top of page

Taking a Deeper Look at Billy Mitchell's "Expert" Witness, Michael Zyda

Unraveling the Anomalies in Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong Saga: A Critical Look at Michael Zyda's Statements

First off... Who the hell is Michael Zyda?

Michael Zyda is an Emeritus Professor at USC and the Founding Director of its Games Program. He seems to have carefully curated his professional persona to highlight an array of titles and accolades, to an extent that honestly, invites skepticism - at least to me.

His resume reads like a laundry list of honors and positions: from being rated #1 by the Princeton Review for the USC Games Program to holding fellowships and memberships in numerous prestigious associations like ACM, IEEE, and the National Academy of Inventors. While his contributions to game design and virtual reality are undeniable, the sheer volume and variety of his accolades and roles raise questions.

His involvement ranges from academia to industry, including stints at the Naval Postgraduate School and collaborations with the Stanford Human Perception Laboratory, suggesting a career more focused on breadth than depth.

Zyda's narrative, heavily punctuated with awards and recognition, could be seen as an attempt to bolster credibility and influence in a field where practical achievements often speak louder than titles. This self-promotion, while impressive, might make one wonder if it overshadows a more nuanced and less glamorous reality of his actual impact in the realms of game design and virtual reality.

Tricks in the Tape

In the seemingly neverending tale of Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong records, Michael Zyda recently offered his take on the technological intricacies involved. Zyda, a seemingly self-proclaimed 'established' figure in game technology, brings explanations that raise more questions than they answer, leading many to wonder if there's more to his narrative than meets the eye.

He begins his "Expert Report" with the following:

There are many people that have made strong statements on the technological possibilities/impossibilities they have personally discovered in the video recordings of Billy Mitchell’s various game plays of Donkey Kong. All of these tests are looking for the sources of the anomalies on the Billy Mitchell videotapes. Many claim to have wired their systems exactly as Billy Mitchell did but, in the end, fail to achieve the same anomalies. Here are some of my opinions on these issues.

He then goes on to discuss his thoughts in a three-page "report". I'll dissect and parse what he said, but if you are interested in reading through the whole thing for yourself, click here.

1. The Converter Conundrum: A Sync Signal Sideshow

Zyda suggests that the lack of a sync signal in Mitchell's setup could lead to visual anomalies. This hypothesis hinges on a rather old technicality about frame alignment. Yet, it's puzzling that this would be the sole source of anomalies. Video technology, especially in the arcade era, was robust against such minor misalignments. Zyda sounds like he is overemphasizing a technical glitch to divert attention from more glaring inconsistencies.

2. The Aging Argument: Convenient or Credible

Pointing to component aging as a potential source of visual artifacts sounds plausible but conveniently unverifiable. Electronic components do degrade over time, but the argument that this degradation could mimic specific gameplay anomalies is far-fetched. It's like saying every old car should start sputtering in the same unique pattern. Is Zyda using the aging card to shuffle away from a more straightforward explanation?

3. The Copy of a Copy's Copy: A VHS Red Herring

Zyda's point about videotape generations losing quality and introducing artifacts is a known fact in analog media. However, pinning the anomalies solely on this aspect feels like a stretch. Not to mention, the anomalies he brings up are not consistent with typical anomalies in other older recordings. These technical details sound like they are being overplayed to confuse the possibility of tampering or manipulation in the original recordings.

4. Wiring Woes: A Tangled Explanation

The suggestion that improper wiring could cause the anomalies seen in Mitchell's gameplay is technically "plausible". However, it's another example of a conveniently untestable theory. Are we to believe that Mitchell, a seasoned arcade enthusiast, consistently erred in wiring his setup, leading to these specific anomalies?

5. The Two-Bit Converter Tale: A Technical Twist or a Convenient Cover-Up

Zyda's detailed account of Neil Hernandez's experiments with the Two Bit Converter is intriguing. However, it raises the question: why didn't these anomalies show up in other players' recordings using similar setups? Is this a case of a unique converter malfunction, or is Zyda constructing a narrative to fit a predetermined conclusion?

6. Technically Possible or Improbably Inconsistent

While Zyda's points are rooted in technical possibilities, their alignment to explain away every anomaly in Mitchell's recordings seems improbably consistent. The technicalities presented, while plausible in isolation, together weave a narrative that feels too convenient to be a coincidence.

These resulting anomalies are consistent with my expert opinion that the game play on the subject video tapes, including the anomalies depicted, could be from original Donkey Kong hardware, and that the anomalies are the result of component degradation in the Two Bit converter.

~Mike Zyda

Could be. COULD BE? Hell... I could be an alien from the planet Zorekalia. I'd like to see some tangible proof instead of the convenient "Hey, 'trust me, bro', I'm an expert."

The likelihood that Two Bit Converter components would fail identically across multiple converters so that experiments could be attempted is unlikely and makes definive answers from such tests unlikely. However, it is clear that the video tapes could depict game play on original Donkey Kong hardware despite the anomalies depicted.

~Mike Zyda

Wait, so even though it's unlikely, you still reach the opposite conclusion? There's that "Could" word again...

Seeking Truth in the Shadow of Doubt

I can't help but feel like Zyda's explanations are questionable. I'm filled with a tremendous amount of skepticism while reading through all this. They seem to form a narrative that's a bit too perfect, raising questions about his impartiality. Could there be an undisclosed motivation behind his detailed defense of Mitchell's records? In the world of competitive gaming, where records and reputations are at stake, the line between a genuine glitch and a convenient excuse can be razor-thin.

Diving deeper into the pixels and tapes of Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong saga, it's crucial to maintain a critical eye. After all, in the quest for high scores and historical accuracy, the truth often lies not just in what is said, but also in what is conveniently left unsaid.


bottom of page