Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Non-gaming-related Preparation (Defender World Record Saga - Part Three Of Five)

"If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing." - Some crazy person that I emulate for some reason
Behind the scenes

After a lot of guidance from other marathoners, I did a Defender mini-marathon a couple of weeks earlier to get ready. Read about it here. It taught me a LOT about what support I was going to need that had nothing to do with playing the game.

This event was a big bucket list item for me and there was no way I was going to do it halfway. My wife was just as excited about this as I was, and my family and friends were totally behind it as well. 

Planning for and executing this Defender marathon required a lot of things to happen all at the same time: getting a referee (Josh Jones) to agree to take the journey with me, lining up time off of work, getting family support, and mechanical and technical support that ensured 80+ hours of uptime on the game machine itself. 

There is just NO way to describe how much effort it took to get this whole thing orchestrated that had no direct affiliation with actually PLAYING the game. It was a nightmare that took a lot of people's efforts to pull off. 

Here is a SHORT list:
Charity drive reached
its funding goal!

  • The charity drive had to be created. This included finding sponsors, rewards, and advertising the charity drive itself.
  • Sponsors for the charity drive had to be made aware of the event and its value to each of them.
  • Josh had to work with Record Setter to ensure we had the right clearances and rules understandings. 
  • Friends, family, and countrymen (i.e. reporters, web interviewers, and historians)  had to be made aware of the event to get the appropriate coverage.
    Three cameras =  cool
  • Cameras had to be awesome. We had three. One in the laptop was streaming and two that were watching the action. They were 1080p HD cameras. Thank you Michael Morlan!
  • Footage had to be live over the internet so we could communicate with people all over the world while it was happening, real time. We used on my channel BILLYJOECAINLIVE. The footage can also be viewed anytime here.
  • Footage had to be saved locally, in case of internet failure or poor internet performance, which is an issue always. 
  • Internet speed had to be awesome. I probably spent 16 hours with techs in and out of my house. (What an effort this was). I hate Uverse. Although in the last 2 hours, they were able to identify the main culprit. DROPBOX. I'd highly recommend turning sync off if you are trying to get a consistent internet speed. While you're here, if you've never tried it, please install Dropbox with this link and we'll each get some extra space for free. :)
    See that big gray ribbon cable? My nemesis.
  • The machine had to work flawlessly for 80 hours. They are notorious for failures. They are 33 years old, after all. This was another huge issue which I documented thoroughly on my Facebook. Steve from S & B Amusements came in and saved the day with a new ribbon cable! 
  • International Press had to be made aware of the event. We got picked up by, which is a huge gaming site. 
    UPS Battery Just in Case
  • Diet had to be adjusted to perform optimally. Bathroom breaks were expected to be rare.
  • The machine had to be close to a bathroom. Enough said.
  • The machine had to be set up on a UPS just in case the power went out for a few seconds or minutes.
  • I spoke to close to a dozen people that have completed marathons on machines that are 30 or more hours long and received a lot of advice on how to perform a marathon. There were a lot of categories of topics. :)
Didn't get pictures
of the cookies.
I ate them.
Behind the scenes, my wife, Jacque, was preparing for more surprises for me. My mom and Uncle Dewey, both of whom were at the First Annual Texas Video Game Championships, both showed up. It was a trip back in time to have them both there, commenting on what it was like to participate back then. 

My mom fixed me some of my favorite cookies, vegan-style, so I'd have them at the finish line. PECAN SANDIES! Yum! I had some "vintage" Taco Flavor Doritos ready for me, too. 

Jacque had friends showing up at all hours and calling on the phone and through Facetime to support me. It was truly epic. 

Thank you, Jacque! You ROCK! 


Want to read each part? Well, here's your chance!


Monday, November 25, 2013

What *is* Defender? (Defender World Record Saga - Part Two Of Five)

Let's take a look at what we're talking about here. 


Defender is an arcade game made by Williams Electronics in 1980. It is, essentially, a test to see how long you can stop aliens from overtaking Earth. You "defend" 10 humans from being mutated into aliens themselves. If you lose all of your humans, you enter "space," which is incredibly difficult to exit to get back to Earth. If you lose all your ships, you die, and Earth is defeated. Game Over.
The crazy controls

Defender is played by pressing 5 separate buttons with unique actions and an up / down lever on an arcade control panel. One token is worth 3 ships and 3 Smart Bombs, and every 10,000 points awards one ship/Smart Bomb combo.

