Recap: Video Game Armageddon (10-M08-3)

To say I eagerly awaited the arrival of this event is an understatement. I had hoped to attend either or both of the preliminary rounds, but both of them conflicted in some way or another with my volunteer shift at WordCamp Houston. As such I was content with volunteering for only the main event at Numbers. This was my first time inside Numbers. Yes, it is difficult to believe, but I had never set foot inside until this past Saturday night. I have heard all kinds of things about the place: the good, the bad, the ugly, etc. It was quite exciting to see it for myself for the very first time. I’ll get back to that later.

I helped set up from about 5pm until the official start time of 7pm. There was a lot to do, from moving equipment and other items inside, helping hang the banner, helping set up our table in the corner, and various other things which could be lumped under the heading of “gopher” assignments. And I know that doesn’t sound glamourous to some people; it’s part of the normally unseen and unmentioned things that make events happen.

And then the festivities began with the first artist of the evening, an artist from Baytown who for the life of me I cannot recall the name of.

Then, Jonny Nero took to the stage. Jonny’s act is chiptune music. He uses a Nintendo Game Boy with a custom programmed cartridge to provide the music (mostly the drum and bass tracks, though for some of his songs it also plays the melody). More impressive than the music itself, however, was the moves he put into making it, and the dance moves he threw in as well. Some of his songs involved a guitar part as well, though there was at least one stretch where it was barely audible or inaudible. I couldn’t tell if this was on purpose or a technical problem.

Next up was Sievert, who is also a chiptune musician. He used two (or was it three?) Game Boys in a very similar fashion to Jonny Nero. Admittedly, I was even more impressed by Sievert, as his music had a bit more punch to it and encompassed a bit more diverse range of style; in addition to the typical upbeat chiptunes, Sievert also had a couple of tunes with a slightly darker feel to them.

I don’t remember much by now of the remaining acts (MC Router, Jus Coz, and Shoelace), except that the first two were primarily or exclusively rap, which gave me reason to tune out and focus on…

Interspersed between the musical acts were the rounds of the video game tournament. Thirty-two players who qualified at the two preliminary rounds played in a single elimination tournament featuring Street Fighter II for the Super NES for the first four rounds, with the two finalists taking the stage to play a mystery game.

That game turned out to one of which the actual original cartridges made number just over 100, and when sold, usually sell for five-figure sums (according to Jonny Nero, who acted as one of the event emcees in addition to performing, one sold for $25,000). The game was the Nintendo World Championships 1990 cartridge, which Nintendo ran a nationwide tournament with back in 1990. It features three games: Super Mario Brothers, Rad Racer, and Tetris. Players have approximately 6 minutes 20 seconds to get 50 coins in Super Mario Brothers, then complete a special Rad Racer course, then score as many points in Tetris in the time remaining. The final scores in each game are added together, with the Rad Racer score multiplied by 10 and the Tetris score multiplied by 25.

Let me tell you, it was quite a surreal feeling hearing a 20-year-old video game console bleeping and blopping over a nightclub’s sound system as these two players battled for the first-place prize package (an Atari beer stein, a 1up track suit, and some game-cartridge-shaped soaps). The runner-up would receive a prize package as well, but not nearly as impressive as the winner.

The games began. Our first competitor set the tone with a rather impressive looking performance on Super Mario Brothers, racking up the 50 coins in relatively short order. His performance in Rad Racer was equally impressive, only crashing once (which stunned the crowd when it happened). And finally it was time for Tetris, after which his final score was 179,727. Not too bad, or so we thought…

Then it was time for the second competitor to take the stage. He approached Super Mario Brothers with a different strategy, opting to take the red mushroom and finding a coin box missed by the first player. This gained him a few extra seconds in Rad Racer. So far, so good, but then we saw him wreck not just once, not just twice, but a whopping three times in Rad Racer. After the third wreck I remark to the guy next to me “that might be it right there.” However, little did we know that we were about to see what could only be described as Tetris wizardry. As the “Time’s Up” screen flashed on the television the only question that remained to be answered was: would it be enough?

When it was all said and done and the scores were announced, we learned our second player’s Tetris playing was enough to elevate his final combined score to over 200,000 and take the victory. I’ll revisit this at the end of the post.

Then, it was time for Doctor Awkward to take the stage. I was getting pretty tired at this point, and admittedly I’m not a rap fan, so I left a few minutes into his set. The remaining crowd did appear to be enjoying themselves, however.

(Admin footnote: I’m sorry this recap was delayed so long. I have had it almost done sitting in the drafts folder and have simply had too many other things going on to properly finish it and post it. Nevertheless, a delay of a month and a half after the event falls way below my usual standards of quality for this blog.)