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Hell-blazers: Update 2, "The Speedrun Killer" — Your Mate Devo

I'm Nicholas van der Waard, host of "Hell-blazers: Speedrunning Doom Eternal." My blog is about horror, but also sex, metal and videogames; this article explores some of those idea in Doom Eternal. What follows is another interview with Your Mate Devo, an Aussie speedrunner and software engineer. We cover the game’s Update 2 patch, and its effect on the game's ability to be speedrun

"Hell-blazers" interviews Twitch streamers, speedrunners and Doom fans about Doom Eternal (2020); it asks them, based on their own experiences, to compare the game to the rest of the franchise, and what effect it will have on speedrunning and gaming at large. General information about "Hell-blazers" can be found, here; a compendium of the interviews as they are published can be found here (which also includes interesting videos, break-downs and other articles).

Nick: Since Patch 2 of Doom Eternal, I’ve seen considerably less speedrunners playing Doom Eternal on Twitch. Speedrunners comment on frequent run-ending crashes introduced by Patch 2.

Does a crash-to-desktop basically equal a dead run for an Ultra-Nightmare speedrunner, and is this one reason why less speedrunners are playing the game right now on Twitch?

Devo: Until recently a crash meant the run was invalid. The rules were changed in late July by adding a provision where moderators will review crashes. This has made things simpler but a crash will still typically result in some degree of time loss. This is due to repeating everything after the most recent checkpoint.

Nick: How often has this occurred for you, personally?

Devo: Crashes occur for me at least once a day. Playing on patch 1.2 I experienced three crashes in 2.5 hours. The game crashed twice after the 2nd Slayer Gate and once halfway through ARC Complex. I’ve been very interested to play on the latest patches but this was the turning point for me in terms of downpatching. I now run on 1.0 which does present with BFG crashing at times but overall feels more stable.

Nick: In your opinion, how ubiquitous are these crashes?

Devo: They are fairly common across the community. Where they occur and their reproducibility can vary. I know for example that ByteMe was able to reproduce a crash on Super Gore Nest a dozen times. Other crashes such as the ARC Complex crash seem less likely.

Nick: What causes these crashes to occur? Did any of them exist before Patch 2, did Patch 2 make them worse; or are many of them completely new?

Devo: Without being a developer at id Software I haven’t the faintest clue. In patch 1.2 it felt like it would occur when environments would change.

Examples include:
  • Crashing when fast travelling too frequently in a short space of time
  • Crashing when the revenant bursts through the window in ARC Complex after the first secret encounter
  • Crashing when loading back into Cultist Base after completing the second Slayer Gate
  • I don’t really get BFG crashes in patch 1.2 but my frame rate drops considerably.

Nick: Why might these patches be introducing crashes as often as they are? Are they only major in the eyes of speedrunners, who are most hurt by them?

Devo: I’m not sure myself as I don’t work on Doom Eternal. Any ideas I have would be purely speculation. These crashes happen enough that they would not inconvenience most players. They would only affect speedrunners in a considerable way.

Nick: Id games are generally known for their smoothness, mid-operation. Does this translate to stability? In other words, is Doom Eternal’s current crash-to-desktop “epidemic” something of an anomaly?

Devo: I think some bias or optimism towards id Software is reasonable here. The engine is new and likely to present with many edge cases and defects. Regressions are probably also common as they try to iron out issues. There is usually a reason to avoid buying a new car platform the first year it is released. It gives manufacturers the feedback they need to make subsequent models on the same platform more reliable and hardy. I do hope idTech 7 is a long-term game engine for ZeniMax as idTech 6 was excellent yet saw a short life-span.But as I understand it the MegaTexture technology was becoming a limiting factor in terms of geometric detail and fidelity.

Nick: Are there any crashes that you hate in particular? What would you suggest in terms of a solution?

Devo: Without understanding the systems you can’t really recommend a fix. I would be very, very open to running any kind of trace profiling tool that id Software could provide in order to better understand these crashes. Even if my frame rate is halved I’d gladly provide memory or diagnostic dumps to them so they can better pinpoint what’s happening.

Nick: In your opinion, how devastating is the game’s instability issues for the long-term Doom Eternal speedrunning scene?

