Twin Galaxies and Cheating Historical Gamers? – The Witch Hunt is On!

Twin Galaxies has been a hot topic that has recently been all over the Internet, but not because of people having fun and setting scores on their favorite games. Ohhhh no….. It’s because the newer regime is going through and scrubbing the database of historical records that are deemed impossible or unethical from a lot of classic older players. I’m going to go through my own perspective, and thoughts on this whole situation and give a pretty solid recommendation at the end that would make things less toxic in that community.

Many of you already know that this newer Twin Galaxies community treated me like an outsider when I posted my own older Commodore 64 records and basically made up new rules on the fly that were not pre-established once I posted them. (which you can read here) Telling someone to just simply re-record their records because they didn’t like the recording style was basically making me jump through hoops and I decided to not waste my time playing to arbitrary rules when I just was doing my records for fun.

I personally feel that many of these records should just be done in person, or with an authenticating authority figure present, like Aurcade does. This is a way more positive and fun way to go about things as it bring about a competitive spirit that is not present when simply submitting recordings. That way there is also none of this “who’s to say?” stuff that comes out many years later. The only issue with having a “referee” present is that their integrity can always been questioned when it comes to having a record disputed. It’s a lose/lose when a witch hunt is going on, as people are really quick to jump on anyone who has an opinion that goes against the grain.

Do you see how crazy this is though? This is all supposed to be fun and people are literally making things ridiculously convoluted just to get a score accepted into a database! And this definitely doesn’t have any kind of real exposure outside of the niche record-setting community, regardless of how popular a film like King of Kong may have been. There are thousands of players that are better than the ones willing to jump through hoops to get their scores “validated”.

For example, I looked at one of my old N64 memory cards and comparing my times as a kid in Wave Race 64 to the database, I have the world record times for every single track in the game! Of course a simply having and setting a record isn’t enough to get “accepted” by this community because “who’s to say?” would come out and the database’s “peer authentication system” wouldn’t allow anyone to simply get their older scores in the database for historical purposes… just like with my article above. With this new regime you are guilty until proven innocent as they assume everyone is cheating, making this whole community extremely toxic and not fun. That’s basically why I won’t be doing it myself, as if it’s not fun, then why bother? So that also means that these records in the database aren’t truly the best, they are just the best from those who are willing to jump through all of their hoops and be validated.

But before I continue too far off topic, do I think that Todd Rogers and Billy Mitchell having their records scrubbed from different databases is alright? I would say Yes and No… While I’m not going to retread all of the details here (as it’s way too technical for most) let me do what others haven’t and dig a little bit deeper from my own unique perspective…

First off is Todd Rogers…

While I have never met Todd, he has always been an extremely nice guy to talk to online. The main newsworthy record that has been in question is his Atari 2600 Dragster record, which to me seems to have been the smoking gun that got the validity of all of his records questioned. However, the irony behind this is that I feel like out of any of his records, that one has the weakest evidence behind it being fake. Let’s dig deeper. Here is the video that went viral and really brought his whole situation to light:

So while most websites and videos have been focusing on Dragster, the real craziness is the records that are a million points above others, which really seems out of place, however even those could just prove that Todd is just a badass gamer right? Well the biggest issue that I see is that there are multiple records that are not possible due to how the score is calculated, like shown in the video. Now does that mean that Todd intentionally cheated? Maybe. However nobody else has thought that maybe it could just mean that Todd, and other Twin Galaxies referees at the time, weren’t as careful as people are now with inputting their own records into the system? Let’s continue down this ridiculous rabbit hole, shall we?

