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Reflecting on the MBM debacle and my future in speedrunning

g_heinz Jun 14th, 2018 (edited) 111 Never
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  1. I've been meaning to write something about MBM and my general perspective on speedrunning for quite a while. Not because I want to beat a long-dead horse, but because the whole controversy and my involvement in it was a large part of what kept me in the Pokemon speedrunning community for a long time, even after the initial impetus behind my starting running had faded into memory. And since that issue has long since been resolved, I've been meaning to reflect on why I am even still a speedrunner.
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  3. For those who weren't around in those days, MBM (MexiricanBassMonkey) was a Pokemon speedrunner in the era immediately preceding this one, just before most of the modern mainstays joined the scene. Some who have watched early GDQs may remember his LeafGreen run at SGDQ2013. That same summer he posted a time of 2:02:23 IGT (~2:05:14 ERTA) to the PSR wiki, which at the time was where we kept our leaderboards and WRs. There was no speedrun.com yet, there was no verification process, and anyone who completed a run was able to edit the page for their game to add their time manually. This was extraordinarily beginner-friendly, and because PSR, as well as speedrunning more generally, had yet to completely explode like it has since, the "honor system" seemed to function well enough for the community. I don't know how much scrutiny most runs received back then in the more popular games, like gen 1 or 2, but for Sapphire, it probably wasn't seen as a huge issue, since there were only four total runners on the leaderboard when I started running in March/April 2014: MBM, werster, GreenMittenz, and xGodlyke.
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  5. In January of that year, I was starting my would-be final semester of college. During the previous semester, and honestly the previous year as well, I had lost much of my motivation for school. While I was very interested in my major, and had always planned to go on for further education in it, I detested the drudgery of most other compulsory courses to the point that my blood boiled. I was in a four-year relationship with a girl I used to really love that we both knew was basically already totally dead. I had made absolutely no attempt at applying to graduate schools because I couldn't even consider the prospect at that time, and had absolutely no plans for after graduation. So on the 14th of that month, after my girlfriend pissed me off one last time, I dumped her and went to Taco Bell.
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  7. In my ensuing depression I tried to get her back, which was stupid because dumping her was 100% the best thing I could have done, and luckily that failed, but the concomitant drama pushed me over the edge. I stopped attending most classes and departmental functions, cut most contact with my "nerd" friends and teachers, and instead just stayed in my apartment (with my roommate, who had also coincidentally lost his mind around the same time) and smoked tons and tons of weed. I had stumbled on speedrunning the previous summer when I saw one of Stiv's BK 100% GDQ runs, and so in the midst of getting into watching Twitch and streaming casually, I tried my hand at running Animal Crossing All Debts (got unrecorded WR in March right before learning Sapphire lol).
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  9. It was actually Amoeba (formerly BafflingAmoeba) that piqued my interest in gen 3, since he was one of the best Emerald runners in those days. Though I previously thought Pokemon would be hell to speedrun (how prophetic), I realized it would be one of the easier things to stream, since I had no recording equipment but Pokemon was relatively easy to play with keyboard on emulator. Sapphire was my favorite Pokemon game, so I picked it up. Along the way I met Spitfire, who had started only just before I did, when I messaged him about doing a race, and Marcus, who was just a nice, totally sane high school trumpeteer from California who liked to go somewhat not slow :)
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  11. My point in this monologue is that in many ways, I am not the speedrunning "type". Parts of my personality are suited to it, like my affinity for games and extreme isolation, and my intelligence and aptitude for middle school math proved useful tools, but I did not start playing to become a top runner. I am not even particularly competitive. I started running Sapphire as a comfortable distraction intended to justify wasting as much of my waking hours as I possibly could, so that I would be so tired by the end of the day/night that my guilt and self-loathing couldn't keep me awake.
