By Cameron Mohr
The annual Summer Games Done Quick (GDQ) speedrun event ended two weeks ago and raised a total of $1.3 million for Doctors Without Borders. This has been one of the most successful Games Done Quick events since their debut. I was lucky enough to attend, and spent some of my time as a volunteer for the tech crew. I would recommend anyone interested in these events try to attend at least once. The event as a whole is a sight to see, with TVs and games of all kinds filling each room. The community is made up of some of the most genuine people I have ever met in the gaming world. I wanted to share my experience at SGDQ as well as those of some friends of mine in the community.
Before delving into the event, it is prudent to discuss how it all comes together. The staff chooses a venue and dates for the event, and later holds submissions for hopeful runners to essentially audition their game for the marathon. Staff has to whittle the tremendous list down to about one hundred and fifty hours or so of play time. They often start with over twelve hundred hours, so the decisions are never easy. All that said, the response to the schedule for SGDQ 2016 was overall more positive than previous marathons.
As for how money is actually raised at the event, donors can choose to put their money toward fulfilling some kind of extra incentive. This could be an extra game added to the schedule, some extra bug expositions, or even a camera focusing on the controller of the person running a game one handed while holding a cat plush doll. The event as a whole thrives on people’s passion for video games. Fans of all kinds of games love the GDQ events.
The event itself has grown to the point where a large hotel is needed to accommodate everyone. Roughly thirteen hundred people registered to attend SGDQ this year. The hotel used was certainly large enough for everyone and had a great layout overall. The marathon space, regardless of the hotel, consists of many parts: the stream room, two practice rooms, a casual gaming room, a tournament room, a PC LAN room, a board game room, and more recently an arcade. The board game room, now has Dungeons and Dragons where people can play for hours and use the new metal dice sets. For this year’s SGDQ, all the rooms were on the same floor with the exception of the PC room, but it was still close by on the third floor. This layout made the event feel cozier, and it was always easy to meet up with friends.
The stream room is where all the magic seen on stream happens. At any given time of day there will be someone in the audience, though the largest crowds are present in the early evening. Two projectors are set up on either side of the stage so that the whole crowd can see the current run. Walking into this room is always surreal to me. Having been a fan watching from home for several years, seeing it in person never ceases to bring a smile to my face. Every run is worth watching and each marathon has always had a handful of “must watch” runs. SGDQ 2016 was no different, with some of the biggest hits this year including the Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze relay race, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Super Mario Maker, Pepsiman, and Momodora: Reverie Under The Moonlight.
Oddly enough some of the best moments of GDQ happen outside the stream room. The practice and casual rooms are populated at all hours of the day. These are the places where crazy things like a 48 player Super Mario Sunshine Race and 2 Player 1 Controller Mario Party happen. These areas are where old friends reunite for a week of games and fun.
My experience at SGDQ was incredibly enjoyable, even though I did have to spend a couple days in bed. My tech shifts all went off without a hitch, other than an excellent joke during the Bioshock run. The runner, Blood_Thunder, edited one of the game’s cutscenes to be a video of a Windows 10 update. GDQ Staff knew about this ahead of time, but they did not alert me so I nearly had a heart attack. I have no hard feelings about it, and I honestly think it was one of the best moments of the marathon. I always volunteer at GDQ and enjoy my time on shift. I am thrilled that I can help make the event happen even if it is only in some small way. On top of that, it offers a good chance to get to know the GDQ Staff members, all of whom are incredible people. The only downside is that I did not run any games at this event, which was saddening for me but was also nice as I got to relax the whole week.
Aside from volunteering, I did get to participate in a couple of runs this marathon. I did some commentary for the Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze relay race, and I was on the couch for Zelda Four Swords Adventures. Both of these runs are among my favorites to watch. I am honored that my friends from both of these communities let me join them for their runs. I would of course recommend watching both of those runs, as well as most of the marathon. This was one of the best game selections for any recent GDQ. All of the runs can be found on YouTube. One of my favorite parts of this marathon was getting to know some more recent friends in the community a bit better through some short interviews. I will begin with Half Coordinated.
