Countdown to Kong Off 5

July 27th, 2016 - This weekend, the Donkey Kong elite will converge to do battle once again live and in person at the fifth installment of the Kong Off!

For the second year in a row, The ReplayFX Arcade & Gaming Festival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, PA will be hosting the tournament.

Play won't begin for another 48 hours, but participants are already arriving, and Kong Off Row is set.

The format will be identical to The Kong Off 4, with two days of high score competition, culminating in a head-to-head bracketed elimination tournament between the 8 highest-scoring players.

Friday: Start - 12 PM; Last Quarter - 7 PM
Saturday: Start - 10 AM; Last Quarter - 9 PM
Sunday: Head to Head Finals - 10 AM

Live Streams:
www.twitch.tv/kongoff5 - Main Stream
www.twitch.tv/kongoff5one - Cabinets
www.twitch.tv/kongoff5two - Cabinets
www.twitch.tv/kongoff5three - Cabinets
www.twitch.tv/kongoff5four - Cabinets
www.twitch.tv/kongoff5five - Cabinets
www.twitch.tv/kongoff5six - Cabinets

Stop by to watch, chat, and learn!

Highlights from each day's action will be posted here during the event. The Day 1 recap should appear sometime Saturday afternoon. Until then, good luck to all competitors, and cheers to our first five years!

Undisputed: Wes Copeland Sails Past Donkey Kong's Finish Line With A Score Worthy Of The Ages

May 7th, 2016 - This is the one we were waiting for.

The end of the Donkey Kong world record chase has been promised, prophesied, argued about, and speculated over for years.

We knew that the run to do it would have to mate flawless play with exceedingly good fortune in order to birth a score that could never occur with just one of the two. A score about which we could confidently say, even if not definitively, "this will never be beaten."

On Thursday night, Wes Copeland gave us that score.

Copeland not only finally surpassed the 1.2 million threshold on an original 1981 arcade machine (a feat considered by many to be impossible until only a couple of years ago), he stormed through Donkey Kong's defensive artillery in truly spectacular fasion: without the involuntary loss of a single life.

To be exact, Copeland collected 1,173,800 points, blowing past 24 of the preceding 28 world records... before losing even one of his four men.

This meant that, after over three hours of maximum point pressing, and upon reaching the penultimate board on his first man, Copeland was in position to execute the ultimate "cash-in" scenario—a tactic where the player intentionally sacrifices his spares (since they are unnecessary at that point) in order to replay the final round of barrels and milk them for every last drop.

It's rare enough to get there with one spare. Copeland had all three. After exchanging his lives for points and completing the final touches, Jumpman number four died as he always must, to the kill screen bug that strikes seven seconds into the first board of Level 22.

Those of us on hand for the stream had witnessed a just-about-perfect game of Donkey Kong.

The performance, in particular the final few levels, was like seeing a poker master, already crushing the table with what he's being dealt, start to catch straights and flushes hand after consecutive hand. Or like repeatedly re-reading the happy denouement of a fairy tale. Copeland cheerfully breezed though, with everything going his way, and then some.

And while their back-and-forth rivalry over the record is now over, former champ Robbie Lakeman may never let Copeland hear the end of it.

Following the game, Copeland announced that he was finished with Donkey Kong outside of tournaments. He also settled a bet between himself and a forum poster who had put $1,000 on the proposition that Copeland would not crack 1.2 million by the end of the year. Copeland asked that the money be donated to a charity of the bettor's choice, suggesting specifically Doctors Without Borders.

Resolving The Dispute

On July 8th 2009, Dean Saglio, playing on the MAME emulator, surpassed Billy Mitchell's then-standing record score. But since he did so on a PC, he could not be declared the "official" world champion. That business was transacted between Hank Chien, Lakeman, and Copeland, who would go back and forth besting each other for the highest score on their arcade machines. Saglio, though, remained untouched on MAME, consistently putting himself far beyond the competition.

The "true" world record was an awkward situation for nearly seven years, leaving to spirited debate (and public confusion) the matter of who really held it—was it the guys on the cabinets, or the guy on the keyboard?

With this performance, Copeland made the question moot. His 1,218,000 surpassed Saglio's 1,206,800 best from 2013, and by a rather wide margin. Copeland is now at the absolute top, and unless Saglio beats this score, the "arcade vs. MAME" issue can be put to rest... at least for the time being.

