Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Galaga Breakthrough

Saturday was Dad's birthday. We spent most of it on the California/Nevada state line, in Primm, on the Nevada side, at the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas. This is where you find your outlet stores, arranged in the round. Start at one entrance/exit and you'll end at that same point. Getting back to where you started from becomes the furthest thing from your mind once you see what's offered.

We were there because we couldn't be there on the day we moved to Las Vegas on that Friday in September, being that we had Tigger and Kitty, and our two finches in the car with us, and we were late to our new home. We had hoped to get there before the manager of the mobile home park left for the weekend, so Meridith and I could finally meet her. We were getting close to the time that she'd be leaving, 3 p.m. every day even though she lives on the same property, but why stay longer than you have to?

So we bypassed it. We didn't get to the Williams-Sonoma Marketplace. I didn't get to see the car that Bonnie and Clyde were killed in, countless bullet holes delivered by angry law enforcement. At that time, I had thought that it had been placed between one section of the mall and the indoor entrance to the Primm Valley Resort and Casino. Having written that, I now think back to when we were last at Whiskey Pete's in 2010, and didn't I see the car then? Hadn't we walked around enough that I spotted it somewhere in that casino? Or has it always been moved between properties, depending on how many visitors each casino and the Fashion Outlets get? I don't know. Looking through the photos in the Whiskey Pete's listing on yelp.com, I find that someone took a photo of the Bonnie and Clyde car, which is dated August 21. So had we stopped at Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas that day, I still wouldn't have seen the car, which was one of the reasons I wanted to stop there.

At the start of this visit, which makes up incredibly for having to drive past on the first day, I still think I'll see the car. But first, we stop at the Nevada Welcome Center, where I have a long conversation with a native Nevadan about the UNLV Rebels, about Jeremy Renner's character in The Bourne Legacy hailing from Reno, about his experiences all his life in Nevada, about his travels throughout, a conversation that lasts long enough for Mom, Dad and Meridith to head into the outlets, leaving me behind to chat some more. When the opportunity's there, I take it. My fascination with Nevada never ends.

I walk into the outlets after reaffirming my hope to the Nevadan that the Rebels at least grab onto the Sweet 16 this season, if not make it all the way to the top. I hang a right, and find Mom and Dad walking from Williams-Sonoma Marketplace to Viva Vegas, the souvenir store with everything Las Vegas. Mugs, t-shirts, cigarette lighters, shot glasses, magnets, everything but bookmarks. I still can't find Las Vegas bookmarks. Yes, I know Las Vegas isn't thought of as a literary or even literate city, but we do have libraries, and they haven't let me down yet. I don't expect them to. Plus, we have the Vegas Valley Book Festival every year. However, Viva Vegas isn't geared to residents. I know. It's for the tourists either driving into, or out of, the state. Even so, some tourists read, too. My search for bookmarks continues.

After still not finding bookmarks at Viva Vegas, I decide to go where Mom and Dad have left Meridith: Inside Williams-Sonoma Marketplace. I want to see what kind of mustard they have, mustard that has to be better than the whole-grain French mustard I picked up on our way back to Southern California back in January. I first find smoky chipotle mustard in "collectible European glassware," as it's touted, and it's $8.95, though 30 percent off. Honey pops into my head. I must find honey. I hate walking through the aisle in the supermarket and finding the same kinds of honey I always see, with the same high prices. I know honey costs a lot to make, but the brands aren't all that interesting in Smith's. Here, I find Florida orange blossom honey, manufactured by the Savannah Bee Company in Savannah, Georgia. It's Florida, so I have to get. Never mind that it's $11 and change. When am I ever going to find this in Smith's?

I'm happy in my city. I've so much still to explore, still to read about, still to experience. But those instances of deep satisfaction, when you're absolutely certain of what makes you endlessly happy and you vow to pursue it, don't happen every day. It's not that satisfaction doesn't happen here; it's just that awesome, lasting feeling of knowing what you want and going for it that takes time to find. I want to keep reading, as I always do, I want to write more books, but I need something else, and I think that comes either in career or community involvement. I'm not sure which, yet. It's going to take some time to find.

