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Eric Ginner and Mark Robichek have been friends for some time. Eric is a 20-year-old accountant. Mark, 23, designs electronic systems that help factories run more efficiently. They both live in Mountain View, California, which happens to be about 5 miles from where Atari has its headquarters.
Mark and Eric are two of the most accomplished video game players in the world. Mark currently holds the world's record for TUTANKHAM (244, 920), a game in which you, as an archaeologist, try to find treasure hidden deep in a pyramid, while assorted nasties try to do you in. He also holds the record for FROGGER (442,330), a game described in BLIP TIPS II of this issue.
Eric holds the world's record for MOON PATROL (573,480). At one time or another over the past 18 months, he has also been the record-holder for such games as DIG DUG, ROBOTRON, TEMPEST, and CENTIPEDE.
"My record in CENTIPEDE was around 400,000," Eric recalls. "But nowadays it's possible to rack up scores of 25,000,000 in CENTIPEDE, and even beyond that. In fact, I could probably play CENTIPEDE forever, as long as the machine held out."
Eric says he could set records in any number of other games, if he wanted to. And he doesn't sound as if he's merely boasting.
"But it takes 30 to 40 hours to set a record," he points out. "And there are other things I prefer to do with my time."
Mark told BLIP that he likes maze games best. FROGGER is his favorite. This is true even though he finds that the game acts in strange fashion when you reach very high scores.
One bizarre incident involves the lady frog, dressed in purple, who appears on the screen from time to time. If you can get your frog to jump on the lily pad with her and carry her safely into a dock, you get bonus points.
Well, according to Mark, after FROGGER hits about 50,000 point, the lady frog is no longer purple. Instead, she's often invisible.The only reason you can spot her is that whenever you jump onto a pad with her, your feet turn red.
Not long ago, Life Magazine assembled the 18 best video game players at the Twin Galaxies Arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa. The champions were photographed in front of the glittering International Scoreboard there. Mark and Eric were among those invited, and BLIP talked to them during their visit.
They told us they were introduced to video games when they were in high school. In fact, they first met at an arcade.
"I used to spend 20 or 30 hours a week in arcades when I was in high school," Mark recalled. "Even so, the games never cost me much money. I was always good, and a quarter lasted me a long time. If I spent five dollars a week, it was a lot."
Mark continued playing video games when he went on to college at Stanford. "I used the games to relax myself before exams," he says. "The night before a test, after I had done all the studying I felt was possible, I'd visit an arcade and spend two or three hours playing games. It refreshed me. I was able to get a restful sleep and be in great shape for the exam the next morning."
While Eric was in high school, he got caught up in the ASTEROIDS craze of 1979 and 1980, when it ranked as the game to beat. And Eric beat it, all right. He was the first player to score 100,000 points in ASTEROIDS, and thus turn the game over.
He did well, in fact, on just about every game he tried. "In those days," Eric recalls, "there was no record-keeping service like the International Scoreboard. I used to visit different arcades to find out if my scores were the highest--and they usually were. I also talked to the people at Atari, who kept track of high scores in other parts of the country. Based on their figures, I held a bunch of records."
From time to time, game enthusiasts hear about Eric and call him for gaming advice. "They're usually people," he says, "who have reached a certain plateau, and can't seem to get beyond it. They want to know what to do.
"Someone called me about TEMPEST not long ago. He couldn't get beyond the green level. I told him how to eliminate the fuseballs at that level, and I think it solved his problem."
Like anyone who excels at video games, Mark and Eric have fast reflexes. But they also have excellent memories.
"You have to be able to remember patterns," Mark explains. "You have to be able to keep track of where the danger spots are on each board.
"Patience is another quality that helps. I always take it slow. I make fewer mistakes that way.
"When kids watch me play TUTANKHAM, they're sometimes astonished. I'll just park the archaeologist in a corner and let him sit there. 'Use your flash button!' someone will shout. They don't realize that sometimes it pays to wait--and wait."
Besides quickness and sharp memory, Eric and Mark have at least one other trait in common. They both take video games in stride. They're not fanatical about the games, and they never have been. The games are only one of their many interests.
Mark likes basketball, for instance. "I used to play the game," he says. "But now I enjoy it as a spectator. And I officiate at high school games."
He's also active in auto rallying (a sport he describes as "cleverness driving"), and he collects coins.
Eric's other interests include playing cards. He and Mark are part of a group of local video game players who have a regular Saturday night poker session.
Neither Mark nor Eric ever skipped school to hang around arcades. They never spent more on the games than they could afford. The games never encouraged them to become violent, or anything else people might disapprove of.
To both young men, video games are like TV or popular music--an enjoyable pastime. The two of them just happen to be world-champion performers at the games.
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