I interviewed three speedrunners about marathons, friendships, and Action 52


Chatting with people who feel the need - the need for speed

Speedrunning is a hobby that requires a lot of patience and a lot of hard work. Playing the same game over and over again sounds like a recipe for boredom, particularly if the slightest mishap can ruin an otherwise perfectly good run. In spite of all these hurdles, there are plenty of people who enjoy improving their times and playing a part in building a supportive community, in which people work together to discover various strategies to run a game as fast as possible.  

With SGDQ and ESA just around the corner, I asked three speedrunners with different interests and levels of involvement in the community about their experiences and their various insights into the activity of speedrunning. Overall, what they had to say painted the picture of a community that, particularly in Europe, seems to be flourishing year on year.

1) Ellieceraptor

"Ellieceraptor" is a speedrunner who is no stranger to ESA, having run SUPERHOT at the event last year. Now that she has got used to in-person speedrunning tournaments, she's branching out to running one of her favourite games: Diablo II.

It's a long one, but this is a Diablo II world record!

You're running Diablo II at ESA, and you've mentioned to me that that game can be quite addictive. What's so thrilling about it?

Diablo II is a fantastic mix of theory, practical application of said theory and skill. Throw in a big heaping of randomness – both exciting and frustrating – with immense variety, and seven very different classes, and you have a game with nigh-on endless potential for speedrunning. Two runs will never be the same and the rush when all the disparate aspects of the game come together is just exhilarating.

It also helps that the game itself is a masterpiece in how its feedback loop is paced and designed. The fact that the game is still relatively popular 18 years after its initial release speaks volumes on this.

You ran SUPERHOT at ESA last year – what was that like?

Exciting. Scary. Humbling.

Last year was my first time attending an in-person marathon, and to be allowed on the main stage was a huge milestone for me, both as a speedrunner and as a person. While I am no stranger to participating in online marathons, I was definitely not prepared for the pressure of being on stage in front of the camera and audience. My nerves definitely showed in my run, but I do not regret or feel embarrassed for a moment about doing it! It was also somewhat surreal to have people come up to me to congratulate me and say they liked the run afterward. Overall, an overwhelming and amazing experience!

Do you feel like speedrunning does enough to be inclusive and encourage diversity?

More yes than no. From my own experience, all the communities I have ever interacted with have been nothing but welcoming and supportive of everyone, regardless of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, etc.

With regard to inclusivity, speedrunning is a profoundly community-driven activity and as such, it will invariably differ between games and communities. There are definitely instances of awful abuse and harassment (some of it having been directed at good friends of mine) and it is very important to acknowledge and address it when it happens.

On the shinier flip side of the coin, speedrunning being so community-centric also makes it a powerful driving force for diversity, acceptance and jolly cooperation, and I believe this far outweighs the more unsavoury side. As for encouragement, it is definitely present and starting to pay off. Ultimately, I am very proud to be a part of the greater community and excited about the future of speedrunning as a passion and shared experience.

What makes a good couch crew for a speedrun?

Friends with game knowledge, good personal chemistry, knowing when to talk and when not to talk, etc.

Or, in the absence of that, DrTChops.

2) Alko

"Alko" has been going to ESA since before it was even called the European Speedrunner Assembly (prior to 2016, it was called the European Speedster Assembly). As one of the old guard, he's perfectly placed to talk to us a little bit more about the history of the event, back when it was just a small group of enthusiasts.

OK, I have to ask you - why did you decide to run Cheetahmen?! Why?!

Haha! Well…actually, Cheetahmen is only part two of three.

Part one happened to be Ooze, which I ran at ESA 16. The story behind that: it’s well known that Action 52 is one of the worst game collections ever published — the Sega version still being much better than the NES version. In 2014, Edenal invited people to his place for a small meetup in February, then dubbed FakESA, which was probably the precursor to what is now ESA Winter. Oasiz was also there and had Action 52 on a Sega flash cart and we played it, enjoying lots of laughs. I was the only one who noticed that you apparently needed to collect keys to proceed, so on the next day, I managed to be the first known player to make it to Level Two (and subsequently to Level Three). This sparked my interest.

