Billy Mitchell, one of the subjects of the 2007 documentary The King of Kong, and previous holder of three million+ point world records for the arcade version of Donkey Kong has had those three records disputed. According to Xelnia, the moderator of the Donkey Kong Forum’s high score board, via the Twin Galaxies forums, Mitchell’s million+ scores, submitted via recording show definite signs of being recorded via the MAME emulator and were not played on an arcade machine.
When The King of Kong released, Billy Mitchell was the world record holder, but he’s long since fallen in the standings. The Twin Galaxies record page has Mitchell at 12th place in the world record standings for Donkey Kong with a score of 1,062,800. Robbie Lakeman now holds the world record (set at the start of this year) with a score of 1,230,100. Even if he’s not the record holder though, the exploits of Mitchell and his role in the popular documentary make his scores notable.
What’s the Problem With Billy Mitchell’s Donkey Kong High Scores?
The crux of the accusations against Mitchell is relatively technical in nature, but come down to the way MAME draws the graphics onscreen versus the way an authentic arcade machine does. In simplest terms, MAME draws the graphics like a flipbook, with each complete frame replacing the last one. An arcade board draws the image by replacing parts of the screen in a rolling fashion from right-to-left and top-to-bottom. By analyzing footage of Mitchell’s recorded runs, footage of MAME (four different generations of it at that), and direct footage from arcade machines, Xelnia determined that the three million+ runs that Mitchell submitted as records were recorded via MAME—including the controversial 1,047,200 point run featured in The King of Kong.
So what does it matter if he used an emulator or an arcade machine? Well, MAME features a lot of built-in tools that would make producing a fraudulent run very easy. Particularly of note is the input mapping (INP) function which lets you record player input and replays it at command. By using this, a person could play stages of an arcade game over-and-over until they got the run they wanted and then just play them back in order in MAME to generate the perfect game. As most arcade game scores reset when you’re out of continues, this would let you get a score much higher than if you were just playing through normally.
Billy Mitchell’s 1.062 million point score still stands at Twin Galaxies. However, Donkey Kong Forum has removed the three high scores that are in dispute and replaced them with Mitchell’s highest live score that can be verified: 933,900.
Mitchell hasn’t commented on the allegations against him as of writing.