Half Coordinated, or Half for short, is one of the most relaxed and friendly people in the speedrun community. He is most known for Platinum Games and Momodora: Reverie Under The Moonlight speedruns. Half gained an interest in speedrunning after playing Super Smash Bros. Melee. The competitive aspect was appealing, but the more enjoyable part for him was learning how to break a game down and how they function on a base level. He also spent time beating Castle Crashers on Insane difficulty with every character. This was a bit more appealing to Half as the man versus game contest is a bit easier to manage. After learning more about speedruns Half decided to learn Rage, a first person shooter with a technique called strafe jumping. This game provided a fun way to learn how to speedrun a game. He also tried the Monkeyball series, and eventually decided on playing games from the developer Platinum.
Half did a speedrun of Platinum Games’ Transformers Devastation at Awesome Games Done Quick this year. At SGDQ Half stole the show with an amazing performance in Momodora: Reverie Under The Moonlight, a 2D platformer that draws inspiration from Castlevania and other classics. Half said that these games appeal to him because, especially in the case of Platinum games, the controls are responsive and the action on screen pulls you in. Both Transfomers Devastation and Momodora also have a high skill cap, meaning the games require specific knowledge about the intricacies of the game as well as having difficult movement. Another reason that he enjoys Momodora and some other indie games is that they are inspired by games from the SNES era but the controllers made today make playing the game easier. This is especially important for Half Coordinated because he plays all his games one handed.
Half Coordinated plays all his games one handed due to hemiparesis. This limits what he can do with his right hand. During most streams he uses his right hand to brace his controller and does all the button presses and movements with his left hand. The fact that he plays input intensive games make his runs all the more impressive. Half finds it personally important as a gamer with a disability to do runs at GDQ events and he is always grateful for the opportunity. After his Momodora run he gave a short speech encouraging others with disabilities to always try their hardest. “It’s really important to take what life has given you and do your best with it. I’m not going to say that people are able to do anything…but I will say that your limits are probably way farther out that you expect and if you push yourself you should probably be really happy and pleased with the results”.
This run and speech have been on nearly every gaming news site since the event. All week after the run Half received messages from so many people saying that his words resonated with them. Not all of them had disabilities themselves. There was even a thread about the run on the Speedrun subreddit which is currently one of the top rated threads on the forum. Half told me that the impact this run had on people and all the messages are what motivate him to continue trying his best. He would also like to note that even though he can use his right hand to brace his controller he does not do this at events because he does not want people to think that he can only do what he does because of bracing the controller.
Some of Half’s favorite runs from this GDQ were Super Mario Land 2, Skyrim, Freedom Planet and Vulajin’s Bastion and Escape Goat 2. In general he enjoys watching games with lots of movement options, things like Shovel Knight Plague of Shadows, Super Time Force Ultra, Guacamelee and more. His advice for any new runners is to pick a game you love. You’ll be playing it for many hours so you may as well enjoy it. Also try to get involved with that game’s community, as most people are welcoming both online and at the events.
I met Boyks for the first time at AGDQ this year and saw him again in March at Californithon. He ran Pepsiman at Californithon and the game was accepted for SGDQ as well. This turned out to be one of the most beloved runs of the event, filling the stream room to the point where people were standing because all seats were taken. The game features a mascot for the soda Pepsi saving lives. It is a hilarious watch and features the main character sprinting through all sorts of ridiculous levels.
Boyks was introduced to speedrunning in 2007 through TAS videos. (TAS stands for Tool Assissted Speedrun, which is essentially making a program play a game perfectly to theory craft what the fastest possible time for a game is). Through TAS videos Boyks found streams of speedruns and learned of the Speedruns Live website which eventually led to his discovery of Games Done Quick. The GDQ events inspired him to try to help in some way. He auditioned to Host for the event, meaning he would be reading donations on stream. Having never done any speedruns before he expected to be denied. But he passed auditions and was met warmly at AGDQ 2014.
His first host block was the one he requested, the Source block. This was one of the longest hosting blocks of that event as all those runs were on the longer side. After AGDQ he decided to run Shandalar: Magic The Gathering. At the time no one had made a route for how to beat the game quickly, so with the help of some viewers of his stream he brought the completion time for the game from an hour and a half down to forty five minutes. To improve the game further he made tables for everything in the game. This helped him see what mechanics he could use to beat the game faster. He discovered a card he could use on turn zero of the game to defeat adversaries incredibly quickly. This brought the time down to just over eleven minutes.
