Controversial arcade game player Billy Mitchell's record scores have been removed from the Twin Galaxies leaderboards following a dispute earlier this year that many were performed using an arcade emulator. The ruling, which comes after a lengthy arbitration process, also bans Mitchell from further participation on the leaderboards, bringing an end to the King of Kong star's high-score glory.
Billy Mitchell at the Pac-Man 35th Birthday Celebration, 22 May 2015, in Schaumburg, Ill.Photo: Barry Brecheisen (Invision/AP)
All of Mitchell's records on Twin Galaxies, an organisation that tracks video game records and high scores, have been scrubbed. These marks included a 1,062,800-point score for the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong, as well as scores set between 2005 and 2007.
The news was announced in a statement earlier this morning. The statement noted that Mitchell's scores would be removed in light of evidence provided by forum poster Jeremy "Xelnia" Young that Mitchell had used the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) to record his scores instead of original arcade cabinets as was previously claimed.
Using an emulator is explicitly against the rules for Donkey Kong arcade scores, which require proof the player was using a legitimate arcade cabinet as well as show footage of the player using the cabinet during play. The recording must also show the cabinet settings have not been altered to give advantages, something which can be done easily with emulated gameplay.
"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," the staff said in a forum post.
Mitchell, who has maintained his scores are legitimate, has not yet commented on the removal of his records.
At the heart of the controversy were scores Mitchell allegedly achieved on 31 July 2010 at Boomers Arcade in Dania, Florida. Mitchell supposedly achieved back-to-back scores of 1,062,800 points in Donkey Kong and 1,270,900 in Donkey Kong Jr.
The only Twin Galaxies referee to supposedly witness the score was Todd Rogers, who also recently had his scores removed from Twin Galaxies' leaderboards after evidence indicated that his scores in the Atari 2600 game Dragster were likely to have been impossible.
In Young's dispute, he claimed that direct-feed footage from scores, as well as other submissions from Mitchell, showed that Mitchell had used MAME. Young's claim centered on the fact that arcade cabinets load Donkey Kong levels from one side of the screen to the other while MAME loads them in large chunks. Looking at level transitions, he concluded that Mitchell's level transitions were consistent with those occurring in MAME.
Footage of the infamous "King of Kong" tape supposedly showing Mitchell's 1,047,200 score.
Using this evidence, Twin Galaxies has determined that at least two of Mitchell's scores were achieved via emulation. Among these scores are the infamous "King of Kong" score of 1,047,200. In 2005, Mitchell sent a low-quality VHS tape with that score to Funspot Arcade in Laconia, New Hampshire shortly after another player, Steve Wiebe, had surpassed Mitchell's earlier first-place score. The events were shown in the 2007 documentary The King of Kong. Twin Galaxies also specifically voided a 1,050,200 score achieved live on 13 July 2007 at the Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers in Orlando, Florida. They did not make a determination about the Boomers Arcade scores, citing a lack of "enough of a body of direct evidence".
"I obviously support their decision," Young said to Kotaku via email. "I think it speaks to the current administration's commitment to the integrity of their leaderboards. Even with all the focus on modern eSports, TG is still built on a foundation of video game high scores. With another cheater removed that foundation grows more solid. I'm also grateful for the support I've received from members of the [Donkey Kong Forum], TG, and larger gaming communities. My name is attached to the dispute, but I consider this a community effort."
Kotaku has reached out to Mitchell and to Twin Galaxies commissioner Dave Hawksett, but had not received comment at time of writing. We have also contacted the Guinness Book of World Records regarding any plans to remove Mitchell's scores from their records. (Mitchell holds a record in their book for the first perfect score on Pac-Man.) Guinness removed Todd Rogers' scores after Twin Galaxies's decision in January.
Billy Mitchell announces his Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr scores. The two screens supposedly show footage from his records, although they are direct capture only.
An investigation into the Boomers scores has been complicated by an inability to find the original tape recording of the score, which supposedly would show footage not just of the games being played but the machine they were played on. Speaking to Kotaku in February, two former Twin Galaxies employees - David Nelson and Patrick Scott Patterson - recalled the existence of the tape, which they both said was later lost.
Nelson told Kotaku that he believe the tape ended up in Todd Rogers' possession. Nelson also recalled a conversation where Mitchell threatened to make things bad for Twin Galaxies. Mitchell remained silent on the questions Jeremy Young was making about the direct-feed footage from the Boomers scores for a couple of weeks before speaking out on the internet talk show called "East Side Dave".
"The film footage that he has, that Jeremy has, shows MAME play," Mitchell said at the time. "Now, I contend that if he gets the original tape, or he gets the original room shot, he will see that what I say is true. I'm not disputing what he says. What I'm disputing is the fact that I want him to have the original tape. And the fact of the matter is that that original footage was given to Twin Galaxies, Twin Galaxies has it or should have it, and if it's anywhere other than Twin Galaxies, that's a real problem."
In the interview, Mitchell also claimed that the score had been witnessed by Twin Galaxies owner Pete Bouvier, a statement which seemed to contradict statements made by Mitchell at the time the score was announced. In that announcement, he claimed Bouvier was "on his way over" at the time.
For ex-employees such as Patrick Scott Patterson and Dave Nelson, Twin Galaxies' decision clears up doubts from nearly a decade ago and frees up the leaderboards to recognise other score setters. It also marks an opportunity for Twin Galaxies to re-establish trust among the scorekeeping community.
"Do I feel validated? No," Patterson said in a public Facebook post. "But I do feel happy for video game history in general. After all, that is what this has been about for me this whole time. Mitchell's antics not only saw him earn money from appearances based on false narratives he created for himself, but it took proper historical credit away from others for ages."
"I sincerely hope that the evidence that has been uncovered is more than just a few stray pixels on a screen," David Nelson told Kotaku over Facebook Messenger. "If that's the case, then probably every arcade machine in my basement is guilty. From their own account, it does sound like Twin Galaxies has done a good deal of homework before making this decision, and I appreciate that their announcement does not speak to declaring someone a cheater, but rather that the evidence shows that the stated rules were not followed, and thus the scores are invalid."
"We must repeat, the truth is the priority," Twin Galaxies staff said in their ruling. "That is the concern. Whatever it takes. Twin Galaxies continues to strive to earn and maintain trust over time by making supportable decisions and taking sensible actions."