Feature Article

Embattled Donkey Kong Record Holder Billy Mitchell Wants To Clear His Name

There's some monkey business going on here.

Arcade gamer Billy Mitchell is not an easy man to get ahold of, despite the wide, mainstream coverage that he's received this month. Donkey Kong Forum moderator Jeremy Young concluded that Mitchell cheated to attain his famous Donkey Kong scores. Twin Galaxies, which has been recording game scores since 1981 and partners with Guinness World Records, is launching a separate investigation.

In layman's terms, the core allegation is this: Three of Mitchell's scores--1,047,200 (the infamous sent "tape" from the documentary The King of Kong), 1,050,200 (achieved at a mortgage brokers meeting in Florida), and 1,062,800 (achieved at the Boomers arcade close to Mitchell's home) were captured on a PC running MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) rather than a traditional arcade machine. There is a separate leaderboard for MAME scores, and the emulator is more susceptible to cheating, such as splicing together multiple playthroughs.

Young and others in the community rest the brunt of their argument on the way the images load on an arcade versus on MAME. An arcade loads images from side to side. MAME, meanwhile, loads images in large portions. You can see the difference in the images below, which are taken from Young's explanation on the Donkey Kong Forums.

This first one below is from test footage that Young captured of a genuine arcade machine.

No Caption Provided

And this second image to right is captured from Mitchell's 1.05M run.

No Caption Provided

Aside from a meandering, bizarre interview on the East Side Dave Show, Mitchell has been mum about the scandal, and he has declined opportunities to speak to the press. Mitchell would only speak to GameSpot via a conference call that also included Richie Knucklez, the man who organizes the Donkey Kong community's annual Kong-Off. Knucklez orchestrated the interview; Mitchell did not pick up the phone when I called him directly several times.

Mitchell has always had a penchant for theatrics. It's baked into every element of his presentation, from his retro, long-styled haircut, to his patriotic neckties, to the salesman's thumbs up he gives when posing for pictures. And his gameplay is similarly confident and dramatic. He was the first person to achieve a perfect game of Pac-Man. He was the first person to reach the Donkey Kong "kill screen." And for years, he held the highest recorded Donkey Kong score--until Steve Wiebe came along.

The conflict between the two men competing for the highest Donkey Kong score was immortalized in the aforementioned The King of Kong documentary. Directed by Seth Gordon, it portrayed Wiebe as the outsider and underdog, and Mitchell as the villain, protected by an insular community of old-school gamers.

This new controversy is a continuation of that perception--that Mitchell's scores have been afforded a level of leeway that other gamers' scores would not have been afforded. Mitchell, however, is insistent that his scores are real and were captured on an original arcade machine. He claims that he doesn't even have MAME installed on his computer.

"I'm the least tech savvy guy in the world, so I'd be lost without the kindness of people I've never met before, calling me with information and insight," says Mitchell in his interview with GameSpot. "In some ways, it's a bummer. There's a lot of other fun stuff I would rather be doing [than clearing my name]. But if it's a cross I have to bear for a little while, that's okay."

Mitchell has two primary objectives at the moment. The first is getting original tapes of the scores' direct feeds, which Twin Galaxies should have, according to Mitchell. One, the 1.06M points tape, was recorded by former Twin Galaxies referee Michael Sroka. Mitchell believes there is another tape--one that shows a pullback crowd shot of the entire room--which will prove there was no shady business going on. No one, thus far, has been able to locate this tape, though several people in the community have allegedly heard about it before.

Two of the original tapes--the 1.04M and the 1.05M tapes--were uploaded to YouTube by a man named Dwayne Richard, before they were turned over to Twin Galaxies. Richard appeared in The King of Kong, but he was also involved in the creation of two post-documentaries--the King of Con (2012), which purports that Mitchell received payoffs from the King of Kong filmmakers, and The Perfect Fraudman (2012), which questions Mitchell's claim of having the first perfect Pac-Man game.

Knucklez characterizes Richard as someone with an axe to grind against Mitchell. And he proposes that this bias--and any suspicion of doctored or altered footage--can be eliminated by simply cutting Richard out of the equation. Knucklez reasons that if the critics can watch the original tapes--the ones Richard turned over to Twin Galaxies, rather than Richards' uploads--that would be fairer.

Knucklez recalls an incident from years ago, when Richard asked Knucklez for help in faking MAME footage. He also repeated this anecdote on his Facebook account (which we've lightly edited for grammar and spelling):

"I remember it well. I was in the parking lot of a Walmart when [Richard] called and asked me to participate in a MAME Donkey Kong ruse. In his exact words, 'To put egg on Twin Galaxies' face.' I told him I was not interested."