A practical joke dropped on Dean's cabinet at Kong Off 3

Never Say Never

In 2013, right after Saglio got his 1.2, I wrote: "All that remains now is to bring this 30-year war full circle by matching Saglio's score (or getting as close as possible) on the original arcade hardware... Can it be? And who is willing?"

At the time, we barely knew Wes, who was only just beginning to emerge. He has now completed that final task.

Will his score eventually meet the same fate?

Saglio has the best shot, at least on MAME. In fact, he seems to have been rekindled. I am listening to live audio from his Twitch channel even at the moment of this writing. "1.22" is the newly-posted target.

But Saglio may be the only player with the means and the motive, and unless he starts playing regularly on a cabinet, there is no other heir apparent. No player in the current competition pool has expressed any intention or expectation of beating Copeland with a joystick in the foreseeable future. Many of those, like Lakeman, who were not quite ready to surrender their world record aspirations before Thursday, are now conceding.

Having said that, if the score can be achieved once, it can, necessarily, be achieved again, and with a cherry on top. The question is, does it need to be? Copeland's run is, for all intents and purposes, a practical maxout. That's what we wanted to see, and it exceeded expectations. This is a world record that leaves nothing to complain about, and so much to praise. The theoretical possibility of better is one thing; summoning the insane and blazing fire of motivation it will take to realize it is another.

If someone, someday, surpasses his score, Copeland himself will not be the one to do it, and he has stated he will not attempt a reclamation. In his words, "this is the last personal best I will ever get." Copeland will continue to play in tournaments, but his record-hunting days are over.

The Monkey Will Keep Climbing

The apparent end of the world record chase does not spell the end of competitive Donkey Kong. This event alone will not cause a wholesale decline in interest. Most players have no aspirations of breaking the record and never did, so an "unbeatable" score is no threat to the viability of continued competition. There's a lot more to play for than taking down the all-time best.

Nonetheless, now that the long-awaited 1.2 has been achieved on an arcade cabinet, it can never again be achieved for the first time. In that sense, Donkey Kong is dead.

Long live Donkey Kong!

Selected Coverage

Here is a sampling of some of the media coverage about this score. The list is far from complete, and will continue to grow. Thanks to all for heping the story spread, and especially to the outlets citing Donkey Blog as a source.

Twin Galaxies: Wes Copeland Submits The Greatest Donkey Kong Performance of All Time! (First published report)
Polygon: Donkey Kong's All-Time Record Broken Again, With a 'Perfect' Game (First press report, and most highly-cited)
Ars Technica: Is This The World’s First “Perfect” Game of Donkey Kong? (Recommended reading, the community's top pick)
IGN: Donkey Kong World Champ Achieves Perfect Score
Slashdot: New "Perfect Game" Donkey Kong Record May Be Unbeatable
Wired: Donkey Kong Player Sets 'Perfect Score' on Classic Game
Huffington Post: Don’t Even Bother Trying To Beat This Guy At ‘Donkey Kong’
Digital Trends: Donkey Kong Crown Reclaimed: World Record Score Breaks 1.2 Million
Uproxx: Wes Copeland Reclaims His ‘Donkey Kong’ World Record With A Near-Perfect Game
Slashfilm: Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell Will Never Be ‘The King of Kong’ Again
Bad Gamer: Donkey Kong Player Reckons He's Posted the Perfect World Record High Score
Den of Geek: Donkey Kong Player Posts "Perfect" World Record Score
GoNintendo: Donkey Kong - New World Record Score Achieved By Wes Copeland
Attack of the Fanboy: Donkey Kong Record Regained by Wes Copeland
Destructoid: All Hail the New, Possibly Last King of Kong

Lakeman And Copeland Hit New World Records In The Race To Donkey Kong's Maximum Score

April 23rd, 2016 -The month of April will (probably) end as it began, with Wes Copeland the reigning Donkey Kong world record holder, but not without a surprise reappearance from former champ Robbie Lakeman, who reclaimed the title and held it for just over a week before an unstoppable Copeland seized it right back.

