FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - South Florida's Billy Mitchell, once declared the Video Game Player of the Century, is now facing the ultimate test of his skills: salvaging his reputation.
Twin Galaxies, competitive gaming's governing body, found him guilty of cheating. On April 12, it banned Mitchell for life and removed all his high scores from their record books, including his undisputed Donkey Kong and Pac-Man records from the 1980s and 1990s.
Mitchell has begun to assemble a group of experts to dispute the findings. He plans to show that Donkey Kong loading screens from his games are from the real arcade game, not a software emulator, as his detractors have claimed. An emulator allows a computer program to imitate another program.
He also wants to find witnesses for his most recent - and most disputed - high score, a 1,062,800-point benchmark set at the now-shuttered Boomers in Dania Beach.
"They said it was this version or that version (of a software emulator). When they finally said it's a specific version, somebody came out and said that version didn't come out until two years after I played the game," said Mitchell, in his first interview since losing his records. "I don't really know - I don't know anything about this stuff."
Mitchell, a longtime Hollywood resident who now lives in Weston, achieved the high score at the Boomers location on July 31, 2010. He recalls more than 100 people shuffling in and out, a few dozen at any one time, as he ran up the scoreboard for several hours that day. But it was only the latest in a run of high scores going back decades.
In 1982, at the age of 17, Mitchell became the first person to reach the fabled kill screen of Donkey Kong, when the arcade game reaches its memory limit at level 117 and Mario seemingly commits suicide, dying for no reason. His total: 874,300 points.
He followed that up by reclaiming the Donkey Kong high score four more times, three against Steve Wiebe, his rival in the 2007 documentary "The King of Kong," a film that cemented Mitchell's image as the black hat of competitive gaming. Barrel, jump, hammer, smash. 933,900 points. 1,047,200 points. 1,050,200 points. 1,062,800 points.
It's those last two high scores that have landed him in hot water. Twin Galaxies, the Guinness World Record-sanctioned keeper of video game high scores, ruled Mitchell's scores were achieved on software that emulates Donkey Kong, not on the arcade game itself. That's a problem because the software would allow someone to save and stop a game, which in turn would allow them to go back and replay if they die or get a score on a level they don't like.
It's a far fall for a man declared the "Video Game Player of the Century" in 1999 by the Japanese Amusement Machine and Marketing Association. He had just pulled off the first perfect Pac-Man score in history - 256 levels, consuming every fruit, every dot, every power pellet and every blue ghost with every power pellet consumed, all without dying once. 3,333,360 points.
"Probably my strongest accolade is that I did the first perfect Pac-Man," Mitchell said. "It was quite the gala event. It was at the largest arcade in the world. Namco (Pac-Man's creator) took me and flew me to Japan, where I had to repeat the performance."
Now, as far as the score-keeping body is concerned, that never happened. Not to mention his record-setting scores in Donkey Kong Jr, Ms. Pac-Man and Burger Time. The tally: 957,300 points. 703,560 points. 7,881,050 points and an unknown number of hot dogs and eggs crushed beneath giant hamburger ingredients.
"The idea that they would go back and undo what was done more than 30 years ago in front of cameras and Life Magazine and the best gamers of the day - it's laughable," he said.
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