Nov 27

The RPG Lounge- Dragon Quest II

Welcome to the first in an occasional series of posts. Similar to the Games I Beat In 2014 series, this will be a retrospective/review of various RPGs I play, most of which will be on stream.

Dragon Quest II is generally thought of as one of the weaker entries in the Dragon Quest series. While it’s an important game in its own way, that way is mainly as the transition between the JRPG-inventing Dragon Quest and the landmark Dragon Quest III, which essentially every JRPG since has tried to live up to, and which is the Japanese analog to Super Mario 64 in terms of speedrunning prestige. Because of what came before and after it, Dragon Quest II tends to get lost in the shuffle.

Recently, I played through the Game Boy Color version of the game, as part of the collection titled “Dragon Warrior I & II” in the US (The short version for the Dragon Warrior name is “There were once trademark issues in the US with ‘Dragon Quest’; those issues no longer exist”). I had played through the NES version as a kid, then tried the GBC version about 12 years ago, getting stuck just after acquiring the Princess of Moonbrooke. More recently, the game has been released for Android and iOS, and those versions are closer to the GBC version than the NES original.

The design of old-school games, and how they try to give you a tutorial without labeling anything a tutorial, intrigues me. In the case of Dragon Quest II, this comes in the form of how your party is composed. You begin with the Prince of Lorasia, a brute who can use no magic whatsoever (In contrast to the do-it-all nature of later Dragon Quest main characters, the Prince of Lorasia is closer to the Soldier-type class of the later games). After traversing a dungeon, you’ll acquire your first ally, the Prince of Cannock, who is a balance between combat and magic (And infamously does neither of them well in the second half of the game. In the GBC version, some adjustments were made to make Cannock not complete trash–his weapon selection is a good deal better than in the NES version, and the spells he can cast both in and out of battle cost a bit less when used in combat). And a bit further on, you get your second and final ally, the Princess of Moonbrooke, who is an amazing sorceress who is almost useless in terms of attacking in battle. Almost. In that way, the game introduces magic to you little by little, and the tactics you’ll use in battle require varying levels of adjustment depending on the character and the enemy formation you’ll be fighting–Lorasia will do almost nothing but “FIGHT”, but the other two characters will need to adjust their actions depending on the situation at hand.

Yuji Horii, the main architect of Dragon Quest, has mentioned he was influenced by the Wizardry series of games. That comes through a bit more clearly in Dragon Quest II, primarily in terms of battles. Much like in the first 5 Wizardries, any battle can potentially be your last. Especially in the late game, monsters appear in large groups, and can call allies, use powerful spells, or have attacks which can hit your entire party. Encounter a formation with 3 or 4 of such an enemy, and it’s very possible you’ll die regardless of your level.

Another thing that Dragon Quest II picks up from Wizardry is how surprisingly useful “indirect” spells are. Particularly on bosses and in the endgame, Increase (Raises your party’s defense power) and Defense (Lowers the defense power of enemies) are your friends. Again, this is even more true in the GBC version, where their effectiveness is increased (Beware, though, this also applies to when enemies use them). Sleep and Stopspell are also valuable spells to allow you to get in precious attacks without being assaulted by enemies.

The Dragon Quest team took a lot of the feedback they got in response to Dragon Quest II to make Dragon Quest III. Once of the most common criticisms of DQII is that there are several points where the game tells you, more or less, “have fun!” without so much as a clue about where to go next. Indeed, my playthrough 12 years ago ended when, after getting the Princess, I unsuccessfully failed to act on a hint that just said “There’s a tower somewhere where you can get a Wind Cloak.”. The game doesn’t tell you where that tower is, and the route to it isn’t the most intuitive. Still, this time, thanks to remembering where the tower was after looking it up all those years ago, I pushed through. And while it’s true that Dragon Quest II isn’t the most linear game, especially after getting the boat, there are enough scraps available (And crucially, you can get an in-game World Map in the GBC version) from townspeople to be able to piece together what you have to do to advance in its second half.

The World Map is a bit cruel in one aspect: There’s a point where you find something by sailing north from your location. The issue is that the location is already pretty far north on the map, meaning you end up finding the item on the far SOUTH of the world.

Beyond that, while the game isn’t as bad as the first Dragon Quest in this regard, there is a difficulty spike where you’ll be forced to do some level grinding. Precisely where that difficulty spike occurs varies depending on the version of the game you play, but suffice to say that it occurs either at or near the endgame. Even in the GBC version, and even with valuable knowledge that a first-time player is unlikely to have (Notably in how some items can be used in battle), I needed to stop and get some levels in the endgame.

Still, overall, I enjoyed my recent playthrough, probably more than I thought I would, if I’m being honest. I was surprised at how short the game actually is when you get down to it, but I found the non-linear nature of the second half to be a positive, not a negative. Further, I may have gotten lucky, but I found I “stumbled into” the more-or-less intended sequence, in part thanks to the World Map. I’d say it’s worth playing, especially with the availability of the somewhat easier version for mobile devices nowadays. This is especially true if you like your RPGs not to hold your hand, or not to be quite 100% linear.


Oct 21

Dragon Warrior Randomizer Tournament Match 4 Postmortem

My fourth match in the tournament, versus johnbloodythumbs, was sadly also my last.