There’s always downpatching but that really sucks long-term because many speedrunners will miss out on the awesome new content unless they swap between versions. It’s crappy as well because people who have speedrunners as boosters miss out on booster XP from those players. Additionally, viewership for new content will be affected as many committed players and streamers of the game will likely play on patch 1.0 or 1.1.

If id Software can improve the stability of the game in later patches that’s something I’d be really excited for. I’m still enjoying the game on an older version but would love to whip out the Hotrod skin. I think it looks great, plus I think invasions will be just amazing for viewership and interacting with audiences. Often speedrunning can mean diminished interaction with the audience but invasions will allow for a better paced stream where chat and the broadcaster can talk more frequently.

Nick: Could the fact that the game isn’t brand-new anymore have something to do with its decreased speedrunner presence on Twitch, or is it mostly the patches and the crashes they’ve introduced/failed to fix?

Devo: To be honest I have seen more and more people speedrunning the game, especially the 100% Ultra Nightmare category. There are many new faces in my channel recently who have begun running the game. jamesplaysamumu, freckleston, UmbraPenumbra_ and many others. If newer runners continue to stream then viewership will grow.

New DOOM does not have several medium to large recognized speedrun channels which can really prop up its viewership. Compare this to Resident Evil where there are many larger channels speedrunning that franchise to either thousands of viewers (Bawkbasoup, Distortion2) or exclusively competing for world records to hundred of viewers (7rayD, Orchlon, PyramidK).

I don’t think speedrun viewership for the game has peaked at all yet. It’s still growing and if it continues to receive support via events such as Quakecon and BTRL it can only get better.

Nick: Does the game’s speedrunner community feel healthy elsewhere—say, on Discord?

Devo: Absolutely dude, the Modern DOOM Speedrunning and DOOM Community discords are both very active.

Nick: Did the game feel more stable at launch, and could this be why patches have been so few until now?

Devo: You would need to work at id Software I think to reason about the pacing of patches. I think the current patch vastly improves gameplay bugs such as your ‘fist’ becoming the equipped weapon ( More recent patches also improved blood punch and reduced the likelihood of BFG crashes which is awesome. Patch 1.2 did however introduce issues with random crashes throughout the game, which I cited previously.

Implementation Issues
Nick: Patch implementation has been rocky and infrequent. Often, one problem is fixed, only to introduce another in its place. A famous example is the Denuvo anti-cheat software, which Id rolled back after players started review-bombing the game. New content seems less important than making the game feel stable.

Has the lion’s share of content been saved for the DLC, or has Id created a larger problem that’s hindering their ability to stick to a timetable?

Devo: I think Denuvo Anti-Cheat was introduced too early. Doom Eternal reached an entirely new audience beyond 2016. Many players playing Eternal did not get to experience cheating in 2016, which is still common by the way. The removal of Denuvo Anti-Cheat will absolutely negatively affect Invasions when they are introduced to the game. It was also unwise I think to add it so soon after the same technology was found in Valorant.

Many complaints about Denuvo were based on ‘principle’ rather than hard evidence. It’s disappointing this perspective contributed to cancelling the game by way of review bombing.

Nick: Would you say that Covid has slowed Id’s response to some of these technical issues regarding the game? Or is it a combination—of Covid, plus recent scandals like the Denuvo review bombings, and Mick Gordon severing ties with the company?

Devo: I think Covid would primarily contribute to id’s ability to make and deliver changes to the game. Depending on how important the integrity of the game is then the removal of Denuvo Anti-Cheat may have delayed the completion of Invasion feature.

Nick: Miscommunication is another issue. The Denuvo patch introduced a framerate issue that players incorrectly blamed on Denuvo, but was actually because of something else. Patch notes provided by the studio are often vague at best, and tend to lend more towards promoting aspects of the game than spelling out actual changes.

Would further transparency from Id assist efforts from them towards improving the game, provided they remain willing to listen to player feedback?

Devo: Patch note details may be under the purview of IP copyright meaning that specific details cannot be shared for risk of disclosing technical details. This is speculatory and without working at id Software I am unable to say for sure why more useful or specific information cannot be shared.

It is important that id continue to share and promote new features in order to bring players back to the game. They do create great new content such as skins and events which do bring players back.

