I first heard rumblings in some of the Discord channels I hang out in that Twitch was planning something interesting in the fall. It was going to be a charity marathon, but with a twist: a focus exclusively on arcade games, a segment of gaming that didn’t really get much exposure outside of a few select streamers and the occasional arcade game run at a GDQ. I received a message from Romscout, Symphony of the Night speedrun superstar and Twitch charity event manager. Was I interested in helping out the event in some way?
I swiftly answered. Yes, yes, a thousand times YES. Jeez, you had me from the words “arcade event!”
The idea was a 48-hour marathon to raise money for Save the Children, to be held in October. The event would have players showcasing both classic and newer arcade games, from Donkey Kong and Track and Field to things like Tetris the Grand Master, some modern pinball games, and Beatmania IIDX. I wanted to at least help promote the event and get the word out, but I wondered if there was anything I personally could run at the event…
Oh, right. There was Raimais, a game I had spent a month writing a novella’s worth of text about. But despite having written extensively about it, I had yet to actually complete a single-credit clear (commonly referred to as a 1CC). There was a little over a month until the event. Could I manage to not only juggle work and site responsibilities, but also route the game and master a path that would take me to the end with as few deaths as possible?
It was a daunting proposition, but after proclaiming so much love towards this obscure little Taito game, I felt like I had to carry its torch at what came to be called Arcade Superplay Expo.
“Put me down for Raimais,” I told Romscout. From that point on, I was officially committed.
It definitely wasn’t an easy task: for the first week or two I was diligently making notes, drawing powerup locations and scribbling level notes in a small Ubisoft notebook I’d been given for being runner-up in PAX West Jeopardy. When Jed from our discord channel showed me a custom Raimais level viewer he had whipped up, I was floored and overjoyed. This was going to make the process so much easier!
Finally, after hours of diligent practice, I got my first Raimais 1CC a week before the event was set to start. Now I had to find a way to try and make it consistent for my run, which had been slotted in at a risky 3:20 AM PST timeslot in the schedule. (It was originally set for around 7 AM, but I felt it would be better to try and stay up late than attempt to wake up early.) The event was fast approaching, and I had a review of a big-name JRPG on my freelance plate at the same time. There was so much going on, so much to do… and I couldn’t have been more excited for what was to come.
For me, it felt like ASX really started on Thursday. That’s because BBH was getting in early in the morning, and I figured it’d be a good idea to help him get from the airport to the hotel. Bay Area transit, for those who don’t know, is a complete mess of systems that doesn’t always make sense, particularly if you’re going to one of the three big airports in the area (as a few attendees would later discover trying to get back to the airport post-event), and since I’ve been here a while and know a lot about stupid transit quirks, I thought it’d be a good idea to help him out. And heck, he’d driven my butt around PDX a month and a half ago – the least I could do is return the favor, right?
We met at the airport, got our BART tickets (which, in a meme-tastic twist that foreshadowed the weekend, cost $8.95 to our stop), and headed on over to the hotel. One thing locals forget is how friggin’ weird BART feels to people riding it for the first time: the underfunded system is filled with tunnels that screeeeeeeeech like you’re trapped with a bunch of other hapless fools on a train ride to the depths of hell itself. We know it, we accept it for its (many, many) faults, but god damn it’s a creepy experience for visitors!
As we got to the event hotel, however, we discovered that check-in wasn’t going to be happening until 3 PM. It was a bit after noon, so we had a bit of time to kill. After stashing BBH’s luggage, I figured I could take him to some cool arcade places.
The problem with the Bay Area and arcades, however, is that most of the good stuff is not actually in San Francisco – it’s in the East and South Bay, and getting there would require a ride either on BART (to the east) or CalTrain (to the south), possibly both. It would also be very time-consuming: while we did have time to spare, the hassle seemed a bit difficult to justify. We opted to see what was in the city itself rather than heading out elsewhere, taking the Muni F line to get to Fisherman’s Wharf and then to Brewcade.
