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09-02-2021 at 12:13 PM
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The Video Game Fraud of the Century - Dot One


We have an immense treat for you today.

Did I say "today"? Allow me to introduce the first in a series of reports, exploring a certain interrelated set of myths in video gaming history. Since 2018's Donkey Kong score dispute, more and more attention has been building on the historical claims of disgraced video game player Billy Mitchell. With his DK scores of years past having been proven fraudulent, Billy has taken the matter to the courts, hoping to reclaim a portion of the public prestige he has lost. However, this baseless litigation and scaremongering has also inspired many to take a closer look into his other historical claims which had long been taken for granted.

In this series, we will be taking a deep, critical (and, I hope, highly entertaining) look at another aspect of Billy Mitchell's claimed legacy: His supposedly first "perfect game" of Pac-Man in 1999, his so-called "Video Game Player of the Century" award, and his often-referenced trip to the Tokyo Game Show. While some of these topics have been discussed at length, others continue to be shrouded in mystery, especially those pertaining to his trip to Japan. Billy has for several years had a free pass to tell whatever story he wants about these events, which is reflected in the fact that his stories keep changing and getting more outlandish over time. However, as we'll see, a closer examination of the surviving evidence does not support many of Billy Mitchell's claims. (Spoiler: Nearly everything verifiable about his story has been notably exaggerated or outright lied about at one point or another.) Some of our findings have already been made public, but the trail of lies seems to have no end. In this series, we will discuss many various claims related to these events, while detailing how these claims stack up against our evidentiary finds. In the course of doing so, we'll also be looking at a few gaming topics of general historical interest, including a look at legitimate champions in competitive Pac-Man history.

This project is the result of over ten months of research, with myself and others scouring newspapers, magazines, books, other print materials, interviews, panels, podcasts (and webcasts before they were called "podcasts"), YouTube videos, pre-YouTube videos, Twitch streams, blogs, chat forums, early Internet material, and anything else we could find to compare Billy's claims against the documented record. I promise, you will be amazed at some of the stuff we found. Despite the sizable amount of work this project entailed, we have chosen to make our results freely accessible for the public good. On a personal level, I am immeasurably excited to be finally sharing this with you all. Please note that this series is long by design. People are already familiar with the summaries of these events, most of which are filled with demonstrable falsehoods. The point here is to collect and review the evidence in as thorough and attentive a manner as possible, and hopefully to do so in an engaging way. Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing this project in nine installments -- one for each of the hidden dots on original Pac-Man's "kill screen". Today's installment, the introduction, is named "Dot One".

I lament having to lead off with a bunch of boring disclaimers and explanations, but some things must be said at the start. While I'm not averse to taking credit when it's due, I want to be crystal clear that most of this research was not mine. For starters, much of the foundation of the Pac-Man angle of this story traces back to existing historical research work by Dwayne Richard, David Race, and many others. Additionally, given my other work on the Billy Mitchell case, I am often made privy to research discoveries of certain other parties, as I in turn share my discoveries with them. While I did make some significant research contributions to this story, and took upon myself the formidable challenge of compiling this mountain of work into something readable, this project only exists because of the outstanding research of others, who chose to participate under the condition of anonymity. In other words, while I may have mixed the mortar and assembled the wall, the final product only exists because others kept wheeling in barrowfuls of golden bricks for me to build with. In this series, I will occasionally quote the thoughts of anonymous colleagues, as my way of highlighting their contributions, but for legal reasons I must make clear that, except where I quote others, this series represents no one's writing but my own. While I do occasionally use the word "we" as a rhetorical device (either as the proverbial "we" or as "you the reader and I the writer"), I am the sole editor and, except where specifically noted otherwise, the sole author of this piece. Lastly, gamers David Race, Pat Laffaye, and Bill Bastable were of tremendous help in answering any additional questions we had, of which we had many.

On a more technical note, this series will make frequent use of two bracketed tags: [S#] and [GT]. [GT] is simple enough -- it means "The following source is presented via Google Translate". This is mostly for use with Japanese sources related to Billy's trip to Toyko. I wouldn't want to be accused of modifying evidence or misrepresenting anything. (Don't worry, we sought professional translations wherever necessary.) As for the other tag, every installment starting with "Dot Two" will come accompanied by an externally linked "Supplemental" page. Similar to footnotes, this bonus material will include things like lengthier explanations, redundant sources, or small details too inane for the main series -- things that would normally be lost on the cutting room floor. Any particular items with more elaboration will include a numbered tag, like [S1] or [S2]. The supplemental material is there to satisfy the especially curious, and to assist anyone down the line who may choose to pick up where our research left off. But don't worry, anything important will be included in the main text. This series has been designed such that you need only read the main narrative, and you won't miss a beat.

I should also be clear that, as much as I do strive for accuracy in everything, I can and do get things wrong on occasion. That's journalism. This project is saturated with links to original sourcing, which you should avail yourself of in examining any given claim. My interest is in the search for the truth, and that search is assisted when others check on my work, add to it, and when necessary, correct it.

Lastly, don't be distressed if an installment ends and you think "Wait, but you didn't talk about X!" There is a lot to go through, and We. Will. Get. To. It. All. One of the later installments is dedicated to stories that have changed over time (some of which may surprise you), or new anecdotes that have crept into the many retellings over the years. Each installment will run as long as is required to cover its intended topics. By the end of this series, everything that needs to be covered will be covered.

So sit back, relax, and grab all the popcorn you can find, because we are going to take a good, hard look at the formative years of the legend behind Billy Mitchell.


Before we get to the main event, let's start with some real talk: Billy Mitchell is a professional liar. I don't ordinarily jump ahead to the surprise plot twist, but for what we will be discussing, it is imperative that one understand this up front. Over the course of this series, you will hear many iterations of Billy's stories about "The perfect Pac-Man" and the "Player of the Century" title and his visit to the Tokyo Game Show, which coming from him can sound very confident and convincing. None of these stories are to be taken at face value. Not a one. It is not my desire to solidify the repeated "Big Lie" by giving his stories yet another platform. To this end, we're going to start by taking a look at a collection of his most blatant lies totally unrelated to Pac-Man or the Tokyo Game Show, to give you a sense of the kind of person we're dealing with.

