My introduction to speedrunning: right game, right time

Although I was aware of speedrunning thanks to dedicated sections at gaming expos and the GDQ marathons, it was never something I’d paid much attention to. This changed after a chance encounter in October when I happened to be playing the right game at the right time.

My other-half and I started chatting to Darkshoxx when he raided the Later Levels’ Twitch channel while we were streaming Shivers back then. Few people seem to have ever heard of this 1995 horror point-and-click whenever I mention it because it wasn’t one of Sierra Online’s most famous titles, but he was actually speedrunning it at the time. Darkshoxx told us that there was an entire community dedicated to doing the same thing and kindly sent me an invitation to an associated Discord server.

I was surprised to hear that people were speedrunning this game because there’s an element of randomness to it. Ten evil spirits called Ixupi must be recaptured in a vessel which corresponds to their element, the pots and lids for which are scattered in different locations around a museum each time a new playthrough begins. It was interesting reading the conversations between the server’s members and hearing about the techniques each of them used to achieve their fastest time.

Speedrunning still wasn’t something I’d considered trying myself even after being introduced to the group though. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy having to spend so long practicing with the same game, and the competitive side of gaming has never really appealed to me. I’ve written before about not usually doing replays because there are always so many new releases I’d like to start; and adult responsibilities mean I don’t have enough time to improve my skills to be able to play at a competitive level.

But things may be starting to change since a recent stream with Darkshoxx. My other-half and I have had the pleasure of getting to know him since that raid six months ago and we can now frequently be found hanging out in Twitch chat. When Pete decided to do a weekly ‘master-class’ where he’s joined by a friend as part of our GameBlast21 streams, the awesome Darkshoxx agreed to take part in a speedrun-themed session and guided him through several titles.

First up was Myst: Masterpiece Edition. Anyone who has completed a version of this classic adventure will know about the ‘twist’ at the end and how quickly you could finish the title if you only had all the pieces to the puzzle at the start, so it feels like the perfect game to speedrun. Pete’s first attempt took over 11-minutes but within an hour he’d managed to reduce this to less than 90-seconds – pretty amazing, but not as impressive as Darkshoxx’s own personal best (PB) of just over 44-seconds.

Next on the list was Zork I, the text-adventure first released in 1980. Pete wanted to do this title for the nostalgia as it’s one of his favourite games from his childhood but so much of the speedrun obviously depends on typing-speed and I think he found it rather stressful as a result. He only made one attempt but managed to enter more than 275 commands in 28-minutes; and was pleased with this, as it was much faster than the three-months it took him to complete the story back on his Commodore 64.

The final speedrun was DuckTales Remastered, perhaps the hardest one of the session as it wasn’t a game that Darkshoxx had ever tried to do himself and so some research was needed beforehand. Pete had played it during our 24-hour GameBlast21 marathon in February and at the time we’d joked about him speedrunning it, so here was his opportunity to turn that into a reality. He managed to beat the Transylvania level in just over nine-minutes and bag himself third-place on the leaderboard.

My other-half’s eyes lit up and I could tell he was genuinely enjoying himself while watching him through this master-class. Don’t get me wrong, we always have fun when we’re streaming and hanging out with friends online – but there was something about those speedruns which really grabbed his attention. It helped immensely that Darkshoxx was a great teacher, patient when he made mistakes and providing advice on what he could improve to reduce his times even further.

And I have to admit that Pete’s excitement and his continuing enthusiasm after the stream was kind of infectious. As he worked his way through Myst for the tenth time, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “I’d like to try this.” And despite sensing his stress as he typed the commands for Zork, it felt like something I could do too. As mentioned earlier in this post, I’d never been interested in speedrunning before that night but now it feels as though it’s something I might actually try for myself.

So why is that, considering I don’t enjoy replays or competition when it comes to gaming? I’m still not interested in competing against others but challenging yourself is always appealing. That’s the reason why I participate in events like StrideQuest: I want to find out just how far I can push myself and whether I’m able to improve on that achievement over time. I’m not bothered about whether my best is better than anyone else’s, only whether I can see improvement in myself.

There’s also the fact that the speedrunning community seems so welcoming. Pete and I watched Darkshoxx and Die4Ever2011 discuss a video of The 7th Guest by another speedrunner during one of his streams recently and there was absolutely no animosity at all; they simply wanted to know how he’d completed certain puzzles and whether his method was different to their own, rather than tear him down. Everyone we’ve met in the community so far has been genuinely lovely and supportive of each other’s efforts.

