I’m not one that puts a lot of stock in awards and accolades. For the most part I believe they’re completely arbitrary and in many cases the entrants have to pay the organization that gives out the awards. If awards were fair then I’m sure I’d be more inclined to care about them. However there seems to be one area where awards and championships are legit, despite what popular culture may otherwise suggest – video games.
If you haven’t seen The King of Kong about the battle for the Donkey Kong world record, then it is a must see. You may blow it off as a pure Nerd Fest, and it is, but it is also a very entertaining (and almost true) story. It’s a real Joe vs. Pro battle that puts you clearly on one side or the other. A Luke vs. Vader without the pay off. One part of the movie talks about the self declared “official” scorekeepers of videos, Twin Galaxies. Started by one guy in the middle of Iowa, Twin Galaxies has become recognized by the Guinness World Record people as the source for video game scores. However, the light in which King of Kong paints Twin Galaxies is less than flattering, a organization of dweebs cronies that shun the little man and his attempts for glory. Some of it may be true, but in my experience Twin Galaxies is nothing but fair. Of course, I wasn’t going after any crazy world record like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong. I set my sights a little lower.
Twin Galaxies keeps scores for every video game ever created and released to retail. Any platform, even emulators. Despite my love of current-gen consoles, my heart sits squarely in the 8- and 16-bit generations. So if I was going to go after any sort of world record it would have to be with my old friend, the NES. I chose Urban Champion, an early NES title that could possibly lay claim to being the first fighter game on the NES. Urban Champion is not a hard game, although it is tougher than spectators may give it credit. Urban Champion is about stamina and endurance. You see, the game doesn’t really end, it just keeps going having you beat the crap out of the same guy screen after screen. Nonetheless, I liked the game and it became an obsession of sorts…but I had a goal, to become Urban Champion world champion.
Unfortunately, I don’t own the original cart for Urban Champion so I had to go with the Wii’s Virtual Console version. Technically speaking it’s the same game, just emulated on the Wii, but with so many NES and other classic console titles being available on the VC, Twin Galaxies seems to honor them all. I plunked my $5 down for Urban Champion, which is honestly a lot less than paying for the original cart on eBay (last I looked), and started to play.
The only video recorder I have is on my camera. The quality is so-so but enough to have a decent resolution of a low-resolution game. One afternoon during my lunch hour I set the camera on a stack of books on the coffee table, loaded up Urban Champion and played until I died. Twenty minutes later the camera memory card was 95% full of video and I had to go back to work. Later I replayed my run, jotted down my score, and burned the video to a DVD to send in to Twin Galaxies.
My only gripe with the whole process is Twin Galaxies’ web site. It works but just barely. It doesn’t communicate very well and I was able to figure things out only after a few e-mails into some referees. But eventually I got a reply back from a ref and as it turned out he was local to Columbus. I didn’t realize Twin Galaxies had regional referees, so having a couple within Central Ohio is pretty neat and handy when sending in videos, at least I know they’ll get there quickly.
Then I waited.
It took a little longer than I expected to get confirmation of anything and I started to wonder if my DVD had gotten lost in the mail or sent to the wrong address somehow. I never got a confirmation that the DVD was delivered. The only confirmation I got was from the referee when he told me that…
It may sound smug but I knew I was the champion of Urban Champion when I sent in my tape. Twin Galaxies lists all the high scores on their web site so I knew what score I needed to beat. I also figured that there wasn’t a long line of folks going after that title. My score of 6,142 is almost 2,000 over the previous record. I’m not too proud of the score itself, I know I can do better and may attempt to beat my own score at some point, but it was enough to get my name at the top. I just wanted to see my name on the list and have a chance to get (buy) a certificate that says I’m a world record holder.
The fact that when I tell people I’m the Urban Champion world record holder and they go, “what’s that?” doesn’t really bother me. Any good gamer will know the title at least, even if they know the game doesn’t require much technical skill. But the best part about achieving this status is that it was completely fair. I earned a score and it was accepted. I didn’t have to buy membership into the Who’s Who of Urban Champion or join any gamer club. Twin Galaxies is completely free. They make their money with the souvenier certificates at $20 a pop. Despite what the movie showed, I can’t say Twin Galaxies is biased. But then again, I chose to become the Urban Champion, not the King of Kong, so I doubt they put my tape under the microscope.
I guess I should be happy Urban Champion wasn’t a record held by Billy Mitchell, otherwise I might have ended up in my own movie.