In part 2, we followed Phil’s climb up the score table for Galaga: Tournament in 2009. By late August, he’d claimed the world number 1, but was gutted, when the score was rejected. Eventually, he began training again, and now, as we start the thrilling conclusion…. his confidence had returned…
Friday October 2 was the last day of the school term. Phil was feeling pretty relaxed, so he decided to set up his new camera for a Friday night recording session. As always, he began by filming the inside of his cabinet, to show the dip switches were set to the correct ‘tournament’ settings. He waited for the machine to boot up, then put the camera on the tripod. He grabbed his next ‘lucky 20c coin’– marked ‘number IV’ and put it in the slot.
He hadn’t progressed far before two friends dropped in, asking if he’d like to drive to Canberra to catch a movie. He told them he’d be “up for it” – so they went home to get ready. As Phil approached the 1 million point mark, he asked his wife to call the friends, telling them that he was on a ‘good game’. Soon, at 1.1 million, he lost two of his five lives. He lost another spaceship at 1.7 million. Two lives remaining. “You reach a point of playfulness that is relaxing and no longer a struggle with the game.” he explains. “Then again, maybe I only get a good score when I’m in that mental state.” Phil’s friends returned, hoping the game was over. But the sound of digital warfare were still coming down the hallway. Phil had just entered another ‘challenging stage’. He felt bad for his friends, and promised that if he broke the World Record, he’d ‘shout’ them the night at the movies. It wasn’t long before the outcome was decided.
For the 2nd time in six weeks, Phil passed Andrew Laidlaw’s high score of 2.7 million points. But this time, he knew his camera footage would support him. The record was his – the question was how far he could go. He had a feeling he might be able to surpass his earlier record – with 3.5 million… or even four? Phil kept playing. But the game ended sooner than he hoped. At 3.2m, Phil lost his last ‘double’ ship. Then he quickly lost his last life – at 3,275,720 points. “It was a bee that took me out in the end, he was on his swoop approach. But more importantly it was one of those darting squadrons of three that finished my last double ships, after that… I had little chance of doing much.” But that didn’t matter. Victory was his! A few days later, he sent his DVD via express post to Canada…
And so the wait began again. Phil tracked his parcel as it made its way to Kelly R Flewin. Two weeks later – he got the email. On November 1st 2009, Twin Galaxies listed a new World Record for Galaga – tournament settings. Phil updated his Facebook status, and received a flood of comments. One was from Walter Day of Twin Galaxies.. “My Cousin, Phil Day, is definitely becoming the most famous video game player in Australia. I’m so proud of him.” He also received a nice message of congratulations from another teacher who plays videogames. Steve Wiebe. You might have heard of him.
And what about Andrew Laidlaw, the man he’d just defeated? “I’m sure it will be just a matter of time before he breaks my record.” Phil predicts. “We’ve spoken quite a bit recently. I sent him a copy of my 3.2 million game.” If you’ve seen King of Kong, you’ll know some players are very guarded with their gameplay secrets. But no such secrecy exists between the top two Galaga champs. In fact, they seem to enjoy sharing information. “From the conversations we’ve had, I think he approaches Galaga differently to me. He starts the stages going hard left, whereas I start in a little right of the middle, which is varied slightly over the three levels between each challenging stage.”
It’s funny. Out of all the ‘golden age’ arcade games that might produce an Aussie champion – Galaga was the most likely candidate by far. It’s the only game of its era that could still be found in Aussie arcades 15 years after its debut. Unlike the USA or UK, we didn’t get so many Ms Pacman or Centipede cabinets. But Galaga games used to be everywhere. And even in 2009, with few arcades remaining, the game lives on in ’48 in 1′ machines in pubs and cafes around the country.
With the game brought to even more people’s attention, I wonder how many more people will start to take on those moths and cicadas, ride the tractor beam, and go for 100% in the challenging stage? Maybe you’re one of them. So I asked Phil for a few tips. Firstly for beginners: “Be prepared to get a lot of low scores.” Phil warns. And what about more experienced players? “Don’t be tempted by bonus points on the stage. Instead stay focused on clearing the stage, this is where the points are.”
Yet one mystery remained. Why Galaga? Why not Space Invaders, or one of Galaga’s “cousins” like Galaxian, Gaplus, or Galaga 88? “Galaga…. seemed to suit me.” explains the new world record holder. “Space Invaders is a great game, but I prefer the pace of Galaga. The sound of Galaxian would have been a problem. I’m convinced Ingeborg wouldn’t have put up with that high pitch squeal the enemies make! [As for] Gaplus and Galaga 88 and later variants…. didn’t offer better game play. They offered a lot more power ups, and worst of all, big bosses.” I asked Phil why he didn’t like more modern videogame bosses. “I think they often ruin a game. The Galaga bosses are quite manageable; you hit them once – they change colour, you hit them again – and they’re dead! Simple!”
So, is it time to move onto another game? Or is there more Galaga gaming to be done? “I’d like to try and pit a score up in the top ten of Galaga Marathon scores, that’s probably what I’ll try and do next.” Phil replied. And what about his current record? Is he happy to leave it alone? “I’m tempted to go again on Galaga Tournament, but not just yet.” In the meantime, Phil has another package to send to Canada. This time, there’s won’t be a DVD inside. Just a coin, with the number “IV” written on it. The luckiest coin of all. “I’m going to mount it and send it Mr Flewin, the referee at Twin Galaxies who has watched my games from the start.”
Phil’s observed before that Galaga seems to have popped up in his life in seven year intervals. It was released when he was 7. He played it in the arcades at 14, and at Uni, age 21. He rediscovered it in Braidwood at age 28, bought his own machine at age 35, and captured the world record the same year. So Mr Day, what do you think might happen when you’re 42? “I haven’t thought of it. Don’t know, something tells me I probably won’t be playing Galaga when I’m 42. But then again, when I was 21… I didn’t imagine that by the time I was 28 I’d be living in Braidwood, blind in one eye, and playing Gallag with pupil of mine.”
So – the boy who was too young to play Space Invaders is now the man who beat the Galaga world record. Twice. The only thing left to do, is to ask the most controversial question of all. How does Braidwood’s most famous gamer pronounce his favourite game? Is it G’LAH-guh or Galla-guh? (Please say the first one, please say the first one….) Phil answered without hesitation…. “It’s G’LAH-guh. Viva G’LAH-guh!”
To celebrate Phil’s world record achievement, JOMG has a very special prize to give away.
—> To enter, visit our Baby Galaga Giveaway page. <—