Five nerds to go an anime convention and do the one obvious thing. Ignore the con and hit up the arcade.
What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient... highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed—fully understood—that sticks.
—Dominick Cobb, Inception
It began as a joke in voice chat one day. "Hey, what if we had a music game tournament at Sakura-Con?" But, as it turns out, we weren't content leaving it as just a joke.
Two months later, after dozens of hours of rule drafting and practicing, we were ready to unleash our creation out into the world.
The game list was pretty straightforward. We took a list of all the rhythm games that were available at the Round 1 Southcenter Mall and cut it down to games that at least one of us actually wanted to play. That left us with 6 games: Sound Voltex (SDVX), Beatmania IIDX, Museca, Pop'n Music, DanceDanceRevolution (DDR), and Taiko no Tatsujin. As for the competitors, we just asked everyone in our private discord who was coming to Sakura-Con and rolled with it. The takers were puddi, iamevn, Blues, Lloyd, and me.
We had a date. We had a list of games. We had a hashtag. It was time. Scores would be summed up for each game separately, and players ranked by cumulative score for each game. The person with the highest cumulative score would earn 4 points, down to 0 points for having the lowest cumulative score for a game. Those points were then summed to crown the final victor. Most of the games had very clear favorites. puddi was all but guaranteed to take Sound Voltex, IIDX, and Museca, while iamevn was the only one among us who went hard on Pop'n. I was fairly confident in my DDR abilities. That only left Taiko with no clear winner. When the time came, iamevn thought he had it in the bag, but Blues wasn't going down without a fight. Lloyd was fighting for whatever points he could get in DDR and IIDX, but his prospects in the overall tournament were grim considering he had never played Museca or SDVX.
The tournament began with Taiko, and the first couple matches went basically exactly as we expected. I started off matched with iamevn. I only managed to barely pass one song (my own pick), while iamevn's familiarity with the game scored him a solid lead. Next up were puddi and Lloyd. Lloyd and I were fairly closely matched, but his much stronger score on my song pick left him just above my combined score, and guaranteed him at least one point for Taiko. puddi, on the other hand, started off going toe to toe with iamevn's scores. Things looked close until they got to the harder songs, and puddi's rhythmic ability couldn't stand up to iamevn's experience. That only left Blues. We didn't know at the time, but his performance would go on to surprise us all. His first song put him just barely ahead of puddi and iamevn, but for his second song he managed to get the first full combo of the tournament. Because Taiko rewards players with more points the longer a combo is held, his score was nearly double iamevn's. But that wasn't enough for him. Right after that he nearly doubled iamevn's score on yet another song. The first game closed out with Blues taking a somewhat unexpected lead.
Up next was DDR. Unique among the games as the only one that stops giving you points as soon as you fail the song. Because of that, just surviving was worth a lot of points. With DDR, most of the excitement came from the song picks. I picked the hardest song I knew I could consistently pass, Monkey Business. On the other hand, puddi picked one of the most gimmicky songs in the game, Vakyrie Dimension, while Lloyd picked a fairly tough song that he liked, 夢幻ノ光. It seemed puddi was banking on the fact that nobody else knew the wild stops and speed ups in Valkyrie Dimension, and his plan would prove to be extremely successful. His biggest competition, Lloyd, did significantly worse on Monkey Business and Valkyrie Dimension, leading to a 200 point advantage that was impossible to overcome.
Time for Sound Voltex. We all knew puddi would take first place, so the real competition here was for second and third. Song difficulties go up to 20 in SDVX, and puddi chose an extremely aggressive level 18 that required crossing your hand over to opposite sides of the controller. As for the rest of the competitors, iamevn and I were similarly matched with our skills, topping out at around level 16. We had also just learned that when Blues said he was pretty good at 14s in his bio, he meant on the old scale that capped out at 16 instead of 20. A 14 on the old scale mapped to 15s and 16s on the new scale, so he was a lot closer to our skill level than we had thought. In the end, iamevn fell into his bad habit of rushing, leading to him to hit notes too early, only earning half the points per note. This allowed me to pull ahead while iamevn and Blues fought for third place. On iamevn's pick, Blues managed to beat iamevn's score, but on Blues's pick iamevn beat Blues. They were evenly matched until they reached puddi's and my picks. From what we observed, iamevn had played my pick before, and was generally better at hard songs than Blues, so he pulled solidly into third place. Lloyd managed to clear his own pick, but much like me in Taiko, it didn't amount to much.
Halfway through the games, this is how the standings stood:
- 1st place: puddi, 9 points
- 2nd place: Jukey, 7 points
- 3rd place: Blues, 6 points
- 4th place: iamevn, 5 points
- 5th place: Lloyd, 3 points
But up next was pop'n. For this game, iamevn was the clear favorite to win, with puddi the expected runner up. Blues, yet again, surprised us all despite picking the easiest song of the bunch, which initially had us all believing he'd be struggling to keep up with everyone else. Instead, he handily beat Lloyd and me to take third place, leaving the two of us to fight for scraps at the bottom. Lloyd played all the songs before me, setting a benchmark I had to beat to get any points. After I played my first song, iamevn's pick 鳳凰, things looked grim. I was trailing Lloyd by a fairly considerable margin. However, I somehow managed to find my groove and beat Lloyd's score on the rest of the songs, with enough of a margin to take 4th place overall.
The next game was Beatmania IIDX. It had the smallest gap between skill levels, and none of us were quite sure who was the best among us (minus puddi, who was once again favorite to win). The combination of razor thin timing windows and asymmetric control scheme with only one side of the controller having a turntable make IIDX a tricky game for newer players. Early on, puddi's scores put him in first and my scores landed me in solid second place. However, iamevn had some trouble finding the timing windows, and his score on the easier songs suffered. He managed to pick it up later on, trading blows with Lloyd throughout. The final point differential between them was a mere ten points, or 5 notes out of over 3000 in the songs we played, with iamevn edging out ahead. Blues put in a couple solid scores, but ultimately he struggled too much on the harder songs to walk away with any points.
This brought us to our last game of the tournament: Museca. By then, puddi was so far ahead he didn't even need to compete, but iamevn and I were tied for second. In order to raise the tension, everyone decided to have me go last, so it'd be literally down to the last song to find out who would take second place. Two songs in, it looked like iamevn was going to be the one to come out on top, but we still had the hard songs to go. The third song was my pick, and I managed to make a pretty decent score buffer. Next was iamevn's pick, and that buffer shrank. The final song was puddi's pick, and I knew I'd have the hardest time on it. A quick back of the envelope calculation showed I'd need about 800,000 points out of a potential 1 million. I played the song, but my performance throughout was sloppy. My score came in at 791,286. "I think I lost" was the first thing I said once I glanced at the score. After that, puddi immediately input my score into the spreadsheet and the final column said it all. "Jukey: 3 points, iamevn: 2 points". I had won by just over 8,000 points. That was a difference of about 7 notes here or there out of nearly 2500 notes across all the songs.
The final results were in. As everyone expected, puddi was crowned the winner, and the rest of us were fated to carry the title "Bemani Scrub" for another year. Blues and I started looking for a hotel room, and we all went out for sushi where another resilient parasite—another idea—took hold.