An Interview with Mark Gotfraind
Phoenix video game champion, by Paul Dean
Thank you for allowing me to ask you some questions about an interesting
classic from way back in 1980, Phoenix and your world record score done
on March 17, 1983.
Like many arcade games of that era, Phoenix is a top-down outer space-themed
fixed shooter. The player controls a spaceship that moves horizontally at
the bottom of the screen, firing upward. Enemies, typically one of two types
of birds, appear on the screen above the player's ship, shooting at it and
periodically diving towards it in an attempt to crash into it. In addition
to the missiles, the ship is equipped with a shield that can be used to zap
any of the alien creatures that attempt to crash into the spaceship. However,
the player cannot move while the shield is active, and must wait for a short
period (approximately five seconds before using it again.
Phoenix was one of the first full color arcade games, along with Galaxian,
so at the time it stood out. Also, it has distinctive shooting sounds that have
become very familiar to fans of the genre.
There are two pieces of music featured in the game:
Romance de Amor also known as Spanish Romance
The official sequel to Phoenix was called Pleiads (onscreen) or Pleiades
(on the Centuri manufactured marquee) and was developed by Tehkan in 1981,
and licensed to Centuri for US distribution. Pleiades featured more enemies
attacking at once, balanced by the fact that the player could now have an
unlimited number of shots on the screen at one time.
Phoenix Arcade Game
Class: Wide Release
From Twin Galaxies Leaderboard: Phoenix Coin-Op
Points Player Date Verified Scoring Method
1 100.00 % 987,620 Matt (Mark) Gotfraind 03/07/1983 Referee
2 91.02 % 898,915 Eric Moja 09/20/2009 DVD
3 85.63 % 845,706 Mark Schreader 01/08/1983 Referee
4 72.62 % 717,193 Phil Clough 10/28/1982 Referee
5 68.10 % 672,590 Orlando Funderburk 11/10/1982 Referee
6 61.59 % 608,255 Scott Mohr 08/29/1982 Referee
Mark Gotfraind still holds the official world record for Phoenix with 987,620
points recorded on the 17th of March 1983 at Cloverleaf Golf N Game /
N. Miami Beach, FL
This is certainly one of the longest arcade world record scores in history
to still stand.
Phoenix, A shoot them up video game licensed to Centuri for US was released
in 1980. This was one of the first full color arcade games, along with Galaxian
and has distinctive shooting sounds to that of other games.
(PD):= Paul Dean
(MG):= Mark Gotfraind
(PD): What drew you to Phoenix and at what point did you decide to go for the
(MG): I liked birds, had a pet bird and was somehow drawn to the game. The
first time I played it, I got the 200K bonus (a trick I discovered by luck).
It just seemed to be fate. After the 200K high score, I had to keep up my
reputation. Also, my other friends were setting high scores, but I didn't
want to become an expert at a game that kept giving "free plays" continuously
so that it was just a matter of how long you can stay awake. I just donít
have the patience and envy the people who have that type of constitution.
Phoenix gave you a set number and that was it. I also played chess where, if
you make a mistake, it was difficult to recover. Phoenix is very similar ó- it
was a very unforgiving game.
(PD): What kind of practice sessions did you have and for how long did you
practice, and then finally what was the setting of the world record score?
Were you involved with Twin Galaxies the Record Keeper of High Score for
(MG): I cannot imagine the number of quarters I pumped into the machine over
several years. Nowadays you can play on your computer or game device for free
but back then it was expensive to get good at a game. Once I got good, I could
play for hours on a single quarter, and in most cases, just got bored of playing
and walked away after about 1-2 hours. It was also a matter of economics -- I
didn't have much money so I would play Phoenix for a 1-2 hours then maybe a
few other games. The world record was not really that foremost on my mind.
(PD): Does being musical help you with this game? Great hand eye coordination,
(MG): Absolutely, I played a machine that had broken sound and it was quite
different. Especially important is hearing the shots which helped with my timing.
Also, I could fire very fast with a single finger -- probably helped by my guitar
(PD): How long did your world record score take to play?
(MG): Honestly, I can't remember. I started Saturday morning and went until
the afternoon sometime.
