King of Kong Billy Mitchell Sees His Donkey Kong Record Stripped, Emulator Cheating Suspected

More drama is unfolding in the ultra-competitive retro arcade gaming scene, and yes, that is a thing. Billy Mitchell, the arcade legend who appeared as a central character opposite Steve Wiebe in the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, has been accused of cheating his way into the record books for high scores in Donkey Kong. As a result, he's now been stripped of his 1.062 million score on the Donkey Kong Forums.

Billy Mitchell
Image Source: Flickr via David Fulmer

Let's go back a bit to understand how it got to this point. Mitchell was the first person to crack 1 million points in Donkey Kong, and for a time, he and Wiebe leapfrogged each other for the top spot. That was more than a decade ago. Since then, they have both been surpassed by several other gamers, with Mitchell's 1.062 million run occupying the No. 20 spot on the Donkey Kong leaderboard.

Despite not holding the No. 1 spot, Mitchell is perhaps the most recognizable name on the list, in part because of the documentary. However, the legitimacy of his score (along with others) was called into question, and ultimately determined by Donkey Kong Forum high score judge Jeremy "Xelnia" Young to have been obtained by cheating. Thus the decision to remove him from the leaderboard was made.

In a lengthy two-post forum thread, Young laid out a body of evidence that seems to prove Mitchell recorded several of his high scores on the open source arcade emulator MAME. Two of the high scores in the top 10 (No. 3 and No. 10) were also recorded on MAME, which go through a different approval process. The reason Mitchell's score is being singled out is because Mitchell claimed his scores were obtained on an original arcade cabinet, and therefore were not subject to same strict authentication requirements.

While obtaining a high score on MAME is not in and of itself a problem, it does open the door to cheating. That's because MAME is able to record runs, and with a little editing of an .INP file, players can manipulate high scores without actually earning them. Since Mitchell has always contended he earned his high scores on an arcade cabinet, the evidence suggesting they were actually performed on MAME raises all kinds of red flags.

"While clearly MAME, there is no way to tell exactly how these games were performed," Young says. "It’s possible they were recorded in one shot. Given the play style in Billy’s videos, it’s more likely that vanilla MAME’s INP recording feature was abused, in which a person can re-record an INP as many times as they wish to craft their desired performance."

Young's body of evidence is a boatload of GIFs comparing Mitchell's recorded runs to how Donkey Kong appears on MAME and arcade cabinets. There are subtle differences in the way certain parts of the game are rendered on screen, and if you know what to look for, you can tell which is which. That is what Young did.

Twin Galaxies, which recently stripped the somewhat lesser known gaming legend Todd Rogers of all his high scores after it was determined his high score in the Atari 2600 game dragster is impossible to achieve, weighed in on the matter.

"Twin Galaxies is in the process of fully reviewing the compelling evidence provided by Jeremy Young to support his current score dispute case against Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong score. We will do this thoroughly and impartially. In the meantime, we will continue to observe this discussion by experts in the community and will also examine any further evidence that may be provided during this review period," Twin Galaxies said.

As of now, there is no official ruling by Twin Galaxies. However, the likely outcome is that he will similarly be disgraced, with his high scores removed and banned from TG's leaderboard. And this could be just the beginning, as more old scores and the circumstances around them come into scrutiny.

Update, 1:05 PM - You can see all of Young's screen shots here and for sure the evidence is damning. For example, he notes this, on recording sessions on the CRTs that are in most cabinets: "For further comparison, I've included footage from my own DK cabinet. This was recorded using a Samsung 8 phone filming at 60 fps. This gives us a high-framerate comparison of true DK hardware that is NOT direct feed. It also captures the idiosyncracies in filming a monitor with a camera (brief ghost images or double frames). Since existing footage of Billy's 1.047M and 1.062M are cameras-pointing-at-monitor-playback, those sources will exhibit some of the same effects. Note that this is VERY different from the concepts discussed earlier regarding how video is generated...these are artifacts caused by the external re-recording of the original sources, not artifacts present in the sources themselves."

Thumbnail Image Source: Wikimedia Commons via Datagod