In the dead of night on Monday April 11th, Lakeman's Twitch.tv channel sprang to life with a streamed replay of a game he had just finished. The live audience for the broadcast was sparse, due to the late hour for Stateside classic arcaders, and the replay had no sound, but it served its purpose.

A single 300-point barrel smash on the first board of Level 22, less than two seconds before the game's famous kill screen bug ended the run, allowed Lakeman to inch past Copeland's 1,190,000 score by a mere 200 points. It was the narrowest margin of victory in the history of record-breaking Donkey Kong games, and not a sure thing until the final point-award. One time out of four, the game's random number generator would have rolled the decisive barrel right past the ladder that Lakeman needed it to come down, leaving his hammer dry just 100 points short, but the odds were on his side, and the outcome fell in his favor.

Copeland awoke the next day to find himself out of a title. But being at the top of his game, and still playing nearly every day, he did not waste a moment in mounting a comeback, announcing his intentions in a Twitch chat:

True to his word, Copeland spent the next week in a ferocious spree of attempts, playing an average of nearly eight hours a day before teh urn that pushed the Donkey Kong high score up another 4,900 points to 1,195,100.

And so, after not even eight days had passed, Lakeman was playing from behind again. The retaliation had been swift and pitiless; Copeland's way of making Lakeman answer for beating his first world record so quickly last September.

The joke was made on Donkey Kong Forum that the higher the record goes, the more often it seems to get broken. Indeed, while Hank Chien had the top spot to himself for nearly four years, the high score has been topped by either Lakeman or Copeland an unprecedented nine times since September of 2014.

The situation is counterintuitive, given that each new record requires increasingly favorable randomness, but also understandable, given the current circumstances.

While Dean Saglio scored 1.2 million points on the MAME emulator almost three years ago—a virtual maxout—Copeland and Lakeman both want to be the first to achieve it on original arcade hardware. And while each may do it for himself eventually, only one can be the first to do it.

Lakeman has been less-than-transparent, evidently having changed his mind about his self-reported "retirement," and preferring to make attempts off-stream from what he calls "Secret Private DK Island." His approach is more low-key, almost reclusive. Lakeman is haunted with a fear of the jinx, and is convinced that bad fortune will befall him if a live audience is watching, talking about, linking to, or even thinking about a game in progress (particularly if that audience happens to include "Mr. Awestralia" Allen Staal).

Copeland, in contrast, is public and highly vocal, live-streaming every moment of his 1.2 attempts... but keenly aware that, behind closed doors on the Island, the cagey Lakeman could be up to anything.

Motivation for these two players is higher than it could ever otherwise be if they weren't pushing one another. The very next record-breaking game stands a good chance of being the last record-breaking game, and both of them know it.

This Time It Will Last: Wes Copeland Retakes The Donkey Kong World Record From Robbie Lakeman!

January 4th 2016 - Wes Copeland has come forward in a commanding fashion to reclaim what he first held last September for only a few short hours. Once again, Copeland has taken the Donkey Kong world record from Robbie Lakeman... but unlike last time, he'll still have it when the sun rises.

The score to beat now is a neat and tidy 1,190,000. Lakeman plans to gun for it in due time, and in fact, jumped onto his Twitch livestream within minutes of Copeland's achievement to try for a repeat of his previous lightning-quick takeback. No such luck was forthcoming, but Lakeman showed the community that while he may be down, he's not necessarily out.

King For Not Even A Day

Donkey Kong's new champion Wes Copeland (right),
with his predecessor Robbie Lakeman

"Copie" didn't get where he did tonight without some serious pain. Nobody can say that the 25 year old software engineer didn't earn what he just pulled off.

Consulting The Guinness Book of World Records to learn of history's shortest reigning monarch, one will find that distinction belonging to a King Luis II of Portugal, who, in 1908, was head of his state for just 20 minutes before dying from an assassin's wound.

Last September, Copeland found himself in the company of that unfortunate early 20th century ruler, by beating Lakeman's record high score and becoming the new King of Kong... only to lose the title right back to Lakeman less than six hours later.

The gut-punch hit Copeland hard, knocking off the last of the effects of the celebratory bottle of Dom Perignon that he'd cracked open so soon prior. The new champ didn't even get to sleep on his title. The almost unimaginable turn of events left Copeland, in his words, "emotionally scarred" to this day.

