Interview with Speedrunner Alastair “DJGrenola” Campbell

Diskussion - Deutsche Übersetzung (GamersGlobal) - Watch the run (SDA)

Bagdadsoftware: Please introduce yourself to our readers. Who are you?

Alastair Campbell: My name is Alastair Campbell, I am from England, and I was a site administrator at SDA from October 2006 until January 2008.

Bagdadsoftware: You are also a speed-runner currently holding the segmented record in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Did you start speedrunning before or after you found SDA?

Alastair Campbell: I had done a few "casual" speed runs before I discovered SDA. These were mainly on games that rewarded fast play, such as the original 2D Prince of Persia (which had a one-hour time limit for completion) and the Resident Evil games (which would award the player special weapons for playing quickly).

Bagdadsoftware: So how long have you been speedrunning?

Alastair Campbell: As long as I've been gaming, really, although I didn't start to take it seriously until about 2003.

Bagdadsoftware: What introduced you to the scene?

Alastair Campbell: I saw Radix's famous Metroid Prime 100% run, which was of course the first non-Quake run on SDA. I recognized immediately that speedruns based on the efforts and discoveries of a community of people were much better and faster than runs researched by just one player. The other important thing that was demonstrated to me by Radix's run was that there is an audience for speedrunning.

Bagdadsoftware: Let's talk a bit about your Metroid Prime 2: Echoes run. How long did it take you to beat the game the "correct" way the first time?

Alastair Campbell: About 30 hours. I think this was longer than most people took, but I spent quite a bit of time on my first playthrough looking for speed tricks and shortcuts, as did a lot of other players who had seen how popular Metroid Prime 1 speedrunning had been.

Bagdadsoftware: And how long did it take you in the end to master the game and perfect the run?

Alastair Campbell: It's hard to say. The 1:38 was actually my third recorded run (I had done two low-% runs previously), so my skills at the game improved slowly over a period of several years. The run itself took about six weeks, although I spent a lot of extra time planning and watching the videos of the previous record.

: Your run is a so-called segmented one. Why didn't you attempt a single-segment?

Alastair Campbell: I originally did want to beat the single-segment time, but the existing record is quite good. I didn't think it would be worth the effort unless I could improve the route by skipping the Grapple Beam. The trick required to do this is very difficult, and if you fail, you have to restart, so it would be extraordinarily hard to skip Grapple Beam in a single-segment run.

Bagdadsoftware: What level/segment did you have the hardest time with and why?

Alastair Campbell: There are a number of segments that were difficult for a variety of reasons. Segment 3 (Agon Wastes) was hard to get right because it is long, and there are so many things that can go wrong in it. To beat Boost Guardian with no Dark Suit and just two energy tanks in segment 7 requires skill and considerable luck. I think the hardest segment was 13, though, in which I collect Screw Attack without Grapple Beam, and then go on to pick up an early Power Bomb Expansion. There are some very hard tricks in this segment.

: I've to ask: With Metroid Prime 2 - Echoes being a console-shooter, did you ever think you could've done better if you had a keyboard and mouse instead of a controller?

Alastair Campbell: Better aiming controls would certainly help in certain situations, like boss fights, but I don't think they would make too much difference over the length of the run. Most of the time in Metroid Prime 2 is spent travelling around the map, and mouse-look wouldn't make that any faster.

Bagdadsoftware: What's up with those doors? Why is there often such a huge delay until they open up after shooting the shields? Ever got frustrated by that?

Alastair Campbell: The delay before the doors open is caused by the game loading the next room into memory and getting it set up. When playing the game normally, this usually isn't too noticeable, but in a speed run you cross rooms quickly and very often reach doors before the next room is ready. It was never really frustrating because all runners on the game have to deal with the same problem, and it provides you with an opportunity to relax for a moment and focus on what you need to do once the door opens.

Bagdadsoftware: The fight against the Boost Guardian didn't even take you 30 seconds although you had to fight with limited resources and without the Dark Suit. How did you go by finding your strategy there?

Alastair Campbell: I think the one-round Boost Guardian strategy was invented by the previous any-% segmented record holder, so I knew about it from his videos. It is much harder than it looks, though - I had to practice it a great deal before recording my own attempt. Boost Guardian's Morph Ball phase takes a very long time to complete, so the      strategy relies on forcing the boss to remain in its puddle form. This is performed by following it very closely around the room so it does not have space to stand up. So, while the strategy was invented by another player, I still had to learn it.

Bagdadsoftware: In general the boss fights look really easy with the bosses not putting up a real fight against you.  Is that just thanks to your advanced tactics and intimate knowledge of the fights or did the developers do something wrong in your opinion?

Alastair Campbell: I actually think that the boss fights are one of the best parts of the game. There are strategies for some of the bosses, for example Boost Guardian and Emperor Ing, which do allow them to be beaten in ways that the game developers probably did not intend them to be beaten. In other cases, such as Amorbis and Chykka, it is just a question of knowing to what kinds of attack the boss is most vulnerable, and then practicing so you can do it as quickly as possible. I don't think the developers made a mistake; bosses should be something that cause trouble for a player until he or she has figured out a strategy to defeat them, so it is right that they should be designed with weaknesses.

Bagdadsoftware: Key to a speedrun is finding shortcuts, tricks and glitches to go around the pre-defined routes. Did you find and use any previously unknown tricks/glitches (please explain them)? How did they improve your time?

