PS3 Fanboy interview: Zafro, the Stardust superstar

One game has caused the entire PS Fanboy team a lot of lost sleep: Super Stardust HD. This PSN downloadable title is far more addictive than any of us could have possibly guessed ... and although we're trying to beat each other's top scores, none of us can even match the incredible scores of the people at the very top of the Rankings. Zafro is one of those leaders, and we took some time to talk to him about mastering Stardust.

How did you first find out about Super Stardust HD? What made it so appealing?
My first impression of Super Stardust HD was from the trailer made available through the PlayStation Store. What stuck with me the most was the music, but the game looked great fun as well. The appeal to me is that I am a fan of shooters, such as Gradius, R-Type, Ikaruga, etc. I always keep my eyes open for games like this, so Stardust appealed to me greatly. Although not exactly the same style, a top down fast-paced shooter will almost always win me over.

What's your current high score? How long did it take for you to get that score?
My current high score is 833 357 770, which is only about 13 million points higher than the 2nd place score. [Editor's note: This interview took place before E3. Zafro has dropped down to third place.] This current score I achieved earlier today, so it's been less than two weeks since the game's release. Sometimes I play twice a day, sometimes I don't play at all, so on average I'd say I play the game once a day. To estimate, I'd say I spent about a week playing once a day to achieve my current score.

Did getting such a high score come to you naturally? Or, is it something you have to practice for?
I think getting the high score comes naturally, but also involves practice. For instance, every time I play I do better, and that's because of practice. But finishing the game six times and reaching Beyond Suicidial difficulty twice is due to natural talent I think. If that wasn't true, then there would probably be a lot more players with a few hundred million points. Everyone has their own skill level, and everyone can do better, but some people just naturally start out better. I've been a gamer my whole life, so in a way you could say that is practice. I've had more than enough practice gaming, so I bring those talents to Stardust when I play.

What are some tactics you use? How can the average player get better at the game?
As I've said to some players who have contacted me, there are a few things I like to keep in mind when playing. First of all, don't get killed. Losing the score multiplier will guarantee you won't be getting a very high score. It's pretty obvious, and easier said than done. When I play I typically don't die until Elite difficulty, which is the third loop. For my current high score, my first death was at the final planet on Elite. Another big thing to keep in mind is to not rely on bombs. Bombs give you a bonus, so having a surplus of them, combined with the score multiplier, means the points will just roll in. I'll usually get around 70 to 80 bombs before I have to start using them more steadily, but then I still try to keep the bomb counter around 70.

With regard to tactics, there are a few things I always try to do. Most important is to have a shield. A shield is a free life that lets you keep your multiplier when hit. So if there is an extra ship token and I have no shield, I'll let the token degrade to a shield. I always try to power up weapons about the same as well. For instance, I'll initially grab a bunch of Rock Crusher for the first planet. Usually I get it around 61% before focusing on the Gold Melter. I get that around the same level, but I always try to have Ice Splitter as close to 100% as possible by the third planet. The Ice Splitter is only effective when powered up fully, so without it ice will cause many deaths, especially on the harder difficulties. Something I learned the hard way.

Also, the boost is a life saver and using it recklessly will result in death. Having a boost ready to go helps eliminate the need for bombs. Occasionally I will boost through tokens to get a bonus, but I only do it when I know I can get away with it. I eliminate as much risk as possible while playing. I also try not to think too much while playing, and focus only on my ship. Taking your eye off the ship and looking for a power-up or something will just increase the chance of getting killed by a tiny asteroid or a similar unnoticeable object. And before I forget, it's good to know the rotation of the weapons. Being able to switch immediately to the desired weapon is important, since you don't exactly get a lot of time to react.

Like most anything in life, I'd say the average player can get better simply with practice. Just keep playing the game and you will keep getting better. Keep certain things in mind while playing and stay focused. I essentially
detailed everything I do while I play, so I guarantee the more you play, the higher your score will get. And maybe the most important thing of all is to play with the USB cord connected. This eliminates any wrongful deaths due to controller malfunctions.

If you could make a sequel, what would you add?
I've never thought about a sequel, probably because it's been such a short time and so far I've been having a great time with the game. But one thing that comes to mind is the multiplayer. I think the co-op function is just bad. Sharing the screen ruins the experience. A sequel should have split-screen or online capabilities. It would be much more fun having a friend or two play alongside me without hindering me. My biggest gripe with the game is the boss recycling, so in a sequel I would definitely have all unique bosses. But Super Stardust HD has a great, winning formula. I'm not so sure it really needs to have a sequel, it just needs to be tweaked in a few places.

We'd like to thank Zafro for the fantastic interview. Hopefully, we'll be able to match your score ... one of these days.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.