When I see this, I get excited.
New players get overwhelmed.
Here is the description stolen straight from Wikipedia: Defender is a two-dimensional side-scrolling shooting game set on the surface of an unnamed planet. The player controls a space ship as it navigates the terrain, flying either to the left or right. A joystick controls the ship's elevation, and five buttons control its horizontal direction and weapons. The object is to destroy alien invaders, while protecting astronauts on the landscape from abduction. Humans that are successfully abducted return as mutants that attack the ship. Defeating the aliens allows the player to progress to the next level. Failing to protect the astronauts, however, causes the planet to explode and the level to become populated with mutants. Surviving the waves of mutants results in the restoration of the planet. Players are allotted three chances (lives) to progress through the game and are able to earn more by reaching certain scoring benchmarks. A life is lost if the ship comes into contact with an enemy or its projectiles. After exhausting all lives, the game ends.
Only 225 points on
my first game? What a
waste of a quarter!

In their short description of the "5 buttons," they forgot to say that a Smart Bomb destroys all enemies on screen and leaves their bullets and bombs behind.
And they forgot to say that Hyperspace teleports your ship to a random place on the planet, including potentially landing on top of enemies or their bombs. Or maybe you just die when you land. It's random. 

If you haven't figured it out yet, this thing is HARD to play. Really hard to play.

To learn how to play it, you really have to watch others do it. It will throw you off like a mad rodeo bull otherwise.


While I want to believe that people understand the game, this thing is 33 years old and people just don't have the pop culture references that they used to have. When I was streaming the record attempt live, I spent quite a while explaining how the game was played and why you wanted to "save the humans."

If you can't see someone
play Defender as an example,
you're gonna have
a bad time
Many current day game players don't understand what the game is, and honestly I had never realized it, but DEFENDER DOES NOT TEACH YOU HOW TO PLAY DEFENDER. What?!? I am trying to say that if you stood in front of the machine, you would have NO idea what to do, why you do it, and how to do it. Essentially, the "attract mode" of Defender doesn't tell you ANYTHING about the game. It shows you the enemies and the high scores. The rest is UP TO YOU to figure out.
When you have never played Defender, you WILL be overwhelmed. It's a guarantee. Defender is a game that requires you to learn how to play completely on your own. You must watch other people succeed in order to advance your play. Oddly, even though you might think that Defender was a competitive game, learning to play it really became a co-operative experience. That was how you saved your quarters!


I've been told that "when (new shooter X) came out, I played the game for 48 hours," and therefore doing a "marathon" isn't a big deal.

I beg to differ.

These games have
pause buttons and
aren't trying to take
your quarters
Console games do not have the goal of killing you so you'll put in another quarter. Arcade machines are TRYING to buck you off the controls. Remember that bull from above?

They try to make the experience reasonable so you can take breaks, check your inventory, go to the bathroom, eat, etc.

On Defender:
- You have no pause button.
- If you are not "playing," i.e. you leave the machine, you lose a life every 7 seconds.
- You really don't have time to take a drink, much less take a bit of real food before you lose a life.
- Did I mention that there's no pause button?
Seriously. Come over and I'll show you. This game is a monster.


Want to read each part? Well, here's your chance!

Friday, November 22, 2013

What's The Big Deal About Defender? (Defender World Record Saga - Part One Of Five)

When I first saw the Defender machine pop into existence in my local 7-11, I watched the flashing attract mode screens until they settled on the High Score page... The DEFENDER HALL OF FAME. It had "Todays Best" (no apostrophe - but who cares) and "All time Greatest." That spoke to me. Loudly.

You see, my hometown area of Brazosport, TX is most known for being a chemical plant. I lived in the "blue collar" support city and, well, the place was filled with people whose families were hard working and honestly didn't always have time to spend with their kids. 

Not having an outlet so I could be good at something, I fantasized about being the BEST at Defender. And I mean... THE BEST! 

At first, the best I could do was get the high score on the local machines. 

Then in 1982, 7-11 ran a competition called the First Annual Texas Video Game Championships, in which Defender was one of the three machines in the competition. I was enamored by that contest, and in my heart I knew I could beat everyone in Defender. Long story short, I did. 

