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» Interview with Nibler Billionaire Enrico Zanetti

Another year and a new member of the Nibbler Billionaires club!

In the early hours of Saturday June 23rd. 17 year old Elijah Hayter claimed the new Nibbler world record. (Verification pending!) In a 40 hour 15 minute display equal in both consistency and coolness he raised the bar to a new high of 1,042,774,470.

However, the latest episode in the Nibbler story goes way back to the year before Elijah was even born. In 1984 on the outskirts of Milan, Italy. In Legnano to be precise. A fifteen year old video game whiz kid called Enrico Zanetti was making his own claim into the Nibbler folklore.

I first heard about Enrico's Nibbler marathon after reading an article on a friendly Nibbler competition held back in 2009 between the then "Twin Galaxies" world record holder Tim McVey and renowned Canadian gamer Dwayne Richard. Richard just happened to mention that as well as Tim McVey, another player had hit the magical billion points. The person in question was a relatively unknown Italian gamer by the name of Enrico Zanetti. This was news to me! I, like the vast majority of the Classic Arcade community believed that Tim McVey was the only person to have achieved this Holy Grail. A quick search at Twin Galaxies came up with nothing, this made me even more intrigued!

Thanks to the tireless help from fellow R.U. member, Italian gamer Ikaris from Retrogaming History we tracked Enrico down to tell his side of the story. We also had a lot of help along the way from the still very active and friendly Italian M.A.M.E. arcade community at Mame Italia and Arcade Extreme - The Italian Coin op'ed Community. I soon discovered that Enrico's score as well as many other Italian players' scores from back in the day are still held in very high regard. Enrico is affectionately known by some as "Our Henry" and there is certainly no disbelief amongst his compatriots. They all believe that Enrico's score and story is completely genuine.

It soon became clear that Enrico is completely detached from video games these days. However he was extremely kind enough to share all of his personal Nibbler articles which reported on his marathon game. Enrico himself was quick to point out that the newspaper articles in particular aren't always the most accurate in describing exactly what went on. However they did provide a great platform for me to build on. Enrico kindly helped fill in the blanks when things weren't quite clear. Hopefully the result is the most accurate account yet of what happened.

Just to be perfectly clear, the purpose of this article is NOT to start a Witch hunt as to WHY Enrico's score is not recognised by Twin Galaxies as a legitimate one. Reading through this article it could be argued that mistakes have been made both parties. Enrico - for not submitting anything directly to Twin Galaxies back in 1984. Twin Galaxies could also be criticised for displaying Enrico's score in the number one position, before taking it down without explanation. It was agreed with Enrico, right from the beginning that the main purpose of this article was primarily for his story and score to become more renowned within the Classic Arcade Community. Enrico's original score has since been beaten on three occasions to date. One of these three gamers, and current W.R. holder, Elijah Hayter hadn't even heard of Enrico's marathon when I mentioned his name to him during my interview. Hopefully that will now change! The two other "living Nibbler Billionaires", and former World record holders Tim McVey and Rick Carter have also been on hand to kindly provide help with some of the complexities of both Nibbler and the score submission process. (There are at least 3 different versions of the game that Enrico could have played!). They also gave their recollections of Enrico's marathon from back in the day. (Yes, they had both heard of him!) Twenty nine years after its release Rock Ola's obscure videogame with the small production run has become one of the seminal games today. It's arguably second only to Donkey Kong in terms of competitive play and the number of active players physically capable of increasing the world Record. Following in the footsteps of "The King of Kong - a fistful of quarters" Nibbler is also about to get its own documentary. Produced by American filmmakers Tim Kinzy and Andrew Seklir, the film is currently in the final editing stage - Working title "Man Vs. Snake". It celebrates the anniversary of Tim McVey's famous score and along the way catches up with all the Nibbler greats past and present - Including Enrico himself! Prior to the film's release we hope to be able to present the most detailed record of Enrico's score to date. Hopefully this will prove fascinating to everyone who's still fond of Classic Arcade Games and the supersonic snake.

April 1984 - The Birth of the A.I.V.A.