Anyone who has been to a convention or larger gaming meetup knows that it gets chaotic at times. Meeting up with old friends, playing video games with sometimes hundreds of screens going off at a time, plus people all over the place. Todd is notorious for setting his records live and not recording them, which I think is the harder way to do it as you need to be able to focus and perform. So imagine in this crazy public setting with Todd setting a record and basically going over to a Twin Galaxies authority figure to verify… they take it down on a piece of paper and get sidetracked by the various other people around. (it even could be that Todd added his scores to the same paper before or after getting sidetracked) After the event they look at the records and transpose them to the database and numbers get mixed up… that COULD happen. (Keep in mind that it would be easier to say Todd just cheated, but I don’t feel people should be judged guilty until it is 100% proven.)

So this theory would mean that Todd did not cheat, in the calculated scores, but he was just part of a slew of careless circumstances and people not taking their “volunteer positions” as seriously as people would like to believe they should have. This would of course tarnish the reputation of them as well. However, just because the legacy of Twin Galaxies has been put on such a high pedestal because of various films and documentaries on them, doesn’t mean that it’s not just still a bunch of nerdy gamers validating scores right? Todd also having records that look to have been rounded off in the database, or just throwing on a million points also shows the carelessness of the system back in the day. I just think that they didn’t take it as seriously as everyone assumes that they did. Let’s move on to the main event…Dragster!

So Todd’s Dragster record of 5.51 seconds was proven via a TAS analysis to be impossible due to the best possible time being 5.57 seconds (there was also another analysis done by Ben Heck showing similar results). I have seen multiple records posts from different sources showing me 5.54 seconds (the score does 3 second increments), that Todd has done and that he has only done the record approximately 3 times, which people have said are all doctored pictures that are not legitimate.

Now my only argument was that TAS is done on a PC with newer tech to show the perfect possible time. An Atari 2600 is much more rudimentary and I have seen glitches on hardware that may change the clock speed of games unintentionally, allowing to have fractions of a second shaved off. That’s where my own questioning comes in, as none of the proof was on the original consoles and we all know that emulation isn’t quite the same as playing a game on the original system.

***New NOTE***I was informed by Firebrandx (one of the sources from the above video) on Facebook that Ben Heck did indeed do his tests on real hardware. He also mentioned that Ominigamer (from the video) went through the entire code and mapped out all possible combinations, which is another form of dissection besides for a TAS run.

***New NOTE*** However, I was also informed by another source that Ben Heck did perform his tests using a modified Atari Jr. console, whereas Todd Rogers set all of his records on a Heavy 6’r. There is a known GPU bug on the original console that was fixed later on, which may be the only true way to get a time lower.

***New NOTE*** My own thoughts on both of these aspects is that I feel both sides are entirely accurate, however the mapping and testing that was done, needs to also be done on a Heavy 6’r with the GPU bug, as that could absolutely cause a slight glitch in the way things are handled and allow a player to perform something slightly different than on something without the bug. I could completely see emulation easily overcoming this bug and not replicating it as it would be essentially an error. So this could not only be the logical reason how the time was gotten, but also why it hasn’t been replicated since the CAG scene has been revitalized…

However, if this following picture was indeed posted by Todd… then he may indeed be guilty of tampering…

It is hard to justify all of this when there are so many different factors against Todd, but we can’t just simply say that he is a cheater, as “who’s to say” comes from both sides of the coin. The question is if my other thoughts are correct, would being careless as a referee, and being around other careless referees be any better than just lying about scores? It would indeed remove any maliciousness that Todd is currently being accused of, but would tarnish the legacy that the records database has been given over the years.

I have offered Todd Roger the opportunity to come on VGBS Gaming Podcast and tell his side of the story. We will even provide him all the questions beforehand so he will not be caught off guard. The thing is, Todd is extremely aloof about the entire situation and just from talking with him over e-mail it seems like he would have no motive to go to such lengths to cheat and doctor photos… I have seen Internet trolls do crazier things before that’s for sure. However, the evidence is pretty stacked against him and to me removing the records from the current database as it stands makes sense, but it is unfortunate. At the end I’m going to go into my thoughts on what should be done with the database that could solve this entire debacle.

