Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Chris Tang, who currently is displayed on card 2110, from the Superstars of 2015 Collection. He is also featured on card number 2794. Chris is an accomplished game designer, cosplayer, and video game champion. He is best known from the $25,000 "Sega World Championship: Rock the Rock" that was broadcast on MTV. Chris is featured in the film “Ecstasy of Order”, a Tetris documentary which has been a huge passion for Chris in recent year. Chris can be heard as the Tetris World Championship announcer for competitive Tetris world tournaments.
Do you remember your first video game you played and what do you remember about it?
The first video game I played was likely Pac-Man, as I would often find those machines in public at the supermarket or Pizza Hut when the game was at its peak in the early 80’s. The presentation of that era’s arcade machines with the brightness and color of the screen, iconic artwork, high quality build, and the catchy sounds - still stand out in my memories and carried a magic that’s since been lost to time.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of Tetris players? How do you compare them to competitors 10 years ago.
Today’s generation of Tetris players take the game very seriously and have access to new tools and information that didn’t exist a decade prior. Players like Jonas Neubauer established basic best practices for new players to improve their skills, which led to a wave of players with the talent to leverage that with control techniques like hypertapping and rolling – along with training programs like Tetris Gym. However, it was the first generation of competitors and maxout players that made this possible, building the positive community and platform to facilitate the exponential rise in player skill on a 30+ year old game that has become a phenomenon and anomaly in all of eSports. With all the amazing new players continually raising the bar and breaking the limits of possibility, I can’t wait to see how crazy things get!
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?
While I wasn’t into sports much, I actually did collect baseball and similar cards. As I saw standout early 80’s arcade players like Eric Ginner and Tim McVey earn a spotlight, I honestly hoped there would be a time when gaming competition would become more mainstream. Even after I started winning tournaments in the 8-bit console era, I still wanted to fully deserve and earn any recognition if I were ever recognized as such. I never stopped doing the best I could, and somewhere along the way it happened – a dream come true to be featured on these trading cards!
When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?
There was an official Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 competition held at E3 in 2000, and Walter was the special guest referee! I ended up winning the whole thing and it was a great honor to have been part of that. In the years to follow, I would see Walter at events such as Classic Gaming Expo and California Extreme.
If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?
“Motivating”, as his entire essence inspires players to achieve their best – truly a gift to the world!
When did you first play Tetris and what caught your interest?
My first experience playing Tetris was the Atari arcade version. The simple to learn, challenging to master mechanics really stood out, even though the level-based line clear format of the coin-op was different from most other versions of the game. Like many others I found myself playing the game in my head after first exposure - which some call the “Tetris Effect”, which is really a testament to the amazing impact the game has on the mind!
Do you prefer the NES Tetris or Gameboy Tetris, and what other platforms do you enjoy?
Overall I prefer the NES version over the Game Boy version due to the “happy coincidence” of its difficulty curve that helped spark the game’s competitive longevity. My favorite retro version of Tetris is Super Tetris 2 + Bombliss for the Super Famicom due to its smooth piece movement and control, the ultra fun Bombliss cascade mode, and VS play. For modern platforms I absolutely enjoy Tetris Effect Connected for the satisfaction of its Journey Mode and the inclusion of the Classic Score Attack mode that makes the competitive scene much more accessible.
Do you remember your first Tetris tournament you competed in and what do you remember about it?
The 1990 Nintendo World Championships was my first competitive Tetris event - I came in 3rd in Oakland, but my mom drove me to Los Angeles the week after and I ended up winning it there. What I remember the most was how professional and well presented everything was. This “Powerfest” was more than just a tournament, it was Nintendo creating a definitive lifestyle gaming event for everyone - with competition at its core, and there’s been nothing like it ever since!
What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?
I play a variety of games but prefer ones with fun and well-crafted action and/or ones with an interesting story or world. Some of my favorites in the current generation are Ys VIII, NIOH, and the Earth Defense Force series. I also regularly play retro arcade and console games of every genre both for enjoyment and for game design study. Longtime favorites include 1943, Contra, Life Force, and series such as Phantasy Star, Gradius, Castlevania, and Ace Combat.
What does it take to be a Tetris World Champion?
It takes dedication to stay at the top of the game both in terms of stacking and movement. As players can now move pieces at 20hz+ speeds due to the “rolling” technique, there’s a physical training and precision factor to consider. It’s a big commitment, yet we’re still seeing the average age of champions continue to drop relative to where the scene began. The current environment and amazing training resources now available leaves the field wide open. Future champions will be the ones that exhibit the inherent talent, combined with a good work ethic to maintain consistent performance.