Unfazed, Copeland immediately took to Donkey Kong Forum with a declaration of intent:

"When I first announced that I wanted to go for my first kill screen, while many were supportive, I did receive a fair share of cynicism and skepticism. I did it in a little over two months and proved the doubters wrong. When I mentioned I wanted 1 million I heard a similar chorus -- a wave of support from many and strong skepticism from a handful. I proved those folks wrong too. The exact same thing happened when I said I wanted 1.1m... and again when I said I wanted the world record. I intend to take the record back, regardless of who is holding it before I do, and at this point, I hope I've proven at the very least to those cynics and skeptics that I'm difficult to bet against.

That bottle of Dom Perignon was the first I'd ever had, and it was quite good. I am looking forward to opening another one."

Copeland in competition at the Kong Off 4 last July
Photo: William McEvoy

Some indeed called Copeland's September game "lucky," with even Wes himself surprised to have defeated Lakeman somewhat sooner than he'd expected. The two performances were subjected to deep comparative analysis on the forum. Merits were debated. Graphs were produced. Top competitor Ethan Daniels presented a tour de force argument making the case that "luck" was not a useful metric by which to contrast the two players' abilities.

It was obvious, at any rate, that this brief taste of championhood only left Copeland hungrier to regain it.

The Comeback

For the past four months, Copeland has thrown himself at Donkey Kong with as much furious determination as Lakeman, who spent much of 2014 trying to defeat Hank Chien.

Tonight's game came near the end of another Donkey Kong Online Open tournament. With a $2,000 world record bounty up for grabs through midnight, it was clearly the best of times.

There was no second bottle of Dom Perignon at the ready. In fact, Copeland's reaction the moment he zoomed past Lakeman's score was, to put it mildly, understated. Almost as if he hadn't even noticed. Copeland was more than ready to achieve the score, and he knew it, so any thrill may have been tempered by a heavy shadow of inevitability.

"I kinda feel like I've done everything I need to now." Copeland (now $2,000 richer) said after the game. "I just hope Robbie at least lets me sleep on it."

As before, Lakeman attempted a retaliation, but it came to an early end, at which point he congratulated Wes, and spoke for a few minutes to his viewers:

"I'm not gonna play anymore, at least for a while. I can finally focus on things that should really matter to me at this point... Wes, definitely enjoy it, you'll have it for a while. I had the record longer than I thought I would... I just turned 29, I'm working on getting my life more in order. This was an outlet for a while, but I've gotten where I want to be with it. The torch has now been passed."

Three world champions: (from left) Robbie Lakeman, Billy Mitchell, and Wes Copeland
receiving a voicemail from the one and only Allen Staal (second link extremely NSFW)

Is It (Finally) Over?

This past August, several top players were interviewed for The Last Kings of Kong, a feature that ran on ESPN's FiveThirtyEight.com. They explained that as long as the world record remains below "1.2," there are still points left to wrestle out of the giant ape. After Copeland's performance tonight, we're only 10,000 away. When talking about a seven-digit score, that amount seems like such a tiny fraction of the total, and indeed it is. But topping it is still possible.

In fact, 1,200,000 is actually a tad "conservative" (relatively speaking), but as the aforementioned Ethan Daniels put it on Donkey Kong Forum:

"...the ceiling number in my eyes is 1.24ish with current strats, but hot diggity the work load is astronomical at this point, fighting the limits of human perseverance as well as the RNG Lotto; hypothetical-math and reality are two different beasts."

It would seem that Copeland and Lakeman are both stepping back for a long break. That leaves the door open for competitors like Daniels, and of course Dean Saglio, who still holds the world record on the MAME arcade game emulator, and who many consider to be the true champion, if not for the firm and long-standing tradition that the record can only be set on original 1981 arcade hardware.

Those final maxout points are still sitting there.

Someone will come for them.


Links

- Stream of Copeland's world record game
- Stream of Lakeman's reclamation attempt (link jumps directly to post-game comments)
- Official Twin Galaxies score submission and adjudication (still in process)
- Donkey Kong Forum congratulations thread
- Donkey Blog post: Robbie Lakeman breaks Hank Chien's record (September 2014)
- Donkey Blog post: Copeland beats Lakeman, Lakeman beats Copeland (September 2015)

For Reference

Thanks to stats hero and Donkey Kong Forum score submission referee Jeremy Young for getting immediately to work on the breakdown of this game.