You can watch the race from my perspective here, or check out the race stream here.

After the beginnings of my previous two races, I was extremely happy to see both HEAL and HURTMORE in my starting spell list. No difficult beginning! No grinding required at the outset! It was a good thing, too, because the starting strength was as abyssmal as the previous seed (My Agility and MP were fine, though).

Because of the fairly easy beginning, there isn’t much to say about my decision-making process this time around. I did take a few early gambles that didn’t pay off, most notably trying for the Hauksness item earlier than I probably should. That took me about 4 tries, after repeatedly either getting back attacked or missing a HURTMORE on the Armored Knight guarding the item. When I finally did beat him, it turned out he was guarding the Fairy Flute, which was not exactly what I wanted to see.

My big problem this time was in my map-making. Fairly early on, the scale of my map got thrown off, making it close to useless. The end result of this was that I walked by the Mountain Cave at least once, and possibly multiple times, thinking it was a cave I had already visited. When I finally went inside, and when it turned out to contain the Staff of Rain, the last item I was missing, I had a feeling I was in trouble.

As a last-ditch effort, I dove into Charlock, hoping for a level that would let me defeat the Dragonlord. It didn’t happen, and I’m not sure I would have won even if it did due to my being too far behind on experience. Right as I hit the level that I knew would let me win, JBT .doned, ending my tournament experience. At that point, I at least decided to have fun with my elimination, faking out the Dragonlord by saying “Yes” to his offer the first time before saying “No” to “really?”, then by going for a #SWAGOVERLOAD HURTMORE because I knew I had the MP to spare, and finally making a not-as-risky-as-it-seemed swing at the Dragonlord with a spare HEALMORE, as I was counting damage and knew I would win.

I’m not going to lie, it kind of hurts knowing that I could have won this race if not for my own incompetence with map-making. On the other hand, JBT did some grinding on the Armored Knight in Hauksness, whereas I stayed away from it once I got the Fairy Flute. That definitely didn’t help my cause regarding the experience race. It’s also a bit ironic that my fastest time of my four tournament races resulted in a loss. But such is the beauty of Randomizer.

In all, though, I’m happy I entered the tournament. It was great fun, and I’ll try and keep doing DWR races in the future.


Oct 04

Dragon Warrior Randomizer Tournament Match 3 Postmortem

My third match in the Dragon Warrior Randomizer tournament was a victory, albeit a bittersweet one. More on that later.

For now, check out the race from my perspective here and here (My internet cut out mid-race, hence the 2 parts), or the actual race stream here.

This was another tough beginning, although not quite as tough as some others. Our starting stats were awful, to the point I briefly wondered if I’d loaded the stock Dragon Warrior ROM by accident instead of the randomized seed. That said, the enemies in the starting zone were basically starting enemies, and while a few of them had HEALMORE, none of them had anything special attack-wise. In all, it was interesting how closely the start of this seed matched “Vanilla” Dragon Warrior. I took a bit to explore, found Brecconary, then actually reset and started over to keep gold to buy a Club, Dragon Scale, and an Herb. That wasn’t much, but it was enough to at least let me consistently hit Drakees and Ghosts to gain a level or two.

Big power boosts were incoming, but even that wasn’t enough to let us do much exploring. Jealkeja and I both struggled with finding much of anything for awhile, and I agonized over how much to grind at points. As I mentioned in the previous write-up, one wrong decision at the wrong time in a head-to-head race can lose it for you, even if you play everything else right.

The flipside to that is that the right decision, at the right time, can, if not win you a race, at least put you in a comfortable position. In my case, that moment of reckoning came during a trip through the Swamp Cave. Realizing that the enemies in there were both easily killable at my stats and gave good experience, and recognizing that my exploration was not going well, I opted to stick around in that cave and grind up levels. I agonized over this for a bit, knowing that every second I spent grinding was a second I wasn’t exploring, and a second my opponent potentially was exploring and gathering items. When I hit Level 10 and acquired HURTMORE, though, I knew I’d made the right choice and it was go time. The funny thing about that was I mentioned I basically didn’t fear exploration after acquiring it, and the first enemy I ran into post-level 10 was…a Wizard, which is highly resistant to HURTMORE.

It’s here that I’ll admit to a bit of gamesmanship. I was watching the race channel, and saw that jealkeja had posted something like “horrible seed”. I simply replied “Agreed, heh” or similar. When he responded with roughly “How many times do I have to explore 15 steps and then die?!” when I was Level 11 and had both HEALMORE and HURTMORE, I just shut up, figuring that, if I wasn’t in a dominant position at that point, I was at least comfortably ahead in the experience department, or he wouldn’t have been asking the question.

Then, a few minutes later, about an hour and 40 minutes into the race, jealkeja forfeited. This meant that, if I could finish the seed at all, I would win. And I eventually did, and I’ll take it, though I wonder what would have happened if jeal hadn’t had to forfeit.

