The weekend is here and that means Summer Games Done Quick 2020 is just hours away from kicking off. Some of the top speedrunners in the world are about to get together for this one-week event. For the last decade, the folks at Games Done Quick have come together twice a year to feature speedruns for the best games in the world. And they've done it while raising money for charity. However, things are going to look slightly different this time around. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to rage around the world, Summer Games Done Quick 2020 will go fully online.
There are handful of amazing runs lined up for this momentous week of speedruns and Shacknews is among many looking forward to it. We've taken this entire week to reach out to some of the runners before they take the online stage. To wrap up our interviews, we're going to the beginning. More specifically, we're talking to BertoPlease, who's going to kick off the SGDQ week by running Demon's Souls. We'll ask about his strategies, some of the subtle differences between this and the rest of the Souls series, what it means to kick off Summer Games Done Quick, and his strategy for his run.
Shacknews: Starting with a basic question, how did you get started running Demon's Souls?
BertoPlease, Demon's Souls speedrunner: My picking of Demon's Souls as a speed game was very circumstantial. Back in 2017, and part of 2018, you could say I was a Soulsborne challenge runner and PvP streamer. I had played around with all the games in both of those manners, but there was one left out. Towards mid-2018 I was tossing around the idea of picking up one of the games to speedrun, but most of the games were primarily ran on PC and I didn't have a very good personal computer that would allow me to both play and record them, so I was down to either Bloodborne or Demon's Souls when I eventually got a capture card.
Bloodborne is amongst my two favorite games of all time. However, that is a game that I thoroughly enjoy playing slowly and taking my time in, appreciating the environments and music of boss fights. And while I could say similar to Demon's Souls, I have always liked the act of just running in that game. Your run animation feels very fast and realistic to me, and the last nail in the coffin was that the multiplayer servers for Demon's were already officially shut down, so since I couldn't do invasions in that game like in the other ones, I decided to just do something special for Demon's Souls. So I purchased a capture card once I had saved enough via Twitch, practiced for a few weeks, and by December of 2018, a new runner was born.
Shacknews: As the earliest Souls game, Demon's Souls seems to be the most "broken," but in a fun way. What sort of exploits have you found in this game that don't exist, or aren't as exploitable, in future Soulsborne games?
BertoPlease: The first thing that comes to mind aren't even exploits. They're just basic balance with weapons and items in the game. The Clever Rat Ring, an item that boosts your damage by 50 percent when your health is at 30 percent, has a direct parallel in Dark Souls, that being the Red Tearstone Ring. And while the damage boost is the same, in Dark Souls you need your health to be at 25 percent instead. However, in Demon's Souls, there's also a weapon you can make that has the same effect as the Rat Ring, and you can stack them, thus your damage becomes monstrous.
Spells were also the most powerful they've ever been. You can easily one or two-shot some bosses with the right setup. The only reason the Battle Axe melee route is superior in Any% is because getting some of the more powerful spells requires a massive detour, harming the overall time of the run.
The list goes on and on. Healing items are very unbalanced, the Regeneration Ring, along with Adjudicator's Shield, which are stackable passive healing, et cetera, et cetera. Unfortunately, Demon's Souls is actually lacking in exploits and glitches. It easily has the least skips in the entire series. As a result, the "clunkiness" you can find is actually just intentional gameplay, just very unbalanced. Funnily enough, some of the glitches that are in the game are performed very similarly to some of the subsequent games. The use of the Cat Ring to allow you to drop down distances that should be death is very similar to Fall Control skips in Dark Souls, for example.
Shacknews: Are there any newer strats that you and the Demon's Souls community have discovered over the past couple of years for this game? Have any new exploits surfaced?
BertoPlease: If we're talking years, there were a few minor things found in the last three or so. The Stockpile Thomas storage item dupe glitch has been around for a while, but a faster version was found around three years ago I believe. I believe around the same time, the slope quit-out skip strategy was fleshed out, saving a decent amount of time in two parts of Valley of Defilement. Around the time I started running, or shortly after, something called a Transition Warp was found, which is simply a way to skip small tunnel-like areas found after some boss fights.
