r/HobbyDrama – [Retro Gaming/ Speedrunning] The legendary gamer that got an impossible record and fooled everyone for 34 years

Hi guys, welcome to my post. This is my first HobbyDrama post and english isn’t my first language, so go easy on me.

In september of 1982, a man by the name of Todd Rogers would achieve a time of 5.51 seconds on the game Dragster, for the Atari 2600. This record was incredibly good, so good in fact that 30 years later, in 2012, it hadn’t been beaten yet, and recieved the Guinness world record for Longest Standing Video Game World Record. However, as we would soon find out, it was too good to be true.

Background

In the first years of gaming, before big E-sports tournaments and youtubers, gaining money simply by playing games well was almost unheard of. One of the few people capable of this was Todd Rogers – in fact, he claims to be the first. Todd made a name for himself through his incredible scores, like his (totally legitimate) centipede score of 65 million, more than a million times bigger than the second place score, and through tournament play, appearing in many old tv interviews and gaming magazines. He even held a Guinness world record for Longest Standing Video Game Record.

The drama

In may of 2017, some threads about Todd appeared on r/speedrunning. Their topic was how weird it was that Todd’s Guinness-record-winning time for the game Dragster (a seconds long racing game for the Atari) still hadn’t been beaten, even 35 years later, appeared on r/speedrun. These threads inspired user OmnigamerSDA to look further into it. They analyzed the game’s code line by line, and came to the conclusion that the best possible time, by the game’s programming, is 5.57 seconds, 6 hundreths of a second slower than Rogers’ “record”. As the floodgates opened, people began to question his other scores, like the already mentioned centipede score, a score of 1,698 on the game Wabbit (that ends at 1300 points), and many others, that a user compiled here.

Some comments about the situation for your enjoyment.

But how?

How did Todd’s records stand for so long even though they were obviously faked? Well, it’s all because of a site called Twin Galaxies. Long ago, before the wonders of speedrun.com, scores and speedrun times were mostly submitted to Twin Galaxies. The site’s verification methods were simple: the record must either be performed live in front of a referee, or recorded and sent to the moderators of the site. Except these methods weren’t for everyone: some legendary players were considered so good that their records were unquestioned, and would be added to the leaderboards immediately, without the need of proof. In the words of user Thomas Jentzsch, in a thread about one of Rogers’ impossible records, all the way back in 2002:

That score is coming from Todd Rogers,[…] so you better believe it.

In the same thread, Ron Corcoran, chief editor of the site, is presented evidence that the record is impossible. His response:

“You need to come to CGE. Last year, after almost 20 years, Todd performed a 32.77 on his 2nd attempt, in-front of 40+ people (including myself). He has also recorded his game to videotape that we have in the TG archives as proof positive of his performance. Todd will again be at CGE this year to demonstrate his technique/pattern for BS Game 1 and I invite you (and anyone else) to drop by the TG booth to observe.”

Every time one of Todd’s records was under attack, the response was similar to this. After all, how could Todd cheat? He’s so good at these games. However, his Dragster record’s story is specially convoluted.

The most infamous record

Different from most of Mr. Rogers’ other records, his Dragster time didn’t get submitted directly to Twin Galaxies, instead being submitted to Activision to be published on their (creatively named) newsletter, Activisions. This is where things start to get interesting – before Todd ever claimed to get the record, two other gentlemen (images removed to preserve their privacy) were published on the same newsletter with a time of 5.51. This means that, even if it were possible to get this time, he wouldn’t have been the first one to get it, so the Guinness world record shouldn’t even have existed in the first place. It’s worth noting that years later Activision claimed that the record was a 5.1, so maybe they weren’t so rigorous with their proof. In fact, all Todd claims to have sent to the company was a polaroid of his time, which he says was never returned. This submission is a topic he really likes to talk about, telling the same story many times on interviews and his now defunct website, which I’ll be using as the main reference for this section.

According to him, not even Activision itself immediately accepted the record.

“Activision thought this score was impossible”, explains Todd. “What I didn’t know was that they had a computer-simulated perfect run! The computer’s run was of a 5:54, and Activision wanted to know how I could do better.”

David Crane, designer of the game, tried to simulate a perfect run of the game during the development process, and came up with this time of 5.54. In 2018, in light of the controversy, he commented on this, saying:

“I have a vague recollection of writing test code to determine the best possible score, but I don’t remember the result. And as I said, if I did have a theoretical limit, and a player beat it by such a small margin, I would believe that the player found a way to play the game that was different than the assumptions I used in calculating the theoretical.”

This talk about a different way to play is very similar to what Rogers reportedly told Activision:

“I told them how I engage the clutch until 0 [on the race start timer] and then pop the clutch, already in 2nd gear. I max all 4 gears and down-shift before the end, so I don’t blow my engine.”

There are some problems to this statement: if you try to change the gear normally before the race starts, you will be flagged as early and lose immediately, so any way to do this would be categorized as a glitch. However, glitches were banned from Twin Galaxies’ ruleset at the time, due to going “against the spirit of the game”(one of the reasons for the shift to speedrun.com), so even if it were possible, the run still shouldn’t be accepted. Also, it’s kinda suspicious that over 35 years later no one has been able to replicate this even after looking at all of the game’s lines of code individually. This leaves two options: either it was a hardware malfunction, which would still disqualify him, or, the more likely alternative, he simply cheated.

Conclusion

So what exactly happened to Todd after all of that? Well, after trying to clean Todd’s record for a long time with posts and interviews such as this one, Twin Galaxies finally banned him almost a year after the controversy, and the day later his Guinness record was removed. As for his response, he never admitted to having cheated anything. A while after all of that he went on Snowflaketg’s livestream, where he doubled down on everything he said. He even made a (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfXwSYzEjcE) with Ben Heck, from element14, where they spent two whole days trying to replicate his strategy to no avail. More recently, Mr. Rogers tried to sue Twin Galaxies and Guinness, however he didn’t follow basic court rules, so the case was dismissed before it was ever brought to trial.

Final Notes

First of all, thanks for reading my post. If you want to see more about the drama and the lawsuits, watch Karl Jobst’s videos on the topic, which were used as sources for a lot of the information shown in this post.

Video about the drama

Videos about the lawsuit, part 1 and part 2

Also, read OmnigamerSDA ‘s original thread where he exposes Rogers

If you wanna read a really interesting thread about an older drama involving one of Todd’s records, read this thread from user ersatz_cats about his fake Barnstorming record, which I didn’t have time to fully cover in this post.

Finally, Todd’s statement about starting the game on second gear became a bit of a meme on the speedrunning community, with comments like this one being found on every video about cheating on speedruns.

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