Sometimes you have to stop and think about how ridiculous things are. I spent hundreds of hours mastering an obscure Nintendo DS game that I jokingly call ‘Anime Malpractice Simulator’ and then flew to Washington D.C. where I helped raise money for charity as part of Awesome Games Done Quick while dressed in scrubs.
That doesn’t happen every day.
The biannual Games Done Quick marathons are a week long celebration of speedrunning where people from around the globe gather to beat games as fast as they can while raising millions of dollars for charity.
Going to Awesome Games Done Quick as a runner was never a personal goal of mine. I’ve been a fan of the event for a long while and it was always this cool thing on the other side of the planet that I could never justify the expense of going to.
Even after being inspired to pick up Trauma Center as a speedrun by IrisJoker’s run of Trauma Center: Second Opinion at Summer Games Done Quick 2016, I didn’t think that I would ever get to a GDQ.
There is a reasonable split in the Trauma Center games between the ones released on Nintendo DS and the ones released on Nintendo Wii. The difference in using styluses on a touchscreen compared to pointing a Wiimote at a screen is vast.
Me? I’ve always preferred the touchscreen controls of the Nintendo DS and feel that UTK and UTK2 are some of the best uses of the DS that you will ever see.
It took months of grinding to get confident in my ability playing Under the Knife 2. It wasn’t until after I toppled szsk’s world record in the game that I started making submissions to marathons so that I could start showcasing the game that I loved.
There were years of rejection. I never took it personally. Hundreds – if not thousands – of games get submitted to events like Games Done Quick and my janky videos recorded from a webcam dangling from a lamp were far from appealing. Plus, I couldn’t really afford to go. It was a pipe dream.
So when submissions for AGDQ 2019 opened up, I spent a few hours recording a submission run, uploaded it to Youtube and went on with my life.
Shortly before the games list got announced, my wife accepted a job in Brisbane. A job that will uproot our life here in Canberra in just a few short weeks. Then my run got accepted and there was no way I could turn an opportunity like this down.
This was a problem.
You can imagine the tension that comes from trying to organise an interstate move and it only gets amplified when you throw in a little international travel. Throw in that this all happened around the holiday period and it’s a testament to how wonderful and supportive my wife is that we were able to find a way for me to go play video games in America in the middle of all of this.
So the preparation began.
In the build up to Awesome Games Done Quick 2019 and in a lot of the general discussion around speedrunning, there is a fair amount of focus on world records. There's so much more to speedrunning than just the top times and I was fortunate enough to sit down with halfcoordinated during Awesome Games Done Quick to talk about what he loved about speedrunning.Read more
Commentary is the glue that binds marathon runs together. You can play well, but the audience often doesn’t know what you’re doing or how what you’re doing is different than normal play. It’s a tough barrier to break. That was the focal point of my preparation, working out how to explain a ridiculously obscure and unintuitive game to an audience that I was going to get limited feedback from.
Thankfully resources exist to help with this. Every single speedrun performed at Games Done Quick is an example of how to handle that situation – or how not to handle it. There was also a panel at Summer Games Done Quick 2018 that broke down a lot of the ways to do commentary during a speedrun.
During the panel, JHobz made a specific comment about how Nintendo DS speedrunners should make an effort to look at the camera. The majority of footage of me at AGDQ was of the top of my head. Oops.
One thing that I thought was particularly important was having rapport with my couch of co-commentators. We needed to be able to bounce off of each other, joke and hold a conversation. We tried to get some practice in on Discord but there’s no replacement for being in the same room. We did not get to be in the same room together until a few minutes before the run.
Having the knowledge of how to perform is one thing. Performing is another.
Under the Knife 2 is an incredibly hard game. Not to overhype myself – or undersell anyone else’s achievements – but I would consider it to be one of the more difficult runs at this year’s event. Being able to play that game well while also describing how I was navigating around the various high stakes nonsense that Atlus loves to throw at its players took a lot of practice.
Those who haven’t done it before may not realise just how hard it is to play a game well while also talking about what you’re doing. It’s a difficult skill to master and I definitely have come nowhere close.
It took dozens of hours of dedicated practice to be able to play at a level I felt was good enough to justify flying out for Games Done Quick.
There was more than just playing the game and trying to work out how to talk about it. There’s a 5,000 word document floating around that I wrote to help my co-commentators understand what was going on.
