Andre Huijts' Experiences with Atari's Netherlands Centipede Contest

 

Andre Huijts talks about his experiences in competing in Atariís Netherlands Centipede Contest, back in 1983, where he placed 4th in the "Under-18" category.  An article about the contest appeared in the January 1984 issue of Video Games magazine (pg. 18):


Andre Huijts: It was late Summer of 1983.  Atari has not really crashed yet in Europe, and it's about at the peak of its existence.  My brother and I owned a 2600 and it was THE machine to have then.  I read somewhere that Atari was organizing video game Championships - not only nationwide but also worldwide.  The game they choose that year was Centipede.  There was a "promotion truck" going through the Netherlands where you could come to and try to qualify for the final, which was going to be in Amsterdam.  I thought, why not give it a try, so I rented the cartridge exactly one week (the standard rental period) before the truck would be coming to Zuiderpark in Rotterdam.  I played all that Saturday at home, brought back the cartridge, and headed to the park.  Below is a newspaper article I found about it online:

There were loads of people there who were "just around" and just had a play and thus were without any serious chance.  After playing a while, a couple of people started to watch me play, and after some time there were about 20-25 people around me while playing.  I ended up with a good enough score (which I don't remember) and the guys who were running the show were telling me that I would definitely make it to the finals, so I had to fill out a form with all my details and they would contact me.

However, until about 1 week before the finals on September 3rd, they had not contacted me, so I thought I didn't make it, but then I got a phone call from someone from Atari.  I didn't even hear the lady's name.  This was someone from Atari calling!  She explained that I ranked 26th in the Under-18 category, and they only allowed 25 finalists to come over, but one guy couldn't make it and she asked if I wanted to take his place.  "YOU BET MADAM!!!"  So I rushed out to rent the cartridge again.  I should mention that I HATED Centipede on the 2600.  The way they had tried to recreate the motion of the track-ball SUCKED IMHO, but hey, I didn't have a choice.  So there I was practicing in all of my spare time, again.

My parents and I drove up to Amsterdam, which was somewhere relatively far away for me in those days.  I always thought the location was the Hilton Hotel, but my dad recently told me it was the Okura Hotel instead.  I'll never forget that Atari paid for the travel costs to my dad (who already had a company car back then, but hey, Atari was richer than we were).

So there were 50 contestants - 25 over-18 and 28 under-18 years old and I didn't have high hopes.  I don't remember all the details, but in the end I made it to the last 5 guys surviving.  In that final round, I reached the 4th place, which meant JUST missing a spot on the "podium", and no special prizes.  However, what we did get was a certificate with the final score and a nice light-blue Atari sports bags filled with promo goodies (like a Centipede shirt, a Pac-Man frisbee, etc).  Atari had hired Ron Brandsteder, the most famous TV host in those days in The Netherlands to "talk everything together". 

It was a great day and a lot of fun.

Something that I clearly remembered was seeing a proper FILM camera at the event.  Now, even in those days, TV was already made with video cameras, and usually on location, so somehow (maybe I'd seen the logo) I figured that this crew was from the Dutch Polygoon Journal.  The Polygoon Journal was the Dutch "news" program for the cinemas.  Back in the 40's, 50's, and 60's, when people didn't have TVs, these kind of Journals were the main source of seeing news from all over the world.  The Polygoon lasted until the early 80s, and I remember seeing those Journals when going to a movie as a kid, but they were really already in their last days by then.  Naturally, because of TV, the focus of the Polygoon Journals had shifted to more "general" and less "recent" events.  In those last days, they also tried to earn money to stay afloat, so I guess Atari asked them to do a Journal about computers/computer games and probably paid for it.  I never saw the finished Journal of the Centipede competition back then.  You had to be "lucky" to get to see a Polygoon Journal if you went to a movie.

Fast forward to I think 2009/2010 or so when I first met Pieter ("Gyruss") on the KLOV forum.  From the first moment I learned that he worked for Beeld & Geluid, I bugged him about this Journal material.  I had been searching the indexes of the archives before, but it never came up. You see, Beeld & Geluid had become the owner of all the Polygoon material, so I figured it should be there.  Pieter searched for a couple of years I think (not constantly of course) but nothing ever came up, until a couple of months ago, when he sent me a text message saying "I found it!"  They had discovered another lot of material from Polygoon and it was in there:

 

The quality of the material was still great.  I didn't think I would be on the material because I knew I hadn't been filmed (well, not as the main subject).  Of course I was very exited to see it for the very first time after so many years.  It was only when a hi-res scan of the material was done and Pieter posted it to me that I suddenly found out that I WAS on the material, if only for a second or two.  I could only recognize myself because of the way I was sitting and at what position.  I clearly recognized my parents, who were very close to me, so I was positive it was me.  This material has now become one of the promotion videos for the Retro Game Experience.  I had to go through the material a couple of times to find myself.  I found my Mum first, as she wore a pretty distinctive dress.  She told me she clearly remembered it, having bought it for a certain occasion.  I also found my Dad and myself following that:

The worst thing is that I probably lost all the artifacts.  If only I would still have that certificate.  We even received pictures that another family took and sent us, but my Dad is one of those people who like to keep their homes "tidy".  There's still stuff from my youth at my parents' attic, though, so who knows.  I thought my 2600 was also still there, but a recent search showed up nothing :(


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