Twin Galaxies Returns With New Owner Jace Hall

March 29th, 2014 - The rumor had been rattling around for several weeks, evolving more recently into an "open secret", and now it has been confirmed in a four thousand word flourish of glorious definitude: Jace Hall, film and television producer best known for his online reality series The Jace Hall Show, has personally come forward with an official statement as the new "Head Custodian and Caretaker" of Twin Galaxies.

In his lengthy introductory address to the competitive gaming community, Hall lays out his vision for the future of the organization under his ownership, highlights of which include:

  • The reinstatement of FREE score submissions. To quote his statement: "As long as Jace Hall is the Head Custodian and Caretaker of Twin Galaxies, Twin Galaxies will never be charging for score submissions or adjudication ever again. Period." (The new policy may even entail refunds to those who paid to submit scores during the previous ownership.)
  • The anticipated return of the website within the next 30 days.
  • Increased transparency and consistency in the organization's behavior and processes.
  • A new adjudication system, entailing an overhaul of the refereeing procedure and the elimination of secrecy in gameplay.
  • The return of material that has been dearly missed—including classic news articles, and the treasure trove of history and community that was the original Twin Galaxies forum.

Hall also made it clear that ownership is now his alone, meaning that there will be no internal conflicts, competing imperatives, or nagging financial entanglements.

A recent article on KitGuru.net that had spread through the community in the weeks prior to yesterday's announcement shed something of a lurid light on these matters. Jon Martindale's very intriguing piece reported infighting, bad-faith intercessions, looming litigation, and even Walter Day "fleeing to India" with tens of thousands of misappropriated dollars. A downright scandalous chain of events seemed to be unfolding.

Many accused the KitGuru piece of intentional sensationalism at best, shameless lying at worst, but it was clearly relating at least a piece of the truth, and with it came a palpable dip in the gaming community's already low morale.

Hall's letter, however, has sounded the all-clear: according to him, any previous "loose ends" and points-of-contention regarding Twin Galaxies ownership and renumeration have been resolved. So much for a scandal (we can hope).

Any doubts about a disgruntled or on-the-lam Walter Day have been dispelled as well, with Day himself personally composing a letter in which he endorses Hall with great enthusiasm, confidently handing off the reins of his creation and (re)announcing his retirement from competitive gaming to pursue his musical ambitions (a retirement which, some might skeptically note, has been promised for nearly a decade).

The consensus reaction to the statement has been almost unanimously positive. Gamers are celebrating Twin Galaxies' return, and seem to have taken an instant liking to Hall.

While still a new acquaintance to much of the community, even gaming's lifetime cynics must concede that Hall's mission statement demonstrates an unmistakably personal and intimate understanding of the community's history and its ongoing problems, as well as the promising hope of intelligent, creative solutions. Hall's resumé in the entertainment industry, and with video games in particular, speaks for itself. He brings with him a wealth of talent and resources.

In other words, he gets it, and has what it takes to make great things happen. All of us have grown at least a little weary of "new era" promises—first after Bouvier in 2009, then Adler/Knucklez in 2012, and the turbulence throughout which persistently refused to settle.

But now, five years into this rough ride, as we once again begin anew, we can hope that the third time will be the charm.

McCrary and Lakeman Dominate 2014's First Donkey Kong Open, KO4 Is On, and Twin Galaxies Is Alive!

March 6th, 2014 - Here's a quick overview of the first Donkey Kong Online Open for 2014, along with some updates on recent developments regarding the future of the Kong Off and Twin Galaxies.

Steve Wiltshire Ushers In the "Post-Twin Galaxies" Top 20

February 16th, 2014 - Steve Wiltshire—who grabbed every eye in the standing-room-only crowd as the "last man standing" at the Kong Off 3—found himself in an awkward position a few weeks ago: he'd just achieved 7th place all time in the Donkey Kong standings, but there was no official referee to whom he could submit the score.

Four months into its mysterious disappearance (which I wrote about in January), Twin Galaxies ownership has yet to utter a peep about its whereabouts. Every day that passes brings more gamers into the growing camp who have come to believe that the organization is gone for good.

