In 2007, I watched a documentary called “The King of Kong." If you aren’t familiar, it’s about Steve Wiebe, a laid-off engineer attempting to break the world record on the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong. The ostensible villain in this film is Billy Mitchell, who has been a prominent figure in arcade game high scores since the ‘80s. The movie shows Wiebe playing the game in his garage and getting the world’s first recorded score over a million points. However, the score is dismissed on a technicality, and Mitchell submits his own tape with a score over 1 million, taking the world record again.
Since then, several people have found the circumstances around Mitchell’s submission suspect. Early this year, Jeremy Young, on a Donkey Kong messageboard, started his own investigation. Through a very thorough analysis of Mitchell’s million-point game, which is included as an extra on the “King of Kong” DVD, Young found that the tape was recorded not off a Donkey Kong arcade cabinet, but off of a computer emulating the game.
This is problematic because when you’re emulating the game, the emulator can help you in ways that you can’t get from the original hardware. You can pause the game, rewind it to erase mistakes, and use these features to craft the perfect performance. Replaying the video later, these pauses can be undetectable. But Young noticed that the way the levels loaded was different from the way the real hardware loads the game, and identical to the way a popular emulator on PC works.
Billy Mitchell’s scores were subsequently removed from the Guinness Book of World Records - including his perfect Pac-Man game, which was witnessed in public. Billy himself says that he has proof that he didn’t cheat, which he will release after “true professional due diligence.”
So, at this point, just like in 2007, Billy Mitchell might come back and surprise us all again. Steve Wiebe, on the other hand, is just happy to finally, officially, be recognized as the first Donkey Kong player to hit one million points.