After the First Annual Texas Video Game Championships, I didn't really have any idea how to take that desire to be the best to the next level. It seemed that, while I was having fun with games, there just wasn't much of an outlet for it. 

I was asked "what are video games going to do for you?" 

I didn't have much of an answer for it at the time, although at this point I can give plenty of responses: 
- they kept me off the street
- they taught me critical thinking skills that were missing in my home life
- they gave me structure that was missing in my entire life experience 
- they taught me positive life lessons that were completely missing in my primary care situation

I could probably write a book on the things I learned from games that I *didn't* learn from my parents. Maybe I will write that book. Maybe it'll be a blog... Who knows!

Time Magazine - 1982
I heard about some kid (see picture - it's Steve Juraszek!) set a 17 million point high score in Time Magazine, and decided that I'd give it a try... I ran up 6 or 8 million points or something like that and found that the game repeated itself at wave 256 and that since that didn't seem challenging at the time, it took a long time, AND I didn't know who to tell about it... I just didn't see the point. 

This was at a time where there were a LOT of arcades. There was an arcade a few towns away that had an owner that found me and wanted me to come to his place and get paid to beat his customers. I thought that was crazy. Getting paid to beat people felt wrong to me (at the time!), so I wanted nothing to do with it. 

After that, nothing else really seemed interesting or possible. Defender kinda went by the wayside. I had a machine at home and I drug it around to every place I moved (sorry friends that had to move it), but I didn't play much, if at all. 

On August 19, 2007, I met Walter Day, the originator of Twin Galaxies (the original arcade world record entity) at the King of Kong world premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. I told him of my desire and he actually knew who I was because he had done a story on the 7-11 competition. From that moment, we stayed in touch while I tried to find the right way to get a world record run through Twin Galaxies together. It never happened.

In 2011, I met Josh Jones and we put together a great gaming event in the beginning of 2012 in support of Twin Galaxies releasing some Texas Trading Cards. It was awesome! 

Then later in the year I got involved with a Defender group on Facebook. I also started learning more and more about arcade game high scores and meeting legendary marathoners. Turns out that there is a huge interest in classic arcade games, so the seed was planted. 


Want to read each part? Well, here's your chance!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Defender World Record Marathon Update, 11 / 11 / 2013

Ahh. The joys of classic arcade gaming. Apparently old Williams' machines are finicky. Very much so. In fact, so much so that people that work on them have a lot of "must dos" when they give recommendations. It's been a real eye opening experience since this machine decided that it wants some more attention. No pressure. 

RAM board - RAM to be
replaced. And the dreaded
ribbon cable at top.
Well, before I go into this update, I owe some thanks to the people that are helping. I want to thank my family for their support during this event. They've put up with my late nights and the concern and being told they can't touch the machine and that they were going to have to make me food and put up with a bunch of people in the house and everything else. They're troopers. Thank you all!

I want to thank Josh Jones, who calls me every night to talk about the event and what needs to be done next. Without him, there's no way I would be doing this. He is going to try to stay up with me the whole 80 hours. I think he's crazy, because he's supposed to be the one to tell me that *I'M* going to have to stop if I get too tired or loopy. 

Sound Board - should be fine
I also want to thank Josh's family. He just had a grand-daughter! And they are all supportive of him coming over to the house for, effectively, five full days. 

There are also so many others that need to be thanked, like Jenny Bendel, marketing badass. She wrote a huge press release that made it all over the place. I blame her for adding the most pressure of all. Good one Jenny! 

Jason's Beastly UPS
I want to thank Jason Hughes for coming to the house to measure the voltage of the machine, and ultimately bringing over a ridiculously large USB to give the machine some extra juice in case of a power outage. The bonus is that it also produces clean power!

This event has been very interesting for a number of reasons. I have a lot of friends that have known I was going to try for it, and have just been wondering when it would happen. Finally, it's here. 

Power Board on left (to be replaced)
Picking a day and time has made it real. Starting our charity page made it real. Publicizing the event has made it real. Having troubles with the machine has made it real. Having MORE troubles with the machine has made it real. Having people write articles on the event has made it real. Getting phenomenal advice from people online has made it real. I could go on and on. 

