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The Untold Truth Of Gaming's Biggest Cheater

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10:09   |   Jun 23, 2018

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The Untold Truth Of Gaming's Biggest Cheater
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  • Forget about Bowser: right now, the biggest villain in video games is Billy Mitchell.
  • For over 30 years, he was one of the most prominent gamers in the world, holding high
  • score records on classic arcade titles like Donkey Kong, Burger Time, and Ms. Pac-Man.
  • On April 12, 2018, however, all that came crashing to an end.
  • Twin Galaxies, the organization that crowned Mitchell as the king of arcade games back
  • in the '80s, determined that three of his world-record scores have been falsified.
  • That might seem like a simple outcome, but the real story behind Mitchell's rise and
  • fall is a maze with more turns than Pac-Man.
  • "Oh yeah!"
  • From bitter rivalries to a lawsuit against a cartoon, here's the story behind Billy Mitchell.
  • The original king
  • Billy Mitchell had his first brush with mainstream media attention all the way back in 1982.
  • At the time, the arcade market was booming, thanks in part to dedicated players who devoted
  • themselves to racking up high scores to claim bragging rights.
  • "When you want your name written into history, you have to pay the price."
  • The competition was so fierce that the founder of the Twin Galaxies arcade, Walter Day, began
  • collecting verified high scores to compile an official national scoreboard.
  • Less than a year after the scoreboard became public, ten of the country's top gamers came
  • to Twin Galaxies for a competition that was covered by Life magazine.
  • That crowd included Billy Mitchell, age 17.
  • He'd racked up a world-record 15,000,000 point score in Centipede, and spent his weekend
  • setting yet another world-record in Donkey Kong, which would stand for the next 25 years.
  • "It's a very good game but I think Donkey Kong is the best game ever."
  • "Donkey Kong sucks!"
  • "You know something, you suck!"
  • No matter what would happen later, the legitimacy of that particular record is definitely not
  • in question.
  • It was set in public, with witnesses, on a fully functioning Donkey Kong arcade machine.
  • The King of Kong
  • Unless you were around for that article in Life, it's likely that you know Mitchell best
  • from 2007's The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a documentary about the high-stakes
  • competition surrounding classic arcade game high scores, and Steve Wiebe's attempt to
  • break Mitchell's record after 25 years.
  • Like a lot of documentaries, King of Kong frames its subjects as part of a narrative
  • for the sake of drama.
  • It's easy to see why.
  • If the filmmakers had scripted the entire thing, it's doubtful that they could've created
  • a character who fit the mold of a villain better than Mitchell.
  • He's the undefeated champion, a tall businessman with a neatly trimmed beard and an American
  • flag necktie who's constantly bragging.
  • "Not even Helen of Troy had that much attention."
  • In stark contrast to its treatment of Mitchell, The King of Kong portrays Steve Wiebe as an
  • underdog and a hero.
  • Even Wiebe acknowledge the way the two players were framed, telling MTV:
  • "I don't think he's an evil person.
  • I don't necessarily think I'm a saint or anything […] but the way things played out, we kind
  • of fell into those roles."
  • Mr. Awesome
  • While the focus of the documentary is centered on Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, there's
  • another player involved in this story, too: Roy Schildt, also known as Mr. Awesome.
  • Schildt is another character that seems straight out of pro wrestling, driving to arcades in
  • a customized Trans-Am and competing for classic gaming high scores while dressed in a full-on
  • military outfit, doing push-ups between rounds of Missile Command.
  • "...That no punk bastard ever got a gnarly piece of p---- by being sensitive and considerate."
  • And thanks to a dispute over Missile Command and Mitchell calling the legitimacy of his
  • scores into question, he hates Billy Mitchell so much that he was kicked out of a classic
  • gaming event in 2010 for harassing Mitchell.
  • But here's the thing: Schildt has been alleging for years that Mitchell was cheating, and
  • now it seems that Twin Galaxies agrees with him.
  • Garrett Bobby Ferguson
  • One of Billy Mitchell's more notable feuds didn't involve a video game high score at
  • all.
  • Instead, it was centered on an episode of Cartoon Network's Regular Show titled "High
  • Score."
  • In it, avid video game fans Mordecai and Rigby break the world record on an arcade game called
  • Broken Bonez and summon the previous record-holder: Garrett Bobby Ferguson.
  • "So you've broken the world record, have you?"
  • "Yeah.Who's asking?"
  • "Me!"
  • After trying to cheat in a head-to-head competition, GBF loses and explodes in a shower of yellow
  • goo.
  • It might be fair to say that GBF bears a pretty striking resemblance to a certain real-world
  • arcade game record holder.
  • "Please!
  • The universe record is all I have!"
  • Billy Mitchell certainly thought so: he filed a lawsuit against Cartoon Network and Regular
  • Show in 2015.
  • Eventually, however, the judge dismissed the case, writing:
  • "The television character does not match the plaintiff in appearance: GBF appears as a
  • non-human creature, a giant floating head with no body from outer space, while Plaintiff
  • is a human being.
  • And when GBF loses his title, the character literally explodes, unlike Plaintiff."
  • Trading records
  • The story of Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong record didn't end with King of Kong.
  • In fact, after the events of the movie, he broke Steve Wiebe's record, then had his own
  • record broken again.
  • In the years since the documentary, the high score was passed multiple times by several
  • players.
