six-minute warning, I was clipped by an alien and "GAME OVER" flashed on the screen. My score was a pitiful 28,600.
In each wave, slightly larger aliens swoop down, occasionally emitting a blue wave to "abduct" one of the player's spaceships. According to Erin Nelson, who scored more than 150,000 on her first run, getting abducted is crucial to success. Once abducted, the alien tows the player's spaceship up into the formation and, if killed, will release it to give the player two ships for use against the alien foes.
Alas, I was never able to employ the technique. On my second run, I got rid of the barstool and stood--another technique suggested by the pros. Seconds into my second try, I failed to destroy a red alien zipping toward my ship and was destroyed by a missile. With my final life, I took out another wave of enemies, but fell prey to the swirling flight pattern of a fast alien. I ended with an even more shameful score of 7,600.
In the end, my amateurish efforts paled in comparison to the evening's victors. Ryan Cloud took first place with 157,420, while Nelson's 153,780 points earned her second place, and Rockford "Rocky" Hinten took third with 139,740 points.
If you missed out on competitive Galaga playing, fear not, there's a Donkey Kong tourney scheduled for Thursday, March 28, which is sponsored by Ninkasi. Navigate on over to spacebararcade.com for details.
As for me? I'll stick to Lunar Lander.