Of course, if you've been following the Billy Mitchell case in recent years, you probably already know where I'm going with this.

First up is the infamous fake board swap. This one's a classic. In 2010, Billy showed up in Iowa with VHS tapes featuring games of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior he claims were achieved back-to-back a week earlier, at Boomers arcade in Florida. (It has since been shown that this game was produced on MAME or a MAME equivalent, against submission rules.) Around this time, a trio of videos were published on YouTube as part of public corroboration of these scores. These videos, which feature Billy, his technician friend Rob Childs, and then-referee Todd Rogers, were allegedly filmed the same day of Billy's DK and DK Junior games, though the surrounding circumstances Billy attributes to these performances (such as the large tripod and the crowd of spectators) are not seen. In one of the videos, Billy quickly backs up to block the view of the game, which in theory should show Billy's new high score, which you are apparently not allowed to see:

The staged nature of these videos is made apparent in a now-removed video, where Rob Childs claims to be swapping out the Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior circuit boards between Billy's games, but is in fact swapping out a DK Junior board both times.

When this was discovered, rather than disavow the videos entirely, Billy had a new story for how they happened. Hear his words at his Donkey Kong dispute panel at the 2018 Kong Off, starting at about 51:40:

You want the truth, I'll give you the truth. You stop, I've got the whole story. We finished, we ate. An hour later, he goes "I want to put this on my YouTube channel." And everybody went back over to the game, and he took out a board, and he put a board in, and he's too lazy to grab the other board, and he did it for his YouTube channel. He's an idiot.

Rob apparently didn't mind getting thrown under the bus for his friend, as both he and Billy were very clear in this version of the story in their signed statements accompanying Billy's September 2019 legal threat to Twin Galaxies and to Guinness. The new story was that this video, which they say had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with authenticating Billy's scores to the public, was filmed late at night, after all those clamoring spectators had gone home:

But in a classic case of trying to patch up one lie only to get caught in another, this "I finished the scores late at night" story gets shot down by the broad daylight pouring in through the doors behind Rob in one of the other videos, where Billy refers to the day's "records" (plural):

Another aspect to the Boomers score that changed over the years is the supposed presence of then-owner of TG, Pete Bouvier. In one of the Boomers videos, titled "Billy Mitchell speaks (july,2010) moments after breaking donkey kong record", Billy remarks that Bouvier should be on his way (at about 1:50):

I guess one more person we're hoping to say "Hi" to is Pete. Pete from Twin Galaxies is on his way here.

A week later in Iowa, Billy described the end of the first game of his alleged double-header and the ensuing celebration as follows (starting at about 3:40):

There was a lot of hugs and kisses, and hootin' and hollerin', and... from Twin Galaxies... Pete was on the phone, and Pete was on his way over. So I thought "This'll be great, I'll introduce him to the manager," and I really want Twin Galaxies to have a strong foothold in south Florida with a place that's really friendly and cooperative, just like other places like Funspot. So Pete was on his way there. And I turned and I said to the two Twin Galaxies people there, I said "One more thing I gotta take care of." And I started a game of Donkey Kong Junior. And I thought it was neat, because I think it would've been the first time Pete would have seen a world record, am I right?... No... So I play, and I guess I was about three quarters of the way through it before I said "Boy, where's Pete?" And then Todd said "Oh, he's not going to be able to make it." So... that's the story about Pete.

Such a shame that Pete was unable to make it to see a world record. Sadly, Pete Bouvier passed away late 2017. But once he was no longer able to speak for himself, Billy retroactively added Pete to his list of witnesses to authenticate his challenged scores. (Yes, Billy uses dead people as witnesses.) In a February 2018 interview with the East Side Dave Show, starting at about 36:00, Billy listed all the people at Boomers for his back-to-back scores, adding that "Pete Bouvier was there with a family member". Billy goes on to describe the scene as he allegedly got his Donkey Kong score, starting at about 37:10:

And when I absolutely had the good fortune, and got the score on Donkey Kong, and I turned around, one of the people shaking my hand, one of the people patting me on the back, okay, was Pete Bouvier, the owner of Twin Galaxies.

About a week later, on the X-Cast, Billy even went so far as to mimic Pete's voice, saying "Congratulations, sir, you finally did it" (at 10:10 and then again at 18:00). And at 21:20, Billy added a bit about Pete going around and telling people the story of... that event he did not attend:

We did many events after that, many times, in Orlando... is the first one that comes to mind, and other places, where he often told the story of that weekend.

Of course, none of this changed the fact that Billy's DK tapes were produced by MAME or a MAME equivalent, despite Billy's elaborate and changing stories of how those scores were achieved on original arcade hardware at live venues in front of dozens of witnesses (only a few of which, Billy's close friends, have come forward). In order to resolve these fables of his with the objective evidence of the MAME tapes, Billy concocted yet another story, suggesting that the tapes were maliciously manufactured in order to besmirch his good name. In an hour-long panel at Southern-Fried Gaming Expo in June 2018 (which Billy's friends at SFGE have since taken down from YouTube), Billy laid out his theory that former friend and longtime critic Dwayne Richard had produced the tapes himself:

There's emails here dating back to 2009. The emails state what they're gonna do. The emails say what they have planned for Billy Mitchell. The emails say that he's coming down.

Gosh, back to 2009, you say!? That sounded like a long time ago, until a few months later brought the discovery of MTV interview footage from 2006 featuring former TG head referee Robert Mruczek showing off Billy's newly submitted tape, MAME signatures and all:

2006 was years before these emails Billy was citing. Heck, Billy and Dwayne were friends at the time! Dwayne's documentaries include footage of he and Billy chatting in their hotel at the 2007 Pac-Man World Championship (where Billy placed 8th out of 10). Also, this would mean that if Dwayne was going around swapping Billy's "real tapes" with almost-perfect MAME forgeries, while somehow managing to track down every independently owned copy everywhere, he would have had to do so in 2006 (in time for that interview), and then all over again in 2007 for Billy's later score. So unless future Dwayne was abusing the time machine his future-future self gave him, that should have put this whole "Dwayne made fake tapes to frame me" theory (which was already patently silly) to bed forever.

