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GrandPooBear on Speedrunning: "Speedgaming deserves every bit of recognition that esports get"
INTERVIEW // Speedruns // By Chris Bahn // 2mo ago
Kicking off the AGDQ pre-game show, over 152,000 viewers have tuned in to watch some of the finest speedrunners blitz through popular games like Ape Escape 2 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarinaof Time 3D.
This weekend, we caught up with David ‘GrandPooBear’ Hunt, a rising star in the speedrunning community. If you're an avid fan of Super Mario speedruns, there's a good chance you've come across his marathons in the past. In our interview, GrandPooBear offers some insight on how he developed his craft, steps to establish more growth, iconic runs, and upcoming titles he'd like to speedrun.
How did you get into speedrunning?
While I had been a fan/viewer of speedruns, it wasn't until Dram's Kaizo run at AGDQ two years ago that I decided to start running myself. Watching this hack just be destroyed live, which in my mind was just impossible, blew my mind.
I soon decided to run my fav game, Super Mario Bros. 3, and then started to bother CujoHSV for tips. He kinda showed me the ropes, and then I just dived head first into the community. I've been really lucky to have some of the best runners in the game show me the hard work and dedication it takes to get good.
It's honestly very surreal to be running a rom hack with Dram's name on it in such a short time.
For those who aren't familiar with your background, tell us about the origins behind your nickname.
I once shared a McDonald's honey pack with bear...and this just kinda caught on.
What inspires you to perfect your craft?
This might sound lame, but honestly, other runners. There is always someone out there that is trying to break a game, cut one-tenth of a second off a run, or learn new strategies. Guys like Darbian, Authorblues, BounceyBoy, Carlsagan42, Mitchflowerpower and CujoHSV were such massive inspirations on me.
Seeing how hard they worked, even though they held the world records they cared about the most, made me realize it's not about getting YOUR lowest time: it's about getting the lowest time the game will allow. Other than that, you need to have a decent amount of healthy OCD. It really comes down to me setting a goal. And once I introduce that goal to my viewers, I have to meet it.
Aside from Super Mario Maker, what are some of your favorite games to speedrun?
Well Mario Maker isn't really a "speedrun game" but there is no doubt that is what I am most known for, and we have done our best to show to the speedrun community that blind racing Mario is both a test of skill and something people enjoy to watch. But back to your question: Super Mario Bros. 3 was my first speedrun. It will always hold a giant place in my heart, but I have probably put the least amount of work into compared to my other games.
I need to just hunker down and get good. I mostly run really hard Mario rom hacks, or "Kaizo" as people call it now. There is something about the insane challenge of those games that makes a perfect run feel incredibly satisfying.
When you mess up in Mario 3, it costs a few seconds. But when I mess up in Kaizo, it's death, and becomes costly when it comes to minutes. The stakes just feel much higher for me. Super Dram World, a rom hack made by PangeaPanga, is the game that has captured most of my time in 2016, and the one I will playing at AGDQ 2017.
Last year you successfully beat one of the most challenging levels created by PangaeaPanga. What other games have you played that posed a similar challenge?
Spelunky is the hardest game I have ever played, and also one of the best, and I would do anything to get Derek Yu to make another game like that. It is probably the only non-romhack, non-Mario Maker game that I have played in the last five years that legit feels hard, and feels like you improve by practice rather than "leveling up." What I mean is: the challenge of Spelunky is not as crazy the insane Mario Maker levels or grinding down Dram World to insane times.
But man, Spelunky is possibly the hardest "real" game I have played in the last six years, and also the most enjoyable. Also anytime I have to aim with a mouse is a major challenge for me, but that's another story.
What is your most memorable speedrun?
Not really a run, but the SGDQ Mario Maker blind race was possibly one of the best moments I have had in my life. The room was packed, and I mean packed full for the race, where I was with some of my best speedrunning friends on the main stage.
It offered an esports-like atmosphere unlike what I've experienced at a speedrun event. On a more personal level, about a month ago, I became the first person to break 24 minutes in Super Dram World, followed by beating that record by another 20 seconds two runs later. I worked for months and months to get one world record. Being able to break it twice in one day was a highlight for sure.
Are there any new games that you're looking forward to running?