Copeland's performance, while falling short of the point total of Dean Saglio's record on the MAME emulator, was nonetheless the highest level average ever achieved (Copeland's lower final score is due to a lower start score and fewer "death points"—see Understanding Pace for background).

The board-by-board numbers and pace graph (click to enlarge):

TO BE UPDATED: World Record Broken Twice (and Lakeman Is Still Champ)

September 21st, 2015 - Last Thursday night, during the latest Donkey Kong Online Open, Wes Copeland beat Robbie Lakeman's world record... and six hours later, Robbie snatched it right back!

So where in the name of Jumpman is the post about "the story of the year?"

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to get to it in a timely manner, but rest assured, a report is pending.

Thankfully Twin Galaxies was able to be there when I couldn't and got the news wires stirring!

http://www.twingalaxies.com/content.php/4042

Next thing we knew, Wes and Robbie were hitting the front pages of (among many others) Wired, The International Business Times, and even MTV.

I couldn't be happier to have been "scooped" by TG, and am pleased to see their name back in the news again in the midst of their long period of re-emergence.

What matters, ultimately, is that Wes and Robbie's story got out there. TG doing the deed is another great sign that they've picked up the torch for the gaming community and are running with it again.

As for this blog, I'll let the event marinate for a bit. Though Donkey Blog has proudly broken "world record" news in the past, it's not always a priority (and that's going to be even truer going forward). Better to think of this site more like a magazine than a newspaper.

More soon!

Hammering Hank Chien Wins The Kong Off 4! Lakeman Defeated In Final Round Grudge Match


Photo: Jeff Harrist

August 3rd, 2015 - Hank Chien tasted sweet revenge on Sunday when the deposed world record holder defeated his usurper, the current King of Kong Robbie Lakeman, in an ultimate final round grudge match at the Kong Off 4.

Chien may no longer be on top of the all-time high score standings, but another Kong Off win (his second after the the inaugural installment in 2011) is a comeback to be proud of.

The always amazing Jeff Willms submitted the event's highest overall score, and if not for the new head-to-head finals, would have successfully defended his Kong Off title once again for an unprecedented three in a row.

The Bracket Tourney

Sunday's single-elimination bracket tournament—consisting of eight players in seven matches and seeded by Friday and Saturday's high score competition—initially met with wide skepticism. Players and observers were unsure whether or not the format could succeed, being so radical a departure from the traditional model.

Scores for this "one-and-done" style were indeed relatively low compared to those attained in isolated, individual sessions, where players can enjoy the luxury of multiple attempts and easily-aborted weak games, with only their very best game ultimately mattering.

But when limited to one game, against a specific player, entirely new dynamics are introduced, and the community at large came away very pleasantly surprised with the excitement, pressure, and novelty of this much more direct form of competition.

Commentary At Last!

Several weeks ago, during Steve Wiebe's appearance at the Mall of America, Mitchell Elliott was a guest on the live stream, and offered superb running commentary on the action, helping viewers to better comprehend what they were watching. It was a taste of what was to come this past weekend.

Donkey Kong live-streamed games and tournaments have always struggled with the problem of a game that is notoriously spectator-unfriendly. For the uninitiated, it's slow, hard to understand, and tactically arcane.

As Jesse Hicks of the Verge described it in his 2013 piece on the Kong Off 3: "To the casual eye it's something less than poetry in motion."

On Sunday, expert players including Wes Copeland, Ethan Daniels, Dean Saglio, as well as Wiebe, Elliot, and others, sat down in the ReplayFX broadcast booth to do their part making Donkey Kong more accessible. For the first time ever, Kong Off matches were streamed with play-by-play announcers, and the results were very well-received.

I've wanted commentary for a long time and it was wonderful to see how strong and professional it turned out to be.

Here is the final Lakeman versus Chien match. If you've ever wanted to understand just what goes into playing this game at a high level, I recommend giving it a listen:

On To Next Year

The Kong Off 5 has already been scheduled for next year, where Hank Chien will defend his title at the same location and on the same weekend at ReplayFX in Pittsburgh.