Now if we're talking recently, Distortion2 went on a bit of a glitch hunt and was actually able to find two potential skips. I say "potential" because one of them he was able to pull off, but only once in around an hour of trying. So at the moment we don't have a consistent setup. The other he didn't quite pull off, and it seemed very shaky because of Demon's Souls physics, but the theory of it is solid.
The only thing I can somewhat attribute to myself is that I encountered a few instances where I was able to cut down on reloads on the established Armor Spider skip. I was not the first person to find them, but possibly the first person to implement them in runs, even if somewhat unintentionally, as I just found myself performing these optimizations without meaning to. The funny part is that we suspect that this is a result of having installed an SSD into Playstation 3, instead of the normal hard drive, as it'll load assets faster.
Shacknews: Are there any specific areas in the game that give you trouble? What's the likeliest point that a Demon's Souls run potentially dies?
BertoPlease: On a regular run where I would be running through areas in Clever Rat Ring health, one of the scariest levels is the second level of Valley of Defilement, or simply referred to as 5-2, the level right before Dirty Colossus. There's a small village filled with goblin enemies right before the boss and those enemies have a really annoying instant attack that has two or three chained hits to it. You're stunned for the duration if you get hit by it and it can potentially break your shield if you don't have enough stamina. For the sake of the run, I will be healing right before this segment and simply fighting the boss at full health. It's a long area and would be a massive time loss if I were to die, so I don't find it worth it. Being at full health should remove the danger of dying there, but I did recently have a very scary moment even at full health while practicing, so not an entirely foolproof plan.
Honorable mentions go to the first level of Shrine of Storms, 4-1, and the very last level of the run, fourth level of Boletaria Palace, 1-4. The latter I'll be at full health for as well, even though I'm confident running through there, and the former you're already at full health, but it can go very wrong if the enemies misbehave. But I'm also fairly confident about that one, and I can always reload the game if necessary.
Shacknews: Which boss gives you the most trouble during a run?
BertoPlease: To this day, Old King Allant is still the scariest part of the entire run, and it's the very last boss we fight, excluding the true final boss. He is hands-down the most unpredictable, and probably even the glitchiest boss of Demon's Souls. And it doesn't bode well with how much health he has and you being at 30 percent HP. As mentioned above, I will be at full health for 1-4, which is the level preceding King Allant, and I will remain so for the boss fight, unless I'm really close to the estimated time and need to save time. Nevertheless, he’s still very dangerous at full health, and I hope it doesn't give me too much trouble at the event.
Other common troublemakers are Maneaters and Flamelurker, but although they seem insanely random and hard as well, with enough practice you can get better at fighting and manipulating them. It is much harder to say this for Allant.
Shacknews: How does your strategy change when you're going for an Any% run versus an All Trophies run? For instance, do you prefer different weapons, stats, or area order?
BertoPlease: Oh, the All Trophies run of the game is as far removed from Any% as you can get, not only in concept, but in strategy as well. As mentioned before, spells are very powerful and since this run requires you to get them anyway, you build your entire character towards them. I would go as far to say that it's a very comfortable run. You don't fight a lot of things in Clever Rat Ring range, as your damage is already excessive, and you do level health a decent amount, but it will take either a lot of reading of notes or a lot of memorizing on the runner's part, since it is a very long run with a lot of details to it. I plan to return to this run for a while after SGDQ is done, I enjoyed it far more than I anticipated when I tried it out.
Shacknews: As recently as a few weeks ago, you put up a deathless Any% run in 43:22. Is there any secret to completing a deathless run? Outside of "Don't die," of course?
BertoPlease: As I'm sure everyone is aware, "You Died" are the infamous words that haunt all Souls players in their sleep, and that doesn't exclude speedrunners. It is not easy to get a deathless speedrun of any of the Souls games, I imagine. Looking back through my leaderboard submissions, it looks like it took me ten months from when I started running Demon's Souls to get my first deathless run.
If you really wanted to have a deathless run, but are very much still learning the game, I would say slow and steady wins the race. Don't get greedy. If something starts going wrong, slow down, reload your game if you need to reset enemies, anything you must. This still won't guarantee that you’ll have a deathless run, sometimes you'll just be put in positions out of your control. It won’t necessarily be a fast run, but I can't lie, the first deathless speedrun feels very nice, so it should be one of your goals.
Shacknews: How do you feel you've grown as a runner since you first started?