(PD): Did you have a lot of free time in those days to practice, where you in
high school at the time? What was the competitive gaming environment like back
(MG): Primarily after school with my friends. We all went to the arcade a lot.
The gaming competition was pretty fierce, though I was only challenged a few
times and nobody really messed with me. My other friends were also challenged
and would sometimes win or sometimes lose -- it was a lot of fun.
(PD): Was this a Phoenix contest, how did this high score come about?
(MG): Back then, we didn't ever hear about formal world record contests or
anything like that (at least it wasnít advertised or we would have been all
over it. I wasn't going for a record the day I did it. I just had a bit more
energy than usual and decided to stick it out and get to a million. I had to
stop before I hit a million since I didn't want to reset the score back to
zero (let my last play get destroyed deliberately). I went and got the owner/manager
to confirm the score. Also, I had a crowd (as you could imagine) towards
the end. I sent the score into a playing magazine called "Joystick" (I still
have it somewhere). All the games at the time fit on one 8.5Ēx11Ē page (weíve
come a long way since then!). The magazine confirmed with the manager/owner
through a written statement. Again, I figured this record would be broken,
so it wasn't that big of a deal for me. I just played for fun. Records were
constantly being broken at that time and I didnít think it was going to last.
(PD): After the event did you become a celebrity and get good press for your
(MG): No, again we never were aware of any formal contests and records were
constantly being broken back then (many of my friends had them as well, but
they were broken so quickly, they never got it documented).
(PD): Were there any memorable moments? Video Game Groupies?
(MG): Sure, it was just a lot of fun hanging out with friends and fans that
enjoyed the same thing. People liked watching me play and I enjoyed watching
other people play (especially Defender and Robotron). I often would deliberately
just stay on one level and get the birds really upset and not even fire on them
(just dodge) or just shoot the wings off the birds on the 3rd and 4th screen without
killing them. The crowd really like that. I had a video store owner (at a store I
didn't usually go to) come up to me and trash talk me about someone who could "take
me to the cleaners". So we scheduled a competition and let's just say the other
person wasn't there when I finished. I tried to be low-key and not brag much.
I read about the 200,000 bird point bonus done on the first stage, was this
typically used back in the 1980ís and where there other hidden tricks with Phoenix?
(MG): As I stated above, the 200K bonus is really great at first. Then the machine
will put you into situations where you fire and get the 200K bonus when you
donít want it (which puts you back to 200K--A real bummer if you are at 500K).
There were patterns that helped, but I often didn't use them just to make it
more interesting. I like playing on just blind reflex ó- sometimes I could close
my eyes and finish a level (sometimes). There were other tricks that were well
known. I tried to find other tricks by doing some different techniques, but
nothing ever materialized. I really didnít rely on tricks, it was just brute
force racking up points one screen at a time.
(PD): Phoenix is the first game to include a 'Boss' level. On round five you
faced the mothership. Are there any strategies you can share regarding Phoenix
and the best way to kill the mothership and getting through the stages without
dying Ė shooting clean shots with one shot kills?
(MG): I would just shoot out the purple on the ends and leave the yellow part
in the middle intact. When the saucer came all the way down, your shot would pass
right through the yellow portion "untouched" and hit the alien. Sometimes I
would just keep killing the attackers and not kill the alien. After killing them
all, they would reset and come at you even faster--this was kind of fun, but
did not provide a higher point scoring opportunity.
(PD): Does the game max out in difficulty? What are the most difficult stages?
(MG): The game starts off difficult and stays that way. I noticed no real
changes to the level of difficulty other than, the longer you play, the more
likely you will come across the more aggressive types of attack patterns and
some nastier attack strategies.
(PD): What were other video game players scoring at the time?
(MG): Not even close. I didn't know anyone who could score more than 100K
without the 200K bonus.
(PD): Were there other competitors that drove your score higher and higher or
was this score done as an inner drive to beat the machine?
(MG): Definitely it was an inner drive. As I said, there was really no competition.
I just played because it was fun. When it got boring, I would stay on a level, shoot
out the birds wings without killing them, play without firing to make it go faster
or just walk away.
(PD): What other games were you playing at the time and were you an expert gamer
on some of thes games?
(PD): There were a few that I was good at, but I can't remember their names anymore.
