In short, retro gaming legend and notorious documentary villain Billy Mitchell is in hot water over two of his claimed high scores on the original arcade version of Donkey Kong, one of the games on which he made his name.
Basically, Young has publicly alleged that three of Mitchell’s highest Donkey Kong scores, all of which cracked 1 million points, were played on an emulator, not a genuine arcade cabinet. While some Donkey Kong players do use emulated versions of the game, to do so without acknowledging it is controversial and potentially scandalous, because emulators can enable players to patch together an ideal run. That creates deceptively high scores.
— Paste Magazine (@PasteMagazine) February 2, 2018
Young cites a close analysis of the way the graphics of each Donkey Kong level load into the game with genuine arcade cabinet levels loading in a sliding horizontal motion, while games played on the arcade emulator MAME load visibly differently. According to Ars Technica, examining slow-motion footage of the Donkey Kong stages loading on Mitchell’s high scores led Young to conclude that they were “generated in MAME and not by original Donkey Kong hardware.”
If Mitchell’s name sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that. Mitchell was one of the stars of the hit 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which chronicled Steve Wiebe’s attempt to secure the highest-ever score on the game. Mitchell, who rose to prominence throughout the 1980s and 1990s as a gaming savant, effectively functioned as the film’s antagonist, occasionally dispensing arrogant one-liners and appearing to have the powers of the retro gaming establishment on his side.
As it stands now, however, there’s no telling how damaging these allegations could be to Mitchell’s reputation in the competitive retro gaming world. It’s worth noting that although he was a world-record holder in his heyday, the scores that are now being disputed have since been outpaced by other, stronger players. The current Donkey Kong record-holder is Robbie Lakeman, who scored 1,247,000 on Friday at the very same time the Mitchell drama was unfolding.
Mitchell’s highest claimed score is 1,062,8000, which is good for 12th all-time, according to retro gaming site Twin Galaxies. That score had already been stricken from Donkey Kong Forum’s leaderboards, however, and Twin Galaxies is reportedly examining the allegations. Mitchell’s highest in-person Donkey Kong score reportedly came in 2004, when he scored 933,900 at the Midwest Gaming Classic.