Where Is Twin Galaxies?

January 7th, 2014 - "Twin Galaxies closed", "down", "offline", "sold", "gone"....

Over the past several weeks, this blog has been receiving a steady stream of traffic from Googlers searching under these and similar phrases.

Anyone who types twingalaxies.com into their address bar can see for themselves that the Twin Galaxies website has indeed disappeared; offline for almost two months as of this writing.

Shaun Boyd Proves Something to The Verge

December 18th, 2013 - The grand finale to this year's Kong Off 3 coverage has arrived, and one could argue that the best was saved for last.

In "The World's 13th-Best Donkey Kong Player Has Something to Prove", The Verge follows Shaun Boyd and Mike Groesbeck to the Kong Off 3, with a feature comprising an article by editor Jesse Hicks and a 16-minute short film.

Rather than go in a more straightforward direction, like keeping the attention on the champs (Hank or Jeff), or doing a King of Kong update starring Billy/Steve, or even taking the "contender" angle with Ross or Dean, the Verge crew instead chose to focus on Shaun and Mike, two of the quieter, more low-key members of the Top 12.

I think this was an inspired approach.

Regarding the film specifically, competitive Donkey Kong's screen time has stretched to an inordinate length: from the original The King of Kong to Dr. Kong, to the mini-docs for the first and second Kong Offs, most recently Vice's Meet the New Kings of Kong, and now this. For whatever reason, cameras keep following us around...

This pensive, atmospheric film, though, is strikingly unique among the rest of the set. It is, first of all, the most "painterly" of any of the preceding Donkumentaries, beautifully shot and tinted. It has a mood and pace that we haven't seen before, moving more slowly, without hitting all the same marks to which we've grown accustomed, and never once getting cheeky or ridiculing about the subject matter.

Vice gave us a high-energy rivalry; The Verge a melancholy rumination. What a great combo!

Bravo, gentlemen. It took creativity, and balls, to come at the material like this.

And congratulations to Shaun and Mike for the spotlight. Bottom line, both of you took, and held onto, a place in the main lineup. If the past year of fierce competition showed us anything, it's that this is no easy task. No further "proof" necessary.

(Though I might be even more impressed that Shaun actually beat Battletoads!)

Note: Boyd's ranking on the official Twin Galaxies scoreboard is 12th. The Verge identifies him as holding 13th, which refers to his place on the community-run Donkey Kong Forum High Score List. The forum list is "unofficial", but is actually more tecnically accurate, since it includes games not submitted to TG.

Hank Chien and Vincent Lemay's Kong Off 3 Rivalry on Spike TV

December 7th, 2014 - More exciting media coverage from the Kong Off 3!

Earlier tonight, during their Video Game Awards show, Spike TV aired a brilliant 5-minute segment (shot by Vice Magazine) showcasing the rivalry between Hank Chien and Vincent Lemay.

A longer version, featuring a deeper look at the tournament as a whole, will be coming to the Vice YouTube channel within the next few days (look for an update to this post then).

Does the camera love these two or what?

UPDATE - December 14th: Vice has posted the full version of the documentary, along with a write-up on the tournament. As it turned out, the final film is only slightly longer than the version that ran on Spike TV, with a few additional scenes and slight variations in the cut.

The film has been making the rounds, including the front page of Digg.com and even the Huffington Post.

This is a great piece of "short filmmaking" and has received a good deal of interest and response, racking up over 50,000 views in under three days.

Vincent is having the proverbial "rotten fruit" thrown at him by commenters, but that was his intention of course! We, his friends in the community, know the score: Vincent is a goofball and was being a heel for the cameras. He was, in any case, well-prepared for another run-in with hostile Internet folk, having caught a good deal of shit from his appearance in Kotaku earlier this year after nearly breaking the world record. He's laughing and we are laughing with him.

Special thanks to Vice for linking to Donkey Blog's Kong Off 3 Results (next-to-last paragraph of their write-up), and welcome to the new visitors from there, as well as this inrush of Kong-curious Googlers!

