Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In Search of Squid

I have often sung the praises of squid for it's mind-enhancing properties. The stamina for repeated complex hand-eye reactions, the endurance to solve puzzles for hours on end, squid gives you the brainpower to overcome any video game obstacle. I've always said, anyway.

 So when I saw Chief Arino and his fondness for squid, it made me very happy. Happy to see that another great player has come to the same conculsion that I did and confirmed my suspicion; that dried squid is the greatest gamer superfood of them all. Try it, it may surprise you. Take it from me, Q*Bert world record holder Duncan Idontknow. But don't take it from me, lets see what the Chief has to say about it:

Squid Get!!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The American Medical Association presents Urban champions round 1, an album of classic arcade rock to immanentize the Polybian Eschaton. Available now for digital download, hard copy CD can be purchased online beginning Friday July 18th 2014.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

20 Questions with Steve Wagner

With world records on multiple classics, Steve Wagner is an arcade force of nature. A look at the scores from tournaments and contests will always find Steve's name high on the leader board. Whenever there is talk of top ten lists of the greatest competitive arcade players of all time, you will hear the name Steve Wagner come up time and again. Steve also has a reputation in the gaming community of being one of the nicest, most good humored and friendly people you could meet, and even his fiercest competitors will be the first to praise Steve's true sportsman-like conduct.

I caught up with Steve outside of Richie Knucklez Arcade for some good stories, good insights, good laughs, and good fun.

George Leutz: Ok, so here we are; Steve Wagner.

Steve Wagner: Yes.

GL: Twenty questions.

SW: Yes!

GL: Ok, so question number one, Everybody's curious; What's with the hat? As in, how did you become a Cards fan? This was the main question everybody wanted to know.

SW: I had an older brother who was a Yankees fan growing up, and in 1982 I started watching baseball, and I couldn't like the same team my brother liked. So I ended up liking a National League Team, and the Cardnials won the World Series that year in 1982, So I became a Cardinals fan. And that's kinda how it started, I've been a Cardinal's fan ever since.

GL: And now the hat's kinda become the signature hat.

SW: The hat is the symbol. I got offered a thousand dollars for this hat from someone.

GL: !

SW: I was offered a thousand dollars dollars cash for the hat, and didn't sell it.

GL: *laughs* Love it!

SW: My friend said, you know, "You should just sell it, buy another one!" But I said I can't, this is the source of my evil power. *laughs*

GL: Question number 2. You have many arcade records. What would you say is the secret to your success?

SW: Um... lots of luck.

GL: I knew you were gonna say that!

SW: I don't know.. I would guess I have to really enjoy the game. So, I think if I really get into it and I start enjoying the game, then I start to want to progress.. a lot of times I'll just plateau on a game, I'm like ah, that's good enough. Or it's good enough for a tournament, or it's good enough for an hour score, whatever. But certain games I just get really into, and I'm like, man, I want to see if I can you know, push this to the max. I think part of the reason too is I don't watch any videos of other players, so sometimes I like to think that maybe I've discovered something, maybe someone else doesn't know. I don't use save-states or anything, so I just play the game all the way through again and again and again, so maybe, I don't know, the practice kinda helps. But I really don't play a lot of hours. I guess I probably play about 4 or 5 hours a week I would say. So, I don't know, I guess I get lucky.

GL: Yeah, get lucky. *laughs*

SW: Just get lucky.

GL: What I find very impressive is the ability to improve on games at a very fast pace, and a wide range of games.

SW: I always liked a lot of different games growing up, too. So I never really just got stuck on one game. I got ADD very easily, so..

GL: *laughs* That's good! Ok, so question 3..

SW: Ya.

GL: It's been said that games with animals, have "moods." So we were wondering, is this true, in your experience, for Jungle King?

SW: *laughs* Absolutely, absolutely. There's this one specific 'gator in my 'gator board pattern that has a specific mood. And if he's ornery, you gotta react. Because that thing just flies up and down, x/y, left and right.. yeah, it definitely has moods. I actually talked to John Lexmark one time and he was telling me about moods in this game called Zoo Keeper, so once he told me about moods, I started looking up moods in other games: Millipede has moods, Pac-Man has moods. You know, most of the games that feature dots. And animals.

GL: And enemies.

SW: Hit-boxes.

GL: Right, and people who are very sceptical, about whether or not there are moods in these games, I guess they're..

SW: They just don't understand games.

GL: Yeah. They don't realize.. like this 'gator, he's tough, he's a moody 'gator.

SW: There's one 'gator.. But when you were watching, he reacts. I think you were able to tame the mood, that was the..

GL: That could've been it.

SW: Because when I was practicing on MAME that 'gator would get into a mood.

GL: Wow.

SW: Every five, ten loops.

GL: Very interesting!


GL: Ok so, question number four: What do you think about the "MAME vs Arcade" debate? Do you have a specific side? Anything you want to say about it.

SW: No, I'm kind of split down the middle. Because I do play both. I play MAME on games that I don't own, or can't get a hold of, most of the time. If I own it obviously I'll play it downstairs in the arcade. Or at Richie's, or wherever. But I like to find games, too: You can find random games you never heard of that sound cool, have cool titles. Like I found this game called Intrepid the other day, that I thought looked cool. And it wasn't, but now I know that, so without MAME I wouldn't have even known it was bad.


SW: And where would the Crap Tournament be, and things like that, without MAME.

GL: That's true.

SW: I never never never disrespect MAME. I've never disrepected it, ever. I think it's certainly a valid platform, and a lot of great players only play in MAME, so that's what they have access to, and they're great contributors to the community whether it's arcade or MAME. I don't have a problem with it. And sometimes, I'm just too tired to even turn on my games, so I just go to the MAME.

GL: There you go. That's good, some kind words for MAME. Because the MAME gets beat up a lot, I know.

SW: Nah, it shouldn't get beat up a lot. Where would we be without MAME? You know, we have Phil Tudose and Dean Saglio, Matt Hall.. Just look at the Kong-Off. They come and.. was it Dean and Jeff, get on the joystick, and that was it.

GL: Question five: Do you play at a poser pace?

SW: All the time.

GL: In general.

SW: Life, I play life at a poser pace.

GL: *laughs*

SW: I really do. I love being a poser.

GL: Well I am a poser as well, and I haven't even gotten to the killscreen.

SW: Well there you go. You just gotta get your poser pace.