Fisherman’s Wharf is Tourist Central for SF, of course, but there’s still plenty of fun stuff there amongst the crowds and street performers. There were a couple of sports bars with trashy-redemption heavy arcades, but there’s also the Musee Mechanique, with has a row of retro arcade games amongst its various historical coin-op oddities. BBH found a Neo-Geo cabinet with obscure NMK shooter Zed Blade, and, like a true nerd, scrambled through his backpack to find headphones during the between-level transitions to plus into the (miraculously still functional) Neo cabinet headphone jack in order to hear some early Manabu Namiki tunes the proper way. That’s nerdery any of us can appreciate.
I hadn’t been to Brewcade before: I knew many of its machines came from an old arcade called Starbase up in San Rafael that shut down a few years ago. It seemed like a pretty typical barcade, though I was rather disappointed that many of the games listed online were actually part of multi-game MAME cabinets (some with really, really weird control schemes, as well). There was a rare Operation Wolf 3 cabinet, though, along with a Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, which BBH promptly annihilated the high score for. Overall, it was a cute little hangout, though it’s damn near impossible to compete with The Foundry in terms of awesome bar/restaurant/gaming spaces in San Francisco.
We got back to the hotel early in the evening, where we ran into Trap15 and Ann K, who had apparently just come in from the South Bay. The rest of the day’s arrivals – PJ and MURPHAGATOR (which is infinitely more fun to type with capslock, I should note) from the wonderful Team Poor Life Choices – came down to greet us in the hall, and viola, we had an RPG party ready for adventure!
Said adventure was teaching everybody how to use MUNI to get from Civic Center to Montgomery station, because… well, there’s a part of Market Street that’s a little rough, if you get my drift, and it was a bit of a hike from the hotel to Twitch HQ regardless. We got to Twitch, met up with a few more folks (including our incredibly hard-working organizer Romscout), and then most of the assembled crew took off for dinner. I needed to get back home and wrap up a few things for my World of Final Fantasy review on Gamespot, so I decided then would be a good time to part ways.
It's goin' down boyee pic.twitter.com/w5j2YFeCRq
— KevinDDR (@KevinDDR) October 21, 2016
Friday began in much the same way as Thursday did: picking up Funkdoc from the airport and grabbing lunch with him before heading into San Francisco. We got in a bit after 3 and checked into the hotel room we were sharing, running into Nate from Crunchyroll and Caitlin in the process. I’d talked with Caitlin a lot over Twitter, so it was great to meet her for the first time, though she sadly wouldn’t be able to stay long. Funkdoc and I checked in, dropped our stuff off, and headed to Twitch – where we spotted Romscout coming out of the building, We needed his help to actually get into Twitch HQ – there’s a whole mess of security there – but before that, he needed our help. Myung of Game Center was bringing in a few plastic tubs’ worth of arcade equipment, which was going to have to be hoisted from a few blocks away (hooray for SF parking!) over to the sixth floor of Twitch.
The sheer amount of equipment and tech stuff needed at ASX was staggering. We had pinball machines, DDR cabinets, a few “candy cabs”, a MAME PC, a Beatmania IIDX setup, and two Donkey Kong machines – not to mention various hardware configurations like CPS2, Neo-Geo MVS, and pre-JAMMA boards that required special adapters to actually work properly on modern setups. Add in a whole mess of cameras and specialized capture equipment (it’s actually really hard to get a direct feed of Donkey Kong!) and it’s a miracle nothing spontaneously combusted… on day one, anyway. With all that in mind, it’s amazing that the event only started two hours late!
As you might expect of a gaming-centric company, Twitch HQ has a couple of rooms dedicated to PC gaming rigs. Given how crowded the space for ASX was with wires and machines, this area wound up becoming the primary away-from-the-event hangout for most of the ASX crew. It was here that I met up with folks like Zallard and Aquas, who were practicing for their runs later on. BBH had the foresight to put a MAME installation that included most of the event’s ROMsets on all of the PCs there, giving us a nice little practice room with space to chat, stretch, and snooze (thanks to an exceptionally comfy couch). Funkdoc and I had neglected to bring our sticks, so I volunteered to run back to the hotel and grab them. On the way back, I found a confused-looking fellow wandering in the general vicinity who I thought I had seen in the hotel earlier – this turned out to be Softdrink117, who was also set to do a few shooting game runs later that night.
