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09-13-2021 at 12:26 PM
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The Video Game Fraud of the Century - Dot Four

This post is part of a series, examining various myths and stories around Billy Mitchell's claimed performance of Pac-Man in 1999 and his subsequent trip to the Tokyo Game Show. The first post in this series can be found here:

The supplemental material for "Dot Four" can be found here:


If you've listened to more than one of Billy's many, many interviews he frequently does, you've probably heard him tell this story a few times:

But in 1999, when I had to do the perfect score, simply because I had to beat Johnny-come-latelies who were coming along, and I went there, I did it, it was awesome, it happened... and really that was all. But it happened on a weekend, where there were very little major events going on. There was no big national [or] 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.

That's from Exhibit B, starting at about 21:30. Billy repeated a similar sentiment on the Obsolete Gamer Show in 2017, starting at about 56:20:

It just so happens that I was in a race against the Canadian, and it just so happens that I did it on the Fourth of July weekend, and it just so happens that there was nothing significant that weekend, and the story ran around the world.

If you just listened to this story and took it at face value, you would probably assume the news of his claimed Pac-Man score "ran around the world" within about 24 hours of it happening. His language isn't exact, but that is what he's saying, is it not? It "happened on a weekend", and there was "nothing triumphant or tragic that captured the headlines"?

Well, put on your shocked faces, because that's not at all how it happened. Setting aside the question of whether Billy completed the perfect score, or whether his was "first", let's proceed by tracing the trail of this "first perfect score on Pac-Man" story as it made its way slowly and patiently through gaming and eventually mainstream news.

For starters, Twin Galaxies did issue a prompt press release announcing the score:

The date shown on the press release is July 4. However, later references are made to either this or a placeholder announcement being published on July 3, the day of Billy's score. [S1] (Note: Hereafter I will refer to Billy having achieved a Pac-Man score on July 3, 1999, which he definitely did. However, this is not me saying the score he got was a "perfect" score, just that he played Pac-Man and got a score somewhere over three million that day.) We're going to get into all the details on whether this score should have been approved by TG later in "Dot Nine", but for now it should be pointed out that there's no way three tapes of Pac-Man were sent to Walter Day and watched and verified before he announced this publicly as an official new world record.

The press release is mostly a promotional vehicle for Twin Galaxies the organization and for Billy individually, though it does include a number of classic lines (which we'll get into), a few appeals to American patriotism, and a couple jabs at Canada:

This press release, very slightly tweaked, was also posted to the site MAMEworld, and then to the Funspot website [S2]:

(Note: The Funspot version is the one Billy cited in his September 2019 legal threat. Maybe he didn't want it to be so obvious that he was citing a press statement from an organization he'd had financial interest in?)

This event was clearly a big promotional item for Twin Galaxies, as a link to this press release was placed on the left side of the front page -- the only single score to get such treatment at that time:

Sources who closely followed video game news were quick to pick up on this story. Atari Gaming Headquarters posted it to their news page on July 4 [S3]:

A link to the press release was posted to MARP on July 5:

Lee Seitz of the site Classic Video Games Nexus also included it in a short news blurb dated July 6:

It would seem that Walter Day was also actively pushing the story around, with the editor at the site Vintage Gaming (in tiny 1999 Internet typeface) thanking Day for sharing the news:

Regardless, this story clearly had some basic nostalgia appeal to tech-savvy Gen Xers on the Internet. On July 5, much of the press release text was shared to a non-gaming Usenet group, with the added introduction "Speaking of the 80's...":

The next day, it was shared to the arcade collecting Usenet group:

It would seem that waiting sixteen years to do your big score on a game like Pac-Man is a great way of having most people forget all the other players who so thoroughly dominated the game in its heyday, allowing you to be seen as the first to ever do so. Not everyone was so forgetful, though. One astute reader was quick to ask what happened to Randy Tufts and his perfect scores documented in the pages of Joystik:

An answer was not provided.

As the story was shared around the 1999 equivalents of social media, it slowly made its way through official media outlets as well. On July 6, Danish language site ComputerWorld posted a portion of the Twin Galaxies press release translated into Danish, which produces some amusing results when translated back to English via Google Translate:

As if there is any doubt whatsoever about the perceived importance of this story, blogger Lars Michael Sørensen makes it clear with an added introduction [GT]:

But hey, efforts by unnamed parties to push the press release were clearly working. [S4] It popped up on Danish website yet again six days later, this time complete with Billy's Neil Armstrong self-analogy [GT] [S5]:

Soon after ComputerWorld, the story got a boost from original reporting by Leander Kahney at Wired (published online only), on July 8 [S6]:

The article, which ironically refers to Billy as "soft-spoken", includes several quotes from him, including calling the perfect score experience "extremely monotonous". Also quoted was Walter Day, who was completely speechless:

The piece also included a quote, not from Namco, but from a representative of games manufacturer Midway, saying that present staff were not aware of any previous perfect scores of Pac-Man:

(Recall that Bally-Midway themselves had sent a letter to Bill Bastable in 1982, congratulating him on his "perfect score". Remember, games manufacturers are not scoring adjudicators.)

Around the time of the Wired article, short blurbs on Billy's Pac-Man score appeared in two Dutch newspapers, De Gelderlander and Brabants Dagblad. These briefs were in collections of variety stories, including Madonna's visit to Cambridge, the wedding of Posh Spice and David Beckham, a California lynx cub named Rocky, Japanese washing machines for humans, and the July 5 death of BASE jumper Thor Alex Kappfjell. [S7]

The following week, on July 12, the Wall Street Journal posted a blurb to its website [S8]:

"Three hours a week"? That's quite a practice regimen!

Three days later, on July 15, British newspaper The Guardian dedicated a modest three sentences to this Pac-Man score among a collection of video gaming related news bites:

This is already extensive coverage for any competitive gaming story, especially in 1999. But a Twin Galaxies press release at the end of August sought to reach back and make this initial news blitz sound even more overwhelming than it was:

It was even translated into British!

(Note: This is not the last we'll be hearing from TG spokesperson Rachael Wendell.)

It doesn't seem TG actually kept track of all these global stories, though (or more helpfully, whether these were actual published articles or just small email or Usenet references). None of them appear in a later list of TG news appearances alongside North American items covering the story:

While the early postings to Wired and other random tech sites soon tapered off, Usenet discussion continued. [S9] On July 14, Lee Seitz relayed his observations from a phone call he shared with Walter and Billy that evening:

Yes, good thing Walter has the right people telling him the right things.

Of course, not everyone in the retro gaming community was impressed with the story. [S10] On July 7, 1999, user "Shadowraven" had this to say about this recent bit of important gaming news:


Recall from "Dot Two", the interview with Triforce where Billy tries to explain away Bill Bastable's letter from Bally-Midway congratulating him on a perfect score of Pac-Man: Here's an extended portion of that quote, starting at about 20:30:

Let me give you the real answer. First began communicating with Bill in January of 1984. Twin Galaxies was still open in Ottumwa, okay. He was submitting scores for Ms. Pac-Man, okay. Chris and I began communicating with him. Chris went to his house. Chris spent the night at his house. They went to arcades. They played. They exchanged pictures, okay. There's not a prayer that Bill got a perfect score in 1982. None. Zero. He forgot to explain that to us in all the conversations we had? Okay. Without lying to you, he was nothing but a gentleman, okay. And he was a great player, okay. But he forgot to explain to us that he got a perfect score? He forgot to explain to us that he had a letter, okay? He showed us various pictures of different high scores, and he forgot to show us the one of a perfect score? Okay? I don't believe in the tooth fairy, not for a long, long time, okay. In 1999, in July, about a week to two weeks after I did the perfect score, he called me, he congratulated me. We were on the phone for more than an hour. During that call, I put Chris on the call. It was a three-way call. There was nothing but pleasantries, okay. And again, Chris and he had far more communication than I did, okay. Bill was writing books, and putting together various things that were impressive in regards to Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man. He somehow forgot to share all that information? No. Okay, again, the tooth fairy left town a long time ago, okay.

Reportedly, Bill Bastable did indeed submit a Ms. Pac-Man score of 881,360 to Twin Galaxies in the '80s, which was not accepted. [S11] (As for TG rejecting the score, I hope it wasn't a case of "That score has to be fake, because nobody's better than me.") Notice in the above quote how Billy does not say exactly who "began communicating" with Bastable in January of 1984. You can listen to that segment for yourself. Billy simply begins mid-sentence, suggesting that some unidentified party communicated with Bastable in some ambiguous fashion.

In researching this project, I got the chance to speak with Bill Bastable, who did answer our many questions, but who declined the offer for a full on-the-record interview. While I have no wish to disparage Mr. Bastable, I must be clear that, in talking with him multiple times, he often speaks in a very inexact fashion. Take, for instance, the following quote from him in Perfect Fraudman, speaking about his interaction with Chris Ayra in the '80s (at about 51:00):

Then... well, as I was playing back then, there was... I had met Chris Ayra and Bill Mitchell. It started to dawn on me that there was something else going on about the right half of maze 256...