Boyks favorite memory from GDQ is meeting people. Gathering at the events is the best thing for him as it is always fun to meet up with old friends and make new ones. He also enjoys that even though attendees all run different games of varying styles we can all appreciate the efforts of other runners. We are all there for the love of games. His favorite memories outside of GDQ events are Pepsiman races with friends when they first learned of the game. The run of Pepsiman at SGDQ went incredibly well and was actually a personal best time for Boyks!
Fastatcc ran Mega Man 3 at SGDQ this year. It was his first time at a GDQ as well. He got into speedrunning by watching previous GDQ events. They reminded him of unlocking cheats in Goldeneye by trying to beat levels as fast as possible. He also enjoyed racing games such as Wipeout and Diddy Kong Racing. He discovered Twitch through Hearthstone and then looked up games he had played as a kid. Through that he learned of Mega Man speedruns. He tried doing runs offline at first, but he said streaming seemed like a natural fit for him.
He began streaming after SGDQ 2014 and decided to learn Mega Man 3. It is his favorite game, and he said he tries to play it at least once a year. He tried the other Mega Man games after gaining interest from watching them. He also learned The Legend of Zelda. Both games’ communities were incredibly welcoming and willing to help him get started. Outside of Mega Man games he enjoys watching Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine as well as RPGs. The Mega Man 3 run itself was the perfect example of what a GDQ run should be. Fastatcc maintained a positive attitude and was able to make mistakes seem trivial. I highly recommend watching this run.
When asked what advice he would give new runners of any game, he said that the best thing you can do is pick a game you love and reach out to communities for that game. Most people are always willing and excited to talk about their games. His favorite memory from speedrunning is forming a group with fellow new runners of Mega Man games who aspired to beat the records for their respective games. They did accomplish this goal and held the records for Mega Man 3, 4 ,5 and 6 all at once. They would often spend time talking about ways to practice their runs and celebrate in each others’ victories.
As for his first time at a GDQ, Fastatcc said he had a lot of fun. He was surprised by how little time he actually spent in the stream room. “Something was always going on. At any given point there were at least three different things I could participate in”. He said that everyone made him feel welcome, no matter what game or community they belonged to. He expressed that he wants to make sure he can attend as many GDQ events as possible, a sentiment anyone who has attended one of these marathons will share.
Grand Poo Bear
Grand Poo Bear was part of Team Hot Pockets for the Super Mario Maker race this SGDQ. His first GDQ was AGDQ 2016. He got into speedrunning more recently, with Dram’s run from AGDQ 2015 being his catalyst. PooBear chose Super Mario Bros. 3 as his first speed game and he would often bug other streamers for tips, particularly Kujo. He said that everyone he speaks to online and at live events are always friendly and more than willing to help him learn.
“I’ve pretty much had only positive interactions with everyone in the community”, he said of meeting fellow runners at events. For anyone who wishes to try speedrunning he had this advice, “Don’t be scared to speedrun and don’t think you’re not good enough to speedrun because you totally are. Everybody can do it. You just have to find that game that you love.” He also shared the same sentiment that my other interviewees expressed about getting involved in the community for the game you pick. “Network and make friends!” His favorite memory from speedrunning and GDQ events is the crowd cheering during the Mario Maker race at SGDQ. “That was really cool, and I thought it was something that only happened in The Wizard…I will always remember that moment.”
When asked why he enjoyed Mario Bros. 3 and other games he has learned, Poo Bear declared that the difficulty of the runs themselves are what appeal to him. He is also known for running the extra challenging Kaizo hacks of Mario games and enjoys setting unprecedented times in them. His favorite runs to watch outside of Mario games include Zelda Four Swords Adventures as well as nearly any kind of race. Races add more excitement due to the risks that the runners might take to gain or keep a lead. He was a huge fan of the Super Metroid race from this SGDQ as the runners did not hold anything back. Runs like that are why he hopes to never miss a GDQ in the future.
The Games Done Quick events are something that I never thought I would become a part of. The fact that so much good can come from a bunch of people playing video games astounds me. I have made irreplaceable friends and unforgettable memories. Even though there is always sadness at the end of these gatherings I think the entire community takes a moment to remind themselves that it is never “goodbye”, it is “until the next one”. I am thrilled to attend my next GDQ. Hope to see you there!