Darkshoxx is getting up to speed in a new job so once he’d has some time to settle in, we’ll get him back on the Later Levels’ Twitch channel for another speedrun session. And who knows: it might be me on the controls next time rather than Pete. Although the suggestion of The Secret of Monkey Island from Ellen from Ace Asunder is tempting, I’ve been told it’s rather difficult due to the swordfighting-insult section. Maybe I’ll start of with Myst and see how I get on.

After all, I wouldn’t want to Myst out on this opportunity… sorry, I couldn’t resist.

My favourite Twitch voices

More bloggers have found their way to Twitch over the past year. Additional free time during lockdown and a desire to connect with others more immediately gave many the opportunity to try streaming for the first time or to do it more frequently.

There are three main elements that combine to make a good stream experience for me. First, it’s more fun when other blogger-friends are in char because it feels like we’re all hanging out; then next, it’s more enjoyable when the game being played is from a genre I’m interested in. The last factor may sound strange but it’s something we’ve talked about on a few occasions recently: it always helps when the streamer has a soothing voice you could listen to for hours.

Many of my blogger-friends now stream regularly (shout-out to the #CoolKidsofWordPressonTwitch) and each of them have something special that makes them worth watching. Today’s post however is about those who are worth listening to; their voices leave me hypnotised and make me feel disappointed with my own Essex accent. Check out the following streamers when they’re next live and you’ll hear what I mean.

Darkshoxx from Darkshoxx

With Darkshoxx, it’s not so much the sound of his voice but what he says and how he phrases sentences. He’s a highly intelligent person and this makes for interesting conversations about gaming and a range of other subjects during each stream; and although he isn’t shy about honestly voicing his point-of-view, he does it in a way that’s polite and is always willing to listen to others’ opinions. He also plays some great adventure games and I’ve added many more titles to my wishlist thanks to him.

Fed from FeddyGamer

I love how conversations with Fed are always so down-to-earth. Forget about hard-hitting subjects and breaking news: what you’ll find on his streams are discussions about normal, everyday things such as how hard it is to keep your kids to sleep through the night and comparisons between brands of cola. You can tell he’s a good dad. There’s something about his voice which is incredibly soothing and it’s always a pleasure when someone redeems their points to get him to sing a nursery-rhyme.

Nathan from GamingOmnivore

Ever since Nathan played Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers for our game-swap last year, I can’t help but think of the protagonist each time I tune into one of his streams. In fact, if a fourth game in the series were to be announced, I’d have an extremely hard time deciding between whether I wanted him or Tim Curry to be the main voice-actor. Nathan’s streams are fun because he never takes himself too seriously and there are plenty of impressions to keep you laughing.

Will from HudsonGamingUK

Will’s voice is a familiar sound in the Later Levels’ house of a weekend. My other-half will have his stream on while he’s messing around with something on his laptop at the kitchen table, and I listen in while I’m baking or sorting out lunch. There’s something about the smooth sound of his voice which makes all the screams and gunfire from Escape from Tarkov fade into the background instantly – it’s easy to focus in on him and forget he’s talking over a digital warzone.

hungrygoriya from hungrygoriya

I sadly don’t often get a chance to tune into hungrygoriya’s streams regularly due to the large time difference between the UK and Canada. But when the opportunity arises to catch her live, I love listening to her voice because it’s so lovely (even when she’s talking about murdering all the people in Skies of Arcadia). What makes it even better is that she clearly knows a lot about retro gaming and is a kind person, welcoming everyone to her channel and being interested in what viewers have to say.

Heather from KiaraHime

Heather has been a regular visitor to our streams over the past year and recently decided to start streaming herself. She’s doing a great job so far and that’s partly due to her voice: she always sounds so clear and has a lovely ‘British’ sound, which makes me feel thoroughly jealous when I compare it to my own Essex accent! We’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with her at expos in the past and she’s just the same in person as she comes across on her channel.

Special mention: Phil

Friend-of-the-blog Phil bravely stepped up to the challenge when we asked if he’d like to get involved with our GameBlast21 streams this year and we’re grateful to him for his help! You’ll be able to catch him on the Later Levels’ Twitch channel on Thursdays and Sundays up until the end of May. If you listen to him closely, you might be able to figure out that he’s related to another streamer on today’s list: he and Heather are siblings and have the same well-spoken tone to their voices.

