Etchy is a speedrunner and router known for his Pokemon runs, but when he first started he was running a whole other genre.
From Runner to Speedrunner
In early 2019 as the world awaited the long overdue release of Kingdom Hearts 3, Etchy built up his own hype watching every video he could find about the franchise. Eventually, he fell down a rabbit hole of Kingdom Hearts 2 runs from GDQ.
“I never really had an interest in speedrunning before outside of watching a bit of GDQ here and there,” he said. “...I was like, this is really cool. This is awesome. I'm going to totally do this when Kingdom Hearts 3 comes out.”
However, when the game was finally released, Etchy’s excitement turned to intimidation. He thought that he would need to practice privately for weeks before even attempting a speedrun.
“I was like, ‘what if I put all this time into it and I suck’ or ‘what if I put all this time into it and I just don't enjoy it?’”
After a few months of putting it off, an unexpected twist helped him push past the fear: a foot injury sustained while running a real-world half-marathon.
“I was like, ‘well, I can't run so I can speedrun I guess,’” he said.
Still, he proceeded with caution. He said, “I practiced literally for a month straight until I actually started doing runs.”
When he did finally try speedrunning, Etchy got hooked.
“I got really close to a lot of community members and got a lot of support from well-established community members who helped guide me and kept me going,” he said.
A Wild Pokemon Runner Appeared
After a few months of running KH3, Etchy wanted to mix things up and try some other games. Then at TwitchCon, he saw a GDQx run that changed everything.
“I saw PulseEffects run Pokemon White 2: Challenge Mode,” he said. “And I was like ‘oh Pokemon speedrunning seems really cool.’”
He already owned Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee (his first Pokemon game in almost a decade) so he gave it a go.
“I got hooked on it,” he said, “Because one, Pokemon Let's Go Eevee and Pikachu are the best Pokemon speedgames. And then two, I realized that there's a huge difference between Pokemon speedrunning and a lot of traditional speedruns. It's much more math, decision making, risk-reward, and balancing in your head. And doing it all on a split second versus super intense execution or nailing frame perfect tricks.”
When Pokemon: Sword and Shield came out soon after, Etchy was ready to work on the game right away with the rest of the community.
“I was kind of using Let’s Go as my warmup for sword shield,” he said.
Etchy has a background in Computer Science and he compared the routing process to coding. “Making a fight strategy is making an algorithm...I usually start with ‘here's how to win this fight safely. How do we make this faster?’ and just kind of keep iterating over it until we can get down to something that's not too risky.”
He particularly enjoys working on routes that don’t use RNG manipulation, aka Manipless runs.
RNG manipulation can be overwhelming so Manipless runs help break down barriers for new runners, he said. “Everytime you tell a new player that ‘you just got to do this, this, this, set your date to this, do a frame perfect input here, do perfect movement for 20 minutes,’ they just tune out immediately.”
In Manipless categories, however, players can just start a new game and see what happens. He said, “That has a lot of appeal to people and that's what I enjoy the most with that routing stuff.”
And although the routing process can still sound a bit intimidating at first, it’s not as complicated as it seems. Etchy makes use of some tools that reveal certain unseen statistics in the game (such as the specific stats of an enemy Pokemon).
From there, he plugs those numbers into a tool called ‘Ranger’ developed by Corvimae, a fellow Pokemon speedrunner.
Ranger handles some of the more time-consuming aspects of the process.
“That website basically is a manipless Godsend…” Etchy said, “the way we used to do things is you just plug numbers into a calculator and then you have to keep testing different numbers over and over again, like if you have this much attack or this much attack or this much speed or whatever. And then the Ranger tool basically just says...these are all the possible damage ranges depending on how good my Pokemon actually is. So it's a lot of plugging numbers, math, experimenting...and a lot of testing as well but it's not as scary as it seems. Because you don't actually have to do any of the math, you just plug in numbers.”
In addition to working on some standard leaderboard routes, he’s contributed to some smaller categories including a Diamond/Pearl manipless route of ‘Alt Main: Bibarel.’
