For this month’s spotlight, we talked to Kris De Asis, aka Meep_Moop. He is a Pico-8 speedrunner who mainly focuses on Celeste Classic. He’s also a Ph.D student, a visual artist, and a game developer.
Speedrunning on the Pico-8
De Asis primarily speedruns Celeste Classic on the Pico-8 ‘fantasy console.’ A fantasy console is kind of like an emulator for a system that does not exist as physical hardware. The Pico-8 has some arbitrary limitations built in which make it a fun and challenging creative space for game developers.
Before the release of Celeste Classic, De Asis’s friend Justin Jaffray was already following the work of Maddy Thorson, who created the game along with their collaborator Noel Berry.
“The moment Celeste Classic dropped, Justin was like, ‘Hey, this is a sick game, you need to play it.’ And so on day one, we were already running it, finding strats for it, and routing it,” De Asis said.
Eventually, he and Jaffray connected with some other players over Twitter and they became one of the earliest seeds of the modern Celeste community.
“Some of us have been around for like five years now playing the same little game. And then we got to see it blossom into the new release of the game,” De Asis said.
In the early days, he focused on routing. Even though he was helping Justin, SecksWrecks, and BaldJared, De Asis didn’t submit an official run of his own until August 2016.
“The main push that made me start submitting runs was when BaldJared quit at 2:03 and I really wanted to see sub-2 happen,” he said. Later, when Celeste(2018) came out, his interest was revitalized.
Outside of speedrunning, De Asis is a Ph.D student studying Computing Science with a background in things like mechatronic engineering and he has repeatedly drawn on his skills in those areas to contribute to the Celeste Classic community.
In terms of glitchhunting, De Asis learned Lua (the programming language used by Pico-8) and combed through the game’s code to understand different glitches and how best to execute them consistently. “I wrote up a glossary on our community website explaining all the relevant glitches,” he said.
Additionally, he has contributed to the development of Tool Assisted Speedruns and even created a brute-force searcher in Python to find the definitive fastest way through certain levels.
On top of all that, when Jaffray created a practice mod that allowed runners to do things like repeating challenging portions of gameplay for efficient practice, De Asis built on the concept, adding quality-of-life features and fixing bugs.
Improving the community’s accessibility has been one of his guiding principles.
“That was something that we didn't have before when we just had this small, four person group and some private Discord. So whenever people watched our runs, they're just like, ‘what the heck is going on? How are you doing all these spike clips? Are you cheating?’” De Asis said, “And then when I started the server one of the things I did was just document everything.” When he needs a break from speedrunning Celeste Classic, De Asis branches out to running other Pico-8 games.
The reason he has stuck to running games on the Pico-8 comes down to brevity. He said, “I don't have the attention span to play any long games. I can’t play Final Fantasy or anything. I really liked the game. I think it's fun, but I just can't finish it. And so Celeste Classic was just the perfect length that had the right amount of precision and platforming. And it just really resonated with me.”
The game’s short length makes the grind more relaxed as well. Often, De Asis will run repeated playthroughs while hanging out with a friend.
“Then whenever I have a good one going, I would like pause the conversation and then actually focus and then if that dies, I'll just get back to chilling with my friend,” he said, “and so it doesn't actually feel like I'm like throwing time at this game or it doesn't feel like I'm wasting time. It's just kind of like this fidgeting thing that I'm doing while doing something else.”
That practice pays off. Anyone who has played any version of Celeste understands the high death-rate that is central to each game’s design. De Asis’s first-place runs are completely deathless.
“The thing is that, in that run, you're not seeing all the attempts before where I died a lot. Like it's a really biased sample of the runs that I did,” he said.
Nonetheless, it’s an impressive feat of dexterity and skill.
It is impossible to spend even a few minutes looking through Pico-8 carts without discovering a few mods of Celeste Classic which is great for fans of the game who want more fresh content.
“It turned this two minute game into a whole bunch of little level packs that can sometimes be like 10 minutes long…” De Asis said, “It's community driven content for the game and it's sort of helping keep this two minute game alive. And it has been going strong for a lot longer than I would have expected it to.”
Some of those mods make it onto the Celeste Classic Mods leaderboard and most of the mods on there have either been run by Meep or he had a hand in their creation.
“It's kind of weird because, as familiar as I am with the Celeste Classic engine, I do see a lot of these shortcuts and speed routes in my own mods," he said. “And some of them I would patch out, some of them I would allow, and then they would still find something new, they would still just break it somehow...there's some satisfaction to that even though there can be a little frustration.”
Before he knew about speedrunning as a larger hobby and community, De Asis got his start playing Megaman X on repeat. “Whenever I had friends or family over, it would be like trying to show them how quickly I could beat the level and see how quickly they could beat it,” he said.
Another precursor to his interest in speedrunning came in the form of Speedcubing, where he and other participants competed to solve puzzle cubes as quickly as possible.
De Asis even designed a robot to solve cubes automatically which he later retooled to scramble cubes for competitions. His scrambler has been used “in parallel with human scramblers at WCA-sanctioned Rubik's Cube competitions.”
In addition to the dexterity and competitive-timing involved in both speedcubing and speedrunning, De Asis has noticed some overlap between the kinds of people he has met in both communities. However, he said that while speedcubing requires a lot of quick, moment-to-moment decisions, running a game without procedural generation like Celeste Classic is more about rote repetition.
De Asis has also designed a couple of original games for the Pico-8 and has created art in a lot of different mediums. For Ludum Dare 48, he created “Rolling in the Deep,” a Binding-of-Isaac-inspired roguelike with a penguin player character.
Penguins appear repeatedly throughout De Asis’s work as a visual artist as well as in his profile images on various websites. It all goes back to a stuffed penguin his sister gave him when he was born. “Ever since then, I've just been attached to it. And then everything that I've done has been sort of penguin-revolved.”
Attempts to render the penguin even led him to mediums like illustration, animation, game development and even to the technical focus of his Ph.D.
“My undergrad degree was in Mechatronics Engineering to focus on robotics. So that sort of bridged Game Dev into reality where...now I can interact with this physical system that's also animated and like real, but then I still wasn't satisfied with that…” he said, “and so that's what led me to computer science to focus my graduate studies on artificial intelligence and machine learning. But it all stems back to this little stuffed penguin.”
Celeste Classic 2
In January 2021, Thorson, Barry, and musician Lena Raine surprised the Celeste community with the release of Celeste Classic 2.
“It was just a pleasant surprise for everybody. And, it was a nice growth of the Celeste Classic community. We got a lot of new people in who started running both games,” De Asis said. Shortly after its release he had already created a practice mod for the new game.
De Asis never expected the Celeste Classic community to grow as much as it has. “It did start out as this close knit community of mainly four people and then a few people who would come and go in this other server,” he said, “...It just sort of spawned into its own little thing and now it has like 700 people in it and I didn't expect this to ever happen.”
You can check out De Asis’s work here.