About Me

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Sunday, 21 April 2013

My early Pengo life

To begin at the beginning.
So far as I can see, Twin Galaxies - among other things - is acknowledged as the arbiter and keeper of video game high scores. For Pengo, the TG website tells us that the current world record high score is 1,217,650 - set on 10 July 2012 by Paul Hornitzky. It seems that Paul - like me - is a resident of Sydney, Australia, although I can't find any information about the location of the machine where he set that mark.
Paul's effort last July broke one of the longest standing high score records in video gaming. The previous best was apparently set in a ten-pin bowling centre in Canberra on 13 August 1983 by Rodney Day. Rodney's score of 1,110,370 had officially stood as the world's best for almost 30 years.
August 1983 also happened to be the time when I first became acquainted with those feisty little penguins and drawn in by the lure of aligning those three diamond blocks. It was during some down time in Tamworth, New South Wales, before I was due to start my arts/law degree at the ANU in Canberra in early 1984. Pengo was one of three table-top, or cocktail cabinet, machines in a local (now, sadly, defunct) club in Australia's country music capital. The other two machines were Moon Patrol and the ubiquitous Galaga.

After a few weeks, I started becoming quite expert at Moon Patrol, and in doing so, came to know the chap of roughly my age who spent equally long periods of time playing Pengo. He was as inept on the few occasions that he played Moon Patrol as I was on the few occasions I tried my hand at Pengo. But as I started spending more and more time figuring out Pengo, I too saw the light. Our 2-player Pengo games often went for 2-3 hours at a time.

As the weeks and months passed, we had both amassed several 1,000,000+ scores (me, about 5-10 of them) and had heard about a US gaming magazine - "Joystick" - which was reporting an 'official' high score substantially less than those we were posting.

The machines we were playing started with three penguins, with only one bonus penguin - at 30,000. I don't know what difficulty level it was set on, but I'd be surprised (given some other versions I'd played since) if it was anything other than the original factory 'medium' setting.

Unlike Rodney in Canberra, we never had the presence of mind to record our highest scores. We were just happy enough with challenging ourselves, the very cheap entertainment it gave us, and the looks of disbelief on the faces of those who came to watch (I thought at the time it was disbelief at how good we were - but maybe they just couldn't believe how long they had to wait to get a damn game!).

But all things must pass.

While I occasionally returned to the game wherever I could find one in Canberra or on trips to Sydney in the next couple of years, life intervened. And of course, the chances of ever stumbling upon another Pengo machine after three decades (not that I was looking) were lower than crunching every (non-diamond) block in a particular frame - which my colleague and I tried many times to do, just to see if we could.

Until about six weeks ago when - fittingly - in a Sydney museum, this quest for 1,217,650 (or, more correctly, 1,217,660) began.

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