The April 1984 edition of monthly Italian "Videogame bible" VideoGiochi heralded the beginning of the A.I.V.A (Italian Organization of Video Athletes). Amongst the 35 national records displayed by the new Italian score keepers on their arrival was Nibbler with a grand score of 110,975,270 (made by Consuelo Rubbiani). A month later and issue (15) displayed a big increase with a new national record of 350,499,060 (Vittorio Riscassi). Far more significantly though this was the month that A.I.V.A. first displayed a comparable score list from the Twin Galaxies database from the U.S.A. Amongst all (the now) familiar names of all the early U.S. videogame Champions such as Billy Mitchell - Donkey Kong Mark Robichek - Frogger Mike Klug - Pole Position there stood a giant. For the first time and for a game very popular in their own country - Italian Gamers were able to see Tim McVey's mastery of Nibbler in all its 10 digit glory!

July/August 1984 - "We smell the blood of a World Record".

Two months later in VideoGiochi's Summer edition the A.I.V.A. were excited for the first time. The national Nibbler record had been smashed. Twenty year old Massimo Di Maggio's score of 577,114,420 was still just over half of that of Tim McVey's. However the organisation believed their first "World" record was within their sights. The challenge had been set! One "VideoGiochi" reader in particular believed he had the skills to push the national record far higher and began carefully planning his strategy. Fifteen year old Enrico Zanetti had spent the previous 2 years getting familiar with all the latest games in the popular "Chip's Game" arcade in Legnano. For Enrico his recipe for success was simple "...we must stay calm. We must not fear the machine but be safe and gentle on the controls." One of the games he felt competent on was of course Nibbler. Apart from picking up one or two tips from watching other local players, Enrico practiced alone and devised his strategy himself. The only small problem with his plan was that the Joystick on the resident machine at "Chip's Game" wasn't entirely to his liking. Fortunately a local bar also had a small selection of video games. Nestled next to a Juno First in a row of just four games in Legnano's "Bar Grillo" was a Nibbler - described by Enrico as "quello giusto con la manopola giusta" - "The right one, with the right knob"! Enrico spent the next couple of weeks familiarising himself with the machine for his assault on the National record. Even though he was still only scoring around the 100 million mark, Enrico believed that the game's difficulty had been conquered and it was only a matter of time before he hit it big. Realising he would need over 20 hours to achieve his goal, the young Zanetti asked the bar owner for help. By now the owner was very familiar with the young man who came in everyday to play and was happy to oblige! Enrico was granted permission to play behind closed doors on a Monday as long as the owner's children were allowed to keep him company.

Monday September 27th 1984 08:03 am - The date is set - Enrico begins his game.

Away from curious onlookers and able to chat with the owner's two sons whilst he played, Enrico was calm. By the time his brother stopped by on Tuesday morning (sent by Enrico's worried parents, who wondered why their son hadn't returned home the previous night!) Enrico had reached the Italian record.

"Un bip tira l'altro!" - "One beep leads to another"!

Still feeling comfortable at this stage he decided to carry on and go for the "Big One". As Tuesday afternoon rolled on, the word on Enrico's game had began to spread. News that local T.V. station Antenna 3 were sending a film crew and reporter added to the amount of suddenly interested people that were then allowed into the bar from Tuesday afternoon to witness the events. Between 20:30 and 21:30 that evening and with Enrico comfortable on around 915,200,000 Points the Television crew turned up to film. At exactly 00:33 am in the early hours of Wednesday morning Enrico surpassed Tim McVey's World Record and walked away from the machine (with 38 lives still in hand!!) having accomplished a score of 1,001,073,840. Despite suffering from swollen ankles from prolonged standing and blisters on his hand, it was reported that the new champion claimed he had enough lives remaining for another 500 million points!
After a brief sit down Enrico accepted the congratulations of the witnesses present in the bar before realising the best thing he could do was to return home! Before leaving he declared "The only thing that will get me back playing Videogames will be the destruction of my records and nothing else".