By that quote, you would think that Bastable had met both Chris and Billy in the '80s. To the contrary, Bastable clarified with me that between the two of them, he only met Ayra around that time (as seen in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune). When casually referring to this, he speaks of Chris and Billy as a pair, and of his having contact with that pair as if they are a unit, even if the actual contact was with only one of them, thus the confusion.

Similarly, in one conversation, Bastable told me he only ever had two direct interactions with Billy Mitchell: The first time was when Billy called him -- yes, when Billy called him -- not long after the July 3, 1999 score. The second interaction was at Free Play Florida in 2015, where Bastable recalls that Billy quickly approached him and shook his hand before he could respond.

However, in subsequent conversations, Bastable volunteered that he did have other incidental interactions with Billy over the years, including one time when Rick Fothergill brought them both on the line for a three-way call. Bastable explained the omission from our previous conversation by saying he simply did not consider these interactions to be proper contact, and only spoke of direct one-on-one contact with Billy Mitchell when asked.

This sort of inexact communication can make it difficult to ascertain various elements of this story for the historical record in general, and in some regards runs counter to the detail-oriented approach of this particular project. However, just as with people's inexact memories, these factors can be acknowledged, and such testimony can be presented for what it is. This is yet another testament to the value of permanent evidence in attempting to piece together history years after the fact.

While Bastable did not recall exactly how many incidental interactions he has had with Billy Mitchell, he was consistently clear in multiple conversations that Billy was the one who called him in July of 1999, and that this was one of only two direct, one-on-one interactions he'd ever had with Billy, without someone else's participation. (I'll let you guess why Billy Mitchell called Bill Bastable out of the blue in July '99, and what that may say about Billy's claimed ignorance of Bastable's perfect score games.) Additionally, Bastable made it clear on multiple occasions that any communication he had with either Ayra or Mitchell were separate, and never together, contrary to Billy's characterization that this July phone call included all three of them.

Maybe Chris Ayra will chime in and break the tie.


It wasn't until two weeks after Billy's July 3 game at Funspot that the story would gain the wide mainstream traction that Billy and Walter attribute to it today.

It started with a July 16 feature in Billy's local newspaper, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

This article had no outright jabs at Canada, and no references to nationalistic neckwear. Instead, it took a more local focus, discussing Billy's time at Chaminade High School and his involvement in the Mitchell family's hot sauce and restaurant businesses.

It wasn't until the following day, July 17, that the Associated Press finally picked up the story. AP's own write-up was not preserved on the Internet, however the story was picked up by several newspapers around the country, in some cases giving us access to the AP's original text. See, for example, the Fort Myers News-Press, two counties away from the Sun-Sentinel in Florida:

This AP piece was subsequently picked up by CNN (online), also on July 17, giving another key signal boost. While the CNN page was never archived, a repost of the text to Usenet shows it was (as we expected) the same text from Associated Press, with the last few paragraphs trimmed away:

The fact that neither the AP nor CNN pages were archived is a bit odd, given that other stories from around that time and even that same day were preserved on Wayback Machine, and were still accessible on the open Internet years later. [S12] Maybe newspeople didn't think this Pac-Man story was that big a deal?

The way in which this story trickled its way to the AP and CNN is also quite peculiar. The two week lag before it hits actual newspapers is an indication that certain parties (Twin Galaxies, Walter Day, Billy Mitchell) may have been continuing to shop the story around. As my research colleague said:

Circling back to issue of a perfect score, a "max-out" score on an arcade game doesn't necessarily qualify as news that is worthy of publication throughout North America or Europe. So personally, I've always been confused how/why this story was picked up in the first place. Was it all about "timing" and Gen X staffers in newsrooms going "Hey, I remember that game, cool, let's publish this story"?

On the same day, July 17, a longer feature on Billy was printed in his nearby Miami Herald, featuring the premiere of the Joe Rimkus photo:

This feature would be picked up on the news wire of Knight-Ridder (then the parent company of Miami Herald), making appearances in early August in the Chicago Tribune, the Indianapolis Star, the Dayton Daily News, and the Poughkeepsie Journal. [S13]

A day later, German news magazine Der Spiegel [S14] published a Manfred Dworschak article titled "Gefrässige Scheibe", which Google translates to "Gluttonous Disc" [GT]:

On Monday, July 19, a new issue of Time Magazine hit newsstands. [S15] The cover story was dedicated to the U.S. team's victory in the Women's World Cup earlier that month:

But on page 21, at the end of the "Notebook" section, among stories of wacky laws and Nostradamus' predictions for 1999, we get a Pac-Man sighting:,00.html

No doubt that getting your video game score mentioned in Time Magazine is sweet. But at the same time, Time's coverage isn't an endorsement of one's gaming peers, nor is it any sort of sincere commentary on the historical relevance of a given score. For them, it was a fun, nostalgic story, printed in the hopes of making casual readers enjoy the magazine.

To some degree, this cycle of coverage was self-perpetuating, with the story almost becoming a newspaper version of a meme. On July 22, The Guardian revisited their story printed a week earlier, eclipsing their previous mark of three sentences:

The new round of coverage drew people back to the gaming forums as well. On July 22, Rhett James Barnes replied to the earlier Usenet thread from July 6:

Rhett was skeptical, and rightly so. Regardless of the specific combination of factors that had to be assembled for a perfect score, and whether or not someone had put those together prior to July of 1999, Pac-Man had been thoroughly dominated for about 17 years at that point. And yet, a common theme through much of this 1999 coverage was this idea that Pac-Man was some kind of confounding riddle that the experts had yet to solve. (Of course, it should be no surprise where these media outlets were getting their Pac-Man information from.)

For a competitive gaming story to go so widely mainstream like this one did, it needs a major "hook". Sometimes that hook is an easily understood milestone (beating Super Mario Bros. in under five minutes), or a cultural reference (beating George Costanza's Frogger record from Seinfeld). In this case, the "hook" was fourfold: Pac-Man was a heavily popular game with a lot of nostalgia (undeniable); this was a record which could never be surpassed (still accepted to be true); the score was exceptionally difficult to achieve (a topic we will discuss in a moment); and it had actively eluded players for several years (very misleading). Billing it as "The Perfect Game" was icing on the cake.

The implication one is asked to accept is that the endorsements of CNN and Time Magazine and such are a testament to the rarity and the difficulty of the feat. Surely, if this score got this much attention, that must make this score exceptional, right? Of course, this ignores the role of agents (like Walter Day, who was presented as an impartial arbiter) in deciding which scores to promote to the media in this fashion, and how heavily to promote them. But we can even set that aside. Time Magazine sounds important -- and they are -- but they don't know about competitive Pac-Man any more than Guinness knows about competitive Donkey Kong. Even if a Pac-Man perfect score was the single most rare and difficult feat in all of gaming, nothing the Associated Press could say would make that any more true than it was before.

This is obviously not to say that sort of coverage is worthless. Far from it! It's just important to understand where that value lies. What Time Magazine, CNN, and Associated Press did offer, that the TG website, Funspot, and Usenet did not, was exceptional publicity.

There continued to be reporting on this score through the rest of the year (as linked throughout this series). [S16] However, one more item from July is worth another look, as a portent of things to come. On July 25, a Korean language article was published, which suggested that, by this point, Namco themselves were promoting this story of "Someone got an important score on our famous video game":

Here is a professional translation of the first line:

An American player has achieved ‘Perfect Game’ for the first time in the video game ‘Pac-Man’, said Japanese game producer Namco on the 24th.

Most of the piece is boilerplate material, explaining who Billy Mitchell is and what score he (allegedly) got. But it's the final line that should catch your eye. [S17] Here it is, professionally translated:

Namco is planning to manufacture a Pac-Man software in gold and present it to the player.


There are a few ways in which Billy likes to cite his fortunate timing, which (as he tells it) fueled news coverage of his story. Of course, there's the nationalistic angle, with Billy framing his quest as one of America versus Canada, concluding with a score done in the vicinity of the Fourth of July holiday. Here's Billy in a 2013 chat with R2HT (at 31:40):

But it was a relatively quiet weekend, and it was something that went on the AP wire, and it was a very American thing, over the Foruth of July weekend against my Canadian friend...

And yet, by his description, you would think the news traveled because the news itself was carried on the Fourth of July weekend. Truthfully, it's not as if Americans require a lot of prodding to get whipped up into a patriotic fervor, on any day of the year. But presenting it in this way erases the two-week delay, making it sound as though the holiday window was a factor in the story's traction.

But the angle Billy usually takes is to express his fortunate timing in relation to other major news. Specifically, as quoted earlier from Exhibit B:

But it happened on a weekend, where there were very little major events going on. There was no big national [or] international news. There was nothing triumphant or tragic that captured the headlines.

It turns out July 17 -- the day the perfect score story hit both Associated Press and CNN -- was far from a slow news day. John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane had been reported missing at about 2:00 that morning, and by 8:00, a full search by the Air Force and Coast Guard was underway. It was not until later that day that debris and luggage from the plane were found:

Obviously a story on a Pac-Man game couldn't possibly compete with a tragedy involving both a plane crash and a Kennedy. But they both were published on the same day. That's because neither one was competing with the other for attention. The Pac-Man item was a feel-good nostalgia story, intended to amuse people with a casual affinity for old video games. The mainstream media love those kinds of stories. In 2020, the nightly news on TV could talk about the coronavirus pandemic, George Floyd protests, the presidential election, raging wildfires, and a massive explosion in Beirut, all in one half hour, but all of that won't stop them from ending the show with a "Look at this silly dog who got stuck up a tree" story at the end.

