Pac-Masters: Tim Balderramos
In 1981, at the age of 14, Tim Balderramos walked into The Circus Arcade in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and saw his first Pac-Man arcade cabinet. Little did he know that this moment would change his life.
Tim walked up to that Pac-Man arcade cabinet, pushed in his first quarter and began his first game, “The object seemed simple – so simple I didn’t bother reading the instructions. Clearly, I was supposed to eat the colourful ghosts that ran around the board. As they appeared to be running away from me, I targeted the red creature as my first victim. Suddenly, he reversed direction and ran after me. The hunter became the hunted!”
And so the infatuation with the little Pac-Man guy began. Throughout the course of 1981 & 1982 Tim played Pac-Man at every available opportunity and his scores were pushed higher and higher. By Summer 1982 Tim’s high-score was 2,585,670 and then one-day he happened upon a newspaper article that put the world record at 3,192,000, Tim’s score wasn’t that far away. Time to push harder.
By the start of 1983, Tim was knocking on the door of the world record, he’d perfected his 9th key pattern and then it happened, 3,197,360. The world record had been broken, Tim was the new world champion. Or was he?
As spring of 1983 moved on Tim’s score was becoming overshadowed. Twin Galaxies, Walter Day’s gaming score database, were beginning to get scores submitted of 9 million..no wait 10 million…even more, 12,719,060 by Les Martin from Maryland. Tim was downcast, he’d tried his best but alas, people were now getting four times his personal best. It had been fun but the ride was over.
Enter Walter Day and Billy Mitchell. Walter, the CEO of Twin Galaxies and Billy Mitchell, one of the greatest Arcade gamers of the time, began to investigate scores over 3.2 million to confirm their legitimacy. By the end of 1983, investigation complete, it was concluded that the scores over 3.2 million had been done using the ‘Rack Advance’ feature on the cabinet or were the result of multiple games that were added together. All the scores that had been submitted over 3.2 million were expunged from the Twin Galaxies database and yes, Tim was again the world record holder.
And so life then got in the way, Tim spent time in the army, went to college, began his career in I.T and forgot about Pac-Man for a while. During that time the years weren’t kind to Pac-Man, technology advanced, bigger and better games were appearing with more regularity & the popularity of Pac-Man declined.
Little did Tim know that a group of players had kept pushing the boundaries of the game. Jon Stoodley from the UK, Billy Mitchell, Chris Ayra and Rick Fothergill were pushing each other onto bigger and better scores until in 1999 Billy Mitchell achieved the first ‘Perfect Game’ maxing out the score at 3,333,360.
So, what was left to achieve? The ‘perfect’ game of Pac-Man had been done, was there anything left for Tim to fight for?
Well, as it happens, in 1997 something had materialized called M.A.M.E, almost perfect emulation of the games played in arcade’s but with the ability to play at home, on your own computer. Tim turned his focus to emulation & over the next few years traded Pac-Man high scores with Neil Chapman until on May 11th 2002 playing using 3+1 lives, Tim finally achieved his goal of getting a perfect game of 3,333,180. Tim was the best in the world again, world champion, the best of the best.
Tim went on to become the 4th person to achieve a perfect game on original hardware in 2004, using his own cabinet. In 2005, Tim became the first person to ever achieve a 5+1 perfect game on M.A.M.E beating his old rival Neil Chapman to the mark by only a few months and in 2007 finished 5th in the Xbox Pac-Man world championships in New York.
On 19th June 2008 Tim announced his retirement from competitive gaming and wrote a book titled “Confessions of a Pac-Man Junkie”, discussing his life on and away from his beloved Pac-Man machine & in 2015 received the honor of being inducted into the International Video Game Hall Of Fame.
Tim did come out of retirement though on July 25th 2015 only for 1 day, but on that day achieved something that had never been done before. Twin Galaxies put on an event called the Pac-Man Killscreen Challenge, playing on the anniversary cabinet where new code allowed for a player to pass the usual split-screen. Tim, playing against other Pac-Man legends Don Hayes, Dwayne Richard & Adbner Ashman, managed to coax his little Pac-Man through not 1, but 2 consecutive splitscreens in an incredible display of endurance and scoring 6,300,000 in the process.
Tim is still around though, he still loves to watch his fellow Perfect Pac-Man friends on Twitch using the pseudonym “Pacmantab”. If his friends Jon Stoodley, Billy Mitchell or Greg Sakundiak are playing, Tim’s usually not far away. He watches the protégé’s as well and like the gentleman he is, sometimes streams himself, offering advice & the occasional witty Pac-related anecdote.
Tim Balderramos truly is a Pac-Master.
Article written by James Marshall (marleyman999) – 10th March 2021