Since The King of Kong: The Donkey Kong Scene From 2007 to Today

This is where The King of Kong left the world hanging as the credits rolled:

Many years have passed, and needless to say, that moment was not the end of the Donkey Kong high score saga.

In retrospect, it was actually more of a beginning.

A thriving community of hundreds of players from around the world has sprung up since the release of the film, taking the competition beyond anything the film's stars (or creators) could have expected.

Welcome to the modern DK scene! What became of Wiebe and Mitchell? Who are these new guys Hank and Vincent (whose rivalry was the subject of a short film that you may have seen during Spike's 2013 Video Game Awards or on Vice's YouTube channel)?

In an attempt to answer such questions, I have put together a timeline to act as a bridge between then and now.

2006: Cut and Print!

  • September:
    The King of Kong is "locked" for film festival submission (with Steve Wiebe's reclamation of the record at the end of the film coming as a surprise to the filmmakers, and so late in the editing process that they had to scramble to add it to the final cut).

2007: Moths to Flame

  • January 22nd:
    World premiere of The King of Kong at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival.
  • Early 2007:
    Ben Falls
    As the picture moves through the festival circuit, a buzz grows around the game itself among classic arcaders. A nascent competitive Donkey Kong scene begins to take shape. Early adopters like John Marks, Ben Falls, Scott Kessler, and Ross Benziger are inspired to set out to take on the champions (in Benziger's case on the strength of the film's trailer alone). Most during this period are playing the game on their PCs via the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME).
  • July 13th:
    One month after the theatrical-release edit of The King of Kong is completed, and just weeks before it begins its run in theaters, Billy Mitchell reclaims the Donkey Kong world record with a score of 1,050,200 at a 1980s-themed convention of the Florida Mortgage Broker's Association, beating Wiebe by 1,100 points before intentionally killing off his game. (This information is included in "The Saga Continues" special feature on the King of Kong DVD.) For the next several years, Steve Wiebe will travel to events around the country (some of them televised) attempting to take back the record.
  • August 5th:
    The "lockout era" begins: Walter Day announces that all submissions for Donkey Kong scores of over 1 million points must be recorded, personally witnessed by himself (or another senior referee), and the board certified by Twin Galaxies. These new requirements effectively keep the record chase locked between Mitchell and Wiebe (since lesser-known players will have a hard time making the necessary arrangements).
  • August 17th - October 25th:
    The King of Kong goes into limited theatrical release, playing in 58 select theaters around the US. The documentary is lauded with extraordinarily positive reviews. Due to the small number of theaters showing the film, most gamers still haven't had a chance to see it and are eagerly awaiting the DVD. Nonetheless, interest and competition continues to pick up steam.
  • September 21st:
    Playing on the MAME emulator, Twin Galaxies forum member John Marks becomes the first "post-King of Kong" player to achieve a Donkey Kong kill screen. Billy Mitchell calls Marks personally to congratulate him. As of that date, there are still only a few players known to have reached the elusive milestone.
  • Late 2007:
    Ben Falls, Scott Kessler, and Ross Benziger join the list of killscreeners. Falls is the first post-KoK player to accomplish the feat on an arcade machine and in public—October 3rd 2007 at Barcade in Brooklyn.

2008: The Field Gets Stronger

  • January 29th:
    Dean Saglio
    The King of Kong is released to DVD, which hugely expands the film's audience. Over the following months, many new gamers are drawn into the classic arcade scene, most notably Dean Saglio, who joins Ross Benziger in an attempt to unlock the game's maximum scoring potential.
  • April - May:
    On April 6th, Scott Kessler becomes the MAME champion with 916,600. On April 27th, he reports breaking 1 million points on his arcade machine. Due to TG's submission lockout, however, he does not record the game and documents it only with a photograph. On May 30th, Kessler killscreens live at Funspot with a lower-paced run, taking third place behind Steve Wiebe on the arcade scoreboard with 895,400. Kessler is the third player (after Tim Sczerby in 2000 and Wiebe in 2003) to officially beat Billy Mitchell's 1982 world record on a machine. His million-point game makes him the first player since Wiebe to surpass that mark. Stifled by the lockout, however, and unable to make an official attempt on the record, Kessler retires from the game.
  • September 21st:
    Ross Benziger edges out Kessler's MAME score by 1,000 points, becoming the new MAME champion.