With stick in hand, I started in on my Raimais practice sessions. Apparently something involving Darude also happened, which I was unaware of, ensconced in my rehearsals as I was.
— KevinDDR (@KevinDDR) October 22, 2016
My first Raimais run was godlike. Two deaths total, all warps received 1CC. I was worried that I had used up all of my luck early on, as my next couple of runs were nowhere near as good: after feeling like I had Round 18 Green completely figured out, I was encountering an occasional issue with one of the enemies breaking pattern that threw me for a loop. I couldn’t figure out how to reproduce the pattern variation in to properly practice reacting to it, either – was it RNG? A stray controller input? I had no clue. I made savestates, but every time I did, the enemies would use the predicted pattern instead. I was beginning to worry, especially since rounds 25-28 are brutal no matter how you route them, and I had practiced them far less than the ideal full-warp route.
In the Twitch practice room. One stage is still a problem pic.twitter.com/jg1OHWThpD
— Death Kempson (@Zerochan) October 22, 2016
I started hearing about some of the tech problems the event was having. It was to be expected, of course, but as a consequence, a few games would have to be cut from the schedule: Willow, Ninja Kids, and Psychic 5. I’d already seen BBH run Willow plenty of times, but I was looking forward to the latter two runs – Ninja Kids was originally right after Raimais, and Psychic 5 is a really neat and weird arcade game I’ve always wanted to learn more about, but seemed rather daunting to attempt on my own. Word was also coming in that blowups were happening with a few of the early games: the Makaimura series runs seemed (suitably) cursed, and a weird sound delay on the MAME PC running Splatterhouse was causing some serious gameplay disruption.
With things starting to run behind, I became worried about the Raimais run getting pushed back. It was already set for the graveyard shift at 3:20 AM, but it seemed likely that I might have to play it even later than that. With that in mind, I decided it would be ideal to head back to the hotel fairly early – Funkdoc was also scheduled for his X-Men run in the morning, so he decided to come back as well. After Funkdoc wrapped up his commentary on Splatterhouse, we got a ride back to our lodging space, where we slept soundly until the next day.
Ha ha, just kidding! There was a fire alarm that went off at about 5 or 6 in the morning. Having lived in a dorm at a school well known for the higher-than-average alcohol consumption of its student body, I was used to the “5 am fire alarm” thing, and figured it was probably a false alarm. We still ducked out of our room, though, and ran into the halls where we saw several of the other half-awake ASX attendees… and PJ, who received all of the suspicious glares from those of us in the know. (He denied anything to do with it. Right.) Soon after, the alarm was called off and we went back to bed.
I knew things were getting particularly messy when I woke up again around 9-10 AM and discovered that BBH was only just beginning his set of runs, which were scheduled to start around 7 originally. Oh jeez, I thought, I’m really going to be running Raimais at 5 AM, aren’t I? My successful 1CC rate was still hovering around 20%, and having to stay up late would basically guarantee I would be way too sleepy to react properly. I actually was less worried than the night before, though. As awful as it is to say, having other people get blown up in their runs actually made me feel better for what might happen in my run – even if I screwed up and missed the last warp set, which almost ensured I’d Game Over somewhere between levels 24-28, I’d still be doing pretty OK! So, uh, thanks to my fellow exhibitors for not playing perfectly and making me feel a lot less nervous as a result.
Funkdoc took off pretty quickly, but I hung around in the hotel room for a little bit to take care of a few things and pack up a pile of books I’d brought with me. I had some old Gamest issues I got off Yahoo Japan auctions that I mostly bought for Raimais strats, but which also served as a time capsule back to the state of Japanese arcades in 1988 – something I figured my other attendees would appreciate. I also brought a copy of the Gamest Island special from 1997 (a fanart-oriented special edition of the magazine filled with analog art of popular arcade games of the era), along with a pile of arcade gaming doujinshi I’d amassed over the years: some of Zekuu’s books, two of the Mind Maker guides (Strider and Ninja Warriors), a photography doujin, the massive Fantasy Zone guidebook released a few years back, and a few other interesting bits and bobs. (I kind of regret not taking my Tomoyuki Kotani sketchbook collections, given the games that were played there, but those books are hard to find now!)