GL: I do. I'm in the poser boat, just need my poser pace.

SW: Love it.

GL: Question six: How do you feel about arcade teams?

SW: An arcade team is wonderful. Because think about the first Battle of the Arcades we had, right? So we had the first one, and you had these giant games in it; you had Frogger, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Pole Position, Track n Field. And you went to this Battle of the Arcades, and you had Ben (Falls) playing Frogger, you had Hank (Chien) playing Donkey Kong, you had Richie (Knucklez) playing Pole Position, and you could just go and say, "hey, how are you doing that"... and you're all pulling for each other, instead of like a very individualized sport or hobby, all of a sudden you're pulling for each other, and trying to help each other out. And it's great, I love it. Especially when you have a team full of your friends and stuff, and you can goof around, too. I mean it's for fun.

GL: It definitely gives the situation a very different dynamic.

SW: And the way the scoring works, too, you should be helping your teammates. So it encourages you to share your ideas, and any kind of idea sharing, and game theory sharing is wonderful.



GL: How did the Battle of the Arcades come about?

SW: A while back, Richie and I were talking about it.. well, someone had mentioned it on one of the forums once that they had, back in the 80's; video game teams, video game olympics. I was like man, we should carry that now, and Richie was like, yeah, go do it. So I posted on Alpiger's forum, and I got in trouble, because Mark didn't like me or something. Well, I don't think it was him, but somebody sent me a message saying kinda cease and desist...

GL: Why?

SW: I don't know, I don't know... anyways, I posted just basically here's our roster, and some funny comments about everything, you know just try and lighten the mood and stuff. Then it kind grew into Ken (House) getting a team together, and Funspot getting a team together, and it grew from that. And one day I was working out at my house, and we were trying to think of a good scoring mechanism. And I literally stopped a video and said to my wife I got it, and she said, "What?" And I said I got the scoring for this, this is going to be great. And she said "what do you mean?" And I was like just, ah, I gotta call Ken. *laughs* So I call Ken literally during the video, and I said Here's how the scoring's gonna work. Because we had gone back and forth, and Funspot didn't like the scoring that we came up with, with Ken, and then Ken didn't like it the way Funspot had, so I'm like I'm going to figure it out, I'm gonna figure out a way to get the two of them together, to a middle ground. Because they were going back and forth on the scoring. And I figured out a way and everyone kind of liked it. It got Hank's blessing, and he's smart. That was it. Like all of a sudden, it came to me. Like Walter's Twin Galaxies name.

Walter Day gets a laugh out of Ben Falls and Steve
during an on-camera interview at a trading card event in Allentown, PA

GL: Right, that's the way it is, something just pops into your head, while you're doing something else. And here we are, with the Battle of the Arcades set to have six teams around the country next time, and maybe some international teams coming soon as well.

SW: Get yer game up.

GL: And everyone seems to love it. That's right, I've got work to do. Ok. So: What got you started playing at Richie's?

SW: I went up to Funspot in 2008 or 9 after seeing.. well I saw King of Kong at an independent theatre in Princeton, and I turned to my wife and I said, "you know, I used to be pretty decent at these" and she was like "yeah?" So, after the movie, she got me a trip to Funspot for my birthday. This was in November, and it happened to be during Robert (Mruczek)'s trip, so I met Robert there, and I knew him, remembered him from the movie. And I was like "oh, can you take a score down?" because I had never been on the scoreboard, and I thought it was cool. So he's like "I can't, but Dave Nelson can, he's in charge now." And I said, "Alright." So I played Berzerk for Dave, and I got like, I don't know 5th place or 6th place or whatever it was on the scoreboard but I was all excited. And he said, "You're from NJ, right? You ever been to Richie Knucklez place?" And I said No, what are you talking about? And he said there's a classic arcade in Flemington, NJ. So I got home and looked it up and said man, that's only an hour away. So one Friday night, me and wife left work and we got to Richie's place around 8 so there were only a couple hours left. And I walked in and saw all these old games, and I couldn't believe it. And I saw Richie sitting down at a desk, he had the big white board, remember the board with all the names on it?

GL: yer!

SW: And it was all low scores, you know, Donald (Hayes) and Jason (Cram) weren't there. So it was all pretty average scores at the time. So Richie says Hi, I'm Richie, first time here? And I say yeah. And then I looked at the scoreboard and I started laughing. And he goes, "what's so funny?" And I said "You're gonna need a new scoreboard man, because I'm gonna be here, and I'm bringing all these people from up north. Well you know how Richie is, he kind of liked the cockiness about it, and the joking back and forth. And I said "you don't even know what's gonna to hit you." And from then on we became friends, it was great. And every time you go there, there was a new game coming in, he'd bring in some random game that you never heard of. And we'd see in four hours who could get the best score at the end of the night. That's how I learned about Donkey kong 3. I didn't even know that game existed until I came to Richie's and he wheeled it in one night and we're like Donkey Kong 3? And he's like "Yeah, you spray shit!" And I'm like, "What?" On the third or fourth game I got a million points on that. Shit game.

GL: (laughs)

SW: Because the first game I didn't know you could move up. Zach (Lubow) had to tell me. I'm like so how can you spray him? And he's like you jump up. Oh, there's an up? Yeah.

GL: What's next? What's next for Steve Wagner?

SW: You mean what game?

GL: Yer, sure.

SW: I'm trying to get as many Taito records as possible. That's my goal. So Crazy Climber; hurts the shit out of my hands and it's frustrating, but I'd like to do that one, that's still up for me. I like to get records set back the 80s. A lot of people are like, "ah, it's an 80s score, it's not possible" or whatever, sometimes. But that only feuls your desire to play those games. It's a shame that some of those are not... like the Taito games, like Alpine Ski's not really a world record I don't think, from what we've examined. So that's tough. But Crazy Climber. Front Line I'd like to do, when I get a machine. Super Breakout I'd like to do.

GL: Question to go with that then: I saw you playing Super Breakout earlier.

SW: Yer. Love it.

GL: Going for the record right now. Is it a hard game?

SW: (doing Robert Mruczek impression) I once saw, Steve Wagner, play, Super Breakout Progressive, on a New York City subway vs Zack Hample. That's a hard game. Really, I mean, progressive's a hard mode. The other modes, they have endings, but progressive keeps going, further and further. It just doesn't stop!

GL: That was a very satisfying answer. Ok.. What score are you most proud of?

