Amid the fierce debate over Todd Rogers' Atari Dragster record, game creator David Crane steps in to provide new insight on Activision record-keeping, Rogers himself, and the analysis of Omnigamer.
January 24, 2018: Detective work by Apollo Legend shows other side of the fence in this matter. Around the time of posting the original article, a new video was also uploaded by Youtuber and popular skeptic Apollo Legend. In the video, he considers Todd Rogers to be the "Biggest Cheater in Gaming History" and has gathered extensive details together from the work of Ben Heck and others. Not only does his video alreay have nearly 55k views in one day, the post he made via Reddit has already garnered an astounding 36k points. In our ongoing investigation into all sides of the matter, we have reached out to Apollo Legends, as well as multiple other analysts of the subject, and are currently awaiting response.
We will follow this continual story and give updates as they become available.
David Crane, co-founder of Activision and designer of the game Dragster, has recently stepped forward more forcefully regarding a months long Twin Galaxies’ dispute claim that seeks to remove a 35 year old video game world record set by competitor Todd Rogers on the Atari 2600 game. In an exclusive interview with Crane, the Twin Galaxies editorial team (not to be confused with the Twin Galaxies adjudication officials) discussed this years old record that’s been the subject of much debate.
Twin Galaxies, which imported the long standing Activision-authenticated record in 2000, has worked to maintain as-accurate-as-possible record keeping for the past 35 years. Since coming under new ownership beginning in April 2014, there has been an ongoing effort by new management to identify any database inconsistencies generated in the past, and to snuff them out in the modern era via modern adjudication methods and an all new diverse dispute system. New high scores like the Donkey Kong world record recently set by Robbie Lakeman fall under heavy scrutiny, and anything that can’t stand up to these methods falls off the board.
The original Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa, IA, became the most known for recording these high scores under scrutiny and heavy judgement. This has always been the foundation of the Twin Galaxies universe. However, away from the main TG arcade in 1982, a young gamer by the name of Todd Rogers took center-stage in other parts of the United States. Not only did he hit a record back then (three times, as he claims) that was verified by Activision themselves as opposed to Twin Galaxies, no one else has been able to legitimately recreate it since. This has always raised eyebrows in the speedrun and other competitive communities.
It should be noted that other records of Rogers’ have been since been put under harsh scrutiny over the years over improbable odds. Due to all of that, the authenticity of his 5.51 Dragster record has been called into question.
A Picture Is Worth...
We sat down with David Crane, who designed and programmed Dragster, and he explained how Activision’s authentication system worked back then. He re-hashed previous interviews, but we did learn two new major things during our interview. Our first question was if he could help us obtain photographic evidence of the record from Activision’s archives. What we shockingly learned, stemming from that question, is that Activision never saved proof of the records at all.
“Activision validated high scores using photos provided by the players,” he began. “That was typically done with Polaroid pictures of the screen. As far as I know, none of those were saved for much more than a few weeks - certainly not 35 years. Photographic evidence definitely existed at one time, but it has most certainly been lost for decades.”
This unfortunate outcome is likely due to the thought process back then that video games were trivial and sometimes even referred to as toys. There was a (very wrong) general consensus that video games wouldn’t make much of a mark on history, thus the need to keep silly records would be unnecessary. Good job, Activision, on making your own mark on history by throwing away historical records! This may be the video game equivalent to the Great Library of Alexandria being burned. It’s, unfortunately, that lack of consideration that haunts this particular record and makes it far more complicated than what would otherwise be an open-and-shut dispute validated by physical and visual proof.
In response to his opinions on Todd Rogers, we learned the second major reveal. Crane had some definitive answers and opinions about the authenticity of the score and Rogers.
“I had personal interaction with Todd Rogers around the time of his Dragster record. Todd was without question one of the greatest video game players in history. We, at Activision, were so impressed with his skill that on several occasions we flew him out and paid his expenses to demonstrate games at trade shows. After show hours, we would entertain industry reps, distributors, and buyers in a hotel suite. We always had games set up there, and when Todd was at the show he would continue to play and demo games there all night. I remember him showing us scores in various games that exceeded those that we - even as designers of the games - could achieve. After more than 30 years, I can’t remember what those scores were, but I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that he achieved the scores he claims.”
When in doubt...
The speedrunner known on Twin Galaxies and other communities as “Omnigamer” stands as one of the foremost analysts in attempting to disprove Todd’s Dragster record. He currently holds that his body of programmatic work on the subject is definitive, and has attempted to put Todd Rogers to task on physically or visually proving the 5.51 record. His work is currently the evidentiary foundation for the Dragster dispute. Since Omni cannot prove that Rogers did or did not get the record 35 years ago legitimately, he and others have used his model and analysis as the definitive evidence that it is impossible to get anything under a 5.57 second run, where Todd’s record stands at 5.51 and Activision claims a 5.54.
“I had email discussions with Omnigamer,” Crane added, “who in support of a book he was preparing to publish, did a code analysis to try to determine the best possible score on Dragster. I’m sure you are aware of his work. While he is certain that his analysis is definitive, I would not be so sure, even if I had done the analysis myself. I can’t tell you how many times over a 35 year career making games that I thought I had identified the best and fastest way to play a game, only to be proven wrong by a 14 year old game player who came at it in a unique way.”
Despite Omnigamer’s claim, as previously mentioned, Activision supposedly had created a machine-assisted run that determined 5.54 a perfect score, which is .03 better than Koziel’s model, thus making it impossible in his determinations. Crane explained to me that the “Dragster timer is .03 seconds per tick, so the difference that is being discussed is one tick of the game clock in a record set 35 years ago.”
He added, “I have a vague recollection of writing test code to determine the best possible score, but I don’t remember the result. And as I said, if I did have a theoretical limit, and a player beat it by such a small margin, I would believe that the player found a way to play the game that was different than the assumptions I used in calculating the theoretical.”
Raising The Crane
I asked him, point-blank, if he believed in Todd Rogers. Very matter-of-factly, Crane stated, “My position is very simple. The high scores published by Activision in the 1980s were authenticated using the established methods at the time, by the governing authority at the time. I have no doubts, then or now, that Todd Rogers achieved the scores attributed to him, provided the necessary corroborating evidence to support those scores, and earned the right to be named world champion by the accepted validating authority. Sorry that I can’t provide anything more concrete than my opinion.”
I reached out to Jace Hall, Head Custodian for Twin Galaxies, who inherited the record keeping behemoth in 2014 when he purchased the company. As the record was set over 35 years ago, he holds an agnostic belief on this situation. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of drama around this particular record and we just want to set it straight, for better or for worse,” he stated. “If it’s valid, it’s valid. But, at the same time, if it’s invalid, we need to make sure to remove it. We will continue to investigate the matter and eventually get to the bottom of it and make a determination.”
It should be noted that Todd Rogers has other records being disputed currently. We will continue to report on this as the dispute evolves.