Konami Arcade classic Track and Field was the second biggest risk to wrist injuries among teenage boys in the 1980s - but it was worth the potential hazards (even when they put the added ridges around the buttons on some machines to stop people pounding the buttons to oblivion).
Considering we lived every day in the fear the Soviets were about to bomb us all, it was a thrill to do well enough to get your name in the individual arcade machine’s record books, and a really good player could draw a crowd only Dragon’s Lair could rival.
Enter Hector “Fly” Rodriguez from California - one of the best, if not the very best, T&R player in the world. In 2008, Fly broke a record set in 1985 (95,030 points), when he knocked up a 95,350 point total. He continues to revel in being a member of an elite record-setting group of super-duper-hard-core gamers.
Digitiser2000 caught up with him after marveling at his technique on his YouTube channel (beware: NSFW language), and demanded answers to our questions so we could be world recorders like what he is.
I was about 7 or 8 years old and my neighbors had Tank and Pong. This was before Atari VCS. The first arcade game I played was Pong and then Missile Command. I started playing videogames when I was 8 or 9. I spent a lot of time watching my babysitter play Missile Command before I actually played.
What was your first favorite game and why?
Star Castle, I liked the way the center ship would make me jump out of my skin when it would shoot at me. I actually went to an ice cream parlor for my 12th birthday just because they had Star Castle there. I ate ice cream and played Star Castle. I don’t remember who was there, who I invited, or even if they sang Happy Birthday to me and I didn’t care. I got to play Star Castle.
Did you have an NES at home?
Yes, I did. I currently have three at home. One of them is the original from 1985 and it still works. I also have around 200 NES games. I have 15 other consoles and another 1000+ games.
Around my area, in Southern California, the biggest years for arcades were 1982/1983. My personal "golden era" would be between 1983 and 1988 (Track and Field was released in 1983 ahead of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984)
What was the appeal of Track and Field and why set out to become the world's best player?
The first thing that stood out was the fact that you can get individual records on each of the six events - that was the appeal. Back then, people used to play to get their initials on the high score board. On T&F you can actually get your name on the board three times for every event and on the top scores of all time.
But I didn't set out to become the world's best player. I saw the Guinness World record for T&F was lower than what I scored on a daily basis - this was back in the 80s. It wasn't until the 2000s that I decided to buy my first arcade machine and do what I used to do and show the world.
It helps that I was also a fan of Track and Field, the sport, and a fan of Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn). I participated in Track & Field in school and now I coach shot put and discus at my alma mater.
What are your top track and field tips?
1) Timing your start on the 100 meters and the 110 meter hurdles is the easiest way to get, potentially, an additional 720 points for the 100 meters and 480 for the hurdles. That's with a perfectly timed start.
2) If you don't think you can beat your previous javelin throw by 5 meters or more, go for the 1000 point bonus by throwing the javelin 80 degrees out the top of the screen.
3) On the hurdles, tap the jump button for every hurdle. Don't hold it down. That will make your jump shorter and the more time you spend on the ground, the faster you can complete the event.
I do get recognized at arcade gaming events. It is strange when people know my name and know what I do. When it does happen, I hear: "You're that Track & Field guy". Usually it's followed by them turning to a friend and asking if they've seen my video and then asking for a demo.
Are you able to make money playing?
No. There's not really any money in it for me. I just do it for fun. If you want to pay me, I'll take it.
What do you think is the best arcade game ever made and why?
Man.... I would say Bubble Bobble, because the music annoys people.
Would you rather see everything a game has to offer? Or finish it fast and move on to the next one?
It depends on the game. Most games I play just to the end and some I play to 100% everything the game has to offer, but I am a bit of a trophy hunter on the PSN. I have 40+ platinums right now.
We know that the average age of gamers has increased over time with more complex games aimed at adults as much as teens. Do you ever feel there will be a time when you "outgrow" gaming?
Nope. I’ve stock piled games over the last couple of decades. I’m waiting for retirement to play through them all.
Do you find there's a social aspect to gaming? Or does it hinder your social life?
I find it to be very social now. I go to gaming events/parties at least once a month. I find myself going to new places and meeting new people much more often than I used to, especially now that I have connected with arcade collectors and more gamers. The internet has shortened the gap between all of us and it’s easier to find each other. For example I will be attending an event next month in Oklahoma, U.S.A., The Track and Field World Championships.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to devote their time to become the world's best player at a game?
Stick to games that are fun for you and if it starts to feel like work, take a break for a while. Sometimes I’ll stop playing a game for months at a time. If you really like the game, you’ll come back to it.
Thank you “Fly” and goodbye
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