Let's roll back the calendar 20 years (EGAD!) and talk about video games. *WARNING! MUCH GEEKY RAMBLING AHEAD!*
In my first semester at UF I spent a lot of time at the on-campus arcade, the Space n' Gator (catchy, eh?). I would go there after class, between class, and sometimes before class and on the weekend. I usually went with my friend John, and he frequently brought along his girlfriend Kim (some of you may have heard of her). They had a decent game selection, but we tended to focus on just one- Ajax. I thought it would be fun to pick a relatively obscure game and try to get really good at it. Ajax was a fairly typical vertical-scrolling shooter, but it had a few novel twists and was a lot of fun. So I played it.
After playing regularly for a couple of semesters I did get pretty darned good at it. On two occasions I even beat the game (albeit not with a single quarter)- a feat I've never seen anyone else do. Gradually, poverty and an annoying need to actually pass my classes cut down on my Ajax time. After the game was eventually cycled out of the Space n' Gator I only saw another Ajax machine once after that, at a convenience store in Orlando. I assumed I'd never play again.
Many years later MAME introduced support for Ajax. I was in heaven! Now I could play my beloved game at home and for free! (I've since purchased an Ajax JAMMA, so it's even legal for me to do so.) For a while I got hooked again, but I'd obviously lost my edge in the intervening decade. Also, the original arcade game would experience brief slowdown at a couple of the more intense parts of the game as the CPU was pushed to the limit- a behavior that I'd counted on to get through some of the rough spots and a behavior that's noticeably absent in MAME. I still played a game from time to time, but never played "seriously".
A couple of months ago Kim (some of you may have heard of her ;-) ) and I got The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters from Netflix. The movie is a documentary about two guys competing for the world record in Donkey Kong. (It should be noted that King of Kong also features the Quartet world champion- our very own zotmeister! :-) )
The movie is quite entertaining and the people in it are interesting. The action centers around Twin Galaxies, the official Guinness-authorized record-keeping body for electronic games records. Twin Galaxies has been around since the early `80's, and though I'd heard the name in passing it wasn't until we watched the movie that I really "got" that there is an official actively maintained list of video game records.
Before we were even finished watching the movie I was on Twin Galaxies' web site, checking to see if they had a record for Ajax. They did. 279,000 points. That's a very good score, but I knew that I'd done better back in the day. So I poked around their site to find out if MAME scores were acceptable, and what the submission process it. As it turns out, it varies. For some games (like Ajax) MAME scores are counted as being the same as playing on an actual machine. For others (such as Terminator 2 and Discs of TRON) the MAME records are kept separate. So I downloaded the "official" version of MAME (you have to use a specific version which includes some anti-cheating bits and the ability to record your game) and got to "work". I played regularly, got back into the swing of things, took notes, tested various strategies, and after a couple of weeks submitted a new high score of 337,500. You can even download the recording file here, though God knows why you'd want to. ;-)
Yeah, it's a trivial and frivolous thing- especially given how little competition there actually is for this particular game- but I'm rather proud of myself, if only because it's been such a long time coming. I even ordered a certificate, though I haven't yet figured out where the heck I'm going to put it.