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  13. It's for this reason that I wasn't even the least bit skeptical of MBM's run. At that time, being inexperienced, but also just being incredibly naive, I roughly assumed that a really "good" time (though I had no concept of "good") was effectively "perfect" in the sense that the route was basically set in stone, the runner had reset enough times to get the proper luck with few mistakes, and to match them would just require emulating that ad infinitum. Spitfire and I used to joke that only "bonkless Cave of Origin" could beat MBM. And while the timeline we inhabit now has gotten ever closer to that ideal, no Pokemon game was further from that than Sapphire in 2014. It wasn't until that summer that Spitfire suggested to me, half-kidding, that MBM's run could be fraudulent. And I guess because I had nothing better to do, I took him very seriously and went on to do a bunch of (inaccurate) calcs, scrutinize various luck the run had gotten, and write a big hot-air fest of a pastebin (much like this one Kappa) calling him out as a cheater.
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  15. It goes without saying that I didn't have enough reputation within the community at the time to be making such accusations. I was more or less laughed/shouted out of PSR--though I did my fair share of foolish shouting back. I accept now that not only did I not have the clout, but my "evidence" did not constitute hard proof (such as an obvious video or audio splice), and to "see" the shadiness of the run required more than a little experience running the games at a somewhat higher level--which I didn't even have at the time. So even though my suspicion was justified, and certainly correct, his time remained on the leaderboard. We went through a farce of a "hearing" process whereby I was allowed to ask him questions in a forum thread, and he was allowed to respond. After a pretty short back-and-forth, the thread was closed and PSR admins weighed the evidence. What they actually had to say about the whole thing behind closed doors I don't know. I thought they either didn't give a shit at all, or were dodging the matter as much as they could because of MBM's reputation, or just to spite me. I was angry because Spitfire, Marcus and I were the only active Sapphire runners in PSR, and the people in control of the decision had no experience running the game at all. I advocated autonomy for players over their own leaderboards, but we wouldn't get that for a little while longer, when Pac stopped through the community, and later that year we transitioned everything to speedrun.com.
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  17. I don't remember exactly how MBM's time was removed. There was never any formal "ruling", and he had already disappeared since before the hearing happened, and didn't stick around after. He disabled comments on the YT video for his run, and added my "dissenting pastebin" to the description, as if to let people decide for themselves. His and others' times (like Mittenz and Godlyke) were just "lost in transition" to SRC, so for a while, werster's 2:13 IGT became the de facto WR. And I just kept on resetting. By that point, I had left school and the attending responsibilities, so ironically, while the stressors that had led to my starting running were now gone, the void remained, and so I filled it with Sapphire. I still had no belief that MBM's time, or rather a time of that caliber, could ever be beaten.
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  19. What is so unbelievable about his run? It's actually much simpler than my paste made it out to be, but the route was so unrefined at the time, and I had so little experience, that I could never have phrased it properly. However, it was in the undertone of every semi-reasonable response to my accusations: You can't PROVE he faked it, but his decisions don't make sense. I highlighted a whole laundry list of situations that are retardedly lucky, and there are even more that we realized later, based on AI and spinner research, but good luck itself does not indicate a faked run. In fact, as was put to me many times, any finished run, considered in its totality, will have far above-average luck. However, there are a few things that, perhaps if I had been more polite, I believe should have been acknowledged by the other (apparently experienced?) members of PSR at the time (and sufficient for DQ'ing the run). In the context of today's PSR meta, even noob runners would see these as blatant red flags:
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  21. - Kip manip was not known, so you might reset for 1-2 hours before you got one that was even runnable. Our definition of "runnable" was also much worse than it is today, so you may also just as easily die to a simple fight because you took mediocre stats. MBM's kip was Lonely with good attack and good speed (bad special), so any runner of experience with the game would have tread carefully with it.
  22. - We caught Abra every run without encounter or YOLO ball manip. You would routinely lose at least a few minutes to Granite Cave (useless encounters+Abra breakouts), if you caught it at all. MBM gets second encounter, first ball Abra, kills a Zubat for experience (after running from the first one of the exact same level?) and can Repel.