Knucklez concedes, however, that the original Kong footage could be exactly the same as Richards' upload, or even prove Mitchell guilty. And in the last couple of days, a former Twin Galaxies referee, who Knucklez declined to name, came forward with one of the original tapes.

"He reached out to me and said, 'I still have the original copy. If it'll help Bill in any way, I can send it to you," says Knucklez. "In Dwayne Richards' letter to Twin Galaxies, he listed the people who received the tape, and [this referee's] name is on the list."

Knucklez estimates that the tape should arrive and be in his possession within the next day or two. He believes Mitchell's denial and says he is supporting his friend.

Mitchell claims that the arcade tape footage may also have a technical explanation for looking like MAME. Mitchell says he has spoken with experts, who explained to him how the visual look of the arcade footage could have been altered due to Mitchell's use of a direct feed--one that takes its signal straight off the arcade's board rather than from the monitor.

"I talked to the company that manufactured it, and I asked, 'Why would the right look different from the left?'" says Mitchell. "And he explained it to me--not that I understood. And I said, 'Oh, you've got to explain it to these other guys.' So they're in the process of quickly putting that together. [They said that because I was] obsessed with capturing the screenplay this way, that's why I'm having this mess. Every single time, I recorded it that way."

Billy Mitchell (Left) and Richie Knucklez (Right) Image Credit: Non-Sport Update Magazine
Billy Mitchell (Left) and Richie Knucklez (Right) Image Credit: Non-Sport Update Magazine

Mitchell, who repeatedly states that he is not a tech-savvy person, declines to explain further, deferring to the aforementioned experts.

"If I sit here and try and explain it to you, I'm going to sound like an idiot, and people are going to pick it apart, because I don't know what I'm talking about," says Mitchell. "These answers require presentation and research. It takes two minutes to tell a lie. It takes a lot longer to give a proper response that's acceptable."

Mitchell says the reasons for him getting involved in this latest fracas have less to do with him and more to do with the community.

"This is the first time I've had to answer, because people like Richie, people like Rob [Childs, the tech support present at the Boomers Arcade DK high score run]...and many [other] people are being called liars," says Mitchell. "And if my friends are being kicked between the knees, I have to respond, and I am responsible....There are a lot of good people who have legitimate questions, and that's who we're catering to."

"I have become known as an advocate of competitive games and an ambassador for competitive video games," continues Mitchell. "And for that reason? Yes, this is important to me."

One can see the ongoing drama on Donkey Kong forums, where many posters are going through an existential grieving process over Mitchell's scores. Without Mitchell and these scores, there would be no The King of Kong. And thus, the community, as it currently exists today, would have never developed. Has it all been based on a lie?

Near the end of our conversation, Mitchell's tone turns more emotional.

I have to present what any fair-minded person would look at and go, 'Oh. I see.' I can help the people who want to know exactly what happened and how it happened.

Billy Mitchell

"Rob was there when this happened," reiterates Mitchell about his 1.06M score. "The technician from the arcade was there when this happened. They were the ones who set up everything and set the board. There were Twin Galaxies people there. They set this up. There were cameras set up. There was an event set up. There were crowds. There were people. There was media. So all of those people are in on a big conspiracy? That's just stupid."

"So now," Mitchell concludes, "I have to present what any fair-minded person would look at and go, 'Oh. I see.' I can help the people who want to know exactly what happened and how it happened. And they will--very shortly."

There's an irony to all this. All this hay is being made over records that are not even the world record anymore. Mitchell was long ago surpassed by younger players. The current record holder is Robbie Lakeman, who beat Wes Copeland's 1,218,000 score with a 1,247,700 score on February 2, 2018. This current fight over frames of animation, direct feeds, and circuit boards is being waged entirely on principle. And it might cause an outsider to question whether Mitchell's belief--that people are targeting him--is ego-driven paranoia rather than fact.

No Caption Provided

But then you step back, and you realize that if Billy Mitchell was dedicated enough to get a high score (legitimately or illegitimately), it would stand to reason that someone else is dedicated enough to tear it down. Mitchell gets a lot of flak for his outsized persona, and for exerting such charismatic power over his small fiefdom. But are the people criticizing him, who created two anti-Mitchell documentaries in the space of a year, any more down-to-earth? Whether or not Mitchell proves that his scores are valid, there's no doubt that there will be another conspiracy, and another coverup, and another follow-up. Because when things reach this pitch, it's no longer about the scores. It's about something more personal.

