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King of Kong’s Billy Mitchell’s high scores wiped out by Twin Galaxies

Mitchell’s banishment ends 30 years on leaderboards

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Billy Mitchell (L) has been banned from Twin Galaxies. His playing career began in the early 1980s, around the time Twin Galaxies began keeping a record book of all-time high scores.
Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

All of the high scores of Billy Mitchell, the longtime Donkey Kong and Pac-Man champion, have been thrown out by Twin Galaxies, following a review of seven-year-old footage that determined three of his million-point high scores had been falsified.

Twin Galaxies, the high score-sanctioning authority whose history practically begins with Mitchell’s career in the early 1980s, announced the decision early this morning. It concludes a lengthy review of a challenge brought in early February against Mitchell’s 1,062,800-point performance of July 31, 2010, which had long raised suspicion in the Donkey Kong high score community.

“Based on the complete body of evidence presented in this official dispute thread, Twin Galaxies administrative staff has unanimously decided to remove all of Billy Mitchell’s’ scores as well as ban him from participating in our competitive leaderboards,” Twin Galaxies said in a statement.

The challenger, Jeremy Young of Donkey Kong Forum, alleged that Mitchell had produced his scores — including the first million-point game in Donkey Kong history — using an emulator instead of an original Donkey Kong motherboard. The implication was that Mitchell had spliced in videotaped footage of an emulated playthrough and passed it off as a performance on an original Donkey Kong cabinet.

The emulation allegation is important because, with an emulator, a player could modify the game’s parameters, preserve save states and revisit them to undo an adverse outcome, or alter other variables that are not part of the game on its original hardware.

For Donkey Kong’s competitive leaderboards, Twin Galaxies only accepts arcade high scores played on original, unmodified motherboards. While Donkey Kong Forum, another leading sanctioning body, accepts emulated results, it requires that they be declared as such. In early February, Donkey Kong Forum threw out three of Mitchell’s scores, all of them one million points or more, for being falsely claimed as played on original hardware.

The evidence Young presented came in a frame-by-frame analysis of how the game Mitchell was playing rendered the stages during the transition between levels. Young alleged that the way in which objects appeared in the girder stages are only drawn that way in emulated versions of Donkey Kong. On a native motherboard, they are rendered differently.

Frame-by-frame breakdown of a girder stage rendering in one of Billy Mitchell’s million-point games of Donkey Kong. It allegedly shows a game played under emulation and not on native hardware.
Donkey Kong Forum

Twin Galaxies stopped short of concluding that MAME had produced the scores but still said “we know for certain that an unmodified original [Donkey Kong] arcade [printed circuit board] did not output the display seen in the videotaped score performances.

“From a Twin Galaxies viewpoint, the only important thing to know is whether or not the score performances are from an unmodified original DK arcade PCB as per the competitive rules,” the organization said. “We now believe that they are not from an original unmodified DK arcade PCB, and so our investigation of the tape content ends with that conclusion and assertion.”

In the past, Twin Galaxies had validated scores either by having a volunteer official present to inspect the cabinet’s motherboard, or by live witnesses to a high-score attempt in a public performance. Neither was the case with Mitchell’s million-point game. Twin Galaxies, then under different management, apparently accepted the tapes Mitchell submitted as proof enough.

But since games developer and esports impresario Jace Hall bought the organization, Twin Galaxies has introduced new verification processes and, last July, a new dispute resolution process to address longstanding claims against certain scores. In January, a 35-year-old record on the Atari 2600 game Dragster was thrown out, and its holder, Todd Rogers, was banned from further participation at Twin Galaxies.

Twin Galaxies’ decisions means that not only is Mitchell no longer recognized as the first million-point scorer in Donkey Kong history, all of his other scores have been stricken from the official record, too. Among those is what’s considered the first “perfect” game in Pac-Man history — a score of 3,333,360, the maximum before Pac-Man reaches its “kill screen” and becomes unplayable. Mitchell, who hit that score in 1999, no longer appears with the seven others who have also played perfect games. His player page on Twin Galaxies is now blank.

With Mitchell’s scores vacated, that means Steve Wiebe of Redmond, Washington, Mitchell’s rival in the 2007 documentary The King of Kong, is now recognized by Twin Galaxies as the first million-point scorer in Donkey Kong history. Twin Galaxies and Guinness World Records collaborate to maintain what many consider the authoritative all-time high score list; Guinness World Records has yet to update its own database.

Polygon has reached out to Mitchell for additional comment.

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