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Neighbors Growing Together | Jun 24, 2018

‘King of Kong’s’ Steve Wiebe speaks about high score controversy

By John Gaudiosi | Apr 13, 2018

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Seth Gordon’s 2007 documentary, “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” received a bonus life this month thanks to the stripping of “antagonist” Billy Mitchell’s “Donkey Kong” world records by independent video game achievements organization Twin Galaxies.

Steve Wiebe, who was the “protagonist” in the documentary, told Variety that being back in the news after 11 years has been “surreal.” He had heard gamers questioning the authenticity of Mitchell’s scores for years both in person at Kong Off events and online through the “Donkey Kong” forum, although there was never anything concrete until James Young recently revealed video evidence. And with Twin Galaxies finding Mitchell had cheated, Wiebe finally beat Mitchell.

“The more I thought about it from the ‘King of Kong’ days, it all seemed to make sense now,” Wiebe said. “All the things that were happening at the time... like why he didn’t come out and play me, and why he was inciting whose records were going to be authenticated and who’s were going to be dropped. ‘King of Kong’ referenced that that he was a referee and on the board of directors. When that leaked out, it started to make more sense.”

While Wiebe is no longer the reigning king of “Kong” (Robbie Lakeman scored 1,247,700 this past February), he’s now the first player ever to score one million points in “Donkey Kong.”

“I’m not the champ any more, but getting recognition for being the first to a million is a great consolation,” Wiebe said. “That’s what I was really bummed out about 11 years ago.”

Wiebe said he’s not one to dance on graves, and he knows there are still a lot of people who support Mitchell.

“Billy will have his turn to say something in response, for now I’m just in awe,” Wiebe said.

Mitchell has not responded to Variety’s request for comment.

The school teacher in Redmond, Wash. is having another 15 minutes of fame. In addition to “King of Kong,” he’s had small parts in many of Gordon’s subsequent projects, including “Four Christmases,” “Horrible Bosses,” “The Goldbergs” and “Sneaky Pete.”

According to Jace Hall, the owner of Twin Galaxies, being able to watch the documentary’s footage of Mitchell’s 1,047,200 score performance VHS source tape was “helpful” in determining that the gamer had cheated by using a MAME emulator instead of an arcade cabinet circuit board. Using emulated software, and not the original circuit board version of the game, means a player could cheat in any number of potentially undetectable ways. That’s why all submitted high scores must be from playing on original, unmodified arcade machine.

“It was important to be able to reference the film because Billy was quite aware of that footage being attributed to him for many years,” Hall said, adding that the film was just one of a variety of sources that went into the organization’s final decision.

Original Twin Galaxies owner Walter Day was a central character in the documentary. Day has also not responded to Variety’s request for comment. Hall acquired the company in 2014 and has been building out an online community that celebrates achievements in video games, ranging from classic arcade games to modern day console and PC games, as well as esports and competitive gaming.

“Much like IMDB, if you’re a player accomplishing achievements in games, Twin Galaxies is reaching out to all of the different media sources and potential sponsors and saying, ‘here are actual video game champions,’” Hall explained.

The recent “Donkey Kong” controversy could help kickstart a trio of new “King of Kong” projects, according to Ed Cunningham, who produced the documentary with Gordon.

“There is a good script for a feature film, but there wasn’t a whole lot of interest to get behind it,” Cunningham told Variety.

Without going into details, Cunningham said rather than doing a remake of the documentary, there are other time frames in this story that they couldn’t fit in a film.

“So there is a different story in this world that could be a good movie,” Cunningham believes.

But for now, the focus is on a Broadway musical. Warner Bros., which owns the film copyrights, allowed Cunningham and Gordon to develop the show.

“We’ve been working on this for three years now and we’re in the late stages of development,” Cunningham said.

When asked if the current “Donkey Kong” controversy would be added to the musical, he said, “We certainly want to stay true to the documentary nature of it, we’ll certainly reference this, even if it’s in the epilogue.”

The fact that gamers are still enthralled by this real-life battle between David and Goliath -- in which David finally won -- also opens the door for serialized entertainment.

“Seth and I have long thought there’s a half-hour comedy scripted TV show set in this world,” Cunningham said. “As a producer, I got a lot more interested in developing that in the last few weeks. There’s an audience for this. This is a world that exists. Seth and I know this world and these characters well.”

And all of these headlines and stories could help fast track a show.

“If anything, this gives that a chance,” Cunningham said. “Maybe this controversy is the launch point of this new show. As someone who loves the space, this gave me new thoughts on how and why to enter that world again. That may get back on the hotter side of the development slate than it was three weeks ago.”

As for his take on Mitchell, Cunningham still believes Billy’s a great gamer.

“He gets that he’s got a bad guy personality, and I think that’s where the genius is,” Cunningham said. “Without Billy, no one would care about ‘Donkey Kong’ world records. He brought a rock star persona to that world.”

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