1984 - Present -The Aftermath

By the time VideoGiochi magazine and the A.I.V.A. finally broke the news and featured Enrico in November 1984 (Issue 20)He had already visited the Antenna 3 television studios to complete their coverage of his record. During the Studio interview Enrico explained how he had been invited to an Italian Nibbler challenge, Sponsored by Heineken and held in Turin on October 25th - 27th. Despite playing on a completely different machine in a new environment Enrico still turned in a very credible 27 hour 20 minute long score of 637,836,010. However revenge belonged to former champion, and local man Massimo Di Maggio. The winning score after 38 hours and 20 minutes was 889,639,170 earning Di Maggio a trophy and bizarrely 100Kg of Steak - but no World record! It was the last time Enrico Zanetti competitively played a videogame. Within a year the young Italian's interests changed and he turned his back on video gaming forever. Now concentrating on his studies and sports Enrico bowed out with his Nibbler score still unbeaten but with no acknowledgement from the "official Scorekeepers" at twin Galaxies.

Enrico was kind enough to answer the following questions on life before, during and after Nibbler.

Retro Uprising: - We will start with the obvious question. Why do you think your "Nibbler" score was not recognized by "Twin Galaxies" in America? Tim McVey explained that "Twin Galaxies" has accepted your score at first and then your score is gone! Did you know?
Enrico Zanetti: - No, I didn't know it... I read about my record on Videogiochi's scoreboard, I brought them photos, articles and they approved it. I thought America had done the same. I've never received requests from America to prove my record... if they have reputed otherwise, they did that arbitrarily.

R.U: - I know it's almost thirty years ago, but what are your memories of the arcade scene in Italy?
E.Z: - In those days games were simple, very common everywhere and very often with 200 lire (1 coin) you could play hours if you were good ..... In addition, the magazine "VideoGiochi" helped to spread the arcade games...

R.U: - Does it hurts that some American gamers have not heard of Enrico Zanetti?
E.Z: - No, Not really, I couldn't care less to be honest!

R.U: - Like I said earlier, we appreciate it's a long time ago, but what specifically can you remember about your marathon Nibbler?
E.Z: - I only started with the goal to beat the Italian record (held by Massimo Di Maggio) of about 500 million points ... I had only made 100 million so far, but it was only a matter of resistance to the game, not of difficulty ...I started on Monday morning at the Bar Grillo in Legnano (in agreement with the owners) with the bar closed, so I was calm ... to avoid the curious .... Then I finished the Tuesday after midnight (40.5 h) and I still had 38 lives.....

R.U: - You played a lot of video games previously. What is it that attracted you to "Nibbler" in particular?
E.Z: - It was a challenge to tame the serpent travelling at supersonic speed .....

R.U: - Why did you decide to try and beat the Italian record for "Nibbler"?
E.Z: - I was good at Nibbler and I knew I could do it...

R.U: - You seemed to catch on pretty quick - Did you find "Nibbler" an easy game?
E.Z: - Not difficult as for the levels, difficult to control the speed...The imperative was to find the "trick" to fool the machine and last as much as possible ... the machine is stupid .. not us ...

R.U: - Was Tim McVey's achievement of 1 billion points big news in Italy?
E.Z: - Kind of, It was documented on the scoreboards in "VideoGiochi".
I was curious about the score, it was the only "billion" of points ..... It intrigued me because someone had done it before me....

R.U: - When practicing for your Nibbler marathon. Did you play alone or have a talented friend to learn from?
E.Z: - Before becoming proficient myself, I enjoyed watching some of the better players from whom I learned in an unconscious way .... Mainly I learned by myself, without teachers to be precise.

R.U: - During the Nibbler marathon, your brother was with you? Was there anyone else?
E.Z: - I was not alone, on Monday (closed bar) there were the two sons of the owners ... so we chatted while I was playing .... My brother only arrived Tuesday morning, being worried about me not being back home to sleep ... Then on Tuesday the various onlookers arrived and when the rumour that Antenna Tre (local t.v. channel) would have had to come to interview me spread, they had to cordon the bar because of the many curious people ...You can see it in the video I provided.