Thank you to all the friends on today’s list, as well as the other #CoolKidsofWordPressonTwitch, for making the past year a little more bearable with their streams. Are there any other streamers who have great voices that you’d like to recommend?

GameBlast21: lessons learnt

GameBlast21 has officially been completed. Last weekend, hundreds of dedicated gamers all over the UK streamed themselves playing video games for 24-hours and managed to raise over £200,000 for the amazing SpecialEffect.

I’ve participated in the GameBlast events since they started back in 2014 and every marathon has taught me something new: tips about streaming in general, ideas for creating content and understanding how supportive our friends within the community are. I like to share a round-up of the lessons learnt each time so we can keep track of our experiences and benefit from them every year so, in normal Later Levels’ style, here’s an overview of what happened during GameBlast21.

Lesson one: accept that something will always go wrong

One of the lessons we’ve discovered in previous years is that something will always go wrong during a marathon stream. But it’s not so much being prepared to fix it that matters; what’s more important is that you accept it’s going to happen and are able to roll with it when it does. The regular streams we’ve been doing over the past year have given us a lot of experience with our streaming software and hardware so for the first time during GameBlast history, there was no stress in the Later Levels’ household.

Lesson two: an awesome mod makes your life easier

This year was the first time we decided to get ourselves a mod for the marathon stream and we can’t be more grateful to Ellen from Ace Asunder for stepping up to the challenge. She kept her eyes out for bots (thanks to Darkshoxx for giving us a giggle by creating a fake one so she’d have something to ban), posted links in chat when they were needed and welcomed new people to the channel. It meant that some of the ‘admin’ work was taken off our shoulders so we could focus more on the stream itself. Thanks so much, genniz0rz!

Lesson three: FMV comedy games work at 02:00

The section of the stream we’ve always struggled with is from 02:00 to 05:00. It’s incredibly difficult to pick a game to play during this period: you want something which is going to be exciting enough to keep you awake when you’re starting to flag, but not one which requires a great deal of coordination or concentration. It was General Horse and the Package of Doom which stepped up to the challenge. The easy gameplay and crazy humour kept us laughing during the early hours and pushing on through.

Lesson four: Pete doesn’t like Pikachu

At some point before the GameBlast21 event, GD from Gaming Diaries managed to talk Pete into wearing a Pikachu onesie for the whole 24-hours. I think there was a part of him which believed he wasn’t going to have to do it but there was no way our stream-friends were going to let him get out of it. He said afterwards that it was horrible having to wear it for so long because it was far too hot under our key lights – but in my mind it was worth the discomfort, after Fed from Fed’s Life persuaded him to do a Pikachu impression.

Lesson five: stream-friends can work together to break a record

We set up a pun-counter after last year’s marathon and this is something which has featured in our streams since. Mr. Wapojif from Professional Moron bravely said he was going to break the record of 76 puns in one session – and he managed to smash that by reaching 184 with a little help from some stream-friends. We’d like to say a big thank you to the following people for their pun-efforts, staying up for all or most of the 24-hours, helping us when we got stuck during games and just being generally awesome:

Friend Blog Puns contributed Notes
Mr. Wapojif Professional Moron 47 puns The pun champion
the_Ghost_Owl 37 puns The best detective ever
Darkshoxx Darkblox 22 puns General Horse expert
Phil 22 puns Impressive Viking skills
Nathan and Worried Cat Gaming Omnivore 14 puns Kept us awake
Vox_AB 12 puns Provided plenty of jokes
Ellen Ace Asunder 7 puns The most marvellous mod
Gao Li Occasionally Reviews 4 puns Creator of our GameBlast GIFs
Luke Hundstrasse 4 puns Donator of Pop-Tarts
GD Gaming Diaries 3 puns Taker of all the best clips
KiaraHime 1 pun Stayed up for all 24-hours


With your support, we’ve managed to raise an amazing £4,515 for SpecialEffect so far. They’re a wonderful charity which aims to put fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games, using technology ranging from modified joypads to eye-control software to find a way for everyone to play to the best of their abilities. Head over to their website or YouTube channel for more information and to see examples of their work.