There's a common observation that Batman, by existing, has empowered and created his enemies. The presence of a superhero is an implicit challenge, and it leads to the creation of a supervillain. Batman and Joker are symbiotic, in a sense. They are doomed to fight, over and over again, because on some level they thrive off the conflict. Maybe Mitchell is legit; maybe he isn't. Maybe he's a villain, or perhaps, he's created some villains along the way.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Back To Top
78 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
  • 78 results
  • 1
  • 2
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for chubby170
Chubby170

The King of Kong is fantastic.. Cant even tell you how many times I have watched it...

Avatar image for Flyin3lvl
Flyin3lvl

Mitchell has been mum about the scandal, and he has declined opportunities to speak to the press.

That's a sentence now?

Avatar image for so_hai
so_hai

Why would they accept user-submitted anything if they're giving out world records? The Guinness Book of Records adjudicate things objectively and they avoid all of this nonsense.

Avatar image for chubby170
Chubby170

@so_hai: Watch the movie...

Avatar image for so_hai
so_hai

@chubby170: I have. It's all about sending tapes in.

Avatar image for hordicus
hordicus

how to trust a guy who looks like the preacher or far cry 5 leader of this crazy cult? ^^

Avatar image for OrgeLambart
OrgeLambart

i'm sorry but Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and what not aren't competitive games, they are old school single player games... As for if he cheated or not.. meh who cares, they are video games, if dude wants to cheat let him,, other people all salty they can't do it, so trying to take dude down..

Avatar image for chubby170
Chubby170

@OrgeLambart: Wow, you are backwards. Those are the most competitive types of games to play and super hard..

That guy is able to finish pac-man without dying while getting every pellet, ghost and fruit in the game. Thats an amazing thing to be able to do...

Avatar image for phppapa
phppapa

@OrgeLambart Not competitive? Dude, they are HARD AS SH!T!!!!!! The competition between gamers is right in front of you if you watch a competitive DK game! Being able to play the game without dying every 2 seconds is amazing to watch bec the game is hard AF, simply put!! Timing is KEY (talking milliseconds here dude!) You have to literally COUNT FRAMES when you play... geez! It's literally the ultimate competition of skill, timing and the 'mental game' is the most impressive part of it all, IMO. Watch the documentary or some clips of it ("King of Kong") and see what it's like to play some of the higher levels once the game gets "hard" (there's like a certain level or something you gotta do in the game that is ALMOST impossible to pull off for like 99% of gamers and yet some of these guys can do it... and stay constant). Geez. How old are you btw? Competitive games can be ANYTHING... not just CS or CoD or some MOBA game or fighting games like SFV, MvC or MKX or w/e the f-ck else! Multiplayer games after 2005 don't make up the entire gaming world! :-L

Avatar image for Silver17
Silver17

@OrgeLambart:

(IMO) You're kinda missing the point in all of this. Yes it's a story about an old arcade game. However, when you look at the big picture, it's really an article about someone trying to defend his character/credibility.

Listen, IDK what really happened. I'm not gonna lose sleep over who's right or wrong in this either. However if Mitchell just so happens to be telling the truth, then why not fight and clear his credibility in all of this?... (I would do the same thing too, assuming that he didn't cheat)

Avatar image for phppapa
phppapa

@Silver17well said.

Avatar image for aross2004
aross2004

I thought the King of Kong was one of the most engrossing documentaries I have ever watched. But my big takeaway from it was that Billie Mitchell was a pompous douchbag, (he almost acts like someone who wants to be hated), and it was so much easier for me to want to be in Wiebe's corner.

Avatar image for chubby170
Chubby170

@aross2004: He makes the movie. Without him, its nothing.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@aross2004: Ever think the "documentary" was intended to manipulate you to think that? That the maker seems to now have a clear vendetta against him makes everything you saw suspect.

Avatar image for aross2004
aross2004

@Thanatos2k: Actually, I take everything I see/read/hear with a healthy hit of skepticism nowadays. Seems like everyone has some kind of agenda, so it's hard to trust that information isn't being slanted.

I was just giving my impression of the documentary. If it comes out that it was skewed against Mitchell, that wouldn't surprise me in the least, but I also can't deny that he does come off extremely pompous, (not just in the documentary).

Avatar image for Zerabp
Zerabp

@Thanatos2k: Wiebe even confirmed this and said on record that he was disappointed in how they presented Mitchell.

Avatar image for moonco
Moonco

I cheated my whole life and look where it has gotten me - living in a van down by the river!

Moderator
Avatar image for khanwashere
KhanWasHere

@moonco: stealing wifi from the house on the hill.

