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.
Pickles and wife Marika.
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.
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."
Aaron Thackeray Jourdan Adler at the 1up in LoDo before the 2012 Kong Off.
"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.