The fun isn’t stopping just yet though. Your donations unlocked a series of rewards, part of which now involves us streaming to the Later Levels’ Twitch channel every day for at least an hour right up until Saturday, 29 May 2021. Our JustGiving page will remain open until that date in case anyone would like to make a contribution to SpecialEffect and we’ll reveal the games we’re streaming every Monday on social media.

GameBlast21: we’re live!


Hundreds of gamers all over the UK are taking part in GameBlast21 this weekend. This annual gaming marathon is designed to raise funds and awareness for SpecialEffect, an amazing charity which helps people with physical disabilities to play video games.

We’ll be live on Twitch all the way through to 08:00 GMT on Sunday, 28 February 2021 with the schedule below – and then back again for at least an hour each day for 60 days afterwards as part of our #DaysForDonations challenge. All donations received through our JustGiving page go straight to the charity and allow them to continue their wonderful work.

It’s not just about money though: anything you can do to spread the word about SpecialEffect is hugely beneficial too, as it increases the potential for them to reach more people they can help. Tweet about the charity’s work, share our press release, join us in Twitch chat; it’s all valuable and we’re so grateful for your support!

Date Time Genre Game Channel
Saturday,
27 February 2021
08:00 GMT Platformer DuckTales Remastered Later Levels
11:00 GMT Adventure Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars Later Levels
14:00 GMT Other Escape-room-in-a-box Later Levels
17:00 GMT Retro The X-Files: Resist or Serve Later Levels
20:00 GMT Action Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Later Levels
20:00 GMT TTRPG The Last Expedition of Professor Winglow The Lawful Geek
23:00 GMT Horror The 7th Guest: 25th Anniversary Edition Later Levels
Sunday,
28 February 2021
02:00 GMT FMV General Horse and the Package of Doom Later Levels
05:00 GMT MMO The Elder Scrolls Online Later Levels
08:00 GMT Stream end Sleep


We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


GameBlast21: coming this weekend

Video games have the power to do a lot of good. They help us see the world through another person’s eyes and experience their stories, as well as giving us the chance to meet new friends with similar interests. It’s no exaggeration to say they can even change someone’s life.

This is something hundreds of gamers all over the UK taking part in GameBlast21 this weekend believe in. The goal is to raise as much funds and awareness for SpecialEffect, a wonderful charity which aims to put fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games. By using technology ranging from modified joypads to eye-control software, they’re finding a way for everyone to play to the very best of their abilities.

We’ve participated in the annual GameBlast streaming marathon since it started in 2014 and there’s only a few days to go until this year’s event. Read on to find out what we’ve got lined up this time around and how you can get involved.

24-hour stream from 08:00 GMT on Saturday, 27 February 2021

Thanks to everyone who voted in our polls to create the game schedule for our marathon stream! A reminder of what’s coming up can be found below. We’re going to have some awesome people helping us out on the day: friend-of-the-blog Phil will be headlining the action section; Kevin from The Lawful Geek will be running a TTRPG to support the cause over on his own channel from 20:00 GMT on Saturday; and Ellen from Ace Asunder will be our marvellous mod for the event.

Date Time Genre Game Channel
Saturday,
27 February 2021
08:00 GMT Platformer DuckTales Remastered Later Levels
11:00 GMT Adventure Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars Later Levels
14:00 GMT Other Escape-room-in-a-box Later Levels
17:00 GMT Retro The X-Files: Resist or Serve Later Levels
20:00 GMT Action Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Later Levels
20:00 GMT TTRPG The Last Expedition of Professor Winglow The Lawful Geek
23:00 GMT Horror The 7th Guest: 25th Anniversary Edition Later Levels
Sunday,
28 February 2021
02:00 GMT FMV General Horse and the Package of Doom Later Levels
05:00 GMT MMO The Elder Scrolls Online Later Levels
08:00 GMT Stream end Sleep


#DaysForDonations fundraising targets and awards

Over £3,500 has been donated by you generous lot through our JustGiving page at the time of writing this post. This means we’ve now hit six of our fundraising targets and will be organising some special events as rewards, as well as streaming for at least an hour a day for a 70-day period after the marathon stream. The more we manage to raise for SpecialEffect, the longer our streams will go on for – and more we’ll embarrass ourselves on camera for a worthy cause.

