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» Interview with Nibbler Champ Elijah Hayter


"From the center of the universe comes the hungry Nibbler"

"To score big bites in profits." So Claimed Chicago based Rock Ola back in 1983 at the launch of their new title Nibbler. Unfortunately for them, the only thing beginning to bite at that time was the cold wind of change - "The Golden Era" of the Arcades was coming to an end. Even though bank busting profits never emerged, interest in Nibbler lived on thanks to an ingenious little feature built into the game.

Like a strange love child born from the marriage of older games Pac-Man and Hustle, Nibbler's game play of "Navigate and eat your way through the 32 different mazes without biting your own tail" didn't offer anything completely new. It was Nibbler's 9 digit score counter that really got the hardened players (already well used to "beating" games) interested. The absence of a kill screen and extra lives readily supplied every 4 screens ensured the carrot had been dangled. The race to roll that monstrous score counter and become Video Gaming's first "billionaire" was on! The only slight draw back was that it would take well over 40 hours to do so.

The early pace setter was American Tom Asaki, who frequented the Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa. Around springtime in 1983 Asaki was drawing in the crowds, amazed at the spectacle of someone continuously playing a game for around 2 days. Although he hadn't hit the magical billion yet, Asaki's forays into the 700 - 800 million range had caught the attention of one local youth in particular. 17 year old Tim McVey was amazed at both the buzz that surrounded Asaki and the challenge in front of him. McVey decided to join Asaki on the quest for the holy grail of 1 Billion. Although the two of them worked on this together, it was soon clear that McVey had overtaken his older rival. On May 27th, 1983, Asaki hit an official best of 838,322,160. However 233 days later Tim McVey surpassed anything his rival or anyone else had done before.

Starting on the afternoon of Sunday January 15th 1984 and playing for exactly 44 hours and 45 minutes. McVey walked away from the machine on the following Tuesday morning as an exhausted, but also elated first member of the Billionaire's Club. Ironically, due to the score counter rollover, McVey's final score of 1,000,042,270 only registered on the board as 42,270 - Not even enough to top the built in default high score of 50,000!!! Immediately McVey gained celebrity status - he was interviewed for television and given his own Nibbler machine courtesy of Rock Ola. The 17 year old was also given the key to the city who pronounced the following Saturday (28th January, 1984) would be known locally as "Tim McVey Day" in honour of his achievements.

Tim McVey's record lasted for either 232 days or over 27 years depending on your point of view - or what country you live in! Around 4750 miles away in Italy arcade gaming was huge, arguably bigger than anywhere else in Europe at that time. Not only were the Italians' very passionate about the pastime, they were also very serious about it too. In The A.I.V.A - Associazione Italiana Video Atleti (Italian Association of Video Athletes) they had their own score keepers. The A.I.V.A. declared that the top spot now belonged to a 15 year old arcade whiz kid named Enrico Zanetti. They announced that on September 5th, 1984, the brilliant Zanetti walked away from a game in a Milan bar with 1,001,073,840 having played for 40 hours and 5 minutes. In America Twin Galaxies were skeptical and continued to recognize Tim McVey's score as the best in the world.

On Saturday Feb 14th, 2009, Canadian Arcade colossus Dwayne Richard broke McVey's record with a score in excess of 1,004,000,000 points. Richard had managed to shave hours off the expected time it normally took to get to a billion points. It took the Canadian only 35 hours and 4 minutes to break the record (almost 10 hours quicker than McVey) This is where the problem began - When Richard's and McVey's game play were compared small abnormalities were spotted. The Game board inside the machine used by the new champion was prone to freezing. After further investigation by both players it was noted that each Nibbler regenerated far quicker than on the standard machine used by McVey. When added up this enabled a player to reach 1 billion in a far quicker. As a result Richard Sportingly requested that his score should be removed from the records.

McVey's reign finally did end in the early hours of Sunday July 31st, 2011. However it wasn't without drama! Playing in an invitational event at Richie Knucklez arcade in Flemington New Jersey 46 year old renowned gamer Rick Carter got 4 hours (83 million points) into his attempt - when the machine malfunctioned! Ignoring pleas from fellow gamers present to wait until the next day, Carter restarted from scratch. He was worried his game would then run past the weekend and into his work schedule! Defying all the odds his second game lasted over 49 hours. Carter reached 1 billion points at midnight and 7 minutes later ended with a new world record of 1,002,222,360.