Nick: Player feedback includes speedrunners. Do you feel like Id Studios listens to speedrunners regarding these crash-inducing glitches? Or do runners constitute a minority that is overshadowed—by “louder” actions like review bombing or the lucrative needs of casual players?

Devo: I hope that longer term feedback comes from people really committed to the game, speedrunners or otherwise. I can appreciate though that often quick actions might need to be taken to preserve the growth of the game and revenue coming from that growth.

Multiplayer Emphasis / Casual Players
Nick: Id has changed in-game routes to make it harder for speedrunners to sequence break the game. This includes smaller “fixes”—essentially invisible walls that prevent runners from skipping individual arenas, including fights with player-controlled demons.

Are these being made to prep the game for player-controlled Demonic Invasions?

Devo: Preventing skips during Invasions is likely the main reason for these changes. It’s disappointing for developers as well when content they have worked very hard on is bypassed almost entirely. I just hope we don’t start encountering invisible walls in areas such as Mars Core where emergent platforming using the meat hook and ballista boost makes that map so spectacular to play.

Nick: Are changes like these harmful to speedrunning in your mind? I ask this because they force the player into a multiplayer situation; multiplayer includes ideas like cheating and the enforcement of rules that a speedrunner wouldn’t concern themselves with.

Devo: Invasions can be disabled for the purpose of speedrunning which I think addresses concerns around cheating.

Nick: Patches for Doom Eternal seem, from an advertising standpoint, to taut the multiplayer experience (and gameplay-acquired items, like skins). Meanwhile, single-player changes are “ghost patched” into the game.

Why might Id Studios be keeping these single-player changes a secret, while simultaneously promoting Battle Mode in a very naked and open manner?

Devo: BATTLEMODE is id Software’s long term bet on the health of the game. Whether that’s the correct bet or not is something you’ll hear about differently from different people. Personally, I think a AAA game can thrive on its singleplayer alone.

New skins and events do draw players back to the game so it's important that those additions get the relevant coverage so existing players are aware of them. Most of my friends who play the game casually will come back and revisit the campaign with the addition of a new event.

I would enjoy seeing more extensive documentation of gameplay related changes in patch notes, or at least a different set of patch notes that deal less with new features and more with technical changes to existing content.

Nick: Are Id Studios trying to expand the game for a wider (thus more lucrative) audience?

Devo: Without sounding trite or tardy I think that’s the ambition of most game studios. It can only be a good thing I think provided the original vision isn’t lost. Which can prove to be a hard when adding more resources to a creative endeavour. If the success of the game kickstarts an interest in movement shooters then I am all for success to be honest.

Legitimacy - Money and Sports
Nick: Can speedrunners, in their current state, be lucrative, thus incentivizing larger companies to accommodate their needs?

Devo: Speedrunning is niche compared to other competitive eSports. If the average gamer starts to ‘want to be’ like a given speedrunner the same they would like to do very well in say a BR game then perhaps this could happen. Let’s say Logitech sponsors a speedrunner of Doom Eternal because their mice allow runners to aim better thus clearing levels quicker. This might in theory seem nice but I think because such a small segment of the consumer market looks at speedrunners the same way the average gamer looks up to Shroud it would be difficult.

Nick: Speedrunners increase a game’s lifespan by playing the game years after its release; they generally do so independent of monetary considerations. Is this method of game longevity outmoded, in the current gaming marketplace?

Devo: If a game is still being played and especially being watched on Twitch then certainly this is a good thing. It keeps the game alive in the minds of people who speedrun it and those who watch it. Many people still play and even more watch RE2R nearly 1.5 years after its release because it is just such an excellent speed game.

Nick: Id Studios are passionate developers; they still seem to be marketing their game at a more casual/wider audience. Can this guarantee a larger turn-out over the years than speedrunning has in the past with a smaller, more devoted playerbase?

Devo: If the game is good then by casting a wider net you’d hope so. There’s definitely something for both casual and more hardcore players. So, with a wider base of players to begin with you’d think that there’d for sure be more people coming back for longer periods of time.

Nick: I’ve never considered speedrunning a professional sport, despite its more general competitive elements. The current rules of speedrunning aren’t tenable in terms of reliable draws, for bigger audiences. Past runners speedran without no money. Just guys on couches in their basements, or at small conventions raising money for charity.

