At the risk of sounding like an incredible understatement, esports has become quite a big deal in recent years. While online gaming tournaments have been around for decades, it has exploded in popularity throughout the 2010’s, where we see tournaments for games such as Call of Duty, Street Fighter and League of Legends gain millions of viewers on Twitch, and boast hefty prizes worth thousands of dollars.
That’s all good for AAA titles, but what about the classics? Where is their place in the fastest growing sport in the world?
As the Score Wars Galaga World Championship approaches, I had a chat with Adam Drucker, known to fans as Doseone, about his vision for a community with a distinctly more “indie” and “retro” flavour.
PW: For those who aren’t familiar with your work, can you give a brief introduction of who you are, what Meow Wolf is, and what your work with them involves?
AD: Sure, so my name is Adam Drucker, my friends call me Doseone. I have been making music since I was a younger old man, I think I have made over 35 LPs. I started a progressive rap label called anticon. in like 1997…8…9? It doesn’t matter, and then years later through Venus Patrol, Brandon Boyer and Vlambeer, I found my way to independent game development, and so I started making music and sound design for all these amazing indie games and the even more amazing development community that is the people behind those games.
I fell in love with it, I did the music for Enter The Gungeon, Gang Beasts, Samurai Gunn, Heavy Bullets, High Hell; a bunch of really beautiful games and I learned a ton! For me, albums as art was what got me to doing games as art, and then that got me to Meow Wolf, where now I’m doing buildings as art. At Meow Wolf, I do sound design and I also write episodic content, working on a crazy cartoon, and I do installations here. I also apparently do gigantic Galaga events.
Score Wars has been my first game baby. I know that’s not a real term, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to do, and you know, it started on a whim. It became really genuine and about something special, whereas it began as someone saying “hey Dose, can you do a Galaga tournament?” and I was like “huh? yeah?”.
PW: Tell me more about Score Wars. Is this Galaga World Championship the first event that Score Wars has done?
AD: Yes. Score Wars is going to be annual. Vince Kadlubek, the CEO of Meow Wolf, loves Galaga and he used to play it as a kid in the same room where we are holding Score Wars at Meow Wolf, which was a bowling alley. So it was like this really circuitous, full circle of events, and so he was like “hey man, can you do a Galaga tournament?”, I was like “I don’t know?” and then once we started putting it together, I immediately got put in touch with Dwayne Richard, who people might know from Man vs. Snake. He’s a really beautiful guy and in talking to him I realised that there’s an entire culture of, largely men (there’s not many women doing it), but these men that are the greatest in the world at a thing, and it is sort of their venue into the world.
This was really about realising that they’re basically like gold medallists, but they didn’t have conditions where they could really enjoy each other’s company and excel/break records and you know, feel loved and supported. So, with Dwayne’s help, we tried to make this a “player’s tournament” where you could come and kill it, be amongst your peers and have a good time. It started to be about doing the most for this culture of cool people who deserve it. Like Abner Ashman, he’s the Robotron and Ms. Pacman champ, he came in yesterday, and just watching his hands, man it looks fake, like it totally looks like CGI. Insane.
PW: With this being the first event, and it now being an annual thing, what future plans are in place for Score Wars?
AD: So, this is my inner vision, it’s gonna happen but I might change it as it goes because I’ve found that this is incredibly organic, even though it’s a giant event that involves way too many spreadsheets and all these awesome human beings putting it together. I want to keep adding something to the universe that doesn’t exist right now, and that’s what this Galaga championship was.
So next year, we’re going to do, and this is a secret that you can tell everyone, a rogue-like championship. I want to do Enter The Gungeon, The Binding of Isaac, Nuclear Throne, Spelunky and Rogue, which is the game that the term “rogue-like” is based on.
That’s my big ambition, next year we focus on the current generation of awesome, insane, bat-shit gamers and we bring them out to have some really special championship experiences in those games. The cool thing about that, is I’m really hoping, ya know We got in touch with Namco and they allowed us to do this thing with Galaga, but with Indie games, we get the chance to talk directly with the devs and get some special builds made, and that’s what I really want to be a part of, not just exploiting and presenting the thing, but doing something that the community needs and that the players can thrive in.