  23. - His experience strat to evolve before Museum is to kill the Zubat and fight Laura's Meditite as a Mudkip. Not only does it get him almost perfectly to L16 (11xp over), but this is stupidly risky. Medi gets at least two turns, he kept Torrent, so Confusionx2 would kill him (after getting a really nice kip and amazing Abra), and it's tough to 2HKO even with Torrent, especially with bad spatk. In that era, we would generally kill cave encounters while hunting for Abra, as it was the best way to take advantage of the timeloss. I can see his strat as a contingency plan for "god Abra" runs, since wild encounters are slower, but even then, it would make more sense to Potion before Laura and go for the safe 3-4HKO. He gets Confusion > Bide. Oh, also he was dead to T1 Bide unless he got the 2HKO range.
  24. - He heals to full before Rival 2. We later discovered that trainers with good AI will favor non-damaging moves when the player's Pokemon is over a certain HP threshold. Wailmer knows Growl, so he will favor it if Marshtomp is 70+% HP. If <70%, Growl is impossible. Also if you successfully boost your attack even one stage, and you don't get Growl, Growl becomes impossible. MBM enters at full and X Speeds first, which means he exposes himself to 2 Growls, but gets WG+Splash. Oh also Rock Tomb strats lol. Worth noting that Mittenz had already devised Soft Sand Mud Shot strats at that time, but we all missed the memo until later.
  25. - Does Wattson at full, so he gets Supersonic, but naturally it misses. Because he took no damage, he does Brooke at full, and Wingull has the same AI interaction with Growl, but he gets Wing Attack.
  26. - His PP management is suspect. He saves a MS on Brooke because of early Strength and X Attack strats, but because of the way he does Archie, he has exactly 1 remaining for Torkoal. That means his Flannery strat is literally X Attack+RT, RT, RT+MS. Not only was his route screwed if he missed any Mud Shot (or got Detect on Meditite), but he relies heavily on RT for a lot of the early mid-game. He doesn't grab either Ether, doesn't take the center before Mt. Chimney, so one miss even on a Carvanha = dead run (no center in Lavaridge, and he couldn't take it anyway or he'd mess up his Teleport). This is one I am disappointed I didn't notice the significance of before (I just said "CAN YOU BELIEVE HE DOESN'T MISS AT ALL!?!?!?!?" lol).
  27. - Speaking of which, +1 RT does 27-32, and +1 MS does 45-54 to Torkoal (remember, he didn't get Soft Sand). At 85HP, this means RT+MS is 5/256 or ~2% to 2HKO. I am an idiot for not calc'ing this properly for 3 years. This also means that his route is only even sort of possible with +atk, high IV. This means he was resetting for ONLY these kips, or he had backup strats for pleb kips. At a time where the WR was 2:13 IGT, how insane was he to not only reset for only god attack, but play risky as hell anyway once he got it?
  28. - His Archie 2 fight makes no sense. It's true we had no proper strat for the fight at the time, but that was half because we were (naively) trying to emulate the nonsense he tries to pull in this run. He gets Earthquake just for this fight, and equips Persim. I later found that if you outspeed Mightyena, he will spam Scary Face, which is why we Guard Spec. now. MBM gets first turn Swagger, putting him at +1, the same turn that he Surfs. Archie heals very liberally in this fight, so on the turn Mightyena gets healed close to full, MBM KOes him with +1 EQ. Also OHKOes Sharpedo that way (second Swagger unnecessary).
  29. - He YOLOs several spinners in the game, most of which we now know have at least a 1/8 or better chance to catch you. I can give him a pass on that logistically for now, since at the time it was thought you had no better chance to dodge them even if you waited for a "clean" pass, but it goes without saying that that is ridiculously lucky for a run that already made it through the aforementioned obstacles.
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  31. Now, I didn't mean to turn this into another MBM analysis paste. But what I realized is that over the years, without knowing it, I learned more and more what was fishy about MBM's run because I lived it in the routing process. No route is perfect, and there are always compromises you make with the game within the confines of its own rules. Every Pokemon route is an intricate decision tree, and at every turn there are multiple but replicable situations that the player has to learn to solve. In the earliest days, that meant settling for the bare minimum to afford as many tries to complete the game as possible, and required us to build in as much safety as we could to avoid death (sell several extra TMs, buy like 6 Super Potions in Slateport, etc.). In the early days of kip manip, that meant settling on solutions that worked across several stat variations, but knowing those variations intimately so that specific tweaks could be made. Those were my first attempts at accurate calcs, the birth of desert candy strats, HP Fighting, and the glory days of +speed. That was undoubtedly the most pure fun I had with the game.