SW: Elevator Action. Because that's my favorite game of all time. And I kind of got in for it, for a while. And I actually killed my game off, I had two guys left. Well, I was worried about the reset. Because when I was filming it, you couldn't quite see the digits like really clearly, and I was nervous that if it reset it would be invalidated. So on my second man I got the world record, on the tenth building. And I just, I had to kill it off, you know. And I still catch shit for it because there's a score for it on MARP that's like five hundred points higher. But I did, I killed it off with two guys left. I sent the tape to Dave Nelson, and he called me when I was at work, he called me one day. And he was like "I can't believe you got out of some of those spots." Because he plays it to. So I'm really proud of that one. I pulled off some pretty sick moves. I wish I'd saved the tape, I don't have it any more.

GL: Love it. Does Donkey Kong Junior really suck?

SW: No, it doesn't suck.

GL: I agree with you. But don't tell anybody.

SW: I won't tell anybody. In fact, when I did the Jungle Hunt recently, they asked me where I started playing Jungle Hunt and I said at a bowling alley, they had Elevator Action, they had Jungle Hunt and they had Donkey Kong jr. So I got pretty good at those three. My brother would bowl, and I'd play video games. So it's hard for me to say it's not a good game, becuase I played it alot growing up. I do like to tease the DKjr fanclub, but no it is not a shit game. It's a pretty decent game, and I don't want Marky d (Kiehl) to come after me.

GL: He might. One of these days he's going to come after everybody, he's got a list.

SW: Or Brian Allen Staal to come after me. So no, it's a good game. It's a little bit tedious to point press, obviously. It's fun to just play through it. Which is what I do when I go to a new arcade that has one.

GL: You don't play the leech-fest on the spark board unless you have to.

SW: Yeah. Unless I have to. I was at an arcade a while back, and they had a contest for Donkey Kong jr. And I got to the sparks right before the killscreen on my first guy, and I killed my game off at 999,800. Because I wanted Brian Allen who was playing in the same contest to get 999,900, I think I mine held though.

GL: So DKjr's not a shit game.

SW: No, I like to tease the people involved with that game... they're kind of their own cult.

GL: Right.

SW: It's not quite as pronounced a cult, but they're still a cult.

GL: They're very fanatic.

SW: They'll come with pitchforks and torches.

GL: They're not happy with any criticism.

SW: You ever see Wicker Man? It's a 70s kind of horror movie, and you should watch it. Because it reminds me of the Donkey Kong jr cult.

GL: So everybody keep that in mind: Go check out the Wicker Man.

SW: Check out the Wicker Man. Not the Nick Cage recent version that was from like 2008 or something, but the good 70s one. It's very reminiscent of Donkey Kong jr's scoring.

GL: So one of the guys had a question: On any game, could you share an advanced tip or trick with us.

[Answer Redacted]

GL: Maybe I'll leave this question out. I'll say this question, has an omitted answer.

SW: I'll look tonight and see a new article: Hey, Don Hayes, new Elevator Action ..

GL: I might have to keep that one secret. You could have just said, "On Swimmer, on the third board, just stay down and to the left." I might just put that in instead.

SW: The Elevator Action secret was too top secret. Well he is carrying plans, man, so. Secret agent.

GL: That's what he's got in the plans...

SW: That's right he's got my tip, and then he drives off in the car.

GL: So, speaking of spys and spy games, another game you have a record on is Cliff Hanger. How did that come about?

SW: When I was seven, I went to a place in the mall in Jersey called gadgets, it was a sort of a Chuck E Cheese, but it had Looney Tunes characters in it. It was a great place, and I had a birthday party there. And Cliff hanger came out that year, and they actually wheeled it -much like just like Richie just wheeled his Metallica pinball out- they wheeled it out to the floor. And I had only seen Dragon's Lair before as a laser disc, and they wheel this out and I was like, "Man, it's like Dragon's Lair with spies!" So me being a young kid, I'm playing this game and I'm trying to figure it out and burning through tokens, because it's laser disc and I'm seven and have no idea what to do. So I finally got to the second board in the game after like a few hours.

GL: ..the car, you're driving up on the wall..

SW: Even before that, when he's trying to get into the car to drive away, the guy hanging on the hood. So I get there, and a bigger kid sees that I'm on the second board and pushes me off the game literally, and plays the second board. And of course I'm seven, I'm crying or whatever, my brother is thirteen or fourteen at the time, so he comes over and he out-muscles the kid and gets my game back, and the people at the place game me all these tokens. So that was my first experience of the game, and then it's funny, Funspot didn't have it at the time I went up there in 2008, and so I had not seen this game since 1983. So one day I'm searching around ebay and I see someone selling a Cliff hanger machine. And I call the guy up and said, "what's the deal with this?" and he goes, " Well, I inherited a house, and it was in the barn of the house." No joke. He says he replaced a fuse and the game fired right up. He said it's got all the original manuals taped to the back, whatever. I was like man, I'm gonna bid on it. Because it was in Maryland, and my wife had a baby shower in Maryland that week when it was gonna end on ebay. I said, "this is fate."

So I end up winning the game and I'm gonna come pick it up, and I rent an Enterprise rent-a-van, because I was actually going to pick up an Elevator Action in Virginia that day, too. So we have a one bedroom apartment at the time, and I had the Berzerk already, and I'm gonna put two more games in this one bedroom apartment. So I drop my wife off at the shower and I go to get the game. And I'm driving on some rural farm road in Maryland, I don't know where I'm going, a guy stops my van, stands in front of my van and says are you the guy coming for the game? Overalls on, no shirt... and I was like "yeah." And he goes alright, get out of the car, I'm gonna take the car, drive it to the back, so that you don't drive over the septic. I was like, ok. You're not gonna just steal the van, right? And he's like "No, no, no." So he drives the van and goes, you can walk with my brother down to the barn. And I'm thinking I'm gonna get killed. I don't know this place. So he drives the van down to the barn, I get into the barn, and another guy is playing the laser disc game. And my eyes just lit up, I hadn't seen one since 1983, back that time I was physically harmed. And I'm thinking this is amazing. So we take the laser disc player out and we transfer it, I put it in the van. And I already had the EA in the back of the van. And I get the two games in the van and go to pick up my wife from the baby shower, and all her friends are there going, "Why do you have two games in the back?" They hadn't seen arcade games in twenty years. So we get it back and get them into my one bedroom, three games in a one bedroom apartment. Cliff Hanger, Elevator Action, and Berzerk. And I have the record on all three.