This gives us some insight into Billy's approach to storytelling. Again, nothing he said in his "timing is everything" story is strictly untrue. The score did happen during a news lull. The Danish editor outright said as much. Billy was indeed fortunate this story had legs compared to other classic video game stories. And Billy didn't strictly say there was not a two-week gap until much of the coverage he cites. Billy just chooses to assemble these elements in a misleading way.

And it's not like Billy is misremembering anything. Here's a short video from 2012, featuring Billy, Steve Kleisath, and Billy's technician buddy Rob Childs, who recalls when he first heard about Billy's Pac-Man score (starting at about 20:30):

I remember, you called me, after you did it, and I was in lamaze class, when Maria was pregnant with Cayla. And that was the day that happened. And also, the day that happened, Kennedy's airplane went down. You remember that?

It's strange that Rob Childs, one of Billy's closest allies and his Donkey Kong partner-in-crime, didn't even hear about this Pac-Man score for two weeks, but whatever. So was Billy tripped up by the timing implied in the question? Was he confused trying to remember the sequence of events? No. He responded by pivoting right into a "Funny you should mention it" stock story about being out on a cruise ship when (so he claims) some media paid an exorbitant rate to call him for an interview. The only media outlet he cites specifically was local Florida radio Y100, who were to call him one morning, but the call never came because, as Billy says, "that morning was the morning that they found Kennedy's body".

This cruise would be the same cruise where he claims to have received a standing ovation from almost a thousand ship's personnel:

This approach to storytelling might seem a bit confusing. Who would care that the news about Billy's score took two weeks to hit news wires? Or that the day it hit CNN it was the Internet equivalent of a back page story eclipsed by the ongoing search for "John John"? So what? Time Magazine is still Time Magazine, no matter when it comes out. Why even mislead people about this in the first place?

The best way to understand this is to approach it from the other direction. If we compare the life cycle of this gaming story to the timely and organic news coverage of Rick Fothergill's score from the actual tournament in May, as seen in several newspapers courtesy of reporters at the event, we see a stark contrast with coverage of Billy's sneak attack, which suffered in the short-term due to lack of media present. Indeed, it seems the reason Billy's story ultimately gained traction was because, in addition to the aforementioned hooks, Walter Day applied his demonstrated talent for getting attention in the press, aggressively pushing this story until it stuck. But that narrative doesn't flatter Billy. It might even come across as privileged, considering that Day obviously didn't push any other gamer's big score to that same extent.

And so the reason for Billy's alternate portrayal, the one where he did the score on a slow weekend and the news went around the world (leaving the two week gap out entirely), is that it makes the greatness of the score, and therefore of Billy, the focus. In this version, nobody had to be convinced this was a big deal. After all, it was the "perfect game" of Pac-Man, the one everyone had (supposedly) been waiting two decades for!

And as a bonus, it gives Billy a platform to express a sort of faux-humility and gratitude, incongruent with the fact that the story was concertedly pushed in the hopes of attracting exactly the sort of coverage they received. For example, on the Mark and Me podcast, starting at 19:50:

But to have the perfect score on Pac-Man, to have that fall, and fall on, say the 20th anniversary or thereabout, to have it fall on the Fourth of July weekend. There's nothing big in the news. It was a very quiet weekend. And to have this cultural story, this soft-hearted story about something that was in so many people's hearts for so many years. I mean, Pac-Man was the most recognized symbol in the world. And nothing went wrong that weekend, nothing stole the headlines. And the perfect Pac-Man went on the AP wire, and it ran around the world. I had... phone calls, interviews, requests, in languages that I never knew existed. That was the perfect storm that I couldn't put together again. I mean, I would if I could. I can't. I can't... funnel that energy through one place and have it cause that... positive explosion again. I... I had in my mind, I thought about it, and you know... everything in life is timing. That was timing. That was the circumstances. That was the perfect tempest.

Going back to the chat with R2HT, at 32:00, Billy oh so humbly suggests he had no idea his "first perfect Pac-Man" story would travel as far as it did:

I just had no idea that it would explode to the level that it did. I couldn't manufacture that energy and that timing and that destiny, I couldn't do it all over again if I tried.

But again, this contrasts with what he told his friend, Steve Sanders, as quoted in "Dot Three" (at 20:50):

Bill called me in '97 or '98 and he said, you know, "What will make me world famous is becoming", you know, "perfect on Pac-Man." And it did.


We're about to begin discussing the many ways in which Billy Mitchell and Walter Day have exaggerated both the rarity and the difficulty of a perfect score on Pac-Man. Fair warning: Since our goal in this project is to be thorough, and since Billy and Walter love to exaggerate everything in any way they can, we'll be at this for a little while.

This sort of embellishment is a common theme through much of the news coverage, both early on and in the intervening years since. Apparently, it was very important that readers understand this "perfect game" was not like those ordinary maxouts we see on other games all the time. You can see the seeds for this narrative planted even before Billy's sneak attack in July, such as in this passage from Foster's coverage of the May tournament:

In one sense, marketing a gaming achievement on a hook like "perfect score" or "perfect game" (which others were using to describe Pac-Man scores even before Billy "discovered" the split screen) can't wholly be begrudged. There needs to be a hook for people to care. But the marketing needs to be fair, both with respect to other players on the same game, other players on other games, and the actual truth. And in all three respects, Billy's and Walter's marketing of "the perfect Pac-Man" failed.

The July 16 feature from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (which cites Billy as living in Cooper City at the time) included the following:

Huh, "game experts" you say? I'll give you one guess who this "game expert" is:

This "ten billion" number proved to be quite a hook. In some instances of the news coverage, it was the headline itself, as seen in the Ottawa Citizen on July 17 [S18]:

So where did this number come from? At some point prior to July 1999, Walter Day and Billy Mitchell set out on a quest to determine how many games of Pac-Man had ever been played, or at the very least, what number they could justify citing in its place. (Why that game in particular? Use your imagination.) Once they decided on a number, they proudly proclaimed, in their roles as authorities of competitive gaming, that Pac-Man had been played a whopping ten billion times since its release. And from there, the number took on a life of its own.

In justifying this number, the story that is most often told is that the two of them went around examining internal coin counters on various Pac-Man machines. [S19] In this Game Informer interview with Billy, Walter, and for some reason Brian Kuh, Walter describes the process at 30:50:

In 1999, I and all my team started doing research. We started getting hold of every Pac-Man machine we could, and counting the numbers on the number counter of the coins going through. And we finally figured... What was the number we chose? Was it twenty million?

Walter defers to Billy, who informs him the number they decided was ten billion. Kuh appears to recall the number as well. Walter then continues:

Ten billion. We finally concluded that it had to be about ten billion times, just the arcade edition alone, had received quarters and plays. So we sent out a news release that Pac-Man, it's been determined, has been played at least ten billion times.

Billy elaborates a bit more, in Exhibit A at 31:50 [S20]:

We determined that because they had put out about 100,000 units, and every unit you looked at, had more than 100,000 plays in all those years.

Lest there be any confusion here, TG's press release from July 3 cites the purpose of this research as specifically to determine how rare a perfect score on Pac-Man is:

With verbiage like that, deployed the same day as Billy's score without hesitation, one can't help but wonder how long Billy and Walter had been planning this "perfect score" stuff.

Believe it or not, this ten billion number was actually toned down from before. In 1998, when Chris Ayra still held the official TG high score, the number Walter Day was throwing around was twenty billion [S21]:

But what was not toned down at all was this Twin Galaxies press release from late 1999:

(We'll get to all that "of the Century" stuff in a future installment. I promise.)

Here's Walter Day, emphasizing the importance of Pac-Man:

"On behalf of the worldwide video game industry," says Day, "I am throwing down the gauntlet and proclaiming that video games affected the culture of the 20th Century more than any other single mode of entertainment

I would just like to interrupt this mid-sentence by pointing out that, yes, that is an actual thing Walter Day actually said. It is in his very own press release, which he posted of his own free will to his own Twin Galaxies website. Look, obviously I love video games, but come oooooonnnnnn.


and Pac-Man, the 'king' of video games was the most important title." And, according to Day, Pac-Man may have been played the most, too. He says: "Though conclusive proof is still being gathered, it is possible that more man-hours in the 20th Century have been spent playing Pac-Man throughout the world than any other game -- even including those which have been popular for the entire century, like Chess."

You heard it, folks! Bigger than chess!

A rather audacious and astonishing claim, considering that Pac-Man only existed 20 of those 100 years, and also that chess spent an entire century enjoying a robust competitive framework spanning the globe, headlined by the World Chess Championship and the Chess Olympiad, as well as chess federations and national chess championships everywhere from Wales to the Dominican Republic to the Soviet Union, to say nothing of all the local chess tournaments and chess clubs in every school, or the prestige of master rankings and ELO ratings, or chess-by-mail, or the introduction of video game chess, plus a few years at the end of the century getting a boost from high-profile AI matches such as Garry Kasparov versus "Deep Blue".