Because the weakest part of my game continues to be “Dragonlord Math”, or figuring out exactly what resources I’ll need to win the game given a certain set of stats. This was a very unusual seed, in that it had huge HP and Strength, roughly average MP…and almost no Agility whatsoever. That, combined with the lack of a Silver Shield, made for a rare circumstance: Namely, it was better to just fight the harder enemies in Charlock, rather than trying to run from them and failing repeatedly. It took me a long while to realize this, and while I knew I could win the game at Level 17 (And possibly even 16 if I could make it to the Dragonlord with full resources), I didn’t realize just how comfortable my position actually was. As a result, the endgame took probably a half hour longer than it would have had I just burned a few more HEALMOREs on the way down to the Dragonlord. While it felt good to have my suspicions confirmed that I was well ahead at the point of jeal’s forfeit (And of course, if he hadn’t forfeited when he did, it may have changed my decision making at some point), we’ll never know if he could have come back given my awful math and equally horrific endgame.

Either way, though, I did win, thus making the top 16, and my next match is against Johnbloodythumbs. Like my previous match, I’m favored seeding-wise, but I don’t put much stock in that, as I haven’t been able to practice as much as I would have liked. But we’ll see how it goes.


Oct 01

Dragon Warrior Randomizer Tournament Match 2 Postmortem

So my second round match…did not go as well as my first round match. I put up a good fight, but two big mistakes cost me a potential victory against NESCardinality.

For context, check out the race from my perspective here, or the actual race stream here.

The beginning of this seed was a challenge. First, Roaming Throne Room Guard made a play for being the True Final Boss, blocking my way out of the throne room for way longer than he should have. Next, I was having difficulty finding Red Slimes to kill, meaning I had to slowly punch Drakees to death to get my first level or two. Lastly, I was trying to hold onto some of the gold I acquired, which meant I went back to save more often than maybe I should have.

The gold did come in handy, as I got an early Copper Sword and Leather Armor, which let me at least take swings at things besides Drakees and Red Slimes. I also found Kol and Erdrick’s Armor early on, which helped me gain some experience by tapping monsters to death and eliminating the need to grind for Magic Armor.

The seed as a whole was full of “Emptyeye levels”, or levels that gave zeros to certain stats (Especially Strength and Agility), which meant that a lot of grinding was required. It’s rare that Red Dragons are the enemy of choice to grind on, but that was the case here, even though I needed between 6 and 8 attacks to kill one on average at the onset of my grind–255 experience for basically the cost of a Stopspell was too good to pass up.

I thought my exploration luck was pretty good, never needing to find the Mountain Cave at all, and my battle luck was by-and-large okay as well. My main incorrect decision battle-wise was waiting until level 21 to go after the Dragonlord, but that’s not what cost me the race (Though it did, presumably, eliminate whatever small chance I had of winning). Both NESCard and I were doing on-the-fly math once we hit level 20, and neither of us were liking how it came out at first (We both actually killed a few more Red Dragons while trying to crunch the numbers in our heads). NESCard, crucially, realized that our high HP would give us the double attacks we would need on Dragonlord 2 (Our damage wasn’t great, so by my on-the-fly math, we would need something like 5 at minimum) at level 20, and I elected to wait until level 21, underestimating that effect. When NESCard .doned, I realized that I could have gone at 20, or at worst, 21 was definitely going to be the level–I figured I was behind, but I didn’t think I was that far behind. As it was, NES said he won fairly comfortably at level 20, and my waiting until 21 allowed me to win the fight with 5(!!) Healmores left.

While my conservatism sealed my fate regarding the race, though, it’s not what actually cost me the race. I made two big mistakes that were the difference. The first was attempting to “shortcut” the coordinates of the item on the world map, and not going quite far enough west as a result. Making matters worse, my plan B of checking the item in Hauksness was also a bust, as I had to use up pretty much all of my MP on monsters in Hauksness before making it to the miniboss. This meant a Return to Tantagel and re-count of my steps before finally finding the item. Fortunately, the coordinates weren’t super far away from the castle (Something like 7 North 34 West if I remember right), and I’ve seen enough people screw up coordinates in one way or another that I’m not that upset about it.

The crucial mistake, and the one I think actually cost me the race, was attempting to dive into Charlock and see what was in the treasury (And maybe take a peek at the miniboss) way before I should have. I had no illusions that I’d be able to beat the Dragonlord at the level I was at, but I didn’t even come close to making it all the way down, and when I died in the attempt, I actually said something to the effect of “I think I just lost this race. Damn.”

Still, I think I put up a good fight, and I’m happy overall with how I played. The beauty and pain of Dragon Warrior Randomizer is that is that one wrong decision at the wrong time (Or a calculated risk that just doesn’t work out) can cost you, and after taking a bunch of gambles and having them all go right in my round 1 match, I guess I was due for one to bite me in the ass.

Either way, my next match is against jealkeja. This will be the first time I’ve been the higher seed in this tournament, but I frankly don’t put a lot of stock in that–the tournament had a lot of late entries, and a lot of those lower seeds have been practicing more than I have in the meantime. Hopefully, though, I can put on a good show and advance further in the Boners Bracket.


Sep 18

Dragon Warrior Randomizer Tournament Match 1 Postmortem

So my opening round (And actually the first match of the entire tournament to take place) match against RCTMid in the Dragon Warrior Randomizer tournament was a victory. More importantly for the tournament as a whole, it was a very close match, with me taking the win by 36 seconds according to Speedruns Live. If all the matches in the tournament are that exciting, this will be an amazing tournament.

For more context about what I’ll be talking about, you can see the race from my perspective here, or check out the actual race stream here.