GL: And the game still works.

SW: Yeah, it's wonderful. In fact, to get the record, I read, I think it was Robert Mruczek had an account of the record, someone did at CAX or one of the shows. And the guy said "I had a perfect game." One point three million something... ten. One point three one oh. And I'm playing one day, and I accidently die. I was trying to finish the game for someone to show them the end of the game, and I accidentally die in the game. And it starts the next guy up, and it gives me a whole bunch of moves and I'm like that's wierd. So I play through, and I end up on three man TG settings I had One point three five million. And I was like, "That dude didn't play a perfect game." I had eight extra moves for three men or whatever it was. So I filmed it, I did the same thing and I found the right spot to die and that was the perfect game, you can only tie it now.

GL: And that was just fate again.

SW: That was fate again. I died because I forgot the move, and I was just showing someone and they saw my eyes light up and were like, what. And I was like I think I just figured out something that no one knew about.

GL: An accident helped discover. There's the luck playing in again.

SW: Again, I'm a lucky dude. What can I say, I'm not good, I'm just.. I'd rather be lucky than good. Just get really lucky.

GL: Or I guess a combination.

SW: No, no combination. It's like ninety-nine percent luck, one percent just paying attention. Reflex. I like reflex games. Even though Cliff Hanger's not one of them. Well, it kind of is.

GL: You gotta be quick, right? Ok, so what was the first arcade competition you competed in, and how'd you do, do you remember?

SW: I played in (Mark) Alpiger's tournament in 2009, I want to say. So I show up to Alpiger's competition, and Ben (Falls) is there, Dave Nelson, Jason Cram, Donald Hayes, Dwayne Richards, all these great players. Eric Ahlers... And I was good at Richie's a lot, now this is my first chance to see, you know. And of course, you know how it is now, everyone preps for Alpiger's tournamnents, they play the games, they know ahead of time. I came in just not even knowing... it's kind of like when you first get your first college exam, and you'r like ah, this was easy in high school. It's no big deal, i'm just gonna ace this, no problem. And then I saw Donald playing something and I'm like oh, fuck. So, I did not good, I finished thirteenth I think, in the first one. And then I went up to, I want to say sixth in 2010, and I started doing better, because I started realizing that for Alpiger's tournamnets you did have to prepare for the games that were gonna be in it. And you had to choose your games wisely that you're gonna pick. You better choose a game that you're gonna get first on.

GL: Ok next question: Do you love it?

SW: Love it more than anyone Loves it. I've loved it much longer than Allen (Staal)'s even loved it. I think.

GL: I hear you are going for the Granny and the Gators record. What do you think about the Granny and the Gators?

SW: I don't know if I'm going for the record, I just started it today, but it's a hard game. It's fun. I wonder... I don't know what the record is, I imagine it's something crazy. But it's fun. I like it better than the Baby Pac. You know, if you want to compare similar games.

GL: We'll probably go back and play some of that after this.

SW: Oh yer, we'll play some Granny. We call it Granny. I don't know if you abbreviate, but I call it Granny.

GL: That's what they called it BITD.

SW: That's right. Rick Carter told me that back in the BITD days.

GL: He killed a lot of gators, back in the day.

SW: Gator marathon, BITD.

GL: Here's a two part question: I know Mark Alpiger is not a fan of the Legend of Zelda...

SW: He's also not a fan of me. I don't know why, I'm pretty lovable.

GL: I wonder if it's because...

SW: Snackson Jackson. I think it all came back to Snackson Jackson. Yep.

GL: It comes down to the Snackson Jackson. But he doesn't like Zelda, I know.

SW: No.

GL: But what do you think of Zelda? And I guess the larger question is: anything beyond the classics, are you into, are you a fan?

SW: It's one of the greatest series of games of all time, without question.

GL: I'd have to agree with you there.

SW: It's amazing. In fact, when i was growing up, and we had the NES obviously, I don't know if you remember this, but Kid Icarus and Zelda came out the same day. I think they game out the same day, I'm pretty sure, or the same week or something, but right around the same time. And we went, a friend of mine and I, our parents went to the electronics store, and we each got one of them. And I chose Kid Icarus, I don't know why I did... Because Zelda's a weird name, I was like "you get that, I'll get Kid icarus." So we each went home, and we played our games and stuff. And he's like "how's Kid Icarus." And I'm like, "it's fun." It's a good platformer whatever. And he's like "This game is amazing." And I'm like, "You're full of shit." You know? It's called Legend of Zelda, right? And he's like No, it's amazing! So I rode my skateboard over to his house the next day, and fuck if we didn't play that game for the next ten hours that day. And from then on, I was hooked. I got Adventure of Link the day it came out. I think Ocarina of Time is the best console game ever made. I can remember, you know, christmas is happening, and I'm playing Ocarina of Time in my room. It's a masterpiece of a game. So yeah. Mark Alpiger's full of it if he doesn't like Zelda.

GL: Well he doesn't like it. He'd rather play Tetris. [long story for another time-giv]

SW: The Glob's a good game though, I gotta admit. You like The Glob?

GL: I do like The Glob. I enjoyed it. Where do you go after that? Alright, I guess we're done. So there we go: Twenty Questions with Steve Wagner.

SW: There it is.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

20 Questions with Q*Bert Creator Warren Davis 
with Q*Bert World Record Holder George Leutz
and Richie Knucklez

George Leutz: Alright, so here we go. So I got twenty questions.

Warren Davis: Twenty questions, alright. Count 'em down.

Richie Knucklez: Speak as loud as possible.

GL: Right. Ok, question number one... So a bunch of them are more 'techy' questions, I guess. Not necessarily techy, but for me and my gamer friends, like specific questions about the game.

WD: I hope I know the answers!

GL: Yeah well see, the twenty questions format, you may just say "no"  and it'll be a quick thing.

WD: (laughs) "Pass," is that a proper answer?

RK: Pass is an acceptable answer.

GL: Ok so, the first question. Me and my friends were all wondering, how many lives can you get in Q*Bert, does the life counter roll? 

WD: Well, I gotta think about that one. I think you can accumulate up to nine. 

GL: Well that's what's displayed.

WD: Yeah.

GL: But it seems that you can accumulate hundreds.

RK: How many in the memory.

