Over a year ago, the arcade records of Billy Mitchell were almost entirely expunged following accusations that his scores were achieved on the MAME emulator instead of a proper arcade cabinet. The removal of Mitchell’s records also banned the King of Kong star from taking part in the Twin Galaxies arcade leaderboards in the future, but Mitchell has recently threatened action Twin Galaxies and the Guinness World Records seeking to clear his name and have his records reinstated.
A letter from Mitchell’s lawyers sent to the Guinness Book of World Records and Twin Galaxies on September 9 is seeking an “official demand for retraction” over “defamatory statements” made by Twin Galaxies and the Guinness World Records in the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition 2019 edition.
“Specifically, Twin Galaxies stated that he did not achieve his scores on original, unmodified hardware. Twin Galaxies then stripped Mr. Mitchell of all his records and achievements. Twin Galaxies followed its statement (10 hours later) with articles such as “Impressive and Legitimate Feats Involving Video Games.” This article, which heavily stressed that the records discussed were legitimate achievements, started by reallocating Mitchell’s most famous achievement, “The Perfect Pac-man,” implying that Mitchell cheated to achieve it. Moreover, Twin Galaxies never clarified that Mitchell did not cheat to achieve this record.”
Mitchell’s lawyers went on to cite a 2019 edition of Guinness World Records that said Jeremy Young, the Donkey Kong forum moderator who levied the allegations that started all of this, “was able to prove that Mitchell’s submitted scores were obtained while using MAME”. “As a matter of fact, there is no evidence to support Guinness World Records’ assertion that Mitchell’s Pac-Man scores ‘NEVER WERE,’ or were ‘obtained while using MAME,'” the letter argues. The letter is accompanied with a 156-page long Billy Mitchell Evidence Package that adds “the majority of Billy Mitchell’s world scores were achieved before MAME was even created, as the majority of his scores were performed in the 1980s”.
Twin Galaxies and the Guinness World Records have been given a fortnight to issue a retraction to stave off further legal action. “We urge Guinness World Records to independently evaluate the evidence, and not rely on Twin Galaxies, which did not force Guinness to make the defamatory statements,” the letter says.
The original investigation into Mitchell’s scores was prompted by the direct feed recordings of Mitchell’s world records and how the Donkey Kong images appear on screen. On an original arcade cabinet, Donkey Kong levels slowly load from one side of screen to the other. MAME loads levels in much larger chunks, and Young used video footage of other players, mobile phone footage of his own Donkey Kong cabinet and comparisons between four different MAME versions to conclude that Mitchell’s direct capture footage was consistent with MAME.
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.Read more
Twin Galaxies, for their part, did not conclude that Mitchell had achieved his 1,047,200, 1,050,200 and 1,062,800 Donkey Kong arcade scores on emulators. “To definitively conclude that MAME was used, Twin Galaxies would need to comprehensively rule out the possibility of all other methods that could produce what is seen on the tapes,” the referees wrote in their ruling. What the referees did find was that the scores were, in their view, “not from an original unmodified DK arcade PCB, and so our investigation of the tape content ends with that conclusion and assertion”.
In an online podcast last year, Mitchell said that the “film footage” Young collected “shows MAME play”. But Mitchell argued that Young didn’t have access to the original live recording of Mitchell’s record at Boomers Arcade, and “if he gets the original tape, or he gets the original room shot, he will see that what I say is true”. A year later, that tape has still not emerged, but two former Twin Galaxies staffers told Kotaku that they remembered the tape’s existence, but it had since been lost.
Mitchell’s evidence package suggests multiple times that he has never submitted an official score by video tape, although an archived post from Walter Day, the founder of Twin Galaxies, says he accepted a video tape score from Mitchell during the Funspot event in 2005 which was shown in King of Kong. (An archived Twin Galaxies press release adds that Mitchell submitted a video tape for his 1,050,200 score in July 13, 2007, although the world record was also witnessed “in front of an audience of hundreds”.)
Twin Galaxies briefly accepted Mitchell’s 2005 record as an official submission, but Day later wrote that doing so was a mistake and the chief Twin Galaxies referee, along with the Board of Referees for the historical arcade leaderboards, agreed that a proper validation process hadn’t been followed. Mitchell also hones in the removal of his perfect Pac-man score from 1999, with signed statements and affidavits from former Funspot managers and employees, and other observers.
Screenshots have also emerged showing Carlos Pineiro, the first signee in Mitchell’s evidence package, casting doubt on his own statement. In the evidence package, Pineiro says “Billy Mitchell did not cheat” and that the removal of all his records was unjustified. But a private conversation shared in the official Twin Galaxies dispute thread shows Pineiro alleging that he still stood by his original findings of Mitchell’s gameplay — that the direct feed recordings of the Donkey Kong scores did not feature original Donkey Kong arcade gameplay — and that he is assessing his own legal options to have his statement removed from Mitchell’s suit.
Controversial arcade game player Billy Mitchell released a statement today, responding to the recent disqualification of his records from both the Twin Galaxies leaderboards and Guinness World Records.Read more
It’s a case that’s much more convoluted than it first seems. When Twin Galaxies removed Mitchell’s records following their investigation, it removed all of Mitchell’s scores — not just the Donkey Kong records that were brought into dispute. Twin Galaxies validates all this information for the World Records, so when the arcade leaderboards announced their decision, the World Records pulled Mitchell’s perfect Pac-Man score as well.
It makes sense for Twin Galaxies to expunge all of a player’s records if they’ve been found to have violated the rules — that’s their platform, after all. But it’s much murkier for the Guinness World Records to write that Mitchell’s Guinness World Records in Pac-Man were “obtained while using MAME”, when the controversy was primarily surrounding his more recent Donkey Kong achievements.
It’s a complicated mess, with loads of deeply technical allegations and claims going back decades. The Guinness World Records and Twin Galaxies have a fortnight to respond but as it stands, it seems like the case will squarely rest on Twin Galaxies and their defence of the original investigation.