Why do gamers enjoy challenges?
For most people video games are a source of entertainment. For some people though video games are a means of earning a living. There are many youtubers and streamers whose main source of income is to play games. Some people chose to stick to a specific game, sinking in hundreds or thousands of hours and building up an audience, due to their personality, skill or understanding of the game itself.
One of the most challenging parts of keeping an audience is the ability to retain the interest of a diverse group of strangers who could be spread across the world. How do you keep the interest of people who have watched you play the same game for tens or hundreds of hours? Some games have the option to modify a game with the use of community sourced mods or company driven expansions which can add new excitement into a game. However not all games have this option.
How about we make it harder
The solution that some people have turned to is self-imposed challenges. These challenges can vary greatly from game to game and the difficulty of each challenge is not consistent. An example of a youtuber that runs such a channel is Mitten Squad. Many of his videos are about completing games in the Fallout series in a multitude of different ways. The Fallout games are open world exploration and role-playing games where much of how your character acts is dependent on the player. Videos such as “Can you beat Fallout 3 without moving the camera” and “can you beat Fallout New Vegas with a guitar hero controller” are examples of challenges which require a lot of imagination and skill to puzzle through and complete.
But what if I want to go fast?
Speed running is a form of challenge where players to attempt the completion of a goal inside a video game in the fastest possible time. The constraints of each speed run can vary from the standard completing a game in the shortest amount of time, to beating specific bosses under certain conditions, such as having your camera zoomed in at the max setting. Speed running is quite well known in the gaming community and there are many popular streamers that specialize in speed running games. There are many different websites that record the fastest times for all sorts of games with Speedrun.com being a good example. As of the writing of this article there are 15,631 different games that have been speed run listed on this website, with some games having 10+ different categories to run.
Pokémon Platinum without taking any damage
The impetus for the blog was a YouTube video by a creator called SmallAnt1 (shortened to Ant). He is a well-known Twitch.Tv streamer, known for speed running various video game.
The video that inspired me was not about speed running a game, in fact it was almost the opposite. This videos title is ‘Can you beat Pokémon Platinum Without Taking Damage?’. For anyone who has ever played a Pokémon game this seems to be an absurd question. Can you play a game about constant fighting without ever having any of your characters being damaged? The answer seems like an obvious no; however, the 20-minute watch time seemed to argue that there was more to this story than I had initially thought.
I will be writing an overview of the trials and tribulations Ant went through in order to accomplish this feat but if you want to watch it for yourself it can be found here:
A little background for those unfamiliar with the Pokémon series. The main content of these games is to train and battle the mysterious creatures known as Pokémon. The combat is turn based with the Pokémon with the higher speed acting first. One of the first choices in the game is picking a starter Pokémon, out of a choice of three.
A slow beginning
Ant originally chose Piplup and calculated that the percent chance to win the first battle without taking damage is 0.004%. I need not tell you that these are abysmal odds. At this point I’m sure that many people (including myself) would not have even bothered starting this challenge where the first hurdle alone would take on average 250 attempts.
After struggling for half an hour, he reconsidered and chose a different starter Pokémon called Turtwig. Due to the nature of the opponent's attacks, the chance of not getting hit increased dramatically to 0.0625% or 16 attempts on average. Luckily for Ant it only took three attempts before he cleared the battle, so after 40 minutes and 28 resets he had completed the first Pokémon battle (something which can usually be completed in 5 minutes by a young child).
This only covers 1:30 minutes of a 20-minute video and this is by no means the most difficult portion of the challenge. It was agreed that Ant could only save once after each of the 8 Pokémon Gyms were completed (significant milestones throughout the game) so any mistake made would end up with him travelling back potentially hours. For none of his Pokémon to be damaged it was important that his Pokémon be able to knock out their opponents in one hit. This meant that a lot of the time on this run was spent grinding (fighting easy Pokémon battles for experience to level up his team). Of course, if his Pokémon were damaged when grinding then he would have to go back to the last checkpoint. Ant would also be allowed to speed up the in-game time, but even with this speed up it took 6 hours for Ant to complete the first gym, or 19 and a half in-game hours with a total of 57 resets.
A few setbacks
The next main event was a story fight against a character that required Ant to grind one of his Pokémon up to level 40 in order to one hit opposing Pokémon without taking damage. This took Ant 4 and a half hours (after making a mistake 2 hours in and having to go back to the last save). After completing this battle came the next truly luck based portion of the run. Upon entering Eterna Forest, Ant’s character is approached by a trainer named Cheryl. He is then forced to travel with Cheryl until he emerges from the far side of the forest.
This turns specific encounters from the traditional Pokémon battles into double battles, where each team unleashes two Pokémon to fight it out. This is a major cause for concern as with most battles all Ant needed to do was level up his own Pokémon to a point where he could out speed his opponent and knock them out in one blow. However even if he eliminated one enemy there was still the other that could get in a hit on his now vulnerable Pokémon. Fortunately, there is only a single enforced double battle in the whole of Eterna Forest. Ant encountered this 10 hours and 40 minutes into the run. The opponent Pachirisu used a priority move (a move that will always go first if that Pokémon has the highest speed) and damaged Ant’s Pokémon. This forced another reset and 2 hours and 10 minutes of grinding before he returned to the same location, where he fortunately beat the battle without taking damage.
The time sink
Next was the Eterna City Gym which was trivial due to Ant’s over-levelled Pokémon and after 13:13 real life hours or 33:34 in game hours the second gym had been completed. After this Ant travelled to the next gym run by Fantasia. Her Haunter has a priority move and cannot be one hit by any of Ant’s current Pokémon, so to remedy this he catches a Buizel and levels it up to level 45 where it evolves into Floatzel and is strong enough to knock out the Haunter in one blow. After another 3 hours of grinding the third gym is defeated.