BertoPlease: My first Demon's Souls Any% personal best was 2 hours, 22 minutes, and 10 seconds. I actually rewatched this run with my community when I got my 42:44 console PB, which was meant to be my last Any% PB before I tried out a few other things, and it was just hilarious screaming at my past self: "Don't do that, you idiot!"
I have improved massively as a speedrunner. A lot of the people who have been watching me since the beginning will also compliment me on how far I've come. Even the practice runs I've been doing for the event have been going a lot better than I expected. I projected that a very good run timed in RTA for Any% would be around 50 minutes, and I've gotten runs that go as low as 47 minutes, which was 45 minutes ingame time. It has been a delightful journey, I found myself a very lovely niche in the Demon's Souls category that I enjoy being a part of and contributing to in any way I can.
Shacknews: What's more intimidating to you: A GDQ run in front of a live audience or an online GDQ run?
BertoPlease: As a streamer who doesn't even own a camera for facecam, on-site events terrify me! It would be very out of my comfort zone, but I would be willing to give it a try. I actually had plans to apply to a speedrun venue at TwitchCon EU this year if they had one, but as I'm sure you can guess, that was cancelled due to COVID-19.
This is not to say I won't be nervous for this online version, but I do have a bit of practice with that. In November 2019, the Souls community hosts an annual speedrunning marathon event called the Speedsouls Charity Marathon. I took part in the biggest event of that marathon, a relay race including all the Soulsborne games. I never knew what the viewer numbers were for that, but I believe we were on the frontpage of Twitch, so I assume it was far more than I'm used to. Before I was brought on to the stream, I was definitely very nervous but being in the waiting room with a few other people. Just talking was very helpful in soothing my nerves. A very good friend will be commentating with me during my GDQ run, so hopefully we're able to relax before the run as well.
Shacknews: What advice would you give somebody looking to get into Demon's Souls speedrunning?
BertoPlease: Temper your expectations. Speedrunning alone can be very nerve-racking and Souls games are very brutal, so I would just advise people to not get upset if they don't get a personal best back-to-back, or if it takes a few weeks or even months. I definitely fell into that trap once in a while, even though I generally approached it in a very light-hearted manner, and I realized there were a few times when I could use a break from running for a week or two.
As far as more in-depth advice, I would point any new runners to the Guide segment of the Demon's Souls leaderboard. I have published a few thorough guides to help anyone who wishes to take on Any%, and I've only received positive feedback so far.
Shacknews: And lastly, I have to ask. What was your reaction to seeing Demon's Souls announced for PS5?
BertoPlease: When the Playstation 5 event was happening, I was watching it along with a bunch of other folks on a Discord server. No voice call or anything, just typing out while we watched. I had no expectations for anything, and a Demon's Souls remake was the last thing I expected. There have been rumors of a Demon's Souls remake floating in the community for five years or more now and nothing ever came of it, so I just approached it with an "I'll believe it when I see it" attitude. The trailer came up, nothing immediately got my attention, I saw mountain ranges and fields and my first few thoughts were "Elder Scrolls 6? Horizon Zero Dawn? New Team ICO game?" Then the dregling hanging from Dragon God's claw came up. I have never key mashed so hard in my life. I wasn't the only one too, a few others that have seen me run and played the game themselves instantly knew what was happening. There were many QHRF's and WEQPCOMQ's had that day.
Shortly after I got a lot of messages and pings from people asking if I saw since people just associate me with Demon's Souls at this point, it was just a delightful day. In retrospect, I should've been able to tell a little bit sooner what it was, like with the scene with the archway and the cult-looking folks walking in the beach, not to mention the scenes in general were a recreation of the intro cutscene of the game, simply excluding the "On the first day" text and the classic drums and so forth. I expect the feel and atmosphere of the game will be very, very different, but I will have a good time with the remake no matter what. It will be very cathartic seeing Demon's Souls finally get the spotlight it deserved but never got to have.
Summer Games Done Quick 2020 will begin on Sunday, August 16 and continue until Saturday, August 22. The week will kick off with BertoPlease's Demon's Souls run, which is set to start at 9AM PT on Sunday. Join the runners at Games Done Quick and raise money all week for Doctors Without Borders. You can catch all of the action on the Games Done Quick Twitch channel.