A Donkey Kong fansite has removed three high scores from arcade legend Billy Mitchell after an analysis revealed he likely misled the community about playing on real arcade hardware and that he instead submitted emulator gameplay. On Donkey Kong Forum, Mitchell previously held the No. 20 score with 1.062 million points, right behind his long-time rival Steve Wiebe’s 1.064 million. The professional gamer and hot-sauce magnate now has the No. 47 score with his 933,900 result he played in public on an arcade machine in 2004.
Mitchell and Wiebe’s battles over the Donkey Kong high score were the subject of the popular documentary film King of Kong: A Fistful of the Quarters. That movie painted Mitchell as a somewhat villainous character standing in the way of Wiebe’s heroic everyman. Now, that portrayal is starting to seem even more accurate, as it could include dishonesty and even cheating.
“I understand this will not be a popular decision,” Donkey Kong Forum high-score judge Jeremy “Xelnia” Young wrote in his post. “It is not my wish to fracture a community or affect anyone’s personal life. But ultimately, I have to do what I think is right.”
I’ve reached out to Mitchell for a comment on this story, and I’ll update it with any new information.
“I have no grudges or jealousy toward Billy,” Young told GamesBeat. “While we both play DK, we’re not direct competitors so I have nothing to gain by knocking him down the leaderboard. Gaming is a hobby for me and always will be regardless of how this story pans out. Billy’s status in the gaming world (good or bad) doesn’t affect that. It’s important to realize that my motivations here are all about leaderboard and competitive integrity — this isn’t about Billy in particular and trying to knock him down a peg.”
You can read Young’s detailed argument against Mitchell right here. The primary allegation is that Mitchell played his best Donkey Kong games on the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) while maintaining that he was playing on original arcade hardware. The explanation of the evidence is a bit technical, so let me break it down as simply as I can:
- MAME and the original Donkey Kong arcade machine, which I’ll just call “arcade,” render Donkey Kong’s visuals differently.
- MAME renders in huge chunks of a level all at once.
- Arcade draws in the level with a sliding-door effect from left-to-right
- If you slow down footage of Donkey Kong to 1 frame per second, you can see what each of those methods looks like.
Here’s some GIF examples from the breakdown:
MAME 0.122 to 0.126
See how the ladders render in all at once and then the steel beams blink into existence after that? This is how MAME handles Donkey Kong.
Score chaser Chris Gleed has one of the only direct-feed recording setups for Donkey Kong in the world. See how the entire level gets drawn into the game from left to right? This is how the arcade works.
Now, watch how Mitchell’s footage for this 1.05-million-point run renders in the ladders and then the steel beams just like the MAME version.
Did Billy Mitchell cheat?
Young considers the evidence against Mitchell conclusive when it comes to falsifying his Donkey Kong platform, but he also suggests that cheating isn’t just possible — it’s “likely.”
“While clearly MAME, there is no way to tell exactly how these games were performed,” reads Young’s post. “It’s possible they were recorded in one shot. Given the playstyle in Billy’s videos, it’s more likely that vanilla MAME’s [recording feature] was abused.”
MAME’s INP recording capability enables players to rewind their mistakes, continue playing, and then stitch together a final recording that looks like one, unbroken playthrough. Scorekeepers like Young often do accept results performed on MAME, but they typically require independent, in-person verification or live video on a service like Twitch that shows the game and the player all at the same time.
Mitchell has not verified his score in any of those alternative ways with the exception of a witness by the name of Todd Rogers. If that name is familiar, it’s probably because Rogers just made headlines for a high-score scandal of his own. The scorekeeping website Twin Galaxies revealed this week that it is removing all of Rogers records after an analysis revealed his submitted score of 5.51 seconds in the Atari game Dragster is technically impossible.
Beyond that, Mitchell doesn’t have a lot of proof to back up his claims.
“While many people have seen Billy play in public, there are no known independent, impartial, objective witnesses to any of the The Big 3 WR games,” reads Young’s post. “He has never scored over 1,000,000 in a live venue. Billy claimed the 1.047M was done in front of scores of people, but that he had no access to the inside of the machine…so how did he set up the direct feed? The 1.05 was supposedly done at an actual convention, but Billy was conveniently playing in another room. The 1.062 was done in arcade in Florida, but the only live footage from that day was staged (the Boomer board swap) and shows no evidence of a direct feed setup.”
I asked Young flat out if he thinks Mitchell cheated.
“At the very least he misrepresented a MAME performance as an arcade performance,” he said. “It’s possible to achieve a good score in one attempt and it’s probably impossible to prove how his MAME score was achieved. At minimum: deception. But most likely: cheating. There is a certain crowd of arcade gamers who dislike MAME, and Billy has told people that scores on MAME don’t count, so even if it was a legitimate MAME performance, it would undermine everything he has ever said about public performances and MAME itself.
Getting 1 million points in Donkey Kong is not a common occurrence even for the best players, so it’s not an issue on its own that Mitchell hasn’t performed that particular feat in a public performance. But deliberately misleading judges about hardware along with a lack of verifying evidence is enough, at least for Donkey Kong Forum, to remove his scores.
Of course, a lot has changed in the Donkey Kong community since King of Kong. That movie attracted a wave of new contenders who eventually blew away Mitchell’s and Wiebe’s scores. The current world best is Robbie Lakeman’s 1.230 million points. And Lakeman? He played on an original arcade machine and verified his score by playing it live on video.
But hey, Lakeman’s a Pats fan, so maybe he’s playing with a deflated arcade cabinet?