I ran into BBH while getting off at the Montgomery Muni station. (It’s telling that, even though my contact lenses were out at the time, I could identify him from several feet away. You can always spot a wild BBH.). He’d just finished up his block of three games and was heading back to get some much-deserved post-NARC rest. I gave him a hug and told him to go sleep for a long-ass time, because he’d earned it… even though it might not have gone quite as well as hoped. Oh well, there’s always an opportunity for NARC runbacks.
The beat-em-up block was about to start, and Funkdoc was prepping for his X-Men run as I got in. The Donkey Kong No Hammer WR attempt was ongoing elsewhere in the main room, so while that was taking place, I went to the back and picked up a makeshift breakfast from the unfathomably well-stocked Twitch kitchen. Everyone there was either wide awake or seemingly half-asleep, with more of a leaning towards the latter.
I’d left my stick in the practice room overnight, and as I poked my nose in after breakfast to check up on things, I caught Zallard testing out Punch-Out on it and pointing out that it was having some issues re-centering. My stick’s a Qanba Q4 with all Seimitsu parts and a custom LED mod and art. It’s a precious baby of mine, albeit one that had developed a very annoying problem. I’d known about it being a little finicky from time to time, and I’d replaced the stick’s microswitches in an attempt to fix the issue, but it seemed like it was still getting stuck on some directions occasionally. It wasn’t such a big deal for Raimais where I tend to hold directions for long periods of time, but it’s definitely a problem for a precision game like Punch-Out. DanAdamKOF, who had been napping on the practice room couch, overheard our conversation and volunteered to take a look at it.
— AnnK (@AgentAnnK) October 24, 2016
I honestly felt a bit guilty giving the stick over to Dan to look at, since he was the guy managing most of the tech stuff for the event and was clearly quite tired – I tend to feel like I ask people for help too often, even when they’re essentially volunteering. Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite figure out the issue: the microswitches were fine, the actuator seemed okay, and the spring didn’t look terrible. Eventually, we had to give up and just opt to use the stick as it was.
(So yeah, if anyone knows what would keep a Seimitsu LS-32-02 from re-centering properly, let me know! I’d love to fix it!)
After a couple of practice runs on Raimais, I went back out into the main room to watch Funkdoc’s X-Men run, which went near perfectly. He’d mentioned to me the day before that he was kind of eager to finally put that game to bed, and there was really no better way to say “Well, I did it, I never have to play this again” than beating the game deathless with Colossus. Good show!
Much of the second day of ASX was spent with me in the practice room (or directly outside it) either playing Raimais or talking to the other ASX attendees. A few folks like Zakky had shown up overnight and were prepping for their runs that day, while others like Caitlin were actually preparing to head back out that evening, so I wanted to greet and spend some time with them while still getting in the practice runs I needed. I felt like I did more practice runs than most of the folks there, but I’m a person who puts a high value on preparation when doing public performances, of which this definitely counted. And given that I still wasn’t 1CCing the majority of my runs, I wanted to be sure that I’d at least not completely screw the pooch while on the Twitch frontpage. There’s no such thing as too much practice, right?
I left my books on the counter outside for folks to look at, and they definitely seemed to catch the eye of the folks there – the Gamest issues I brought seemed pretty popular, as did the arcade photo collections. Several folks asked where I got this stuff, which tells me that there’s some interest in these doujin publications outside of Japan. Hopefully the eventual English edition of Pin’s Space Harrier books will introduce more non-Japanese speakers to the amazing work being done by these dedicated fans!
Tech/testing station for sticks and PCBs, along with the books I brought.
Because I was busy practicing and socializing – and also napping in the early evening to stave off the sleepiness that would no doubt start to set in after midnight – I didn’t catch a lot of what was being played onstream that day. I did get to see the Donkey Kong killscreen, though, because seriously, everyone in the facility wanted to have the opportunity to go around saying “There’s a Donkey Kong kill screen coming up.” Like the nerds that we are, we filed as a giant group into the main room, watching Robbie Lakeman’s game die an inevitable death on Stage 22 to thunderous applause.
