I still remember the first time I saw him in the pages of Joystik in 1983; tall, with thick, wavy hair that set off sun-tanned skin. There was a sense of brooding sadness to his dark brown eyes which instantly appealed to the pathos most teenage girls respond positively to. Sensitive bad boy. Suh-weet. Sign me up.
To make a long story short, he was “a fox” and definitely a game the girls wanted to play.
To West Coast girls, like me, Activision’s and Joystik magazine’s former poster boy and pro-player, Todd Rogers, looked more surfer than professional gamer… or whatever that meant since the identity of “professional gamer” wouldn’t be invented for the next 20 years or so. But unlike the endless array of squares the gaming mags usually highlighted, Rogers came off the pages like a ready-made electronic rock star, a look that was unusual for the time. Seriously, most players back in the day dressed like nerdy high school debate teams.
In a nutshell, Rogers had “gamer style” before it was even conceived of. In fact, you could reason he was the archetype.
So when I heard the rumors surfacing in the Summer of 2017 that his historic world record speed-run on Dragster, done decades before he was ever associated with Twin Galaxies and the very score that catapulted him into legendary status, was being deemed a fraud by some prominent members of the speed-running community, my first response was confusion. To me, Todd Rogers wasn’t a relic of competitive gaming’s past, but a living specimen of one of its earliest sparks. To me, he was historically important in ways others could never be. It was hard for me to even consider what I was hearing.
In case you don’t know, in 1982, Todd Rogers, according to Activision, Guinness Book of World Records and Twin Galaxies, set an “impossible record” by scoring an unheard of 5.51 run on Dragster for the Atari 2600. However, in 2017, various groups were calling him a fraud. Some were producing steadfast examples of proof, particularly Eric “Omnigamer” Koziel, a computer engineer and author from MIT, who ran a tool-assisted test on Dragster’s game code. He determined that Todd Rogers’ world record score of 5.51 seconds was mathematically impossible.
Shortly after, dozens of records Rogers had submitted to Twin Galaxies over the years, including ones that I was shocked had even been on Twin Galaxies scoreboard since their illegitimacy was more than obvious, had also been pulled into question. A list surfaced online that detailed many of them, adding to increasing suspicions.
Then came the fake photo-shopped certificates from Activision which Rogers submitted to Twin Galaxies’ owner for proof and which the owner foolishly posted publicly for reasons I will never understand. In my opinion, and as former personnel of Twin Galaxies, knowing that a high percentage of the public already discounts Twin Galaxies’ authority for all of the other scandalous embarrassments it has subjected the public to over the years, why would anyone at Twin Galaxies want to draw attention to this kind of scandal? That’s the wrong kind of publicity to expect to bank off, trust me. I don’t care how good the traffic is for your site. It’s not worth it.
Then came the forensic analysis by Omnigamer on the Activision certificates that Rogers produced which proved them to be counterfeit copies ala Photoshop, followed by Twin Galaxies going against their better judgement by making a three-ring media circus out of the unfortunate “Dragster debacle” by hiring Ben Heck, American console modder and Internet celebrity, to conduct a second tool assisted run of Dragster’s code which –you guessed it– produced the very same results as Omnigamer’s test. By this time it was clear that 5.51 was mathematically impossible under normal playing conditions.
If ever there was a moment that I expected Rod Serling to walk into the room from stage-right, this was it.
As if things couldn’t get worse for Rogers and Twin Galaxies, a peer adjudicated world record tracker whose neutrality is absolutely paramount to sustaining a non-biased environment for adjudicating peers to form their own opinions, Twin Galaxies editorial department were observed directly influencing public and peer opinion by publishing pro-Todd Rogers opinions and editorials on their forum and on the front page of their website. They even brought in Dragster creator, David Crane, to weigh in on Rogers as some sort of expert witness and took potshots at Omnigamer’s reputation by alluding that he had only questioned Rogers credibility to increase interest in a book he was publishing. This is not how a trustworthy peer adjudicated scoreboard operates. But none of this matters that much anymore. It’s all over now.
Early this morning, hours before dawn, Twin Galaxies banned Todd Rogers and removed all his world records. I didn’t expect to feel stunned. I didn’t expect to feel sad. I actually didn’t expect to feel anything but relief because I had been so angry that he had deceived me for so long and, with that, had brought uncertainty to other champion’s records. But I wasn’t relieved at all. I felt the bitter pangs of mourning.
For this is a tragedy. For him. For classic gaming. For Twin Galaxies. For everyone. We didn’t need this. And as angry as it makes me that he lied to us all, in the end we all lied to each other, too, by going along with the charade for as long as we did, when we all knew something was wrong long ago. We knew, just as we know other “iconic champions” aren’t champions at all. They cheated just the same and have been exalted as “legends” and “Kings” even though most of us know damned well that their stories are 100% manufactured.
Yet we say nothing, or worse, we batter and ostracize the ones who do, and allow protective cliques to form around these frauds like a wall. For some strange reason, supporters of Twin Galaxies will fight tooth and nail to preserve a myth, but will not so much as take a single step to build a foundation for real heroes to stand upon. I’ve never understood that. Someone explain that to me, please?
Going forward I hope we will not remain silent about “the others”. They, too, should be brought to justice, banned and their scores removed promptly. As a historical researcher, there is nothing more cool to me than the faces of the champions and pros of the past looking back at me from a grainy, old newspaper photo. They lived once. They put competitive gaming on the map. They were real. I’ll be damned if a handful of cheaters and their cults are going to rob the future generations of ever finding out about them.
Long Live The Originals