You asked, and now underdog star of the 2007 documentary The King of Kong and current holder of the Donkey Kong Jr. world record Steve Wiebe has answered. Before he takes on the Donkey Kong world record yet again at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week, see what Wiebe thinks about modern games, whether Donkey Kong 3 is next in line, how true to life The King of Kong really was and a bunch of other things you wanted to know.
Jayarr: I just want to know what [your] pre-game rituals are. Every high score hunter has a pre-game ritual!
Steve Wiebe: I don’t really have any superstitions or anything, but I’ll play like, you know, start the game, get warmed up, do some barrel jumping and some of the tricks I’ll need to maneuver. And then I usually want to have some kind of energy drink just to keep me alert because sometimes I get, especially with Donkey Kong Jr., it’s a lot of monotonous play.
Pixelman: Are you sick of playing Donkey Kong yet?
Actually, no. Even though the game hasn’t changed in like 30 years now, I still find new insights. When I’m trying point-press I find new ways to do it even today. And what makes it interesting is the kill screen. With a lot of those games like Asteroids you can continue forever and it’s whoever can endure it the longest, and that would get boring trying to stay up for four days straight or whatever. The idea that you have to come up with points before a certain level that’s contained within a two and a half hour window, which is like the average time of a sports game, it becomes kind of like figuring out how to maximize your points and pushing for the new higher score makes it more interesting. If there wasn’t a world record at stake it might get boring, I’ll admit that, but I still enjoy it.
Another day at the office
Chrono Cross: What made you choose Donkey Kong as the game to get the world's top high score on, prior to the many other arcade games out there?
The movie doesn’t go into the history of how much I had played it when I was a kid, so if it appears that I just chose it and not even known the game or played much, that might come across as incorrectly then.
I played in high school and when I was younger, and had the game in my fraternity. I had a score up in the 900,000's and had actually got to the kill screen but didn’t know that was the normal behavior; I thought the machine had crashed. So I kind of quit playing it and that’s where the movie picks up, when I’m being laid off, and I had always wondered what was the high score. Back in the early '90s there was no Internet database for Twin Galaxies so I had no way of actually knowing how to find out. When I got laid off, that’s when I searched for the high score, and I knew I could get the record because the score that Billy had at the time was in the 800,000's and I had reached 960-some-thousand.
Nintendo Life: So you had already broken the record before you even started?
Yeah, unofficially. So I knew it was just a matter of...I had sold the machine because I needed money for an electronic drum set. I was in a band trying to get a record deal, but that didn’t work out [laughs], so I had to go buy a new machine. Once I had the machine I knew it was just a matter of getting up to speed.
jangonov: A lot of documentaries are skewed to one angle these days, with this in mind, do you believe that The King of Kong was fair in it's portrayal of you and of your rival? If not, what would you say is different from reality?
It’s hard to know what’s fair because everything’s from the eyes of different people [who] have different accounts and reactions. The filmmakers, that’s what they saw, and they had been following Billy and me and all the behind the scenes things that I didn’t know about, and that’s their recollection of how things pieced together. Of course, they had to edit because there’s a lot of stuff they can’t show, it has to fit in this hour and a half time, but the events are accurate. There’s a lot of he-said, she-said, like did Billy walk by me and not say hello to me at the Guinness tournament, and that’s true. He’ll argue [that he] said hello and that [he] was talking to [me]. I think I read some articles where he refutes that, you know, "I didn’t snub him," but he walked by me and he didn’t talk. So you know, there are things that are being said, that this wasn’t true and that wasn’t true; you’re just going to be arguing at a brick wall.
As far as the way I’m portrayed, I think that’s what you see on the screen is who I am. I’m not a perfect person, I have flaws. So if it comes across as I’m some angel, you know, I’ve got some faults. Of course, I didn’t attend to my son’s needs when I was going for the world record, and I’ve gotten grief from some person who interviewed me one time who said that was wrong. I thought that was a little harsh, you know, it’s not like he was bleeding and was going to die. [laughs]
[For] Billy, if you look at some of the interviews he’s done in other places, he does present himself, and his friends will admit that he can come across as arrogant. The words he said in the documentary weren’t overdubbed or anything, that’s what he said. A lot of it, if you were to look at all of it a step back you can see the tongue-in-cheek humor of Billy. You know, it’s not like he’s really serious when he says these things. Some people will take it as true fact that he’s trying to be, you know, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek thing as far as I can tell.