But no, "Team Billy" doubled down on the "Dwayne did it" story in their September 2019 legal threat:

(Yes, that is actually how they presented their big legal threat. We'll get to the bit about Ayra's Pac-Man tape in a future installment in this series.)

But now they had to explain that 2006 interview! So... they added another lie (either a lie from Brian Kuh, or a lie from the author of the legal threat), claiming that Robert Mruczek stole the tape from Funspot, and submitted it without Billy's permission as a way of spiting Steve Wiebe:

(Yes, I know, you've probably seen King of Kong. Don't confuse yourself with the facts.)

Of course, even this lie was undone by yet another discovery, this time of Billy's DK tape in the UK in August 2005, with Robert Mruczek nowhere in sight:

To quote myself from the DK dispute thread:

So Mruczek took the tape from Funspot? Except Kuh still has it? Or maybe this was a new tape Billy sent to Kuh right after Kuh gave Mruczek the other tape? But then why would they say there wasn't another copy? Is Dwayne screwing with the timeline again? No, wait! I've got it! Brian Kuh IS Robert Mruczek!! That's the answer! They've been the same person all along! Have you ever seen them in the same room at the same time?

No word yet on what Team Billy's new story for that is.

Another angle Billy took in his defense was that he never submits videotaped scores (as opposed to scores done at live events). This claim, which we've heard from him a number of times over the years, is a bit odd, in that he famously submitted that Donkey Kong tape at Funspot in 2005, which we saw added to the Twin Galaxies scoreboard on camera in the film King of Kong. It's also confusing, given that Billy was demanding Guinness reinstate his record for "First million-point game on Donkey Kong" while simultaneously claiming the 2005 tape that record was based on was never a real submission. But worry not, because as you'll see, Billy has a talent for getting friends to lie along with him. Former TG owner, and Billy's longtime business partner, Walter Day joined in on this lie with a personalized letter to Twin Galaxies and to Guinness in 2019:

During this time, Billy Mitchell made it very clear that this taped score was for entertainment purposes only, not for submission, as he only submits live world records. However, I chose to input the score for The King of Kong's entertainment purposes, but made sure the score was removed from the database after the event was over.

Unfortunately for Walter Day of 2019, Walter Day of 2008 told just the opposite story:

But Billy's "I never submit videotapes" shtick is also undone in his own words, including in this 2004 interview with Retro Gaming Radio, where both Billy and Steve Wiebe discuss their recent Donkey Kong tape submissions, with Billy adding (at about 20:50) "They're both being verified now":

Of course, there was the TG leaderboard and printed Guinness books that included this "never submitted" score, for which Billy was only too happy to claim recognition before later disavowing the tape when it was proven to have been cheated. But probably the most ridiculous example came from a TG poster, commissioned by Billy himself, commemorating an event where he crowned himself "Donkey Kong Champion of the World" based on a score that, in the words of his own commissioned poster, was "verified through videotaped documentation":

Walter Day, of course, went along with all of this the whole time.

Interestingly, during the 2018 score dispute, Billy also tried to prove the legitimacy of these MAME tapes he was simultaneously claiming were not his and that he never submits, which is where Carlos Pineiro comes into play. Responding to an invitation from Steve Kleisath (at the time a friend of Billy's), Carlos showed up at Rob Childs' shop to meet Rob and Billy, and assist them in examining the assertions of the score dispute. Billy and Rob even provided Carlos what they claimed was the exact equipment used to record these scores in the first place. But since Carlos ended up concluding that Billy's tapes could not have been produced from original arcade hardware, Billy would later have to distance himself from those findings to maintain the lie. Thus, Billy said many times in his legal filings that he never provided Carlos with any testing equipment:

But once again, Billy's new story does not agree with the facts. First, courtesy of a legal declaration from Kleisath, we have this text message, originally written by Carlos, and forwarded to Kleisath by Billy himself:

Here's another message exchange, between Billy and Carlos, with Billy showing off the television he acquired for their testing:

Since Billy's dispute defense went rather poorly, he chose to disavow any connection with his colleagues. Therefore, "Team Billy" never existed, no one spoke on his behalf, and also he never asked for a deadline extension, because sure, why not that too. Here's Billy in his own words, from his legal declaration filed to the court on June 22, 2020:

Unfortunately, once again, Carlos provided text messages where Billy was coordinating everyone's work, including the efforts of Carlos and the late Joel West to secure more time, with Billy intending to send such a request to Jace himself:

As if this perjury circus wasn't comical enough, Billy sent Jace a message explicitly saying the technical end of their research was being "headed up by Carlos" and that "Joel has the authority to speak for me and request such things as he is the coordinator of my effort":

Billy's later explanation for this was that he simply fired this message off to Jace by request of Joel West without ever reading it. However, this lie is undone by A) the fact that Billy changed his signature on the message Joel sent him from "Billy" to "BM", B) the fact that Billy also looped in Carlos on the message, which Joel never asked, and which Billy would only know to do if he had read the message, and C) the existence of that subsequent message where Billy was coordinating with Joel and Carlos on their request for an extension, which was sent after the message Billy's trying to disavow. This led to yet another Billy story, where he now claims he called Jace that evening to tell him verbally that none of those text messages he sent are accurate, and that Joel and Carlos actually don't represent him in his dispute defense. (We'll see how that claim plays out in court.)

You can read all about this exchange here:

Sadly, Joel West passed away after the 2018 score dispute, and before Billy started coming up with these "Joel never spoke for me" excuses. Once again, the deceased become useful witnesses for Billy.

Billy's lies aren't limited to the realm of "Oh no, I've been caught, I'd better make up a quick excuse." He is quite proficient at the proactive lie as well, as we'll see many times throughout this series. Billy often likes to tout his perfect memory, and his friends tout it for him as well. Here's just one example, from the After 2 Beers podcast, at about 33:40:

I can answer any questions. And I have a memory. Don’t ever tell me anything you want me to forget, ‘cuz it won’t happen!