R.U: - Did you know your game ends if you collect too many (more than 129) extra snakes?
E.Z: - Yes I knew it, it had happened to me once. During the marathon I kept about 90 lives during the play...

R.U: - Did you find "Nibbler" increasingly difficult, as you neared a billion points? Many of the other players who have been in this position have commented in particular on how difficult the stage between 800 million and 1 billion is.
E.Z: - No it felt always the same. to me.. Maybe only a little more difficult because I was more tired...

R.U: - At the end of your marathon, you were hurt? (Blisters, bad feet and a bad back) Your claim of "another 500 million points" was a joke, right?
E.Z: - No. I had swollen hand and ankles, but I figured I could still play at least 10 hours with 38 lives .... Just my two brothers have told me "It's better than coming home, dad is not happy .." (I hadn't warned my parents that I would be out at night, because I did not know how it would go and I was only 15 years)

R.U: - You hit the Billion!! How does it feel to be a world record holder? At Just fifteen years? You must have been exhausted?
E.Z: - Well, the day after the record I woke up at 7 am, had breakfast and went out cycling .... I was not tired at all ... The local photographer came to search for me at 12 noon (waiting that I woke up ...) and was amazed that I was around ..In those days many people indicated me as "that guy of the record", but nothing in particular.
My mother was proud and told everyone (with considerable embarrassment to me). As for my Father? We never spoke about it........ever!

R.U: - When was the last time you played a video game?
E.Z: - After Heineken organized a challenge in Turin between me and Massimo Di Maggio....I continued for about a year later then I completely abandoned videogames, when you're a young boy interests change quickly.

R.U: - What happened in the nibbler tournament in Turin? Was the pressure of being the world record holder too great?
E.Z: - No... The stick was different from the one I was used to, I went alone (without friends) and accompanied by my mother (who wasn't well), I was not comfortable and I was supported by no one ... alone in Turin, in the midst of unknown people and not very comfortable ....

R.U: - If you played "Nibbler" today, how many points do you think you would score?
E.Z: - I don't know... I think..not many.

R.U: - Do you think the Italian Arcade Community's faith in the "Twin Galaxies" organisation was reduced when you score has not been recognised?
E.Z: - No, not at all as there was never any discussion because no one knew it hadn't really been accepted over in America. In a sign of the times the magazine VideoGiochi also disappeared in Italy not long after the record which put away any future discussion.

R.U: - In addition to "Nibbler" What other video games did you enjoy playing? You were very good at many other games weren't you?
E.Z: - Yes I did another marathon at Bomb Jack( 66 millions in about 20 h). I've always been a marathon-runner of videogames, the more I lasted and the less I was spending money and the happier I was... I liked to get to get so attuned to the game that it was like I was inside .. as if I was part of it and I didn't feel anything from the outside.

R.U: - Two years later you stopped playing video games completely. Why did you suddenly stop playing video games?
E.Z: - I became far more interested in school and sport...

R.U: - I've read somewhere that another reason you turned away from Videogames was due to the glut of fighting games that came onto the scene from around 1984. You did not like "fighting" videogames? However, you went on to become an expert in martial arts in real life! Ironic or what!??
E.Z: - Yes it is true! I liked games of strategy, not the fight (e.g. I liked Frogger, Water Ski, Galaga, Gyruss, etc) .... Then I found my achievement in sport....

R.U: - Are you amazed that some of your American Contemporaries from the 1980's are still playing video games?
E.Z: - Sure, I'm surprised ... I am a married man with three children. My job, family and sports keep me very busy... unfortunately it's not so for others or their passion is so big to get to play the machines still or the emulators (up to last year I did not know what they were ....)

R.U: - Is there anywhere in Italy today where you can still play the classic video games?
E.Z: - I've no idea!

R.U: - So what did you do next then?
E.Z: - At 16 years I practiced ping pong for 2 years, then karate for 3 years and then kick boxing until now (I'm 3rd dan black belt and instructor of point fighting).
I'm also director R&D for a Pharmaceutical multinational company with a team of 12 people and in sport I won the 3rd place in the World Cup in 2007 (veterans category) and this year (being well over 43 years old) I decided to resume competition with the goal of winning a world cup ....The picture below is me today - very happy and completely detached from Videogames!