Avatar image for asnakeneverdies
ASnakeNeverDies

@moonco: It's not polite to gloat, Moonco. That said, have you considered the possibility that you're just so naturally good at everything you do that it just feels like cheating? That, it seems to me, is a much more plausible explanation for a virtuosa like her.

Avatar image for olddadgamer
OldDadGamer

Great read! I have to admit, I wasn't aware of all of this before (though now King of Kong) is on my list of things I need to track down.

When I started reading, I was thinking "Seriously? This serious? And a dude with a thumbs up? This is like video game Spinal Tap..." but, by the end, it made perfect sense why people care. Everything matters to someone, right? And anything that is the best performance ever is something that does, in its way, matters all the more.

Thanks, @kevinjwong, for informing me, intriguing me, and changing my mind.

(And I would love to see more of these long reads on Gamespot!)

Moderator
Avatar image for Mon_Dieu_Mel
Mon_Dieu_Mel

@olddadgamer: Definitely do yourself a favor and check out the doc. It's just an amazing testament to this bizarre little world, and I'm always surprised that nobody's done a proper film adaptation of it.

Avatar image for olddadgamer
OldDadGamer

@Mon_Dieu_Mel: I will! Is it on netflix or amazon or something or do you have to go digging in the web for it?

(Yeah, I'm too lazy to look right now.)

Moderator
Avatar image for kevinjwong
kevinjwong

@olddadgamer: Thank you so much; I really appreciate that. I worked hard on those last three paragraphs.

Avatar image for PSYCHOV3N0M
PSYCHOV3N0M

"There's a common observation that Batman, by existing, has empowered and created his enemies. The presence of a superhero is an implicit challenge, and it leads to the creation of a supervillain."

Funny because last night I was watching Captain America: Civil War and Vision said something similar to the team: "Our very strength invites challenge. Challenge invites conflict".

Avatar image for Slacker6000
Slacker6000

Who cares about 30 year old scores

Avatar image for girlusocrazy
GirlUSoCrazy

@Slacker6000: Not you! You're way too cool for that crap! Tell 'em!

Avatar image for superklyph
SuperKlyph

@girlusocrazy: Lol

Avatar image for girlusocrazy
GirlUSoCrazy

PSA if you loved King of Kong then track down Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade. It's on iTunes and Amazon and Netflix I believe.

Tilt - The Battle to Save Pinball is really good too but obv about pinball and not necessarily arcade games.

Avatar image for chubby170
Chubby170

@girlusocrazy: Check out Special When Lit... another good one for Pinball...

Avatar image for girlusocrazy
GirlUSoCrazy

@chubby170: Thanks! And I heard Man vs Snake is good (about Nibbler) from someone else

Avatar image for chubby170
Chubby170

@girlusocrazy: Yes, Man vs. Snake is pretty good as well... Definitely worth a watch..

Avatar image for asnakeneverdies
ASnakeNeverDies

What's with the Batman crap at the end?

Avatar image for mrbojangles25
mrbojangles25

@asnakeneverdies: I think we call that "waxing poetic". Seems all right in this case.

Avatar image for asnakeneverdies
ASnakeNeverDies

@mrbojangles25: I'm not at odds with the prose, just the subject.

Avatar image for girlusocrazy
GirlUSoCrazy

@asnakeneverdies: My cynical side says: Gotta tie it in to all the comic book TV show and movie crap GameSpot is trying to push these days.

Oh well at this point that's no longer niche and part of the zeitgeist.

Avatar image for asnakeneverdies
ASnakeNeverDies

@girlusocrazy: I like your cynical side.

Avatar image for girlusocrazy
GirlUSoCrazy

@asnakeneverdies: It helps to gain perspective sometimes, but I used to let it get out of hand, and for a long time I wasn't too happy. Everything in moderation! There is some good in the world.

Avatar image for asnakeneverdies
ASnakeNeverDies

@girlusocrazy: I'm good. However, there are many heathens out there. Kojima detractors that will stop at nothing to ensure the failure of His enterprise, and thus, the demise of all.

Avatar image for girlusocrazy
GirlUSoCrazy

@asnakeneverdies: Haha

Avatar image for profchrisk
ProfChrisK

Everyone knows billy has always been a hack and fraud. I'm just surprised that the gaming media finally picked up on something known within the community for years

Online
Avatar image for Purpledust
Purpledust

Birry Mitcherr cheata repohted!

Avatar image for MJ12-Conspiracy
MJ12-Conspiracy

@Purpledust: i thunk it was Biwwy Mitcheww.....

imma shoot now you wiff biwwy's waza wifle......lolz

  • 78 results
  • 1
  • 2