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  33. MBM's run is a purely human contrivance, not a delicate dance between man and machine. The situations bear little resemblance to a genuine, organically-planned route where the runner is prepared for multiple outcomes, and is ready to respond to what he gets. Instead, the decisions are clearly made based on the assumption that "this is the one and only possible outcome". And a situation like the Torkoal range, I shouldn't have to say, is not one that any actual runner would plan for if he knew how unlikely it was to succeed--which he would know, if he had run with that strat more than a few times.
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  35. What bothered me most at the time, but bothers me more in retrospect, is that there were actually at least a few runners who understood the aforementioned reasoning--even more than I did back then. Chief among them was werster, the man who pioneered the Mudkip route to begin with, first in Emerald, then Sapphire, where for some reason people (including MBM) had the idea that Torchic was faster. That didn't last long after werster got his 2:13IGT, and less than a year later, MBM came through and smashed it by over 10 minutes. Make no mistake, werster knew even before I did that the run was fraudulent. He was far ahead of any other Pokemon runner at the time in terms of ingenuity and experience in routing and running. But perhaps owing to the fact that he has always very publicly hated Sapphire, and likely also due to the fact that he himself was historically just as big a cheat (though much better at hiding it, at least from lay viewers), he not only didn't participate in any of the discussion surrounding the run, but he permabanned me from his chat for even answering a question about the topic that another of his viewers asked me in 2014. Suffice it to say, that left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.
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  37. The controversy died out as Exarion, Keizaron, epicdudeguy and others helped me push the game into a new era where actual competition in Sapphire was not just possible, but lively and fun. I switched to console at this point, and tried to "git gud" for the first time, rather than just using it as an amateurish timesink, though it certainly still was one. But before I knew it, 2015 was over, and I had spent two years completely absorbed by this alternate lifeblood of speedrunning. In many ways, Sapphire kept me alive by giving me something to strive for when I had abandoned all my old passions, but in the same way, I wondered if Sapphire was just keeping those same passions from resurrecting. I still don't really know the answer to that question.
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  39. 2016 marked the start of the modern era for Sapphire, and we've been stuck here since. Abraless became the standard when Exarion revolutionized RSE with the notion that we could get by without Teleport. This was around the same time that the community was pushing for a change to RTA timing, which would allow save+quit. For a few months I ran single segment Abraless, using a twin Naughty/Naive cluster, hoping to get sub-MBM. Even though his run was by then clearly bogus, I still felt like it was an important historical achievement for the game, especially since it was at last so clearly possible. And when we finally did switch to S+Q strats, allowing me to use the long-fabled Naughty Godkip, I was able to beat him by a few seconds. Somehow it felt cheap. Still no one has ever gotten below ~2:06 with single-segment manip, and now no one ever will.
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  41. In the time since, I really tried to get a good *run*, not just a good time. I got to the point where I realized the difference, and Sapphire had reached a point where clean runs were truly possible, especially with the advent of things like extended encounterless and Wingull manip. I spent over a year working the most frustrating menial job of my life where I smoked weed like a chimney. I thought it would give me time to do runs, but really it robbed me of all my time and energy. I took a detour through gen 2 so that I could keep distracting myself with speedrunning without having to suffer the heartbreak of Sapphire or the reality of my disappointment with life. Then finally, last February, I got what could have been a nice clean run, and killed it on the Surskit trainer on Route 120 because I was high and nervous (hint: you can just bike behind him). The game was just never really the same for me after that. I grinded on and off since then, but always ended up infuriated. What's more, my life otherwise completely stagnated. I never intended to become a top speedrunner or a full-time streamer. I've played with the idea of making a living playing games, but I just couldn't convince myself. I was finally able to finish my degree in 2016 anyway, but just never mustered the strength to do anything with it.
