Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Benn Banasik, who currently is displayed on card number 3201, from the Superstars of 2019 Collection. When it comes to video game puzzle games, Benn is the master of the trade. He has world records for Sega Columns and Sega Tetris on the arcade, Sega genesis and the Sega Mega Drive. In 2018, he took 2nd in the Tetris championship in Australia. He is one of the only ones to achieve the max score of 99,999,999 in Classic Columns for the Sega Genesis. Benn is always looking for more world records to set in multiple platforms for puzzle style games. What will the next one be?
Do you prefer the original arcade or MAME gaming and why?
Original by far. There is blemishes, warmth and sound that can never be replicated by MAME. However, I do recognize that the original boards have many problems and time is not on the side of those who appreciate original hardware. What I do think works better than MAME and represents a more authentic original experience is the new wave of simulation devices built on the infrastructure of original boards and machines. The MiSTer FPGA system and DarkSoft kits have breathed new life into gaming and with the right hardware the games feel perfect.
Do you remember your first arcade you played and what do you remember about it?
Growing up in rural Australia there wasn’t many opportunities to play an arcade machine aside from the single machines tucked in the corner shops and video stores. Opposite my grandfather’s house there was a tired cocktail arcade machine with Ghosts ‘N Goblins that I begged to use. My Grandfather was generous to me as the eldest Grandson and would allow me to have a go of the machine when we’d go to pick up the morning newspaper. The experience was quite terrible, the sun shone through the window directly on the screen so you couldn’t see half the enemies, the stick was loose, and buttons were not responsive. However, I loved every moment and was hooked as soon as I put the first coin in the machine.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of arcade games? How do you compare them to older, classic games?
Unfortunately arcades ceased to provide the unique experience of gaming decades ago. This has forced operators onto the downward slope of coin redemption experiences which provide little more than a quick flair of flashing lights. There are a few exceptions, mainly shooters and pinball machines that use technology to provide in depth experiences. These however are few and far between. My passion both as a player and now an operator of two gaming stores is to recreate and re-experience the golden eras of gaming, mainly the 80s and 90s and maintain authentic machines that I loved as a child.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?
Never! I always dreamed when I was younger of setting records at some of my favorite games, but never knew how I would have these recognized. To then hand the honor of being presented my own Trading Card was an amazing experience, one that I will never forget.
Have you ever received any media coverage for your appearance on the trading card? If so, where?
Personally, there was only a few mentions as I have presented papers at conferences or appeared in the national media. There has been the opportunity however to share the life and story of Walter Day in a peer reviewed article, this to date is still one of my most popular articles and was a joy to research. The article, titled Walter Day: The First Video Game Religious Pilgrim, can be read here: Walter Day: The First Video Game Religious Pilgrim | Banasik | Fieldwork in Religion (equinoxpub.com)
When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?
I first started communicating with Walter in January 2019, midway through his travelling from America to India. We arranged for an interview as part of my Doctor of Philosophy through the University of Sydney. An opportunity arose to meet in person with his planned visit to Australia for Kong Off 3 at BPAC Showcase (Brisbane Pinball & Arcade Collective). I had the great opportunity to spend four days with Walter getting to know him and interviewed him at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane.
If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?
Enlightening. His life experience and his ability to connect authentically with every person is truly refreshing. It is a great shame that everyone in the world will not meet and spend time with the video game pilgrim that has given us so much.
What is your favorite portable gaming device and why?
I feel like it’s cheating as it’s almost two consoles, but I have to say the original Nintendo DS because it supported the amazing library of the Game Boy Advance as well as the DS. The console was revolutionary and is just wonderful. The tactile experience of touch, speech and feel as well as the core fundamentals of the directional pad and buttons made for a perfect console.
Do you remember your first pinball game you played and what do you remember about it?
I don’t remember the game, but I do remember when I was very young staying in a caravan park with my parents and playing an early 80s machine. I was terrible at it and quickly went back to the arcade video games which I loved.
What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?
I still play puzzle games like Columns and Tetris; I also enjoy the peer-to-peer Magic the Gathering Arena and the peaceful farming simulator Stardew Valley. I enjoy games with no end, perpetual experiences that I can relax and enjoy.
If you could only have one arcade game or pinball game, what would it be and why?
It is a game that I don’t own yet but I would love to one day own a full kit of Tetris the Grand Master 3. I’m nowhere near the Grand Master level but it is a game that I think I could continue to come back to in years to come to try and master that invisible credits end of game level.
What does it take to be an arcade publisher?
I thought the days of the single producer was long gone and that you would need huge team and a massive budget. In recent years however arcade games that are made direct for home environments are small team affairs and prove to be refreshing experiences.
How does arcade music influence games past and present?
Enormously! Having a track which blasts an advertisement pulls in people to play the game. The pops and blasts of the machines I think have influenced not only video games but also popular culture movies and television shows.
Are arcades aimed mainly at children, adolescents or adults?
Modern arcades I think are aimed at children with redemption machines. There are some machines aimed at adolescents such as shooters and the modern racing games. But little for adults that appreciate classic gaming.
Do you believe some arcade games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?
No, every serious study that has been peer reviewed shows the opposite.
Do you prefer playing arcade games alone, against friends and why?
I prefer playing arcade games with friends and family, I love creating memories with people who have never experienced games and cooperative arcade games are the best way to do that.
Which company makes the best arcade games and why?
SEGA. The unique experiences that the company made then brought home changed the gaming world forever. After conquering the arcades, the competition fostered between SEGA and Nintendo led to great expansion of console gaming and shaped so many lives.
Do you learn anything from playing arcade games?
More than muscle reflexes I think after playing the most punishing games you can learn patience and persistence. Pitting yourself against a machine that is literally programmed to be a quick experience and pushing it to the extreme takes skill, both mental and physical.
Are arcade games good for relieving stress?
I find some are yes, but others can increase stress. It depends on the mood. If I had a hard day at work and felt physically exhausted, I probably wouldn’t tackle a bullet hell shooter.
Who is your favorite arcade game character and what makes that character special?
Nata de Cotton is an amazing character from the Cotton series. The series breaks the mold of other shooters as a colorful environment and a female protagonist. I love how the producers chose to hold up the difficulty for the game and Gradius style options while holding onto the theme of magic throughout the game series.
What springs to mind when you hear the term ‘Arcade?
The sounds of a bunch of machines in a poorly lit space, a range of games from classics to the 00s all curated and organized in a single place and the laughter of people having the time of their lives.
Do you find boss battles to be the best part of an arcade game?
As primarily a puzzle game player, not really. I enjoy more the experience of pushing to play a game for a long period of time.
What is your favorite arcade game of all time?
Owning an original R-Type board is something I’m proud of and is a game I continue to play. It’s a game which I have such fond memories of as it is the game my oldest son Jack first managed to control. It was the first game I installed on my first DIY backyard arcade machine, it is a game I struggle to loop and one which I think has aged so well. Everything is so perfect on that game, the sound, the graphics and the difficulty keeps bringing me back. I love it!
If you can design your own game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?
I wanted once to create a platformer of a cat called Neko who would jump around levels based on a house and torture the owners without getting caught. Neko would get the highest points by ending the day as being rewarded by the owners, not scalded as she should have been.
Where do you see arcade games in the next 20 years?
I think VR will continue to grow in popularity as will zoned games which require more space but have simulating experiences for players to step into. At least that is what I hope rather than wall to wall ticket redemption machines.