2009: Chien and Lemay Arrive on the Scene

  • February 21st:
    New York plastic surgeon Hank Chien appears on the Twin Galaxies forum to announce his first kill screen (achieved in MAME), four months after taking up the game. Ben Falls encourages Chien to come out to Barcade to play in person. Chien soon achieves a kill screen on the Barcade machine, with Falls predicting that "once [Hank] starts being more aggressive, he's going to put some nice scores up."
  • Early 2009:
    Vincent Lemay
    Vincent Lemay (who began playing Donkey Kong a few months prior at age 17) introduces himself to the Twin Galaxies forums. Lemay represents not only the youngest player since the early 80s to attempt a high Donkey Kong score, but, as a French-Canadian, is also the first of what will eventually be several international players to join the chase.
  • May 7th:
    Dean Saglio achieves the first-ever million point MAME score. This breakthrough is also Saglio's first kill screen.
  • July 8th:
    The MAME world record pushes past the arcade machine world record, as Saglio takes down Billy Mitchell's top arcade score by 1,300 points. From then on, Saglio will dominate the MAME standings and his records will remain months to years ahead of the top arcade score. However, since the official Donkey Kong world record can only be set on original arcade hardware (and not in an emulator), Saglio will not and cannot be recognized as the world champion. Mitchell's reign continues, now two years running.
  • November 24th:
    Hank Chien videotapes a game that ends less than 15,000 points from the arcade world record, then, weeks later, scores over 1 million points (videotaped and in front of many witnesses) at Richie Knucklez Arcade. However, Twin Galaxies can't accept either of these scores due to the "live with a senior referee witness" rule for million-point games. Due to mounting pressure, TG finally overturns the rule, bringing the lockout era to an end (two years and two months after going into effect). The players declare "open season" on the world record.
  • February - December:
    As interest and competition increases, eight more players achieve the kill screen during the course of 2009 (including Lemay). The total number of known kill screeners approaches twenty by the end of the year—quite an increase from the three that were known to have done it at the time The King of Kong was being filmed.

2010: A New World Champion!

  • February 26th:
    With the lockout now over, Hank Chien takes advantage of a snowstorm (which closes his business for the day) by making a world record attempt. He beats Billy Mitchell, finally bringing the "Billy vs. Steve" era to a close. A Chien media blitz ensues, including appearances in television, newspapers, and websites around the world.
    (See: History of the World Record)
  • April 19th:
    Dean Saglio breaches the "1.1" mark for the first time with a new MAME record of 1,136,400. It will be over two years before that score is matched on an arcade machine.
  • July 31st:
    On the eve of his induction into the International Video Game Hall of Fame, Billy Mitchell takes the arcade record back, beating Chien by 1,100 points. Mitchell, however, will only hold the title for one month.
  • August 30th:
    Three years since last being champion (when the score seen at the end of King of Kong was beaten by Billy Mitchell), Steve Wiebe finally returns to the top of the Donkey Kong leaderboard with 1,064,500. Mitchell is bumped down to second place and effectively retires from competitive play, never again returning to the top position.
  • December 27th:
    Hank Chien takes the record back from Wiebe with 1,068,000. Over the next two years, Chien (and only Chien) will push the score higher, beating himself four more times consecutively.

2011: Konging Off

  • January:
    Jeff Willms takes up Donkey Kong on the MAME emulator, astonishing the community by kill screening the game after only one month of play.
    (See: Player Profile: Jeff Willms)
  • March 19th - 20th:
    The inaugural Kong Off is held at Richie Knucklez Arcade Games in Flemington, New Jersey. Hank Chien narrowly beats Steve Wiebe, 994,400 to 986,900, to become the first Kong Off champion.
  • May 11th:
    This blog is registered at (and not touched for several months...)
  • December 28th:
    Dave McCrary becomes the fourth player (after Wiebe, Mitchell, and Chien) to achieve an officially-verified score of over one million points on a Donkey Kong arcade machine.
    (See: Dave McCrary Is Millionaire Number 4!)

