I started playing TAP around four years ago. At the time, I was a fairly skilled Tetris DS player, and I was already ranked extremely high for the game, but I was fairly shite at the TGM series still. Death has always been the mode I liked the most, with TGM1 being fairly slow, relatively easy (emphasis on "relatively") and generally not providing much of a thrill for me. TAP Master mode has similar issues, and I'm really not a huge fan of it. Ti Master and Shirase require blistering speed, but for the most part there's no real art to them. If you attack them hard enough and just smash the speed out, then you'll do reasonable well even if you're not that great from a technical level.
Death mode is different. Death mode requires speed, but it also requires superb "tekkers", as has become the DCBC term. You need to be able to handle the speed of the mode, but ultimately to get the M and Gm ranks you need technique, and you need flawless precision and rhythm to be able to complete the mode. It requires the combination of speed and technical ability, and importantly for me the games are short. You don't play for ten minutes and find you weren't good enough - games of Death are usually two or three minutes long before you screw up and die, and start again.
After around two years of playing, in March 2008, I got my first M rank. I then took absolutely fucking ages to get M again (two months). I broke 700 in January 2009, and then basically stalled for a while. I improved consistency slowly, but the really high runs were hard to come by, until I broke 900 about six months ago. The thing with breaking level 900 is that it shows you're basically there. It doesn't get faster past 500, so really if you can survive 300 or 400 levels of that speed, there's no real reason why you can't survive 500 and get to 999.
Despite that, it's still a total bitch. I slowly inched my score up with decent runs, but Gm still seemed irritatingly far away. The main problem was keeping nerves under control - I'd start getting hugely nervous if I ever got to 750 and was still keeping decent control. Even when I was doing it fairly regularly, I'd start bricking it past 800, and there's just not enough leeway in the timings to get nervous. One slip up, and you're pretty much completely fucked at that pace. Every time I realised I could make Gm on that run, I'd panic and die.
Even yesterday I was hugely nervy past 800. To the point where I could physically feel my hands being sweaty and nervous. It's hard to keep yourself calm when the mental control required to calm yourself down might distract you too much and cause you to die anyway. I remember looking at the level counter and seeing 970, and just having a blind rush of panic and hoping I could frantically cling on and just clear singles to get past the level stop at 998 and get Gm. I tried to hang on and clear the credit roll too, just for the completeness, but I died and just made sure I got the name-entry instead. I forgot to make a screenshot at the time, so I'm somewhat lucky that I got the replay.
That game made me the first British player to get the Gm grade on Death mode, and the seventh player to get it outside of Japan. The time is fast enough to place me third in the Western rankings, behind batfly (Swedish, 5:32) and colour_thief (Canadian, 6:04). If I'd not wasted so much time at the level stops (especially at 499) then it could quite easily have put me into second place.
I'll probably not bother trying to make M rank on TAP Master, because the mode just infuriates me too much. I'll probably stick with Death a bit and hopefully try and break the six minute barrier, but my main focus is now going to be improving on Nullpomino and the multiplayer scene, especially given that my league starts next week. For now, I've achieved everything that I want to achieve in TGM, so I think I'll settle for that.
Thanks to all the guys on TC for the support, competition, and for ultimately being the reason I've kept going for so long. And thanks to Edo for dying at 998 and not beating me to the first UK Gm, and to Amnesia for being not quite quick enough to keep me behind him ;)