The onus was back on Tim McVey, who was still regularly playing the game. Adding to the pressure was the bold statement McVey had made when he first broke the billion that "No matter what they get, I'm going to break it back." He was serious - to prove just that he cancelled his visit from Santa and broke the record on Christmas day 2011. Taking just over the 40 hour mark his final score checked in at 1,041,767,060.

The Classic arcade gaming community waited to see who would be next to step into the madness and go for the title. "Something happened then that the Nibbler did not intend. The mantle was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable. A 17 year old Track and Field expert from Portland Oregon!" The offspring of colorful gaming personality Ken "Dig Dug" House. Fresh from smashing the Track and Field marathon (ironically on the same day as Tim McVey took back his Nibbler title). Elijah Hayter intended to make a name for himself over the 2012 Easter holidays live and direct from the "World Record Corner" of his Father's own arcade TheKenCade. Starting at 08:35 PDT on Saturday April 7th, 2012 and lasting just over 32 hours he amazed the audience watching his live stream with a display of amazing skill and endurance. Unfortunately he became a victim of the Achilles' heel of Nibbler marathon - namely the dreaded stage between 800 million and one billion points, where fatigue really starts to kick in. Elijah finished his first serious Nibbler attempt with a very respectful 846,730,580. His average of nearly 27 million points an hour was on pace with the skill set of McVey and Carter. Both had helped and encouraged the Nibbler prodigy both before and during the attempt.

Ten weeks on, with wounds fully healed, Elijah is ready to turn on the style again. With a new "post final school exams" attempt scheduled for this Thursday (June 21st, 2012) Elijah was kind enough to briefly stop practicing, talk about his first attempt and beyond.

- Retrouprising: Hi Elijah - It’s now been 10 weeks since your Nibbler marathon. You’ve had time to take stock and reflect – Is there a great sense of achievement sitting at number 3 with 846,730,580 or disappointment that you didn’t hit the billion or the World Record? Aren’t you even going to submit your attempt to make it official?

- Elijah Hayter: I definitely have some sense of achievement, however I am somewhat disappointed. It’s cool that I beat the world record Tim McVey was chasing in the 80s on my first try. (Tom Asaki's 838+ million) I know I can break the billion, so I don’t plan on submitting the 846m game, it’s pointless, I'm just going to submit something better.

- R.U: How were you feeling directly afterwards? Were you in fairly good shape considering or we’re you seeing Nibblers coming out of your refrigerator and in your sleep!?

-E.H: I was okay, I was competent, but I was really tired. Very soon after my game was over I went to my room and took a nap, after that I was fine.

- R.U: What is it about Nibbler that makes gamers torture themselves for around 40 hours? As well as leaving yourself at the mercy of the machine potentially giving in! Is it just the prestige of rolling the score at a billion or is it something else?

-E.H: The billion is part of it. There is some masochistic feeling about watching all that hard work go back to zero, but it's such an accomplishment. When my dad first bought nibbler, I had no real interest in it, but he got 100k before me, so I had to be the best, I just had to be.

- R.U: On occasions life within the competitive arcade gaming community can hardly be described as the land of sunshine and lollipops – However It must have given you a great thrill to have everyone watching via your live stream to be really supportive and willing you on to the billion?

- E.H: All of the support was awesome. It was very cool to have the top nibbler players watching me, just some kid, try to beat them. Tim McVey and Rick Carter are very cool people and they definitely helped me throughout my marathon.

- R.U: That's nice. It wasn't just those two though was it? You had some other very prominent players watching you perform (almost a who’s who of C.A.G!) Did that inspire you or make you more nervous?

-E.H: That definitely inspired me. I was a little nervous having the WR holder watching me, but his support and cheering definitely helped me push on.

-R.U: With this attempt you challenged the scores of Tim McVey, Rick Carter and Dwayne Richard. Three people who could easily be classed as gaming ‘Royalty’ – Nothing like jumping in at the deep end! The obvious question is - Why did you decide to take on them and the billion points Nibbler legend?

