In his first public statements since being banned from video game scoreboard Twin Galaxies, Billy Mitchell promised to provide witnesses and documents that would "show that everything was done professionally, according to the rules" regarding his now-removed Donkey Kong high scores. "We've been at this since 1982, and it's not going to stop now," he promised.
In a short video statement posted by Old School Gamer Magazine, Mitchell addresses the conclusion of Twin Galaxies' recent investigation. That investigation found at least two of Mitchell's claimed Donkey Kong high score performances were achieved using the MAME emulator, contradicting Twin Galaxies' long-standing rules and Mitchell's own statements.
Mitchell starts by acknowledging that there is now "a true, professional due diligence being done to investigate things that happened as far as 35 years ago in a professional manner, not in a shock jock mentality designed to create hits." At the same time, though, he questions the integrity of the "current regime" at Twin Galaxies that "wants to reach back 35 years" to question long-standing scores.
This is an apparent reference to the scoreboard's sale in 2014, when it came under the management of current Head Custodian and Caretaker Jace Hall. Under Hall, the scoreboard implemented a new, more stringent adjudication policy that directly led to Mitchell's lifetime ban, thanks to frame-by-frame analysis of video evidence.
Prior to 2014, Twin Galaxies scores were usually confirmed by a loosely policed but tight-knit group of volunteer referees (a group of which Mitchell was a member, at one point), sometimes based on eyewitness testimony alone. Many of Mitchell's Twin Galaxies scores were previously posted at least in part on the authority and corroboration of referee Todd Rogers, who himself was banned from Twin Galaxies in January for lying about achieving an impossible score on Atari 2600 title Dragster.
In announcing Mitchell's Twin Galaxies ban, Hall promised "the truth is the priority. That is the concern. Whatever it takes. Twin Galaxies continues to strive to earn and maintain trust over time by making supportable decisions and taking sensible actions."
Mitchell’s not giving up
Despite Twin Galaxies' decision, Mitchell makes vague gestures toward "witnesses [and] documents" that "will show that everything that has been done—everything was done professionally, according to the rules" that existed before 2014. "Everything will be transparent, everything will be available. I wish I had it in my hands right now, I wish I could hand it to you, but it's taken a considerable amount of time."
It's hard to take that promise seriously, though, when Mitchell failed to engage directly with Twin Galaxies during the nearly two months the scoreboard spent adjudicating video evidence of his prior submissions. Instead, Mitchell made grandiose claims to a friendly interviewer that the "original tape" would show "what I say is true."
Now that Twin Galaxies has reviewed that original tape comprehensively, though, Mitchell is pointing instead to "witnesses [and] documents" that will somehow override the scoreboard's technical determination that an emulator was used (which has always been against Twin Galaxies' rules for this score category). Twin Galaxies also notes that Carlos Pineiro, a third party Mitchell engaged to do his own analysis of the evidence, came to a conclusion consistent with the scoreboard's (Mitchell has not responded to a request for comment from Ars Technica).
Mitchell also tried to downplay the severity of his questioned score back in February, telling the X Cast podcast, "I guess I would kind of understand if I'm sitting there on a razor's edge, a thousand points in front of somebody else, well I guess you'd really want to make sure the score's correct. But since it's No. 12 in line, like I said, this has so little to do with the success and the fun and the excitement that I do in the gaming world, it's nearly irrelevant."
That's also a hard argument to swallow, given that one of Mitchell's disputed scores was, at the time, recognized as a world record and the first million-point game of Donkey Kong ever played. The dramatic revelation of that now-questioned tape was a central plot point in the 2007 documentary The King of Kong, which helped increase Mitchell's profile as something of a niche media celebrity.
With Mitchell's scores now invalidated, Twin Galaxies recognizes fellow King of Kong subject Steve Wiebe with the first confirmed million-point Donkey Kong game. "I’m not the champ any more, but getting recognition for being the first to a million is a great consolation," Wiebe told Variety in the wake of the decision. "That’s what I was really bummed out about 11 years ago."
A legacy tarnished
Part of the tragedy of the whole Billy Mitchell saga is that he's by no means a bad Donkey Kong player. In a live, audience-viewed performance on real hardware at the 2004 Midwest Gaming Classic, Mitchell achieved a Donkey Kong score of 933,900, an accomplishment only a handful of other players can claim (Donkey Kong Forum currently lists Mitchell as the 47th-best Donkey Kong player ever, based on that performance). But the evidence suggests that Mitchell wasn't satisfied with merely being one name among many in the upper echelons of Donkey Kong play and that his use of MAME emulation may have allowed for the splicing of multiple recordings to manipulate randomization and push his claimed scores even higher.
That apparent emulator use, after years of denials, throws all of Mitchell's achievements into question, including his claims on the first-ever "perfect" game of Pac-Man in 1999. Guinness World Records, which works with Twin Galaxies, has now removed that record alongside all others previously earned by Mitchell in the wake of the Donkey Kong dispute. This is despite the fact that Mitchell's Pac-Man game was captured via an over-the-shoulder camcorder and among multiple contemporary witnesses on real hardware provided by New Hampshire's Funspot arcade.
Given his over-the-top and oft-parodied personality and his promise that he's "not going to stop now," Mitchell will likely continue to try to cling to his share of the limelight in the classic gaming world. In the end, though, he'll likely be remembered as gaming's version of baseball's Pete Rose: a top performer whose legacy is forever tarnished by an impossible-to-ignore history of lying and cheating.
Listing image by Billy Mitchell / Twitter