For my own performance, I thought my exploration luck was generally pretty good, with the exception of how late I found Garinham. Despite how I won with my last attack on the Dragonlord, I thought my battle luck, on the other hand, was awful through the whole thing. I had two different enemies dodge my attacks twice in a row, for starters. One was a Blue Dragon, whose evasion rate is only 1/32 (Admittedly more than the typical enemy, which is 1/64). I forget the second enemy, but it wasn’t one that I was aware had an elevated evasion stat compared to normal. I felt like that was my typical luck through the rest of the seed, battle-wise, as evidenced by my aborting Garin’s Grave exploration after setting up the Gold Grind (Which made things interesting for me near the end).

Finding Garinham as late as I did wasn’t good, as it also contained “The Jerk Cave”, needed to get the Rainbow Drop. Because of that, I felt as though I was behind (I was), and needed to take a couple gambles if I wanted to win. The first was, after going to the Charlock Treasury and finding nothing of note, going back up where the normal Erdrick’s Sword location was and looking for the Fighter’s Ring there (It was there, thankfully). Having the information from both streams, I imagine the commentators thought that was a smart move on my part, since RCT had explored all of Garin’s Grave. But since I hadn’t, my thought as I was doing it was “I’m probably behind, so I have to risk this, even though there is a 2/3 chance (I left two chests behind in the Grave) that I’ve just lost the race by doing so”. Taking a look at my stats and deciding to risk getting a good enough level on the way to the Dragonlord to put me over the top to be able to beat him was a similar thought process. As it turned out, I did, barely, getting to 97 max HP (Basically the absolute minimum you want, as it lets you survive two consecutive fire breaths for 48 damage, meaning you’re guaranteed at least one attack per Healmore) and a few extra Stength. The way to the Dragonlord wasn’t great, as I had no Herbs and had to burn a couple Healmores before actually fighting the second phase. Plus DL2 got the drop on me.

In the end, though, it worked out. Thinking I was behind probably helped me in a way, because instead of agonizing over what to do and when to do it in the late game, it forced me into being aggressive even if it wasn’t necessarily “safe” to do so, knowing that the gambles not working out would lead to the same result as me not taking them at all (IE I lose).

The other thing that annoyed me was my emulator, which for some reason was extremely laggy and slowdown-y, despite my restarting my computer just before the race. It got to the point where I considered saying something in the race chat or even just forfeiting under 5 minutes in. Obviously, I’m glad I didn’t.

With that, my next match is against NESCardinality, who has been called “the final boss” of this tournament. For reference, there are eleven completed winner’s bracket predictions, including mine. All eleven have NESCardinality going to at least the top four of the winner’s bracket. Or, put another way, literally no one, including me, expects me to win this next match. The two good things about this are that I don’t feel a whole lot of pressure, and I’ll once again feel free to take longshot gambles if I think the situation at hand calls for it.

In any event, I’m glad I won’t be going two and out at any rate. Hopefully I can go even further, even if I don’t expect it.

Aug 02

Where My Gaming Is At

So of late, I’ve been playing a lot of Sid Meier’s Covert Action (GOG Galaxy says I’ve played it for a total of 45 hours and 47 minutes). It’s essentially Sid Meier’s take on James Bond, in that you play as a secret agent trying to prevent various crimes from taking place. What’s neat about it is the freedom you have in trying to gather information that will help you take down the various criminals, as well as working out who to arrest when. Because arresting criminals and/or turning them into double agents gets you the most points, sometimes playing a “long game”, letting one criminal go longer so as to not bring the whole operation down and force people into hiding too quickly can sometimes be the way to go.

This isn’t really a post designed to get you to buy and play Covert Action (Although you should). It’s more an explanation of where I’m at gaming-wise. I used to speedrun games, and while I try to be involved in other speedrunners’ streams (And if I can find the time, would like to try and help out other runners/communities by commentating runs/races/etc.), I can say I’m happily retired from “traditional” speedrunning. What do I mean by “traditional”? I mean speedrunning where “Getting the World Record” is the all-consuming goal, involving resets for anything less than the best possible luck and grinding out seconds-long portions of a game for hours on end to try and consistently move a few frames faster. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m simply not very good at that kind of thing. Truthfully, I never was, but I was fortunate enough to enter speedrunning as a hobby long enough ago that it didn’t matter so much at the time, and I could sort of coast by on my reputation for longer than I should have been able to.

Luckily, there’s been an increase lately (Meaning in the last year or two) in tournaments for various games. These tournaments tend to pit two people against one another in a series of matches, and the fastest time of the two moves on to the next round. Over the years, I’ve taken the position that getting consistently good results in races is a better indicator of “skill” at a particular game than resetting constantly for the perfect set of conditions the game can give you, or starting over at the tinest mistake (Though I will acknowledge that record holders do also tend to do well at, if not win, tournaments of their games pretty consistently).

Even races, though, don’t particularly appeal to me from a participation standpoint right now. So what does, or at least might? Put simply, randomizers, such as the Dragon Warrior Randomizer (Which also includes some options to make the game a bit less of a grind), or the Zelda Randomizer. I’ve enjoyed watching the regulars of those communities (Particularly NESCardinality for Dragon Warrior and Skybilz for Zelda) play these Randomizers, where an overall knowledge of the game and being able to quickly adapt to what the game throws at you (Instead of just discarding it and starting over) is the priority.