That’s the plan, and then we’re going to toggle, so right now I’m talking to Dwayne and all these guys about what classic game we’re going to do two years from now. I’m really excited because there’s so many amazing games! We have a lot of amazing stuff we can do, so I’m excited to get all these different people together.
The world is polluted with esports, and all these people playing army stuff, but I’m cool with all that, I jsut want to get the other layer exposed, celebrate it and appreciate it.
PW: I’m very much looking forward to the rogue-like tournament, especially when it comes to The Binding of Isaac, because that is probably the one game I have sunk the most hours into.
AD: Yeah, Spelunky is my rogue-like that i got like crackhead over, and I think that everybody’s got one. It’s really one of my favourite kinds of games. I don’t have what it takes to be that good at Galaga, I’ll tell you that right now. One of the really cool things that Dwayne hit me to, was that I was sort of denying the truth until I met these people and saw what they were doing.
Basically the difference between me and you, ya know, someone who is good at Galaga and someone who can score a million points is vast, and then the difference between someone who can score a million points and three million points is like, four people in the world. It really just gets down to it, and it’s just insane, you can’t even practice yourself to the sense space that these games require to actually break them or hit the kill screen.
I gotta say man, they were schooling me last night. Arcade games were originally about money laundering, because it was an all cash business. I was just a little kid pumping quarters in there, I didn’t know I was involved in money laundering! There’s all these aspects in all these games. Dwayne was like “Kill Screen is 256” and I was like “what, is this like a holy number? All these games have a 256 kill screen?”, and it’s because of chip limitations. So, all these game kill screens are at the same number, it’s just awesome.
Another cool thing Dwayne was telling me last night was that back in the day, he was playing Millipede and there’s all these different things that Millipede does depending on what portion of the millipede you shoot. I was like “Man, how did you tell each other that in the 80’s” and he told me it was phone cards. They used to steal phone cards and call each other to talk about all their tips and and tricks, before the internet. It’s just mind-blowing to me.
PW: It’s cool to see that you’re providing a space for a community other than message boards or something like that, but a physical space for them to meet and face each other in these classic games at an esports level. It’s an area of esports that’s definitely needed representation.
AD: Yeah, there is no sophisticated esport without these people and these game. If it weren’t for how good these guys were, they would have made less of these games. These guys had a significant influence, it’s just crazy that they’re still just as good as they were, and no-one’s better than them. That’s what I love about it, it’s just locked in. They never really get to compete and have a “best of the best” thing with Galaga, so doing brackets is a really fun yet still really friendly. All they needed was a venue, everything cool that is happening is 100% them.
PW: I’m definitely looking forward to checking out some of the championship footage because up until now, my only real exposure to Galaga is playing it in the loading screen of the original Tekken game.
AD: Oh shit haha! That’s obscene man.
I’m also getting schooled at Nibbler, Tim McVey from Man vs. Snake is here. Such a beautiful dude, it’s crazy. They don’t talk about this in the documentary, but you know that you have to get enough extra lives and then he lets his snake die so that he can go take naps or eat a sandwich. He’s looking at a 50 hour run to set this new world record at the game. Nibbler only records 100 lives, and when you get above 100, it goes from 100 to “FF”, and then 101 is “A6” etc. so he has to memorise these cheat codes. If you hit 128 lives in the game, the entire game resets, so he has to never get 128 free lives or it dents his 50 hour run.
PW: I’d like to talk about your soundtrack work. My introduction to your soundtracks was through Enter The Gungeon. Who was the first developer to approach you and ask you to make music for their game?
AD: The first thing that I did was I rapped on Gun Godz, where I was the voice of Young Venus and I did all the sound effects. Then, through them, at GDC years ago I met the creators of Samurai Gunn and it won IGF. We were just hanging out in Chinatown and we all met and I was like “hey does Samurai Gunn have music?” and they said “no, it has one track that my brother did” and I was like “Well, can I do some music for it?” and then that was it!
