Interview with the Speedrunner

[Originally published July 8, 2016]

As you folks know, Summer Games Done Quick comes to a close this weekend, so – apropos of SGDQ – I thought I’d interview a speedrunner – talk about the unique history of this ever-growing subculture. Fortunately, I happen to know one. His name is Matt Loughney, he’s my younger brother, and I can hear him walking down the stairs as I type these very words. You can find him streaming on his Twitch channel most nights – in fact, he’s come straight from the horse’s mouth, taking a break from practicing his Pikmin speedrun to give this interview. If you’ve come to learn more about speedrunning, then look no further. The eagle has landed.

Tom Loughney: So how long have you been speedrunning for?

Matt Loughney: Since summer of 2014, so… 2 years.

Okay. And I see you speedrun Mario a lot. Did you start with Super Mario: Sunshine, or…?

I actually started with Ocarina of Time, ‘cause I thought wrong warp was pretty cool. So I did that, and then… I was pretty terrible at it, so I switched to Sunshine because there were a lot more people. Well, I guess there weren’t more people running Sunshine, but it was – I felt like the community was more involved.

What was it that initially got you to board ship?

I watched Samura1Man’s world record video (at the time) and I was like: I can probably do some of that. And I think I got, like, Gelato skip; which is pretty cool, because you skip like a whole world with that, and I was like: ahhh this is cool, I’m gonna keep doing this.

Well, what’s your goal with speedrunning? Do you wanna be the best? Like no one ever was? Or are you going for some sweet Twitch speedrun money, or something like that? What are your aspirations with speedrunning in your life?

It’s mostly just like a hobby, although it’s cool to be, like – I’m just barely on the front page of the Super Mario: Sunshine leaderboards. You don’t have to scroll down to see my name. I’m like, the first one that you don’t have to scroll down for.

[Laughs] Humblebrag.

[Laughs] So that’s pretty cool, yeah. And that was pretty much it. And now I’m starting to learn Pikmin, mostly ‘cause the games that I’m speedrunning are, like, childhood games, so it’s just fun to be able to absolutely destroy a childhood game.

Is it smart to speedrun multiple games? To have a diverse repertoire, as opposed to somebody who’s really just The Best at one game?

So there are some people… I feel like there’s the ‘renaissance man’s’ speedrunners, and then the ‘specific speedrunners.’ And I feel like the ‘renaissance man’s’ speedrunners are generally more successful on Twitch – like, viewer count and everything. Although, obviously because they speedrun so many games they can’t… they don’t have the time to get as good at all the games, but I think that – community-wise – they build with their own Twitch Channel community as opposed to the speedrun community. So I think if you specialize you become more involved in that game’s community, but if you’re kind of a ‘renaissance man,’ then you make your own community.

Is that part of what’s so beneficial about Twitch? I mean, Twitch is sort of the ubiquitous streaming service, so there’s obviously that. But what’s so beneficial about Twitch over other streaming platforms?

Well, one – everyone’s on it. That’s kind of the big ‘thing.’ Also, obviously it’s free, so that’s always… well, free-ish. If you wanna do gameplay, you need a capture card. But I’d say the biggest reason I like Twitch is ‘cause everyone’s on it and it’s well supported.

Alright. Well, if someone’s interested in joining that community of speedrunning, where should they start? Are there forums? Are there specific people that they should follow or reach out to? How do they make a name for themselves?

So, for most of the big games, there are Discord servers. It’s like Skype, but for gaming. So, if I’m trying to learn a new game – like, I’m also kind of learning Super Mario World – I just google ‘super Mario world discord server,’ and get on there, and everyone’s on there, and you can ask questions. There’s usually a ‘help section.’

Is there a general speedrunning discord where everybody intermingles in-between games?

Not really. There’s a speedrun reddit, but… the general speedrunning community is more like a ‘people knowing each other’ than an ‘official’ thing. I think if there was a general discord server it would be way too huge to be any amount of helpful.

So even though it’s one of, like, hundreds of gaming subcultures, I think ‘speedrunning’ seems like it has a pretty distinct identity? Like tone and jargon, and… ‘hyyyyyyyyype,’ ‘Kill the Animals’ – things like that. What do you think that’s born out of? What do you think makes ‘speedrunning’ a unique, distinctive subculture?

Hm…… I was gonna say, ‘everyone knows each other well,’ because they communicate about strats and everything? But I feel like that’s also similar with competitive gaming – like Smash and everything – so I don’t know if that’s necessarily unique to speedrunning.