Alastair Campbell: Most of the improvement over the previous record came in segment 13, when I used a different type of jump to that used by the previous runner to land on the robot in Grand Abyss. Crossing Grand Abyss usually requires the Grapple Beam, but I skipped collecting it in order to save time when I was in Torvus Bog. You can collect Screw Attack without Grapple Beam by making a crazy jump onto a flying robot in Grand Abyss, and then by letting this robot carry you across the gap. I found that you could reach the robot using a "dash jump" instead of the original "roll jump" method. These jumps exploit bugs in the game's physics to allow the player to jump further than the developers intended. The dash jump abuses the extra sideways acceleration caused by the game's lock-on dodge ability to increase jump range. The roll jump makes use of a bug in the camera programming that allows the player to begin a jump in mid-air under certain conditions, which is not supposed to be possible.

Using an easier jump made it possible for me to include some harder tricks in this segment that the previous record did not use. In particular, I used the backwards instant morph trick in Watch Station to open up a portal which would allow me to use a faster route coming back after Quadraxis later on.

Bagdadsoftware: Which known tricks/glitches did you use (please explain them) that had a significant impact on your run-time?

Alastair Campbell: There are many of these. I have mentioned the dash jump and roll jump, which allow the player to jump further than the developers intended. There is also the "bomb space jump", which is similar to the roll jump but gives extra height rather than extra distance, and this opens up new routes and shortcuts. The "underwater dash" is another physics bug that allows the runner to perform very long jumps underwater (although collecting Gravity Boost removes this ability).

There are also some other, smaller timesavers. The "rollshot" glitch allows a runner to shoot more quickly when coming out of Morph Ball mode, which makes opening doors faster towards the start of the run. The camera may be forced into a position where the unmorph animation is cancelled, and these "instant unmorphs" save time too. These tricks do not allow for big shortcuts, but they save maybe half a second every time they are used.

Bagdadsoftware: Was there a glitch/trick you thought to yourself: "How could the developers have missed that hole?"

Alastair Campbell: I don't think so - most software contains bugs, so none of what was found by people was especially surprising. I have heard that Prime 2 was completed in a rush, so maybe that had something to do with it.

Bagdadsoftware: Do you see places for significant improvements in your run or do you think the time will mostly stay the same if there would be a new attempt?

Alastair Campbell: I think there is maybe one small route change that could be made, and the final bosses could be beaten more quickly. With this route, though, you couldn't go too much faster unless new shortcuts were found.

It would be possible to improve this time considerably by using "out-of-bounds" methods, which allow the player to glitch through walls and walk around outside the map. This type of run would be listed as a different category on SDA, though, so it would not beat the current record.

Bagdadsoftware: How did your record the run?

Alastair Campbell: In regions that use the PAL television standard (Europe and Australasia), Metroid Prime 2 is a PAL-60 only game. Some DVD recorders (including mine) refuse to decode this 60Hz signal, so I bought a North American GameCube and played my European copy of the game using a Freeloader import-enabling disc. US GameCubes output an NTSC signal, which my DVD recorder would accept.

In order to play the game and record footage at the same time, I also modified my GameCube to provide two video outputs, so I send one output to the TV and the other to the DVD recorder. This allowed me to play without the lag introduced by the DVD recorder, although there are ways to do this without having to modify your console.

Once I had completed each segment, I could simply rip the video from the DVDs onto my PC.

Bagdadsoftware: Are you still playing the game regularly or were you so sick of it after all those countless hours that you haven't touched it ever since?

Alastair Campbell: I haven't played it since, although I may try another run someday.

Bagdadsoftware: Do you think that someone needs to have played the game or share your passion for speedrunning before he can enjoy watching one?

Alastair Campbell: It obviously helps for viewers to have played the game, since they will understand much better what they are seeing. Some runs are impressive enough that they can be enjoyed by people who haven't played the game, though. You don't need to be a speedrunner yourself to enjoy speedruns.

Bagdadsoftware: What speedrun would you show to someone who has never before watched one and why?

Alastair Campbell: Well, I would start by asking which games she had played, and then try to find a run of that for her to watch. Runs of the Super Mario Bros games are usually short and entertaining; they show the idea of speedrunning quite well, and the games are simple enough that even people who haven't played a Mario game will be able to understand most of what is going on. But I would try to choose something that the viewer had played herself.

Bagdadsoftware: Where do you personally want to see speedrunning in general in 2018?

Alastair Campbell: I hope that speed running will come to be seen as the purest form of performance gaming. Speed running as an organized activity has definitely become better known and more widespread amongst gamers over the last ten years. Credit must go to Radix and to SDA's administrators for playing an important role in that process - I am certainly very proud to have been involved in it. I think there is a need to continue with the process of introducing gamers to speed running as a demonstration of skill, and to encourage gamers to try it for themselves.

Bagdadsoftware: Any tips or advice for someone who wants to attempt his own speedrun?

Alastair Campbell: There are usually four stages in the production of a speedrun, although these are not always followed.

The first stage is the preparation stage, in which you should learn as much about the game as possible, watch any existing runs that may have been done, and try to talk to the runners responsible for them to see if they have any tips. If you are planning a run of a game you know well, this stage should have been taken care of already.

The second stage is the planning stage, in which you need to decide which category you are going to attempt and work out a route.

The third stage is the testing and practice stage, in which you should learn and test the route, and practice all the tricks until you obtain some fluency with them. The route is often revised during this stage.

Once you have proved you can do it, you can begin the fourth stage, which is the run itself. In a segmented run, it is helpful to set yourself a target for each segment, and then keep trying until you beat your target.

The most important piece of advice is of course just to practice. It gets very boring, but speedrunning is not supposed to be easy![CH]

(Veröffentlicht am 05.07.2010)