Can the Donkey Kong world record be broken?

At E3, Steve Wiebe, the star of the documentary "King of Kong: Fistful of quarters" attempts, once again, to answer that question. His pursuit was held up by power failures and lost lives.

Steve Wiebe, the star of the documentary, 'King of Kong: Fistful of quarters,' working to try, once again, to break the all-time 'Donkey Kong' world record. Daniel Terdiman/CNET Networks

LOS ANGELES--Steve Wiebe is at it again.

The star of the documentary, "King of Kong: Fistful of quarters," Wiebe's past attempts--and failures--to break the "Donkey Kong" world record have been well documented and discussed.

But now, here at E3, Wiebe is taking another shot at the record--currently 1,047,200 points, and held by the other star of the documentary, Billy Mitchell--courtesy of the TV network G4, which, even as I write this, is hosting Wiebe's record pursuit on its stage at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Already today--while most of the E3 world was focused on the big Nintendo and Sony press conferences--Wiebe had taken at least two shots at the record, and with one, had gotten close: He'd topped 923,000. But both times, he'd come up short.

So now, with a couple hundred people watching and rooting him on, with shouts of "Let's go, Steve!" ringing out, Wiebe got going.

As long as you are at least somewhat familiar with the game, even if you haven't played "Donkey Kong" for years, the music it makes when it starts is oh-so-familiar. It's simple, '80s-era digital music, nothing fancy. Yet it sticks in your mind--forever.

Wiebe began his third attempt and he was doing well, playing flawlessly--at least to this amateur observer--and racking up the points. Around me, murmurs of wonderment were flying fast and furious.

"I didn't even know how to do that," one audience member said.

"This is the (level) that always kills me," another said.

Watching Wiebe play "Donkey Kong" is a study in calm. His technique, at least what I could see of it by watching his body language and a live video of the game being displayed on screens all around him, is smooth, calm, relaxed, and patient. He seems to know exactly what he's doing and what's coming at all times. Which, I guess, makes sense for someone who is good enough at the game to have a legitimate shot at breaking the all-time world record.

Every now and then, for example, the G4 crew point their cameras at a section of the audience, encouraging them to break out in a big cheer, which they do. These sudden, loud bursts of applause and yelling don't even seem to faze Wiebe.

"He makes this look really easy," an audience member said.

Within about 20 minutes, Wiebe has broken 100,000 points, a very impressive number for an amateur "Donkey Kong" player like me. But then you realize that it's only a tenth of the record score and that he could be at this for three hours, at least.

Watching Wiebe play, I was struck by how well "Donkey Kong" has held up over time, especially having just come from the Sony press conference, where I saw games with graphics and game play that the folks at Nintendo couldn't even have dreamed of back when they were making "Donkey Kong."

At least a couple hundred people watched as Wiebe pursued the world record score. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

But the game, as well as others from its era--games like "Pac Man," "Frogger," "Dig Dug," "Space Invaders," and others--are still considered classics and seem to be regularly re-issued by their original publishers, or others. I wonder if the same will be true of today's games in 20 or 30 years.

Suddenly, the video screens showing Wiebe's play went haywire. Clearly, there's a glitch. Is this the end of the attempt?

It turns out that the power was inadvertently lost to the "Donkey Kong" machine, ending that attempt. But again, Wiebe looks imperturbable. It's probably good that he was only 100,000 points or so into the game. I wonder if he would have been so calm if the power had gone at 900,000 points.

Actually, though, he wanders over to talk to some of the G4 folks, and I hear him say to one of the nearby spectators, "The pace wasn't very good anyway." Which means that maybe, just maybe, he kicked the power loose. OK, I'm kidding.

After 5 or 10 minutes, the power is back on, and Wiebe takes his seat again. The machine turns back on, play is pressed, and once again, we hear that familiar "Donkey Kong" music.

And then, just like that, he's back up to 100,000 points.

I wanted to see what happened, and whether he'd break the record. But E3 is a busy event for me, and I had to leave. I guess to find out whether he made it or not, you'll have to turn to G4. But hopefully, I'll be able to update this story later with the final results. Stay tuned.

Updated at 5:38 p.m.: Wiebe is now at 903,000, but has just one life left. And he just cleared level 19.

Updated at 5:42 p.m.: He's at 929,600 now.

Updated at 5:54 p.m.: Wiebe passed another level but died almost immediately after, with a final score of 989,400.

 

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