Then where do you think the jargon comes from? The ‘hype,’ the ‘god-level’ – that stuff?

Well, I think that’s just ‘cause, like… the world-record people for most highly-run games are just so good at the games that they run that, when they’re on world-record pace, there really is all that hype. Like, ‘oh my god, there’s so much pressure, is he gonna do it? It’s the hardest level – ah, he clutched it! He got it!

For people who aren’t experts in speedrunning, then, who are those people? Who are those god-level folks who you’d say ‘hey, watch this person, this person, this person – they’re the best of the best, watch their stuff.’

There are kind of… generations of the best guys? So, for Zelda, obviously Cosmo was the biggest –

She goes by Narcissa now, right?

Yeah, yeah. At the time, he – I think started in Wind Waker? Although I didn’t see before that – basically found… pushing the Wind Waker time down and down… and then went into Ocarina of Time. Then after that I think Jodenstone was the kind of the big Ocarina of Time/Zelda name? Cos he was the first – well, first of all, he beat the absurdly good 18:10 world record that Cosmo got, which was, like… no one was even close to that. Everyone was like ‘oh my god, this is gonna be the last any% time.’ And then Joden beat it. And even without new strats. And then new strats were found, and he beat it again because of those.

For Super Mario: Sunshineway way back in the day, it was Toobou, who’s a Japanese runner. Although… so, for Sunshine, the Japanese runners run on NicoVideo, which is a terrible site – I really don’t like it. Even if it was in English, it’s still annoying, just ‘cause you have to be signed into your account to watch any streams. There’s no usernames. You have to pay for most services. So, in order to skip forward or go full screen, you have to pay for that.

Then there was Samura1man and stelzig, who are… I think they’re somewhere in Europe. Maybe Sweden? Probably not. And then after that was kaffelon… although kaffelon’s actually now an Ocarina of Timerunner. Currently it’s bounceyboy and Yamata – I’d say they’re the two big ones, although Yamata’s kind of been around the whole time

So is this sort of a ‘comics’ or ‘porn’ situation, where there was a Golden Age and a Silver Age? What age of speedrunning do you think we’re in now and why?

So I can’t speak for all speedrunning, just because I’m not… no one can be in all speedrunning communities. For Sunshine specifically? Probably like… the fourth age?

A Ming Dynasty.

Yes. There was pre-Gelato skip, post-Gelato skip… post-Gelato skip, pre-EYG… and then post-EYG.

So would you say, then, that the way Speedrunning history organizes itself into these eras is based on finding new strategies, skips, etc.? Is that the defining crux of an age?

Yeah… it can definitely be that, if there’s those minute-saving skips that are found – like Gelato skip. That’s a whole new age. But I also think, somewhat, it’s based on the GDQs a little bit? Because they were kind of what made it popular, and brought a lot of people in. The first GDQ – which wasn’t even called ‘Games Done Quick,’ I don’t think. It was like ‘Old Games Fast,’ or something?

ME DO GAME FAST

[laughs] Yeah. ‘Classic Games Done Quick’ – that’s what it was. Then, I think, after that was only AGDQ, and then SGDQ, and I think this is the fourth or fifth year they’re doing the GDQs – so I think it kind of is yearly based on the GDQs.

Interesting. Yeah, they’ve blown up – I remember last year they shattered the donation record. Do you think that’s going to happen again? Or do you think we’ve plateaued? Every empire falls.

So, SGDQ – which is the current one – always earns less money.

Why do you think that is?

Hm. I don’t really know. It’s not quite as old as AGDQ. AGDQ – i think – has been going on for four years, and SGDQ has been going on for two or three? So that’s part of it. It usually earns – I think – around half the money.

I think another reasons AGDQ keeps breaking the records is because they’re able to partner with – I think it’s Loot Crate? Or The Yeti, or other companies. It’s like ‘oh, buy shirts,’ and those proceeds are also included.

Obviously, at some point, they can’t just keep getting more people involved, so at a certain point, I think yes, they’re going to plateau.

Do you think that – now that speedrunning is a bigger deal than it once was – do you think that we’re going to start seeing some more intersection between speedrunning and broader gaming culture? For example – one of the donation rewards for the Bethesda segment [of SGDQ] is naming the Fallout 4 character ‘The Final Pam,’ after the MONSTER FACTORY character. Do you think we’re gonna start seeing speedrunning and mainstream gaming sort of… intermingle, play off one another? What do you think that might look like?