Next up is The Verge, who have scheduled their piece on the Kong Off 3 for Tuesday, December 17th.

Kong Off 3 Tournament In Review

The third Kong Off proved to be the biggest and best yet, with more competitors, much bigger scores, and suspense right up until the last minute. Donkey Kong's finest "brought it" last weekend, putting on a show for which Twin Galaxies and the gaming community should be beaming with pride.

Robbie Lakeman, Shaun Boyd, and Jeff Willms on "Kong Off Row" (Photo: Dave Danzara)

Within hours of the first quarter drop on Day 1, former Top 12 competitor Kyle Goewert asserted his place among the big boys—despite his demotion to the Wildcard Division—by turning in the first million-point game of the weekend. With Corey Chambers already having taken an early lead with almost 900,000 points, it was clear that the wildcards had stepped up to give the Top 12 lineup a run for their money.

By evening, Goewert had slipped, finding himself in the middle of a "Steve sandwich" as Steve Wiltshire grabbed first place ("I just took the lead. Holy crap, I'm winning!" Wiltshire told Facebook), and Steve Wiebe rounded out the top 3 just 800 points shy of Goewert.

Ross Benziger struggles on Day 1 (Photo: William McEvoy)

Before the day was out though, world champion Hank Chien had pushed ahead of the field with 1,056,900, and less than twenty minutes later, Jeff Willms realized everyone's worst nightmare: an enormous 1,096,200.

With first place now higher than the all-time personal bests of all but five of the competitors, the field groaned at the imposing task before it. It felt to many that this year's title would go to Willms again, with Billy Mitchell himself declaring "nobody's going to beat that score."

In reality, Willms was not actually as safe as he might have seemed. The defending champ even admitted that he had "gotten lucky" and would have to remain so to hold the lead. With such a high mark established at the end of Day 1, it was no longer "anyone's tournament", but by no means was a Willms victory a foregone conclusion.

Indeed, Chien and Saglio showed up for Day 2 ready for war, and both pushed deep into games that could have taken first had they reached the kill screen.

Willms (left) discreetly checks in on Saglio (right) via one of the overhead TVs

Saglio had the closest call, reaching 1,033,000 in a game that ended on the last board of Level 20. If Saglio had cleared that board, he would have needed a Level 21 worth about 60,000 points in order to bridge the gap. Considering that Saglio's level averages have routinely exceeded 61,000 in his "1.2" runs (with level maximums often close to 70,000), Willms was likely only minutes away from losing first place if bad luck hadn't gotten in Saglio's way.

Meanwhile on Day 2, Dave McCrary (who, like Goewert, was another former Top 12er pushed into the Wildcard Division for this year's installment) had the game of his life, turning in 1,032,000 which earned him first place for the division (a $250 prize), a new personal best, as well as a bump up to 13th place on the all time scoreboard.

The "Team Wiebe Girls" make an appearance (Photo: Westword)

Steve Wiebe, not content with his standard (but frighteningly consistent) "flat million" with which he has been gracing live events for years, decided to push a little harder on Day 2. He got a hold of a strong run that was on pace to beat Chien for second, as well as push past his (now three year old) personal best, but the game, unfortunately, ended prematurely. Wiebe nonetheless pulled back into third position with 1,048,800.

Then, in a game that went into overtime after "last quarter" at 6:00, Kong titan Ross Benziger rose all the way from dead last in the standings to second place (where, incidentally, he also sits on the all-time scoreboard). With the pressure on to prove himself, and despite being "sick as a dog all weekend", Benziger's run was good enough to overtake Chien and the $1,000 second-place prize.

Steve Wiltshire: Last Man Standing

As player after player finished his last run, stepping away from their machines as the live streams went dark, attention turned to Steve Wiltshire—the "last man standing" at the Kong Off 3.

Steve Wiltshire with his wife Jessi. (Photo: Westword)

As he crossed his earlier score of 1,016,700 with only a few boards left to go, it was clear that there were not enough points left between Wiltshire and the kill screen to win the tournament, but if he could hold on to his spare man and cash it in for extra points on the last barrel board, he had an outside shot at Hank Chien (now in third) and Wiebe was well within striking range.