The overall picture of one's life is, of course, a challenge. Naturally, it's the little things that emerge more quickly. And I found that after we had rounded the corner near Williams-Sonoma Marketplace, walked a little bit longer, and came upon the food court, which I had previously only seen in photos on yelp.com. When we came here as tourists, we thought the side of the mall with Williams-Sonoma and Viva Vegas was all there is. We hadn't realized that there was another side to the mall. And inside this food court was an arcade, which had driving games, and a hoops game, shooting baskets in 60 or 90 seconds (whatever it was, since I didn't look), and comparably higher-tech claw machines. There was nothing there for me, until, as Meridith and Mom were walking to the restroom, they spotted a Galaga arcade machine, actually one of those Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga hybrids, but to me, only Galaga matters.

In late October, at The Orleans, I got tickets for Meridith and I to see John Pinette, one of our favorite stand-up comedians. And in our family tour of The Orleans after I bought the tickets, we went upstairs to the movie theater and found a considerably larger arcade than what Sam's Town offers. Nothing else there mattered once I discovered the Galaga machine, and Mom and Dad and Meridith gamely hung around for a little bit while I played. I don't even remember what my score was, but I do know that I played badly.

Every time I've played, in Nevada, in Southern California, I never could get past Stage 10. As the stages build, the alien bugs get bolder, firing their bombs as they spin upward to join the formation. I always fire at them as they join that formation because I want to destroy them quickly so it's less work when the formation is complete. I don't know whether they won't fire their bombs if I hold my fire while they're getting in formation. But I do know they go at it faster with each subsequent stage, and my bad habit of wedging myself in one of the corners on the left or right side of the screen when the bugs break from the formation and fly downward, their bombs drifting toward me, but not hitting me, becomes more dominant.

When I play Galaga, you can hear me. I furiously bang on that fire button and I jam the joystick to the left or the right to avoid those bombs. I duck and I weave and I jump, as if I was playing Dance Dance Revolution instead of Galaga, like the bugs are firing at me and not my starfighter. I love this game because it invites my imagination to tag along. I wonder why my starfighter is so intent on eliminating these alien bugs, and I make up little stories about who these aliens are and who pissed who off enough to start this war. I remember the movie The Last Starfighter and I fondly think about Robert Preston, that consummate showman actor whose Centauri was his final role in that movie, and who made Harold Hill in The Music Man and Carole Todd in Victor/Victoria so memorable.

This time, however, I'm not thinking about Robert Preston nor the origins of those bugs. I want to finally get past Stage 10. I have four quarters, which means two quarters for one game, and two more to continue that game after my lives run out. I put in all four and start, and by the time the bugs are usually in formation in Stage 1, I have only one more bug to eliminate. That's the fastest Stage 1 I've ever played.

The game goes on, and I duck, and I weave, and I jump, and I bang on that fire button, and I jam that joystick to the left and to the right, instinctively avoiding those bombs, even as they become more numerous. Instinctively. That's never happened before. I remember how I've played past games, but before this game in this arcade in the food court at the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, it's never been as laser-etched in my memory of how to play as it is now. My strategy suddenly clicks. I'm still in the bad habit of wedging myself, but I've never avoided those bombs so successfully before. Experience, yes, but I never expected it to click like this. And I feel it in my head, too, that it's there now, it's part of me now, and I can use it and improve my game even more.

When it's all over, when I've used the other two quarters and finally lose against the alien bugs, I find that I've reached Stage 17! 107,650 points! I've never gone that high before! It's far below the lowest score on this machine, at 240-something thousand, but it's good enough for me.

I take what turns out to be a break to have a banana slushie that Mom and Meridith got for me from Tea Zone, which makes the best slushies, the best Thai tea in Southern Nevada. Unfortunately, this is the only location. The proprietor tells us that he did have other locations a few years ago, but he closed them all and remained with this one because it's so far out of the way of Las Vegas, despite being only 20 minutes away. He couldn't make it against the competition that Chinatown poses in this market. The next time we go to the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, which is guaranteed, we're going back to him. He told Mom that she should look for the sealing machine they have for the cups in order to determine whether an establishment has the slushies or teas, but as Mom said to us at the table, she's had so many different Thai teas already and they're nothing like what she had from this guy. Nobody can make it like he can.

