Twin Galaxies lost in space: What's happened to gaming's record-keeping company?
When the 33-year-old Denverite Jeff Pickles collected 3,333,360 points on a vintage Pac-Man machine at LoDo's 1up arcade bar, he became one of only a handful of gamers to nab a perfect Pac-Man run, as reported in our current cover story, "Leader of the Pac." He has photographic proof and a few witnesses to testify to this feat, but his name appears in no record book. That's because right now, there is no record book. Twin Galaxies, the thirty-year-old company that kept the gaming records and moved to Denver in 2012, has disappeared.
Since 1982, Twin Galaxies has served as both the official scoreboard for video gaming and its watchful uncle, organizing contests and verifying the accuracy of scores. But many in the gaming community now worry that internal disputes and a period of total silence mean this institution might have given up the ghost.
"For all the flak Twin Galaxies has received over the years, it's still rarefied air to be listed there," Pickles says. "That amount of recognition still has a high value to me. I mean, hell, only two other people have done what I've done -- and if you include factory speed, it's still only seven other people."
Always seen in a black-and-white referee's uniform, Walter Day embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of the arcade's golden age while simultaneously shepherding in a new generation of gamers. Day founded Twin Galaxies as an arcade in 1981 in Ottumwa, Iowa, and the next year released a database of arcade records that he'd personally collected. He also founded the U.S. National Video Game Team, an early effort to solidify competitive gaming as a sport.
Twin Galaxies made its name as the most reliable source for video-game records, and at one point was even relied upon by the Guinness Book of World Records. Aspiring high-scorers would submit videotapes of their runs, opening up the machines to the camera to prove there was no cheating.
Jourdan Adler at the 1up in LoDo before the 2012 Kong Off.
Twin Galaxies changed hands a few times over the years, most recently when Jourdan Adler, owner of the 1up arcade bars, and Richie Knucklez, himself an arcade owner, classic-game collector and gaming-contest junkie, went into business together in 2012 to buy the company. They hooked up with Day and arcade legend Billy Mitchell to bring the Twin Galaxies brand into a new age, as Kelsey Whipple reported in our November 15, 2012, cover story, "Its on like Donkey Kong."
"I always wanted my contests to be sanctioned by Twin Galaxies," Knucklez says. "Because of Twin Galaxies' history as being the official scorekeepers for the classic gaming industry, they gave me the job of being the guy that brought over contests."
The new Twin Galaxies setup made its debut at the 2012 Kong Off competition, where the country's best arcade players competed against each other with elder statesmen like Day and Mitchell in attendance. A second Kong Off in 2013 really helped put Denver and the 1up on the map for competitive gamers.
Pickles was hoping to have a perfect game verified by one of the Twin Galaxies referees at Kong Off 3, but pressure and bad luck derailed his game. (Florida's David Cruz managed to get his perfect Pac-Man game certified by TG officials during that Kong Off.)
"All of the machines at 1up were set to Twin Galaxies spec, and thus I had a place where I could play, knowing that if I did something noteworthy, it would have at least the lowest barriers to entry taken care of. As long as the staff knew me, there was an air of instant validity to it," Pickles says.
But something happened after Kong Off 3. Soon after the competition ended, a visit to twingalaxies.com led to a message that the site was down for "scheduled maintenance." Today, it redirects to a parked GoDaddy page. Overnight, thousands of scores became inaccessible, throwing the burgeoning arcade gaming scene into confusion.
Continue for more about the Twin Galaxies mystery.
"When Twin Galaxies first went down, there was a huge hole in the community. Everyone was looking to figure out what had happened, as well as where we go now," Knucklez says. "The website was taken down for reasons that I don't know. But I do know that Walter and Billy are working with the current owners of Twin Galaxies to get it back up and running."
So far, the identity of the current owners and administrators for Twin Galaxies are unknown. But in an e-mail to former twingalaxies.com subscribers, a web design firm named Websignia -- which had recently partnered with Twin Galaxies to overhaul the website -- wrote that on "November 20th, it was made abundantly clear that our vision for Twin Galaxies was no longer in alignment with the vision of the other owners, and we were moving in very different directions." The e-mail redirected subscribers to a now-defunct gaming social network called GamerLIfe 365.
And the changes don't end there. According to Knucklez, the next two Kong Off events will take place at his arcade in Flemington, New Jersey, and at a mega-arcade he's planning to install in Nashville. Denver may no longer be a mecca for Donkey Kong players. "The Kong Off is my franchise, and it's definitely not going back," Knucklez says.
Despite the apparent dissolution of the partnership between Adler and Knucklez, 1up continues to "appreciate competitive gaming," says 1up spokesman Craig Bailey. "We did a Mortal Kombat competition recently at the Colfax location during one of our shows...and that went over well. So we're not opposed to it. We're just figuring out what we're going to do over the next year...whether it will be on the national level, like the Kong Off was, or if we do something on a local level."
Both Bailey and Adler declined to comment on the status of Twin Galaxies. Back in November 2012, Adler told Westword: "I want Denver to become this hub of the gaming world, more so even than the 1up, the 2up [then the name of the Colfax location] and the Kong Off. It's impossible to ignore how much vitality is returning to the arcade gaming world, and I want Denver to be a huge part of it. So I decided to get my hands in at the ground level."
Now it looks like the ground might have been taken out from under Adler. But Knucklez is certain that the big moments of gaming will be commemorated.
"The history of classic arcade gaming and all that has happened over the last thirty years, stuff like that needs to be remembered and celebrated.... It's exciting to go back and read all the old newspaper articles, it's exciting to go back and see all the records that were done in a live setting with the referees there," Knucklez says, reminiscing about what Twin Galaxies means to him. "Thirty years of the legacy of organized video-game playing? There's no way that creatures such as Walter Day, Billy Mitchell and myself would ever let that legacy just die on the shelf."
And there were signs of life on the Twin Galaxies Facebook page on March 4, when an apologetic statement was posted by the page's administrators. "The spirit of Twin Galaxies is quite alive and at the moment going through a significant restructuring period," it read.
The updated cover photo for the Twin Galaxies Facebook page, posted February 17.
"Because of the legalities, I can't really say what's going on, but I know that the future does look bright, and I know that there is hope for the future that it will resurrect," Knucklez says.
But in the meantime, gamers like Pickles feel like they're in limbo. "Now that a physical Twin Galaxies verification location is gone, I don't know if I'd have it in me to go for perfect again, if I don't get verified for my perfect games during Twin Galaxies' downtime," Pickles says.
Though his perfect game at the 1up was confirmed by Adler himself, it's unclear if that will hold weight in the new Twin Galaxies era. "Jourdan strikes me as a good man, so my current position is one of optimistic patience as we await [its] return," Pickles adds.
"The scoreboard is really only a temporary entity. The community it fostered is the part that will continue regardless.... The community is alive and well, and I'd like to think a lot of that qualifies as Walter's and, therefore, Twin Galaxies', legacy," he concludes.
For more on the 1up, Kong Off and Twin Galaxies, read "It's on like Donkey Kong."