So how exactly did Twin Galaxies and Walter Day determine that Pac-Man overtook chess' centenary output in one fifth of the time? You all will like this:

Day believes this claim is realistic because the amount of Mankind’s leisure time has increased exponentially during the last 20 years. "It can be explained by a study that the printing industry conducted in 1977," states Day. "They discovered that due to the exponential growth of the printing industry, the total output of printed items produced throughout the world during the 25 years between 1951-1976 was equal to the entire world output produced during the first 500 years of printing (1456-1951). This example suggests that Pac-Man players throughout the world could have logged more man-hours during the last 20 years of playing than chess players did in 100 years of play."

I'm not saying Pac-Man wasn't a super-popular game in its day -- there was even a hit song on the radio for it. I'm just saying that, even during Pac-Man's heyday, they were probably still producing more $10 chessboards than $2000 Pac-Man cabinets.

The apparent point of this exercise was to use these numbers to over-emphasize how rare Billy's score was. After all, if ten billion games of Pac-Man have been played, and only one was "perfect", well, that's pretty exceptional, is it not? Recall Billy's words from Exhibit B, at about 10:20:

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.

Of course, there are several problems with this "logic", if you wish to call it that. Even if we accept Walter's and Billy's little coin-counting project, and we assume that Pac-Man had indeed been played ten billion times, [S22] the vast, vast majority of those plays weren't serious and competitive. Should the odds of summiting Mt. Everest be calculated against everyone's daily walk down the street which failed to summit a mountain? Even many competitive players, as seen previously, were only looking to maximize points prior to the kill screen (which was their choice) or considered the garbage side to be out-of-bounds (an understandable assumption). As Bill Bastable put it (at 22:00) [S23]:

I'm looking at it like, whatever is actual Pac-Man, or looks like Pac-Man. Like, I was telling Keith Swanson, I mean, don't get me wrong when I say this, but the right half of the board doesn't really look like Pac-Man, you know, if I don't mind, you know, saying something like that.

Remember also the great Randy Tufts who, despite being able to hit the split screen at any target score he chose, took no interest in playing beyond the sixth key, as later boards lacked the challenge of eating every ghost during "blue time". Recall also the many players who considered the split screen itself to be a sign the game had malfunctioned, some of whom felt entitled to stitch together multiple scores into an extended marathon. (And that's aside from the ones who straight up lied.) Also, as discussed in "Dot Two", many Pac-Man circuit boards underwent a "jumper" revision, which was intended to increase the game's difficulty. This revision reduces the maximum possible score achievable to 3,297,360, meaning the standard "perfect score" was impossible.

And even if you limit your scope to serious competitive attempts on unmodified Pac-Man to maximize points from boards 1 through 256, including the bonus dots, most of those alleged ten billion plays were on default settings, capping the score at 3,333,180. Heck, even with Twin Galaxies, those were the official and only acceptable settings for Pac-Man submissions, until they were changed prior to Billy's and Rick's attempts. Any of those "ten billion" plays prior to 1998 literally couldn't have qualified, even if they had achieved the later-defined "perfect" score.

One of my research colleagues recalled their time in arcades in those early days, laughing at the notion that someone would have even been able to attempt a score on 5+1 settings:

It could be described as a tough environment; I think even Mitchell described arcades in the past as "kind of a local tough guy place". Fights were frequent especially during public holidays. As a result arcade operators had to have thick skin. They knew how to handle themselves and didn't put up with any nonsense, particularly if it got in the way of making money. Where am I going with this? Let’s just say anyone saying "Excuse me Mr. arcade man, would you kindly increase the starting lives on Pac-Man from 3 to 5 please" would run the risk, in the arcade I went to, of having a cigarette stubbed out on their arms before being laughed out of the premises.

And look at that! Billy agrees! Here he is at the same 2016 event as Exhibit A, at 36:50:

But is there anybody here who can say they went to an arcade that had any kind of organized, or... they catered to the idea of competition or anything organized or competitive? There were times where we played and we got a high score, and we wanted the manager to look at it or authenticate it. They wouldn't even come over to the machine and look at the score. That was the, as Walter says, the abusive nature. It was just, everybody was mean and grouchy and... it sounds funny, but the money made 'em mean.

It should also be noted that the purpose of this counter upon which Billy and Walter are basing this "ten billion" number was to count coins (i.e., revenue) and not games played. If the game was set to two-coins-per-play, the counter would be going up two for each one game played. Alternatively, setting the game to free play means no games are tracked. It's even possible some proprietor, in a situation where they owned the machine and kept the revenue, simply popped in 99 quarters leading up to a birthday party, rather than fiddle with the manual and the game switches. Also, the counter doesn't take into consideration what other game board could be plugged into the cabinet. As original Pac-Man's popularity waned, some arcade owners switched out the board for something new, in some cases not even bothering to change the side art. See, for instance, this 1984 advertisement inviting arcade operators to convert their old languishing Pac-Man cabinets into something called "The Glob":

But perhaps the biggest hole in this claim, as it is presented, comes from Pac-Man's coin counter itself. In researching this topic, we reached out to current Pac-Man champion David Race to ask him about the coin counter in his own original Pac-Man game cabinet. The most stunning revelation was that Pac-Man's original counter only has five digits!

David was also happy to demonstrate that the counter does indeed roll over from 99,999 back to zero:

So how is anybody counting up to 100,000 on this thing? Or, to be more technically accurate, how were some of these machines supposedly registering over 100,000 plays, such that an average of 100,000 per machine could be established? What if one coin counter said 500? Does that actually mean 500, or does it mean 100,500? Did Billy and Walter just make a wild guess how many times these counters rolled over? (I hope they weren't doing that with video game scores.)


The "one in ten billion" bit was far from the only marketing hook used in attempting to hype up the challenge of a perfect score on Pac-Man. Billy himself loves nothing more than to describe in great detail how difficult his achievements are (starting at about 5:00):

You play a game, every dot, every energizer, every prize, all four blue men, on every energizer when they turn blue, every board. 256 boards. Never die once. Somewhere about four to five hours worth of game play.

Billy will even go so far as to emphasize the fact that you can't miss a dot or an energizer for 255 boards. To be fair, this is true. You literally can't miss a dot. The game will not progress until you eat every dot on the current board. That's how the game works. Power pellets as well, even when they don't turn the ghosts blue.

This emphasis on difficulty is so overstated, Billy often can't decide which part of a perfect score is the hardest. As Billy described his game in Exhibit E, at 4:00 [S24]:

I was beyond the most difficult part, which was the first twenty boards, and which is about 350,000, and I was off and running.

And yet, when focusing on the latter portion of his game, that becomes the most difficult part, as heard in Exhibit A at 6:00:

I get past board 21, which is where it reaches maximum difficulty, and I gotta do 235 repetitive boards, which is not easy, the same thing, and that's harder than the first 21.

Let's look at a few more iterations of Billy's spiel on the difficulty of a perfect score, and see if you notice anything strange. First, with Hit Start Now in 2015 (at 26:30):

You start the game, eat every dot, eat every energizer, you eat all four men on top of every energizer. You eat every prize. You... you run 256 boards. 255. You reach board 256, and clear that. You never miss anything, and you never die once.

Then with Retro Gaming Radio at CGE 2003 (published in 2004), at about 1:05:20:

A perfect score is, start to finish, never miss a blue guy, all four, every energizer. Of course you don't miss a dot. You don't miss a prize. You go 256 boards. You never die.

And in the film Chasing Ghosts, at 18:00:

It's rather simple. If you want to get a perfect game, you walk up, you put your quarter in, you press start. You eat every dot. You eat every prize. Every energizer, and on every energizer, you gotta get all four guys every time. If you miss a guy, you're done. If you miss a prize, you're done. You miss anything, you're done. You die one time, you're done.

From these descriptions, you would certainly be led to believe one had to collect each of four ghosts off each of four energizers on each of 256 boards. In reality, there are only seventeen boards with any "blue time" during which you can eat ghosts, with only six of those being the most difficult "one second" boards (with only a single second of blue time). Every other board is simply a prearranged path around the board, avoiding the ghosts altogether. Is Billy hoping people walk away thinking he had to group and devour 4,096 ghosts for a perfect score? [S25]

Notice also the repeated emphasis on how you can "never die once". It's not a huge deal, but it would be more technically accurate to say "You have to bring all your remaining lives to the final screen, at which point you strategically sacrifice them for extra points." In Exhibit D, at 1:04:40, rather than giving the standard line that you can't die, Billy gives a much stranger characterization, suggesting that he got the "final point" on his "first guy" which also happens to be his "final guy" [S26]:

So I finally finish, and I finally close out the final guy, the final point. I’m doing it on the first guy, which is what you have to do for a perfect score.

Over the years, Billy's emphasis on exceptional game play has only gotten more exaggerated. Here he is, from Exhibit A, starting 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.

