On June 22, 1982, Scott Karasek walked up to an Amidar arcade game and set a world record. On April 8, 2016, he found out that he still holds the record, which stands as one of the oldest standing video game records in existence. His score of 3,208,870 points on the Stern Electronics version of the game has remained undefeated for nearly three-and-a-half decades.
Reached for comment, Karasek says he was surprised at the news, as he had thought his record has fallen just months after he’d set it. Now a teacher, the unaware defending arcade game champ says he had been telling students for years that he was a former world record holder, unaware of a technicality that had kept him on top for decades.
“I knew there was a kid that had beat it, so all these years I’ve been telling my students about it as a teaching tool,” he said. “I’m very much a pattern guy. I can see the patterns in everything, so during the first day of school, I always ask if any of my students have ever held a world record. Obviously, nobody raises their hand, so then I tell them that I used to have one. So it was shocking to me to hear that there was an easy version and a harder version, so I actually still have one.”
The key to Karasek’s continued reign on top is due to the existence of two distinct versions of the game. The original version, developed and published by Konami in Japan, is considered easier than the American version by Stern. As it turns out, Karasek’s opposition had played on the easier version, a fact the champ never knew of until now.
“I was very psyched that day. It sort of made my Friday,” Karasek said of learning his news. “When I told the kids I still had it they were like ‘wow, really, the old guy has a world record!'”
A fan of video arcade games during their first American heyday, Karasek said he took to Amidar over more popular titles due to the style of the game. This unique coin-op put players on a grid rather than in a maze, with the object of the game to complete full squares while dodging enemies. A button on the control panel made the enemies jump rather than the player, a feature that had limited use from wave to wave.
“There were a lot of games that the other kids played, like Pac-Man or Asteroids. I played those but I could never get very far on them,” he recalled. “But for some reason, I got to Amidar and started playing it and found I could play a long time on a quarter. We didn’t have much money at that time, so I needed to play the games I could play for longer. This was before we’d bought an Atari system, so we actually needed to go to a store to actually play. The play I’d play was called Bun and Games. It was a hot dog stand with a video arcade.”
To keep players interested, Karasek recalled how Bun and Games would hold various contests on their arcade titles. Eventually, it was Amidar‘s turn as the game to play, meaning it was time for Karasek to step up to the plate.
“Once a week on Saturdays, they would pick a game they would have and do a tournament,” he said. “Whoever won it won something like five dollars in tokens, a meal and a t-shirt. Back then, five dollars in tokens was a lot of gaming. One of my buddies told me that my game was coming up, so I figured I would go play. I went down and I played, and my high score at the time was a few hundred thousand. Someone had watched me and figured out how I play the game, putting up a score of like 180,000. I got to go last, so I got the new tournament record at 700,000.”
With a tournament win under his belt, Karasek became curious as to how far he could truly go in the game. With the location of his Amidar victory shut down, he had to travel to another of the chain’s locations to find out. He credits his memory and young curiosity for what happened next.
“I’m a math guy. I know my driver’s license number, I know my phone number from when I grew up, I know my kid’s social security numbers,” Karasek added. “On June 22, I started playing the game again, and I figured out there were only a certain number of distinct patterns to the game. It got to a certain level, then basically took a step back again and would go back down to the easier part. I knew the patterns to stay away from the enemies that were chasing you, so I figured out I could just keep playing and playing and playing. All of a sudden, I realized it was 10 o’clock at night and I was still playing on the same quarter eight hours later, and it was now time to close the store. So the guy said he’d give me five bucks and that he’d submit it for a world record. About a month later he comes back and confirms it was the world record. They gave me $25 in tokens and actually made a big deal about it at their store. After that, I played the game for a little while longer, but since I’d set the record and figured out how to play forever, it just wasn’t any fun anymore. I knew all the patterns to the game, so I could always beat it, so I started going to other games.”
Karasek’s long standing record has been one of debate within the retro arcade community in recent years, with the champ’s absence from the community leading some to scrutinize his score. In response, not only does he state that someone capable of learning and recognizing all of the patterns is capable of beating it, but that he hopes someone does. He went on to add specifics, however, to the type of player he is rooting for as potential competition.
“If someone could do it legitimately, like a 15, 16, 17 year old kid that’s doing it legitimately, I have no problem with it,” he noted. “What I would have a problem with is someone who is doing all this research with screenshots and using a computer to break the game and figure out the patterns, going back and starting certain parts over again. Any geek could do that. You know, the types of people who are trying to beat these old records are people who game non-stop. It’s their life. Back then, we were doing it as a weekend hobby or in the afternoon in the summertime and in the evening after dinner. We’d go in and put in a quarter and play for a little while, and that’s where we hung out. We were just kids being kids. We weren’t sitting in the house, sitting behind a computer. I was a BMX rider, I raced bikes, we rode them all over the place. That’s the type of life we had at the time when we were playing. If someone like that can put in some quarters and beat me like that, I’m okay with it.”
As of this writing, only nine video game records have stood for longer than Karasek’s mark on Amidar, all of them from the arcade. The oldest still-standing arcade video game world record was set on January 4, 1982 by Laura Curran on Exidy rarity Star Fire. Someone looking to challenge Karasek’s mark on an original arcade machine might have a hard time, as according to Aurcade.com, only three gamerooms in North America currently have an original Amidar.