With hundreds of eyes on him, flashes popping, and the crowd on the edge of its seat, Wiltshire's cash-in succeeded. He then pushed through a troublesome final rivet board (one close call in particular eliciting an awed gasp that swept the room), hit the kill screen, and snatched fourth place from Wiebe.

Big, Big, Big

The final leaderboard tells the tale of just how serious these competitions are getting. While no new world record was set over the weekend, this was, by far, the toughest Donkey Kong tournament ever held.

For perspectve:

At the first Kong Off, not a single player broke a million points.

At Kong Off 2, just three players managed to roll the score.

This year though, an unprecendented nine competitors were able to breach seven digits, with two (Wiebe and Wiltshire) doing it twice, for a total of eleven million-point games.

The Kong Off 3 was also a much tighter race than KO2: Willms and Saglio ran away with it in 2012, with Wiebe's third place trailing them by 73,000 points. This year, in contrast, that same gap represented the total span from 1st all the way to 8th.

In the Spotlight

Media interest in the Kong Off 3 was high (and is actually still underway, with two major pieces by Vice Magazine and The Verge expected in the coming weeks).

The tournament was front page news in The Denver Post, Denver's ABC, CBS, and Fox affiliates covered the event, Westword featured a photo gallery, the Lincoln Journal-Star interviewed Steve Wiltshire, major technology websites like Ars Technica followed the action (and were kind enough to link to this blog!), and other gaming/sports outlets such as RetroDomination, Polygon, Kitguru, and One World Sports ran stories as well.

Here's CBS 4 Denver's brief segment (note the anchor introducing the story with the exact same joke that he used last year! We love you, TV news...)

What About Me?

I was one of the Wildcard Division competitors in this year's tournament, having won my spot during the Online Qualifiers this past summer.

Saturday, however, proved to be one of my worst playing-days in a very long time, in terms of luck, energy, focus, mood, and every other factor you can name. I had failed to put in any practice in the lead-up to the tournament, had barely slept the night before, and my head, as they say, "was not in the game." None of this helped.

Only the 10 highest-scoring players in the Wildcard Division would move on to Sunday, and it became clear to me, as evening fell, that it wasn't meant to be. I decided to stop throwing myself and my "F" game at a machine that was refusing to work with me, and instead turn my attention to other things.

The world-famous Allen Staal!
(Photo: William McEvoy)

I quickly made peace with the decision, and it was an easy peace, as I'd actually been feeling for weeks prior that I was going to the event primarily to experience it, with competition being a distant afterthought. I'd cared much more about doing well in the online preliminaries; to prove that I could "make the cut" and earn a place in the big show. I wasn't so concerned about what would happen once I got there.

My real priority in Denver was to spend time with this group of friends who, up to this weekend, I'd only known online. I wanted to have Steve Wiebe autograph my King of Kong DVD, to shake Billy Mitchell's hand, to personally thank Walter Day for his part in creating this strange and amazing world. I also wanted time to get into the trenches and follow the action for the blog.

In other words, I wanted to do anything and everything but play Donkey Kong! So my elimination on Saturday ended up being the best thing that could have happened, as I got to check all of the "to do"s off my list, and wouldn't have been able to otherwise. I could not care less that I finished lowest in my "online pre-qualifier" division. I came back from the event with my own trading card, an award certificate recognizing my "tremendous contributions to the world of competitive arcade gaming", and unanimously positive memories.

Certificate Awards (Photo: Cat DeSpira)

I want to extend my thanks to Richie Knucklez, Jourdan Adler, the crew at The 1up, and my fellow players. It was an exceptionally wonderful weekend, and I have a new appreciation for how much blood and sweat go into an event like this. I'm looking forward to doing it again someday!

