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.