Ok, so by far the biggest obstacle for me right now -- and I'm sure many of you can relate -- is the length of time required to play a full game of DK. And I'm not talking right now about the physical and mental fatigue that inevitably sets in towards the tail end of a long game while playing at a high level, which is a very real obstacle that prematurely ends a lot of great games for most people. No, I'm talking about how many of us have pretty crazy lives on a day to day basis and finding a 4 hour block of time to yourself with no interruptions where you're not worried about the time and you're not preoccupied with real life problems and you happen to be fully rested and awake and ready to kick some butt -- those opportunities are feeling downright rare lately. I have to confess that these days, at least 70 - 80% of the time that I fire up a live stream of my games I know in the back of my mind that I have almost no shot of finishing a game during that session. I'm cutting things too close timewise and I know I have to be somewhere, or I know that my family is likely to come back home after visiting with neighbors for a play date within the next couple of hours, or a million other possible things that just put that little bit of doubt in the back of your mind which messes with your mental state just enough to be unable to play at 100% -- and with DK generally if you're not at 100%, it ain't happening. That doesn't mean it's not possible though. I can remember specifically one of my PR games began after 3+ hours of failed attempts and restarts and I was just about to wrap it up for the night after 2am when all of a sudden a Start broke out, and then all of a sudden I had passed Level 6 and then Level 8 on the first man -- so I looked at the clock and just mentally buckled down and tried to focus and somehow managed to kill screen that game at after 5am, completely exhausted. So, it's possible, but it would be so much easier if ideal conditions were to present themselves a bit more often so that I'm not feeling rusty when a good opportunity arises.
My focus with the game right now and for the last year or so is to break 1.2 million points. When I first set this goal it was definitely out of reach. Even while point pressing with all of the main pressing tactics that many people are aware of and are well documented, this number is just a bit too high to hit so it requires finding a lot of small improvements and taking just a bit more risk than most people are willing to take. Think about averaging 10,000 points per screen for the whole game (including the early levels) -- that's only 1.16 million. How about a simple formula of beginning Level 5 with 130,000 points and then averaging 60,000 points per level for the rest of the game (something no one has ever done when not including points with lost men) -- that's just 1.15 million. Coming up with that extra 40,000 - 50,000 along the way on TOP of fully pressing the game is just massively difficult. At any rate, it has been a bit of a "holy grail" score among most players for a long time and for the last several months I feel like I have all of the pieces in place to make it happen -- IF I can ever execute at a high enough level for over 3 straight hours, which is obviously extremely challenging. I'll keep you all posted on my progress towards that goal here.
Some gameplay stuff I've been working on:
One significant improvement that I've made technique-wise over the past several months -- nearly every time I execute a broad jump of a barrel(s), I make a conscious decision about which direction to press the "stick" while in the air. I had been doing this for a long time while performing standing jumps, but only pretty recently have I been doing this such a large percentage of the time for broad jumps. It can make for some awkward or difficult movements that may be problematic for arcade players, but I am proficient enough on a keyboard so that I can do things like run left, make a quick adjustment back to the right, quickly switch back to the left to (left) broad jump a double group of barrels, immediately press and hold RIGHT while in the air to claim my 300 points while travelling left in the air, then hit the ground running LEFT again. And do this constantly, literally every 1 or 2 seconds or so. It's a ton of extra inputs for a relatively small impact on the game, but it IS an impact if making these decisions well.
I'll often combine this with another relatively recent improvement -- which is to often look TWO levels up for opportunities to group barrels. For example, I might be running RIGHT on the 3rd girder towards a the small ladder, getting ready to group and jump two barrels. While doing this, I look to the upper left corner and notice a different group of two barrels on the FIFTH girder right under Kong that could be grouped on that small ladder. So, as I'm broad jumping the current group of barrels to the right, I'll press and hold LEFT while in the air to group up those other barrels -- once I land and climb the small ladder, that other group of barrels will be coming towards my on the 4th girder. If I had run left to group those barrels before broad jumping to the right, I would have lost a lot of efficiency, and by the time I got all the way back into position to climb the small ladder, that other group of barrels which I just grouped up might have rolled too far along to allow me to safely climb the small ladder, so now I delay my climb, which often leads to further delays, missed barrels and lost points. By doing this maneuver in the air, I continue with efficient climbing while getting an extra 100 points off of those two barrels which otherwise may not have been grouped.
