Veteran arcade gamer Billy Mitchell was only 17-years-old when he set the Donkey Kong high score record in 1982, and held it for the next 18 years. While it’s been more than seven years since he last had the highest score in the popular video game’s long history, the co-star of the 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters had multiple million-point scores removed from the official records earlier this week, after it was alleged that he had used an emulator to pull off the feats, instead of getting the scores on actual arcade machines, as is required.
On Friday, Donkey Kong Forum global moderator Jeremy “Xelnia” Young started a thread where he posted several animated GIFs, in an attempt to prove that three of Mitchell’s previous million-point Donkey Kong high scores, including the all-time record he held while The King of Kong was being shot, were achieved using the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME). Young explained that actual Donkey Kong machines use a “sliding door” effect when displaying new scenes in the game, while previous versions of MAME generate images piece by piece, much like how jigsaw puzzles are put together.
The animated GIFs showed slow-motion comparisons of footage from legitimate Donkey Kong hardware, the MAME emulator, and Mitchell’s games where he set the disputed high scores, and as Young described it, the videos offered a “preponderance of evidence” that Mitchell’s previously verified scores were generated in MAME, and not by playing the game on an actual cabinet.
Aside from posting the GIFs as evidence of Billy Mitchell’s alleged cheating, Young cast doubt on Billy Mitchell’s claims that he broadcasted his high scores via “direct feed” off actual hardware. As Donkey Kong machines are not as sophisticated as modern gaming machines, it can be extremely difficult to get a live video feed straight from a decades-old cabinet. According to Ars Technica, that’s the reason why Donkey Kong high scores are usually confirmed by pointing a video camera at the cabinet’s screen, or in front of live audiences.
Although playing a video game on an emulator might not seem too different at first from playing it on authentic hardware, Ars Technica explained that there are fundamental differences in game controls and the timing needed to perform moves in the game. Furthermore, MAME has features that allow gamers to put up higher than usual scores by patching together recorded portions of earlier attempts, and replaying parts of a level where their game had previously ended.
With Billy Mitchell’s million-point games now scrubbed from the records kept by the Donkey Kong Forum, he has dropped down from 20th to 47th place in the rankings, with his highest confirmed score at 933,900 points. But even if Mitchell’s big games weren’t taken down, he still would have had a long way to go to beat current Donkey Kong high score record holder Robbie Lakeman, who recently beat his previous high by scoring a verified 1,247,700 points, according to VentureBeat.