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.
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.
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.
Being that Donkey Blog's Top 20 Donkey Kong Scores page has for some time been the second-highest ranked Google result for the query "Twin Galaxies" (only TG's Wikipedia entry ranks higher), it was inevitable that many visitors would end up here looking for answers as to what happened, why it happened, and when (or if) TG would return.
That being the case, I felt it necessary to make a post addressing the issue and to provide some answers.
Unfortunately, I have few to give.
Just days after the Kong Off 3 came to an end, the front page of twingalaxies.com was replaced with the following:
For weeks it stayed that way.
More recently, a visit to twingalaxies.com redirected to the-1up.com (the arcade/bar owned by Jourdan Adler) and returned a more ominous result:
The latest development came today, with visits to the domain now showing a GoDaddy "park" page.
So what happened to Twin Galaxies as an entity and as a website, and when are either coming back?
Notwithstanding the discussion and gossip that sprung up immediately in the wake of the website's disappearance, there are only a small handful of people who can answer these questions with anything other than blind speculation, and not only are none of those people talking, they are going out of their way not to talk.
Here's what is known:
- During or shortly after the Kong Off 3, a falling out, dissolution, or termination of some kind occurred among Twin Galaxies ownership—the relevant parties being co-owners Jourdan Adler, Richie Knucklez, and Websignia (the web hosting/site creation team that built TG's new site in 2013).
- Less than two weeks after twingalaxies.com disappeared, Websignia quickly launched a new website called GamerLife365.com, utilizing the underlying design skeleton and social networking platform that they had built for twingalaxies.com.
- In a December 1st email welcoming former twingalaxies.com users to the new GamerLife365.com site, Websignia identified themselves as having been co-owners of the company, and that "on November 20th, it was made abundantly clear that our vision for Twin Galaxies was no longer in alignment with the vision of the other owners."
- Richie Knucklez, in a post to the KLOV forum, stated: "The day after I returned home from the Kong Off 3 I was informed by phone call I was no longer part of Twin Galaxies... I am deeply saddened by where the chips landed but I only hope the best for Walter's legacy. I do not have any answers."
- During the latest broadcast of Richie Knucklez' "Arcade Culture" live Web show, no mention whatsoever was made of Twin Galaxies or his affiliation with it, except to indirectly assert that it would not be discussed—near the end of the broadcast, Knucklez said that it was time to address "the elephant in the room", then held up a stuffed elephant and tossed it at the camera with a resigned smile.
Clearly a major upheaval has taken place. It was just over 14 months ago (in the weeks before the Kong Off 2) that TG changed hands from former owner Pete Bouvier to Adler/Knucklez/Websigia. Today's development (the move away from the-1up.com to a GoDaddy park page) suggests that TG might yet again be in the process of transferring to new ownership.
What this bodes for the future of the scoreboard, the site, and (perhaps most relevant to the DK community) the Kong Off is unknown.
My position throughout has been, and will continue to be, to avoid editorializing, speculating, or disseminating rumors about the situation. Revelations are bound to come in the next few months, and I am content to wait for them.
Whatever the case, being that the Twin Galaxies organization is in limbo at the present time, the scoreboard is at least temporarily frozen (including any and all would-be Donkey Kong score submissions), and while Knucklez has alluded to plans for a Kong Off 4, nothing has been officially announced or scheduled.
Any major events will be relayed here as they develop.
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.
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.
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.
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!
|1||Jeff Willms||1,096,200||0||Top 12|
|2||Ross Benziger||1,067,100||29,100||Top 12|
|3||Hank Chien||1,056,900||10,200||Top 12|
|4||Steve Wiltshire||1,053,200||3,700||Top 12|
|5||Steve Wiebe||1,048,800||4,400||Top 12|
|6||Dean Saglio||1,033,000||15,800||Top 12|
|7||David McCrary||1,032,000||1,000||Online WC (#1)|
|8||Mike Groesbeck||1,020,700||11,300||Top 12|
|9||Kyle Goewert||1,006,500||14,200||Live WC|
|10||Vincent Lemay||989,700||16,800||Top 12|
|11||Corey Chambers||893,300||96,400||Online WC (#3)|
|12||Jonathan McCourt||891,200||2,100||Online WC (#3)|
|13||Eric Tessler||883,300||7,900||Online WC (#2)|
|14||Robbie Lakeman||840,300||43,000||Top 12|
|15||Jeff Wolfe||809,200||31,100||Top 12|
|16||Ben Falls||736,800||72,400||Online WC (#2)|
|17||Ethan Daniels||711,400||25,400||Online WC (#2)|
|18||Aaron Rounsaville||703,600||7,800||Live WC|
|19||Daniel Desjardins||702,500||1,100||Online WC (#1)|
|20||Daniel Dock||680,000||22,500||Online WC (#2)|
|21||Shaun Boyd||639,300||40,700||Top 12|
|22||Billy Mitchell||598,800||40,500||Top 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).
|2||Jeff Harrist||630,600||35,900||Online (WCQ #1)|
|4||Chris Psaros||563,600||6,300||Online (WCQ #2)|
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!
1st: $3,000 - Jeff Willms
2nd: $1,000 - Ross Benziger
3rd: $500 - Hank Chien
1st (7th overall): $250 - Dave McCrary
2nd (9th overall): $150 - Kyle Goewert
3rd (11th overall): $100 - Corey Chambers
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.
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...
November 17th, 2013, 4:24 PM MST - Dean Saglio just finished Level 16 with 808,000 points and a man in reserve. He is on pace to take first in the tournament. A new world record is an (extremely) remote possibility, but the true odds may be 0% as Dean doesn't appear to be shooting for it.
UPDATE: 4:49 PM - A nasty rivet screen ended Dean's run early on L20, just six boards from the kill. Saglio has taken fourth with 1,033,000.