Electric Retrospective- 34-year-old speedrun record revoked

Sean Mullins
Technology Columnist

Record holders like Billy Mitchell, who remains the first of just four persons to have played a perfect “PacMan” game, are now under more scrutiny in the wake of Todd Rogers’ “Dragster” controversy. Photo by Joe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald/South Florida Sun-Sentinel Out/TNS

Speedrunning world records held for decades are under investigation following disputes over possibly faked records on classic games like “Dragster” and “Donkey Kong.”

For those unaware, speedrunning is the practice of completing games as quickly as possible. Gamers collaborate to find an optimal route to complete beloved titles, often sharing tricks to skip certain sections, and compete for the world record. Aside from the fame of being a world record holder, speedrunners race for fun and to improve their skills. Some speedrunners even race for charity events like Awesome Games Done Quick.

While speedrunning communities are filled with gamers attempting honestly to complete their favorite games rapidly, cheaters are often disqualified from leaderboards. Speedruns can be faked by splicing recorded footage, modifying code, using different versions of a game, or using special programs to complete the game. Certain speedrun types allow some of these exploits, like tool-assisted categories, but if those runs aren’t labeled as such, they’re disqualified.

Cheating has always been an issue in speedrunning communities, but a recent dispute on gaming world record site Twin Galaxies brought the problem into the public eye. Todd Rogers, a record holder for multiple games, was banned for life from Twin Galaxies scoreboards and his times were removed after debates over his famous “Dragster” record.

Rogers held the world record for Activision’s “Dragster” on Atari 2600 since 1982, with a time of 5.51 seconds, acclaimed as Guinness’s “World’s Longest Standing Video Game Record.” Activision authenticated the record, and it was later imported to Twin Galaxies. After Twin Galaxies introduced a dispute system in 2017, a dispute was filed by multiple speedrunners, including Eric “Omnigamer” Koziel, claiming the record was impossible to achieve.

Koziel created a tool-assisted speedrun (TAS), a program in which controller inputs are sequenced to complete games optimally, to determine the fastest humanly possible time for “Dragster.” Koziel’s TAS could only reach 5.57 seconds, further confirmed by 13 speedrunners who also reached that time. Even Activision’s internal testing during the game’s development, which predicted an inhumanly perfect time, only clocked in at 5.54 seconds.

Activision’s authentication would have settled the dispute instantly, but the evidence is lost to time. During that era, records were submitted as Polaroids taken of the player’s time. The pictures were kept for weeks at most and were likely trashed long before the debate began. Despite the long-gone Polaroids, David Crane, a programmer who worked on “Dragster,” believes Rogers got his time legitimately, having seen him perform in person.

“I remember him showing us scores in various games that exceeded those that we- even as designers of the games- could achieve,” Crane said in an interview with Twin Galaxies. “After more than 30 years, I can’t remember what those scores were, but I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that he achieved the scores he claims.”

Others who knew Rogers, however, say he has a history of denying proof of his work. Robert T. Mruczek, a former Twin Galaxies Senior Referee, was a close friend of Rogers’s, and despite viewing him as “a brother [he] never had,” was willing to present evidence against him. Mruczek asked Rogers over several years for evidence of some of his records, but received only excuses.

In a statement regarding Rogers’s records, Mruczek said, “The reason cited was always the same… that the tapes were buried amidst hundreds of tapes, and he had to find them, then make copies, and just did not have the time.”

On Jan. 29, Twin Galaxies officially decided based on Koziel and Mruczek’s statements and the lack of photographic evidence, Rogers’s score was faked and will no longer be recognized. The record, along with other records Rogers held for games like the Atari 5200 version of “Centipede,” were removed, and Rogers was banned from Twin Galaxies leaderboards for life. Guinness removed his records from their database shortly afterward.

Other famous record holders, like Billy Mitchell, known for his former records on “Donkey Kong,” are now under heavy scrutiny. Mitchell’s scores were removed from a “Donkey Kong” speedrunning community forum amidst evidence that his scores were achieved on an emulator rather than the original arcade cabinet hardware. Despite his lost dispute, Rogers praised in a Facebook post that his disqualification could lead to better cheating moderation.

“While I do maintain that Twin Galaxies is wrong in my particular case,” Rogers wrote, “if the investigation into my score(s), and subsequent banning, can serve as a catalyst to clean the database of questionable scores and facilitate methods to catch future cheaters, this is a positive thing.”

Go to the Electric Retrospective blog at https://electricretrospective.wordpress.com for more game reviews and news. New posts release every Tuesday.


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