Target #DaysForDonations Achievement unlocked
Any amount raised No additional days 24-hour GameBlast21 stream on 27-28 February 2021
£500 raised 10 days (up to 10 March) Signed Zelda postcards are sent to all donators
£1,000 raised 20 days (up to 20 March) Pete wears a Pikachu costume for the 24-hour stream
£1,500 raised 30 days (up to 30 March) A signed copy of Project Zero is given away
£2,000 raised 40 days (up to 09 April) The team streams wearing Pokémon costumes
£2,500 raised 50 days (up to 19 April) The official #KaraokePete album is emailed to all donators
£3,000 raised 60 days (up to 29 April) The Lawful Geek hosts an extended TTRPG stream
£3,500 raised 70 days (up to 09 May) The team completes a cocktails-and-karaoke stream
£4,000 raised 80 days (up to 19 May) Ellen from Ace Asunder gets a Zelda and GameBlast tattoo
£4,500 raised 90 days (up to 29 May) Kim completes a treadmill marathon on stream
£5,000 raised 100 days (up to 08 June) #DaysForDonations finishes with another 24-hour stream


How you can get involved

We can’t deny that donations are greatly appreciated and will be put to good use. They enable SpecialEffect to continue their work assisting hundreds of physically-disabled people across the UK to experience the joy of video games. The charity does this free of charge, and shares the knowledge gained from their lifelong assessment and support services with hardware and software developers – so a feature that’s worked successfully for one individual can then go on to benefit thousands of others.

Check out our JustGiving page for details if you’d like to donate. It’s not just about money though: anything you can do to raise awareness and let others know about SpecialEffect is hugely beneficial too, as it increases the potential for them to reach more people they can help. Tweet about the charity’s work, share our GameBlast21 press release, come along to our streams join us in chat; these are all valuable actions and we’re incredibly grateful for your support.

Good luck to everyone taking part in GameBlast21 this weekend! Together, we can help SpecialEffect level the playing-field for people with physical disabilities and share the joy of gaming.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


GameBlast21: Later Levels’ press release

 
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Kim at Later Levels
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Later Levels to battle sleep in 24-hour charity challenge

Committed gamers Later Levels are gearing up to burn the midnight gaming oil from Saturday, 27 to Sunday, 28 February 2021 to raise money for people with disabilities.

They’ll be playing video games continuously for 24-hours as part of GameBlast21, the UK’s largest gaming marathon weekend, and are aiming to raise over £3,500 for SpecialEffect. This amazing charity uses technology to help people with disabilities benefit from the fun and inclusion of gaming.

The Later Levels team is asking everyone to help them raise awareness for the organisation and reach their donation target by sponsoring them via their online fundraising page.

SpecialEffect makes it possible for everyone to play the video games we enjoy and take for granted, through assessment and equipment modification,” said Pete, a Later Levels’ streamer. “We believe in the positive power of gaming, and GameBlast gives us a chance to put this belief into action by showing our support for the charity.”

“Many people across the UK will be playing video games for up to 24 hours. It’s a big challenge, but they’re attempting it to help the thousands of people who, because of a disability, can only sit and watch other people have all the fun,” said Tom Donegan, the head of the charity’s fundraising and communications team. “GameBlast is an opportunity for everybody to do what they love best and level the playing field for individuals with disabilities at the same time.”

The charity is inviting teams of friends, family members and work colleagues to join the event, which has been likened to a ‘Children in Need for gamers’. There’s no strict requirement for people to take on gaming marathons, and many teams and individuals will be playing board games or holding gaming-related events. The aim is to raise a total of £100,000.

Later Levels’ efforts will help people like Aaron who never thought he’d be able to play video games again because his muscular dystrophy stopped him using a controller, ” said Tom. “The sponsorship raised through the GameBlast weekend will change the lives of many more people like him through the gift of gaming fun and inclusivity.”

Anyone can sponsor the team online via their JustGiving page and watch them live from 08:00 GMT on Saturday, 27 February 2021 on their Twitch channel. More details about the GameBlast event can be found on the official website.

SpecialEffect is an award-winning charity that helps people with disabilities to benefit from the fun, rehabilitation and therapy of video games. They support people of all ages through assessments, equipment loans and equipment modifications.

SpecialEffect
The Stable Block, Cornbury Park, Charlbury, Oxfordshire OX7 3EH
Office: 01608 810055
Email: info@specialeffect.org.uk
Twitter: @SpecialEffect
Facebook: SpecialEffectCharity

Charity no 1121004