It’s a movie and there’s gonna be some things that editors are going to try to make interesting. If it was just a factoid documentary it’d be boring, nobody would watch it.
NL: Well, it’d be a lot longer, we’d imagine.
Yeah, longer and there’d be about 100 people who’d even care. [laughs]
Viva el Kong!
Vander: Have you tried to contact Billy Mitchell and have a face-to-face showdown again? If so did he respond? And if not then will you try to get the Donkey Kong world record back? And if so, when?
No, I’ve met him in October of last year at the E For All Expo in LA. There was this food drive he came in for a few hours for. There was a photo shoot. We shook hands, no exchange of words personally; he was talking to the whole crowd in general. I don’t have ill-will, never did have ill-will, but I think he’s probably still a little upset with the film, with how he thinks he was portrayed. I don’t think he’s hostile towards me, but I don’t think he’s...he’s not a big fan of me, and I understand that. I did call him last June before E For All and reached out and said "hey, I hope we can put things behind us and in the future have a friendly game." [That was a] message on his machine at Ricky’s, his restaurant.
NL: And he never got back to you?
No. I wasn’t expecting him to call. That’s fine, I mean, if we don’t have a friendship formed it’s not like a big deal. It’s not something eating at me, I’m not angry at him, I’m okay with everything the way it is. I’ve said what I’ve did and reached out, and whatever happens is fine. I’m at peace.
G.cutedog: Have you ever tried Billy's hot sauce?
Yeah, I have actually. Billy had some bottles made for some of these events that I’ve gone for records at. Ive had a couple I’ve been able to take home; I’m not really a hot sauce guy, I’m more of a salsa guy, or barbecue sauce. It was okay, my friends seemed to like it. He put some on our pizza, it was okay.
NL: A lot of our readers were curious about your stance on modern games. What are your thoughts on them? Particularly things like motion controls and such. Do you own a Wii?
We do have a Wii. Let’s see, I haven’t played many of the Wii games, there’s the, you know, tennis and baseball but I haven’t tried to get good at any of the newer games. My son will play tennis or golf, and he’s into Mario Kart, he’ll do that online. For some reason I haven’t been drawn to the newer games. I don’t know if it’s a fear that I’ll get sucked into some world that I don’t want to be in [laughs]. You know, maybe if I play Halo I’ll get obsessed and ruin my life. But the time I played Gears of War, I was given an Xbox as a gift, and I was pretty much just sitting in the very first room where I couldn’t find where to go, so I’m not really into those games where you’re searching through doors, although I played Doom like ten years ago and ended up learning all the mazes and everything.
To me it’s not compelling enough to want to master those games. I can understand that those that are good at it, I can definitely respect their skill. It’s a different attraction I guess; I think those people wouldn't necessarily like the classics enough to want to get good at those. They might appreciate them, but it’s almost like two different worlds in my opinion.
Billy Mitchell, current Donkey Kong world record holder (as of press time) and hot sauce aficionado
warioswoods: Perhaps you can tell me how to avoid Carpal Tunnel? It's a chronic problem for me, and I don't come anywhere near the amount of gaming that you must have racked up in order to approach those scores.
Actually, I haven’t had any issues with carpal tunnel. I play drums, so I don’t know if that’s kind of built up those muscles or if that’s really a factor for avoiding it. I’ve done a lot of typing at work, but maybe I’m just lucky that I haven't had any problems as of now so I don’t know any ways to avoid it. Get a glove that has some support, there’s probably some support you can get. I’ve been fortunate enough not to have that problem. I wish I could help, though.
NL: Since you've taken the Donkey Kong Jr. record and are taking another stab at Donkey Kong, does this mean you'll be taking on Donkey Kong 3 down the line?
You know, I tried playing that one time and it really didn’t resemble Donkey Kong or Donkey Kong Jr. very much except for that it has Donkey Kong in it. Other than that, it’s more of a shooter game. Have you seen it before?
