He once was the king of Donkey Kong, but one of the world’s most famous gamers has just lost all of his records in the wake of a cheating scandal. Score-keeping site Twin Galaxies has finished its investigation of Billy Mitchell, who was the subject of the hit documentary King of Kong, and it has determined that he did misrepresent how he played Nintendo’s arcade classic in his three highest-scoring runs.
“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,” reads a statement. “We have notified the Guinness World Records of our decision.”
Mitchell came to prominence in the 1980s for his arcade skills. He was the first person to ever accomplish a perfect game in Pac-Man, which means he earned the maximum points allowed by the rules and the programming. But he broke into the mainstream as one of the primary stars of King of Kong, in which he battled over the world record for Donkey Kong with upstart player Steve Wiebe. In that film, Wiebe scored over 1 million points, but he faced resistance from a Twin Galaxies organization that was close and protective of Mitchell. By the end of the film, Mitchell was able to recapture the high score, but more than a decade later, Donkey Kong fans were able to prove that run was at least dishonest and potentially cheating.
The core infraction in this case is that Mitchell submitted three scores played on emulation software that he claimed he played on original Donkey Kong arcade hardware. That misrepresentation is enough to pull his scores, but it also opens a massive window for cheating because emulation software has built-in tools to make games easier.
Donkey Kong player and fan Jeremy Young submitted the evidence with a detailed technical breakdown. He was able to show that Mitchell’s recorded gameplay footage rendered in way that is divergent from original arcade hardware but exactly the same as certain versions of the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) that were in use at the time.
“Twin Galaxies has meticulously tested and investigated the dispute case assertions as well as a number of relevant contingent factors, such as the veracity of the actual video performances that the dispute claim assertions rely upon,” reads Twin Galaxies’ statement. “In addition to Twin Galaxies’ own investigation into the dispute case assertions, at least two different third parties conducted their own explorations and came to identical conclusions.”
Most damning for Mitchell is that even the investigator that he brought in to examine the facts on his behalf agreed with Young’s determination. Twin Galaxies did note that it cannot confirm that the game was played on MAME because it says other emulators are a possibility, but that has no bearing on its final judgment.
“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,” reads the statement. “We now believe that they are not from an original unmodified DK [arcade machine], and so our investigation of the tape content ends with that conclusion and assertion.”
I’ve reached out to Billy Mitchell, who has previously suggested that this dispute is the result of a vast conspiracy against him, but he has not responded to my requests. I will update this story with any comment from him. As for Twin Galaxies, it confirmed that it provided Mitchell with a chance to defend his scores.
“Throughout every step of this investigation, Billy Mitchell had the opportunity to answer questions and contribute to the public dispute thread,” reads the statement. “However, he was under no obligation to participate in this dispute thread and as such he chose not to do so.”
This will forever taint Mitchell’s legacy. Even as the King of Kong film portrayed him as a villain, he was the face of retro competitive gaming. Now he is the embodiment of what looks like a corrupt scene full of cronyism. Donkey Kong players have long suspected Mitchell of inappropriate actions in regards to his scores, but he always seemed untouchable in part because he had so many ties to the people who ran Twin Galaxies.
Now, with Mitchell banned, Twin Galaxies wants to use this moment to begin rebuilding its reputation.
“Hopefully it is becoming more and more obvious that we care very much about our scoreboard integrity and will continue to improve it step-by-step, no matter how painful or public it might occasionally be,” reads its statement. “This has been said before, but it is important to repeat that Twin Galaxies is dedicated to absolutely rooting out invalid scores from our historic database wherever we find them.”
The site will likely have to live with this stain forever, but it had no choice but to make this move if it wished to remain relevant in the future. I’ve reached out to the publishers of The Guinness Book of World Records for a statement.
Finally, this is a moment of vindication for Steve Wiebe, who is the other king of Kong.
“With this ruling, Twin Galaxies can no longer recognize Billy Mitchell as the first million-point Donkey Kong record holder,” said Twin Galaxies. “According to our findings, Steve Wiebe would be the official first million-point record holder.”
Wiebe has retired from pursuing the Donkey Kong score, and he rarely comments on the game or his feud with Mitchell publicly.
“It seems all too crazy to be real. It’s like a flashback to 2007 when the documentary first came out and there was a buzz,” Wiebe said in a message. “From all of the evidence I have to agree with the ruling. It will be interesting to see what Billy has as a rebuttal. I’ll be staying tuned.”
Updated 4/14/18 at 10:37 a.m.: Added Steve Wiebe’s response.