GL: Yeah, how many in the memory. Certain games can go... at 256, it flips back to 1 life. But it seems that the game, well I've felt like I've had over 500 men. I was wondering if maybe you'd...

WD: Yeah that's... I would have to look at the code to remember, I really don't know. I do not remember that at all.

RK: We wanted to know that question so much, we were going to have all the best Q*Bert players play in sucession, like one guy play one day, then the next guy play, and see how far it can go, and see the answers to these questions. If you could find out that could save us. (laughs)

WD: I could actually just look at the code.. it would take me awhile to figure it out, because I have not looked at this code, other than to leaf through the printout I have, I've not really looked at the code for, you know, 35 years. Or well, 30 years.

GL:  And see, I like that answer, that's even informative, you know? That's good.

WD: (laughs)

RK: Very good answer. 

GL: Ok, so question number 2... 

WD: Ya.

GL: well, you may not know the answer to this one, too: There is no killscreen as far as we know.

WD: mmm.

GL: Is that something that was deliberate? I mean, most of the games that have a killscreen, it's a bug that happens.

WD: mm hmm.

GL: Was it just good programming, there's just no bugs, that..

WD:Yes, it was good programming. 

RK: (laughs)

GL: See, that was a good answer. 

WD: (laughs) No, Seriously though, you know...

GL: I mean I played for 85 hours and it didn't freeze up at any point. We're figuring it's just going to go, forever.

RK: That was also good maintenance of the game. 

DW: I think we also have to credit the hardware design, and certain things like that, you know, the hardware made it easier to make a solid program.

GL: So, maybe it's because it was an American game, all these Japanese games freeze up after like 128 boards.

WD: (laughs) Well I think it's just something they didn't think about. Just something they didn't foresee. And one of the advantages of Q*Bert is it came out after some of those, so we were aware of it.

GL: Alright, question 3: So now, in the game, the Ugg and the Wrong-way come up from the bottom...

WD: mm hmm

GL: It's relatively easy to hop over them, and I was wondering if that was something that was, that you made it that way... I mean, in Pac-Man, you can go through a ghost by accident, it's a flaw, a glitch, but it seems that you can hop over Ugg and Wrong-way on purpose.

WD: Well, I really resisted the idea of Ugg and Wrong-way coming in from the other sides, because it was a challenge to program the collision detection. So I really worked hard to figure out how to make that work, and I really tried to create an honest collision detection. So that when they're coming down, they're going this way and you're going this way... I don't even remember what the collision detection algorithm was for Ugg and Wrong-way, but what you're seeing, it's just whatever I, whatever collision detection algorithm I worked out, that was the result.  I mean I know that they will, if you do collide with them, they will kill you.

GL: Yeah.

WD: Because you're working in a sort of a pseudo-third dimension that doesn't really exist on the screen, it was tricky.

GL: It's interesting. I mean there are some guys who play that have a very conservative style and they always avoid the Ugg and Wrong-way, but I have a, my style I like to..

WD: Take that chance.

GL: Yeah, jump over them.

WD: Right, right.

GL: Alright. 

WD: (laughs)

GL: Let' s see... ok, question number four: 

WD: uh huh

GL: Ok so this is a two part question. The one is: Is the behavior of the enemies totally random, in the sense that, you can play Pac-Man and do the same pattern and you're fine. Is there a point in Q*Bert where, there's a coin flip and a guy, a ball is going to fall from the left or right, and you have to avoid it, and it's going to throw off your pattern, and so there's no way to repeat the pattern? 

WD: No... Yes and no. The path of every ball is determined before it falls. 

GL: hm.

WD: There are seven rows in the pyramid, and I basically create a random byte, and I look at seven of those bits. So once that byte is generated, that path of that ball is pre-determined. 

GL: That's wonderful.

WD: That stays that way throughout the game. The thing is, because there is a number of things that require randomness, that are all going through the same random number generator, depending on what you do, the balls may have different random numbers. 

GL: mm.

WD: So at the very start of the game, if you play the same way every time, you're going to see the same thing every time and it feels like a pattern. 

GL: Yeah.

WD: But it really isn't, I mean you would have to play the entire... level after level after level exactly the same, to see the exact same results. Once you vary in any way, the random numbers get sort of shifted..

GL: Right. That's interesting, 'cause yeah, it usually feels like around the eighth board, you know, 2-4, that something happens where I'll have a slick, and he does something different.. 

WD: mm hmm, right. It really isn't pattern based. Again, because so many things are pulling random numbers, if something changes just slightly, the order... you know random numbers, pseudo-random numbers, they start with a seed, and then the pattern of numbers you get are the same from that seed.

GL: Right. hm.

WD: I can't remember if every level starts with it's own seed. I don't think so.. I think when you start a game, you start with a seed, but from that point on..

GL: wow

WD: yeah.

GL: And that ties into the second part of the question, which was, does player input effect the enemies, in the sense that in Donkey Kong, you can control the barrels depending on which way you are going... 

WD: Yeah I don't think that, other than Coily, I don't think any of the enemies take that into account. I mean including the ball, including Slick and Sam, I don't think anybody senses where Q*Bert is and tries to go a different way. I don't think so.

GL: Right it's that pre-determined path from the pseudo-random number.

WD: Yeah.

GL: Great. Ok, so now, we're on to...

RK: Doing good so far.

WD: Yeah.

GL: You like 'em?

WD: What number we on?

GL: Five.

WD: Five.

RK:  (laughs)You're very very important to us.

WD: (Laughs)

GL: Yes! Ok, question five: Level 9 repeats.

WD: mm hmm

GL: Is that because, the idea was that no one was gonna be very good at the game so there was no sense in going beyond nine, or was there some other reason why?

WD: No I mean... can I be totally honest with you?

GL: Yeah.

RK: That's all we want.

WD: I don't think the tuning changes after level 5.

GL: I agree. Absolutely 5.

WD: The number changes, but I don't think the tuning changes.

GL: That's right. That's what I..

WD: And the numbers, because we only had room for a single digit number in there, we only go to level 9. But yeah, we never envisioned people getting beyond level 9. And it was very hard to tune, because people at Gottlieb were terrible at playing it, and kept saying 'it's too hard it's too hard.'

GL: Right.