R.U: - The name "Enrico Zanetti" is still revered today by many Italian videogame players on "Mame Italy" and "Arcade Extreme - Italy." It must be a nice feeling that your achievements are still highly regarded nearly 30 years later?
E.Z: - Yes indeed... When I finally showed myself in MAME Italia's forum I was contacted by the documentary crew who were making a film celebrating the history of Nibbler. They requested a copy of the Antenna 3 Television interview. The same one I've given you. If anyone is still sceptical about my score? To these people you can show the videos that I have recovered from Antenna 3, newspaper articles and testimonials. The American director has asked me to finally declare to Twin Galaxies my record and who was witness of it, I did it last year.

Many thanks Enrico for sharing your memories. Now, courtesy of Enrico, we can take an exclusive trip back to 1984 and witness not only his television interview but some rare footage of his marathon game:

The Verdict.

After watching the above footage, both Tim McVey and Rick Carter were kind enough to share their opinions.

Tim McVey:

This, if anything, shows the value of video footage. With that video, you managed to uncover something nobody else has been able to hunt down. That was PHENOMENAL. The first thing I noticed from the video was the marquee. It clearly doesn't say Nibbler! However it does look like he's playing Nibbler revision 6 romset. The croutons do not reset when he dies. However something just didn't look right, so I asked for my friend Patrick Scott Patterson's input - Scott is my go to guy, we are good friends. He has a vast knowledge of games from back in the day. The problem with the video is that Enrico isn't playing a dedicated Nibbler machine. What stands out to me on this is how plain and generic this machine looks. Low-success titles had a BIG bootleg market at this time, as the companies typically didn't care to fight bootlegging of titles that flopped. Bootlegging was really really bad in other countries back then, especially around the crash. It was very common for games licensed to other makers in other countries to see those licensees alter the game and/or use different boards that might make the game process and play differently.
These sorts of things are ever so finely balanced. Remember Dwayne Richard beat my score in Feb. 2009, but then withdrew his score due to abnormalities in how the game played. It doesn't mean Enrico did anything wrong... odds are he never even knew. I knew people who played bootleg Pac-Man and Frogger machines back then that didn't know, they just never knew enough to realize it. From my experience it would likely fall under a totally different category at Twin Galaxies if it was tracked at all. There were rulings in the past based on this same thing.... let's say Japanese scores that weren't accepted on the same tracks as there was often reason to believe the games did not play the same.

Nibbler was a very obscure, small production run game. It was numbered in the hundreds. However, most popular games of the time were numbered in thousands. Twin Galaxies had a hard time finding a machine for Tom Asaki to play in Ottumwa...And Iowa is only one state away from where the machines were made. It seemed strange at the time to hear there were Nibbler in Italy, when they were hard to find here when they were current. But then I thought - anything is possible. Also giving me reason to believe on this is the fact that ALL the games in the video seem to be in generic cabinets. I don't want to sound like I'm nit-picking. However, a lot of reasonable doubt exists in that video... but if I truly held the "Nibbler" record for 27 years, I'd like the credit for doing so.

It's no longer an issue now. Enrico's score has been beaten multiple times. I would honestly like to know the truth. It sucks when you think you've had a world record for 27+ years...and you just don't know if it's true. According to Twin Galaxies, my record stood for over 27 years when Rick beat it. Yet they had Enrico's score listed for a few bugs me, it's always going to bug me.....I don't say any of this in disrespect to Enrico. If he beat my score, he deserves recognition for it! It just sucks the way it was handled at Twin Galaxies. Twin Galaxies had it listed above me for a number of years, then it vanished. Nobody could tell me why. I asked Walter Day numerous times. Finally he tells me it was an Italian score from an Italian score board, that was purchased and merged with Twin Galaxies. As time went on more and more of the scores from that board were discovered to be fraudulent, so eventually they removed all the scores from that board, including Enrico's. His final comment to me on the subject was, "Enrico's score was never submitted to Twin Galaxies."
I don't want to be the bad guy here - Enrico seems like a really nice guy! I don't really want to take anything away from him. He recorded a video for Dwayne and I to watch, the doc guys played it for us in D.C. in 2009 when we played head to head trying to break his score. I know there are people within the Classic Arcade Community who've always believed Enrico beat my score and probably will continue to do so. However now I've seen the video my personal opinion is that the footage gives me a lot of reasonable cause to believe he played on an unlicensed bootleg board - Many will agree with me, others possibly not. I guess we'll never know 100% either way, however I'm sure plenty of people will have an opinion!

