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

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

This will be beaten.

Anonymous said...

Wes Copeland grew up in an unincorporated rural community south of Hot Springs, Arkansas, and studied computer science and applied music at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

He was a recipient of the Donaghey Engineering and Information Technology CyberScholarship, the Joan R. Taylor Scholarship, the Hathaway Endowed Scholarship, the Arkansas Academy of Computing Scholarship, and two Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship grants.

During his collegiate music studies, Copeland received piano instruction from Dr. Naoki Hakutani, initially focusing on baroque music before shifting toward his primary musical interests, which lie in modern game and film compositions. He graduated cum laude in December 2012.

Copeland has worked as a software engineer for Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, as well as for SmashFly Technologies, a small startup company based in Massachusetts.

In May 2016, Copeland became the only person in the 35-year history of Donkey Kong to pass the threshold of 1.2 million points on the game's original arcade hardware.

Chrispy said...

^ Love it.

Chrispy said...

Thanks Anonymous... though apparently you now have Wes, and myself, intrigued as to how you seem to know so much! :P

Kurt Evans said...

I'm the "anonymous" author of the biographical comment above (but not the anonymous comment above that one, as I'm not at all sure this record will be beaten).

I'd seen your picture of Wes at the piano and googled "Wes Copeland piano":
http://twingalaxiesfestival.com/speaker/wes-copeland/
https://www.facebook.com/events/332981570153959/

Thanks for your blog, by the way. I've been reading it for years, and I think it's outstanding.

Chrispy said...

Thank you!

I talk to Wes just about every day, and when I pointed out that comment to him, he was deathly curious who posted it...

whompmaster said...

This score very well may never be touched. One reason is Wes point pressed his entire game and only lost a man after he chose to do so. There was no losing a man in this game, with little gain. He used each of the spare men to point press even further and then lost them on purpose. He also reached the kill screen.

Mario500 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mario500 said...

I suggest playing the version of Donkey Kong in Donkey Kong 64 for both fun and competitive purposes since it is very close to the original (Japanese) arcade version of it and it may not have any kind of ending like a "kill screen".

whompmaster said...

Having a kill screen in Donkey Kong is something those guys like. Reaching that kill screen is one goal and then having the game end within 3-3.5 hours or so is also something they like as they don't have to continue to play forever.

Anonymous said...

Amazing. I reached the killscreen once with a score of 858900, basically taking hardly any risks to be able to reach it. I have no clue how it should be possible to add almost 400000 points on top of it, *without* losing any lifes in the process. Mindblowing

whompmaster said...

If you watch his game you will see, to gain that many more points than you did, you have to use the bottom hammer and do a TON of grouping of the barrels for extra points when you jump them. Lots and lots of grouping the barrels under Donkey Kong's feet as well. Also, very quick elevator boards on the higher levels along with extra point pressing there as well.

I believe I'll get back into the game myself one day and just shoot for a million. It seems to be a fun goal. I have no interest in anything higher than a million though.

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