  • With all these new players surpassing their records, it's tempting to wonder why anyone
  • would bother focusing on Mitchell at all.
  • Until he was removed from the the leader boards, Twin Galaxies had him ranked at #14, right
  • behind Wiebe.
  • At the same time, Mitchell's 25-year record still stands as a monumental achievement,
  • and his status as the subject of an award-winning film raised his profile enough to keep people
  • interested.
  • All of this served to cast some doubts on the truth behind the record-setting tape he
  • was able to produce after Steve Wiebe beat him the first time.
  • "I explained to him he could lose his life, but don't lose the tape."
  • The investigation
  • The challenge to Mitchell's record came from an unlikely place.
  • It was Jeremy Young, the moderator of the online Donkey Kong forum, who analyzed the
  • tape and determined that Mitchell's record-setting performance wasn't actually done on a Donkey
  • Kong arcade machine.
  • Instead, Young alleged that Mitchell used an emulator, and Twin Galaxies agreed.
  • The evidence cited by Young begins with the fact that while Mitchell has racked up plenty
  • of impressive scores, he's never managed to break 1,000,000 points while playing in public
  • with witnesses.
  • Everyone has an off day or two, so that's easy enough to dismiss, but it got Young investigating
  • the infamous tape of Mitchell's 1,062,800-point performance - the one that made Mitchell the
  • first person on record to break the million-point mark.
  • From there, the evidence began to stack up.
  • It comes down to some pretty technical stuff, but one of the most compelling pieces of evidence
  • involves a frame-by-frame comparison of how the first level of the game is rendered on
  • the monitor.
  • The slight differences between the true arcade version and its emulated equivalent led Young
  • to conclude that Mitchell used an emulator called MAME, or Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator,
  • for his record-setting score.
  • Arcade vs. Emulator
  • So here's the big question: if the actual code of the game is the same across platforms,
  • then why does it matter if he played on an emulator?
  • For starters, emulated games are going to be easier to manipulate, down to adjusting
  • how the game adds points to your score.
  • Even if the game's code remains unaltered, however, running it on different hardware
  • can create slight differences in how the game is played.
  • Regardless of the platform, emulation is almost never 100% perfect.
  • When you're dealing with something like world-record arcade scores, where split-second timing and
  • minor variations in pattern recognition can make all the difference, then the slight changes
  • from emulation can make for an entirely different set of patterns to exploit.
  • But that doesn't necessarily make them easier.
  • Even Jeremy Young admitted as much, telling Polygon: "to say that [emulation players']
  • accomplishments on emulator are somehow less than that of their arcade competitors is ridiculous."
  • If Mitchell's score was recorded on an emulator and not arcade hardware, then it was presented
  • under false pretenses, in violation of the rules.
  • In this case, it's the lie that matters more than the actual score.
  • "I'm not God.
  • I don't have all the answers.
  • So I have to be careful how I share my opinions."
  • Struck from the record
  • After launching the initial investigation in February, Twin Galaxies announced on April
  • 12th that they had determined Mitchell's Donkey Kong score was fraudulent, banned him from
  • future competition, and removed all of his records.
  • Not just this particular high score, but everything - including scores in other games and that
  • original 25-year Donkey Kong world record from 1982.
  • Even his Guinness World Records are gone, as Guinness relies on Twin Galaxies for their
  • video game scores.
  • As for Mitchell, he maintains that his score was legitimate, and that he'll be able to
  • prove it and reclaim his rightful place in video game history.
  • "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."
  • He's even accused Young of creating falsified footage using an emulator, which would require
  • Young to have done a pixel-perfect recreation of Mitchell's legitimate game in order to
  • discredit him.
  • Young responded by calling the allegation ridiculous, saying:
  • "The amount of foresight, patience, and technical knowledge required would be staggering."
  • Wiebe victory
  • Given their history, it's tempting to see Mitchell's downfall as a victory for Steve
  • Wiebe, but that's not exactly the case.
  • But there is one big change that comes for Wiebe as a result of Mitchell's disqualification.
  • With Mitchell's score removed from the records, Wiebe is officially the first player on record
  • to ever break 1,000,000 points in Donkey Kong.
  • No matter how many new high scores are set, being the first person to do something is
  • the kind of record that can't be taken away.
  • Unless, you know, you cheated.
  • "There's some poor bastard out there who's getting the screws put to him, hahaha."
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Forget about Bowser: right now, the biggest villain in video games is Billy Mitchell. For over 30 years, he was one of the most prominent gamers in the world, holding high score records on classic arcade titles like Donkey Kong, Burger Time, and Ms. Pac-Man. On April 12, 2018, however, all that came crashing to an end. Twin Galaxies, the organization that crowned Mitchell as the king of arcade games back in the '80s, determined that three of his world-record scores have been falsified. That might seem like a simple outcome, but the real story behind Mitchell's rise and fall is a maze with more turns than Pac-Man. From bitter rivalries to a lawsuit against a cartoon, here's the story behind Billy Mitchell...

The original king | #
The King of Kong | #
Mr. Awesome | #
Garrett Bobby Ferguson | #
Trading records | #
The investigation | #
Arcade vs. Emulator | #
Struck from the record | #
Wiebe victory | #

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