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Prediction: New Galaga World Record Coming Soon!
Posted: 10/27/2010 5:32:40 PM
By: Eric Akeson

Prediction: New Galaga World Record Coming Soon!
by Phil Day - Editorial Director


Jon Klinkel and Phil @ the HopCat in Grand Rapids, MI


January 2009. I send emails to Mr Kelly R Flewin asking about technical stuff regarding Galaga world records. I get the information I need and buy a stand-up Galaga machine with correct circuit board (an ugly big mother with authentic scratching from Australian arcade moles). By September 2009 I break Andrew Laidlaw’s Galaga world record by approximately 500,000 points. Andrew congratulates me; we chat on the phone. By Christmas 2009 I sell my Galaga machine. August 2010 I tell Josh Houslander of Twin Galaxies at this year’s Big Bang in Ottumwa that I have already entered early retirement for Galaga, and that I hope for a new face to take my world record. That new face is Jon Klinkel. Well, almost.

I’m calling Klinkel the next world record holder a bit early. We met at Stella’s Lounge in Grand Rapids for the first Annual Classic Arcade Video Game Olympics. He played a game of Galaga for me to watch (well not a whole game – that would be crazy), then I played a ship or two for him. We both felt our games were identical (He did say I let the bees loop around my ships more than he’d allow. I also suggest he should do the same, then I remembered – I’m not the better player. His personal best is 3.8 million. He’s been up around 3.8 million five times. I had very little to show him. Except one thing, I showed him something he hadn’t noticed, which I know he’s been trying to employ, but he won’t need it to beat my score. I’m confident by the end of November (2010) he will have submitted a score of 4 million – or thereabouts – on Galaga rank D five ships only, nothing surer. The thing I like so much about Jon’s game is how calm he is; he doesn’t thrash the machine. I’ve watched many people play Galaga – people tend to enjoy its ‘pin-ball’ like ‘smack-it-about’ play that the game encourages you to do. Klinkel’s not like that. He never swears, or loses his cool. He’s doesn’t have that McEnroe demeanour, he is more of a Sampras by nature. When he loses a ship he remains cool and doubles up when the opportunity arrives; he’s not in a hurry, nor is he hungry for points. There is a gentle poise to his game which I believe will assure him victory. But he does have one problem; he doesn’t have a Galaga machine.

Klinkel has the worst practice routine ever. He’s dictated to by the conditions presented to him. With no machine he tries to play once a week, or once every couple of weeks at Classic Arcade in Gobles, Michigan, USA (a 45 minute drive from where he lives). He usually quits after losing his first twin fighters and begins his 45 minute drive home. He’s on no special diet, or exercise. He just plays. (On top of his horrendous practice routine he rattles and confuses his mind playing Galaxian – silliness). However, he has recently purchased a Galaga, but it’s not competition ready. So at best he would play a game a week. He shouldn’t be in a winning position – but he is. I feel as though I have to quote my highs school English teacher: “It saddens me to see such a potentially talented young man wasting his time.” With only a game a week he’s regularly hitting around 3 million. I think that if Klinkel can get on a Galaga machine more regularly, he’ll be able to utilise his skills and get a score of 4 million, and he deserves it. He’s been preparing for this since 1982.

In 1982, Klinkel started taking Galaga seriously, he was only 12. Seriously meaning he wanted to get better at it. In 2007 he saw Andrew Laidlaw’s world record Galaga score of 2.7 million announced. Klinkel said: “[Laidlaw’s] score would be easy to beat.” I didn’t find it so easy, but I believe Klinkel when he says it is. I asked him about my score of 3.2 million. His reply seemed a bit polite for me to believe. When he saw my score go up he thought, and again I quote: “I better not mess with that”. I didn’t understand why. But that was then, and this is now. He’s practiced more, and he knows he can do it, and he’s got others out there who want to see him do it too.

For almost thirty years Galaga has been with Klinkel. I asked Jon about a Galaga marathon, I suspect he’s saner than that. Wrong. He wants all the Galaga scores – all of them. Madness. Klinkel already has the Galaga Class of 81 world record (the anniversary edition of Ms. Pac-man and Galaga. But he doesn’t rate this as anything. He just did it to do it. Strangely he only put a score on of over 2 million; he said he couldn’t adjust to the rapid-fire, it put his rhythm out. I guess playing Galaga for more than two decades without rapid-fire could well have built some deep rote learnt muscle memory that is difficult to break). Although, he doesn’t think he’ll ever get the MAME scores (that’s not to say he didn’t say he wasn’t going to try and get it. Personally, I think Galaga on MAME sucks. It’d be like playing Missile Command with the cursor keys. It’s just not right). But why Galaga?

“The beautiful thing about Galaga is no kill-screen on difficulty setting rank D. No one knows how high the score goes. And one other thing I like is no point pressing. Each wave you have to play to stay alive, shoot or be shot, and there are no points for dodging, there are no passive points.”

I agree, you invent a pattern for clearing each stage, when you make a mistake (and you will) it becomes a fresh game, all of sudden there are lines of attack drawn by your enemy that cause you to improvise. It becomes a bit like Ten Pin Bowling. Every good player has a method for getting a strike, but what happens when you split your pins? Creative play is required to recover. Galaga needs a similar discipline, but unlike bowling you don’t get to elect when to start. Every stage cleared you take a breath, and then you’re back into the danger zone (of course you have Challenging Stages, but these you can’t afford to stuff up – these stages are the cash cows). But we all know this, and of course Klinkel knows it, and it’s what he’ll do to claim the world record for Galaga five men only rank D – the Galaga world record he has the most respect for. Klinkel sees this as the score to have over the marathon score (marathon is also on rank D, but you have about 18 ships to play with). Laidlaw sees it the other way around. I see them as different. But Klinkel has a good point for why he repects five men only over marathon:

“... on the marathon you could use five ships and only get twenty thousand points, but then you string together a couple of millions and you’re right back up. But if you make that mistake with only five ships, you’re done. If I took some of my best double ship scores together ...”

He left his sentence hanging. I get what Klinkel was saying. It’s like serve in tennis. With your first serve you can go all out, but, if you stuff it up, you have to make your second serve count. If tennis officials removed the second serve from the game I think we’d see a very different game of tennis. Players couldn’t afford the risk – in Galaga five men only, you can’t afford the risk. The risk assessment changes greatly in five men only. The loss of one man has an increased high risk with the potential of a much lower return in points. Jon’s not going to take any silly risks, which is why he’s so good at this game.
I asked Klinkel if he’d mind if I published my article on his Galaga gaming before he sets the new world record. I said it was in my ‘expert’ opinion that he would get it, but I was worried I might jinx him. He said his only concern was: “In the meantime [Laidlaw] will probably score six million.” I had to ask: If a score was put up tomorrow that would cause you to stop playing for the world record, what would that score have to be? Klinkel said: If 4 million showed up tomorrow, I might not bother, because I’ve never hit four.

My last question for Klinkel: Are you going to start practicing more?

“My game doesn’t change much if I practice or not”

I almost said: but you don’t really practice. Then I thought better of it: What’s it matter, he’s going to get the world record regardless.

Congratulations Jon. You’re the world’s best; I know you’ll prove it to the world soon enough.

So he’s dropped Galaxian to focus his attention on Galaga. LOOK OUT!

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