In search of Bill, the King of Qix
King of a small and nearly extinct kingdom, to be sure, but a king nonetheless. And like one of the wise men of old, Walter Day wants to find and pay homage to him.
Day lives in Fairfield, Iowa, which one wouldn’t expect to be the nerve center of the arcade, computer game and PlayStation universe. But Day has taken it upon himself to be that universe’s institutional memory.
“I started an arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa, in 1981 just because I liked to play so much myself,” he said recently. “One day, somebody ran up a huge score on one of the games, and we were curious as to whether it might be a world record. Then, we found out that there were no world records - nobody was keeping track.”
So he volunteered to become the official scorekeeper. This was in the midst of what is now fondly recalled as the “Golden Age of Arcade Games,” and Day soon became in demand as a national spokesman. In December of 1982, Life Magazine came to Ottumwa to do a feature on Day’s Twin Galaxies arcade. A year later, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad declared Ottumwa “The Video Game Capitol of the World.”
Meanwhile, over the intervening decades, the high-score listings have swelled to fill three thick, Guinness-like volumes.
What does this have to do with Central Virginia? Well, Walter Day gave us a call one day earlier this month to see if we could help him track down Bill Camden, the world record holder for a game called Qix. On Jan. 15, 1983, at the Galxy I arcade in Lynchburg, Camden rang up a score of 1,666,604 points.
“Just phenomenal,” Day said. “It must have taken him close to an hour of continuous playing to get a score like that.”
The second place Qixmaster, Art Davidson of Anchorage, Ala., is more than 80,000 points behind.
And according to the Website “Classic Gaming,” Qix was no pushover.
“Playing Qix is a unique experience,” writes Mike Reilly. “The player controls a tiny, diamond-shaped marker with his joystick. The object of the game is to draw completed boxes on the empty playfield and eventually claim 75 percent of the screen as your own.”
With assorted enemies, of course, trying to make that impossible.
“Qix did not have amazing graphics or easily marketable characters,” Reilly said, “but it did have an intriguely simple concept and highly addictive game play. There is nothing else like it.”
They don’t make games like that any more - literally. Qix became defunct years ago, and now exists only on-line and in arcades that, Day said, “specialize in classic games.”
In game terms, a lapse of 23 years is like comparing the 21st century to the Bronze Age.
But in his day, Bill Camden ruled, and Day has a certificate he wants to give him. It says: “It is proclaimed that Bill Camden will be forever enshrined in the Video Game Hall of Fame for being a past world record holder, scoring 1,666,604 points on the arcade edition of Qix during the Golden Age of Video Games at the Galxy I Arcade in Lynchburg, Va.”
Forever enshrined in a Hall of Fame? How cool is that?
There’s only one problem - Walter Day hasn’t been able to track Bill Camden down. That’s why he asked for our help.
No problem, I thought. I’ll just call every Camden in our phone book and see if they know Bill. How many could there be?
Well, it turns out there are 22 listings in the area, one of them a Bill. But that was a dead end.
Given that, it seemed more efficient to simply put the word out this way. If you’re reading this, and you know Bill Camden, the former arcade warrior, tell him he’s still the best in the world at least one thing.
That’s something not many of us can say.