A while back, Ben received an email from a gentleman about this old speedrun record for the game Dragster on the Atari 2600. I had never heard of this particular record, so I asked Jace Hall, CEO of Twin Galaxies, for the back story. From Jace:
On 1 September 1982, Todd Rogers (USA) set a time of 5.51 sec on the Atari 2600 version of Activision’s Dragster (1980), as verified by Activision and later acknowledged by Twin Galaxies. That early GWR gaming record remained unbeaten for 34 years 215 days, as of 4 April 2017.
This record has had the prestige and honor of being the longest recognized standing video game world record. It is also believed by many that it is the 1st official "Speedrun" record.
For more than 3 decades, no other person has been able to beat or even tie Todd's record time of 5.51 and this has resulted in some widespread skepticism that perhaps this record may be fraudulent. The record holder, Todd Rogers, maintains that his record is valid, and that he has accomplished the feat on at least 3 separate occasions.
Recently, some members of the Speedrun community decided to reverse-engineer and directly examine the Dragster game code to see what kind of joystick inputs and timing would be required to produce a time of 5.51 sec. The extensive software analysis was unable to determine how to accomplish the time, and concluded that achieving a time of 5.51 is not possible. The software analysis has suggested that the maximum achievable time is limited to 5.57 sec.
Based on the software analysis results, a formal Twin Galaxies dispute was filed by Dick Moreland on 11-August-2017 calling for Todd Rogers' score to be removed. The software analysis evidence was compelling enough for Twin Galaxies to begin a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the matter, which not only includes looking at the software analysis results provided but also includes performing necessary and extensive Atari 2600 hardware execution tests as well.
As part of the Twin Galaxies investigation into the hardware execution analysis, we reached out to Ben as an independent 3rd party to investigate whether or not a 5.51 sec time can be actually achieved using an original Atari 2600 and a Dragster cartridge -- exactly the same tools that Todd Rogers used to achieve his time.
When Jace reached out to Ben, Ben was not much interested in the speed record. However, Ben was fascinated by the idea of using new hardware to analyze the RAM of the 2600 – to copy the data being sent to the RAM from the CPU. The idea is that data can be analyzed in another microcontroller to figure out how to send the most optimal Atari 2600 Dragster game inputs possible. Ben got to work creating a RAM emulator to program the computer to play the fastest game possible, not an easy task. Ben's been using the Oscilloscope from Tektronix to dig into the signals of the game to refine his program down to the frame.
Things are getting pretty technical here in the shop and Ben is getting closer...