Next up is Billy Mitchell…

The evidence against Billy Mitchell setting records over a million points is pretty damning, but it doesn’t mean that he cheated. An authority figure from the Donkey Kong Forum has shown a frame by frame analysis that proves that the million point records Billy has recorded have all been done on MAME, where Billy claimed it was done on a real arcade machine. Note that the Donkey Kong Forum came about after Twin Galaxies (which I assess is similar to my own reasons) and are now the defact-o standard for that community. However, they have specific rules in place for when you record from an emulator. Basically this is because MAME can be used to splice a record that was done to look like it was flawless, removing all of the deaths as you constantly rewind to set the best possible score.

So there is definitely no proof that Billy did cheat, just that his records were removed because it was not recorded to the MAME standard. Of course if he did fabricate how he got the records which then questions the records themselves, then he would have been lying.

***New NOTE*** Billy did do a shock jock podcast interview where he mentioned that he didn’t know much about the arcade that was provided for him to play for the “Boomers” record. I also have seen it mentioned multiple times that Billy doesn’t know much about newer technology, which I can completely understand from meeting him. This also means that him actually having the know how to do something as complex as using MAME’s “video stitching” capabilities is pretty far fetched, although there is the possibility that someone could have done all of this for him. However, that would be a lot of trouble to go through for something that Billy definitely has the skill to get, especially since he attends tons of events with the world record holders and they always talk strategy. It would be very reasonable that he would use some of those techniques and be able to get over a million points.

But even if Billy did know it was setup as a MAME, that doesn’t mean he went so far as to not actually play the games, as he has proven he is a top competitor. So those scores should absolutely be removed, however it doesn’t tarnish the ridiculously high scores Billy has put up; as scoring 900,000 in Donkey Kong is still a feat that only few people can do. It just means that if he wants to have his million point scores “counted”, he will have to do it on arcade hardware, or just record the MAME emulation to the standard.

A recommendation…

The thing is, people like Todd Rogers and Billy Mitchell are part of the history of people competing at the highest level for scores on classic video games. Regardless of what has happened, they were part of it. I really feel like there is an option to truly preserve what has come from the past, while maintaining the new high standards for things in the niche record-setting community (aside from the books that already have been published that document these scores). The new Twin Galaxies database should be separated from the old one, which can be done in a simple way to keep things fun.

Basically, there just need to be a few extra categories in the database created.

First off, how things are authenticated is there, however if it is part of the new “Peer system”, that should be noted. Then you can have filters so that the “Peer system” can be the default view and people who want to can overlay the historical database on it by simply setting a view filter on the site to see how the new scores stack up to the old ones. That way this new way of setting records is distinct from the old way, as it is a completely different thing, but we don’t have this need to remove historical records that are deemed impossible.

Secondly, any “classic” record that is questionable should simply be added to a category/filter that notes that and is automatically noted on the database. Like putting an asterisks on it or highlighting it red. That way people don’t put things on such a high pedestal as they can clearly see what records are not thought to have been possible. It also would mean that the “new regime” could essentially note scores and require the record holders to provide the proof as they are not being removed. It would remove a ton of this witch hunting that is currently going on, because if the record holders don’t care to comment, their record would just have a blemish on it for everyone to see.

All of this would be pretty easy to implement and would be a huge step in removing all of this negativity that is surrounding that scene currently.

Closing thoughts…

This wasn’t meant to cover all the details on what is going on, but more so how to make things less crappy in that community. The Classic Arcade Community has been pretty negative as of late and it’s unfortunate as I have met a ton of really nice people. It is hard to know the motives of people, on both sides of the spectrum, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Both Todd Rogers and Billy Mitchell are extremely nice guys but I feel that the pedestal that they have been put on by the community is a bit crazy. The thing is, they might be what people are saying they are, but nobody will know 100% for sure because “who’s to say?” will always be a factor.

I feel that by separating this fully integrated database, thus making this whole thing a non-factor, a lot of the fuel would be off this fire and people could go back to just playing games for fun and setting high scores at the highest level!

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