Billy Mitchell, a long-term world record holder in various video games, has been stripped of every record that he held at Twin Galaxies, a scorekeeping organisation founded in 1981. Mitchell is perhaps best known for his turn in documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, where he's the big bad antagonist against up-and-comer Steve Weibe, a portrayal that Mitchell and his supporters have decried as selective. Twin Galaxies, oddly enough, is shown in that documentary to be extremely supportive of Billy Mitchell — even defensive as others raise questions about his methods and records. Indeed, some time ago Billy Mitchell was a Twin Galaxies referee.
His methods are where this current controversy began, with the claim in February that Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. high scores set by Mitchell in 2010 had been achieved on MAME — that is to say, Mitchell wasn't playing the game on the original arcade cabinet, but in an emulated form. This isn't necessarily an invalid method of chasing high scores — Twin Galaxies accepts scores achieved using a specific program called WolfMAME - but any score thus achieved has to be assessed and declared in that light.
Accusation and counter-accusation about the video of Mitchell's world record scores and who was in attendance have flown back and forth. The video proof showed only the game screen, i.e. direct capture, so there's no proof it was being played on an arcade cabinet - and certain characteristics of that recording convinced other Donkey Kong players the score was achieved on MAME. Jeremy Young of the Donkey Kong Forum, after Mitchell's scores were removed, put the burden of proof on him.
“Short of live, time-stamped, complete footage (including full views of cab hardware) of the games in question, I will not be reinstating any of Billy’s scores in question. If this community (and others like it) are built on the idea of friendship through competition, camaraderie through our shared pains in pushing ourselves, our friends, and these games to their limits, then we must strive for honesty and legitimacy.”
Mitchell replied shortly afterwards on a radio show, with a curious defence that will sound familiar to any viewer of King of Kong.
“The film footage that he has, that Jeremy has, shows MAME play. 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.”
Ah it's the original tape that's the problem! Where is it?
Of course, this live recording mysteriously cannot be found. Former Twin Galaxies employees have previously said to Kotaku that they've heard of the existence of a video tape recording of Mitchell’s 2010 scores, but that no one can locate it. Then there's the matter of who might have witnessed Mitchell setting the score. Mitchell again:
“When I absolutely had the good fortune to get the score on Donkey Kong and I turned around, one of the people shaking my hand, one of the people patting me on the back was Pete Bouvier, owner of Twin Galaxies.”
But during the announcement of his high scores on 6 August 2010 in Ottumwa, Iowa, Mitchell said Bouvier wasn’t in the room.
“There was a lot of hugs and kisses and hooting and hollering, and from Twin Galaxies, Pete, was on the phone, and Pete was on his way over.”
Surely there's an easy way to establish which version of events is true? Sadly, Peter Bouvier died late last year.
As you can see, the situation is a morass — and one probably not helped by Mitchell's refusal to answer relatively simple questions. Do check out Jeremy Young's scathing riposte to claims that the MAME footage had somehow been doctored. Highlight:
The amount of foresight, patience, and technical knowledge required would be staggering. By my reckoning, [Twin Galaxies'] Dwayne [Richard] would have to:
1) Know, for over a decade, this bug existed in MAME, and not tell anyone
2) Know every potential independent source that would, in the future, publish clips of Billy’s gameplay, know exactly what that footage would contain, and whether that footage would contain the MAME signature.
It goes on. And this is all in the context of the recent Todd Rogers scandal, where another retro high-score chaser was stripped of his Dragster world record after 35 years. It's far from the first controversy involving Billy Mitchell and Twin Galaxies. TG itself is an unusual organisation but, on this occasion, it's gone for the nuclear option.
Following an investigation of Jeremy Young's complaint against Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. world record attempts, Twin Galaxies issued the following statement. The most eye-popping fact is hidden partway down: not only did TG's own review of the evidence conclude that Mitchell had used MAME, but an independent third party engaged by Billy Mitchell to examine the dispute came to the same conclusion.
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.
We have notified Guinness World Records of our decision.
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.
In addition to Twin Galaxies' own investigation into the dispute case assertions, at least two different 3rd parties conducted their own explorations and came to identical conclusions.
Most notable was the 3rd party (Carlos Pinerio) that Billy Mitchell engaged to help examine the dispute case claims on his behalf, utilizing whatever original equipment Billy could provide, whose final finding was consistent with Twin Galaxies investigation and others.
In what can only be described as a poetic twist, the removal of Mitchell's high scores means that Steve Wiebe is now officially recognised as the first official million point record holder in Donkey Kong.
It's hard to escape King of Kong. Things look pretty bad for a guy who's more used to being described as one of the greatest arcade game players of all time.
Thing is, Billy Mitchell is genuinely a great player. There's no denying his longevity and skill. I always felt when it comes to King of Kong, which I adore and recommend, Billy Mitchell kind of had a point about how he was portrayed as a villain. Kind of. I don't think he's a nice guy or anything, but the film had a clear arc in mind and Mitchell was probably made to look a little worse than he is. But then, there was no denying the unanswered questions either. About emulation, about missing tapes... this all feels a little like deja vu.
I was once talking to a friend about this aspect of the movie. We agreed the framing probably wasn't fair but, overall, Mitchell was the one who was given the rope and hung himself. Perhaps that's what's happened, once again, in this case. Players can be extremely skilled, so much so that they think rules are for others. Players can emulate an old game, and they can get invalid scores. Players can pretend they haven't done that, and double-down and double-down again. But the truth, in the end, will come out. And documentary makers can fake a lot of things. But they can't fake douchebag.