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!
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