Billy gives a similar description in this brief video, before adding (at 0:40):

You're actually turning corners, and you actually... can make mistakes in timing... and if you make a mistake in timing, down to 1/60 of a second, it'll debunk what you're doing.

If you're asking where Billy got this figure of 1/60 of a second from, it's because these games tend to run at 60 frames per second, and thus anything you have to do on a specific frame must be done within a 1/60 of a second window. Such specialized tricks, referred to as "frame-perfect", are a somewhat common phenomenon in modern speedrunning, typically requiring a standardized setup to perform with any degree of consistency, and even then usually requiring many resets just to execute one such trick. But on Pac-Man, whether you're using refined patterns or freehand grouping, no turns have to be executed within such a window. There's a thing called input buffering that makes games generally playable. Basically, you can press a direction for an anticipated turn before you arrive at the next intersection. And when you get there, as long as you're still holding the desired direction, you will turn on the first available frame. (Note that Pac-Man has a special cornering mechanic which allows the player to turn shortly before Pac-Man arrives at an intersection visually, but this just means the player should buffer turns a little earlier.) [S27]

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine you've stepped into an alternate reality, a really dumb one, and you're playing a game that looks just like Pac-Man, but without any input buffering whatsoever. This means, every time you want to turn Pac-Man, you have to hit that turn exactly on the nose. If you input the turn early, even just a single frame early, Pac-Man ignores the input and keeps going straight ahead. What a dreadful, miserable game that would be, right? How would you even hit your turns at all? How on earth could any human run any sort of prearranged pattern on a game like that?

Well, that's the game Billy wants you to think he played for his perfecto. Here he is again, with Hit Start Now, at about 27:20:

When you go on Pac-Man, you take corners, constant corners. The corners and the turns that you execute come down to 1/60 of a second, to execute a perfect corner. Well, at 1/60 of a second, that's obviously difficult. But that's what separates us. You have to take about 29,000 continuous perfect corners to 1/60 of a second.

The host ironically responds with "That's insane. That's incredible." (Yes, it is neither sane nor credible.) But Billy continues right along, missing no opportunity to describe himself as a super-human:

Yeah, that's not meant to do by the human body. But... it happens.

And it's not as if Billy is oblivious to what an actual frame perfect trick is. Remember the swag strat where you can pass Pac-Man right through a ghost if the timing is perfect? In a 2015 interview with Scene World, the host asks Billy about this trick, to which Billy answered (at 7:40):

Well, there is a bug like that. They say that it can happen one in sixty times. But the fact of the matter is, no one will ever tell you that they did a perfect game by passing through a guy... Nobody would. And I certainly didn't, and it's nothing anybody ever relies on.

(For the record, despite what Billy said in 2015, even at that time multiple documented perfect scores had been achieved using as many as three hundred ghost passes-through in a single game. [S28] But these were achieved using prearranged patterns. It would be unlikely for a player running freehanded to take a chance on a pass-through, unless it was their only potential way out of a jam.)

For the number of turns in a perfect score, Billy often gives a figure of 29,000:

However, he has also cited a number as excessive as 300,000, which he repeated three times in succession on the Back in Time webcast in January of 2000, starting at about 49:10 [S29]:

I would estimate that it's probably about 300,000 moves in a perfect game. And so you have to execute 300,000 perfect moves. And when I do 300,000 perfect moves, at a speed that no one else has ever done, that'll be it.

300,000 moves would be over 1,000 moves per board. Note that the ninth key pattern Billy typically uses, a variation on a safe pattern called "Stacked", uses only 78 per board. That would account for a total of 18,330 moves on 235 of the game's 256 total boards. He must be doing an awful lot of turns on those other 21 boards! [S30]

And as usual, Billy's business partner Walter Day doesn't want to miss out on the fun. At 1:40 in this segment with G4TV, Walter pulls an illustration of Billy's quest for a perfect score completely out of thin air:

If he made one mistake, he'd stop. Even if he'd played for three hours. Then he'd start on the spot again. He wouldn't take a break. He'd start again. He'd play game after game after game after game. That went on for some months.

Note Walter's characterization that Billy can't make a single mistake. This brings us to possibly the wildest analogy of this entire story. (Well, it would be the wildest analogy, if not for Billy likening himself to Neil Armstrong.) In Exhibit A, starting at about 14:30, Walter makes a rather peculiar comparison to America's pastime:

Now, those of you who know anything about baseball, you know, like a Golden Glove shortstop or second baseman, they might have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of opportunities, you know, to field balls in the course of a season. And, you know, the Golden Glove winners, for a shortstop or a second baseman, they... they make very few errors, so they're usually the top of the league. In the case of Pac-Man, it's very similar to being a superstar Golden Glove winning shortstop, because you have literally thousands upon thousands upon thousands of moments where you have to execute perfectly, without a single mistake.

For those who don't know, an "error" is an official statistic in baseball. It's ascribed when a defending player fails to field a ball which it is determined they should have fielded properly.

Walter continues:

So there's never been a Golden Glove shortstop who's done a whole season without an error. But in Pac-Man, thousands and thousands of opportunities, and you can't miss, you can't make one single mistake, or that finishes it.


Let it be noted that in that same panel, Billy had just finished talking about how, during his July game, he was screwing up, going off-pattern, and having to recover. And yet Walter still unflinchingly faces the audience and tries to sell the perfect score as an endurance test where you can't make even a single mistake once. But let's set that aside.

Speaking as a baseball fan myself, this is a bafflingly disingenuous comparison, for three key reasons. First, a Gold Glove Award is for an entire season of baseball. A season of baseball lasts about six months, whereas a perfect score on Pac-Man takes about five hours. If you screw up a turn on Pac-Man and die, you can just start the game over. You get as many tries as you want! It's amazing! If you commit three errors in one Major League Baseball game, those three errors are over your head until next April. There's just no equivalence there.

Second, the reason a Gold Glove winning fielder is allowed to have a half dozen or so errors in a season is because they are competing against other players for the distinction, something which Billy ultimately refused to do. They're not just showing up and fielding grounders on their day off, hoping to get a streak going. Also, there's another team in the other dugout, and while the official "error" statistic should consider only the defender's actions in isolation, that other team does get paid a lot of money precisely to stop the opposing team from doing things like winning Gold Glove awards. To put it another way, you can never rack up errors if the ball is never hit in your direction, which the opposing team is attempting to do as much as possible.

But the most astonishing, jaw-dropping flaw in Walter Day's analogy is the fact that he (I would say deliberately) overlooked this:

A "perfect game" of baseball! Facing the minimum 27 batters, never allowing one to reach base. While this comparison still isn't perfect (pun always intended), if one was looking to make a comparison to baseball here, that's the one you would be looking for. And look! Officially, it's only been done two dozen times in Major League Baseball history. [S31] So it's rare to boot!

Ah, but you see, while an individual game would indeed make a much more sincere (if still excessive) comparison, it doesn't pack the punch Walter is looking for. Instead, he tries very hard to make Billy's Pac-Man game sound far more important and impressive than it actually was. A single day is not enough. Walter needs to compare it to a feat that spans half a calendar year.

But you can't stop the Walter Day hype train, no sir! Back to Exhibit A, a moment later (at 16:30) [S32]:

So the thing about anybody who does a perfect Pac-Man game is, they're... they're even better than the greatest shortstop who ever lived, because they can't make a single mistake... in the course of doing this.

I once typed ten thousand words without a single mistake. Take that, Honus Wagner!

The bad baseball analogies don't end there. From the Knight-Ridder piece:

Oh, those unnamed "arcade dwellers", at it again! [S33] We've at least narrowed it down to a single baseball game, but we're still in the stratospheric realm of things that have never been achieved, and likely will never be achieved. (The record for most strikeouts by an MLB pitcher in a perfect game is 14. The most by a pitcher in any nine-inning MLB game is 20.)

These are hardly the only ways Walter or Billy have tried to impress upon people the supposed impossibility of running grouping patterns for six hours. Later in 1999, Billy Mitchell and Twin Galaxies issued a bounty offering a $100,000 award (to be paid by Billy's "Rickey's Hot Sauce" business) to any player who could demonstrate a method of passing the split screen through normal game play on an original Pac-Man game. Here's that bounty as seen on a TG poster from the era:

While it's admittedly fun shining lights on Billy's many, many mendacities and misrepresentations, if I'm to be completely honest, there's nothing wrong with this bounty on the face of it. Sure, it was probably a cheap ploy to keep his score in the news for another cycle, and sure, knowing what we know now, we would have every right to doubt whether Billy would have been either able or willing to pay those big bucks if someone had actually found a novel way to crack the split screen. But given that there's no way to prove a negative, offering a reward like this is a clever, bold, and entirely appropriate way to demonstrate the impossibility or inaccuracy of a gaming myth.

The issue here is not with the bounty itself, which was said to pay out to anyone who could complete the split screen and proceed to board 257 -- something which is impossible in the original game without using rack advance. The problem is in how Billy occasionally characterizes this bounty. In Exhibit A, at 18:10, Billy described it as though it were a bounty to get to a split screen:

"Oh, I could do it." Okay, do it. "I can do a split screen." There was a public posting. It was a $100,000 prize for anybody who could do it. "I've done it, more than twenty times." There's a hundred thousand dollars waitin' for ya. "I don't need the money." They don't need the money. No, so we've run into all that kind of stuff.