Fast forward to ESA15, where I played it again and actually managed to get through to the final level and beat the game. Sadly, Chucat had apparently already beaten it during ESA14, so I was only the second known player to do that. But I thought, "I can speedrun this!" So I got myself emulator and ROM and started practicing. With a PSX controller at first, later borrowing a Sega one off bangerra. And I’ve gotta say, I find it fun.

I also tried out most other games on Action 52. Most of them are boring and not really level-based or "speedrunable" as far as I know, but Cheetahmen and another one were. My hope was to put all three into an ESA marathon (but not at the same time). And maybe one day have an Action 52 race with all runnable games.

Although you are indeed European, you're currently living in Japan. What's the speedrunning scene like out there, compared to in Europe?

Oof, I have little clue. I accidentally found out about an on-site marathon in Tokyo between Christmas and New Year, which I went to. They showed off some nice runs of great games.

Altogether, I felt reminded of the first year of ESA, but I really don’t know if organisations like Ludendi exist, if the runners generally know each other, etc. All I can say is that the Discord of said RTAiJ marathon is very quiet, in stark contrast to the ESA one.

If you manage to visit ESA for a few days, what are you most looking forward to doing/seeing?

Meeting great people, collecting lots of hugs, eating kanelbullar, eating Dumle, maybe binge watching an anime in weeb corner, playing Mafia. Yeah, I heard streams exist, but they’re not even secondary to my ESA experience anymore.

3) Zet

"Zet" has been speedrunning puzzle-platformers for quite a while now, and has made appearances at both German and European speedrunning tournaments. He had quite a lot to say about the successes and failures of his public speedrunning attempts – and despite not being too pleased with his Inside run last year, I still thought it was incredibly fun to watch.

You're running Mushroom 11 at ESA this year - what made you decide to run and submit this game?

Mushroom 11 was one of the few games – if not the only game – that I had seen before release and became interested in speedrunning. I thought that mastering the unique movement mechanic and achieving an as fast as possible speed with it could be very challenging and fun.

When I finally did play the game, however, I was at first a bit disappointed, because to me the difficulty curve felt too steep too sudden and overall the game lost its pace in the final two chapters. So I put it to one side, and I wasn't sure whether I would still want to run it or not. However, for the last twelve-hour challenge, I spontaneously decided to look at the speedrun for this game, just so I could finally put it to rest. As it turned out, the run could actually be really fun and challenging. The game also fits in thematically with my other speed games.

After my initial 12hc run, I hadn't touched the game for a while again, until ESA Summer 18 submissions opened up. I prefer to submit games that I haven't run at an ESA event before to show something new every time, and it is very cool that ESA is open to submissions for games that you haven't even learnt yet. After the first round of cuts was released in April, my Mushroom 11 submission was still pending (the other game, 140, was unfortunately cut), so I knew that in order to show a run at ESA, I had to actually learn and get good at the run.

Over the next few weeks, I learnt the run by watching other runners (unfortunately, nobody was actively running it at the time) and got better and better at the levels, starting to get more comfortable with the movement mechanic and eventually finding my own skips. The night before the schedule reveal, I had finally beaten the World Record for this game by more than two minutes! I am not done with this run though, and I am looking forward to running the game at this year's ESA. I'm very glad I gave it a second chance!

Last year, you ran Inside at ESA. What was that like?

Oh boy – Inside is probably my marathon run I feel most uncomfortable remembering. Just like Mushroom 11, I had submitted Inside before I was able to do the run myself. However, since I am a long-time Limbo runner and the whole community for that game looked forward to running Inside, it seemed obvious I would eventually try myself. I never got as good as I wanted to be and due to university stress before ESA, I could not get nearly as prepared as I wanted to be when showing the run. I had submitted a blindfolded incentive, which I actually only really learnt on-site, and I wasn't sure how much of the game I'd do blindfolded.