By that point, it was approaching midnight, and due to a variety of technical issues, the schedule had once again shifted. The group of games I’d been playing in was shifted up several hours. Instead of playing Raimais much later than expected, I was now going to be playing it about an hour earlier than originally scheduled. While there was a part of me that panicked a little – remember, I was still not getting consistent outcomes on certain rounds – I mostly felt relieved. I would be (mostly) awake for this and could go to bed earlier than planned!
I didn’t get to see many of the Saturday games until later, and I can certainly understand the frustration as a viewer of things being shifted around constantly. I felt like the issues with arcade hardware could have been better elaborated on by the folks hosting the stream: when you describe (and show) just how difficult something is to work with, you tend to get a bit more sympathy. You probably couldn’t see it on stream, but the tech guys went above and beyond during the event getting everything to work – and many of the attendees volunteered their aid, too. Tech issues were absolutely not a result of poor planning – it’s a natural consequence of arcade hardware being difficult and finicky in so many ways, and capture/sound systems needing to be readjusted on the fly to deal with platforms that weren’t built with any sort of capture in mind. (I forget who mentioned it – Zallard, maybe? – but I know at least one person said that things were actually running smoother than the average GDQ, so there’s that to consider.)
I grabbed some caffeine and tried my best to mentally prepare for my session. Funkdoc was going to be my co-commentator, as I’d shown many a time that I could be easily distracted by needing to do commentary and play at the same time. We both went over some of the key points of what I wanted to cover, with the idea that Raimais would be unfamiliar to 99.9% of the people watching. I wanted to make a good impression with it and explain why I think it’s neat and worth exhibiting – I felt like that was more important than my actual performance in the game would be.
Finally, after Zakky wrapped up his Darius Gaiden run, I stepped up to the stage. If you want to see the run, here’s the timestamp, I don’t think anyone’s put it up on Youtube just yet. I’m not going to go into too much detail since you can just watch it, but I’ll just point out a couple of things:
- That early death on the Round 4 warp boss before I reset didn’t faze me too much: I was more worried that people might be bored seeing the same stages again, so I tried to vary my path a little. Thanks for the donation, Syrg!
- I actually got the pattern I wanted early in Round 18 Green, but screwed up in my execution afterwards – I should have waited longer before going into the center area. I didn’t want to take the Reverse Round I got, as I didn’t know which boss I’d get and it would put me off route. (Round 19 Green is doable but not optimal, especially without practice). I more or less knew then that a 1CC wasn’t happening and resigned myself to it, so I wasn’t terribly broken up.
- What I was more worried about was the possibility of a 2CC, especially after Round 26 and 27 wrecked my shit. I really wanted to avoid that, at least, and by the time I hit 29 I was starting to sweat a bit: As I say in the video, I usually take a death on that stage, but managed to escape unscathed that time around.
In the end – I did it! I got Raimais on the front page of Twitch, and showed off what a month of routing and practice had yielded! This being my first time playing in a marathon, I was pretty happy with how I did – not the perfect run, but not bad, either! You don’t really hear too much about how performative play like that really gets your adrenaline pumping: I came into the run a bit tired, but I was WIDE AWAKE coming out of it, even though my body was quite physically exhausted. Fortunately, this meant that I could watch BBH’s NAM-1975 run, which I was quite looking forward to. As the rush started to fade, however, I knew I needed sleep, and badly: I got a ride back to the hotel and crashed at about 4 AM or so, sleeping until about noon.
Day 3 felt like it was a tie-up-loose-ends sort of day. I didn’t need to practice, so I could spend more time actually talking to people and watching the games being run. A lot of people were going to be leaving that evening, so it was the last opportunity to hang out with certain folks before returning to our boring, non-ASX lives. A lot of good stuff was scheduled to be happening that day: TGM3, VS System games, Track and Field, Trio the Punch, Shock Troopers, Bionic Commando arcade, and the fabled Mystery Game!
I got to witness the controllers for Mystery Game (which was, of course, Bishi Bashi Champ) as they were being tested – DanAdamKOF had actually built them overnight. I’m not kidding! That man put 1000% into this event and deserves all the praise for it. As it turns out, the man behind the amazing records for Konami Track and Field, FlyHec, took a shine to the controller and opted to use them for his awesome run later in the game.
