Posted on July 28th, 2010 4 comments
I’d like to talk about Gradius for the next few entries.
The original Gradius arcade game, officially released May 29, 1985 to arcades, is a milestone to both the genre and the industry at large. Outside of Japan, though, I think a lot of people are more likely familiar with the NES port, which is frankly not all that great when compared to the other ones that hit Japan home systems — the MSX version is wonderful, for example, but I’ll get to that later.
Gradius is also the sort of game where nothing random ever occurs, and you can therefore put together patterns to get your ship through the entire game without going anywhere near danger. You can see the basic pattern for the first loop through the game in the video above, a simple “I busted out my PCB for the first time in a while” job that thankfully includes the entire “Morning Music” startup sequence.
In the mid-80s, achieving a score of 10,000,000 points in Gradius was seen as something of a status symbol. The feat takes about 7-8 hours of straight playing and requires you to beat the game and loop through the stages 20 to 21 times, depending on how diligent you are with padding your score when possible.
When Gradius came out, this was seen as a superhuman feat, because when you die, you lose all power-ups and restart at a checkpoint which often ensured another rapid death. This is especially true in the second or third loops, where for a while, gamers considered it completely impossible to recover and survive if you died after certain checkpoints. Since Gradius is strictly deterministic, however, arcade maniacs eventually figured out patterns for how to “recover” from every checkpoint in every level of the game — pull them off correctly, and you’re guaranteed to survive long enough to get your power-ups back every time. These patterns were originally disseminiated in assorted self-published doujinshi, then reprinted in monthly mag Gamest when it debuted in 1986. They made achieving 10 million points less of a god-like challenge and more of an Asteroids or Defender-like test of concentration and perseverence.
The above video is an example of a ten-million-point run, sped up 9x so you can watch the whole thing in about 45 minutes. The player dies several times during the session, but has no problem reaching the mark because he’s got the patterns ridiculously well down for every stage. It’s an oddly mesmerizing movie to watch.