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  43. Still, I was obsessed with getting some kind of swan song in Sapphire to make good on all the time I had sunk into it. Recently, a Japanese runner beat my old record in the Japanese version, which I had played for like a month in 2015. Knowing the foes' natures vary between regions in gen 3, I decided to route it properly and try and beat it. In the process I discovered a treasure trove of advantages for JPN and documented as much as I could. The odds to finish were much improved over ENG Sapphire, so in only a few weeks, I was able to finish something of an okay run and take back the record. I told myself I would quit, but within two days I had set down to play again. I couldn't stop myself. But knowing the grind all too well now, I know that no speedgame is ever "finished" until you put down the controller and stop fucking playing. So, what's a man to do?
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  45. There is no right or wrong answer. Despite what everyone in mainstream, consumerist, careerist Western society might think, I have nothing but the utmost admiration and respect for the top runners of our community for whom playing these games fast is their life's work. They quite literally put everything that they have into this craft to become truly exceptional at something that not just anyone could do. Millions of people around the world who follow the "right" path in life will never even come close to that kind of spiritual enlivenment, and will spend years simply pursuing "financial stability" and cheap thrills. I spent too long in speedrunning allowing the frustration to get to me, and in doing so I wasted precious moments of what I realize now in retrospect is one of the most beautiful endeavors I've ever undertaken--even if I started out for the wrong reasons. However, aside from a certain Harvest Moon title which is not particularly competitive, Sapphire really is my one and only. I don't have enough of a passion for any other game to merit running it to a truly high level, and therefore it is hard for me to justify running such games at all.
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  47. In addition, with any luck I will be returning to school this fall. For those who have sat in on my stream and listened to me talk to Shiru or TiKevin, I am really interested in linguistics, specifically phonology/phonetics, and have accepted an offer for a 12-month master's program which starts mid-September. Due to my tendency to become completely absorbed in things like speedrunning to the detriment of all else (especially under stress), I have decided to step away from it for at least most of the duration of the program. Although I haven't been streaming much lately anyway, this will go down to effectively zero, except for perhaps the occasional Harvest Moon routing stream, or possibly some casual gameplay (might get into Stardew Valley co-op with a friend). However, because I still have a few weeks of summer remaining, I am going to try and stream at least a little bit, though I can't promise Sapphire. In all honesty, I grew extremely poor at performing well in Sapphire while streaming, which is a large part of the reason that I grinded those JPN attempts offline. I am considering giving ENG one last "college" try, but if I do, it will almost certainly be offline. I'm sorry for those in PSR who enjoy watching my runs, especially now that Keizaron is back on the saf grind, because I know it is always fun to watch the competition of two top runners unfold simultaneously.
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  49. Ultimately I realized that streaming is a dead-end for me. It is a lovely hobby that I've gained so much from, but I have never and still do not intend to make it even a rudimentary source of income. My other interests are just too valuable to me, and honestly they have suffered over these last several years as I put nearly all of my free time into video games. I have always wanted to write a book, possibly many books, and in the meantime I have to work out a plan for a job path that will be financially sensible while still providing fulfillment. Streaming, for me, could only ever provide maybe half of either of those things, and I am reminded now that in the end, what I really came to care about was Sapphire. I am confident and comfortable in my contributions to getting her where she is today, and feel I can rest easy. Sub-2 will happen someday, whether it is me, Keizaron, Exarion, or some yet unknown runner who will blow us all away. I will do my best to play when I feel I can justify giving the time to it, and when it will be enjoyable to me. Likely I will slowly fade out of running entirely, but hopefully I can eke out just one more PB. I find both JPN and ENG worthwhile, so I will probably play whichever I feel like at the time.
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  51. Especially after this year's PSR marathon, I am so grateful for the opportunity to have partaken in this journey with everyone. Life will likely take me many places, keep me quite busy, and remove me from the action for some periods of time. But as long as people are still pressing buttons, trying to go fast, I can't say I will totally leave the community. I will continue to pop into Pokemon and Harvest Moon speedstreams just to say what's up. I can't thank everyone enough for putting up with my bullshit during years that I was at my most unstable, and wish you all the best of luck in runs and life.
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  53. G_heinz
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