And in this March 2017 presentation to promote the Minnesota Lottery's Pac-Man scratch tickets, Billy tells the story of this bounty as if it were a bounty to beat his personal best prior to 1999 (at about 3:20) [S34]:

One day, the phone rang, and it was a guy from Canada. Canada... Yeah, that's like a landmass to the north. It's not really a country. Well, the guy, that I'm actually friends with now, he says he can get a perfect score. And I says "Another guy?" Bear in mind that I had offered a $100,000 prize to anybody who could beat me. Because there were 21 people who said they could beat me, and I finally got tired of it, and I said "Okay," and I put out a press release for $100,000. Of those 21, how many stepped forward? None.


In addition to the many attempts to elevate Pac-Man's perfect score in general, Billy also sought to distinguish what he claims he did individually. The most prominent way in which this was done was by emphasizing that it was allegedly "first" (which is a topic we address elsewhere in this series). But another was to promote that his claimed score was done without the use of pre-arranged patterns. What this actually means is that patterns were not used for the initial eighteen boards (including all "blue time" boards), while a pattern was used to cross the stretch of 235 ninth key boards. However, that distinction is not always made.

You can see this all the way back in Billy's late 1999 GameSpot interview:

First of all, going by the question as asked, it sounds as though the interviewer is under the impression Billy played the whole game without patterns. What's more, Billy doesn't exactly correct them, does he? He doesn't say "No, I did use patterns, just later on." He just says it was a more difficult method on the first eighteen boards. [S35] Reading that, you might be led to think Billy played without patterns for his entire game to board 256, but he didn't technically say that -- it's just a thing that you are led to believe, via participation from the misled interviewer.

Billy's biggest cheerleader, Walter Day, is even more direct. In 2004, this was his description of Billy's Pac-Man score:

Keep in mind, again, we've already heard Billy himself talk about going off-pattern in his game. [S36] Didn't Walter watch those tapes he supposedly "verified"?

Sometimes an interviewer understands the distinction between the "blue time" boards and the ninth key stretch. Here's a segment from Billy's profile in Oxford American in 2006:

He executed the first twenty boards "freestyle," which means he employed none of the learned patterns that allow Pac-Man to clear the board most efficiently, instead relying entirely on improvisation. "I didn’t use patterns because I knew people would say, ‘Show me the pattern and I can do it,’" he says. "That’s not true, you wouldn’t be able to do it even if I showed you how. But I did it freestyle, which was more difficult, so no one could even say that."

Note that even there, the distinction comes from the interviewer, and not from Billy's own words. While Billy did make a reference to the first eighteen boards in the earlier GameSpot interview, oftentimes he doesn't provide any stipulation at all, as seen in this 2005 interview (at 4:20):

Basically, the strategy that I used, I didn't use patterns because I thought if I did use patterns it would have....It would be more difficult. And I wanted to do something, a perfect score that had never been done. But I did not use patterns because I figured if someone did do it behind me or did follow behind me they would use patterns. I wanted to achieve something that they weren't able to achieve, and that's exactly what happened. I did it, I did it without patterns.

When the interviewer asked him if that made it harder, Billy responded "Yeah, it made it harder." (Why ask Billy a question when you already know what his answer will be?)

As my research colleague put it:

For a time I assumed that Mitchell was talking about the first 18 or so boards, but upon re-hearing the interview, he leaves no ambiguity that he's talking the whole game so his performance would always stand apart, kind of like his initial claim back in 2010 that he set out to achieve "back to back" world records on DK and DK Jr so the feat would never be equaled.

The thing is, while Billy has never published his perfect score tapes himself, the public has seen bits of footage published by others, including in one of Dwayne Richard's documentaries. And because of this, we know Billy used a simple, repeating pattern during the long stretch of ninth key boards. As one of my research colleagues put it:

Did Mitchell think the perfect Pac footage would never be made public? Why make up such an obvious lie? In the couple of minutes Jace Hall showed on Facebook that time Mitchell played his standard pattern on each 9th key level shown.

To be clear, this does tie into standard parlance in competitive Pac-Man circles. The site Pac-Man Forum lists each player's first perfect score along with a note identifying their "Play Style" as either "Freehand", "Patterns", or "Both":

While this is fine and acceptable shorthand for the competitive community, who know right away that no lunatic is out there doing perfect scores without any kind of pattern to cross the ninth key stretch, it doesn't necessarily translate to the wider community who are hearing these stories. A casual viewer might not even know what the terms "Freehand" and "Patterns" refer to in the first place. Spectators don't automatically recognize the distinctions inherent in a community's inside jargon, which is fine, but this dynamic must be understood when explaining the feat to those spectators, assuming the intention is to convey the circumstances of a gaming feat accurately. However, when that intention is lacking, this becomes fertile ground for those who look for opportunities to exaggerate a particular feat. As Walter Day did above, they can just say Billy played for "six hours", and that he "didn't use patterns". See how that works?

For anyone offended by my choice of words in saying that Billy and Walter "exaggerate" the difficulty of a perfect score on Pac-Man, note that I have described several of these exact points of exaggeration. I do not claim it is easy -- if it was, any gamer would do it, and then it would be meaningless. People have worked hard for the accomplishment, and those who have done it deserve the honor. However, as a matter of fact, it does not involve strictly flawless play, nor does it involve eating over 4,000 ghosts, nor does it involve tens of thousands of frame-perfect turns, nor does it involve playing freehand for 255 boards (or even the first eighteen boards), nor was the relative dearth of perfect scores for 19 years due to players' inability to master the game.

And you don't have to take my word for it, either. Here's perfect score player Donald Hayes, as heard in Perfect Fraudman (at 1:21:20):

In a sense, yes, it's hard to do. It's definitely not easy. But it's not the hardest thing I've done. A million points on Joust is harder. And... you know, rolling Centipede over and over, you know, five times, six times, seven times, doing shoot-'em-up, is harder. Super Zaxxon is harder, you know, and I've gotten almost a million on that. So, there are harder things out there, but it's still... it's still an accomplishment which can be done, but... it's not this out-of-the-world type of thing that, you know, everyone should just bow down and say "That's the greatest thing of all time."

Imagine working hard for something, and being proud of your work and of your genuine accomplishment, but having to deal with this other guy cheapening the experience by telling everyone "What we did was even rarer than walking on the moon! It was like winning the lottery while climbing Mt. Everest and bowling ten perfect games at the same time!" [S37] Can a cool thing just be a cool thing?

The core issue with all of this is that Billy's and Walter's engagement with the public over Pac-Man and the perfect score was less focused on educating the public about what the alleged feat entailed, or the details around that feat (such as with the amorphous bounty), and more on bedazzling people with Billy's claimed brilliance. While most people hearing the story have played Pac-Man at some point in their life, most would have no idea what a "perfect game" entails. Even those who know of the split screen and have heard of the "perfect game" don't necessarily understand the difference between the two. [S38] This becomes apparent if you watch public demonstrations, such as this one by Billy in 2019, at 6:01:30:

As you see, Billy reaches the split screen, he parks Pac-Man by the letters "BC", he stands up, and the crowd thinks "That's it, it's done," and they start applauding. Then Billy has to inform them, no, he still has to play a little more.

The public takes their cues from the experts. Let's take the same situation, but without any recording or streaming. No permanent evidence, just eyewitnesses. If in that moment, Billy had instead told the crowd "There, I did it, I did the perfect score," perhaps making a big show of his achievement while quietly resetting the machine (perhaps referring to that as his "ritual") [S39], the vast majority of spectators would have no reason not to believe him. Even a witnessed death on the split screen could be explained, as a player is in fact required to die five times on that board collecting the regenerating dots -- and, again, most people wouldn't know there were nine such dots if the expert wasn't telling them this. These witnesses would walk away from this saying "No, he definitely got the score. I saw the crazy screen myself! No way did I miss that!"

On the other hand, it's not like it would be difficult to both accurately and engagingly explain to people what a perfect score on Pac-Man is:

A perfect score on Pac-Man is like a tale of two cities. For the first eighteen boards, you have to eat a lot of ghosts. A lot, a lot. In fact, on seventeen of those boards, you have to eat every ghost, off every power pellet, every single time. That's 272 ghosts! How many ghosts have you ever eaten in a single game of Pac-Man? And don't forget, each board also has a little fruit, or a prize, that shows up twice each board. You have to get those as well, and when they appear, they don't stick around forever! So you get through that, and you think "Oh, I've gotten through the hard part." But now you get to the second part: You still have 237 boards to go! Every board from 21 on is exactly the same thing, over and over and over. You have to execute your prearranged route, board after board, making each turn right when you have to make it, for over 200 boards. The game's not over if you screw up your route, but it's very hard to recover. And if you do go off your route, you have to evade the ghosts while clearing the dots, but you can't forget, you've still gotta get that prize that appears twice each board! And, as if all of that is not enough, you have to do all of that without dying, because when you do finally get to board 256, which they call the split screen, then you have to cash in each of your lives for extra points. You can only get the maximum possible score if you get to that screen with the maximum number of lives in reserve. See what I mean? Oh, and did I mention, you can still die on the split screen itself, before collecting those bonus points?

