Steve Wiebe Is The King of Kong
Three years ago, Steve Wiebe was one of the subjects of the documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," which chronicled his quest to gain and regain the world record score in the classic "Donkey Kong" arcade game from fellow competitive gamer, Billy Mitchell. Although Mitchell went on to reclaim the record shortly after the film was released, Wiebe is once again the "Donkey Kong" world champion after posting a score of 1,064,500 back in the summer.
Crave Online recently caught up with Wiebe to talk about his record setting "Donkey Kong" run, his gaming technique, his future plans for the game and even the status of the long-awaited "King of Kong" feature film.
Crave Online: First off, congratulations on regaining the "Donkey Kong" world record.
Steve Wiebe: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Crave Online: How many times have you held the record at this point?
Steve Wiebe: In ("King of Kong"), I got it at the end of the film. And in the middle of film. So, I’ve had it twice (before) and I think this is the third time that I’ve had it over a ten year period.
Crave Online: I’ve been to a few live events where you tried to regain the record. What was the difference between this time and the other occasions that you’ve gone for it?
Steve Wiebe: During the live events, I played pretty well. But it’s tough to play at the record pace when you’re given maybe one or two games. When I’m playing at home, during the summer time, I’ve had multiple games and days, so I’m able to restart if I’m not going at the record pace. That’s one of the luxuries I have when I’m at home. That’s what was different for me this time. I had a lot of opportunities to get there.
Crave Online: I meant in the game itself, what was the difference between a usual game that you play and the record setting pace?
Steve Wiebe: At home, I’m really pushing it and I’m not trying to perform for anybody. That’s where I can hit restart and restart. I played two games a day for the whole summer, so it took about 100 games or so (to get there) when you’re trying to point press it at maximum tilt. So, that was the difference for me.
Crave Online: What was your tensest moment while playing your latest record setting game?
Steve Wiebe: I think where I got up to the 900,000 (range) and it’s so close to the record pace. I can’t lose a man at that point because it would set me back. I can’t think of a single event in the game, but I was in the 900,000s and for some reason I just couldn’t finish the level. I had an unfortunate barrel. But when I got into the millions, I felt a little more at ease with myself that this was going to come to fruition. Then I just relaxed and finished the game.
Crave Online: At this point, can you get any more points out of "Donkey Kong" or is this as far as anyone can get?
Steve Wiebe: No, there are still some points available. Believe it or not, we’re still leaving some room at the top. But I think people put the theoretical score at around 1,200,000. And that’s if everything works out in your favor for the whole game and you have all of your lives at the end. Realistically, I think 1,150,000 is probably where it would be realistic to get a score. For me, I think 1,150,000 would be the next goal. There’s definitely some room, but it gets tough because you have to point press all the way through and hope for some luck along the way.
Crave Online: I take it you haven’t given up on trying to reach that plateau.
Steve Wiebe: No, I haven’t. Right now, I’m taking a break. But I’m sure Billy (Mitchell) or Hank Chien or someone else will score higher. I don’t think this will be the last score to hold up. So, I’m willing and ready to go back into the garage at any point in time. It’s probably more of a summer endeavor. Right now, with teaching and school going on, that’s pretty time consuming.
Crave Online: You’re still a full time teacher, right?
Steve Wiebe: Exactly, yeah. I haven’t quit my day job.
Crave Online: I still see you at a lot of gaming events. How many of those do you do a year?
Steve Wiebe: Last year I went to the Game Developers Conference. It seems to be about one or two a year.
Crave Online: You’re also selling the DVD of your record selling run on your website.
Steve Wiebe: Yeah, you get a DVD of the game play from beginning to end. And that’s available on my website SteveWiebe.com.
Crave Online: Do you have to deal with any legal clearances to sell that?
Steve Wiebe: I haven’t heard of anything. There were people who proposed that it could be a violation. But there are other people selling games on the internet of other world record scores. There are lots of classic arcade gaming sites that do it. I imagine if there is some copyright issue, I don’t know what it would it be. I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think Nintendo would come after me. It’s not like I’m making a million figure on it.
It’s interesting. If you sell something of you playing your drums and it has the ludwig logo, is that copyrighted? I don’t know.
Crave Online: How long is your record setting game?
Steve Wiebe: Two and a half hours. And there’s some more video before the game and after to show the circuit board and all the chips and wires inside the game. By the time you add up all of those minutes it’s about two hours and forty five minutes.
Crave Online: Do you have any commentary while you’re doing that?
Steve Wiebe: No, but I was thinking of putting out a tutorial where I would break down each board and teach some techniques and strategies for different situations. I was going to make it this coming summer. It will probably be about forty five minutes when it’s done. It’s about how I take care of all of the nuances of the game and point pressing techniques. So, that’s my next thing I want to do.
Crave Online: I’ve also noticed that you’re selling "Team Wiebe" T-shirts on your website. How did those come about?
Steve Wiebe: I have a lot of fans who have helped me carry on, who gave me enthusiasm and motivation to keep going for the record. A graphic designer friend of mine actually came up with the Team Wiebe shirts.
Crave Online: You’ve also got an album on there as well. Tell us about that.
Steve Wiebe: It’s a CD and there’s ten songs on it. I wrote and recorded them at my house and then I had a vocalist sing on it. I didn’t sing it, but I played the piano, the drums and the base. I had a guitarist who came in [too]. That’s available on my website as well.
Crave Online: What kind of music is it?
Steve Wiebe: It’s contemporary Christian. I imagine that there are people that would be turned off by it. It’s not in your face. It definitely has a spiritual message, but it’s more of an uplifting message that offers hope and persistence.
Crave Online: I was surprised you didn’t have a Donkey Kong related song on there.
Steve Wiebe: On my next album, I’ll throw that in there.
Crave Online: Three years after "King of Kong," is there still a lot of interest in this from outside of the competitive gaming community?
Steve Wiebe: There is. There’s people that e-mail me stuff through my website or send me stuff to sign. A lot of people are still seeing it for the first time through Netflix. I think it’s streaming for free on Netflix. So it’s still growing. It was one of those movies that didn’t have a lot of marketing behind it when it was released in theaters. And it was only out for three months in the summer time. So, people are still finding it even today.
Crave Online: A while back, there was word that "King of Kong" might be adapted into a feature film. Is there any word on that?
Steve Wiebe: Yeah, they’re still trying to get a script that they all like. It’s been about three years and they switched screenwriters twice. They’re on their third screenwriter and they’re still enthusiastic over at New Line. Time Warner is now the parent company on it. So, the guy who originally bought the rights to this film loves the idea and wants to do it. They just need to find a script that everyone agrees on. It’s kind of a tricky script to get right.
You know, the documentary almost stands alone as a movie, so they’re trying to see how they can make it a little bit different and how much comedy they’re going to put into it. So, they’re trying to find that fine line of getting it just right so it stands up against the documentary. The soonest it would happen is next spring, but other than that it will probably go through one more rewrite.
Crave Online: Is Seth Gordon still attached to it?
Steve Wiebe: Yes, he is. Though he’s doing another movie right now called "Horrible Bosses." And he actually had a small part for me as a security guard in that one. It’s coming out next summer.
Crave Online: Is there any chance that you’ll go head-to-head with any of your fellow "Donkey Kong" players like Billy Mitchell or Hank Chien?
Steve Wiebe: Well there has been talk about "Donkey Kong" tournament with the growing number of players who are reaching the kill screen. There’s probably about ten or so that have done that. And there was talk about a tournament with all of the "DK" players that are at the top. I’d be up for that and whoever else would be there. It would be cool if the other top players could be there to make it as interesting as possible.