The quarters that Mom gets in change from the slushies and the teas (I don't remember what Dad had) go to me, four of them for another game of Galaga. Same excitement, same movements in the second game. This time, it ends for me at Stage 16, with 101,050 points. More Galaga games will come in which I don't make it past Stage 10 again. I expect that. But now I know that I can get past Stage 10. I know how. I know what I have to do.

I was saving this for another entry, but I'll tell it here since it relates to Galaga: We got a Nintendo Wii, the first Nintendo system we've had since the original, spurred on by Meridith wanting ABBA: You Can Dance and wanting a Wii just because of it.

I can't play ABBA: You Can Dance, because I don't. I don't feel it like Meridith does. But I have tried the bicycling in Wii Sports Resort and the bowling in Wii Sports, and I like it, especially the 100-pin bowling, in which the number of pins builds in each single frame. There are no spares to try to get. You just knock down as many pins as you can.

I thought that I wouldn't spend as many hours playing the Wii as Meridith would. What reason would I have? I have books to read, my books to write, and sometimes a movie, such as it is with our recent library visit, in which I checked out Albert Nobbs, since it was directed by Rodrigo Garcia, one of my favorite filmmakers, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition. I want to finally have watched more than just Star Trek: Generations, and I want to do it chronologically.

Why would I need the Wii? But it turns out I do need the Wii, for the best reason I can think of. In fact, I thought of it while I was playing Galaga in that small arcade: I should see if there's any Namco Wii titles with Galaga in them. I've tried Galaga on Nintendo DS, and it's not the same. I need a joystick, or at least something that resembles a joystick.

And I've found it in Namco Museum Megamix, which has an odd variation on Galaga, having to protect Pac-Man rolling down various slides from the same kind of alien bugs in the original game, flitting all about these slides. However, the original arcade version is included in this! Plus, there's a Wii Nunchuck that came with the system that I can use. It has a miniscule joystick that I have to be very careful with, since this obviously isn't an arcade joystick, but now I can strategize at home! I can break my habit of wedging myself in the corner of the screen whenever those bombs get near me. When I played Galaga in that arcade, I discovered that in stages such as 13, 14, and so on, those bombs go right to where I am instead of simply next to me. I was blown up three times by them in those two games.

So I'll be spending more time than I ever expected to on the Wii because when I go back to that Galaga arcade machine, most likely at the Pinball Hall of Fame next, if it's still there, I want to be ready and able to dodge those bombs better than I do now. I want to destroy those bugs as they climb into formation and have lots more stages like Stage 1 in my first game in which there was only one bug left in the full formation. However, in one of the challenge stages in between stages, after Stage 10, I discovered a new bug that, when in a group, separates in a circle when you fire at it. I've got so much more to learn.

After that experience at that arcade at the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, I can say without any doubt that besides reading, Galaga makes me endlessly happy. That's two. I know there's more and I'll either discover them or rediscover them in time.


  1. Jamming your joy stick sounds kind of naughty. I like naughty Rory.


  2. lol.

    Fun post. If you're ever worried about your posts possibly being too long and/or meandering, don't worry. Never too long. What a fun wander. Thanks for posting.

    Dave the Goof

    1. I write until there's nothing left. Fortunately, I have an instinctive braking system, which is why some posts are as long as this one, and some are short little things.

  3. Even though you told me that you're not a hardcore gamer... but after reading this post you are as hardcore as anyone I know. I remember the times as a kid I use to spend my saturdays with my sister playing Galaga, we use to take turns and try to get as far as we could until we passed out on the floor. My God those were good times. Love your blog, keep it up!

    1. I've always defined a hardcore gamer as one who's obsessed with many different games, with gaming systems in general. Since this and pinball are my only gaming obsessions, I don't think that makes me a hardcore gamer.