Definitely, nowhere near a world record. Most of my time was spent playing Phoenix.
(PD): What were your favorite games then and now? Do you still play the classic
games of the 1980ís?
(MG): I did like disc Tron, Galaga and Space Invaders but wasn't anywhere near being
an expert at it. I haven't seen Phoenix anywhere in over 20 years (I found an online
version, but using a keyboard just didn't cut it.). Would love to play again, though
I fear I may be very disappointed... Also, getting really really good at a game meant
a significant financial investment which I was unable to provide.
(PD): Have you heard of the International Video Game Hall of Fame? Some gamers have
been inducted this year for their skills in playing the classic coin operated games
of the 1980ís. www.ivghof.com
(MG): No, but I'll check it out. I have gotten a few E-mails from people
asking for tips. I like to help. As I stated, I did this not for a world record,
but played just because it was fun. I think it is really interesting that the
classics are still around. Many of the games today are about memorization and
patterns. A lot of the games back in the 80's used some patterns, but it still
took a whole lot of talent to pull them off. Also, somewhere back, my name got
transcribed from Mark to Matt Gotfraind. Iím trying to reverse that,
but we are the same person.
(PD): Eric Moja has climbed into the second place spot on arcade classic Phoenix
with a score of 898,915 points, topping all but one of the scores from the Golden
Age of the Arcade, and coming up only 88,705 points shy of the World Record on
the game, which has stood since March of 1983!
(MG): That is sooo cool. I'm sure he could beat me today!! As I stated, the
machine really only goes to 1 million (as far as I can tell) and I got as close
as I dared so that I could get someone over to verify it. At the time, I could
go beyond 1 million. Eric is amazing -- I've never heard of anyone even getting
close. I also had the benefit of a crowd in an arcade who cheered me on and
gave me a much needed boost. Iím not sure I would have done as well if I didnít
have the crowdís support. It would be really interesting to bring arcades
(featuring old and new games) back as a social activity for people to showcase
their talents and connect with persons with similar interests (like back in the
good ole days ó god, Iím old) and only charge a quarter a play. With technology
today, a single display/console should be able to call up just about any game
ever made. Then put a 52Ē HDTV above it for others to watch.
(PD): If Eric Moja beats your world record score would you ever consider trying
to take your score back?
(MG): I haven't even seen the game in 20 years. I'd really like to know where
one is -- love to see if it is like riding a bike. I doubt I would have the
endurance to play that long again without making mistakes (as I said, the game
only gives so many lives and that is it). I didn't even know my name was still
around as the world record holder until recently when I received some facebook
inquiries. I was very surprised that it was still the high score.
Iím sure it will be beaten someday.
(PD): What do you think about players still trying to master the classic games
of the 1980ís?
(MG): I fully support it, though the new X-box games are so visually stunning,
it is amazing anyone that any new generation person would be interested in
the old games. Just because the graphics are simple doesnít mean it is not
challenging. Look at Quix or Asteroids -ó loved those games.
(PD): Have you gone to any of the Classic Arcade Conventions like the one
at California Extreme? http://www.caextreme.org/
(MG): Haven't ever heard of it. Since I live in CA, I may stop by next
(PD): There are a few classic coin operated gaming sites for high score
players, but one of the most interesting ones is Classic Arcade Gaming
dot Com - CAGdc Forums in which many world record score players play
regularly. Please feel free to drop by and make a post as we would love
to here some of your stories. We are a pretty tight nit group and of course
you are invited to join if you have the time.
(PD): Would you like to add anything else about your adventures back then and now
which might be of interest regarding gaming or what you have been up to lately?
(PD): Thank you for your time and your great world record score accomplishment on
Phoenix that has lasted for decades!
(MG): Paul, thanks for the opportunity to reminisce about things I haven't thought
about in decades. It was an exciting time--Space Invaders blew us away when it first
came out and we couldn't wait to see the next game that came out back then. We played
them all and loved it. There was also a sense of community which has been lost. We
would go to the arcade not just to play, but to watch other experts play and it was
amazing to watch. We made friends and talked about common interests -- Friends I still
have to this day.
Please stay in touch :)
(PD): Thank you !!!
(PD): Paul Dean