NL: Yeah, I couldn’t get into it. It wasn’t what I was expecting from a Donkey Kong game.
Yeah. It’s almost like a Galaga with all these bees flying. I like Galaga, but [Donkey Kong 3] is not a very entertaining shooter game in my opinion. [laughs] I guess I could go for the trifecta if I capture the Donkey Kong record.
I was more interested in going for the Popeye score, which is more similar to Donkey Kong; it’s the same concept. You’re going around these obstacles and there are ladders and you try to pick up these hearts that olive oyl is dropping, and there’s a punch button instead of jumping. So it’s similar enough to Donkey Kong that I thought it makes sense to go for that record. But I’m not ruling out Donkey Kong 3. If I get the Donkey Kong record it’d be kinda cool to own them all. [laughs]
NL: Do you have a Popeye machine?
I don’t, but the board would work in the Donkey Kong cabinet. The only trick is the monitor needs to be rotated sideways, so I’d have to go in and rotate my monitor. I have a friend who can set it up where it’s just a quick swivel instead of having to rebolt everything. That’s my plan, when I get to Donkey Kong, if I get to Donkey Kong, then I’ll go for that.
Zimm: Where did the Stampede score on the 2600 come from? It seems like [you] had some other plans at one time or just happened to be in the right place with a 2600 and a ref? [Note: Steve is currently ranked 20th on the Twin Galaxies scoreboard]
It’s kind of random, yeah. At the E For All Expo actually, this was like in 2005, something like that, Brian King of Twin Galaxies had a little Stampede contest going off to the side and I was down there to showcase my Donkey Kong skills to Twin Galaxies because they were doubting my record. Brian said "hey, why don’t you go for a game or two on this contest." You could win like a 2600 console or something, so I said okay and played. I didn’t score very well at all, so I’m surprised I’m even 20th. There’s not a lot of Stampede people out there I guess. [laughs]
A record on a whim
NL: Are you a big Mario fan outside of the Donkey Kong games?
I played the first Mario Bros. I think in '84 when it came out, but I never did get into the [sidescrolling] Super Mario Bros. games. I think it came out a little later when I wasn’t really playing games any more. I was more into sports in high school, so I didn’t get into that. But as far as Mario, I like the character, but I didn’t get into the games that weren’t Donkey Kong.
How about other Donkey Kong games? The character has been used in other things. If you play Mario Kart, do you play as Donkey Kong?
Oh yeah. [laughs] if I play Mario Kart I usually pick Mario or Donkey Kong. I’m more attracted to those guys more than Wario or Luigi or Toad I guess. I still like those classic Mario characters the best.
Wildvine53: Has anyone ever told you that you look like Richard Castle [played by actor Nathan Fillion]?
I’ve heard that before, and his name has come up to play me in the remake of The King of Kong. New Line has the rights to make that, they’re planning on making a fictionalized Hollywood version, and his name had come up in some forums I had seen. I think there’s something to that. I asked my wife and she doesn’t see it as a dead ringer, but I think we do resemble each other. He’d be a good choice for sure. [laughs]
Separated at birth?
NL: Have you heard anything about that? Is there a script or something?
Yeah, they’re working on a script. There’s been a couple drafts done and they still have to iron some things out. When they get a draft they like they’ll go to casting and then it could be within the next year and a half [after that] it comes out.
NL: Are you serving as a consultant or are they mostly going on what's in the documentary?
They’re mostly going on the documentary. The first screenwriter asked a few things like where I went to high school, the facts, so I answered those. But the second screenwriter didn’t ask any questions, so I think they’re shooting what the documentary shows.
NL: Several readers wanted to know about a possible follow-up documentary. Are there any plans on doing one?
Not that I know of.
NL: It’s been three years since the end of The King of Kong, and the saga continues, so to say.
Yeah, the saga has not quit yet, that’s for sure. Ed Cunningham, the producer, was at E3 last year when I was going for the record on G4 and he had a camera and was taking some footage. But there’s been a lot of stuff where they could have a sequel. Billy’s been a little quiet, not much activity on his end other than he got the record back, but other than that there hasn’t been an antagonist. [laughs]
Thanks again to Steve Wiebe for partaking, and we wish good luck in the DK record attempt at GDC this week.