This supposed "perfect memory" makes this last item especially unmistakable. Since Billy could not address the objective evidence proving he had cheated his Donkey Kong scores, he instead went on a public relations blitz, including streaming on Twitch in an attempt to show that he actually can play on Donkey Kong (as if that would prove he didn't cheat). Billy's stated goal was to achieve Donkey Kong scores equivalent to the ones that were disqualified, which... met with limited success. But don't tell that to Billy! Here he was with his friends at Southern-Fried Gaming Expo, boasting about his accomplishments, starting at about 6:00:

I did exactly what I was gonna do. I said I was gonna take each score in question, during this process that I knew would take too long, and I said I would redo them, in a public event, under all the right auspices, and I would do it again. I said I would hit the score on the head, and I... walk away and let it die. Just a little cynicism I had within me. Well, when my son set up Twitch, in the first month I hit three one million point scores within one week, something that people said I never did. I did three in a week. Then, at a live event, I hit an exact score and killed it, another live event I hit an exact score and killed it.

For starters, the number of one million point scores Billy got in his first month of Twitch streaming was two, not three. They were on July 29, and August 2, of 2018. His stream on August 3, he concluded with a "Sorry we didn't do our third million" (and that is a direct quote), and he just never got back to it again. It's odd, because scoring a million on Donkey Kong is already impressive, assuming Billy was not employing some new form of chicanery for these scores. Two such scores would have been just fine. There's no need to lie and say it was three, not unless he simply isn't satisfied with reality. Also, Billy's game play on Twitch bears no resemblance to the peculiar style of play seen on the MAME tapes. That bizarre play style indicates likely reliance on MAME tools like save state use, which would have been technically undetectable in his video recording of an input playback.

But more jarring is Billy's claim that he hit the contested scores "on the head", which is a flat out unmitigated lie (one he has repeated in recent interviews over and over). Billy overshot one score by 300, came up short of another by 100, and didn't even bother trying to match the third. What's more, his score pace, as measured going into level 21, is still well behind his cheated scores. The reason his Twitch scores were even close was because he didn't discard extra lives, and he continued playing to the "kill screen" (the unintended end of the game). And while a kill screen game may be more impressive to a novice than a game that ends on board 21-1, in high end competitive play, a game that hits one million on board 21-1 represents superior game play compared to the game that does not hit one million until board 22-1. (Just like how running a seven minute mile is more impressive than an eight minute mile, even if both runners traveled the same distance.) Even Billy's best post-dispute DK score does not live up to two of these three disputed scores by any of these metrics.

Here's a chart to show the differences:

See also:

While Billy's level 21 score on his cheated 1.047m game doesn't quite stack up to the newer Twitch scores, the other two cheated scores are still plenty ahead. And what's up with all those extra lives on his MAME tapes? Did nobody tell Billy that "F7" doesn't work on Twitch?

Just in case you think you misheard him, here he is again, in an interview with RcadeRadio, starting at about 1:37:10:

Like I said, I started streaming, and I knocked out the million point scores like that easy, and then I hit the other scores, you know, I hit 'em like exactly on the head. And I thought "Well, that takes care of that."

Billy's original scores were meant to be demonstrations of overwhelming prowess, including the ability to hit exact scores on demand with extra lives to spare. This excessive showboating was an apparent attempt to upstage honest competitors like Steve Wiebe and Hank Chien, who were cheated out of their rightful recognition as the champions they were. Billy knows all of this, and he knows his newer scores fall short of what he's claiming they represent. But he tells the world whatever he wants to, as long as people will believe him.

As if lying about hitting his contested scores "exactly on the head" wasn't enough, at 34:30 in an interview with The Lab (linked later below), Billy starts spinning complete fiction about one of these scores, done in Indianapolis:

So I went there, and I'm playing, and there it is, I'm pounding away, and I said to somebody, I go "Don't let me go over a million-47-thousand." "Why not? You got all these extra guys? And extra boards?" I go "No no, promise." "Okay, okay" And she says uh... she's calling the scores as we get close. And I get a million-47, [makes noise] and I killed it. And it was "What are you doing?" Because I killed it on that exact score, even though there's, you know, points to be made, men to be had, boards, and I killed it because... because I wanted to be arrogant. And I was.

It seems Billy counts on people simply not fact-checking his claims against the video, which he himself uploaded to YouTube:

First, the conversation Billy describes is never heard. Second, I'm not sure when this "You got all these extra guys" remark was supposed to have happened, since Billy went down to one life in reserve at score 501,000, and started his final life at score 790,400. Third, as Billy played the final rivet board, nobody in the video seemed to be asking "What are you doing?" Nobody there was confused about the fact that Billy was just continuing to play normally. Lastly, a stray fireball forced Billy to end that board early, overshooting his target by 300. The next board was the kill screen, where the game automatically ends. There were no "boards" or "men to be had". Everything Billy said about killing off his game early "because I wanted to be arrogant" is his own fantasy he made up to sound cool.

Once again, just in case you think you misheard, here are Billy's own words, from a sparsely attended panel with Ben Gold at Retropaplooza in 2019 (at 23:10):

Then I went to a major event in Indianapolis, and I... matched the high score I had, that they were cryin' about, and I killed it on the high score. I didn't even go higher. Just to be arrogant, you know. Then I went to another event, and I got another score that they were questioning, and I killed it at that score, I could've went higher, just to be arrogant.

If this guy's willing to spin tall tales and tell bald-faced lies about things which are so easily and openly verifiable, just imagine what he's willing to say about events for which evidence is hard to find.

Of course this is hardly an exhaustive list of Billy's lies over the years, but we must proceed with the main event, where we will undoubtedly uncover many, many more.


Now that we have a good idea who we're dealing with, it's time to turn our focus to a long accepted series of stories from Billy Mitchell, regarding his claimed "perfect game" of Pac-Man in 1999, his "Player of the Century" award, and his trip to the Tokyo Game Show. Many of the circumstances around these events rely on the testimony of Billy himself, as well as close friends like Walter Day (who, as we've seen, has also shown a willingness to lie on Billy's behalf).