And this could be condensed into sound byte form as well. [S40] What's interesting about the dichotomy between a description like this, and the ones offered by Billy and Walter, is that this more honest description produces more informed fans, who are more likely to be engaged fans. Is that not Walter Day's mission as the "patron saint" of video gaming? [S41] People might even walk away from this description of a perfect score on Pac-Man thinking "I bet I could do each of those things. I want to do a perfect score, too!"

Instead, with the descriptions people are given, people walk away confused, occupying conflicting accounts, that you don't die, but you do die, and you do use patterns, but you also don't. These people may stay engaged in terms of fandom, but are now less likely to take the leap over to competitive participation, discouraged by the notion that any score involving 300,000 frame perfect turns is certainly out of their mortal grasp. These sidelined fans come away without much understanding of what exactly happened, other than that Billy Mitchell is apparently the greatest video gamer of all time.


By now, you get the idea behind the old Twin Galaxies hype machine. However, before we disembark the "Perfect Pac-Man" hype train, we have one more station to visit. That would be Billy's and Walter's favorite analogy, the phrase they use to tie all of this promotion together -- the "Holy Grail". That phrase made a quick debut in this story, appearing in TG's July 3 press release from Walter Day. You can also hear it in Billy's own words, from this old pre-movie office interview (at about 1:50):

I went there, and while I was there, I became the first... person ever to do a perfect score on Pac-Man. Start to finish, never missed a point, never missed a dot, never died once. It took somewhere between five and six hours. And it made history. It was what they often called the "Holy Grail" of video games.

Of course, everything said above about stitched scores and special settings and such still applies. [S42] But this insertion of the term "Holy Grail" represents the other end of that equation Walter and Billy wished to sell us on: "Not only were there ten billion games of Pac-Man played, not only is the game nigh unplayable, but people were actively seeking this score the whole time."

As my research colleague remarked:

Despite Mitchell and Day's ceaseless promotion, I think we'd all agree that very few gamers saw a max-out on Pac-Man as this transcendent achievement that would qualify as the "Holy Grail of video games." I was a reasonably competitive gamer and basically lived in arcades and no one around me ever talked in hushed tones about "imagine if you maxed out Pac-Man?" Besides, players had their favorite games, and you weren't going to elevate a score on a game you didn't particularly care for above all others.

Even Billy himself claims to have not been seeking the perfect score for that intervening decade. In this trailer for Dwayne Richard's documentary The Perfect Fraudman, Fothergill recalled his conversations with Billy and Chris, and the actual reason they took 15 years to do the score (starting at 2:30):

Through many conversations I've had with both Bill Mitchell and Chris Ayra, they commented on the fact that, in 1984, they were capable of getting a perfect game, and they had had perfect score to the end of the sixth key. But they had never put it all together to get the 3,333,360. And they said they had more important things to do, like playing Ms. Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong, and Burgertime. And it just got put on the back burner. And then in 1999, they realized "Oh, people are gung ho to get this, let's go for it again." And that's why I say to all those naysayers out there, who are saying "Why did it take fifteen years?" Because it just simply wasn't on their radar.

Of course, this is in contrast to Ayra's alternative recollection (discussed in "Dot Two") that he and Billy had both done perfect scores on Pac-Man in the '80s, which takes on new meaning in light of the so-called "race for the perfect score" in 1999. In the Donkey Kong post-dispute thread, Pac-Man champion David Race recalled conversations he had had with Chris Ayra and with Rick Fothergill [S43]:

Ayra dances around this question entirely in his signed statement included in Billy's September 2019 legal threat. [S44] But even that evasion doesn't match this next one from Billy. Later in that Perfect Fraudman trailer (at 3:40), Rick spoke of a direct question he asked of Billy, and the perplexing answer he got [S45]:

I asked Bill, in the game he had on July 3, 1999, which was officially recognized as the first perfect Pac-Man score, I said "Bill, was that indeed the first time you ever did it, under any circumstances?" And he says... to me, "Rick, I'm not going to answer that question, and I'm doing it to protect you."

But it's not as if we need to rely on this Schrödinger's score from Team Billy. For most intents and purposes, Bill Bastable achieved exactly this "impossible" score, disqualified only on the technicality that he paused to take an extra break, on a game that allows breaks anyway. This is not to raise the argument over the invalidation of the pause switch yet again, but rather to make a specific point. No matter what anyone says, a CRT monitor hooked up to a genuine original Pac-Man board displayed "333,360" (minus the millions digit) all the way back in 1988. [S46]

Billy and Walter would have you believe a perfect score on Pac-Man is the classic arcade equivalent of a damageless run of Kaizo Mario World. In reality, many Pac masters who dominated the game would have put these elements together in one run, with full documentation, and without the pause switch, had they seen a reason and an incentive to do so.

In Billy's and Walter's attempts to sell a perfect score on Pac-Man as gaming's "Holy Grail", there seem to be frequent attempts to conflate the popularity and cultural importance of Pac-Man (the game) with the alleged elusiveness of the maximum score. In 2006, ABC did a story titled "Pac-Man: The game that won't go away". Included are quotes from Billy, in his usual "soft-spoken" tone:

In 2005, in a similar vein of promoting Pac-Man the icon, Walter Day compared the yellow dot-gobbler to Abraham Lincoln, because sure, why not?

In a 2005 panel at Classic Gaming Expo in the United Kingdom, Billy gives himself away a bit as he attempts to explain why Pac-Man was the "Holy Grail" (starting at about 21:30):

When I'm standing there and I say to somebody.... somebody'll say "Why did that person say 'Hi' to you?" And I'll say "Did you ever play a video game?" "I don't play video..." "Did you ever play a video game?" "Yeah." "What'd you play?" [shrugs] "Pac-Man." I mean, it's the first answer. So it was an easy choice. It was an easy choice to choose that as the Holy Grail, and it was an easy choice... well, it wasn't an easy feat, it was an easy choice to decide to go after it.

How exactly does one "choose" something to be a Holy Grail?

Billy expressed a similar sentiment in the previously linked interview with GameSpot from late 1999, although it seems he hadn't yet gotten accustomed to using the "Holy Grail" characterization. When asked why he went after the record on Pac-Man, Billy responded [S47]:

Because Pac-Man is the Cadillac of games. The most distinguished game. The most legendary game.

Billy's emphasis on Pac-Man being the most "distinguished" and "legendary" game speaks to an important point. Just as how mainstream media outlets offered exceptional publicity, the original game offered exceptional prestige, but not necessarily to Billy's gaming peers. Top Pac-Man players had long figured out that the pattern-thwarting sequels were the truer challenge. Indeed, when asked, Billy himself will agree that Ms. Pac-Man was an objectively harder game (at 1:13:50) [S48]:

During the early days, Walter always said the hardest, hardest, hardest game was Ms. Pac-Man. And it was. And, just, nobody ever truly got good at it. And then, we began doing like some breakthroughs in, like '84 and '85, and now there's about, only about half a dozen of us who have ever gotten to the end or could get to the end. So it was considered the hardest game.

But the relevance of a new record on something like Junior Pac-Man (as achieved by Rick Fothergill that June) would have to be explained to most people. Sure, again, such a breakthrough would be an opportunity for educating and increasing engagement with competitive gaming, but it seems that's not where Billy's and Walter's efforts were directed at that particular moment. (And of course, it would require their "patron saint" to be somewhat knowledgeable about the game and the achievement he is trying to promote.) Thus it was the original game, and the nostalgia around it in particular, that provided the most fertile ground for what Billy and Walter had in mind.

Despite Billy's choice in 1999 to liken the original Pac-Man to a classic car of all things, the term "Holy Grail" was not new in the context of video games at that time. In December 1997, the Des Moines Register did a profile on Walter Day and his new Twin Galaxies record book. Included was a nod to Tim McVey's first billion point game on Nibbler:

Are there supposed to be multiple "Holy Grails" that keep changing over time? Is that how it works?

Indeed, by 2001, it seems Walter Day had chosen something else to be gaming's Holy Grail. Here he is on Tech TV that year, starting at 1:20:

The Holy Grail of Grails in video game playing, at least classic gaming, is getting the first million points on Ms. Pac-Man.

I'm looking forward to finding out what the Holiest of Holy Grail Grail of Holy Grails is.

Billy often frames his antics (in this case, his choice to break his agreement and snub fair competition) as some sort of virtue, that he was reaching out to seize an opportunity that had presented itself. [S49] But the opportunity here was not the score itself, which Billy could have attempted at any time, and certainly not the competition he chose to thumb his nose at, but rather how this score could be used as a vehicle. To that end, the characterization of Pac-Man's maximum score being a "Holy Grail" (as opposed to something like "the Cadillac of games") is meant to convey a sense of the score being eternally elusive, as if it were something that would not have been achieved if Billy Mitchell himself had not been around to achieve it.


