The 2007 documentary "The King of Kong
" famously depicts the struggles faced by Washington resident Steve Wiebe to overcome swaggering classic-gaming legend Billy Mitchell
for the all-time highest score on the 1981 Nintendo fave Donkey Kong
But recently, Hank Chien, an unheralded newcomer to the classic-gaming community, snuck up on both of them and set a new Donkey Kong world-record, according to noted video-game record-keeping authority Twin Galaxies
Chien's score of 1,061,700 points, accumulated in just two-and-a-half hours, puts him a mere 11,500 points ahead of Mitchell's best recorded score, and 12,600 points ahead of Wiebe's -- essentially a difference of one successful barrel or fireball jump per screen.
Asylum caught up to Chien, a 35-year-old plastic surgeon from Flushing, New York, on what he describes as a "slow day" at the office to talk about the record -- and what's next.
"I probably would have never done this if it weren't for the movie," says Chien, referring to the popular (and controversial
) "The King of Kong."
In fact, Chien says that he first began playing with abandon only about 8 or 9 months ago. "I was actually pretty bad when I first started out," he says. "I wasn't even close to a million, so I just never thought about [the record]."
As anyone with a day job and an interest for breaking video-game records
knows all too well, time is the biggest factor in trying to accomplish a goal of this kind. With his demanding plastic-surgery business, Chien could never afford the time to attend the two or three events each year at which a Twin Galaxies referee would be present to verify the score.
Because of that, chasing the high-profile Donkey Kong record, previously held by Mitchell (pictured below), was nearly impossible for him to attempt.
"I never really considered the record until November of 2009," says Chien. That month, Twin Galaxies altered its rules
regarding video-taped entries. "When they changed the rules," he explains, "I started thinking I might be able to do it."
He played through the bleak December and January months in Manhattan, with the whopping 39 instructions
needed to confirm an authentic score printed out near his console. Chien says, "I knew I was getting close, so I kept the bullet points close to my machine in case I did."
The night he broke the record, he woke his brother up for help. "I probably could have done it alone," says Chien, "but it was extremely helpful to have my brother there. I read through the instructions on that sheet like three or four times just to make sure we had everything in place."
There is a stipulation that the view of the camera can never leave the machine (as it would be easy to switch the board), so he was careful. But, he says, "I was most worried about my camcorder having enough batteries so it wouldn't run out."
Chien says he doesn't feel any animosity towards the Twin Galaxies crew, as he understands they have to make sure everything is on the up and up before awarding someone the record. "I understand why they make it a difficult process," he says. "They need to make sure they are awarding titles objectively, and the only way to do that is with all the stipulations they have in place."
So what's next for Chien, and does he think the record will be broken? "Oh, yeah," says Chien. "Billy and Steve can beat it, for sure. Billy is sort of retired, and I've never met the man, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did something surprising."
"But yeah," he says, "it will definitely be broken. I'm just glad I have my place in history."
Then again, Chien thinks he can do better. "I was playing conservatively towards the end," he says, "and I'm actually getting better. So I think I can score higher." He also thinks there is a limit to what humans can achieve in the game. "I think that 1.2 million is probably the best," he guesses.
The hardest part of setting the record for him may have been waiting for the news to come out.
"I actually set the record a few weeks ago, and I had to keep my mouth shut for about a week and half," Chien says. "Then I found out about four days ago that it had been verified. But they didn't want to go public with it until everything was set."
But the word is out and it's official: Hank Chien is the Donkey Kong champion of the world. For now.