All of that practice proved to be incredibly necessary because I am not a clever man.
Awesome Games Done Quick 2019 finished this weekend, raising $US2.3 million ($3 million) for charity. There were countless speedruns but if you missed the marathon, here are some of the best ones. Whether it’s difficult tricks or charming commentary, these speedruns stood out from the crowd.Read more
International travel sucks. It costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. You just can’t avoid that. To try and save a bit of money and cut back on a few hours of travel, I booked a flight that had me arrive at Awesome Games Done Quick about 30 hours before my run.
When you spend 26 and a half hours travelling across the globe and have difficulties sleeping on flights, 30 hours isn’t close to enough time to recover from that and make the necessary last minute preparations for a two hour performance on why a game nobody had heard of had kept me enraptured for years.
It definitely doesn’t help that there were technical issues galore. I don’t own a Nintendo DS that you can run direct capture from. They’re too expensive and the software is finnicky as hell. Instead, I stream UTK2 by dangling a webcam from a lamp. It’s good enough for me but nowhere near good enough for an event as big as Games Done Quick.
So I arranged to borrow a DS from IrisJoker. Right before boarding my flight to America, I get a message from IrisJoker saying that the software was playing up and we needed to find a backup. I had a backup, it was Vulajin’s DS that he brings to Games Done Quick events just in case. Vulajin didn’t bring his DS this time.
A few quick messages on Discord and Sayuri, a Sonic speedrunner, was able to step up with a backup backup DS. Some quick coordination work from Vulajin and everything was okay, until the sound broke right before the start of my run. Don’t worry, that got sorted out too.
And on top of all of that, there was the infamous interview before my run where I did not do ‘The Mario’.
— Twitch (@Twitch) January 15, 2019
It was a fun little moment that has been immortalised on the internet. People have asked if it was scripted. It wasn’t. The only planning was Sent, who handles prize segments, asking Darkman78 and I if we would do ‘The Mario’ a few minutes before the interview started. We said we didn’t agree and that’s what we ran with.
I was not getting up from that seat, I was exhausted.
During all of this time, every minute of every hour of every day leading up to Awesome Games Done Quick my anxiety was building. I don’t handle anxiety well. Instead, I try to do everything myself. To try and control as much of the situation as I can.
Performing a speedrun at AGDQ is not a sitation where you have complete control.
One of my co-commentators was late. The run before me finished half an hour early, cutting my preparation short. The production desk wasn’t able to get sound from the Nintendo DS. I had offered a handcam as a donation incentive so that the audience could appreciate what was going on and it was turned down for logistical reasons. None of this was under my control.
The only thing under my control was my ability to sit down and play Under the Knife 2.
So that’s what I did. As tired as I was, as anxious as I was, I could play my game.
Most of the run is a blur. A combination of the preparation and the sheer exhausted force of my personality somehow held everything together. Altabiscuit, Ace of Arrows and IrisJoker all did their jobs as co-commentators admirably, stepping up and filling the many gaps left from me having to stop and focus on being awake enough to perform.
That wasn’t rehearsed, even with all of my preparation pretty much everything you saw in the run was organic.
Having CovertMuffin as the donation reader was more help than I could ever imagine. We had already become friends over the last few months through the Ori and the Blind Forest community – who welcomed me with open arms and provided a lot of support both before and after the run, mostly in the form of hugs.
Every single time I made a joke, I could hear Muffin’s distinct laughter leak through the headset and I knew that things were going well. It’s a real shame that it wasn’t picked up by the microphones.
Things went about as smoothly as I could hope in the circumstances.
I could’ve played better but that’s not the point of a marathon run. I could’ve spoken more clearly and explained things better but the feedback on the commentary so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I could’ve played Shinsuke Nakamura’s entrance theme towards the end of the run but copyright is a bizarre monster.
Over 100,000 people watched my speedrun live. Trauma Center trended on Twitter for hours that night, with people both discussing my run and lamenting the series’ demise. Awesome Games Done Quick raised over US$2.3 million ($3.2 million) for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.
At the end of my run, you can see me collapse from relief as the anxiety finally lifts. It was a unique and powerful feeling that justified the entire experience.
I did it.
We did it.
The author participated in Awesome Games Done Quick 2019 as a volunteer at his own expense.