WD: You know, we'd put it in the arcades, and some people at the very beginning... So I was being pressured to make it easier, I wanted people to be able to play it, so I made it easier, and it went out, I felt, too easy. Because within about a month, you know, the reports started coming in of people just playing it for hours and hours and hours, and I was like, damn, you know? This was my first game, so I was new to tuning. But it was almost instantly that I was like, alright, I'm making a harder version, and I started making what became Faster Harder More Challenging Q*Bert almost immediately.

GL: Ah. So, that leads right into the next question. Question 6 was: The things that are different in Faster Harder More Challenging, are those things that you were planning on putting into Q*Bert, or are those things that you came up with after and said: ah this was too hard, I'm going to make the discs move, and I'm gonna make it, you have to make the snake chase you, and that stuff?

WD: Again, it's hard to remember exactly, but I think it's a combination. I think there were some things we kind of wanted to do in the original and just didn't have time to do, or things we thought of afterwards... I mean like, making the discs move was sort of a logical progression of, well how could we make it harder. How could we make it more challenging. You know Q*Bertha, which I think might have been Jeff Lee's idea.. it's really hard to remember who had what idea. That was again just an art change, I don't think her behavior was any different than Coily... 

GL: Well she has a thing where she also changes the colors that she hops on..

RK: There's a game called Q*Bertha? Is it out?

GL: No, Q*Bertha is in the Faster Harder More Challenging Q*Bert.

WD: She became sort of a repacement for Coily.

GL: She's kind of a combination of the Coily and the Green guys. She also messes up your pattern.

WD: Right. But her movement I think is also exactly the same as Coily's.

GL: Right, right.

RK: You should've came out with a game Q*Bertha. Like Ms. Pac-Man. I bet the name change would've been more popular than Faster Harder More Challenging Q*Bert.

WD: (laughs) You know in retrospect.. they wanted me to continue to make Q*Bert games, or another Q*Bert game and I really didn't have an interest. I felt like I did this, I did Faster Harder More Challenging, they didn't release that, and I thought, you know, I'm kind of done with it. I had other things that I wanted to do. I didn't want to be locked into this franchise. But in retrospect I probably should've kept it alive, in the way Mortal Kombat, you know, Ed Boon continues to keep Mortal Kombat alive. But at the time it seemed like, I just wanted to branch out to other things.

RK: Like when a band has a hit song, they get tired of playing it.

WD: mm hmm. yeah.

GL: Ok, question 7: What games did you like playing before you made Q*Bert?

WD: I liked... Pac-Man, I did like Pac-Man. I liked Time Pilot. 

GL: That's a good game.

WD: I liked Scramble. 

GL: I like that too. How about pinball. did you play pinball?

WD: You know, I was never a pinball player. I mean I played games once in a while, but I was never really a hardcore pinball player before I started working in video games, because at that point the games were all there on freeplay. So I started playing pinball a lot once I started working at Gottlieb and into Williams. And then I would enjoy playing those games a lot more when I sort of had the opportunity to develop a skill without having to put quarters in the machine! But I do appreciate pinball quite a bit, I do like pinball games a lot. I love the Twilight Zone pinball game... 

RK: Oh yeah

WD: Addams Family 

GL: yeah.

WD: Pinbot. I really liked the Williams pinball games when I was there. There were some Gottlieb games I liked too, but I can't remember their names... I know there were other video games that I liked, I just can't think of them right now.

RK: What about Pole Position, did you like Pole Position?

WD: Pole Position was ok. It was ok for a driving game. I mean really, I started getting interested in driving games when the graphics became good enough that they really felt real. When they were very cartoony and the response wasn't very good.. you know, I mean I drive a real car. Why would I want to do that..

RK: What made Pole Position good for me though was that the response was good, the wheel felt good.

WD: Right, it was probably the first driving game that had that level of control, but again, you know, when you can drive a real car, there's not a real allure...

GL: Richie asks because he's one of the top Pole Position players in the world. 

RK: Right now I have the top score in the last thirty years.

WD: That is very impressive.

RK: (laughs)

GL: (laughs) Ok, question 8: Is there any connection between Q*Bert and the projects you did in the future, in the sense of is there any Q*Bert DNA in it, in your mind did any of the process that went into making Q*Bert carry over at all?

WD: Not really, I don't think so. You know, certainly my mind works a certain way, so to a certain extent I think it must have, but I don't think it was conscious. 

GL: mm

WD: You know, again, one of the design things I loved about Q*Bert was the idea you could play it with one hand, and yet I don't know that I ever made another game like that. So I don't think so. I think I did what I did, and then it was time to move on to other things.

GL: That's great. Question 9: Are there any games that you never finished and put on the shelf but still think about, think about going back and making. I mean from back then, until now?

WD: Yeah, there are a few... actually when i was at CGE last year, I brought some photos, for my talk I brought some photos and images of games that I started, but never finished. And there were a couple that were really interesting, for their time. I thought they were perfect for their time. Obviously now they'd be very dated, but graphically they were sort of pushing the envelope, and gameplay-wise, they weren't like anything else that was out there. And I kind of wish that I'd finished. There was one game I actually got so close to finishing and I kind of got bored with and then I moved on to something else. But I wish I had finished that game.

RK: What was it called?

WD: It didn't have a name. I never named my games. When I worked with a team, or somebody else came up with an idea, like Us vs. Them was Dennis Nordman and Rich Tracy, they sort of came up with the concept and then I came onboard as the programmer. So they had the story and the title and all that, but when I was working on a game I usually had, the title was the last thing I was thinking about.

RK: That was a laser disc game, right? Us vs. Them?

WD: Yeah. mm hmm

RK: I think I have one of them.

WD: Really? You know I found one up at Funspot in New Hampshire...

RK: That was one I worked on, that was actually an emulator, they don't have all the guts inside, they use a computer to run that.

WD: Well it looked like a real cabinet.

RK: Oh, the cabinet was real.

WD: Oh, ok.

RK: I was one of the guys who helped work on it.

WD: uh huh. Well that was a game I was very proud of. It was ahead of its time for sure. But it came out at the wrong time, when people were realizing laser disc games were buggy.. you could kick the cabinet, the game would end, people would want their money back, it's not good for business.

RK: Yeah, laser discs are definitely sketchy.

WD: Ya. 

GL: But I feel the same way, I always had trouble naming my band. I'd have a band and we'd have songs and everything, but then we couldn't pick a name for it.

WD: Right. You put a hundred names on pieces of paper in a bin, and spin it and pick it out and there it goes, there's the name.