Let's start with this presentation by Billy and Walter at the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown and Gameroom Expo in 2016. At about 2:20, Billy describes how he and his friend, Chris Ayra, mapped out Pac-Man's final board (called the "split screen") in the early '80s to determine the game's maximum allowable score:

So we had it all mapped out. We had the absolute secret as to what the perfect score was, and my... me and my friend Chris, who did it with me, who's... gets all the credit with me, told the formula, this secret, this score, and we gave it to Walter Day, as the scorekeeper. Nobody else knew it. We didn't have anything to worry about. Nobody could figure this out. Not a chance. So, that was December of 1983.

Gosh, sounds like some super-secret stuff!

We will be referring back to that presentation many times in this series. To facilitate that, from this point on, I will refer to that video as "Exhibit A".

Next up we have a 2020 interview with The Lab Video Game TV, hosted by a friend of a guy who calls himself Triforce, who himself is a longtime acquaintance of Billy's. (This interview will henceforth be referred to as "Exhibit B".) Starting at about 9:00, Billy recalls what happened when somebody else inevitably figured out their big secret:

It was always said that a perfect score on Pac-Man cannot be done... Me and a friend, we knew what the perfect score was. We had shared it with Walter Day, and we hadn't shared it with anyone else. And as the years went on, we never bothered to do it, because there wasn't anybody else who had the knowledge to be able to do it. Until finally, a couple guys came along, who had the knowledge. And after a phone call with me, Walter set up a phone call where me and my friend talked to these two guys. This had happened over the years. I'd get on the phone with 'em, basically I'd ask 'em a handful of questions, and just blow 'em away. They don't know the answer to these questions. Nobody knows. Nobody knows except us. And so, when they're on the phone, I fired a half a dozen questions at 'em... Again, nobody knows the answer to it, we're wasting our time. And when he fired back a half a dozen answers, exactly as I did, I was silent for a moment, and I said to Walter, I said "Yeah, these guys are for real."

Continuing with Exhibit B:

It was that race, and now there was a fire under me, for having sat on my hands all these years, to get the perfect score on Pac-Man. But other than that group of us that's this big, nobody believed it was possible. It was too difficult. There had been... ten billion games of Pac-Man played, and it was believed... it was ten billion to one, you can't win those odds. You can't win those odds even in the lottery.

Listen to that language. "It was believed it was ten billion to one." Who believed that? Who came up with that number? Also, would that not mean that it would take an average of ten billion games for each perfect score of Pac-Man?

As the story goes, the two competitors faced off in a showdown for the ages at Funspot arcade in New Hampshire, with both of them coming short of the perfect score. But while Billy abandoned his game as soon as he lost a life, "the other guy" kept playing. Here Billy tells the story at the Classic Game Fest in Austin in 2017 (a.k.a "Exhibit C"), starting at about 40:30:

What he did, that I didn't do though, is he continued his game, but he had lost a man. So he got to the end, he got what would have been perfect if he had his last guy. When you don't have all your men, you get cheated out of 90 points at the end. So he was 90 points shy of a perfect score.

Going back to Exhibit A, at about 7:50:

He played up. He got to 270. I was the first one there. I shook his hand. I congratulated him. That was the world record to that point. So, that was awesome. That was the end of that time, and we left. And we would get together again, who knows when. He traveled to Funspot three times that summer. I traveled there once.

Wow, the way Billy tells it, it sure sounds like "the other guy" was trying his hardest to get that score before Billy!

Next up is an October 2018 interview with the Dueling Decades podcast (or "Exhibit D"). Billy talks about his preparations for his return to Funspot, starting at about 55:30:

I practiced in the morning, and I practiced at night. I sent out a little press release saying that I was going back there, and I was gonna achieve a perfect score. And the thing is, everyone's laughing. Media people are telling me "Well, that's never been done before." I said, "I know it's never... been done before. Because I've told you I'm never gonna do it." And you talk about cocky, guy says "Well..." he goes... you know... "You could lose." And I go "I could lose, but not..." I go "but not this time." He goes "Some people are betting against you." I says "Bet anything you want, don't bet your life." I mean... but I built up that level of arrogance because I felt that put the pressure on me to do it. What most people don't know is, I announced I was going there, I announced I was doing it of course, and I was doing it at the busiest arcade, the largest arcade in the world, on the busiest weekend. But what I didn't tell people was, I bought the plane ticket there, I never bought a return ticket, because I didn't know how long it would take, because I wasn't coming home until I did it. I mean, I would've been, like ruined.

Uh-oh! "Some people" were betting against him! I wonder if Billy's gonna show those "media people" wrong!

Continuing with Exhibit D, at about 57:10:

I got there on July 1st, and of course that's Canada Day, and... I got there at night. On July 2nd, I'm playing. I'm playing, I'm playing, and everything seems good. Right off the bat, everything's good. And I'm playing. And I'm at a million, 200 thousand, I'm beyond the so-called threshold, which is like about 350, to where now it's the same repetitive, extreme difficulty thing, and you just can't make a mistake over and over. And I'm playing, and I says to myself, I go "Man, this'd be awesome. This would be awesome." And suddenly, this little kid kicks a cord, and unplugs the machine, and it goes blank. And I jumped up in the air, screaming.

As you can see, there's some real dramatic tension going on there!

So the story goes, Billy returned the next day to play again. Continuing with Exhibit D, at about 1:00:10:

I go to the game, and I start playing. And they had taken the game, and they had put it in a more secure area. And they had it roped off. And nobody could get too close to the game, or too close to me, and nobody could get anywhere near the plug. And they had a floor walker, a good guy by the name of Tom, he's like an ex-marine. And he was assigned to the area. And... he was there. I mean... they rolled out the red carpet for me.

Oh, but don't worry, it wasn't just Billy and Tom! (Or so the story goes.) As we all know, Billy Mitchell never does anything alone, nor does he do it quietly. Crowds of people are always ready to gather and watch at any moment. Here Billy tells the story in a 2015 interview with the '80s Reboot Overdrive podcast (hereafter "Exhibit E"), starting at about 6:00:

In doing it, I sent a press release out saying I was gonna do it. So there were crowds and crowds of people there. There was even media there. There was... a guy from the Boston Herald who was constantly walking up to the game, interviewing me in the middle of the game.