From there I met the Gungeon guys (Dodge Roll Games) at Giant Bomb randomly and then a year later they e-mailed me and Gungeon actually happened. Then I met the Gang Beast guys (Boneloaf) casually through friends. Everything for me has been incredibly organic, from followed relationships, luck and fans of my prior work, so when they met me it was in the moment, and real.
I’m a workaholic, and I didn’t know how to do any of this stuff, so i took it incredibly seriously and artistically as always. It was meant to be, the game work I’ve been doing is the second great creativity. Albums were one thing, having a music career is an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp. It was hard on my creativity, and games really refreshed it, and it ended up being really successful too. From now on, I’ll pretty much only work with my game dev family, and all the people who I’m a fan of. It’s been really great to work hard but have it go places and meet all these beautiful, hypetalented devs. It’s a good scene.
PW: You’re a member of Nevermen alongside Mike Patton, who is known to be a fan of video games as well, including being heavily involved in the vocework of games such as The Darkness, Portal and Left 4 Dead. When working with him on the Nevermen project, did gaming ever come up?
AD: Yeah, he plays AAA shit though. By the way, his fuckin’ creature sounds are incredible, I couldn’t in a million years swing the bat as hard as that dude does, he’s so fucking amazing. Then, ya know, I’m indie. I never play triple A games. I buy a triple A game once a year, play it for 5 minutes and and then I’m like “meh”. Video game polish doesn’t work on me, it’s like “these are not the droids you are looking for”. I love the fingerprints that are in indie games.
Patton? he’s into all the cool battlefield…front….war…6 stuff.
PW: What was your earliest gaming memory? What games do you enjoy at the moment?
AD: Someone asked me about this the other day and I realised that my first gaming memory is also my first money anxiety I ever had as a child. I was in an arcade in first grade, I had five dollars and wanted to get pizza and play a shitload of Dragon’s Lair. I also wanted to play a song on the jukebox, and I remember just stressing out staring at this five dollar bill, not understanding how many quarters it was!
My first “love gaming” memory was playing the first Zelda on NES, and I turned around and saw 2AM on the clock for the first time in my entire life. I remember being like “OH NO MY MOM’S GONNA KILL ME!”. I’ll never forget being like “WHAT ARE THOSE NUMBERS ON THE CLOCK”.
What am I playing right now? I have been playing Owlboy on my Switch. I have to be honest, I still play Gungeon, sadly. I love it. I’ve also been playing Iconoclast. I’m excited to get some time off after Score Wars and play some more games.
Also on the NES recently I got a sealed copy of Bible Adventures, it is pretty out there. I’m Jewish, but I can appreciate a Christian NES game.
PW: Are there any upcoming games that you’re looking forward to?
AD: Yes! Minit! Oh my god I want to play Minit so fuckin’ bad! I can’t wait, it’s a new Devolver Digital title made by Kitty Calis, Jan Willem Nijman, Jukio Kallio & Dominik Johann. Those guys are my favourite artists, and whenever my friends are working on a game I know I wanna play the shit out of, I won’t play it at the conventions, because I want to play them on my couch, like a child.
PW: Where can people find more information about Score Wars and Meow Wolf?
AD: We are streaming on Twitch, Saturday March 31st and Sunday April 1st, over at twitch.tv/meowwolf. Also, ScoreWars.com has all the literal information you need. The first two days of the event are people doing marathon runs, and people qualifying for the tournament brackets, and on Saturday and Sunday we’ve organised some really cool overlapping, integrated programming stream with Twitch hosts, all of our classic cabinet pros and our Galaga pros, then watching Galaga tournament play while our pros play other games like Centipede, Robotron, Ms. Pac-Man and Nibbler, of course.
It’s going to be really fun to pick these people’s brains. It’s really fascinating thinking about how these guys had to spend quarters to get good at these games. Dwayne was saying that he had a friend that was a rich kid, and the reason he started playing games was because the rich kid would let him use his allowance, which was really high.
Anyway, a shout-out to anyone with a high allowance in the universe, and a bigger shout-out to anyone with no allowance. You’re my people!