Thanks to Richie Knucklez for his hard work in making the Kong Offs happen, and to many others who help in so many ways behind the scenes. Photographer William McEvoy deserves special mention for his talents, covering the last three Kong Offs, as well as other classic gaming events around the country. Needless to say, McEvoy's work has been indispensable to my blog posts.

I'd also like to thank renowned gaming journalist and Gamasutra publisher Simon Carless, who over the weekend Tweeted a link to the coverage here and sent some curious traffic in this direction. The gaming and tech press has always been kind to Donkey Blog and it is always appreciated.

And on the subject of traffic...

It's pure serendipity that it would happen within a fortnight or so of a Kong Off coming to a close, but it would seem that my pageview counter's rollover to 1 million is imminent! When I started this blog four years ago, it was a pet project that I never would have foreseen hitting that milestone. My "score" here is higher than my personal best at the game. Much gratitude goes out to the many thousands who have linked, reddited, Tweeted, shared, read, commented, and encouraged.

Congratulations to Hank, Jeff, and all the other competitors for another well-played Kong Off!

Hard at work on Kong Off Row
Ethan Daniels' understated reaction to a Steve Wiebe autograph
Richie Knucklez and Alan Radue with the champion's barstool Radue created for the event
The Kong Off 4 lineup (left to right): Walter Day, Jason Wade, Ethan Daniels, Dean Saglio, Jeff Wolfe, Steve Wiltshire, Wes Copeland, Mike Groesbeck, Daniel Desjardins, Steve Wiebe, Vincent Lemay, Jeff Willms, Hank Chien, Eric Tessler, Jeff Harrist, Robbie Lakeman, Billy Mitchell
All photos: William McEvoy

Day 2 Recap: Willms In Command; Saglio Comes Up Short At World Record Pace

Former world record holder Steve Wiebe alongside current champ Robbie Lakeman on Day 2
Photo: William McEvoy

August 1st, 2015 - The action at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh took a familiar turn today, setting an ominous tone for tomorrow.

For the third consecutive Kong Off, Jeff Willms has emerged with the event's highest score. If the format were the same as in previous years, the brilliant Canadian phenom would now be celebrating a three-peat.

However, the Kong Off 4 is a whole new game. Just hours from now, the players will meet for the final day, a single-elimination bracketed standoff between the 8 highest-scoring players from these first two days.

The format will entail a major change in strategy—one that emphasizes safety and survival over scoring pace—and has never been so much as tested before. Can Willms master it on the fly? Or will the Kong Off finally have a new reigning champion?

Jeff Willms (right) taking a chess break with Ethan Daniels, Steve Wiebe, and Mitchell Elliott
Photo: William McEvoy

Here is the final leaderboard for the high score segment:

RankPlayerBest Score
1Jeff Willms 1,093,000
2Robbie Lakeman 1,069,700
3Wes Copeland 1,060,900
4Dean Saglio 1,060,800
5Mike Groesbeck 1,028,600
6Hank Chien 1,010,800
7Ethan Daniels 1,009,400
8Vincent Lemay 1,009,000
9Steve Wiltshire 1,005,900
10Jeff Wolfe 991,800
11Dan Desjardins 869,700
12Shaun Boyd 857,700
13Steve Wiebe 842,800
14Eric Tessler 821,100
15Jason Wade 787,700
16Mick Winzeler 784,400

Giving us these matches for Sunday's first round:

Willms vs. Lemay
Lakeman vs. Daniels
Copeland vs. Chien
Saglio vs. Groesbeck

Wiltshire Bubbled On Last Quarter

There is never a shortage of "last quarter drop" drama in Donkey Kong tournaments, as veterans of past Kong Offs and Donkey Kong Online Opens will be quick to recall. Today's action stayed true to form, with not one but two players pushing through their hail-mary games to wrest their way into the finals.

After Hank Chien and Mike Groesbeck secured 5th and 6th, Steve Wiltshire sat in 7th, with Vincent Lemay rounding out the top 8.

Then, after last quarter was called, Ethan Daniels came alive to push Wiltshire to the edge of the bubble and Lemay out into 9th.

Time to take off the shirt.

Lemay, on his final game, had only one shot to retake top 8 standing... and the shot hit its target, beating Wiltshire by just 3,100 points.