I would certainly like that – that’d be cool. ‘Cause… like with League of Legends. That was [a game] where I started playing – I wasn’t there for the big explosion, but… it was a game that was really just for fun, and now people make millions of dollars off of it. And that prospect is kind of cool. Before it was like, ‘oh, gaming. That’s not a real job.’ But now some people are like, ‘oh, I guess that is kind of a real job for some people.’ Just like with Youtube.

There are speedrunners though that make their living off of speedrunning? Or is it strictly some sort of passion/hobby right now?

I’d say… well, there are people that make their living off of speedrunning, but I think it’s more off of being a personality than anything. Just kind of like Youtube.

Oh, yeah. We live in a personality-based economy for everything now.

Yeah. A lot of the most well-known and successful speedrunning Twitch people… they’re good at the game – but they’re the ‘renaissance people,’ so they’re not the best at any one game. But I think it would be cool to have the best at each game be recognized, in the same way that programmers are.

Do you think we’re approaching that now this is the – what? Fourth or fifth GDQ-extravaganza marathon – Do you think we’re hitting a point where we can start to see speedrunning as a profession, and not just necessarily as a majority hobby?

I don’t know if we can necessarily do that yet. Even the best, most-viewed speedrunning streams still only get up to maybe 5,000?

What do you think it would take, then?

I don’t know if it could ever happen, to be honest. It kind of depends on how dedicated the person is? One thing you’ll very commonly see, like, ‘the best of the best’ do, is they’ll get that world record, and then they’ll just kind of be like, ‘alright that’s… I’m good with that. I’m not going to play this game anymore.’ Partially, sometimes, because they’re just like ‘I hate. This game. So much.’ Because you’re just grinding and grinding and grinding, and you just have to get the good RNG and you don’t get it, and… the same thing over and over does get a little dull.

Then what is that economy like? Because a lot of Youtubers now have shifted over from solely making their income off of that Youtube money or that Twitch money to sites like Patreon, or GameWisp – crowdfunding-style sites. Has that come into play with speedrunning?

The crowdfunding, kind of. Like, a lot of streamers – they’ll have, like, ‘SGDQ Fund’ or something in the bottom right for donations. And I feel like Twitch – and I don’t know if it’s still in this, but – at a certain point was going through a similar thing that Youtube did, with people saying stuff like ‘Uh, money-whore, money-whore! You’re just asking for money!’ Kind of like that?

Yeah. Accusing people of being sellouts.

Exactly. And, even those donation goals, sometimes… a lot of the time it’s like ‘oh, he’s 50% there. He’ll probably get most of it, but I don’t know if he’ll get all of it.’

Well Twitch just introduced subscriptions, yeah? I imagine that helped as well.

Actually, that was a while ago, about two years. Yeah, it definitely does help. I think $2.49 goes to speedrunners, $2.50 to Twitch? Or the other way around.

Well, I’ll let you go, but I wanna ask you first – what’s your favorite legend/story/myth from speedrunning? A skip discovery, or an incredible race – like the Super Metroid race at SGDQ a few years ago, that was fucking incredible.

That was so– literally less than a second between them at the end! So good.

So what’s your favorite piece of speedrunning lore, then?

Uhmmmmm, that’s a hard one. I wasn’t around when Gelato-skip was found, but I was around when EYG was found in Super Mario: Sunshine. It was really cool. Something’s found, and everyone just goes hard on trying to improve it and trying to optimize it. And I think whenever that happens that’s really a super cool moment, and EYG was the one I was there for.

Alright, well, thanks for doing this. Is there anything you wanna plug, anybody you want to shout out before I let you go?

Well, the one guy who finds – to be honest – most of the strats in Super Mario: Sunshine, his name’s zelpikukirby – and he also made the TAS of [Sunshine] – and he’s just … I feel like he works so hard at the game. I really admire him and respect him because he’s so dedicated. And he’s also a really smart guy, finding all these things.

Alright, cool. zelpikukirby. Well, thank you very much! Hyyyyyyyyype.

[Stares]

*psst* You’re supposed to say hype now.

[laughs]

 

When he’s not colluding with his family to break some pretty fundamental ethics of Journalism, chaboi – Tom Loughney – writes responsibly about games. You can find those writings here, and follow him on twitter@tloughnessmnstr.

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