And that’s basically where I’m at. If I ever were to get back into anything “speedrunning”-related, it would be something like those Randomizers, or the original Binding of Isaac. Something where getting a “World Record” as it were would be all but impossible, simply because the game is such a different experience every time out that a true apples-to-apples comparison is impossible, but it would still be fun to challenge myself and see how fast I could complete a given seed.

I think part of the reason I’m so into Covert Action is that it scratches that particular itch at the moment. Each case is slightly different, though the process of figuring them out tends to be similar, and you can actually opt to extend a “plot” (series of crimes) if you just opt not to arrest the Mastermind when you can. Once I’ve had my fill of Covert Action, I’ll probably look into the 2004 remaster of Pirates!, and then maybe try to track down some easier Roguelikes to satisfy my “Every game is different” craving. If anyone has some recommendations for any “Beginner” Roguelikes, they’d greatly be appreciated.


May 25

Album Review- Yes: Time and a Word

Album: Time and a Word
Year: 1970
The Lineup:
Jon Anderson- Vocals
Peter Banks- Guitar
Bill Bruford- Drums
Tony Kaye- Keyboards
Chris Squire- Bass

Have I Heard It Before: Except for the title track, no, though with a caveat: A few songs from this album appear on “The Word Is Live”, meaning I’ve technically heard them, but I couldn’t remember any of them on listening to their studio versions here for the first time.

Love them or hate them, one thing that can’t be denied about Yes is that they’re unafraid to swing big in the service of what they’re going for. It’s a high-risk, high-reward proposition, and when they swing and connect, it’s brilliant.

When they swing and miss, though…look out. In that case, Yes wind up looking like one of those baseball cartoons where the guy swings and misses so hard that the bat, and his arms, wrap around his body (Or the variant where he tornados himself into the ground).

Time and a Word is Yes’s first truly big swing, and the end result…well, remember how I wrote that most Yes fans will tell you to start with The Yes Album, the one after Time and a Word? There’s a reason.

This isn’t to say that the album is wholly without merit. As with the first album, there are two cover songs–“No Opportunity Required, No Experience Needed” by Richie Valens, and Buffalo Springfield’s “Everydays”. As with “Every Little Thing” from the first album, “No Opportunity…” is one of the best things on this album, being a good deal faster and more upbeat than the original. As for “Everydays”, the first two and a half minutes (Like “Every Little Thing”, Yes roughly double the length of the original song) evoke a smoky jazz lounge, which isn’t a bad thing, even if it’s not the first image that jumps to mind when you hear “Yes”.

Yes’s love of stereo effects is also evident on pretty much every song on the album, with instruments either alternating from ear-to-ear (As with the backing instrumentation on “No Opportunity…”), or simply being hard-panned to one side of the other. It’s an album that should be experienced with a decent pair of headphones to get the full effect.

Like the first album, there are signs of where they would end up. The ending of “Then”, with its sparse instrumentation and quiet vocals, seems to be an embryonic form of the type of interlude they would perfect with “I Get Up, I Get Down” from Close to the Edge.

This time around, Yes thought a good idea for adding more flavor to their songs would be incorporating an orchestra. This is the main flaw of the album–the enthusiasm and ambition behind this outweighed their ability to actually write compositions for it. It’s not a total flop–in “Then”, the orchestral accents between vocal lines give the track a James Bond feel, and as a whole tends to work when it’s in the background–but it’s jarring when in the foreground, taking you out of the music rather than adding anything to it. I can see people in 1970 listening to “No Opportunity…” for the first time, thinking “Sweet, another album of psychedelic-influenced rock!”, then hearing the orchestra come in and wondering “What the hell is going on?” It wouldn’t be the last time a Yes album would raise that question.

Sometimes to move forward, you have a take a step back. Time and a Word is a step back from the first album. But it’s less an outright bad album than a frustrating one. A lot of it either evokes things they would later do better–the interlude of “Everydays” calls to mind the barely-contained anarchy of “The Solid Time of Change” but less-developed, besides the already-mentioned “Then” reminding me of another portion of “Close to the Edge”–or reminds me of things from the first album–“Sweet Dreams” is a not-as-good version of “Looking Around”, while the tempo of “Astral Traveler” answers the question of “What if Yes decided to put lyrics to that mid-tempo instrumental section of ‘Harold Land’ before the actual vocals start?” And given that, I would rather listen to those instead.

You can listen to the entire album on Youtube here.


May 11

Ace of Space

So about a month ago, Radioactive Rat, a streamer who, among other things, runs the SNES game Space Ace on a pretty snazzy cart, was doing a 12-hour stream. Thinking myself clever, I told her that, according to Motörhead, “For a 12-hour stream, the only game you need is the Ace of Space.”

I then wondered if I could expand this goofy parody of a couple lyrics out to the entire song “Ace of Spades”. The below is a minor revision of what I came up with and sent to Radioactive Rat.

If you like good SNES games
You’ve gotta watch the Rat
Running, jumping
Shooting cosmic things
It’s fun to watch her play
Retro stuff all night and day
For a twelve hour stream
The only game she needs
is the Ace of Space
The Ace of Space

Jumping for the high ground
Dodging all the lasers
Going with the scroll
The skill amazes me
Flying through the maze
Disorienting speed
Maze hub takes all your lives
Great old-school game design
The Ace of Space
The Ace of Space

If you play it you lose
Like many other fools
And that’s how Don Bluth likes it baby
All that you’ll see is Game Over
But at least then you can practice!

