The End of a Game

One of the all-time best video games was Galaga. It was so much of a staple in arcades that you can still find the games in operation at the odd game-room like at a theater. Except now, those consoles have multiple games from which to choose.

The game was a classic space setting in which a player shot all the enemy craft throughout each stage. It was Space Invaders on steroids – no simple march of the invaders in this game. Instead, they took dives at you until they got you or you got them.

One of the tricks to the game was to shoot as many enemy crafts when the entered the screen to start the stage. At higher stages, the enemy fired back or several even pealed off and took a dive at your ship. Here’s a description of the game and it’s history in detail.

One of the best tactics was to have your ship captured by one of the special enemy ships and then rescue your ship. The trick was not to shoot your own ship. However, if you rescued your ship, you had two side-by-side for double the firepower. You could make short work of a stage full of enemy craft with some skillful maneuvering.

Gaining extra ships was a premium to last very long at this game and some settings limited how many extra ships you could get. Bonus rounds also  helped you pad your score and get closer to that all-important extra ship. Good players could flip the score over a million, something I could do during my time playing games in the arcade regularly. It took some real stamina as your hand that pressed the fire button repeatedly would tire so your shooting percentage would eventually suffer. Additionally, while you could fire rapidly there was a short pause after several times of firing shots so percentage was a premium.

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I never thought about any of the arcade games actually ending since I’d never seen one played to an end. I certainly never played Galaga that far myself. So just when does a game end? I guess it’s like the old commercial question from the Tootsie-Roll Tootsie-Pops – how many licks does it take to get to the center. Crunch, the world will never know. In the case of the candy it was because you couldn’t resist crunching it open with your teeth. In the case of Galaga, you eventually grow weary and lose that final ship.

One day, I walked into the arcade and plunked down a token on the side-panel to wait to play a game of Galaga. The guy playing muttered that it would be a while. He was well into the game so I figured he was just being a smart-aleck. I watched and waited, then watched more. The guy playing flipped the game once and I was impressed since I didn’t know many people who could, my friends and I being among those. Usually, most people just died well before gaining that score.

Incidentally, when you flipped over a million points, the highest score at that point stuck so if you were at 999,995 points that was it when you ended your game. Someone could technically beat your high score. But, when you flipped the score the number started over at 0 – a bit of a flaw in the program. I suppose the designers never anticipated people rolling the score like that. Or maybe they did…

I kept watching this guy play for a long time and finally picked up my token and retreated to watch from a distance since this guy showed no signs of finishing soon. I chatted with a few friends and even the arcade manager while we watched and shook our heads. Unbelievably, the guy flipped the score a second time to go over 2 million points and he showed no sign of tiring.

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This guy kept playing until it happened – something he anticipated because he’d been there before that time. After the third time rolling the score to zeroes, he got to the end of the game. Normally the space background scrolls by as you progress, and the enemy comes flying out with each new stage. But the game got to the end and signaled a stage number and the background just scroll by without anymore ships coming out.

The unthinkable had just happened. Someone had literally beaten the game by playing it to the very end. He was done and walked away. We had to get the manager to reboot the game because it wouldn’t do anything else. I do have the answer to that question: how many stages do you have to play to win at Galaga?


That’s on regular settings. Other settings of the game allowed for much higher shooting rates and longer play but I tend to prefer the original settings. What’s your take on it?

So that’s the story of the day I watched someone beat an arcade game into submission. Got any incredible game tales or your own? What game could you smash in an arcade?  Check out this link to play it free, but you better have a joystick if you expect to last very long…

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