Golly, can't this poor guy just play Pac-Man in peace?

The story continues, as told in Exhibit A, at about 10:10:

I think it was the second game, I started playing, and I got past board 21, and I'm saying to myself, I'm saying "Geez, can I do this 235 times without dying?" Understand what it is. You execute corners. It's all timing. You have to execute 29,000 corners on a perfect game, and you have to execute every one of 'em down to 1/60 of a second. That's timing. If not, then there's chaos on the board. So I'm going, I'm running, I'm doing it. And I'm at a million, 890 thousand, when I made my first bad turn. Just... dopey. Somehow I managed to survive, I get by, and I go "Oh boy," I go... I do it again. And again. And I'm talkin' to myself. Luckily, nobody can hear me because they're further back. And I says "Man, I'm losing this here." And I'm... I did it for 200 thousand points, about 20 boards, I just somehow managed to survive, continually making mistakes.

Sounds super-exciting!

Billy tells the story of approaching the final boards of Pac-Man in Exhibit C, at about 45:10:

It was really passionate at the moment, if you can imagine, the kid knocked the plug out, then they roped everybody off. So there's a hundred people, trying to stare into a little screen, that's ten yards away, and they're all like this. Well, I felt bad, I'm watching, and I mean I got the joystick like this, and there's two boards to go, and there's this big dude in charge of security. And I look back, and I notice how many people there are there. And I pointed at him, and I went... to let the crowd forward. So they come forward for the last two boards. And now there's people standing, and there's some of this going on, and I mean they're running against me.

During the panel, Billy went so far as to physically mimic getting jostled around by the crowd he claims surrounded him as he continued playing.

But somehow Billy's protagonist prevails through all these incessant distractions, reaching the split screen, as told in Exhibit D, at about 1:02:50:

The busiest arcade in the world, on the busiest weekend that they have, the Fourth of July weekend. And... it was... It was an incredible thing. I remember putting it... I remember being on the split screen, putting it in the hiding spot, and calling my friend Chris. He says "Hello," and I go "Yeah, I'm at Funspot," I said "I'm at the hiding spot, on the split screen, with a perfect score." He says "No way!"

The game concludes, as told in Exhibit A, at about 12:40:

So I'm on the phone and I'm talking, and I finish, and there's reporters and... That's where the thumbs up comes in. I'm standing here, and I finish the game, and there's a Boston reporter there. He goes "You did it! Quote!" And I go "I never gotta play that damn thing again."

Ah, what a nice little moment of victory with an unnamed "Boston reporter". Don't you wish you could've been there? I bet Billy does.

Oh, but the end of the "perfect game" is only the beginning of the story for Billy! Let's go back to Exhibit B, at about 21:40:

But it happened on a weekend, where there were very little major events going on. There was no big national, international news. There was nothing triumphant or tragic that captured the headlines. This was a soft-hearted story about something that a guy achieved in regards to a cultural icon of Pac-Man, and it was a fun story that hit the wire. And it ran around the world. I mean, timing is everything. I've often thought of how I could ever duplicate that again, and I don't think I can.

Continuing with Exhibit B, at about 22:40:

And I had in my mind... "Boy, that phone's gonna ring. Boy, that phone's gonna ring." And it was some time in July that that phone rang, and it was Namco. Yeah... Yeah... They talked, they knew about me, they knew my history. Again, I was one of the few people, or the only person who somehow over the years had grabbed the attention of some of the manufacturers. Players were very unwelcomed, almost always. And they were so warm and so welcome. They asked me a lot of things. They asked me to put together and produce a lot of things that I sent to them. And then they invited me to the Tokyo Game Show in Japan, in September.

Ah, game manufacturers hated players! Except Billy, of course. They knew Billy. Of course.

The story continues in Exhibit E, at 9:00:

I'd had a meeting in Namco's office with their inner circle of programmers, developers, CEO, the founder of Namco that's often referred to as the father of Pac-Man, and I refer to him as the godfather of video games. His name is Masaya Nakamura. They sat there and they explained to me, it didn't matter what question I fired at them, they just shrugged their shoulders and said "We have no idea." They said "You know far more about Pac-Man than we know."

Hahaha! He says he stumped Namco's "inner circle" of programmers and developers on (checks notes) an 18-year old video game?

Billy continues bragging about this moment, as heard in Exhibit B, at about 28:20:

I love it when I get the wise guys. You know, you're the wise guy and you say "Oh, you think you know everything. You think you know more about the game than the guy who made it." Well yeah, he told me I do.

Yeah, in your face, wise guys! #ThatHappened

Billy has some rather tall tales from his time in Japan. Again in Exhibit B, at about 24:20:

So I'm there in Japan. And there's crowds of people. I felt like a rock star. I obviously stood out. Everywhere we went... Gee, would I... put together... Would I produce in Japan? Would I perform as well there as I did here? Yes, I did. They wanted to see me play. And I put together another perfect score.

Gosh, another perfect score? That's incredible! Who could possibly doubt this man?

And, of course, the (pun always intended) crown jewel of Billy's 1999 story, as heard in Exhibit D, at 2:40:

I was in Japan, at the Tokyo Game Show, I was flown there by Masaya Nakamura. It was September of 1999. He is considered... he passed away a couple years ago. He's considered the godfather of video games. He was the founder and CEO of Namco. His influence in the industry stretched far beyond that, of course. He was probably the person who was instrumental in creating JAMMA, Japanese Amusement Machine Manufacturing Association, which is basically the association of video game designers, of manufacturers, anything and everything that's in Japan that is video games. And there on stage at the Tokyo Game Show, with a list of accolades that went back to as far as 1982, and as recently as the perfect Pac-Man in July of '99, he crowned me the video game player of the century. It was... It was ridiculously flattering that he did that.

