Boss fight between Donkey Kong champ and leaderboard org ends with settlement
Video game record keepers Twin Galaxies finish messy four-year fight with Billy Mitchell
Retro Tech Week The world-beating video game scores of self-styled arcade legend Billy Mitchell have been reinstated following a settlement with record-keeping org Twin Galaxies, which had wiped his achievements in 2018 following allegations of cheating.
Terms of the settlement [PDF], reached last week, were undisclosed.
In a statement on January 16, Twin Galaxies – which the Guinness World Records uses to issue gongs – promised to reinstate Mitchell on its leaderboards, and to permanently remove the cheating allegations "as well as all related statements and articles" from its website.
Mitchell, who today runs his family's restaurant business, rose to arcade gaming fame in the 1980s and has held world records for high scores on the arcade versions of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. In 2007 he was painted as a villain in the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which ultimately led to his dismissal from Twin Galaxies record lists. The database owners also barred him from future inclusion on the leaderboards.
Those sanctions were imposed after sharp-eyed Twin Galaxies forum members spotted apparent differences between the typical video output of original Donkey Kong cabinets and that of the hardware Mitchell used to achieve two of his high scores. Mitchell denied any wrongdoing and said he used original Donkey Kong arcade hardware to reach his world-record high scores; his critics claimed he used something else, perhaps even a MAME-emulated system.
Twin Galaxies’ rules require gamers to play on unmodified original hardware; scores generated on emulators or modified machines are not eligible.
Mitchell sued Twin Galaxies in 2019, alleging [PDF] the record keeper's claims he cheated were defamatory.
Twin Galaxies, which has changed hands over the years, answered his lawsuit in 2021 with one of their own, accusing [PDF] Mitchell and Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day (who moved on from the org in 2010) of conspiring to inflate Twin Galaxies and Mitchell's reputations to artificially increase the value of the organization prior to its sale to the current owners.
"The plan was to return Billy Mitchell's prestige with fraudulent scores, so that his association with Old Twin Galaxies would increase interest in Old Twin Galaxies and the Twin Galaxies Score Database and thereby increase the value of the company and its assets," Twin Galaxies latest owners asserted in the suit.
The company was last purchased by Jace Hall in 2014.
The lengthy lawsuit was reenergized late last year when Twin Galaxies lawyers accused [PDF] Mitchell of abusing the discovery process by allegedly fibbing about a "Video Game Player of the Century" award apparently given to him by Pac-Man maker Namco.
Mitchell mentioned the Namco gong in the original lawsuit, but allegedly refused to produce it during discovery. Twin Galaxies' lawyers claimed the award did not exist.
- Almost all classic US video games 'critically endangered'
- The Register's 2023 in gaming had one final boss: Baldur's Gate 3
- Doom turns 30, so its creators celebrate seminal first-person shooter's contribution to IT careers
- If you're gonna use AI-made stuff in your game, you better tell us, says Steam
To further complicate matters, Twin Galaxies' lawyer in the case, David Tashroudian, admitted [PDF] in early January to improperly communicating with witnesses, leading to him facing potential disciplinary action for violation of professional conduct rules.
None of that matters anymore, however, as the settlement means all matters in the case have been dropped with no admissions of guilt. We asked lawyers for both parties to learn more about the terms of the settlement but have not received a response at the time of publishing.
Reinstatement comes with caveats
Twin Galaxies’ statement reveals that the outfit decided to reinstate Mitchell's records after viewing a report written at Mitchell's behest by Dr Michael Zyda, a computer scientist and former video game designer.
According to Zyda, the footage used in King of Kong may depict gameplay on original, unmodified Donkey Kong cabinets that may have simply had parts replaced, considering the cabinets were sold years before he achieved his records – perhaps as far back as 1981.
"Twin Galaxies is committed to ensuring fairness for all parties and to allow and consider any new information that becomes available," the company said. "Twin Galaxies takes no official stance on the creation of submitted content but can recognize and acknowledge Dr Zyda's expert opinion."
In light of Zyda's findings and TG's self-described "dedication to the meticulous documentation and preservation of video game score history," the group said it would "heretofore reinstate all of Mr Mitchell's scores."
Mitchell's highest score in Donkey Kong of 1,062,800 has since been surpassed; the current record holder is Robbie Lakeman, who managed to rack up 1,272,800 points. Given that, and the fact that it's been 14 years since Mitchell held the record, his scores will be restored "as part of the official historical database on Twin Galaxies' website."
Mitchell's former world record is now visible in the historic database, where it sits right below the 1,064,500-point record achieved in 2012 by his King of Kong nemesis Steve Weibe. ®
PS: Twin Galaxies is not the only entity Mitchell has sued over allegations of cheating. As stated above, he denies any wrongdoing.