"I might cry" Wiltshire said with a smile on his face, watching the action from directly behind Lemay's machine. They shook hands, Wiltshire departed in 9th, and a white-suited Billy Mitchell joined the shirtless French-Canadian bodybuilder in his obligatory celebration pose.

Photo: Hank Chien

Saglio Almost Breaks The World Record

Every ill-fated Donkey Kong world record attempt will fail for one of two reasons: either because the player reached the game's kill screen without maintaining the pace needed to earn enough points, or because he lost all four lives along the way.

Earlier today, Dean Saglio had the pace, but his four lives weren't enough. We came very close to seeing the Donkey Kong world record broken this afternoon, when the grandmaster unexpectedly succumbed on board 94 (of 117) with 960,300 points.

Taken to the end, the game would have beaten Robbie Lakeman's score, and to an extent that would likely have closed the book on the world record chase. Saglio already did the deed on the MAME emulator almost two years ago with a virtually unbeatable score, and many believe that he will ultimately be the last to hold the record on the arcade platform when he finally attains one similar to it on original hardware. But today would not be the day.

The Grand Finale

Action is scheduled to begin at 9 AM Eastern, and will be streamed at http://www.twitch.tv/richieknucklez. Join us then to see who will take home the belt, the barstool, and $4,000 cash!




Day 1 Recap: Copeland Leads the Field

Wes Copeland (center) filters out the noise of Kong Off Row

July 31st, 2015 - Day 1 of the Kong Off 4 has come to an end, and the young gun is out front.

Wes Copeland, who has only been playing Donkey Kong for less than two years, came to Pittsburgh this weekend to prove himself in his first Kong Off against a lineup of veterans—some of whom are old enough to be his father—and he's looking pretty convincing so far.

The leaderboard at the end of the first of two eight-hour days of high score competition is as follows:

RankPlayerBest Score
1Wes Copeland 1,060,900
2Dean Saglio 1,060,800
3Jeff Willms 1,060,800
4Robbie Lakeman 1,059,700
5Steve Wiltshire 1,005,900
6Vincent Lemay 1,005,600
7Shaun Boyd 857,700
8Hank Chien 818,000
9Jason Wade 787,700
10Eric Tessler 767,200
11Steve Wiebe 765,900
12Mick Winzeler 688,600

You read those top 3 scores right: the tie for second place between Dean Saglio and defending Kong Off champion Jeff Willms was a total accident, and Copeland's 100-point squeaker to edge them out for first place is not the taunt that I initially suspected it to be. Donkey Kong world record holder Robbie Lakeman, in fourth, is only 1,100 points below them.

There's no conspiracy or skulduggery afoot on Kong Off Row engineering this strangely tight point spread. It's just the way today's cards fell.

Lakeman's 4th place run made history, with the world champion cracking one million points on his first man. The closest anyone had come before today was Ross Benziger's attempt in an online tournament last year that infamously came to an end when Benziger accidentally employed the "reverse weave" pattern on the 20th rivet board, dying just a few thousand points away from the one-man million. Lakeman now holds the distinction, and it's a sobering reminder to the rest of the field of what they're up against.

The fight for Sunday's bracket spots has been made much more intense by a surprise annoucement that came down late yesterday evening. Time constraints have forced a major last-minute change. The first round of the bracket competition is being eliminated entirely, meaning that rather than 16 players going on to Sunday's 4 rounds, there will only be 8 players and 3 rounds.

At this point, only Copeland, Saglio, Willms and Lakeman have a position that could be considered secure. It's unlikely that even the lowest of those scores (Lakeman's) will be in 9th place by the end of Saturday's play.

Below the top 4, though, things are more questionable. A low million, like Steve Wiltshire and Vincent currently have, is tenuous. At this point, it's anyone's game for the remaining 4 spots.

Saturday's action begins soon. And to reiterate a point from the previous post, official streaming of the event will not begin until Sunday. Bandwidth availability at the convention center is a problem during the ReplayFX event, and the Kong Off 4 has only been greenlit for streaming on the final day. Keep an eye on the blog for updates.


Photos: William McEvoy. Thanks to Jeff Harrist and Daniel Desjardins for updates and score data.

The Kong Off 4 Is Here!

Steve Wiebe samples machines along 2015's "Kong Off Row"
Photo: William McEvoy

July 30th, 2015 - Donkey Kong's greatest have arrived at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, PA and will soon take their battle stations on Kong Off Row.