If you couldn't tell, much of this story is complete and utter bollocks. As you'll see in this series, these go way beyond mere embellishments, or creative storytelling. Yes, Billy did play Pac-Man at Funspot in May and July of 1999, and yes, he did appear on a stage at the Tokyo Game Show (as seen in the famous photo above). But as he often does, he employs a mixture of selective wordplay, deceptive framing, dishonest suggestion, and at many times just flat out, straight up, bald-faced lying. Billy often speaks for others, cites witnesses who don't exist, ignores things which could be proven, and focuses on the things that can't (such as private meetings), all to discard the truth in favor of whatever version of events he prefers in a given telling. Literally none of his story should be taken at face value.

While Billy's word is not worth much, my research colleagues and I did approach this story from the vantage of teasing apart the different claims, and then either confirming or refuting whatever we could. In a sense, we tried even harder to validate Billy's claims than his own supporters have. We did find exactly one piece -- one single, solitary piece -- of his overall 1999 Pac-Man story which I can confidently say did happen exactly as he describes. (I'll make a note of it when it comes up later in this series. I even included a nod to it in the opening collage!) Every other element of Billy's story is either unverified, or apocryphal, or notably exaggerated, or his story has changed over time, or he has outright lied about it. Some of his stories are so easily refuted, it's frankly a wonder anyone has repeated them as fact. There's one significant piece of his story that we were able to refute in no fewer than FIVE different ways.

Regardless, we will go through it all, as we fully deconstruct the myth of what I call "The Video Game Fraud of the Century".


This series has a lot of historical ground to cover, especially since I aim to tell a thorough, accurate, and sourced accounting of what really happened. Since we have a little extra time today, we're going to cover the technical definition of a perfect score of Pac-Man, and how such a score can be achieved. If you're already familiar with the ins and outs of top level Pac-Man play, you may be excused from the rest of today's class.

So what exactly is a "perfect game" of Pac-Man?

One would think such a question would have a single definitive answer. The word "perfect" doesn't ordinarily offer a lot of wiggle room. And yet, this has actually proven to be an elusive question, especially in Pac-Man's early years.

Before we get too far into this, we should understand one clear distinction. Beyond mere semantics, there is a notable difference between a "perfect score" and what people might imagine when they hear of a "perfect game". A "perfect score" is the maximum score the game allows. A player can achieve that score while making an unlimited number of mistakes along the way, provided those mistakes don't cost points. The final score is all that would matter. However, one could argue that a "perfect game" of something like Pac-Man implies flawless play from start to finish with no breaks, something more like a tool-assisted run. (For sports fans, think of the difference between a "no-hitter" and a "perfect game" of baseball. And even in baseball's "perfect game", you're allowed to make unlimited bad pitches, as long as the runner never reaches base.)

Why in heaven's name does this matter? Because unfortunately, there are some people out there who are more interested in exaggerating their personal feats and who want you to think the two are the same. "I got a perfect score, therefore, I played flawlessly." As you'll see, not everyone who uses the term "perfect game" are trying to mislead in this fashion. It's understandable why people use the two terms interchangeably. Calling a maxout (something many games have) a "perfect game" is a great marketing hook, no matter who is using it. But we should start by understanding the difference. We're not here to talk about a flawless playthrough of Pac-Man, which no human has achieved, and which we should not be expecting, for a number of reasons. What we are talking about is what has come to be known as a "perfect" score, the maximum score, capped off by Pac-Man's unique variation of the dreaded arcade "kill screen" ending the player's game.

So what is a perfect score on original Pac-Man?

It depends on who you ask! And when you ask them! You didn't think this was going to be easy, did you?

The historical evolution of the definition of Pac-Man's "perfect" score will be covered across the next two installments in this series. For now, let's discuss what is considered a perfect score today.

Unlike Pac-Man's sequels, which use multiple different layouts, each board of original Pac-Man has the same arrangement. First, there are 240 little dots, granting 10 points each. There are four bigger "power pellets" or "energizers", granting 50 points each. On the early boards, each of those power pellets turns the ghosts blue, allowing you to eat them for even more points -- 200 for the first, 400 for the second, then 800, then 1600. This gives you a total of 3,000 points if you eat all four off one power pellet, which you can do four times each board for which "blue time" exists. The last ordinary source of points is the fruit (sometimes called the "prize"), which appears twice each board, and which yields a different number of points depending on the fruit. The most valuable of these, the key, is worth 5,000 points each, netting the player 10,000 points if they collect both keys on a given board.

Let's whip this into a handy chart:

What's this "N/A" about? I'm glad you asked! As stated, on each of the early boards, you get 12,000 points for eating all four ghosts at every opportunity. But the duration which the ghosts stay blue varies from board to board. On six boards (highlighted in blue above), you have only one second to eat all four ghosts, which requires advanced techniques to accomplish. Eventually, the ghosts stop turning blue altogether, which means ghost points can no longer be collected. This results in one less thing for an aspiring perfect score player to worry about.

On board 21, also known as the "ninth key", Pac-Man slows down relative to the ghosts, making it much more difficult to complete without advanced techniques. This same "ninth key" board, which yields 12,600 points each time (when both keys are collected), repeats for 235 boards. This mini-marathon stretch of "ninth key" boards yields 2,961,000 points, which when added to the 365,600 points from the first 20 boards, produces a score of 3,326,600 going into Pac-Man's impassible kill screen:

(Image taken from Jamey Pittman's perfect score on YouTube. Note: Original Pac-Man does not track the millions digit of the score.)

The mechanics behind Pac-Man's kill screen are a topic for our next installment, but for our current discussion, there are 112 regular dots (for 1,120 points), enough to trigger one "fruit" (for 5,000 points), along with two power pellets (for 100 points). This means, for the traditional player who assumes only the left side of the board is functional or otherwise "in bounds", one can bring their score up to 3,332,820. If one ventures out into the semi-navigable garbage on the right side of the screen, one will find nine hidden dots. Three of these dots are white, two are red, and four are invisible. (To make it more confusing, near two white dots are two identical-looking white dots which the game does not register as dots -- they're just part of the graphical garbage -- and thus they can't be eaten for points.)