We're a few days out and the technical issues with the machine have gotten worse, not better, no matter what I try. It seems that something drastic needs to be done, much to the dismay of my grocery budget. And it's something that should have been done the instant the machine started getting fussy. I have to buy new parts and install them before the event. All the bits and pieces are shown throughout this update, so you can see what we're up against.

ROM Board - hopefully fine!
I put together a list today of items I need to replace for Steven at They should ship tomorrow and be here by Friday (YIKES!): 
  • Power board (he suggested installing this first)
  • New RAM - 25 chips (Apparently there are 24 needed, so they send you one extra. Wonder how they figured that out? I love it! Makes me feel like I can make at least one mistake.)
  • Lithium battery kit (requires soldering, which I am not equipped to do in any way)
  • Ribbon cable (just in case because my current one apparently SUCKS)
  • Joystick rebuild kit (because, well, awesome - but not sure I will install because I am so used to my old floppy stick... yep I said it) 
I suppose I will become a repairman by Friday night in time to sleep before starting Sat. morning.
What every machine
should be wearing
Now, just to make matters even MORE interesting and more filled with pressure, some of my advisers are, VERY SENSIBLY, suggesting that I move the event due to the complete uncertainty of the machine's temperament. After all, I could get someone to come service it and give it some "armor" before I go for it. 

The thing is that I *agree* with them that it's really the "right thing to do." The problem is that this is the first time I have ever done a marathon. I've done some big games over the years, but nothing like this. I just simply haven't had the time to invest. Well this time it's put up or shut up. 

My thought is that Josh and I will learn a TON from doing this event. And if something goes wrong, we're going to learn from it and do it again as soon as possible. This is like the way I like to work: make mistakes as quickly as possible and iterate. 

Scary or fun?
I liken it to going to a circus where there's a high wire act with no safety net. Why would you go watch that? Well, it's kinda because you think they're going to fail, but you don't want them to... it adds to the allure. I think that staying awake for the duration is part of it, keeping the game alive without failing that is another part of it, and the final piece of the puzzle is "will the machine make it?" 

I can't say for sure which one's going to fail, although it is clear to me that the third part can be mitigated by a damn good tech. And I'll need one for sure for an 80 hour run, I'm certain of it. 

On Saturday, you're going to get the best show we can muster up, no matter what. And if I fall off the high wire because of machine failure, we'll all be disappointed, no one more so than me. I don't want to let anyone down after we've all worked so hard to get ready for this, but I see pushing the date back before I know for sure it's going to break as just too much. It's kinda depressing to quit before you have all of the data. Right now, it makes sense to move the date. But I want to take that chance and I want you all to come along with me. I won't plunge to my death, and we'll all be disappointed together. We might just train the cameras on Stargate and I'll see what we can do on it because the marathon score for it isn't nearly as high as Defender. 

The issue on Stargate is that I'm out of practice on it... maybe making sure I can stay alive in the game is the death-defying experience we're all looking for anyway! 

All I need now is a soldering iron, flux, and a voltmeter. And calm. Like "Mr. Miagi-style" calm. The next few days are going to be nerve wracking. 

The stream can be watched here:

Send in donations for the Mission Soup Kitchen:

See you on the stream?!? I hope so!


Sunday, November 3, 2013

First Defender Mini-marathon in a LONG time!

On November 16th, I am going to take a run at the Defender Marathon World Record. Defender is an arcade game that came out in 1980 and has been called one of the most difficult arcade games ever

It is hard. Mostly because there's not a pattern or series of button presses you have to memorize. It's you against the machine, so you don't have to compete against a human that is completely unpredictable. It took me forever to get my score up to where I could roll it at a million. (My Defender Facebook group calls it "clocking" it).

Defender is a game where, essentially, you have to protect 10 humans from being abducted and turned into Mutants. It's a lot more than that, but that's the basic gist. There are a few enemies that have different movement patterns and artificial intelligence, and when they are all working in concert, they make for a very chaotic experience. A good Defender player can turn that chaos into a lot of fun.

Part of the challenge of going for a Marathon run is that you can't leave the machine. When you're playing Defender, you can't "pause" the game, and you really can't get too far from the machine itself because you lose ships at a rate that is around every 7 seconds. You can collect a bunch of ships to waste while you take a break, but if you get more than 255 extras, they roll back over to 0 extra ships. You have to be careful to count your ships, because the game only displays 5 on screen at a time. 