Grunting as he jumps down
Dies with a “Whoa, far out!”
It makes you weep
‘Cause you moved wrong again
The game stops in your eyes
Then you energize
Though Dexter is a dork
He’ll transform and beat Borf
The Ace of Space
The Ace of Space

I have some ideas for other speedrun/Twitch-related parodies too. Who knows if anything will ever come of them, though.


May 06

Ninja Gaiden II Speedrun Tournament Thoughts

Putting this here instead of a PasteBin because, what the heck, I’m paying for a website, I might as well use it.

Some thoughts on the Swiss rounds of the recent Ninja Gaiden II speedrunning tourney:

(A brief note that when I say “the tournament”, I mean “The Swiss portion of the tournament”. I’m aware we still have Top 8 to go as of this post, but this feedback concerns the Swiss portion)

tl;dr version: Swiss can definitely work for speedrun tournaments, even for longer games with some massaging. It would have to be done carefully, though. This one was pretty darn great, despite some issues.

First of all, I’m familiar with how Swiss works from my days playing the WWE Raw Deal card game. That said, I didn’t pop in on this particular tournament until midway through the Swiss rounds (So round 3 or 4).

On Swiss in general:

  • It’s great for separating the cream of the crop from everyone else (This also works on the opposite end). It’s less good at reliably separating out the middle–you wind up with a bunch of people with roughly .500 records, due to the design of Swiss.
  • It ensures the tournament more-or-less always remains exciting for the competitors, at least in theory. Besides the mish-mash in the middle where you typically have multiple people fighting for the final few “playoff” spots, the idea behind Swiss is that everyone continually gets matched up with people of roughly their skill level, as indicated by their records to that point. This works for the audience as well, as the matches should always be close (Sinister noted that they only had to switch featured races due to a blowout in one round).
  • It does require a bit of time investment on the part of the competitors, especially if you want to try and get it all out of the way in a single day. As a side effect of how Swiss works, the tournament is effectively halted until an entire round completes. Contrast with a single or double-elimination tournament, where one “straggler” doesn’t slam the entire tournament to a halt, at least at first.

Now, some thoughts on this specific tournament, and whether Swiss can work for speedrunning tournaments in general:

  • I think, as Sinister previously said, the answer to the question “Can Swiss work for speedrunning tournaments?” is a resounding “yes”. However, that doesn’t make it the automatic best choice across the board, as he notes.
  • The main thing to consider is “Are you trying to get the entire Swiss round out of the way in a single day?” While the NGII tournament answered that question with “Yes”, I don’t think that has to be the answer. If the answer is “yes”, though, you’ve restricted yourself to games in the neighborhood of a half hour long, max. Doing a Swiss tournament over multiple days would be more difficult (Someone not getting their match done in a timely fashion/being removed mid-tournament has more of an effect than it would in a more “traditional” tournament, where you just remove the person and anyone in that person’s “path” effectively gets a bye. In Swiss, a removal kind of screws everyone who played the removed person due to how tiebreakers work, through no fault of the people who got matched up with the “straggler”), but not impossible if you have participants who are truly committed to getting games played–just run it like the Mystery Tournaments do, where you have a specific range of days to complete your match.
  • Having your Swiss round spread out over multiple days would also help mitigate what is probably the biggest challenge for commentators–striking a balance between helping people unfamiliar with the game without being repetitive for those who tune in from the start. The shorter the game, and the more rounds your tournament is, the bigger this issue. I think Sinister and Duckfist did a fine job of handling this in this tournament specifically, by telling some of the “stories” of the featured racers.
  • Sinister noted that the event lasted longer than he would have liked due to various issues. The main thing, to me, was actually that the tournament went 1 round too long. In most Swiss tournaments, the general rule is 2^x = N, where N is the number of participants rounded up to the next power of 2, and x is your number of rounds. So with 30 people, there should have been five rounds, not 6 (The idea being at the end, you’ll have one person with an X-0 record).
  • Another potential reason that the event ran long from what I saw was the desire for multiple featured races in a round, which meant that some races didn’t start until after others were finished. While I don’t necessarily agree with the “Too many featured races” critique, if the primary goal of a future tournament is simply “End it as quickly as possible” as opposed to “Showcase as many runners of varying skills as possible”, having everyone start a round at the same time would be preferable, and doable.
  • Going back to my point about Swiss separating the cream of the crop from everyone else, I’ll note that 7 of the top 8 seeds advanced to the Top 8, and the 8th person was still firmly in the upper echelon of entrants, seeded 11th out of about 30 people. I think this shows that the system does work–people claim to love a Cinderella story, but they generally get pretty annoyed with anyone but “their” Cinderella story making a deep run. In that sense, I think this portion of the tournament is a definite success.
  • I’m a bit confused about the comment regarding seeding in subsequent rounds. A brief note on Swiss: Round 1 is seed-based. Round 2 then consists of 1-0 v. 1-0 matches, and 0-1 v. 0-1 matches. Round 3 continues in this pattern as reasonably as possible without repeating past matches (So 2-0s play 2-0s, 1-1s play 1-1s, 0-2s play 0-2s). This pattern continues for the remaining rounds. What I’m guessing is that within that framework, Sinister and the other organizers had the highest-seeded 1-0 play the lowest-seeded 1-0, and so on. I’m not sure how big of an issue this really is, particularly in light of the previous point.