In your mind, does professionalizing speedrunning force players to speedrun in ways that go against the practice as its existed in the past?

Devo: I don’t really have a strong opinion on this to be honest. Like, I think organisations with no particular ties to a games community would struggle to run events for the gamut of games and categories. At least in any official capacity with respect to that games records. At the end of the day its up to the communities behind each game to really push what they think is worth promoting at particular events. They know the game best and what rulesets are most appropriate. BTRL for DE is a good example of this. I’m not sure legitimising a speedrun category with the features of professional sport is really compatible.

Nick: I’m not entirely sure monetizing speedrunning will fix many of its current issues (fragmentation, cheating, ephemerality). Large companies like Guiness and corrupt, debunked players like Billy Mitchell use money and “legit posturing” in ways that only seem to harm the profession.

Will things be different with Id Studios and future games from them and other companies? Is Id even moving in that particular direction (monetizing speedruns)? Or are their own lucrative actions a detriment to speedrunning their own game?

Devo: I don’t think speedrunning is a feature of id Software’s work. If id Software tried to create a leaderboard or in-game recognition of completion times it would largely be undermined by the fragmentation of game patches being run. Any run on an official board almost certainly would be slower than an unofficial run on an older patch.

Perhaps if there were seasonal leaderboards which were reset with particular patches that could be interesting?

Nick: How much of a connection is there between officially patching a game and speedrunning it “legitimately” (with money involved)? Do developers only see dollar signs by pushing speedrunning in a direction they think appropriate?

Devo: There’s not a strong connection. The speedrunning community generally ignores most patches. I’m not sure id Software is forcing anyone to play the game a particular way either. Perhaps they are protecting the integrity of the game for people seeing it for the first time. Someone might be watching a speedrun marathon and has never seen Doom Eternal before. If their first experience of the game is Any% on 1.0 then that’s not a great promotional piece for the game to be honest.

I might be pulling a straws here but this could be the developer’s perspective? Besides, most runners just end up downpatching the game anyway. It’s there fun to have really and there’s not much point in taking that away from the player, speedrunner or both.

Nick: Speedrunning the game on downpatches is a common defense, and I suspect that events (such as the recent Doom Eternal speedrun tournament) will employ this technique.

In other words, speedrunning will still occur. However, will big companies like Id sponsor (and put up reward money) for their games, if the games are being downpatched?

I don’t think they have a choice to be honest in the current remote/COVID environment. It will be at the runners preference in order to demonstrate the best run possible. Most runners are proud of their achievements using older patches. There will be an Ultra Nightmare speedrun at Quakecon and I imagine the runner will want to use the fastest version of the game, the version they’ve practiced with. Asking them to run patch 1.2 would be like asking Valentino Rossi to race using a 600cc motorcycle instead of 1000cc.

Nick: Certain records become impossible when a developer decides to patch out glitches and exploits. This type of addressal would have been impossible in the analog era. Now, games are almost entirely digital, and downpatching has become a reality among speedrunners.

Where do you draw the line in terms of downpatching? How often should it be done?

Devo: If a patch either significantly slows down the run or causes the game to become unstable then certainly downpatching becomes ideal. The latter is particularly the case with Doom Eternal, although patch 2.0 is really quite good from my experience.

Nick: Games are patched by devs. They’re also patched by runners. It’s not uncommon for popular speedrunning games to receive multiple mods (SMB3, Super Metroid, etc) that make them more interesting to speedrun (or harder).

How important is patching a game in terms of the number of speedrunners that play it?

Devo: Patching games is an important part of post-release development. People’s perspectives of how patches change the speedrun of a given game is irrelevant to its usefulness in ensuring the correctness or quality of the product.

Nick: Do you foresee games like Doom (2016) and Doom Eternal being modded and “patched” by players in a way that increases the speedrunning “health” of these newer titles?

Devo: It’s unlikely but you get the occasional ruleset which can spice things up a bit. 0% for Doom 2016 started out as sub-category or ‘extended category’. I think it could easily become more popular than 100% if it were run or competed more often.


About me: My name is Nick van der Waard and I'm a Gothic ludologist. I primarily write reviews, Gothic analyses, and interviews. Because my main body of work is relatively vast, I've compiled it into a single compendium where I not only list my favorite works, I also summarize them. Check it out, here!

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