Cuphead has been haunting me since I saw the first screenshot a few years ago. It just looks like nothing I have ever seen before, and I can't wait to dive into it. I hope it ends up being a viable speedgame and not just boring, predictable boss fights. Really holding out hope that they are putting in a lot of platforming in that.
That new 3D Mario that they showed in the Nintendo Switch trailer looked pretty sexy, as does The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Owlboy also looks like it is turning into a really fun run, as well as the new Shantae game. Honestly, most of the new games I tend to gravitate towards are PC survival type games (Arma 3, H1kotk) or the Dead by Daylight-style (DBD and Friday the 13th).
Most of my speedruns are 2D Marios, and I really do not enjoy the New Super Mario series as the movement is slow, but who knows! I am sure there will be an amazing indie game I have not even heard of yet release this year that will become the new speed darling for a bit.
Switching gears for a bit to talk about previous GDQ-events. How would you describe the experience to a newcomer who has never attended?
It's so much different than any "con" you've been to, in that it's literally all about playing games. We take over an entire hotel, and just spend a week playing games really fast. The biggest players in the world are just hanging out, racing each other and cracking jokes. It's impossible to spend a week at GDQ and not make lasting relationships.
Honestly, It is way more of a place to get together with your friends and enjoy your fav hobby then it is some bloated event. What you see on stream is just one of many, many rooms filled with stuff to do. There is a 24-hour arcade. No one is trying to sell you anything. If you enjoy playing video games really fast, then you will love going to GDQ. If you want to buy some T-shirts and see a laser show, you might not enjoy it as much. It's about the games, the charity and going fast. But mostly, it's about the friends in the community.
How do these speedruns differ from other gaming-hosted events?
Well, first of all, it's for charity. Every runner pays their own flight, their own hotel fees; we do not get anything from the run except the chance to show it off. We are there because we LOVE speedgaming, and want to show off what we have been working on for months or sometimes even years. Also, there isn't any noticeable barriers between the players and the "fans" (and fans isn't even really the right word. Community would be better).
Like if you want to go meet someone, chances are they are in the practice room and you can just walk right up and shake their hands. You also won't see any weird jerseys with too many sponsors on it (and honestly, I hope that part changes in the years to come).
I think the best difference though, is everyone is equal in the practice room. See someone playing a game you want to be better at? Go sit down next to them and nine times out of ten, they will teach you everything they know.
Speedrunning is just different from the esports scene. It's just a lot more love.
In your experience, what have been some of the most memorable marathons you’ve participated in?
I am more of a newcomer to the scene, and really only earned my spots into events this last year, but Californiathon last year was such an incredible event to attend. It had some magic, including a one-player two-game Pokémon Red/Blue run (you read that right) the debut of Pepsiman (it wasn't at AGDQ first), a Pokémon Snap event that was way more entertaining than a speedrun about taking pictures of Pokémon should be.
I also recently hosted part of an English restream of the JRTA marathon, Japan's first live speedrun event, and honestly had my mind blown. It really showed how far we still need to go as far as communicating with players around the world, as they showed things in nearly every game that a lot of American players have never seen before.
How can the speedrunning community continue to grow?
Man, I have some dreams and ideas for this. Honestly, we don't do a good job of marketing our speedrun stars. We don't do a good job of making stars out of the great players. We don't have a great space for detailed stats. I would love to see more events like the upcoming Ducktales tourney on twitch.tv/speedgaming, where players are putting up money for races, making the stakes higher. Honestly, I would love to see us do more then just the charity events. Have events where the stakes feel higher then just "did we go below our estimate that we set ourselves."
Speedrunning is gaining more and more players, but I wouldn't say we are making more and more players who can make a living off of it the way they have in esports. We don't have a central hub for speedrun news. I mean there are a ton of things I think we could do to grow, but it will take some of the more influential members of the community to start to push it that way. I am not sure that the community at large wants that, and I think there is some fear of "splitting" the community if we try something different.
I personally think speedgaming deserves every bit of recognition that esports get but we have to do more to put the spotlight on us then these two giant charity events each year. There just isn't enough time in those two weeks where the stakes feel low to the average viewer.
I have to think [media outlets] would be more in line to give speedgaming coverage if there was more on the line. With all that said, I am not sure any of that would be "better" than what we have now, I just think if the ultimate goal is to have as many people making a living off their talents as speedrunners, we need to make the stakes higher, which makes the runs more exciting for the average viewer.