Rick Carter:

I definitely knew of Enrico Zanetti. B.I.T.D. in 1984-1985 I heard the name. Back then I only had played nibbler stopping at 150 million as I had to go to work (he! he!)...and between work, college, and how arcades started to change in 1984-1985 I did not really have the opportunities to marathon nibbler...but really did not think I could last 45-50+ hours on that game BITD.
If I'm totally honest there were a few things with his story that don't jive though. Only 15 years old?! That is very young to do such an amazing marathon...and score at that incredible pace...then with lots of men still left just walk away from the game when a few million over WR versus playing it out to the end....or at least playing it out another 50-100 million. I want to be clear I am not discrediting the score at all. It's just something didn't seem quite right about the story based on how hard I knew it was to achieve back then!
Many in USA also assumed that Enrico played on the Olympia Rom set version of the game which is partially what made it not very achieve 1 billion on that rom set would be quite a feat!!! - Only earning about half the lives. The Olympia rom set is brutal...nibbler moves about 25-30% faster!!! Many of the turns are difficult to do even when "fresh"....forget doing them well later when you get tired where reflexes etc. start to slow after 30-35 hours.
Having just watched the video though! Wow! It's tremendous to see the crowd surrounding him at that arcade etc. and some close footage showing how smoothly and quickly he was clearing waves....something I almost had to see to believe from Tim and most others back then could not score that quickly. Tim's 1 billion run was 44+ hours I think BITD...but makes sense in Enrico practicing he would get the scoring rate up there because he knew he was limited on how long he could last.
Knowing that he now didn't play The Olympia version of the Game after all (as the video shows the croutons clearly don't re spawn at each death) made me pretty certain that he did achieve a billion points. Now having seen the video footage for myself, I 100% believe his score!! - I'm glad last summer I topped his score also!
However! If it's a bootleg then Wow! That can make a difference to how the score is recorded and displayed in the record books! I didn't really study the video that closely! I was mostly looking at it to see if he actually got the score that was reported. I am convinced he did...but yeah I had noted it definitely wasn't a nibbler cab and some conversion...odd joystick etc. also. If it was a bootleg but everything else same...the waves I saw on the coverage plus snake movement etc. looked normal...the different colours and stick etc. for me mean long as the actual game itself played the same. Yes, it's a shame the cameraman could not focus properly on the screen. Camera person likely could not get close enough without getting in Enrico's way. It might be that reason though why TG removed the score from being a WR. personally and being totally objective, I would have noted the score but had an asterisk by it with brief explanation that it was a combo-conversion board versus the original nibbler.
Since it's not really a WR anymore anyway but technically 4th place now I don't think it's such a big deal for me. As I said before..I think it deserves to be listed with the other nibbler scores. As far as I can tell I see nothing to suggest the game play was any different...definitely put an "asterisk" on that score though! It's still a great story and one where I think you can confirm Enrico's score from this as part of the story but then at same time show why it really can't be on the TG scoreboard.

Many thanks to the following for their valuable time and help with this article.

Ikaris from Retrogaming History
Enrico Zanetti
Tim McVey
Rick Carter
Sandro (Nibbler69)
Patrick Scott Patterson
Robert Mruczek.
Daniele(RAX) and Massimo Gaspari(.m.) From Arcade Extreme

VideoGiochi back issues -

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


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