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Hell-blazers: Update 2, "The Speedrun Killer" — FrostyXen

I'm Nicholas van der Waard, host of "Hell-blazers." What follows is a second interview with FrostyXen, a past WR-holder for the game on Speedrun.com (click here for his latest run, which has since been beaten by speedrunner Xiae's own run). This interview covers the game’s patches, their effect on its ability to be speedrun, and the game's professional scene.

"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).


Instability

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?

FrostyXen: It used to but due to the frequency of a specific crash, the BFG crash where the game will crash to desktop when firing the BFG, runs with crashes that don’t have the potential to benefit the players are still allowed for submission.


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

FrostyXen: During practice runs, only one or two BFG shots have consistently crashed my game but after changing when and where I fire the BFG, these crashes have disappeared almost entirely.


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

FrostyXen: They are quite rare with the opportunity for the crash to occur happening only when the BFG is fired. Other than a few crashes in between levels which don’t affect the time, they almost never come up during runs.


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?

FrostyXen: I do not believe any of the patches made them worse. Most, if not all, common crashes have existed since the game came out.


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?

FrostyXen: Speedrunners are definitely affected the most by these crashes. You have to start the encounter you crashed in from the beginning, wasting time because of something you had no control over.


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?

FrostyXen: I believe so. In terms of performance, this game runs amazingly. Frames rarely drop and crashes are rare for casual players.


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

FrostyXen: Just figure out and patch the BFG crash. It is annoying that your game can crash for using the BFG for its intended purpose.


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

FrostyXen: It’ll definitely become a thorn in every runner’s side but it isn’t a huge issue. At most, you’ll be losing around 15-30 seconds and crashes are not common enough for it to be a huge issue.


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?

FrostyXen: I believe it’s just because runners don’t want to be distracted during their runs. Personally, I never streamed on twitch because I want all my focus to be directed on the game during runs and runners who stream [also] struggle to interact with their audience in the middle of a run. 


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

FrostyXen: The speedrunning discord server is a small but very dedicated group. There are only a few runners but everyone works together to discover new techniques and routes along with encouraging each other to improve.


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

FrostyXen: It probably felt more stable back then but we’ve been discovering more and more things that the developers at Id didn’t account for. As we discover more things about this game, more glitches and crashes are bound to appear. 


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?

FrostyXen: I think that Id is definitely saving for a huge update, intended or not. The new trailer has caused a huge amount of hype among the Doom community so adding a ton of new features including Invasion at the same time when everyone is playing the game again is a smart move.


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?

FrostyXen: The recent controversies probably made Id realize that they should consider future movements to avoid similar community backlash but Covid most likely had the most effect on content development and the fact that they were still able to develop The Ancient Gods Part 1 in this climate is really impressive.


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?

FrostyXen: Transparency would definitely be for the best for the community.


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?

FrostyXen: I’d say that we are a minority who, if anything, only gets exploits like the ice grenade method for the marauder or the fast gladiator fight method “fixed.”

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?

FrostyXen: I honestly have no clue, I suppose so? It would be pretty funny for an Invasion to begin just for the Slayer to just bunnyhop to the rest of the mission.


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.

FrostyXen: If it weren’t for downpatching, 100% yes. Personally, I see no reason to touch the campaign post-launch no matter what but I guess for Invasion, these changes needed to be made but it is still annoying that speedrunning this game begins with having to downpatch the game.


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?

FrostyXen: Multiplayer is what most players would be playing post-launch and they would easily notice differences between patches. For singleplayer, most players won’t remember exactly how each fight went so they would just assume it was the same since launch. It really only affects speedrunners or people who exclusively play singleplayer.


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

FrostyXen: Doom Eternal is already really popular, even my speedruns have gotten a huge amount of views for someone who hasn’t posted anything beforehand. 




Legitimacy - Money and Sports

Nick: Can speedrunners, in their current state, be lucrative, thus incentivizing larger companies to accommodate their needs?

FrostyXen: With the success of Games Done Quick, there is definitely potential for speedrunning to be lucrative but I doubt it’ll ever reach the success of esports or anything like that so no, I do not think large companies will ever think about speedrunners when making decisions for their games.


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?

FrostyXen: For sure. I doubt speedrunners are noticed in terms of sales for a game compared to its initial release.


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?

FrostyXen: It definitely will. For every speedrunner, there are thousands of casual players who’ll play the game a few times but we all paid the same amount of money for the game.


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?

FrostyXen: This is gonna be hard to explain. They’re practically the same in terms of practice but I guess the execution is completely different? Usually, speedrunning comes down to your best run out of countless attempts but in a competitive setting, you only have one attempt and any mistake or bad luck is something you have to deal with.

It just seems weird to me, I suppose. Personally, I doubt I would ever do well in a competitive setting because when I make a huge mistake in a run, I just continue to make mistakes for the rest of the run.


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?

FrostyXen: I really doubt developers see any monetary opportunity when it comes to speedrunning since many companies seem to just patch out most things that speedrunners find that don’t affect casual players at all.


Nick: Speedrunners need a platform, and platforms like Twitch give speedrunners a place to do their work. However, Twitch also erases much of speedrunning history by not recording videos automatically and deleting clips after a certain period of time. Websites existed in the past to allow Quake runners to post demos, for example, but these, too, die over time.

Is the making of speedrunning into a sport a chance to incentivize the preservation of old speedrunning records by big companies? Can the activity as it currently exists (as a non-profession) survive the process?

FrostyXen: I don’t think speedrunning will ever become a huge priority for companies. Despite the massive growth in recent years, we are still a minority compared to the rest of the gaming community and we’ll just always be like this.

Although, speedrunning will survive unless something happens that just tanks its reputation. We are a niche community, but we are a very dedicated niche community so I’m sure that we’ll always adapt to newer ways to preserve our history and make sure runs are always available.


Downpatching

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?

FrostyXen: I doubt downpatching would be allowed in huge sponsored tournaments. Gaming companies would want their most recent update to be played, even if it is a lot slower for runners. 


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?

FrostyXen: I don’t see a need to monitor downpatching if it is available to all runners. Certain categories will prefer different versions of the game. In Doom Eternal, Any% runners will always choose version 1.0 while No Major Glitches and 100% runners can choose between 1.0 or 1.1. It’s just up to the community to regulate their own games since each one is so different.


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?

FrostyXen: If they can patch out crashes and glitches to make the gameplay better, that’s awesome but considering that the most popular speedrunning games came out way before patching was a thing, it’s not super important.


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?

FrostyXen: I really doubt it. For Eternal at least, modding will probably be just for cosmetics or new arenas but I cannot see a future where runners will make it a priority to run a modded version of this game. 

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For other blog posts by me, check out "Alien: Ore" Q & A Project, Dragon Ball Super: Broly - Is It Gothic?, Mandy (2018): Review, Gothic Themes in Perfect Blue. Also check out my guest work on Video Hook-Ups.

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