-E.H: I just wanted to be the very best, like no-one ever was! (you get a cookie if you get the reference.) (-R.U: I had to look it up!) I didn’t really have a reason to get the billion other than it would be really cool to be the 4th person to roll it.

-R.U: Hang on! You just said "4th Person"..... Who do you regard as the other 3? Obviously Rick and Tim......who's the other one? I can think of two possible answers! Either Enrico Zanetti for his "Non verified" game or Dwayne Richard for his 1 billion on the "Quicker board".

-E.H: I was talking about Dwayne, I'm afraid I haven't heard of Enrico Zanetti.

-R.U: How did you prepare for the marathon attempt? Did you have a specific target at the start or was it a case of just going with the flow and seeing where it got you?

-E.H: I didn’t do any real "preparing" other than practicing my patterns. My experience with Track & Field definitely helped me with the tiredness that goes when you marathon a game though. As far as the marathon goes, I wanted to be as good as Tim. I wanted to make 27M an hour which is about the pace he played at, and I was successful in that.

-R.U: In the build up to your game - You received help and advice from McVey, Carter and Richard – That must’ve really helped?

-E.H: It definitely did help. Rick's advice about taking it a little slower and being more precise on my turns to build up lives really helped me through the night. Tim was also right that Nibbler becomes a whole new game at 800m, which led to the destruction of my game, but I will be prepared for it in my latest attempt on Thursday!

-R.U: During the attempt - Was there anything in particular they warned you about that actually you found O.K?

-E.H: Rick Carter taught me that if you eat the dots when they are bigger, Nibbler grows more, so you need to pause and be careful when you move. This caused a few deaths for me but I got used to the flow of the boards and found good fast patterns utilizing pauses.

-R.U: I’ve read a quote from Dwayne Richard admitting to forgetting the patterns once he hit the 30hr mark – did that happen to you?

-E.H: I didn’t forget any of my patterns, but I did have trouble executing them. My arm and brain were tired and the hardest boards to execute were the clones of board 16 and board 20.

-R.U: What in particular would you say was the hardest obstacle to conquer?

-E.H: The last turn of my wave 16 pattern was definitely the hardest thing to do. it is a very fast right-down motion that cause the majority of my deaths throughout the game. I have a new pattern that eliminates that turn though... he he!

-R.U: Apart from the obvious answer of “At Game Over”. At what point if any did you realise the billion points mark was slipping away?

-E.H: At about 750m I started losing lives quicker, and at 800m I knew I wasn’t going to make the billion. However I was determined to go until I died out, I was not going to quit.

-R.U: During your live stream there were a few people hanging around The Kencade offering encouragement. I take it you’re quite happy to play with people around or ideally would you prefer to play in solitude?

-E.H: It was very nice to have the company of quality gamers around. Bill Carlton (the missile command guy) gave me a shoulder rub that I probably liked a little too much... It was also very awesome to have my girlfriend, Aspen, there to cheer me on. People commented that I played better when she got there so I will definitely keep her around next time.

-R.U: Ah yes! Your girlfriend was taking a great interest in your playing and passing on comments from the chat room. (Many observers claimed there was definitely an increase in your skill when she was around!) – What did she really make of your attempt? Did she think you were mad to do it!?

-E.H: She thought I was coocoo for coco puffs, but she says it was a great excuse to stay at my house. She also loves taking care of me so she really liked the idea, although she did think I was nuts.

-R.U: During your attempt you had a rock soundtrack blaring out! Was the music whilst you played your choice!? It certainly got a few comments in the live stream chat room!

-E.H: It was my choice of music!! I love me some distortion. Good heavy music keeps me awake and going. But I did need to turn it off in order to really buckle down and focus.

R.U: I never saw you away from the machine whenever I tuned in, you must have had breaks though! What did you do during them and how long did they last?

-E.H: I only really took one good break, other than running to the restroom, it lasted probably around ten minutes and I just lay on the floor. I think this lack of breaks was part of the reason I didn’t make the billion. Rick Carter told me that he took breaks for around 20 minutes and they really helped him.