The 4th installment of Richie Knucklez' Kong Off, hosted by the ReplayFX Arcade & Gaming Festival, begins Friday at noon, with the first of two days of high score competition.

On Sunday (day 3), the 16 players with the highest scores from Friday and Saturday's action will go on to play in a single-elimination head-to-head bracket-style competition.

This segment was devised by Richie Knucklez and Steve Wiebe to throw a twist into the contest. The traditional high score competition of years prior will still be integral to the tournament, but the elimination portion is new, and Sunday will put the viability of the concept to the test.

16 players in 8 simultaneous matchups will constitute the first round, with 8 players proceeding to the second round, followed by a 4-way semi-final.

The semi-final victors will then head to the 2 final round cabinets decked out in "Steelers gold", and (after the bracket players have signed their names to the custom side art) will duke it out for the win, the belt, the $4,000 grand prize, and the title of Kong Off champion.

The final round gold cabinets
Photo: Derek Sorrels

Following The Action

There is some question at this point as to whether the first two days of competition will be live-streamed to Twitch TV. Bandwidth is an issue at the convention center, and with multiple events taking place there, only Sunday's bracket portion has been given the green light.

Stay tuned to Richie Knucklez' Twitch channel at http://www.twitch.tv/richieknucklez for the latest developments.

Also check out KongOff.com for more information on the event.

The highlight of today's practice session was former world champion Billy Mitchell making his presence known with a 930,000 kill screen game. Richie Knucklez snapped this photo afterwards, capturing Billy in a victory pose (and a bit of accidental red-eye that does little to mitigate Mitchell's devilish reputation!)

33 Years Ago, In Movie-Land...

It is an interesting semi-coincidence that the opening scenes of Pixels—last weekend's major Holywood release about a team of classic gamers tasked with saving the Earth from an alien invasion—depicted a final round head-to-head Donkey Kong competition (emceed by Dan Aykroyd himself) in a fictitious "1982 Worldwide Video Arcade Championships."

A number of classic gamers from around the community were asked by the producers for video of their gameplay, and our own world champion Robbie Lakeman provided the Donkey Kong footage featured in the film.

It's a fun, if inadvertent, tie-in to the action about to unfold at the Kong Off 4, and a reminder that classic gaming is still alive and well in the public consciousness.

Good luck to all competing this weekend! The blog will be inactive Friday, but I will do my best to update the action throughout the rest of the tournament.

Steve Wiebe World Record Attempt This Weekend in Bloomington, MN

July 9th, 2015 - This weekend, as part of his promotional efforts for the upcoming film Pixels (where he will cameo in a small role), Steve Wiebe will appear at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

On Friday, Wiebe will attend a screening of The King of Kong (directed by his friend and Pixels producer Seth Gordon), followed by a Q&A and autograph session.

On Saturday at 2 PM, attempts on Robbie Lakeman's recently-upgraded world record will commence live from "the Rotunda."

Dana Wessel of KTWN-FM (Go 96.3) interviewed Wiebe about the upcoming event. It's well worth the 13-minute listen, encapsulating where Wiebe stands among the competitive fray nowadays, and Wiebe's assessment of his chances against the score he'll be chasing on Saturday.

My take: it's great to see Wiebe back in the action. But since we have not been privy to his Donkey Kong play since the Kong Off 3 over a year and a half ago, it's impossible to say whether Wiebe actually has a realistic shot at the record (to say nothing of the challenges of executing a high-pace run in front of a crowd). It should be borne in mind that this event is, after all, timed around a movie release date, and not necessarily Wiebe having attained the ability to play at a 1.16 million-point pace.

Nonetheless, most of us DKheads love Steve and wish him the very best of luck. We hope, if nothing else, that he regains a spot among the all time top 10. Over the last 5 years, Wiebe has fallen all the way from 1st to 15th position, and as the "face" of our game, we'd all like to see him right back in the thick of things at the highest level of play. We know that he can, the question is whether he will.

Twin Galaxies will be streaming the attempt live this Saturday at tglive.com.

The Pixels film—in which a group of classic arcade gamers from the "golden age" reunite to fend off an alien invasion—opens July 24th, one week before The Kong Off 4.