Kong Off 3 Final Results, Winners, and Prizes

RankPlayerScoreGapDivision
1Jeff Willms1,096,2000Top 12
2Ross Benziger1,067,10029,100Top 12
3Hank Chien1,056,90010,200Top 12
4Steve Wiltshire1,053,2003,700Top 12
5Steve Wiebe1,048,8004,400Top 12
6Dean Saglio1,033,00015,800Top 12
7David McCrary1,032,0001,000Online WC (#1)
8Mike Groesbeck1,020,70011,300Top 12
9Kyle Goewert1,006,50014,200Live WC
10Vincent Lemay 989,70016,800Top 12
11Corey Chambers893,30096,400Online WC (#3)
12Jonathan McCourt891,2002,100Online WC (#3)
13Eric Tessler883,3007,900Online WC (#2)
14Robbie Lakeman840,30043,000Top 12
15Jeff Wolfe809,20031,100Top 12
16Ben Falls736,80072,400Online WC (#2)
17Ethan Daniels711,40025,400Online WC (#2)
18Aaron Rounsaville703,6007,800Live WC
19Daniel Desjardins702,5001,100Online WC (#1)
20Daniel Dock680,00022,500Online WC (#2)
21Shaun Boyd639,30040,700Top 12
22Billy Mitchell598,80040,500Top 12

Further explanation of the tournament structure will help better explain the final standings:

  • A total of 32 players participated in the tournament.
  • The "Top 12" players (rankings 1-12 in the Twin Galaxies Donkey Kong scoreboard—minus Mark Kiehl, who forfeited his position to #13, Mike Groesbeck—were guaranteed dedicated machines all weekend and played Saturday and Sunday.
  • The Wildcard Division ("WC") was made up of two groups totaling 20 players: 10 who pre-qualified online through preliminary tournaments held this past summer, and 10 who qualified live on Friday at the 1up. Only 10 out of this group of 20 moved onto Sunday and played both days.
  • Of the 10 wildcards who moved onto Sunday, 8 were online qualifiers, and 2 were live qualifiers.
  • Since only 22 players played both days (the Top 12 plus the 10 wildcards who survived Saturday's action), the wildcards who were eliminated on Saturday are not included in the final tournament leaderboard (as these contestants had half the play time).

Eliminated Saturday

RankPlayerScoreGapHow Qualified
1Mitchell Elliott666,5000Live
2Jeff Harrist630,60035,900Online (WCQ #1)
3Allen Staal569,90060,700Live
4Chris Psaros563,6006,300Online (WCQ #2)
5Jeremy Young485,40078,200Live
6George Strain410,10075,300Live
7John Salter191,700218,400Live
8John Hunter190,2001,500Live
9Elizabeth Bollinger136,60053,600Live
10Don Rubin123,90012,700Live

Eliminated Friday (The Live Qualifier Round)

Scores set during Friday's Live Qualifier round had no bearing on the Kong Off 3 scoreboard, since it was a preliminary round and no more a part of the tournament proper than the online preliminaries.

The 10th place cutoff to qualify for Saturday was set by Don Rubin with 133,500. Players who could not beat that score included Kayla Rose and Katie Young, and several unknown walk-ins who did not submit their names or scores. Each, however, contributed a $20 entry fee to the prize pool, for which the three winners are thankful!

Prizes

Overall
1st: $3,000 - Jeff Willms
2nd: $1,000 - Ross Benziger
3rd: $500 - Hank Chien

Wildcard Division
1st (7th overall): $250 - Dave McCrary
2nd (9th overall): $150 - Kyle Goewert
3rd (11th overall): $100 - Corey Chambers

It's Over! Defending Champion Jeff Willms Wins the Kong Off 3!

November 17th, 2013, 9:22 PM MST - I'll let this picture say a thousand words, for the moment:

(Click to enlarge)

More (much more) later. There will be no further updates for anywhere between 16 and 24 hours as I return home from the tournament.

Congratulations to Jeff Willms for his repeat win!

Now it's time for a beer.

Ross Benziger Grabs Second After Last Quarter!

November 17th, 2013, 6:24 PM MST - When "last quarter" was called at 6:00, Ross Benziger was working on a huge game.

He has just completed it, taking second place (and a big jump in prize money) from Dr. Hank Chien, with a massive 1,067,100! With that, Ross leaps from dead last into the winner's circle.

Dr. Kong, however, still has a live game going...