GL: Right. Ok question 10: Is it true you're actually from the Illuminati, and you were sent to mess with my head?

WD: hmm, interesting. 

GL: See, I'm on to you, I can tell.

WD: See, clearly, the answer is 'No,'  But see, that's what I would say if the answer was 'Yes.'

RK: (laughs)

WD: So there's your answer.

GL: See it's good... You know. I think I understand now.

WD: (laughs)

GL: Ok, question 11: Now, I know you've discussed about how the sounds are generated in Q*Bert, but I just wanted to ask again, because I was wondering if you thought it's possible if David Thiel ever maybe stuck a couple words in there as a joke or an easter egg, something like that..

WD: No..

GL: No, so it really is just the mind seeing patterns where there aren't any.

WD: Exactly.

GL: That's pretty amazing.

WD: It's random phonemes.. you know I don't know how many bytes had to code that chip, but it's random bytes..

RK: See, I don't believe it, because there's this one part it sounds like he says "Oh Shit."

GL: (laughs)

WD: Well, again, with random phonemes, you're gonna hear things all throughout no matter what. Now if he was saying that at the same time in every game, then I would have to wonder about it, but it really is random. And it is possible for him to say "Oh shit!" It's possible for him to say a lot of things.

RK: (laughs) But he does tell you at the beginning of the game that he's turned on.

WD: Right. So the only things that he says, He says "Hello, I'm turned on" when you power the game, and he says "Bye bye" at some point..

GL: Right

RK: Yep. Right after you enter your initials he says that.

WD: But I think that's it.. is there one other? I'm wondering if there's anything else.. I think that's all, that he's actually programmed to say..

GL: hm.

WD: And you know Dave hated that chip. Becuase it just sounded terrible, if you tried to make somebody say something using that chip it sounded generally terrible.

GL: Well it worked out the best the way it came out, since you really do hear things that aren't there then, too, the mind is making patterns..

WD: Maybe it's the Illuminati.

GL: (laughs)

WD: You gotta ask Dave if he's part of the Illuminati.

GL: That's a good point. All you guys are in the Illuminati. I knew it. 

WD: (laughs)

GL: Alright, so where were we, question 12: If you were interviewing the creator of Q*Bert, is there any question that you would want to ask? 

WD: Why were you born so handsome? 

RK: (laughs)

GL: (laughs) There you go, I love it. 

WD: No, I have no idea.

GL: No, that was good. (laughs) That's even better.

RK; Good answer.

GL: question 13: I know you didn't pick the name Q*Bert that was a group thing, but is there any meaning to any of the names, Slick and Sam, was that anything that you came up with or that's all..

WD: No I think Jeff pretty much came up with all that. I mean I kind of deferred, I didn't have a real sense.. and Jeff created the characters, and I honestly don't know where those names came from. But I'm pretty sure Jeff came up with all of the names.

GL: He was the art guy on the game.

WD: Yeah. Oh yeah.

GL: Ok: Were you aware of all of the marathon Q*Bert playing in the Eighties? 

WD: Not really, no. No I just, I don't know why, but no I don't think I was.

GL: So when you saw that everybody was starting to marathon these past couple years, like when Scott contacted you and said, "hey these guys are marathoning"...

WD: Yeah it was surprising because it was so many years later..

GL: mm.

WD: I was aware that there were video game records, and I was aware that there were people playing them, but nobody ever really contacted me, and asked me what I thought, so yeah it was kind of off my radar.

GL: hm. Another one of these 'techier' type questions: Do you know if the score rolls, at 99 million 999 or anything like that. 

WD: I don't think it rolls. I think it just sort of stays where it is. Or it might, it's possible that it...

RK: Or does it add another digit?

GL: Yeah.

WD: Honestly I don't remember how many digits it goes up to.

GL: Well I got 37 million, so it definitely has that 10 million digit.

WD: ya.

RK: Not many games even go that far.

GL: Yeah

WD: Ya, I really don't remember how many digits..

RK: Again we're gonna have to do the..

WD: It might just keep adding digits until it goes off the screen, I just don't remember how I programmed that.

GL: Well, me and a couple guys are planning on marathoning Richie's game for a hundred hours [sic: meant to say "to a hundred million" - Ed.] to see..

WD: Ok that's another one I could look at the code and sort of figure it out.

RK: Yeah. That would save us.

GL: Yeah instead of destroying Richie's Q*Bert machine.

WD: (laughs)

RK: Yeah my Q*Bert machine is the only one that's gone close to a hundred hours, without falling. The Q*Bert machine I have is one of the first twenty. 

WD: Really?

RK: Serial number 18.

WD: Wow!

RK; And it has all of the old.. you know the wiring, it doesn't have the RF board, and it's a lot less wiring, and believe it or not I've never replaced the knocker. The knocker is still going.

WD: Interesting! So, put a little piece of foam in there, I'm telling you it sounds a lot better.

RK: I will. I just heard about this yesterday. Actually explain that, for the interview, that's a great question.

GL: Ah, he's done that one before.

WD: (laughs) He's only asking me questions I've never heard before.

RK: Alright, if we have time, ask that question, the foam thing is great.

GL: Alright: I know you've said Q*Bert is one handed, so you can hold a beer in your other hand...

WD: uh huh. 

GL: And I really appreciate that.

WD: Not a beer. I don't drink beer. It was rum and coke. 

RK: (laughs)

WD: I mean it could be a beer. I wouldn't be holding a beer.

GL: So I was wondering though, have you ever been to Barcade, or a bar/arcade, like the way they are nowadays.

WD: No, I haven't actually.

GL: Well you should come down then to Barcade, and we'll have a drink.

RK: Thanks, George. 

WD: Where is it?

RK: Have you ever been to the east coast? 

WD: Yeah, I'm from the east coast. 

GL: Yeah he was telling..

RK: Why didn't you invite him to my place?

GL: I'm gonna!

RK: (laughs)

GL: He always does this. He's like why didn't you mention my arcade!

WD: That's question twenty: When are you coming down to Richie Knucklez' Arcade?

GL: (laughs) That's it.

RK: (laughs)

GL: You should! He's close by, it sounds like, if you're in Jersey. I mean... 

WD: Well you're on the west side of Jersey, or closer to the city?

RK: West side of Jersey. From New York City, an hour.

GL: But the new arcade's gonna be in Bridgewater. 