This point in the run marks a major change in the way the challenge proceeds. In the next town is the Pokémon Day Care. For every step taken the Pokémon inside the day care receive 1 experience point. In order to get his Pokémon to the max level of 100 Ant needed to travel around 1 million tiles. While offline he biked up and down for 8 hours (or 30 in game hours) and got his Staraptor and Floatzel to lv 100. From here it seemed that the run could go quite smoothly. With such strong Pokémon he would be able to 1 hit all foes before him…. Surely?
Ace Trainer Dennis would be the next obstacle in Ant’s path. Dennis possessed a Pokémon known as Drifblim. All Pokémon in the game have passive abilities that affect their battles. Drifblim’s ability is called aftermath which deals damage to foes that knock it out, if the opponent uses a move which comes into physical contact with Drifblim. All moves that Ant’s lv 100 Pokémon knew would be affected by this condition and therefore take damage. After researching for 30 minutes Ant came up with a solution. Find the TM for Rock Tomb and teach that move to Floatzel. With his lv 100 Pokémon it was a guaranteed 1 hit kill however it only had an accuracy of 80 equalling to an 80% hit chance, or a 1 in 5 chance of missing. To Ant’s dismay his first attack missed and the Drifblim struck Floatzel with ominous wind. With that one move around 9 hours of progress was lost and Ant restarted back to the last checkpoint.
8 hours later Ant returns to Ace Trainer Dennis and thankfully this time Floatzels attack did not miss. The next Gym fell easily, and the game was saved with 73 in game hours. There were more double battles before the next gym however after a few resets a plan was formed. By teaching his Floatzel swift Ant could hit both opponents in a double battle and he soon progressed onto the 5th gym, which quickly fell under his powerful Pokémon.
An icy reception
The next step required a bit of planning. The next city was an ice city named Snowpoint. The main issue with this area is that it is constantly hailing. When in a Pokémon battle the hail will damage all non-ice type Pokémon at the end of the turn. There is a lady who gifts free Eevees in one of the cities. Eevee is a special Pokémon who has many different evolutions. By just moving into the snowy area and using a special candy (which raises a Pokémon's level by 1) the condition to evolve Eevee into the ice type Glaceon was met. At this point it was only level 38 so both Glaceon and Torterra were put into the day care center and after another 8 hours of biking they were both lv 100.
In between the cycle rides Ant repeatedly fought two trainers who gave away a lot of money when defeated. This was to buy a move called Ice Beam which had a 100% hit rate. It seems that Ant was not willing to risk another 8 hours of grinding on another missed move. After some trivial battles Ant arrived at Snowpoint city.
Snowpoint City Gym is designed as a puzzle. The floor is made of ice so once you step on it you do not stop moving until you hit a snow patch, trainer, wall or large snowballs which block the way. Due to the hail weather effect and the trainers Pokémon it was impossible to reliably one hit all of their Pokémon so Ant needed to find a way through the gym without fighting any of them. After looking at a map of the gym for nearly 15 minutes Ant managed to figure out a path and arrive at the gym leader. The fight went smoothly and after 130 in game hours Ant had defeated the 7th gym.
Approaching the end
The next portion of the game is mostly story based so I will skip over most of it. The final result was that Ant participated in a couple of easy battles and caught a new Pokémon called Giritina. He then biked for two hours and levelled that Pokémon up to lv 68. He also farmed the rich kids for more money. On his way to the 8th gym he fought a trainer with a Wingull. Forgetting that it had a priority move he took damage and had to repeat these steps all over again.
Finally making his way to the final gym he took it out without too many issues. He finished the last gym with a time of 37 hours 50 minutes and 34 seconds (with an extra 16 hours grinding off stream). This however is not the end goal of the challenge. For the challenge to be complete and still had to make his way through the victory road and battle the elite four.
Victory road was simply a time sink as nothing interesting or challenging happens and with that Ant arrives at the elite four. All these battles are meticulous planned out and if you want to hear all the details then I highly recommend you watch Ant describe it himself in his video. I will be skipping to the final challenge the Pokémon Champion Cynthia.
Fighting the Champion
The fight starts with Glaceon vs Spiritomb. Ant’s Glaceon was given an Icycle Plate to boost the power of its ice beam to guarantee a one hit knockout. Ant’s recently caught and levelled Giritina was given just enough stat boosting items and equipped with choice specs so that it could kill Cynthia’s Lucario. Glaceon was brought back in to out speed Garchomp and Togekiss and hit them with super effective ice beams. Milotic was the next combatant and Ant used Staraptor’s close combat to beat it. Finally, Glaceon was brought out again for the last hurrah where it knocks out Roserade for the victory.
With the champion defeated Ant was named the new Pokémon champion and he beat Pokémon Platinum without taking damage in a time of 138:37 in game hours, 70 resets and 39:59:48 real life hours (plus 16).
All pain some gain
If you have made it this far that I can only assume that some part of this artice has sparked your interest. For those people I would recommend checking out The Games Done Quick (GDQ) Event. This is an annual convention where gamers join forces to raise money for charity by demonstrating speed runs and challenges over various games and multiple categories. All the games are livestreamed and recorded on the GDQ YouTube channel.
Apprentice APL Developer
Sam was an apprentice APL Developer at Optima Systems. He has had a keen interest in computers since he was a child who loved playing video games on his family’s computer. After taking Maths, Further Maths and Computing during A-levels he attended the University of Sheffield doing Computer Science for two years.