I brought my laptop with me because I wanted to start teaching some folks how to play Fighting Vipers 2 on emulator – Funkdoc had expressed interest, and I had a great time running it at CEOtaku, so I was eager to take whatever opportunity I had at ASX to spread the gospel of FV2. I was able to get it up and running (and, thankfully, BBH’s stick played fine with the settings I had established at CEOtaku, meaning I didn’t have to manually edit Supermodel’s INI file), and I was able to show Funkdoc the ropes. (Of course he picked Mahler sight-unseen; It’s like the wrestlers call to him.) We played for a bit, then BBH wanted to try his hand at the game.
Not long after we started, however, something happened. Romscout came into the room, asking if BBH was available to fill time for about an hour – the tech issues were getting more and more problematic, with the VS System setup requiring extra time. As we went into the main room, it turned out that things would take considerably less time to fix than they initially thought, but the stream still needed some filler. Then, I heard it from someone there – who it is, I forget, but I’ll always remember hearing
“BBH is going to run Chicken Farm.”
This is an approximate visual representation of my reaction to this amazing news:
We’d joked about it, and BBH had snuck it on the MAME installations that he’d put on every PC in the practice room (along with gems like Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat), but we didn’t expect Chicken Farm to actually happen. But it did, and the Twitch frontpage got to witness a truly transcendental experience.
twitch frontpage and third most viewed marathon game
— woof (@woofycakes) October 23, 2016
Things continued after that with some fantastic runs, including the amazing Track and Field session and some VS System games. My friend Soakrates came by to say hi to me and some other event participants he knew, who would be leaving shortly to catch their flights. He stuck around for a bit, and we decided to watch through the end of PJ’s arcade Bionic Commando run, at which point we both decided to head back: I was tired and I had some review editing yet to do that evening, so I wasn’t planning to stick around through the finale.
Unfortunately, so many people having to leave the venue in the afternoon meant that our collective counterbalance to PJ’s destructive aura began to fade. The TGM3 board died completely, nixing that part of the marathon, the Bishi Bashi controllers needed a bit more work after the stress Track and Field had put them through, and the world record attempts on VS Super Mario Bros required a special camera setup. Soakrates and I stopped off to grab dinner, and things were only starting to get back on track when I checked after I finished my meal. I got back home, loaded up the stream, and watched VS SMB play out as I went about my editing duties, before falling asleep at an early (for me) 12:30 PM bedtime. From what I remember, the stream was still going when I faded out. Yes, it was behind schedule, but all things considered, it had turned out wonderfully for a first-time event.
Some final thoughts on ASX:
- If you missed the event, the stream VODs are here and the list of timestamps is here (thanks, Iast!). Normally I’d pick and choose which runs are the best to watch, but I can honestly say in this case that you should just watch everything, because it’s all really great and everybody is dedicated to the games they’re showcasing.
- I absolutely want to run more stuff next year! I played only Raimais this time because it was fresh on my mind, I wanted to show it off, and I had just enough time to route and practice it without it seriously disrupting my other work. With more advance notice, I could probably learn some other games. I’m seriously considering Rastan Saga 2, because I need to help get kusoge in a marathon whenever possible!
- I do regret not getting the opportunity to talk to certain folks there — I didn’t really chat too much with the TGM, Bemani, or pinball people. I feel genuinely bad about that – I wasn’t trying to snub anybody! We just had so much packed into such a short time! Sorry if I missed you!
- Ann K was one of the stream’s heroes, giving everyone lovely little pieces of art and helping later on in the marathon when tech issues came to a head. Go to her page to see everything she drew along with some much better pictures than mine, one of which I used for this article’s splash image. (Just ignore the one with me in it where I didn’t know a photo was happening aaaaa~)
I can’t wait to see how this even grows further in the years to come, and I’ll be eager to help support it however I can. Here’s to many more years of awesome arcade gaming for charity!
G A M E O V E R
Final score: $47,142
— Softdrink 117 (@Softdrink_117) October 27, 2016
(Yes, I know, I signed Softdrink’s stick bottom in the weebiest way possible, but it only seemed appropriate.)