The Marathon World Record has stood on Twin Galaxies high score page since 1984 (see insets below). It's 79,976,975 points by Chris Hoffman. Defender players can rack up about a million points per hour, so the general thought is that that's around 79 hours of play. All of those 70 million + scores are CRAZY!

I have been scared of that length of time ever since I saw these scores. Heck I've never even been awake for more than 50 hours, and on those occasions, I actually was comparing that experience to thinking about a Defender Marathon, and it scared me how tired I was. It's pretty overwhelming to me. 

Last Friday, I played for 4 hours to get a feel of what it's like to be chained to that machine again. I stopped after going through all 255 waves on the machine and it flipped back to wave 1. I put video of the last bit on YouTube. 

Here is what I noticed:
  • My marathon mentors are invaluable. A few arcade marathoners are helping me plan this out and their advice is incredible. One thing they said was to do a short marathon to see how my experience would play out. Wow. I learned a lot.
  • Having Josh Jones here is an absolute necessity. He's my friend and will be officiating for Having someone that can walk around for you and get you little stuff is vital. I won't take advantage of his generosity, I hope.
  • Visitors. There is definitely a need to have company during this effort. I've asked people to come by during the entire attempt. Some have scheduled time to come so it'll be like a cool streaming "show." Reach out to me if you're interested!
  • Scoring rate is very important. I became highly aware of my scoring rate and wanted to track it over time to see how long it would be before I hit 79 million. (see below for more)
  • Breaks. Anything lengthy (i.e. over 2-3 minutes) is going to need planning and someone's going to need to watch the machine for me. Bathroom breaks are not going to be a problem. I can easily save enough ships for that. 
  • Standing. POSTURE! You really, really need it.
  • Sitting. Wow. You don't really appreciate it enough, let me tell you. The experts say I need 3 different types of chairs, all of which keep my arms at the same height as if I was standing. Still gotta get those. 
  • Movement. I tend to stand completely still for a long period of time if I'm not paying attention. I needed to get blood flowing, so I was doing some calisthenics and hopping around. I'm going to need to be reminded to move.
  • Power. It occurred to me that we may lose power to the house, so I'll need a UPS to be ready for an outage. It became REAL to me when we lost power later that night for 2 hours. Really. Thanks, universe, for the hint!
  • Sound. I didn't feel like I needed music to keep me entertained, so that was kinda nice. I just let my mind wander and I did all right. 
  • Smart Bombs. I use a lot of Smart Bombs. Keeps my count down and keeps play moving faster.
  • Humans. I like to keep humans alive. It feels better, and is really true to the nature of the "mission." I also suicide to keep them from being mutated. Oh yeah, they're also worth a lot of points. 
  • Extra Ship tracking. You need to count DEATHS rather than number of ships collected. 
  • Death. I die a lot. I don't think I'm going to have too big of a worry about keeping too many ships. 
  • Cinderella Zone. I get around 36-38 ships average in the Cinderella Zone (the time at 990,000 where everything you hit gives you an extra life). After a million, you have to pay back those ships. 
  • Post-Cinderella Zone sadness. I miss the extra life sound after the Cinderella Zone. It feels lonely. Who would have thought?
I could write volumes on the above, but I'll just cover the scoring part because it's most important to the record run.

Scoring rate is very important
As I was playing the one thing I couldn't escape was the enormity of an 80 hour session. So, I paid attention to the rate of my score over time.

I was making some good progress for the first couple of million, but my scoring rate seemed to slow down on the last part. I don't have all of the numbers now... I need to build a spreadsheet and do this again, but here is the top level view: I reached a little over 3.5 million in 4 hours. That's about 1,125,000 an hour. If I can maintain that rate of play, I can get to 80 million in 71 hours. Whew! That's a relief. ONLY 71 hours. And that's assuming that I can maintain a decent rate of play. It seems that the best way to do this is find a way to maximize scoring ALL of the time. Now I need to find a way to do that in a way that meshes with my style of play. 

I've started designing the spreadsheet in my mind. 

World Record Scoreboards 
This record is really just to see what I can do. I plan to beat the scores on Twin Galaxies and it would be nice to get this score on every board that's out there. It would be cool to get it on Twin Galaxies because it's such a lifelong "thing," but if I can't, that's no problem. I'll know I did it. 

More when there's more to report!