The premise that only Billy Mitchell could do a perfect score on Pac-Man didn't last long. With the gentleman's agreement having been broken by Billy, Fothergill returned to Funspot later that same month, along with friends Neil Chapman and Mark Longridge. And on July 31, Rick achieved his own perfect score on Pac-Man. Reportedly, his was done on his first attempt. [S50] The official time elapsed was 3:58:42.

In 2018, in the aftermath of Billy's Donkey Kong cheating scandal, Jace Hall's Twin Galaxies vacated all of Billy's scores, including his claimed Pac-Man score from 1999. As a result, Rick Fothergill became officially the first player ever to do a perfect score on original Pac-Man (given that Bill Bastable's earlier scores had never been recognized by TG). This was commemorated by a TG article published the same day as the DK dispute verdict, commemorating Fothergill's score alongside other gaming achievements by Carrie Swidecki, Fatal1ty, and Steve Wiebe, who was also now recognized with the first million point score on Donkey Kong:

However, back in 1999, news of Rick's perfecto took a much different trajectory than Billy's. Of course, it didn't benefit from the boost of being billed as "first", an angle which undoubtedly helped carry Billy's story through the press. But even Twin Galaxies took a noticeable disinterest in Rick's achievement. Recall how TG's press release on Billy's claimed score went out the very same day? In Perfect Fraudman, at about 1:56:40, Dwayne and Rick discuss how Rick's score didn't get official recognition until TG's next "Coronation Day" event on January 9, 2000, five months later. [S51]

Imagine a Twin Galaxies gamer pulling off what would now, in their estimation, be considered a "one in five billion" feat, and not hearing a peep from Walter Day.

It doesn't seem as though TG was ignorant or skeptical of Fothergill's submission, either. His perfect score was acknowledged in this TG press release from August 30, even while the score still sat unverified:

(As an aside, we were unable to find any other references to Fothergill's and Billy's rivalry as a "bizarre grudge match", a quote which this press release cryptically attributed to "the media".)

Rick's score was also not listed on TG's official high score page, even though several other scores from after July (and some as late as November 1999) were entered [S52]:

Remember how Fothergill was subjected to a similar delay for his Ms. Pac-Man score which had eclipsed Billy's friend, Chris Ayra. And yet, in contrast, recall Walter Day's prompt announcement of Fothergill's new score on Junior Pac-Man (surpassing a player by the name of Kevin Fischer) achieved during the window of the gentleman's agreement. In fact, Fothergill was on quite a tear at that time, earning many distinctions on TG's breaking news page for scores on the more difficult Pac derivatives, including Ms. Pac-Man, Super Pac-Man, and Junior Pac-Man:

The erasure of Rick's perfecto is a theme we will continue to see in this series. For starters, some early reporting of Billy's score was reprinted into August and later, carrying over the now untrue claim that no one else had done a perfect score. See for instance, the Chicago Tribune reprinting the Miami Herald feature on August 5:

Even in 2005, when different wire pieces were distributed for Pac-Man's 25th anniversary, Billy was still being cited as the only perfect score player, with the claim attributed to Twin Galaxies [S53]:

So why this lack of acknowledgment of Rick's score for several months, in contrast to TG's immediate announcement on behalf of Billy?

It's hard to miss the fact that Billy's "perfect game" would be touted for the rest of the year as the gaming achievement of a century, just as it would be hard to miss that such a characterization would seem dubious if another player had duplicated the feat shortly afterward. It can't be much of a "Holy Grail" if it was captured twice in the same month. As my research colleague remarked:

I know that Mitchell loves to denigrate second place, but if he had taken the stage with the audience aware that the feat had been already duplicated, is it true to think that Fothergill's perfect score would have taken some of the luster off of Mitchell's shine?

The feat has since been duplicated by Chris Ayra (2000), Tim Balderramos (2004), Neil Chapman (2005), Donald Hayes (2005), Douglas Loyd (2009), David Race (2009), Peter Gatland (2009), Chris Kola (2011), David Cruz (2013), Jeff Pickles (2013, on turbo), Jon Stoodley (2015), Jamey Pittman (2017), Greg Sakundiak (2020), and most recently Jake Goldberg (2021). Fothergill has held the speed record multiple times, most recently in 2009 with a time of 3:35:43. However, David Race has distinguished himself from the pack (pun always intended) with the current fastest recorded time of 3:28:49 [S54]:

The first to achieve the perfect score after Rick was Billy's old friend Chris Ayra, in February 2000. This leads us to the subject of Ayra's submission tape, which we'll be revisiting again much later. In a November 2020 Twitch stream, Twin Galaxies shared a tape in their possession labeled "Perfect Pac-Man patterns" with a circled "1". This broadcast can be seen here:

While Twin Galaxies makes no assertions as to what is on the tape, the voices of both Chris Ayra and Billy Mitchell are heard throughout. These discussions indicate that this tape is a copy of Ayra's perfect score submission tape from 2000.

There are some interesting elements to the tape. Billy attempts to call Walter Day multiple times after Chris reaches the split screen, despite the late hour. Also, Ayra uses two stopwatches throughout his game, which he shows to the camera at various times:

This stands in contrast to Billy's approach of just playing and guesstimating his time later.

What's perhaps most interesting about this copy of Ayra's game is that it is not complete. Each of the six "one second" boards, the long stretch between boards 71 and 255, and portions of the split screen after Chris completes the perfect score, are missing. [S55] These missing segments can be seen in a full, unedited copy, recently uploaded to YouTube by David Race:

The known existence of the cut-up version, along with the heretofore withholding of the unedited version, led to speculation over the years as to whether the edited tape represented Chris' original submission to Twin Galaxies (which of course would be an incomplete submission). Indeed, dialogue heard in the full version indicates their original plan to produce a version where the "one second" boards were visually blacked out, where only the audio and a quick view of the score between these boards would be made available. Billy even jokes at one point (at 22:10) "Chris, how can you play in the dark like this?"

To be clear, we don't know if this black-out version was ever produced along with the known tape where those boards are cut out entirely. We also don't know if the cut-up version was indeed Ayra's tape as it was originally submitted to TG, as opposed to a later production. [S56] In speaking with former TG referee Robert Mruczek, he does recall watching an edited version of Ayra's tape out of a pile, in an unofficial capacity, without knowing for certain whether that was the original tape as submitted. But after twenty years, he does not recall if the version he saw had the screens blacked out, as described in the full tape, or if they were cut out altogether as in the known copy.

With regards to the suppression of the "one second" boards, the obvious implication is that Chris and/or Billy did not want anyone to see their patterns, which others could use to duplicate their feat. (Recall in "Dot Two" how these patterns were considered elusive well into the 2000s.) Notable is that, at the time of Chris' game, score submissions to Twin Galaxies were considered confidential. This was an important part of TG's old approach of preserving players' secret strategies, which itself was a critical part of allowing blatant and obvious cheaters to defraud the community for years unnoticed. But it turns out these submissions were not entirely private. For certain scores, special advisors were brought on to judge a submission's authenticity. See, for example, the time in 2007 a Donkey Kong tape from Steve Wiebe was nitpicked by a room full of Twin Galaxies personnel (including DK competitor Brian Kuh):

Fothergill himself expressed frustration with this, in his words, "biased" system (at 22:10):

See, it's so strange, though... When it goes through that way, Bill gets to see it, Chris gets to see it. But when it comes the other way, Bill or Chris submitting a score, how come I don't get to see it? No one sees it.

But eventually, the edited copy of Ayra's tape did get out, which leads to an amusing bit, again from Perfect Fraudman. Starting at about 1:37:40, Dwayne and Rick discuss this copy of Ayra's tape, speculating on whether this was Ayra's original submission. Rick decided to make a phone call, as he goes on to describe to Dwayne:

I could not resist. I phoned up immediately and said "You thought I would never see this. Well, guess what. I just watched it." And then, everything starts spinning. And their theory is, you... [laughs]... have the original tape, the full unedited game, and you made this hacked-up version, and sent it to me in order to make it appear that they had sent it in.

So that's Team Billy's answer. Not "We always intended to black out the 'one second' boards anyway." Not "So-and-so made that shortened copy as a demo tape." Not "I have no knowledge of such a tape." They went right to "Dwayne made fake tapes to frame us." [S57]

Gosh, this sounds so familiar. Where have I heard this before?

That's all for today. Join us again for our next installment, as we take this bus to Las Vegas, where we'll take a very close look at a Twin Galaxies certificate or two, and ponder the question "Who really is the greatest gamer of the century?"
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  1. Lauren Tyler's Avatar

    Now the question is will Billy stop wielding the legal system like a weapon? Because I don't see how he can be stopped.

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  2. FBX's Avatar

    I remember my brother straight up asking Chris to see the tapes after my brother got flamed for keeping his patterns private on the Resident Evil knife alone run. Chris refused, specifically stating he wanted to keep the patterns private. Chris did NOT get flamed, and my brother pointed out the hostile doubled-standard going on, where Chris can decline video requests with no backlash, but my brother got accused of being a liar (until some time later when someone finally nicked his time by a few seconds).

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