Still, overall, I’d say it was a big success from a viewer standpoint. Basically every race was exciting, and I enjoyed the interviews too. I’d definitely like to see more tournaments use the format.


(EDITED to fix typos 5/6/16)

Jan 30

Speedrun HOT TAKES! Post-AGDQ2016 Edition

Disclaimers: This will jump from subject to subject. Also, a confession: The organization leading up to AGDQ 2016 rubbed me the wrong way to the point I watched a total of probably one minute of the actual marathon “live”. From what others have said, the event itself went very well despite the terrible organization leading up to it, and I’ll take their word for it, not knowing enough to say differently. Finally, I’ve e-mailed some of these thoughts to GDQ staff already; the parts I’m comfortable making public will re-appear here.

Most of my frustration concerned the lead-in to the event. While I like all of the GDQ staff as people, the person who said “GDQ LLC isn’t a corporation, it’s a bunch of people playing at being a corporation” was right on. And to be honest, while I hope he does make a full recovery, I lay an at-least-equal share of the blame for that at Mike’s feet for failing to come up with a proper contingency plan. The proper move here was, after AGDQ 2015, for Mike and a few people he trusted to sit down, and for him to say “Okay. Let’s all hope I’m back before too long, but for now, we need to assume the worst: that I’m out of action for the long-term. Here’s what needs to get done, here’s how to do those things, and here are the people I want to do them.” Instead, what happened was that the plan put into place was “Wait for Mike to get better”, and this plan was followed right up until it became clear doing so would result in there not being an AGDQ 2016. Then Cool Matty became the leader basically by default. Similarly, making Sumichu the “messenger” for the selection committee when she had no actual power to influence the decisions (1) was fair to no one–this led to a situation where she was forced to deal with everyone being upset over their game being cut, but couldn’t do anything about it other than say “Sorry, I feel for you”. No one was surprised when the staff missed their deadlines for setting the schedule–compressing the process and starting it way later than usual (For context, AGDQ 2015’s submission process began in August 2014. AGDQ2016’s process? Started in October.) was inviting disaster, and their track record to that point with Mike leading was not great–but the lack of preparation showed when the staff tried to blame the delay on “Unforeseeable circumstances”. I’m sorry, but “The guy who has been sick for months and months is still sick” is the exact opposite of “unforeseeable”.

The good news is that things seem to be getting better on this front. Now that Matty knows “Okay, looks like I’m the leader for the long-term”, he seems to actually be stepping up and making changes. And I like a lot of the changes being made. Some of these include:

  • Not publicizing decisions about accept/reject until the submission process is over. I hope this extends to actually not making decisions about the games until said process is over, and ideally randomizing the order the decisions are made in (A big problem I have with the process is possible subconscious bias, especially in light of the staff claiming early submissions won’t help your chances. They parrot this, but I’m not sure if they know whether it’s actually true or not, and they seem resistant to finding out for whatever reason), but this is a big step.
  • Getting rid of the Salt-o-Meter on the website. It was a cute joke in 2013, when the community (2) was smaller than it is now. It’s needlessly antagonistic in 2016. Or, put another way, how are you not supposed to take a rejection personally when the Games Done Quick website itself all but demands that you do by naming its progress meter after being needlessly/excessively upset about something?
  • Publicizing a few members of the committee, and as importantly, removing “Final say” powers from Mike. Even pre-the existence of the committee (And speaking as, I guess, an “oldboi”–do I still count as one even though I haven’t had a game accepted in three years?), Mike tended to say of a lot of potential submissions, “I’ve never played this. It looks like it’s boring and a bad marathon game”, as though the first influenced the second. More recently, at least one person has been discouraged from re-submitting their game after it was rejected once, feeling that Mike and his “final say” was just going to reject it anyway no matter how much the rest of the committee loved it. Removing Mike’s disproportionate influence on the process also prevents it from being a bottleneck in the future. Similarly, publicizing a few members of the committee is a much-needed step toward transparency, which has been an issue in the past.
  • Actually having a contingency plan besides “Pray the leader doesn’t get sick or otherwise incapacitated, because we’re screwed if s/he does”. From my understanding, this is a work in progress, but progress is being made, and that’s good. The changes to the selection committee will help that process continue to run smoothly in the future, and similar measures should be taken on the rest of the GDQ-related functions–liaising with sponsors, the hotel, etc.

I realize I’m bashing Mike quite a bit here, which isn’t my intention. I like him, and I hope he makes a full recovery and gets back to leading GDQs soon, as they are his “baby” after all. But he has strengths and weaknesses, like anyone does, and taking one of these weaknesses away from him would allow him to better focus on his strengths. Also, while it’s a day hopefully far in the future, if he wants GDQ LLC to truly thrive, he needs to envision the day “GDQ LLC Minus Mike Uyama” comes to be.