RK: Oh yeah, the new arcade's gonna be only a half an hour.

WD: Oh you got a new arcade?

RK: I got a second one now.

WD: Sweet! Congratulations.

RK: Thank you.

GL: Yeah, you should come down to Bridgewater. Ok, see? Got the plug, alright? (laughs)

RK: Alright. I was just bustin' your balls, you know that.

WD: Listen, I was just in New York City for 24 hours on Monday.

RK: Why didn't you call us?

WD: 'Cuz I was in New York City for 24 hours. It wasn't very long. And I had just biked 400 miles, so..

RK: oh

GL: That's understandable. (laughs)

WD: (laughs)

GL: Are you still in contact with Jeff and David?

WD: To some extent, yeah. Jeff I haven't seen Jeff in a long time, but we are in contact on Facebook, and through email. And Dave I actually got to see at the last Classic Gaming Expo. In Las Vegas, it was in 2012. And it was great to see him; we told old war stories, and I did a Q*Bert talk and I had him come up afterwards to talk a little bit about the sound, and yeah, it was a lot of fun. 

GL: Very cool. Next question: Do you ever... I mean there have been these sequels to Q*Bert on the consoles, Q*bert 3 and whatever, but have you ever thought of making a remake, like maybe a Q*Bert RPG, or a Snots n' Boogers kind of shooter, or something?

WD: (laughs) I would be happy to re-visit Q*Bert if anyone asked me. If anyone who has the resources, and a budget and is interested I'd be happy to talk about that.

RK: We may be the ones to do it.

GL: Yeah. 

WD: Well other people certainly could do it...

RK: No I mean we might..

GL: Yeah we'd be the ones to suggest it to you.

WD: Oh! There you go.

RK: We have a whole plan for the next two years...

WD: Let's talk!

RK: (laughs)

GL: Alright! Good, good. Ok, a couple more. I think we're running out, I mean this might be seventeen or something. 

WD: Wow, we're zipping along here!

GL: Right? 

WD: Pass. No, I'm kidding. (laughs)

GL: I had a strange dream when I was a kid, about climbing this endless pyramid. And I always thought it was some sort of premonition to the Q*Bert marathon. I was wondering if you had ever had any dreams about Q*Bert, maybe while you were programming it and had it on your mind for those couple months.

WD: You know, if I did, and it's certainly possible, I don't remember them. But one thing that is interesting is that, years after Q*Bert was made I went back and I watched this movie "Excalibur," from 1981. And one of the knights, on his shield has a pyramid of cubes. I'm pretty sure it's a pyramid of cubes. And again it was certainly not conscious at the time, but that would've come out right before Q*Bert. I must have had that in my mind, so it's very possible that the inspiration for that came from Excalibur!

GL: Subconsciously.

WD: In a way, yeah. I'd seen that movie, but it didn't register with me.

GL: (laughs)

RK: Have you ever told that in an interview before?

WD: I don't know, I don't.. maybe not.

GL: I've never seen that. See?

WD: New questions, new answers.

RK: (laughs)

GL: Next question: Have you ever thought about combining your acting and directing skills with Q*Bert, maybe making a Q*bert horror movie or something. You know, something dark like a 50's monster movie Q*Bert type thing?

WD: I have not, but boy, you've certainly planted a seed. 

GL: heh heh heh, I thought it would.

WD: An evil Q*Bert-like creature...

GL: Exactly. And it doesn't have to be a Q*bert looking thing, it could be a guy named 'Hubert' but the Ugg and Wrong-way monsters and the snake are chasing him, or something.

WD: (laughs)

GL: But something dark, you know, with a little bit of blood and gore, and monster movie type of action.

WD: I have not, but if somebody writes a decent script, I would consider directing it.

GL: (laughs)

RK: Get started, George.

GL: Yeah. I think that was it.

RK: No, get started on the script.

GL: Yeah exactly, I gotta do it, yeah!

WD: (laughs)

GL: No I think that was it. I think that might've been twenty questions.

WD: Awesome!

RK: I have a question..

GL: Bonus question.

WD: Twenty-one! 

RK: We have a.. with the movie coming out, and everything like that... There's a guy named Wiley Wiggams, that does a whole convention of guys that are still doing 8-bit games, and old classic games. And I create my own custom cabinets and artwork and stuff, and I'm going to start putting out a new game every year. And put it out on the floor, and sell it to all the Barcades across the country that are part of the Twin Galaxies network. We want to put out a new game every year, and I'm looking for programmers to get started and get this off the ground, we're gonna do a kickstarter and the whole nine. 

GL: So we will be approaching you! (laughs)

RK: yeah we will be approaching you to be part of our team..

WD: Alright.  

RK: I have a whole concept in my head that involves the character Q*Bert, in the game. Would that be something that we'd want to talk to you about, maybe come on our team of programmers, start these new 8-bit games that get released once a year, one game a year, as a real cabinet that gets put out onto like 40 different locations across the US? 

WD: I'd say let's talk about it.

GL: See? We'll be sending you the email with the concept! (laughs)

RK: Alright! 'Cuz we have a whole concept of this company doing these games again. Because the resurgence with 'Fix-it Felix,' how many people are playing Fix-it Felix, jarred my creative ideas, and he and I came up with a concept for a game that is gonna blow your mind. (laughs)

WD: (laughs) Ok.

GL: So there you have it: Twenty questions with Warren Davis. Thank you so much for doing this.

WD: George it was a pleasure. Great to talk to you. 

RK: Yeah. Thank you, Mr. Davis.

WD: And Richie, nice to talk to you too.

GL: I needed this to put my mind at rest, after all that Q*bert playing, actually. This was really good for me. (laughs)

WD: Well I have to say, you've done an amazing job of keeping, fanning the flame of Q*Bert, and helping to keep him alive. 

GL: (laughs)

WD: Which is something I'm very pleased about. 

RK; We have to give him the T-shirt.

GL: That's right. When we get back..

RK: We need your address. We have a T-shirt that is made up, instead of 'Q*Bert,' it says 'G*Leutz,' and it has the Q*Bert, and it tells you...

WD: Oh, I saw that! Somebody was wearing one yesterday.

GL: yeah John ['Exidy' Jamshid]

RK: Yeah, we'll get you one, when we get your address we'll mail you out one.

WD: You got it. Great! Alright guys.

GL: Yeah, thanks.

RK: Thank you. Alright, we out.