2012: Millions and Millions

  • Winter/Spring:
    McCrary is quickly joined in the million-point club by Mark Kiehl, not-quite followed by Estel Goffinet with a 999,800 near miss. By summer, Kyle Goewert, Shaun Boyd, and Ben Falls also turn in million-point performances (though Falls never submits his for official Twin Galaxies verification).
    (See: Number Five Already??, A Painful Near-Miss for Goffinet, More Big Scores)
  • October 21st:
    As The Kong Off 2 approaches, Vincent Lemay scores 1,084,500 on his Donkey Kong arcade machine, beating both Wiebe and Mitchell's personal best scores and showing himself to be in striking distance of Hank Chien's world record. Remarkably, Lemay accomplishes the feat on a Donkey Kong boardset suffering from malfunctioning video chips. The score is good enough to put Lemay in second place on the arcade scoreboard, but the glitching hardware disqualifies the performance from official submission. Lemay is unconcerned though—already planning to beat both himself and Chien live and in person.
    (See: Lemay Puts Up a Monster)
  • November 16th - 17th:
    Jeff Willms
    The Kong Off 2 is held at the 1up arcade/bar in Denver, Colorado. Jeff Willms wins the tournament with a score that is also good for 2nd in the all-time arcade machine standings. Dean Saglio comes in 2nd in the tournament, and finally gets onto the arcade scoreboard for 3rd place all-time. Steve Wiebe wows the competition by hammering out back-to-back million point games, and Billy Mitchell underperforms. Neither of the two former champs improve their all-time standings and both are pushed out of the top 3 by Willms and Saglio, dropping to 4th and 5th place respectively.
    (See: The Kong Off 2 page)
  • January - December:
    Throughout 2012, an unprecedented rush of players (ten in all) join the ranks of Donkey Kong killscreeners. By the time the year is out, the list is almost forty names long. The dilution of this once-exclusive roster leads to the saying "a million is the new kill screen" (even as the million-point club begins to rapidly expand...)

2013: "Peak DK"

  • January 12th:
    After traveling to the 1up for an extended, multi-week live attempt on Hank Chien's world record (which Dr. Chien has since pushed up to 1,138,600), Vincent Lemay comes just 2,700 points short.
    (See: Lemay Breaks the Record... Almost)
  • January 19th:
    Kong Off 2 Wildcard Division champ Eric Tessler holds the first-ever online Donkey Kong tournament—"The Wildcard Rematch"—open only to those who competed in the Wildcard Division at the Kong Off 2 two months prior. Ross Benziger wins handily. The next tournament offers open enrollment (Benziger wins that one as well). By the end of the year, a total of five online tournaments are held, the latter three acting as qualification rounds for the Wildcard Division at the Kong Off 3.
    (See: The Kong Off 2 Wildcard Rematch, Wildcard Division Qualifier Tournaments)
  • January 24th:
    Jeff Harrist opens Donkey Kong Forum as a home base for the ever-active Donkey Kong community.
  • September 27th:
    In a game the community has been awaiting for years, Ross Benziger finally places himself officially among Donkey Kong's upper ranks with a score that somehow comes even closer to Chien's record than Lemay's without topping it. Benziger takes 2nd all-time with 1,136,500... just 1,900 maddening points shy of the record.
    (See: The Ladder's Final Rung)
  • October 4th:
    Dean Saglio effectively puts Donkey Kong to bed (at least on MAME) once and for all by realizing the mythical "1.2." His 1,206,800-point game represents something very close to the maximum humanly-achievable Donkey Kong score. All that remains to end the Donkey Kong record chase for good is to replicate such a score on an original arcade machine.
    (See: 1,206,800)
  • November 15th - 17th:
    The Kong Off 3 is held, once again at the 1up in Denver, Colorado. Jeff Willms repeats as champion, but only after narrowly dodging defeat at the hands of Dean Saglio, whose final death (in a run on pace to beat Willms) comes only six boards away from the kill screen. Also during the tournament, Steve Wiebe comes very close to beating his now three year old personal best score (his 2010 world record), while Billy Mitchell comes in dead last in the tournament. With Robbie Lakeman grabbing 6th place all-time during the pre-event festitivies, Wiebe and Mitchell have both slipped again in the rankings. Now, just over seven years after the end of principal photography, the King of Kong stars have fallen to 7th and 8th place on the Twin Galaxies scoreboard.
    (See: The Kong Off 3 page)


Hank Chien said...

Great read! A few crucial events that I would add: Scott Kessler was the first person to achieve 1M on any platform post-KoK (although the exact timing of Tim S's 1M is unknown). Also, the arcade record was essentially frozen for several years due to TG's rules. It's not an accident that there was a flurry of activity in 2010.

Anonymous said...

Hey Billy....youre an AxSSHOLE.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Hey Billy--whattya got?? Some outdated DK score and some weak hot sauce that would make Satan himself either laugh or violate your cornhole...give it up, and choke yourself.

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