Do you believe some video games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?
Not at all. This is more of a talking point of those trying to find a scapegoat for what comes down to individual actions and crimes. I grew up with games like Mortal Kombat - and the same types of people tried to villainize games back then. Despite the claims of “violent games leading to violence” I have STILL not seen a case where someone pulled a heart or spine out of someone’s body after a fist fight, nor have I ever felt compelled to so, as that would cause a mess not worth the trouble of cleaning up!
Do you prefer playing video games alone or against friends and why?
After all these years I still haven’t found many who could keep up with my skill or taste in games, so I just tend to go it alone and enjoy what I like!
Are Tetris games good for relieving stress?
It really depends on the version. For relaxation and relieving stress, I would say that Tetris Effect Connected could be the perfect game. However, if you want the opposite, and a challenge - engaging with the RNG in NES Tetris always leads to imminent despair and endless amounts of stress!
What are some of your most proud tournament wins and why?
The Sega World Championship Rock the Rock event is the big one of course, and not just because of the scope of the event and prize. The actual challenge was in playing perfect runs on Sonic - a game series where one mistake would cost you everything and put you completely out of contention. I had to play under that kind of pressure, learn the maps and optimal paths in real-time and also throttled what I was performing to limit what my rivals could learn from my runs. Taking the competition seriously was a huge step in growth for my entire life and I continue to learn from that experience.
What was your feeling when you were inducted into the International Video Game Hall of Fame?
I felt that I wanted to have done more first across all categories so I could have been considered for the Lifetime Achievement Award - but I now realize that the 90’s Competitor era needs my representation as it was such a powerful and unique era with platform holders running the biggest events. I eventually did get a Lifetime Achievement Award for my work in the Tetris scene – so I guess it all worked out!
Who is your favorite arcade game character and what makes that character special?
“Arcade” characters really limit the selection, but I still have a great answer. Capcom’s futuristic ninja Strider Hiryu is a character that represented generational shifts in graphical quality throughout the history of arcade gaming – bringing action sprites to a whole new level with original Strider in the late 80’s and then again as a sprite in a polygonal 3D environment in Strider 2. In Marvel Vs. Capcom, Strider was fully brought to life with large fluid 2D animations as a fighting game character - of whom I was the dialogue writer for. It was a huge honor to be a part of that and to see fans appreciate the character with quotes that I wrote often appearing on screen name profiles and web pages of the time!
What springs to mind when you hear the word "Tetris"?
“Tetris” means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but I’m in a unique position having been involved in its history as a game player, a developer, and in its competitive scene. I feel that Tetris is a force in my life that has the power to unite players in positive ways like no other game can! The level of love and respect everyone has for each other in the community is unique in gaming, and we all want to see each other succeed! “We built this together!” is the feeling I get from “Tetris”, and all it has done for our world!
What was your first impression of Super Mario Bros and why did it appeal to you?
I first saw Super Mario Bros. as an arcade game among the Vs. Unisystem cabinets I was already familiar with, and I felt it was oddly titled because it had little to do with the original Mario Bros., being more like Namco’s Pac-Land as a scrolling action platformer. I really got into the game when I got the NES on its test market release in 1985, as it was truly like having the arcade game at home. This new standard in quality was very exciting to me, not yet knowing the Vs. system was basically a Famicom in an arcade cabinet. Nintendo’s bold iconic packaging and redesign for the North American market paired with Super Mario Bros. was a brilliant move and made console gaming feel new and magical again.
What is your favorite arcade game of all time?
Probably Sega’s Space Harrier, as it represented gaming’s biggest leap in audiovisual quality combined with mechanical motion simulation. The colorful graphics were iconic and revolutionary, and the fast and frantic gameplay fun and exhilarating – providing a “survival thrill” that I really enjoyed!
If you can design your own game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?
I’m currently developing a spiritual successor to Space Harrier, tentatively titled Strike Blazinger with a variety of main characters. It takes place in a surreal multidimensional world where its human defenders utilize high speed flight and energy weapons in their battle for survival against a crisis of cosmos-ending proportions. While the details aren’t finalized, I’d like all of the game’s characters to have something memorable and relatable about them which can be expressed in their personality and play style.
How do you see competitive Tetris in the next 10 years?
I see it continuing on a path of increased skill among players, and growing interest along with it. I see a lot of room for variations, expansions and improvements on rule sets as the current “meta” kind of formed itself as a response to players being able to break the game with rapid inputs. There seems to still be a demand to see other types of skill demonstrated; offshoot competitions for DAS and other formats are popular and will help broaden the audience and player base.