Ten million pointsPosted 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.
That’s neat. That’s always the number one complaint Gradius gets is what happens to the player after a death. I think the difficulty is supposed to be balanced by the number of options, as the more you have the more bullets the enemies fire. I guess that’s to give the player a chance to regain power after losing a life. (Though on the higher loops the enemies fire rapidly regardless, so I guess its irrelevant.)
I’m guessing patterns were found for all the Gradius games? I’d like to see a run like this for the arcade Gradius III, as that one is notorious for its difficulty. I’ve seen one credit runs of it, but I don’t think I’ve seen any with deaths and recovery from it like the video you just linked to.
Learning about marathon Gradius from way back when, and hearing that Morning Music tune… ahh, that’s what I come here for. You’re an awesome, awesome dude.
Watching replays of Gradius is soothing, in a way. It’s all patterns, it’s all so familiar to me, it a sort of zen thing to work through each wave…
This is why I love reading your blog. It’s actual video game journalism, digging up things like this that I never knew about.
People must really love that Morning Music… quite a reaction on the comments there. Thanks for the all the info on this. As someone who’s not too great at shmups, I had no idea.
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