For an Alt Main category, as soon as the specified Pokemon (or a pre-evolved form of it) is available, it has to be used for every required fight remaining in the run.
Bibarel isn’t exactly a powerhouse and because Bidoof(the first form of Bibarel) happens to be available almost immediately an Alt Main: Bibarel run doesn’t get much of a cushion at the start.
Most of his routes, however, are for less absurd categories including the similar but much less punishing ‘Alt Main: Staraptor.’
He routed the run earlier this year and it is impressively consistent for a Manipless run. Not only that, it ended up bringing some more attention to Platinum.
To celebrate hitting a milestone of 1000 subscribers on Twitch, Etchy will soon route and perform another grueling run, “Platinum - Alt Main: Snorlax” aka ‘Munchlax%.’
Once he catches Munchlax, the run will be pretty normal, but anyone familiar with the Gen Four Pokemon games knows that catching a Munchlax is easier said than done.
To put it briefly, the Gen Four Pokemon games have a mechanic where the player can slather honey on a tree then wait six hours and check the tree for a Pokemon. There are 21 trees in the game, but Munchlax can only appear on 4 of them chosen randomly for each save file. And on those trees, Munchlax only appears 1% of the time.
Thanks to RNG manipulation, Etchy can bypass the random chance. He can make sure a Munchlax with good stats appears on the tree he chooses, but there’s no way to cut time on the 6-hour wait.
“So the moment I get access to the honey trees, that's the earliest I can get Munchlax, which going with the Alt Main rules means I cannot do any required fights until I actually have Munchlax...the only thing that doesn't break the rules that I could do besides waiting is catch one or many Pachirisus with a Pickup ability, grind them to level 21, and then farm Rare Candies.” he said.
The run will most likely take around 12 hours, the longest Etchy has ever attempted.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl
Just over a week ago, Pokemon: Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were released so Etchy has been working with the community to develop some of the first routes.
“If we just look at it from a glitchless perspective, a lot of it is very, very similar to the original games,” he said, “I know where to go. I know how to solve the puzzles. I know the gist of how everything goes. But the modern Gen Eight mechanics completely change everything. One of my favorite changes is that Critical Hits go from being 6% and doing double damage to being 4% and only doing 1.5-times damage, which is amazing for speedrunners...That was the thing I was most looking forward to because I die to crits a lot when I run Diamond, Pearl or Platinum.”
On the other hand, the glitch categories are in a fascinating stage of volcanic flux as new glitches are being discovered almost every day.
“One of the things with Pokemon speedrunning is that all the games beyond Gen Four basically have no speedrun glitches that are useful,” he said, “...They're very strict about having story flags. So even if you can skip things you are walled. And this is the first time this has changed in 10 years for Pokemon speedrunning...and it's gotten to the point where we don't even know how we're going to handle this because the game is still breaking and still changing on and on.”
Because of the layers of mechanical changes and glitches, the community is teeming with active routing, running, and glitch hunting.
“Half the people are now just glitch hunting relentlessly because the opportunities are so cool to make this game super short and super fast,” he said.
And thanks to the embargo on the leaderboard, some community members are trying out unfamiliar roles.
“So many people who have never done any speedrun routing before are like, ‘well, there's no route for this game yet,” he said, “I could just make one and just try it and just see how it goes.’”
Meanwhile Etchy is content to stay focused on routing because that’s what he enjoys most.
“For me routing is always the best part of these Pokemon speedruns and why I enjoy routing Alternate Mains or meme runs or whatever, because it just allows you to do a lot more critical thinking and just experimenting a lot more,” he said.
Etchy has come a long way since the intimidation that delayed his entry into the world of speedrunning, but he hasn’t forgotten his routes.
“I made a promise that if Sora was in Smash I’d do a Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix run…” he said, “I wasn't expecting it to actually happen but there you go.”
**Header image is of Etchy at Midwest Speedfest. Used with permission.