-R.U: Your father (Ken ‘Dig Dug’ House) was also around a lot to help. It’s also his arcade you played in. A record breaking parent and their own arcade - That’s got to be a dream come true for any aspiring record breaker - You can’t ask for more than that, surely?

-E.H: It was very cool to play in world record corner and have the former (he he!) dig dug record holder as my dad, there to cheer me on.

-R.U: Oh don't be cruel! I hear he's thinking of reclaim his record soon. He must have been a big factor in the gaming direction you’ve taken. What’s the first recollection you have of playing a classic arcade game?

-E.H: The first thing about classic games I remember was a trip to Ground Kontrol Klassic Arcade in downtown Portland. He gave me and my brother $5 in quarters and they were gone before he finished one game of Robotron!

-R.U: Nice! You could also spend all the spare quarters he was saving himself! Anyway back to Dig Dug for a moment as it could quite possibly tie in with your next answer. - Who do YOU consider to be the best all round classic arcade game player out there today?

-E.H: Johnny Mac, or Don Hayes. Both are great players and great people.

-R.U: I knew it! Donald Hayes (Current Dig Dug Champ). Johnny Mac?? John McAllister - right?

-E.H: Yeah, that’s kind of what we call him around the KenCade!

-R.U: What is it about ‘The Classics’ that attracts you to keep coming back for more? The vast majority of people your age are playing modern console games - Do you not feel The Classic Games should still have a far bigger following?

-E.H: The simplicity is what drives me to play the classics. There are no crazy hard puzzles to solve, no 15 minute cut scenes, it’s just basic simple fun. I like Call of Duty and Forza Motorsport for sure but I definitely think the classics deserve more attention than they get.

-R.U: Definitely! Anyway, do you have a classic arcade game you enjoy playing that you consider a bit of an "underrated gem" that many others may not have heard of or played?

-E.H: I really love Sega's "I'm Sorry". It's sort of Japanese racist S&M Pac-man. You have to play it! It’s awesome.

-R.U: Following on from your 26 million on Track and Field, part of the winning KenCade team in "Battle Of The Arcades" and now Nibbler. You’re on a bit of a roll no doubt. What do you have planned next?

-E.H: Well, Hector Rodriguez beat my T&F score so I have to play that again. I definitely need to play nibbler again. I also am playing a little Donkey Kong 3 (I'm close to 200k). I also had a Pole Position kick, I had a 63k no crash race, so to really answer your question, I don’t know! Ha Ha! I just like to play.

-R.U: Take back your old record from Hector? Good luck with that as that's a massive task! Did you catch any of his marathon? The man is just "as one" with the machine. After watching the way in which Hector played - are you going to do anything different this time around?

-E.H: I watched most of his marathon. I saw all of his little tricks to score faster. Hector is a great guy showing all of his tricks to someone who he knows will have the possibility to beat him. I definitely plan on using the tricks and its absolutely fascinating that he just straight up skips the high jump, I would’ve never thought of that.

-R.U: That surprised me too. However it makes perfect sense once you watch someone do it. It saves a lot of time and energy. Just a couple more questions, we don't want to be eating up your valuable practice time. - What advice would you give anyone thinking of a marathon on any particular game?

-E.H: Eat right. Get a good night’s sleep, and practice. Practice, practice, practice. If you want to be the best you have to practice.

-R.U: At the end of your first Nibbler marathon a number of “jokers” in the chat room requested that you should “Enter another credit for another attempt"? In all seriousness though - Are you surprised with how quickly you‘ve wanted to attempt the billion again? It certainly proves you couldn’t have had any regrets about playing it in the first place.

-E.H: I was debating whether I should play T&F again or if I should play nibbler, but I decided nibbler would be better, I don’t know why, I just feel it. I wanted to start another marathon before the end of June, probably the 21st, after final exams in school. I really want to play again, I do.

-R.U: We wish you well Elijah, I look forwarded to watching you try again. I hope many of our users do the same.


Catch Elijah's attempt live this Thursday (June 21st, 2012) @ elgoo's video stream @ Aurcade or dr_sly_man @ twitch.tv
Best of luck Elijah - many thanks for your time.


Interviewed by: Josephjo@Retrouprising 08/06/2012
Click here to play >>>Nibbler<<<

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