On Threats And Enforcement

I’ll readily admit I go back and forth on this (Or, less kindly, I flip-flop on this issue). Awhile back, I wrote a pastebin opining Kollin shouldn’t have been banned for making a stupid joke (Just in case I didn’t say it enough times in the Pastebin, I’m not defending what he said at all, nor do I think it was in the slightest bit funny. I just don’t think the punishment for “making an unfunny joke” should be “banned from GDQs”.), which I stand by. On a personal level, I’m not a fan of “security theater” where people go about banning this and that to make people feel safe without making them actually safer (Applying it to a “threat” such as I discuss above: If the threat isn’t serious, the person wasn’t going to do anything, so banning the person really accomplishes nothing except, maybe, teaching them not to make unfunny jokes. If the threat is serious, I doubt banning them from the event is going to stop them without additional measures.).

And yet. Naegleria asked about a week back on Twitter if every single threat, even sarcastic ones, should be grounds for being banned from GDQs. And while I think the answer is “no” (See above Pastebin), on an intellectual level, I understand why most threats end with banning, even if it’s not the decision I would have made. The consequences of taking someone seriously when they were joking are “You ban that person and annoy them, and maybe some of their friends.” The consequences of deciding someone was joking when they were actually serious are, well, potential loss of life.

The issue here is striking a balance between “Protecting the GDQs” and “Policing the Internet”. A complicating factor here is what I believe to be a new trolling strategy this year. The strategy can be summed up as “Trolls bait someone into saying something stupid. Trolls then report that to GDQ staff, not out of genuine concern for the event’s safety, but to continue trolling, getting their victim banned because they’re aware GDQ takes a hard-line approach to threats.” And yes, people will argue “Then the victim shouldn’t have taken the bait.” But I’m hugely uncomfortable with any kind of strategy that amounts to “The victim should shut up and take it” as opposed to putting the onus on assholes to not be assholes. It’s a difficult balance, and one I’m glad I don’t have to strike (Lost in the Pastebin was that, while I don’t think Kollin should have been banned, I do think the decision to do so was defensible [My instinct was actually to agree with the banning, until I took a step back and asked myself “Wait, what does the ban actually accomplish?”], and that was pretty far down on my list of “WTF” moments in terms of GDQ leadership leading up to the event).

On The Game Selection Process In General

If I had to sum up the game selection process as I see it, it would be “While GDQ selections are not a straight popularity contest, you do have a leg up if you and/or your game are popular.” I also think that the committee privately weights popularity higher than they’re comfortable admitting in public, though I of course have no way of proving that. And I’m okay with this–I think of the GDQs nowadays as being “A charity event that happens to primarily use speedrunning as its moneyraising vehicle” as opposed to “A speedrunning event that also happens to be for charity”.

I think, as much as I love it and hope it comes back every GDQ, the transition point for this was Tetris the Grandmaster at AGDQ2015. While there is a speed component to the game, I didn’t get the impression that the players were psuhing the time to its absolute limit (Especially during some of the demonstrations like the Doubles Mode) like you’d see in a more traditional speedrun. Granting, part of this is the extreme difficulty of the game itself, but just “trying to beat a time limit”, while “speedrunning” in the technical sense (By which I’ve been “speedrunning” since about 1992, when I tried to get the best ending in Metroid II…segmented), but not in the sense that you think of when you think “GDQs”.

An observation: The biggest speedrunning “stars” also tend to be the ones who burn out the fastest. As such, it makes sense to constantly seek out and cycle “new talent” into the GDQ pool, because you don’t know if your mega-star from one year will even still be speedrunning the next year.

Overall though, I have hope for the future of GDQs. Cool Matty acknowledged that him, or someone, taking the reigns sooner than he did leading up to this past AGDQ would have alleviated a lot of the issues we saw. Now that he’s actually going to be the leader from the start, I can see the steps actually being taken to improve the event. Actually getting the charity topic up when he said it would be (Late in “the next week”, admittedly, but still in the next week–last year, or a year and a half ago, Friday would likely have brought “Sorry, due to unforeseen circumstances, we’re delaying the charity topic by another two weeks”) is a small but important step in showing that the staff are serious about walking the walk, and not just talking the talk.

(1) The question of whether Sumi should have influence in the process is a separate one. For my money, while I’d want the majority of the committee to have experience speedrunning games of various genres, I do think one person or two with a non-speedrunning/”outsider’s” perspective is valuable in cases like these, to prevent the selections from becoming too insular, or keep the whole thing from being too much of an insiders’ cool-kids-only club. Similarly to how a non-speedrunner watching your stream will sometimes point out obvious things that you, in your speedrunning mentality, glossed over, a non-speedrunner having selection influence can bring a new angle that everyone else misses, but which turns out to be really good idea. One example: I would never have guessed Dr. Mario would have been a good speedrun game, yet Essentia’s run of that was one of my personal highlights of Classic Games Done Quick.

(2) To the extent that there was just “the speedrunning community” and not “A bunch of smaller speedrunning communities that gather together a couple times a year for GDQs” even in 2013. Note that I still regard AGDQ2013 as “The Identity Crisis GDQ”, where we collectively tried to hold on to “The CGDQ Feeling” one marathon longer than was feasible in hindsight.


(Edited to correct some typos/take out some redundant words at about 11:55PM EST 1/30/16. Nothing about the substance of what I said before was changed)