Tactically, I've really been trying hard to maximize points while transitioning from the bottom hammer to the top hammer, which often results in chasing a triple group back down from the 3rd girder to the 2nd girder -- definitely a high risk / low reward maneuver due to the world of crap that can line up to haze you while getting back up to the 3rd girder in the lower left corner, not to mention really bad potential problems with the fireballs. Most top players have deemed these tactics to be just too risky. I'll admit, even after lots of practice trying to make this work, I still have mixed results and a lot more deaths than I otherwise would have. However, I do think that if done correctly tactics like this SHOULD yield significantly more points than just beelining up to the top hammer. The tricky part of the tradeoff is that delaying the run to the top hammer loses time (you don't technically lose BONUS on barrel screens, but you CAN lose additional barrels and additional opportunities to use those barrels for big points up in the scoring zone below Kong). So, you need to be gaining more points by "playing from the bottom" than the opportunity cost of forgoing more time in the scoring zone below Kong. Remember, if you could have gotten even one additional double group and rejump due to arriving at the scoring zone 5 or 6 Bonus seconds earlier -- that's 400 points gone that I could have had by just racing to the top. If MULTIPLE rejumps could have occurred, now we're definitely talking about a potential waste of points. On the flip side, the simple act of chasing that triple down to the 2nd girder and rejumping it (assuming no additional delays or lost barrels) gains 500 points -- and often additional double or triple groups can now be formed en route to the scoring zone. I think moves like this -- if done aggressively and efficiently CAN and SHOULD yield an additional 200 - 300 points during this transition phase between the hammers above and beyond the opportunity cost (other top players disagree with this math and I'm open to debate about it). But it is very risky and difficult. Still, there are 51 barrel screens between Levels 5 - 21 and finding an extra 300 points per screen here could be the difference between hitting 1.2 million and just missing it.
One thing I've been messing with just a bit lately is looking for opportunities to aggressively use the 2nd hammer in an offensive manner. Traditionally, what I've always felt about this hammer is that it's a good back up plan to use in a defensive way when necessary, but that it's not really very useful for point pressing. However, I've been rethinking that lately. Depending on the setup, if I can get to that hammer without delay while there are 3 or 4 fireballs in the immediate area, I think it may be worth point pressing with this hammer. Keep in mind that using up this hammer can be risky if you remain trapped in that section after it expires -- and I've already had a few deaths result from this -- but I think with the right balance we might have positive expectation to gain some decent points here with only moderate risk ... again, if the situation is favorable. This includes any situation where you expect to otherwise be delayed anyways. For example, if one of the five fireballs is clearly preventing a quick escape up the right side (after using the bottom hammer) and I'm clearly going to be standing around for a while on the left side waiting for an opening anyways, then why not stand around with the hammer in hand and try to smash a few fireballs? One of the best scenarios occurs when you use up all of the hammer time smashing fireballs and during this time, that 5th fireball on the right side made it's way to the top of the screen and you are able to jump to the middle section after the hammer expires and race up the right side -- this is big points when this happens (getting all 3 prizes along the way). Another possibility is if you recognize that only one fireball remains up above you and the others have drifted to the middle section -- now a good choice is to miss smashing the last fireball across the gap on purpose, leaving it in the middle section and try to quickly climb up the left side at the first opportunity -- again, this is risky if that last fireball comes down your ladder to your section and other fireballs are still lingering in the middle section -- that's the classic trap and is often fatal -- but in terms of Bonus efficiency it's much better to try ending the screen in that manner if that's the setup IMO.
I had been thinking more about the rivet screen recently and I think my latest couple of long games showed some good improvements in my rivet averages. Basically, I'm coming to the conclusion that in a surprisingly high percentage of situations, the top hammer is actually a waste of time and points. I think that when the setup is slightly bad and you feel there is a large chance that you will NOT be able to create an opportunity to taunt out the rest of the screen with at LEAST 2500 Bonus remaining (which creates a net gain of 1000 points), and you can find a way to quickly and aggressively finish out the screen while skipping the top hammer -- you are likely going to score MORE points doing it this way than you would have if you had gotten the top hammer. It's not very intuitive but it's becoming more and more clear to me that there are many situations where this is correct. Remember, holding the hammer in hand spews off 900 Bonus points, and based on how far out of the way you went to get it, it may be a cost of closer to 1100 - 1200 Bonus points to get the hammer WITHOUT ANY DELAY! Based on what we now know about fireball scoring probabilities, you'd need to make close to 3 smashes JUST to break even with the hammer time. Often times you won't even get enough smashes. But, MANY other times, you just run into BIG delays either trying to get to the hammer, or waiting near the hammer to try to set up better smashes, or even after the hammer expires while trying to finish out the screen -- often these seemingly minor delays will cost 1000 - 1500 Bonus points without even realizing it! IF, instead you had an immediate opportunity to clear the screen instead, take it. You'll probably score more points.