Inside is a bit unfortunate as a speed game, as its pacing is rather slow and all of the time saves derive from precise movement and a few skips that are very difficult to execute. While I had pulled off most of the skips myself in practice and a run here and there before, I was nowhere consistent with those. I usually try to give good commentary for the game I run, providing not only information about the speed strats but also the game, its development, and developer in general – while I did have a bit of information, especially on the audio design of the game, I don't think I provided enough to make up for my mediocre gameplay.

The run itself was a mess. I failed at all skips but one, finished with a time around five minutes over estimate and on top of it all, the computer I ran on randomly crashed around five minutes in. I learnt the hard way that you need to invest a lot of time into learning the speedrun of the game you want to show at a marathon, and this should be something to consider during the submission phase. In the end, it kind of felt like I had let down the community who were looking forward to having the speed game shown at a marathon.

It wasn't all bad, however! I had a nice "wow, that's never happened before" moment, the blindfolded part, all things considered, went alright, and my good pal Yajijy was there for commentary and meme support – that is, he provided me with lots of doggo pillows after I had failed the infamous "one cycle dogs" skip and we took a nice selfie together during an unskippable cutscene - a reference to a similar moment during our Limbo Any% Normal Route race one year prior.

I have since moved away from Inside as a speed game, as it never really clicked with me, but all in all, despite the run being awful, I am grateful I could show it at ESA. I am more content with my The Swapper run I did that same year.

Do you have any general goals you'd like to achieve from speedrunning?

First, of course, there are the small goals of getting better times in my games. One is never content with one's PB. If you're a runner, you know it. The only time you are truly content is when you achieve the absolute best (or known best) possible time in a game, like for example, the people who have gotten the Dragster record. I definitely want to improve my times in at least 140, Limbo and Mushroom 11 for now, but may come back to my other games later, as well. But grinding can be super tiresome and make you burn out fairly soon on a game, so I will have to approach them (especially 140 and Limbo) fresh and once my motivation has come back, so after a significant amount of time has passed since I last played them.

In a broader sense, there is no "goal" I aim for with my significance as a speedrunner, my Twitch channel or anything like that. I mainly do it for what I think most runners do: as a hobby and spending as much time as possible with games I truly love. I mean, I started speedrunning because I loved the game 140 so much but I had beaten all of its challenges, unlocked all of the achievements and played through the main game countless times. That's what I would urge aspiring runners to do, by the way: only learn games that you are comfortable playing through over and over and over again. Because once your time gets low enough, you will have to do exactly that to get better.

My channel is rather small and when I get 10+ viewers, this usually means I'm having a very good day. But that's okay – I don't need to stream to bigger audiences of 100 and more viewers, although I wouldn't be opposed to it! I planned to learn more popular speed games some time ago – specifically Majora's Mask – but that never materialised and I have postponed this for an indefinite amount of time, mostly because I enjoy runs of smaller games more and feel more comfortable in their environment. 

I think ten years ago I would have thought differently, but I am actually very glad I have a full-time job and can maintain streaming and speedrunning as a hobby, not having to worry about doing it five days a week, six to eight hours a day. Instead, I hope that people who watch my runs will learn something new about the games I play and on top of that get to know me. Whenever I see somebody in my chat say, "Hey, this game looks cool. Oh, it's only five bucks, I'll buy it!", that makes me really happy, and I feel that this is the least I can do to pay back the developer for giving me all these hours of joy. I do believe, however, that speedrunning can help train your mind and help you cope with feelings of nervousness, especially pulling yourself together when you know problematic situations are coming up.

What I would love, though, is to become a figure associated with the speedrunning community. I had a blast during my hosting shifts at ESA17, and I hope I'll have fun again at the next marathon! I have made many wonderful friends in this community and I am truly proud to be a part of it. I also plan to attend – and hopefully have a run at – a GDQ event at some point in the future. I am definitely planning on AGDQ2019, so maybe see you there?

Fingers crossed that I can make it to AGDQ next year, but regardless, I will be at ESA next month! Keep your eyes peeled for further reports on speedrunning as a whole and on my experiences preparing for/taking part in ESA 2018.

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Charlotte Cutts
Charlotte CuttsContributor   gamer profile

Likes games, loves speedrunning. Ships herself with the PlayStation Vita.  more + disclosures



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