These hidden dots are peculiar, in that they are generated by the malfunctioning algorithm that creates the split screen effect, and thus they regenerate each time the player dies. These are the only dots in the game that reappear after a player death in this manner. Thus, those are the only points which you can cash in repeatedly for each life remaining. Because of this, in addition to everything else a perfect score entails, a player must carry each of their lives to the final screen to maximize their points, nabbing 90 points for each such life. On default settings, this yields 360 more points, bringing the score up to 3,333,180, but when the settings are adjusted to give the player the maximum lives possible, that takes the score up another 180 points, to 3,333,360. The game will never register the split screen as being completed (at least not without manipulating the game's internal switches), thus making this the highest score that can be achieved.

(Note: Later releases of Pac-Man have different expressions of the split screen which yield more dots among the computer garbage. Additionally, the collection of extra dots triggers the stage's second "fruit", for yet more points. However, in this series we're referring to the actual original arcade game, or emulation of that exact original game, and not somebody's multicade romhack.)

While Pac-Man is typically categorized as a "maze game", talented players quickly learned the way to truly master Pac-Man (especially the most difficult "one second" boards) was to treat it as a puzzle game. A peculiarity of Pac-Man is that it uses almost none of what we now refer to as "RNG", or "random number generation". Take, for instance, the ghost behavior. The game's developers didn't want four ghosts always trailing the player in a straight line, so they gave each ghost a "personality" of sorts by giving each a different algorithm governing its behavior. Blinky (the red ghost) always aims directly for Pac-Man, while Inky (the blue ghost) aims for a distant spot calculated by the position of both Pac-Man and Blinky. If left long enough, the ghosts will eventually enter a "scatter" mode, but this too is formulaic and can be anticipated.

A detailed video on Pac-Man ghost behavior can be seen here:

And extensive written analysis of Pac-Man mechanics can be found, among other places, in Jamey Pittman's excellent "Pac-Man Dossier":

The game's deterministic programming led to two approaches to high-level play. First, an understanding of these ghost behaviors led to the development of "grouping" (or sometimes called "clumping") techniques where the player corrals the ghosts together, all piled on top of each other, before leading them to the power pellet for prompt devouring. This approach can be tedious, as the technique must be repeated for each power pellet, since the ghosts will once again become disorganized every time they are sent back to the proverbial dugout. (Get used to the baseball analogies.) A player must also stay safe while accumulating every dot and while not missing the two fruits per board, which disappear on a timer.

In response to the tedium and peril of attempting to clear boards solely with grouping techniques, players began developing prearranged patterns for each of the early game boards. Some adventuring player with a lot of quarters (or access to their own personal Pac-Man cabinet) would develop a strict path throughout the board through trial-and-error, and then anyone with this pattern could simply clear the board by following that route and executing every turn unflinchingly as intended, even if at times the path looks dangerous. (Note that there is a little pseudo-randomization with fruit durations and with ghost behavior during "blue time", but patterns are designed to account for this.)

While cruder grouping methods are usually referred to as "freehand" techniques (in contrast to structured routes), they often become like mini-patterns of their own, with Pac-Man waiting in a certain spot or taking a certain path, often through the side tunnels (which slow ghosts down), collecting some ghosts in one spot while allowing the stragglers to catch up. Most true Pac-Man aces will pose a double-threat by mastering both patterns and grouping techniques, giving the player a backup strat for when a pattern's execution fails.

Lastly, there are other tools and idiosyncrasies at the disposal of perfect score players, including specific turns that the ghosts are not allowed to make, giving the player an opportunity to break off the chase. But more importantly for our story, there are spots where, if you stop your Pac-Man properly, the ghosts' flawed AI forces them to take incorrect turns, going in endless loops while you sit in safety.

There is a misconception that these park spots are exclusively temporary. It's hard to say who exactly is responsible for this misconception...

It's not that there are certain spots that are more temporary than others. It's more a question of when you use those spots. They are safe as long as the ghosts stay in "chase" mode, but every so often they reverse and enter "scatter" mode (based on a predictable timer). This reversal breaks them out of their terminal loops, and enables them to catch Pac-Man from the other direction. Notably, unless the player loses a life, each board only contains only four such reversals. It's common for expert players to park after the third reversal, which on the advanced boards offers a window of about 17 minutes. However, after that next reversal, these same spots become indefinite safe zones:

In 2005, a couple Twin Galaxies forumgoers recalled leaving their Pac-Man machines parked for hours or even days at a time:

To think that if it weren't for the split screen, there could be someone out there still racking up a score on a live Pac-Man game, forty years later.

But even the temporary spots can give a player a few minutes to eat a sandwich, or use the restroom, or take a phone call, or recite some stock story of theirs to the camera. This can also allow a player to get their bearings as they transition from the "blue time" boards into the long stretch of repeating ninth key patterns, or to break up the monotony of those 235 consecutive ninth key boards. (Just don't let someone walk up to your game and take over while you're on break!)

It's also important to know that these spots are not automatic. Since they depend on ghost behavior, and since ghost behavior depends on Pac-Man's behavior, you have to enter these zones the right way, and be mindful of the positions of the ghosts as you enter. At around 5:40 in this video, current Pac-Man champion David Race gives an intentional demonstration of what happens when you set up a park spot incorrectly:

We can also see another, less intentional demonstration of this, courtesy of Mr. Mitchell, at 9:30 here:

At a promotional presentation for the Minnesota Lottery, Billy attempted to demonstrate the park spot. After parking Pac-Man, he turned to the crowd and explained:

The question is, "Billy, how long can you leave it there?" I've left it there for more than one month.

Right on cue, a howl of laughter is heard from the audience, as Billy's Pac-Man is caught by one of the ghosts:

The host assesses the situation:

You just died.

Billy responds:

That's because he touched it.

(Spoiler: The host didn't touch it.)

That wraps it up for today. I promise you, we're just getting started! Join us back here for "Dot Two" soon, as we go back to the '80s, and catch a little Pac-Man Fever.
  1. ersatz_cats's Avatar

    BTW, you can also read this series at our new web address, which used to be Billy's old web address from his bumper stickers:

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  2. RedDawn's Avatar

    This would be excellent as a video series, even if read verbatim from this transcript.
    I imagine it would get a lot more eyes on it than a series of lengthy articles.
    Thats no criticism, I love what you've done here, just saying.

    Big thanks for putting this all together.

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