Check my progress log to see how this project is coming along.

I've decided to document my progress as I learn to play several shmups for score. This is a genre with which I'm not terribly familiar. I mean, I have played these types of games before. I would wager that most gamers who were around during the arcade, 8 bit, and/or 16 bit eras have. But I can count on one hand the games that I've played more than a just few times.

Pulstar on the Neo Geo is one of my favorite titles on that console, although I'll admit that the farthest I've gotten is to the boss in the second level. It's old school, side-scrolling, and slower paced. Its soundtrack is spectacular. The other game with which I'm fairly familiar is a little-known indie title called rRootage. It's bullet hell, vertical-scrolling, focused on boss battles, and includes multiple modes inspired by other games of its genre. It features a lot of levels, with each 5th level being randomized. This makes it more entertaining from a casual player's perspective because you can essentially select a difficulty and have a different challenge each time you play.

Gameplay of Pulstar and rRootage
Pulstar and rRootage

In playing both Pulstar and rRootage, I never thought much about my score. I really only played with the goals of survival and progression through the levels. But lately I've been steeping myself in The Electric Underground and have come to appreciate the notion of score as a motivating factor for playing shmups. The conundrum in the shmup community is how to get more people interested in this aspect of the genre. Many see it as the hook that keeps gamers on the line, if they can be tempted to bite.

The shmup community gets a lot of "tourists". Gamers take initial interest in these games because they seem novel or because many are highly priced collector's items. Few become serious about playing for a high score or even a 1CC. Most survey the landscape, try out a few that look cool, and soon move on.

What to play?

The games I'm going to focus on are the aforementioned Pulstar (the Neo Geo CD version), Einhänder for the Sony PlayStation, Radiant Silvergun for the Sega Saturn, and DoDonPachi for the PlayStation. Each of these games is great in its own right and is significantly different from the others. Therefore, I think I'll have the variety I need to ensure I don't get stuck in a grind. That said, I may even throw in a bit of Star Fox 64 to spice things up. :)

Copies of Pulstar, DoDonPachi, Radiant Silvergun, and Einhänder

Why do this?

So what am I trying to get out of playing these games for score? A few things.

First, I'm interested in shmups as a genre because I previously viewed them as overly simple, too short, and not worthy of much investment. As I've learned, these assumptions couldn't be further from reality. The depth of gameplay is there in spades; I just wasn't trained to recognize it. (To be fair, I would say that I'm still not as of this writing.)

Second, as I've gotten older I've become more interested in games that reward practice instead of the acquisition of items. Besides shmups, fighting games and Bomberman are good examples of this type of game. I find that you can get into an almost meditative state while playing them, and my brain appreciates this after dealing with work and kids all day.

Third, for the sake of my collection I lusted for over a year after these games. I acquired all of them recently and they weren't cheap, Radiant Silvergun and Pulstar especially. I hope this endeavor makes me feel like I'm getting my money's worth. :P

Last, I think this type of project is important for the shmup community. The genre is rooted in the arcades, which has both performative and competitive implications. Players can watch each other and aspire to a spot on the games' scoreboards. Nowadays, this type of experience is relegated mostly to Japan and gaming events. For North Americans like me, practicing at shmups can be a lonely undertaking and, even worse, questionably worthwhile. Posting playthroughs and commentary is one way to help establish a virtual arcade of sorts and make the genre more attractive.

Regarding the arcade experience, I also want to demonstrate that it's okay not to be a great (or even good) player when you first start. I know that some people feel embarrassment about posting their footage or their scores unless they feel they're at a competitive level. They may not want to show their faults or ask "stupid" questions to help themselves get better. So here's the thing: I'm going to SUCK at these games at first and it's going to show. That's fine. My point is to document progress. And who knows? I may still end up sucking. :shrug:

How will this work?

I don't have any goals in mind other than to be able to purposefully play these games with the objective of a high score. To do this, I'll need to be good enough (or close) to be able to achieve a 1CC. I'll need to understand how their scoring systems work and how to manipulate my playing accordingly. I intend to post my scores on my site here. I aspire to submit at least one to Restart Syndrome, but my purpose isn't to go for a world record or anything.

My method will be to learn mostly organically as I play the games. Through research, I have already learned a few things about the scoring and features of each game, but in general I plan to avoid looking up how-tos and gameplay optimizations. That said, I do expect to look things up from time to time and to solicit advice if I feel like my progress has stalled.

I'm going to play using emulators. I'll use RetroArch with the NeoCD core for Pulstar, the Beetle Saturn core for Radiant Silvergun, and the Beetle PSX core for Einhänder and DoDonPachi. Some of you may wonder how I'll be able to stand the input lag. Well, the simple answer is that I don't know any better. I never played these games on the original consoles or in the arcades so I have no preconceived notion of how they're supposed to feel. My views on this may change as I progress, but I'm not worried about it for now.

I will begin by playing on keyboard. I've been kicking around the idea of getting an arcade stick but haven't committed to it yet. If I do, I'll add some notes in my play commentary and will expect to backslide in my progress. I'm not accustomed to arcade sticks and would fully expect to get hit with a learning curve.

For each update on my progress, I will post a short gameplay recording and some commentary about what I've learned and how I feel I'm doing. I don't have any criteria for how much gameplay to record or how much progress to demonstrate. I'm going to allow this to unfold organically; I'll simply record as much as I feel is appropriate.

Before my first recording for each game, I will have invested a total of one hour of play. Each subsequent recording will follow between 1-4 hours of play since the previous. I don't get many long windows of time for video games these days, nor do I intend to dedicate all of my gaming to this endeavor, so I think this amount of play time for each game should make for a good balance of posting frequency and of making meaningful progress.

I don't know for how long I'll be doing this, but I expect it'll be longish-term and intermittent.

You can follow along in my progress log.